Homicide At The Hydro – Part 8
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
Mildred touched up her makeup for about the third time in five minutes. It was around six thirty; the telephone had gone quiet and Mr Foy had not been seen for some time. Mildred had a room at the hotel and her hours were not what you would call regular. She was intrigued by Nigel Strachan’s interest; particularly as Mr Foy had stopped showing her favours. She suspected that he (Foy) had designs on someone else—perhaps it was Annie the Irish waitress? Cow! She thought, Probably leading him on!
So off she went down to the Boiler House to see what it was he wanted. As if she didn’t know! Mildred had never actually been inside the Boiler House before and was a trifle apprehensive. Nigel met her at the door. After a cursory tour around the premises; a few murmured endearments and a little nip of gin, Nigel suggested that Mildred (Oh, call me Milly!) might like to ‘rest’ for a while on the cot that was kept for the benefit of whoever was rostered for the night-shift. Quite conveniently, it was Nigel’s turn. Milly’s hesitancy evaporated and the couple were soon engaged in generating their own steam. (Milly, you are magnificent! Ooh Nigel, you are naughty!)
No one could be certain, but it was at about half past seven when the power failed. Nigel’s attention was elsewhere when a climax at the Boiler House precipitated a climax of quite another calibre in the main kitchen of the Hydro. Simultaneously, the telephone began ringing at Mildred’s desk at reception adjacent to Foy’s office.
The operator at Katoomba exchange let the Hydro’s number ring for some time, without receiving an answer. ‘I’m afraid I’m not getting an answer sir, at the Hydro Majestic; do you wish to continue?’
‘No not at present, thank you.’ replied Hugh Ward. ‘It’s damned unusual I must say for nobody to be on duty there though; I’ll try again later.’ He rang off from the Manager’s office at Blue Mountain Hotel in Lawson and returned to the Ladies’ Lounge where Dame Nellie was ensconced with a Pimm’s Royal Cup.
‘So, what’s the good word from Father Foy?’ demanded Nellie. ‘I’ll wager Sir Arthur must be getting hungry.’
‘No idea.’ Replied Hugh after taking a sip from his lager, ‘No one is answering at the Hydro—damn strange!’
‘Oh for pity’s sake Hugh, what do we do now?’
‘Relax and have another drink old girl—the bushfire is still raging, so we’re not going anywhere, anyhow! If I don’t get a response next time, I’ll give the police at Katoomba a ring instead. They at least will tell us how the fire is progressing—I hope!’
‘Very well, go and get me another Pimm’s. This is going to be a long night—wish I’d stayed in Sydney!’
‘Amen to that.’ replied Hugh as he returned to the main bar. ‘This will be quite a travel tale.’
In the pitch dark of the kitchen, as Annie and Shirley screamed and grasped for something to hold onto, bringing down more plates and glassware; Shirley felt something brush past her foot and screamed anew. The intruder, having done the deed, slipped out the staff entrance into the relative cool outside.
Thierry Mercier gave out a howl of pain, ‘Ahhhh! Vat have you done to me Watson—Sacrebleu!’
‘I ain’t done nothin’, you French git!’ replied Charlie distressed.
‘Find some candles or a kerosene lamp, quick!’ cried Annie, but for the moment chaos reigned.
Thierry fell to his knees and bashed his head on a bench as he went down; his chef’s hat falling off in the process. He started crawling across the floor over crockery shards to what he thought he knew was the staff entrance. He was bleeding profusely. He felt the door jamb and gained his feet once more. Dick Wesley saw Thierry Mercier emerging from the staff entrance in the pale moonlight. He had heard the commotion inside and wondered, what on earth Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was doing in the kitchen. Pull yourself together, this is your opportunity to rid the world of this Anti-Christ! thought Dick. He picked up a large stone, ran forward and made to strike Thierry on the side of the head. Thierry saw him coming and raised his hand instinctively to ward off the blow. He was only struck lightly but it was enough to fell him once more. He lapsed into unconsciousness. All at once, Dick Wesley was overcome with remorse at the enormity of what he had done. He dropped the rock by Thierry’s side and ran off into the darkness; tears streaming down his face.
Mr Foy sat at Sir Arthur’s table and endured the latter’s harangue about spiritualism. The Mayor of Blackheath and his wife were also guests at the table. The mayor’s wife had remarked casually that Australia’s first Prime Minister—Sir Edmund Barton had actually died in the hotel in January 1920, the previous year. And that perhaps, given that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a prominent spiritualist, they should hold a séance when Dame Nellie Melba arrived. ‘I’m told she often consults fortune tellers.’ She said quite innocently.
Naturally, Sir Arthur had leapt in saying, ‘Dear lady, all fortune-telling is really a feeling out in the dark. If good things are going to happen, be content to wait for them, and if evil comes nothing is gained by attempting to anticipate it. My sympathies are with the police in their attitude to fortune-tellers, whose black magic is far removed from the services of our mediums in striving to bring comfort to those whose loved ones have gone before. In this respect, at least, I am in empathy with my friend Harry Houdini. Whom, I believe is really a powerful spiritualist medium, performing many of his stunts by means of paranormal abilities. He denies this of course. Furthermore …’
Foy had stopped listening to Sir Arthur and felt a modicum of sympathy towards his wife. Just at that moment, there was a fearful cry and a loud crash that came from the kitchen. Foy got up from the table and started running towards the kitchen door with the Mayor in hot pursuit; he pushed open the door just as all lights failed and the hotel was plunged into darkness.
To be continued this afternoon …
Bio: This is the eighth 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