Homicide at the Hydro – Part 2
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
Thierry Mercier was a French chef who had come to Sydney via New Caledonia. He had trained in some of the best restaurants in Paris. Foy, who had eaten at the restaurant in Sydney where Thierry was previously employed, declared that he must have him for the Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath. Accordingly, he made Mercier an offer he couldn’t refuse. The only problem was that the general Australian palate was not ready for Monsieur Mercier’s cuisine. What worked as the menu for a high-end restaurant in Sydney, was seemingly inappropriate at a country hotel—there had been many complaints. Foy repeatedly stated that Thierry must modify his cuisine, thusly. For his part, Thierry hated the Hydro, describing it as provincial, and was counting the days until his contract was complete. In particular he reviled the patrons whom he described as ‘les rosbifs!’ Thierry had a peculiarity that he was completely unaware of: he bore a striking resemblance to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Thierry had just returned to the kitchen. He had been taking a break after the breakfast session, smoking a Gauloises, in the shade close to the kitchen door. In fact, it was he who had left the door open—not Charlie Watson, the new kitchen hand-cum-waiter. He watched somewhat bemused as Annie stalked away, after slamming the door. Thierry had caught the last part of the fraught conversation between Annie and Foy. He understood enough to confirm in his mind what Thierry had perceived about Foy—that he was yet another ‘rosbif’, consumed with his own self-importance; not to mention an opportunist. Thierry Mercier, of course, was also an opportunist and an idea began to crystallise in his mind as to how he could extricate himself hastily from his contract. The head chef was not required to provide high tea today, as a buffet had been arranged for service in another part of the hotel. Thierry turned on his heel and headed instead for the general manager’s office.
Meanwhile the ‘red rattler’ was just coming into Medlow Bath station. Annie, sweating profusely, had just enough time to get across the highway and onto the platform. She watched with interest as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his wife, children and servants (she surmised) alighted from the carriage. Sir Arthur looked curiously familiar to her, although she was certain that she had never seen him before.
Sir Arthur looked about with some annoyance, ‘Blast, where is that chap? Ford … or something; he was supposed to meet us!’
‘It’s Foy… Arthur and I’m sure he’ll be here momentarily my dear,’ his wife replied. ‘Thank goodness the heat here is nowhere near as severe as it was in Sydney. What is this place called again?’
‘It’s called Medlow or at least it used to be. Now known as Medlow Bath apparently.’
Doyle’s son tugged at his sleeve, ‘I say Daddy, do you think we might see a snake whilst we’re here?’
‘I’m sure I haven’t the slightest idea, Denis; but one never knows.’
Annie suddenly had a brain-wave. She raced up breathlessly to Doyle and his party. ‘Excuse me Sir Arthur, my name is Annie, I work at the Hydro Majestic Hotel. Mr Foy sends his apologies—I’m his assistant. He was called away on … ah, an urgent matter, sir—begging your pardon. He said that you should use the pony and trap service, and that the Hydro will be more than happy to cover the cost of transfer of your good selves and luggage over to the hotel. Furthermore,’ she continued in a rush, ‘the Hydro would be pleased if you and your family would care to dine tonight at our expense.’
Doyle and his wife exchanged a glance, ‘Well that is most generous of your employer, I must say. Are you absolutely sure … Annie is it?’
She nodded vigorously.
‘Well we would be delighted to accept Mr Foy’s invitation. Did you know Annie, I once co-wrote the libretto of an opera called Jane Annie with my friend James Barrie? He was the chap who wrote Peter Pan and Wendy …’
Just at that moment, the station master blew his whistle. ‘All aboard, Blackheath next stop.’
‘Yes sir, Mr Doyle … ah I mean Sir Arthur, most interesting I’m sure but you see I have to catch this train to Blackheath. I’ll be back this evening to help serve the evening meal, so I’m certain we’ll meet up again. Now don’t forget, the cost of the trap and tonight’s evening meal is with the compliments of Mr Foy and the Hydro. Goodbye for now. Cheerio!’ No sooner did she finish this rush, than Annie entered the train’s second class carriage and it began chugging out of the station. She fell into a vacant seat and said aloud, ‘Oh God, what on earth have I just done?’ Who does Sir Arthur remind me of anyway?’ However, her mind was in consternation and it eluded her.
Doyle looked incredulous for just a moment, then burst out laughing. ‘How extraordinary,’ he exclaimed. ‘Come along everyone let’s find this pony and trap. I have a feeling that we have gained some new friends.’
Back at the Hydro, Foy had indeed been delayed by his head chef, who had a smug expression on his face.
‘Now look here Thierry, I’m supposed to meet the author chappie—Doyle and his family at the station; your contract has a further six months to run. We’ve been through this before; give the modified menu a chance to settle in. You’re supposed to be doing a special dinner tonight in his honour … what are you smirking about?’
‘Mon ami, I ’ave been watching you. Zee way, how you say, harass some of zee waitresses.’
‘I, I er haven’t the slightest notion what you’re babbling about. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to …’
‘Not so fast Monsieur Foy, I over’eard your tête-à-tête avec Annie, zee serveuse Irlandais.’
‘What on earth are you talking about you stupid Frog? You’ve got the wrong end of the wooden spoon!’
Thierry was puzzled, ‘Excusez-moi, Monsieur, Je ne comprends pas – wrong end of zee wooden spoon?
Foy threw his arms up in frustration. ‘Pah,’ he exclaimed and stalked off. But Foy knew exactly what his chef, in fractured Franglaise, was trying to tell him and what he was trying to achieve. There was a ‘closing gate’ looming and Foy did not intend to be on the wrong side of it. He’d have to take drastic action with regard to Annie and with his exasperating chef. But fate was about to take its own course, thanks to a certain ‘collaborator’ waiting patiently in the kitchen.
To be continued …
Bio: This is the second instalment of James’ account of Sir Arthur Conon Doyle’s visit to the Hydro Hotel in the 1920s. Check other examples of James’ work here.