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The Grand Babylon Hotel, a novel by Arnold Bennett


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_ 'I'LL board her to start with,' said Hazell, whispering to Racksole.
'I'll make out that I suspect they've got dutiable goods on board,
and that will give me a chance to have a good look at her.'

Dressed in his official overcoat and peaked cap, he stepped, rather
jauntily as Racksole thought, on to the low deck of the launch.
'Anyone aboard?'

Racksole heard him cry out, and a woman's voice answered. 'I'm a
Customs examining officer, and I want to search the launch,'
Hazell shouted, and then disappeared down into the little saloon
amidships, and Racksole heard no more. It seemed to the
millionaire that Hazell had been gone hours, but at length he

'Can't find anything,' he said, as he jumped into the boat, and then
privately to Racksole: 'There's a woman on board. Looks as if she
might coincide with your description of Miss Spencer. Steam's up,
but there's no engineer. I asked where the engineer was, and she
inquired what business that was of mine, and requested me to get
through with my own business and clear off. Seems rather a smart
sort. I poked my nose into everything, but I saw no sign of any one
else. Perhaps we'd better pull away and lie near for a bit, just to see
if anything queer occurs.'

'You're quite sure he isn't on board?' Racksole asked.

'Quite,' said Hazell positively: 'I know how to search a vessel. See

and he handed to Racksole a sort of steel skewer, about two feet
long, with a wooden handle. 'That,' he said, 'is one of the Customs'
aids to searching.'

'I suppose it wouldn't do to go on board and carry off the lady?'
Racksole suggested doubtfully.

'Well,' Hazell began, with equal doubtfulness, 'as for that - '

'Where's 'e orf?' It was the man in the bows who interrupted Hazell.

Following the direction of the man's finger, both Hazell and
Racksole saw with more or less distinctness a dinghy slip away
from the forefoot of the Norwegian vessel and disappear
downstream into the mist.

'It's Jules, I'll swear,' cried Racksole. 'After him, men. Ten pounds
apiece if we overtake him!'

'Lay down to it now, boys!' said Hazell, and the heavy Customs
boat shot out in pursuit.

'This is going to be a lark,' Racksole remarked.

'Depends on what you call a lark,' said Hazell; 'it's not much of a
lark tearing down midstream like this in a fog. You never know
when you mayn't be in kingdom come with all these barges
knocking around. I expect that chap hid in the dinghy when he first
caught sight of us, and then slipped his painter as soon as I'd gone.'

The boat was moving at a rapid pace with the tide. Steering was a
matter of luck and instinct more than anything else. Every now and
then Hazell, who held the lines, was obliged to jerk the boat's head
sharply round to avoid a barge or an anchored vessel. It seemed to
Racksole that vessels were anchored all over the stream. He
looked about him anxiously, but for a long time he could see
nothing but mist and vague nautical forms. Then suddenly he said,
quietly enough, 'We're on the right road; I can see him ahead.

We're gaining on him.' In another minute the dinghy was plainly
visible, not twenty yards away, and the sculler - sculling frantically
now - was unmistakably Jules - Jules in a light tweed suit and a
bowler hat.

'You were right,' Hazell said; 'this is a lark. I believe I'm getting
quite excited. It's more exciting than playing the trombone in an
orchestra. I'll run him down, eh? - and then we can drag the chap in
from the water.'

Racksole nodded, but at that moment a barge, with her red sails
set, stood out of the fog clean across the bows of the Customs boat,
which narrowly escaped instant destruction. When they got clear,
and the usual interchange of calm, nonchalant swearing was over,
the dinghy was barely to be discerned in the mist, and the fat man
was breathing in such a manner that his sighs might almost have
been heard on the banks. Racksole wanted violently to do
something, but there was nothing to do; he could only sit supine by
Hazell's side in the stern-sheets. Gradually they began again to
overtake the dinghy, whose one-man crew was evidently tiring. As
they came up, hand over fist, the dinghy's nose swerved aside, and
the tiny craft passed down a water-lane between two anchored
mineral barges, which lay black and deserted about fifty yards
from the Surrey shore. 'To starboard,' said Racksole. 'No, man!'

Hazell replied; 'we can't get through there. He's bound to come Out
below; it's only a feint. I'll keep our nose straight ahead.'

And they went on, the fat man pounding away, with a face which
glistened even in the thick gloom. It was an empty dinghy which
emerged from between the two barges and went drifting and
revolving down towards Greenwich.

The fat man gasped a word to his comrade, and the Customs boat
stopped dead.

''E's all right,' said the man in the bows. 'If it's 'im you want, 'e's on
one o' them barges, so you've only got to step on and take 'im orf.'

'That's all,' said a voice out of the depths of the nearest barge, and
it was the voice of Jules, otherwise known as Mr Tom Jackson.

"Ear 'im?' said the fat man smiling. ''E's a good 'un, 'e is. But if I
was you, Mr Hazell, or you, sir, I shouldn't step on to that barge so
quick as all that.'

They backed the boat under the stem of the nearest barge and
gazed upwards.

'It's all right,' said Racksole to Hazell; 'I've got a revolver. How can
I clamber up there?'

'Yes, I dare say you've got a revolver all right,' Hazell replied

'But you mustn't use it. There mustn't be any noise. We should
have the river police down on us in a twinkling if there was a
revolver shot, and it would be the ruin of me. If an inquiry was
held the Commissioners wouldn't take any official notice of the
fact that my superior officer had put me on to this job, and I should
be requested to leave the service.'

'Have no fear on that score,' said Racksole. 'I shall, of course, take
all responsibility.'

'It wouldn't matter how much responsibility you took,' Hazell
retorted; 'you wouldn't put me back into the service, and my career
would be at an end.'

'But there are other careers,' said Racksole, who was really anxious
to lame his ex-waiter by means of a judiciously-aimed bullet.
'There are other careers.'

'The Customs is my career,' said Hazell, 'so let's have no shooting.
We'll wait about a bit; he can't escape. You can have my skewer if
you like' - and he gave Racksole his searching instrument. 'And
you can do what you please, provided you do it neatly and don't
make a row over it.'

For a few moments the four men were passive in the boat,
surrounded by swirling mist, with black water beneath them, and
towering above them a half-loaded barge with a desperate and
resourceful man on board. Suddenly the mist parted and shrivelled
away in patches, as though before the breath of some monster. The
sky was visible; it was a clear sky, and the moon was shining. The
transformation was just one of those meteorological quick-changes
which happen most frequently on a great river.

'That's a sight better,' said the fat man. At the same moment a head
appeared over the edge of the barge. It was Jules' face - dark,
sinister and leering.

'Is it Mr Racksole in that boat?' he inquired calmly; 'because if so,
let Mr Racksole step up. Mr Racksole has caught me, and he can
have me for the asking. Here I am.' He stood up to his full height
on the barge, tall against the night sky, and all the occupants of the
boat could see that he held firmly clasped in his right hand a short
dagger. 'Now, Mr Racksole, you've been after me for a long time,'
he continued; 'here I am. Why don't you step up? If you haven't got
the pluck yourself, persuade someone else to step up in your place
. . . the same fair treatment will be accorded to all.' And Jules
laughed a low, penetrating laugh.

He was in the midst of this laugh when he lurched suddenly

'What'r' you doing of aboard my barge? Off you goes!' It was a
boy's small shrill voice that sounded in the night. A ragged boy's
small form had appeared silently behind Jules, and two small arms
with a vicious shove precipitated him into the water. He fell with a
fine gurgling splash. It was at once obvious that swimming was not
among Jules' accomplishments. He floundered wildly and sank.
When he reappeared he was dragged into the Customs boat. Rope
was produced, and in a minute or two the man lay ignominiously
bound in the bottom of the boat. With the aid of a mudlark - a
mere barge boy, who probably had no more right on the barge than
Jules himself - Racksole had won his game. For the first time for
several weeks the millionaire experienced a sensation of
equanimity and satisfaction. He leaned over the prostrate form of
Jules, Hazell's professional skewer in his hand.

'What are you going to do with him now?' asked Hazell.

'We'll row up to the landing steps in front of the Grand Babylon.
He shall be well lodged at my hotel, I promise him.'

Jules spoke no word.

Before Racksole parted company with the Customs man that night
Jules had been safely transported into the Grand Babylon Hotel
and the two watermen had received their £10 apiece.

'You will sleep here?' said the millionaire to Mr George Hazell. 'It
is late.'

'With pleasure,' said Hazell. The next morning he found a
sumptuous breakfast awaiting him, and in his table-napkin was a
Bank of England note for a hundred pounds. But, though he did
not hear of them till much later, many things had happened before
Hazell consumed that sumptuous breakfast. _


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