Homicide At The Hydro – Part 12 (Conclusion)
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from this morning …
The two men turned the corpse back over with some difficulty, as they were in cramped surroundings. Also rigor mortis had set in. ‘Ah there, you see?’ Sir Arthur said almost gleefully, ‘Those two distinctive puncture wounds at the bottom of his calf on the left leg through the trousers. There’s a bit of dried blood on the outside.’
Joe Morey took out his pocket knife once more and carefully cut away the material from around the puncture marks, which were bruised, discoloured and swollen—irrefutable evidence of snakebite. ‘Well I’ll be a monkey’s armpit!’ Joe finally said after a minute’s silence. ‘You’re absolutely right, I know snakebite when I see it.’
Joe, however, was stubborn. ‘How on earth did you know? Why didn’t you say something last night?’
‘I wasn’t sure last night. There I was staring down at a man who looked just like me, who was dead—that was unnerving! I couldn’t think straight and anyway I thought that it was Sir Dick Wesley who’d done the deed. He’d been a damned nuisance to me as I explained before.’
‘Yeah okay, I’ll accept that. But what gave you the clue that snakebite killed Mercier?’ Joe persisted.
‘There was a mention in Mrs Locke’s statement that something had brushed past her shoe in the dark, and that was after Mercier had screamed out implicating young Mr Watson. Not only that but he’d been bleeding from the mouth and that is not a symptom of syphilis. In any event, where would another person have been hiding in the kitchen? It came to me in a vision earlier on when we ran over a snake on our trip to Jenolan Caves earlier today.’
Joe was still not ready to admit defeat; especially to an amateur sleuth who had “visions”. ‘It’s still a very short time from being bitten to actual death, even though Mercier had the pox—got an answer to that too, I presume?’
Sir Arthur shrugged, ‘It’s not conclusive but consider that Mercier was drunk; very drunk I’d say—he’d been drinking cognac all afternoon. He’d have been in considerable pain all the time from the effects of syphilis, so anything to deaden the pain. Alcoholic liquors are harmful to persons bitten by venomous snakes. The alcohol acts first as a stimulant, speeds up circulation and distributes the poison quickly through the body. Convinced?’
Joe nodded wordlessly. Thierry Mercier had died from snakebite.
‘Righto … well … no need to thank me Constable,’ said Sir Arthur reverting to formal titles, ‘If you’ll excuse me, I promised my son that I’d get his photograph taken with the dead snake. Must go and find Foy.’
Constable Joe Morey was actually relieved that he could finally put this frustrating case to bed and that no foul play had been committed. A murder was the last thing that anyone wanted, especially Foy and the Hydro Majestic. He quickly finished writing up his notes. The full report for the chamber magistrate would have to wait for now. He made his way to the manager’s office and found Sir Arthur and Foy deep in conversation. He left them to it. After retrieving the key, Joe made straight for the room where Richard Wesley had been briefly held.
‘You’re free to go Dick, I’ve determined that you’re not responsible for the Frenchman’s death. Although I could charge you with public nuisance and common assault. I’d suggest that the Lord would be best pleased if you served him elsewhere—get the drift?’ Dick did. He left immediately and went home to pack his bags.
Eventually, Joe Morey was promoted to Sergeant for his exemplary work on this case and other matters. He moved to Katoomba Station. His wife was delighted.
Charlie Watson could scarcely believe that a snake had been in the kitchen the whole afternoon, when he’d been working. It’s time to leave though, he thought. ‘I’d rather be involved in haberdashery I think Mr Foy.’ he said during their latest conversation. Foy agreed for he still thought that young Watson held great promise. Foy offered him a position in the menswear section of his grand Sydney store. Charlie accepted at once.
Unfortunately, Shirley Locke was not offered the position of Head Chef. It seemed that her ethnicity (she was part Aboriginal) and her gender was against her. Nevertheless, she stayed on for she still had a family to support and provide for. ‘Doesn’t really matter who Foy puts in charge—it’s my kitchen, and everyone knows it!’ she rationalised to Annie the Irish waitress. Annie though, had her own future ideas that she was soon to set in motion.
Sir Arthur and his family took their leave a few days later. Foy prevailed upon Sir Arthur not to mention the unfortunate death of Chef Thierry Mercier in any subsequent memoir; fearing what effect that might have on possible future guests to the hotel. Numbers had declined significantly, for a while at least, when Sir Edmund Barton had died in the hotel of a heart attack some twelve months previously. Sir Arthur was happy to accede. Denis Doyle had his photograph taken with the unlucky snake. Foy promised that the carcass would be sent to a taxidermist and displayed in the new natural history museum, to be run by Mel Ward—son of Hugh Ward who in turn was the manager of Dame Nellie Melba. The Doyles had not managed to make the acquaintance of Dame Nellie, but they enjoyed the rest of their stay nevertheless. So much so that Sir Arthur referred to Medlow Bath and the Hydro as ‘That little earthly paradise, which is the most restful spot we have found in our wanderings.’ Back in Sydney once more, the Doyles also managed to have a quiet, comfortable stay at the Pacific Hotel at Manly whilst Sir Arthur made preparations for their trip back to Blighty. This was broken only by a cruise on Sydney harbour organised for them by the Sydney spiritualists. Ironically, their excursion included a tour of Watsons Bay. But whether they had a meal at Doyles Seafood Restaurant is unknown.
Annie the erstwhile waitress at the Hydro left quickly after these unfortunate events. But not before she had formed an alliance with Mildred at reception. During the blackout, when she had been shepherding guests from the Cat’s Alley back to the dining room, Annie had inflicted her own damage to the furniture. Her rationale was that her husband Albert was the only upholsterer available in the near vicinity. Ergo, he would be called upon to do the repair work. Annie herself was an experienced seamstress and knew that she would be needed to assist with subsequent repair work. Mildred, who had her own issues with Foy, would also exact damage to the furniture from time to time and advise Annie when another chair or couch needed attention. She continued to find comfort in the arms of Nigel down at the Boiler House.
Annie had another unexpected windfall. The Mayor of Blackheath had observed Annie closely during the initial serving of the meal and her easy repartee with Sir Arthur, Lady Doyle and other guests. He also noted with even closer interest that a state of agitation existed between her and Foy. The Mayor first consulted with his wife; then made Annie an offer to start work at his own modest establishment in Blackheath called Belvedere Guesthouse that had its own nine-hole golf course. She accepted readily, it was a reprieve. But it was as well for her own piece of mind that she had no idea of the Mayor’s former situation.
During the war, Mayor Belvedere had been a medical orderly with the AIF Before the Anzacs sailed off to the disastrous campaign at Gallipoli, they did further training in Egypt and spent their nights drinking and carousing in the fleshpots of Cairo, where every imaginable vice was on offer. Belvedere, like many other young Australian lads, was away from home for the first time. He succumbed to temptation and fell in with a young French chef called Thierry Mercier, who was attached to the French Foreign Legion. Years later, with his wartime indiscretions behind him and now a pillar of the community, Belvedere was startled to come upon Thierry quite by chance one day in Blackheath. Thierry had been on a rare day off from the Hydro and had been drinking heavily at the Gardners Inn; the publican had refused to serve him anymore and thrown him out.
Even in his drunken state, Thierry recognised Belvedere, ‘Ah it is Beelzebub from Cairo! Zo, Zis is where you ended up, mon ami! Zets us have a drink together, for old time’s sake. s’il vous plaît?’
Belvedere almost fainted, ‘Err ah you’ve mistaken me for someone else I fear!’
But just at that moment, an associate strolled by, ‘G’day Mayor, how’s the Belvedere Guesthouse goin?’
Never one to miss an opportunity, Thierry said, ‘Zo you are now, how you zay—zee big shot! I vork at zee Hydro under zat oaf Foy. You could use your power to haz him release me from a contact. Tu as de I’argent sur toi?’
‘Wh, What?’ Belvedere babbled, his French was rudimentary.
‘Moonay, ignoramus ros bif! Give me some moonay,’ roared Thierry, ‘zo I can get back to Sydney! Or I spill zee beans!’
‘Keep your voice down,’ Belvedere hissed. ‘I’ll be at the Hydro next week, I’ll see you then!’
Belvedere had gotten away with difficulty that day with Thierry’s drunken ranting in his ears. He knew exactly what Thierry Mercier was referring to. I’ll be ruined, he thought. The troops back in Cairo had a saying: ‘Something Sphinx in Egypt!’ When Belvedere first met Sir Arthur in the dining room of the Hydro Majestic, he was taken aback at how alike the world famous author was to Thierry Mercier. When the crash was heard coming from the kitchen, Foy and Mayor Belvedere had been quick to investigate. After their own fall on the greasy floor and disentanglement, Belvedere went to explore outside with a candelabra. He found Thierry face down on the gravel. The Mayor, being observant and a former medical orderly was also well acquainted with the effects of snakebite. He noted the head injury and the two puncture wounds on the calf. He knelt down beside the French Chef, whose breathing was already laboured, and set the candelabra to one side.
Belvedere was also an opportunist; he made a split second decision. He quickly pinched Thierry’s nose and covered his mouth with a handkerchief where blood was seeping out. Thierry struggled feebly for a few moments then lay still. Belvedere felt for a pulse: there was none. His hands were shaking but he had the presence of mind to dispose of the bloody handkerchief. He could hear Foy bellowing orders at the staff inside. Coolly, he turned back towards the kitchen door and re-entered saying, ‘Foy, grab yourself a candle or something and come and have a look at this—I’ve found your chef, I think.’
Foy had once remarked that he must have killed a Chinaman in a former life. His run of bad luck continued. Fire had destroyed the gallery building in 1905 and the Belgravia wing of the Hydro Majestic was severely damaged by fire again in 1922; the year following Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit.
Construction on the new Belgravia wing commenced in 1922 and was not completed until 1936. By contrast, a contract to purchase the Belvedere Golf Links by a consortium of businessmen was signed in April 1922 that eventually became the Blackheath Golf Club. It made Beelzebub from Cairo a very rich man for a short time. He succumbed to dementia at an early age. In the great game of life, there are always winners and losers.
Snakes and ladders—elementary really.
Bio: This is the twelfth and final instalment of James’ account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the 1920s. Did you pick who the murderer was? Check out other examples of James’ work here