Homicide at the Hydro – Part 6
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
It’s been said that religious fanaticism comes not from deep faith, but from a lack of it. Either way, Richard (Dick) Wesley was a man possessed: a fanatic. It was difficult to tell if he really believed the dogma he would espouse at every opportunity, or if he was just intent on drawing attention to himself. Dick had attended Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritualist lecture at Sydney Town Hall, and watched with interest as some hecklers called out ‘Fairy Stories’ attempting to disrupt proceedings. There had been an article in The Truth suggesting that Sir Arthur’s leg was being pulled in regard to the Cottingley Fairies. Dick had stood apart near the door and cried out, ‘Anti-Christ!’ several times and raised a crucifix. Sir Arthur had replied ‘And you, my pious friend, are extremely contumelious!’
The organisers had finally bundled him out. Dick couldn’t quite believe his ears when he heard one of his “assailants” say to the other: ‘Well, Sir Arthur will be certainly looking forward to his holiday, starting tomorrow, at Medlow Bath; after having to deal with the likes of this cove.’ Then to Dick he said, ‘Go on, you close-minded git—push off!’ The man shoved him down the steps. Dick took one or two steps forward then spun around to confront his protagonist.
‘Shove off? Me?’ Dick gathered together his self-righteous dignity. ‘I, sir, am a decent, clean-living Christian man and that peddler of depravity and blasphemy should be put down like a mad dog!’ With that last retort, Dick had quickly stolen away; incredulous that the man he reviled was to take a holiday in his hometown! Dick Wesley had taken ‘the fish’ down the mountains earlier in the morning—he couldn’t believe his luck. He was keen to get back to Medlow Bath to plan his next move, and to look up the dictionary meaning of contumelious. He just knew that it would not appear anywhere in the Holy Bible.
Dick had reached the Hydro Majestic around mid-morning on the day of Sir Arthur’s arrival at Medlow Bath. He had mostly kept out of sight, wandering about the grounds looking for a way into the hotel without arousing suspicion. He had thought that had he simply walked in the main entrance, he would be stopped and asked to state his business. Notwithstanding that he’d lived in Medlow Bath for quite some time, Dick had never before stepped foot inside the premises. As a teetotaller, he condemned premises such as the Hydro for serving alcohol. He was also convinced that it was a bordello where women of ill repute lured God-fearing men with sins of the flesh; despite the fact that the Hydro was a well-known family destination.
Dick watched with interest as a number of staff members began filing out of a doorway; one was wearing a chef’s white hat. It’s all a matter of degree, because every religious person feels he or she has to do something; it’s only a question of how much. Accordingly, an idea began to form in Dick’s mind and he crept closer. The sun was in his eyes, consequently he could not see the chef’s face. Had he been able to see, he would have been astonished at how similar an appearance the chef bore to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In another part of the Hydro, drama of an entirely different kind was unfolding that would have an impact on Sir Arthur’s visit. The inner workings of the Hydro Majestic Hotel were all thoroughly modern including a steam-driven generator that was imported from Germany. This generator produced electricity for the hotel and the adjoining township of Medlow Bath. However, it was never intended for extremely hot weather conditions. In 1921, the summer was very hot. Steam engines powered the world throughout the Industrial Revolution from the eighteenth century and into the twentieth. But they were huge, cumbersome, and relatively inefficient—breakdowns were frequent and spare parts were not always available.
The Chief Engineer at the Boiler House—Nigel Strachan, was worried that a major blackout was imminent. Nigel, like many technical staff, was always wary. He decided to contact the manager—Mr Foy. He reached for his telephone, knowing full well that the latter would be busy with his important guests. But, it would give him another opportunity to speak to the lovely Mildred; telephonist and secretary.
‘Hello Mildred? It’s Strachan here down at the Boiler House—could you put me through to Mr Foy please?’
‘Oh I’m afraid he’s not here Mr Strachan, he’s somewhere within the hotel. Sir Arthur and his family are arriving shortly, so he’s been in a bit of a flap today—a bit tetchy in fact. Was it urgent?’ Mildred already knew what his answer would be; Strachan was a ‘bit of a dish’, in her opinion, but a born worrywart. Everything was urgent!
To her surprise he replied, ‘Ah well, no … not at this stage, Mildred. Perhaps I’ll ring later.’ Then as an afterthought, he said, ‘Err ah Mildred, I wonder are you doing anything after work?’
She thought, So, is this the real reason he rings all the time? ‘Well, no … Nigel. What did you have in mind?’
At around 7.30pm, Sir Arthur and his family had finally reconvened in the dining room. The creator of Sherlock Holmes had some rather esoteric tendencies and had once more lingered in the library, thereby delaying proceedings. Sherlock Holmes might have been portrayed as a sceptic, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in addition to spiritualism, believed implicitly in fairies. Indeed, he was convinced that the Cottingley Fairy photographs, the famous 1917 hoax, were genuine. He was perusing Princess Mary’s Gift Book—a popular children’s book, published in 1914, that his youngest daughter had picked up; blissfully unaware that it was the very same book, from which the illustrations of dancing girls had been copied with additional wings.
‘I say Jean, do look at this charming book! Some of these drawings are simply delightful!’
Jean cast an eye over her husband’s shoulder, ‘Hmm, more fairies Arthur?’
Sir Arthur looked askance at his wife, ‘Jean that telegram I received from Gardner, when we were in Melbourne, confirms for me that the fairy photographs are genuine and have not been faked. You know as well as I do that those technicians over at Kodak are biased. I fully intend to proceed with publication of The Coming of the Fairies when we return home.’
‘Yes of course Arthur, in the meantime, perhaps we shouldn’t keep the other famous fairy waiting in the dining room. Do come along!’
Whether Lady Doyle was referring to Dame Nellie Melba or to Annie the waitress, she gave no indication. In fact, there was still no sign of Madame Melba. Mr Foy, the manager and mine host, was starting to feel the stress.
To be continued this afternoon …
Bio: This is the sixth instalment of James’ account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the 1920s. For more examples of James’ writing click here