Homicide at the Hydro – Part 4
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
Luncheon in the function room was a long and tedious affair. As a consequence, the staff took their time returning to the main kitchen. Charlie Watson was therefore able to get on with his work, although he began to wonder what had transpired early in the day and why Monsieur Mercier had not reappeared. Suddenly the entry door to the dining room swung open and Foy strode in.
‘Watson, where is Monsieur Mercier?’ Foy demanded.
‘I … I’m sure I have no idea Mr Foy.’ Charlie stammered.
‘Good God man, what do you mean you have no idea? He is supposed to be here preparing for the special dinner in honour of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! I have some last minute alterations to tonight’s menu which must be included. It seems that Dame Nellie might be joining us tonight.’
‘But Mr Foy, the menu has already been set and the prep-’
Foy cut him off, ‘Do not presume to tell me, young Watson, how to run the hotel’s kitchen!’ Foy barked. ‘Now the moment Mercier returns, show him these alterations. I am quite sure they will not cause too much of a problem. We must at least have Peach Melba available for our distinguished guests! Mrs Locke will be along shortly to assist.’
With that Foy threw the few scraps of paper down imperiously on Charlie’s workbench, and strode off back towards his office. Charlie shook his head in surprise and made up his mind, then and there, that he would leave the Hydro at the earliest opportunity, thinking who needs this? Gazing at Mr Foy’s alterations, Charlie realised there would be hell to pay when Thierry Mercier reappeared, and it was likely that he would be on the receiving end.
Luncheon had taken so long because Sir Arthur kept excusing himself, so that he could browse in the Hydro Majestic’s very fair library. ‘This is a remarkable place my dear Jean; what other attractions does it hold I wonder? Do you know, I actually found a copy of the novelette The Foundling by Charlotte Brontë? She wrote it in 1833 at the age of seventeen. Another is Joe Wilson by Henry Lawson, who I greatly admire, with sketches of bush life …’
Not surprisingly, Foy had taken his leave of Sir Arthur and family at the earliest opportunity, and returned to his office. There he found a telegram waiting for him on his desk. Taking up his letter opener, Foy made a mental note to again remind his secretary to bring all telegrams to his attention wherever he may be in the hotel. The telegram was from his friend Hugh Ward, Dame Nellie Melba’s Australian manager. It read:
Dame Nellie would like to know if usual suite is available May arrive at Hydro later tonight · Please confirm by telephone to Williamsons Sydney · She might sing · Regards Hugh ·
Foy was now in somewhat of a dilemma, for he had already assigned the most sumptuous suite in the old Belgravia wing to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the adjoining suite to Doyle’s assistant—Miss Jakeman. What on Earth could he do now to retrieve the situation? Perhaps Miss Jakeman could be persuaded to move to another room? Unlikely. Could Dame Nellie be persuaded to accept a lesser room? Out of the question! Still he had better make an effort just in case. He reached reluctantly for the telephone.
‘Mildred? Get me Williamsons in Sydney—quickly. Yes, the theatrical agency!’
Annie arrived back at the hotel in a troubled state at around 5.30pm for service of the evening meal. She entered via the door she had left earlier. She noted how hot it was in the kitchen. They really should have one of those new flyscreen doors in place here, she thought idly to herself. ‘Charlie, I’ll leave this door open—it’s stifling in here!’
‘Er, righto Annie’, Charlie replied vacantly as he peeled potatoes.
‘Why, whatever’s the matter Charlie?’
‘Mr Foy brought these around earlier, insisted that they have to be included in tonight’s menu. I tried to tell him that the menu had already been set. So he tore a strip off me—bastard! Excuse the french.’
Charlie handed over the additions to the menu that Foy had given him earlier. Annie ran over them quickly. ‘Tsk, tsk, language Charlie! Oh dear, I don’t know if we could even handle Peach Melba—do we have any? I could have a look in the back larder … No … it’s not my responsibility! Lord knows I agree with you, Charlie me lad, about Mr Foy and I’ve a surprise comin’ for him! What will Monsieur Mercier say I wonder; where is our esteemed chef anyway? He is another snake if you ask me! Forever groping people he is; doesn’t seem to matter be it feen or beour! Anyway, I’d best be off and start settin’ up the dining room. But first the loo, me back teeth are swimmin’!’ She lay the slips of paper back down on the bench and headed for the dining room door.
Despite his low spirits, Charlie was heartened by Annie’s Irish brogue. Jeez, she’s a character! He thought to himself as Annie left. ‘What’s cookin’ I wonder …’
Just then Shirley Locke, who was nominally second chef, arrived back from the function room. ‘G’day Annie,’ she said to the Irish waitress’ back as she went through the swinging doors towards the dining room.
‘Hello Charlie, I’ll tell you what’s cookin’ matey—sweet FA from the look of things here! Where’s that Frog mongrel? Pissed again I expect. Do I have to cover his arse—yet again?’
‘Jeez, I dunno Mrs Locke’, he said wearily, ‘but you’d better have a dekko at this; it’s from the boss.’
Shirley quickly scanned the menu alterations. ‘Struth, don’t tell me that windbag Melba is comin’—well I’m afraid that’s Foy’s folly! Old Frenchie won’t like this one little bit. He’s always tryin’ to impress the nobs, is Mr Foy, like that Sir Artie Cannon Ball, or whatever his name is; this arvo in the function room. He was all over him like a rash. Well, young Charlie, you’d better get stuck into peelin’ the rest of those spuds. I think it’s gonna be a long night! I reckon Annie better put out some of those flash doilies on the tables too!’
The intruder, still waiting half asleep and feeling hungry, in the far corner behind some large storage containers, heard mention of Doyle. It wouldn’t be too long to wait now.
To be continued this afternoon …
Bio: This is the fourth 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