Homicide at the Hydro – Part 3
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
Chef Thierry Mercier was now in a state of agitation. His plan to coerce Foy into releasing him from his contract had come unstuck. Mon Dieu, que dois-je faire? He thought to himself meaning: ‘My God, what must I do?’ He stalked off once more, this time towards his room in the servant’s quarters. Firstly he made a detour to the main bar where he pilfered a bottle of fine cognac. Back in his room, Thierry closed and locked the door he then immediately opened the bottle of brandy, taking a long drink directly from the bottle. He opened the window to let some fresh air into the stifling hot room. He was just in time to see a flock of cockatoos go shrieking around the side of the hotel. ‘Zat is ’ow I am feeling too,’ he said aloud. Just at that moment, he also heard a kookaburra laughing uproariously. ‘Even zee wildlife torment me! Zo I vill torment zee lovely Charlee—il est la récompense!’
Charlie Watson, on the other hand, had been in a state of agitation for some time. He had been a waiter-cum-kitchen hand at the Hydro Majestic now for around six weeks, and was rather unsure if he wished to continue. He quite enjoyed the work—as long and arduous as it was, but the pay was abysmal. Furthermore, he was receiving some uncalled-for attention from the main chef, Monsieur Mercier. Charlie referred to him, contemptuously, as a ‘bloody shirt lifter’ when yarning with his mates. Despite this, Charlie loved the ambiance of the hotel—its elegance and gentility, and he liked nothing better than to watch the patrons in their finery, as they paraded up and down the Cat’s Alley. The ladies in their crinoline gowns and the gentlemen in their formal attire were a source of constant delight to him. Charlie did his best, on his meagre salary, to always appear neat and tidy. He was enamoured of fine tailoring and it was his ambition to, one day, open his own haberdashery or exclusive gentleman’s clothing store. Thus, Mr Foy thought that young Watson showed promise.
Earlier on, Charlie had been approaching the open kitchen door; he stopped short and hid behind a poplar when he came upon the chef—Monsieur Mercier eavesdropping, apparently, on a conversation going on inside. He couldn’t hear it—more’s the pity! Moments later, Annie the pretty Irish waitress, whom he had made friends with, came out through the portal and slammed the door behind her. She looked rather distressed and did not see Charlie behind the poplar as she passed by him on her way to the station. My, oh my! thought Charlie. What’s cookin’ I wonder? Looks like old murky Mercier heard something interesting; I’ll just keep out of harm’s way for the moment! Charlie stayed put until the chef disappeared around the corner of the building.
Sir Arthur and party had now transferred themselves to the pony and trap and were on their way across to the Hydro. Regrettably, there was not enough room for everyone. So Sir Arthur and his son, Denis, had elected to walk across and stretch their legs, as they had not been off the train since Sydney; even when they had stopped at Wentworth Falls for the locomotive to take on water. Just as they approached the main entrance, a flurry of screeching white birds flew over them.
‘Gosh Daddy, it’s so hot—oh look—a flock of seagulls!’ exclaimed Denis.
‘Not this far inland, old chap!’ replied Sir Arthur. ‘I think they call those chaps, cockatoos. They’re a sort of parrot. Noisy blighters aren’t they?’
Just then, Foy the manager arrived on the scene. ‘Damned parasites if you ask me! Forever attacking our supplies from the valley as they come up in the flying fox; ah Sir Arthur, I presume? Welcome to the Hydro Majestic. My name is Foy the manager. I’ve just met your good lady wife and I presume this is your son?
‘Err, ah, yes … thank you, Foy! Yes, this is my son Denis—he’s hoping to see a snake while we’re here—aren’t you Denis? … Denis?’
Denis shuffled his feet and finally said, ‘Yes, I suppose so.’
‘Well, you won’t find any in our hotel at least!’ Foy stated firmly. ‘Anyway, let’s get you both in out of the sun, eh? I’m terribly sorry I didn’t meet you at the station, Sir Arthur. I’m afraid I had a staffing problem.’
‘Oh don’t mention it, your assistant Annie met us instead; before she got on the train to Blackheath. I must say it’s uncommonly generous of you to provide the pony and trap, and to offer us our evening meal … gratis. One realises that staffing problems do arise. However, it would be churlish to refuse your kind offer.’
Foy was confused. So Annie “my assistant”, said that the evening meal was on the house, did she? Why that little minx, her days here are numbered! ‘Well … yes, of course Mr Doyle, err Sir Arthur; we do pride ourselves on service here you know.’ To add to Foy’s confusion, once they were in out of the glare of the sun, Foy was startled to note that the eminent author—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bore an uncanny resemblance to his headstrong chef, Monsieur Thierry Mercier. He had a strong sense of foreboding.
Buoyant now that his boss had disappeared, Charlie Watson entered the kitchen. The intruder had retreated to the larder area; consequently Charlie was unaware that he was not alone. In fact the rest of the kitchen staff were attending to a buffet in another part of the hotel. In the meantime, Charlie began preparatory work for the evening meal, expecting any moment for Thierry Mercier to reappear.
After perfunctorily checking in Sir Arthur, his wife, children and entourage, Foy led his guests along the Cat’s Alley to the function room where the buffet had been laid out.
‘Well I must say Foy, you were a successful draper in Sydney, and you are certainly a man of taste—adorning this passageway with such a vast collection of prints and paintings; this would attract attention in any city in the world. Don’t you think so Jean?’
Jean, who was tired and fatigued replied, ‘Yes Arthur, delightful—I’m sure; do let us get to luncheon, the children are wilting and so am I!’
‘Of course my dear, another time eh Foy? I especially like your series of French prints, representing events of Byzantine history. Incidentally, did you know that Foy is actually a French surname?’
Sir Arthur prattled on in similar fashion but Foy rolled his eyes skyward. Lord, an insufferable bore and he looks like Thierry Mercier as well. I must be careful not to dispose of the wrong one!
To be continued …
Bio: This is the third part of James’ imaginative story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in 1921. For more examples of James’ work click here