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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ 'WELL, Father,' Nella greeted her astounded parent. 'You should
make sure that you have got hold of the right person before you
use all that terrible muscular force of yours. I do believe you have
broken my shoulder bone.' She rubbed her shoulder with a comical
expression of pain, and then stood up before the two men. The
skirt of her dark grey dress was torn and dirty, and the usually trim
Nella looked as though she had been shot down a canvas
fire-escape. Mechanically she smoothed her frock, and gave a
straightening touch to her hair.

'Good evening, Miss Racksole,' said Felix Babylon, bowing
formally. 'This is an unexpected pleasure.' Felix 's drawing-room
manners never deserted him upon any occasion whatever.

'May I inquire what you are doing in my wine cellar, Nella
Racksole?' said the millionaire a little stiffly He was certainly
somewhat annoyed at having mistaken his daughter for a criminal;
moreover, he hated to be surprised, and upon this occasion he had
been surprised beyond any ordinary surprise; lastly, he was not at
all pleased that Nella should be observed in that strange
predicament by a stranger.

'I will tell you,' said Nella. 'I had been reading rather late in my
room - the night was so close. I heard Big Ben strike half-past
twelve, and then I put the book down, and went out on to the
balcony of my window for a little fresh air before going to bed. I
leaned over the balcony very quietly - you will remember that I am
on the third floor now - and looked down below into the little sunk
yard which separates the wall of the hotel from Salisbury Lane. I
was rather astonished to see a figure creeping across the yard. I
knew there was no entrance into the hotel from that yard, and
besides, it is fifteen or twenty feet below the level of the street. So
I watched. The figure went close up against the wall, and
disappeared from my view. I leaned over the balcony as far as I
dared, but I couldn't see him. I could hear him, however.'

'What could you hear?' questioned Racksole sharply.

'It sounded like a sawing noise,' said Nella; 'and it went on for
quite a long time - nearly a quarter of an hour, I should think - a
rasping sort of noise.'

'Why on earth didn't you come and warn me or someone else in the

asked Racksole.

'Oh, I don't know, Dad,' she replied sweetly. 'I had got interested in
it, and I thought I would see it out myself. Well, as I was saying,
Mr Babylon,'

she continued, addressing her remarks to Felix , with a dazzling
smile, 'that noise went on for quite a long time. At last it stopped,
and the figure reappeared from under the wall, crossed the yard,
climbed up the opposite wall by some means or other, and so over
the railings into Salisbury Lane. I felt rather relieved then, because
I knew he hadn't actually broken into the hotel. He walked down
Salisbury Lane very slowly. A policeman was just coming up.
"Goodnight, officer," I heard him say to the policeman, and he
asked him for a match. The policeman supplied the match, and the
other man lighted a cigarette, and proceeded further down the lane.
By cricking your neck from my window, Mr Babylon, you can get
a glimpse of the Embankment and the river. I saw the man cross
the Embankment, and lean over the river wall, where he seemed to
be talking to some one. He then walked along the Embankment to
Westminster and that was the last I saw of him. I waited a minute
or two for him to come back, but he didn't come back, and so I
thought it was about time I began to make inquiries into the affair.
I went downstairs instantly, and out of the hotel, through the
quadrangle, into Salisbury Lane, and I looked over those railings.
There was a ladder on the other side, by which it was perfectly
easy - once you had got over the railings - to climb down into the
yard. I was horribly afraid lest someone might walk up Salisbury
Lane and catch me in the act of negotiating those railings, but no
one did, and I surmounted them, with no worse damage than a torn
skirt. I crossed the yard on tiptoe, and I found that in the wall,
close to the ground and almost exactly under my window, there
was an iron grating, about one foot by fourteen inches. I suspected,
as there was no other ironwork near, that the mysterious visitor
must have been sawing at this grating for private purposes of his
own. I gave it a good shake, and I was not at all surprised that a
good part of it came off in my hand, leaving just enough room for
a person to creep through. I decided that I would creep through,
and now wish I hadn't. I don't know, Mr Babylon, whether you
have ever tried to creep through a small hole with a skirt on. Have

'I have not had that pleasure,' said little Felix , bowing again, and
absently taking up a bottle which lay to his hand.

'Well, you are fortunate,' the imperturbable Nella resumed. 'For
quite three minutes I thought I should perish in that grating, Dad,
with my shoulder inside and the rest of me outside. However, at
last, by the most amazing and agonizing efforts, I pulled myself
through and fell into this extraordinary cellar more dead than alive.
Then I wondered what I should do next. Should I wait for the
mysterious visitor to return, and stab him with my pocket scissors
if he tried to enter, or should I raise an alarm? First of all I
replaced the broken grating, then I struck a match, and I saw that I
had got landed in a wilderness of bottles. The match went out, and
I hadn't another one. So I sat down in the corner to think. I had just
decided to wait and see if the visitor returned, when I heard
footsteps, and then voices; and then you came in. I must say I was
rather taken aback, especially as I recognized the voice of Mr
Babylon. You see, I didn't want to frighten you.

If I had bobbed up from behind the bottles and said "Booh!" you
would have had a serious shock. I wanted to think of a way of
breaking my presence gently to you. But you saved me the trouble,
Dad. Was I really breathing so loudly that you could hear me?'

The girl ended her strange recital, and there was a moment's
silence in the cellar. Racksole merely nodded an affirmative to her
concluding question.

'Well, Nell, my girl,' said the millionaire at length, 'we are much
obliged for your gymnastic efforts - very much obliged. But now, I
think you had better go off to bed. There is going to be some
serious trouble here, I'll lay my last dollar on that?'

'But if there is to be a burglary I should so like to see it, Dad,' Nella
pleaded. 'I've never seen a burglar caught red-handed.'

'This isn't a burglary, my dear. I calculate it's something far worse
than a burglary.'

'What?' she cried. 'Murder? Arson? Dynamite plot? How perfectly

'Mr Babylon informs me that Jules is in London,' said Racksole

'Jules!' she exclaimed under her breath, and her tone changed
instantly to the utmost seriousness. 'Switch off the light, quick!'
Springing to the switch, she put the cellar in darkness.

'What's that for?' said her father.

'If he comes back he would see the light, and be frightened away,'
said Nella. 'That wouldn't do at all.'

'It wouldn't, Miss Racksole,' said Babylon, and there was in his
voice a note of admiration for the girl's sagacity which Racksole
heard with high paternal pride.

'Listen, Nella,' said the latter, drawing his daughter to him in the
profound gloom of the cellar. 'We fancy that Jules may be trying to
tamper with a certain bottle of wine - a bottle which might
possibly be drunk by Prince Eugen. Now do you think that the man
you saw might have been Jules?'

'I hadn't previously thought of him as being Jules, but immediately
you mentioned the name I somehow knew that he was. Yes, I am
sure it was Jules.'

'Well, just hear what I have to say. There is no time to lose. If he
is coming at all he will be here very soon - and you can help.'
Racksole explained what he thought Jules' tactics might be. He
proposed that if the man returned he should not be interfered with,
but merely watched from the other side of the glass door.

'You want, as it were, to catch Mr Jules alive?' said Babylon, who
seemed rather taken aback at this novel method of dealing with
criminals. 'Surely,'

he added, 'it would be simpler and easier to inform the police of
your suspicion, and to leave everything to them.'

'My dear fellow,' said Racksole, 'we have already gone much too
far without the police to make it advisable for us to call them in at
this somewhat advanced stage of the proceedings. Besides, if you
must know it, I have a particular desire to capture the scoundrel
myself. I will leave you and Nella here, since Nella insists on
seeing everything, and I will arrange things so that once he has
entered the cellar Jules will not get out of it again - at any rate
through the grating. You had better place yourselves on the other
side of the glass door, in the big cellar; you will be in a position to
observe from there, I will skip off at once. All you have to do is to
take note of what the fellow does. If he has any accomplices
within the hotel we shall probably be able by that means to
discover who the accomplice is.'

Lighting a match and shading it with his hands, Racksole showed
them both out of the little cellar. 'Now if you lock this glass door
on the outside he can't escape this way: the panes of glass are too
small, and the woodwork too stout. So, if he comes into the trap,
you two will have the pleasure of actually seeing him frantically
writhe therein, without any personal danger; but perhaps you'd
better not show yourselves.'

In another moment Felix Babylon and Nella were left to
themselves in the darkness of the cellar, listening to the receding
footfalls of Theodore Racksole. But the sound of these footfalls
had not died away before another sound greeted their ears - the
grating of the small cellar was being removed.

'I hope your father will be in time,' whispered Felix

'Hush!' the girl warned him, and they stooped side by side in tense

A man cautiously but very neatly wormed his body through the
aperture of the grating. The watchers could only see his form
indistinctly in the darkness.

Then, being fairly within the cellar, he walked without the least
hesitation to the electric switch and turned on the light. It was
unmistakably Jules, and he knew the geography of the cellar very
well. Babylon could with difficulty repress a start as he saw this
bold and unscrupulous ex-waiter moving with such an air of
assurance and determination about the precious cellar. Jules went
directly to a small bin which was numbered 17, and took there
from the topmost bottle.

'The Romanee-Conti - Prince Eugen's wine!' Babylon exclaimed
under his breath.

Jules neatly and quickly removed the seal with an instrument
which he had clearly brought for the purpose. He then took a little
flat box from his pocket, which seemed to contain a sort of black
salve. Rubbing his finger in this, he smeared the top of the neck of
the bottle with it, just where the cork came against the glass. In
another instant he had deftly replaced the seal and restored the
bottle to its position. He then turned off the light, and made for the
aperture. When he was half-way through Nella exclaimed, 'He will
escape, after all. Dad has not had time - we must stop him.'

But Babylon, that embodiment of caution, forcibly, but
nevertheless politely, restrained this Yankee girl, whom he deemed
so rash and imprudent, and before she could free herself the lithe
form of Jules had disappeared. _



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