Homicide at the Hydro – Part 1
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
It was a particularly hot day in January in Medlow Bath that summer in 1921. Accordingly, most doors and windows of the Hydro Majestic Hotel had been left open to take advantage of whatever breeze was available. It was the seventeenth and there was considerable excitement as the staff had been told that the eminent novelist, spiritualist and raconteur—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) was about to arrive for a short holiday; following his return from a successful lecture tour in New Zealand. The newspapers had been full of a fair amount of religious indignation directed at Sir Arthur, because of his spiritualist beliefs. There had even been one or two ill-advised death threats. No one noticed the killer who performed a subtle movement and slipped into the cool surrounds of the Hydro’s main kitchen.
The young Irish waitress—Annie, had just finished her morning shift from seven in the morning to noon and was preparing to catch the train to Blackheath. She would return later that day to serve dinner from six o’clock onwards. She hated split shifts but really needed the money to help support her family, as her husband’s fledgling upholstery business was still struggling. The twenty five shillings she made per week helped, in a meagre way, to make ends meet. As a married woman, Annie considered herself lucky to have a job at all. In lieu of a room at the hotel in the servant’s quarters, she also received an additional five shillings a week. Annie was tiny and very pretty and therefore received a considerable amount of attention from Mr Foy, the general manager. She was just about to leave when Foy came through a side entrance.
‘Who left that door opened?’ he demanded angrily. ‘The blowflies will be having a field day!’
‘Oh it wasn’t me Mr Foy; perhaps it was Charlie the kitchen hand. He’s quite new and inexperienced. He’d be better off in a haberdashery or something.’
‘Really?’ Foy asked sarcastically. ‘Know a lot about kitchen hygiene do you? I’ve been watching you, with your airs and graces; fancy yourself as something above your station do you?’
Annie bit her tongue, not rising to the bait and not wanting to put her job at risk. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about Mr Foy; I do me work and go about me business. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to catch the train and get back to me husband; he’ll be expecting his lunch.’ She made towards the open door.
Foy was taken aback for a moment—he was not used to underlings speaking back to him in such … an impertinent manner! ‘Er, ah just a moment if you please, I have a proposal of sorts to put to you; there’ll be plenty of time for you to catch the train.’ Annie stopped dead in her tracks, fearing the worst. ‘I believe your husband … um Albert is it?’ Annie nodded her assent, ‘has recovered one or two of the couches in the Cat’s Alley, and I’m told, did a reasonable job of restoration. Well Annie, you’re a pretty sort of woman, not too common. In exchange for one or two … how can I put it? … special favours from you, I’ll see to it that your husband becomes our full-time maintenance manager. And I’ll be your second husband so to speak, do you get my drift? Moreover, as an additional sweetener, I’ll raise your wages by a further five shillings per week; what do say, hmm?’
Annie was stunned. Her first instinct was to tell Mr Foy what he could do with his job. Her mind was reeling; all she could think of was getting away. You really are a snake! She thought to herself. She stammered, flummoxed for a moment then replied, ‘Well I … I’m … flattered Mr Foy. But I’ve already got a loving husband … and a baby. Whilst my Albert is a first class tradesman, to be sure. Why, I’d be breaking me sacred vows; I’ll need to think this over—you can’t expect me to give you an answer on the spot.’
Foy came up to her side, ‘Take all the time you want, let me know when you come back for the evening shift.’ He patted her on her derrière then made for the side door before she could protest.
‘Oh, by the way, make sure you take the trouble to make yourself presentable. You’ll be on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s table tonight—you should consider it an honour! I can’t have my special employees looking bedraggled. On your way now and shut that door behind you on your way out.’ And with that Foy left to attend to other pressing matters.
Annie slammed the door. She was close to tears as she made for the railway station; she had just enough time to catch the one o’clock train. Meanwhile, back in the dark shadows of a corner in the kitchen, the killer had witnessed the skirmish between Mr Foy and Annie. It wouldn’t be too long to wait …
To be continued …
Bio: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) and his family, visited the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath in 1921. This is an imaginative account of their time there. Most of the historical background is authentic. James and his family have had a connection to the Hydro since the fifties.