Homicide at the Hydro – Part 5
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from this morning …
Luncheon in the function room was finished, but Sir Arthur was not. His lecture tour of New Zealand might have been over though it seemed the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was not yet ready to relax. His wife Jean determined that she would repair to their room, taking the youngest children with her. She was greatly displeased when he asked Miss Jakeman—their long-suffering assistant, to please wait, as he had a few thoughts about future writings that he wished to discuss with her.
‘For goodness sake Arthur, you’ve just returned from New Zealand; there was the brush with that awful man at the last lecture in Sydney; we’ve just had word that Mother has passed away—can you not take things a little easier for a while? I’m sure Jakeman could do with a breather!’
‘My dear, I assure you I won’t keep her long—I must strike while the iron is hot, you know.’ He made a gesture with his eyebrows.
Jean rolled her eyes skyward. ‘Oh … very well, come along Denis.’
Denis started to protest, ‘But Mother, we were going to …’
Jean was having none of it. ‘I said, come along Denis.’ Then more conciliatory, ‘Plenty of time to find snakes later—did you enjoy your lunch? Have you still got the cricket ball that Mr Trumble gave you in Melbourne?’
Sir Arthur watched them stroll away, sighed, then he turned to Miss Jakeman. ‘Ahh Jacky, it’s not really work that I wished to speak to you about; I’m afraid Mr Foy the manager has made a request.’
The request, of course, was that Foy wished for Miss Jakeman to surrender her room in favour of Dame Nellie Melba, who would be on her way to the Hydro later in the afternoon from Sydney. He also wished to know if Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle would be agreeable to having Dame Nellie dine with them. He had been reluctant to turn Dame Nellie down. Indeed, had it not been for the persuasive intervention of her manager—Hugh Ward, it was almost certain that the casual engagement would have been cancelled. Foy had been negotiating with Ward for some time now; both men trying to deal with the capriciousness of the Diva. Their telephone conversation had been somewhat demeaning as far as the manager of the Hydro Majestic was concerned:
‘Now look here Foy, I’ve managed to coax Madame Melba into accepting the lesser suite, as she sees it, but she’s gotten wind that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is also staying at the Hydro. Is that who is staying in her suite?’
Foy silently swore, bugger! ‘Err … yes, that’s right Hugh, I couldn’t put him off. He is after all, a world famous author with his family, and I hadn’t heard back from you until your telegram arrived and …’
Ward cut in, ‘Well that’s all well and good but now I’m afraid that she wants to meet him. Been reading all about him in the Sydney newspapers about his spiritualist lecture tour meetings. Of course she’s read some of his Sherlock Holmes stuff as well; do you think you could manage to perhaps put them both on the same table in the dining room?’
‘Well, that could be arranged I suppose—but Hugh can you assure me she will come? I realise that this is strictly incognito because she’s not due to resume touring officially until later in the year—isn’t that right?’
‘Absolutely spot on old sport.’ Ward confirmed. ‘We’ve got the Concerts for the People programme upcoming, so this will be a little break for her. Now another matter. My son Melbourne—Mel for short, is a budding anthropologist as you know.’
‘Yesss,’ said Foy with trepidation.
‘He’s got this hare-brained idea about opening a museum—you know natural history and so forth. Well I was wondering about that disused building in your grounds.’
Here we go! Foy thought, a white elephant to match the Hydro. ‘What about it Hugh?’
‘Well, isn’t it obvious my dear fellow? A natural history museum in the Blue Mountains! Now is your mind open or closed to the suggestion? Could be quite an attraction for your guests—what do you say?’
Foy actually thought that Hugh Ward’s idea had some merit, because as far as he knew, no other establishment in the upper mountains had a similar facility. At the moment though, he had other pressing matters to attend to. He rang off assuring Ward that he would manage to seat Dame Nellie at Sir Arthur’s table, and that he would give the museum proposal serious consideration—in the future. It was at that point that he had sought Sir Arthur, who was still browsing in the library and the adjoining cat’s alley.
‘Yes of course Foy, Miss Jakeman shan’t mind a bit. She’s a most obliging employee—I’ll let her know shortly. And Mrs Doyle and I would be honoured to have Dame Nellie dine with us. We are both avid admirers of her glorious voice. As a matter of fact, we saw her in a performance of La bohème after the war at the Royal Opera House, which was the re-opening production after four years of closure. It’ll be a lovely surprise for Jean.’
‘Thank you so much, Sir Arthur! Now if you’ll excuse me …’
‘I think from memory, she received about half a dozen curtain calls and a standing ovation—do you know we passed by Madame Melba’s place at Lilydale when we were down in Victoria?’ The wonderful woods there with their strange tree-ferns seemed fit cover for such a singing bird …’
Foy gritted his teeth as Sir Arthur ploughed on … ‘I say Foy, did you notice someone must have been standing on that splendid couch over there in the cat’s alley? Gone right through it. I’d hazard a guess it was a lady wearing one of those new evening pumps with a two-inch Cuban heel! How they manage to walk around in them I do not know! Such lovely views over the valley below—what’s it called again, Megalong?’
Foy endured Sir Arthur for a few moments more before abruptly saying ‘Excuse me’. Then he practically sprinted back down the cat’s alley now on his way to the kitchen. ‘God, what a crashing bore,’ he said aloud. He rounded a bend, almost colliding with Shirley Locke—the second chef.
‘Careful Boss,’ exclaimed Shirley, who almost dropped the serving platters she was carrying. ‘If you’re talkin’ about that author bloke—I agree. Do you know he looks awfully like Thierry Mercier?’
‘Err, ah no, not Sir Arthur, I meant someone else—not that it’s any of your business. But you are right, he does rather look like our head chef.’ Foy hurried away once more.
Shirley screwed her face up at mention of the words—head chef. ‘The sooner that French mongrel is gone from here the better. Then I’ll be Head Chef Shirley!’
To be continued next Sunday …
Bio: This is the fifth instalment of James’ account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the 1920s. For more examples of James’ work click here