Bard's Hall Entry
|What is that strange contraption? "This way, Miss." I climbed the creaky steps and took my place on the hard wooden seat. With a loud rumble the machine edged into the sea. A cool breeze rippled the water below. As we trundled through the waves the hotel came into view on the cliff top. White walls curved above the horizon, capped by a copper pyramid. Wow, genuine Art Deco. I looked at my watch; it was nearly four. Just in time for afternoon tea and tiffin. What ho! I shook my head. What was happening, I was slipping into 20's mode. Maybe I really need this break.
A horse drawn cart was waiting as we left the water. I clambered aboard. "Walk on." The old man driving looked like the original Wurzle Gummidge, even down to the straw like hair. On our left, the ancient Pilchard Inn was buzzing with people and folk music. Sounds like some can't wait until New Year to start celebrating. Uphill, past craggy outcrops, and on to the Hotel entrance.
"Welcome to Burgh Island, Madam." Deco overload. From the light fittings to the sweeping staircase, I had slipped into the 1920s. "Suite 13." The bellboy took the key and my case. I was led to a lift that reflected the era; I just hoped the mechanism was more modern. Down a carpeted hallway lit by wall uplighters with an egyptian theme to my suite. I thought it was just a posh name for a hotel room, but no.
"This is your sitting room, Miss." A sofa and two armchairs surrounded a coffee table. In the corner sat my own private bar. There was even a small dining table and two chairs. And all of it of the period. "Your bedroom." Wow. "And the bathroom." I could fit my whole flat in there. I filled the proffered hand with change and took my key. "Dinner is served at 8 in the ballroom." Once alone I fell onto the comfy bed. I was so tired after the drive down from London.
I must have fallen asleep. I glanced at my watch. It was 7pm, an hour until dinner, and I was nowhere near ready. I opened my suitcase and then the door of the burr walnut wardrobe. Hanging there were two elaborate evening gowns, beaded, fringed, in flapper style. I felt the exquisite silk. Dare I? They were my size. Could the hotel have provided them for me to wear? I picked the jet black affair and laid it out on the bed. I found shoes, a stole, a bag and a headdress in the bottom of the wardrobe. I rushed to the bathroom. The water flowed quickly and I was soon luxuriating in the rose scented bubbles provided.
Wrapping myself in the thick, fluffy towels, I moved to the dressing table. Twenties style cosmetics, scents, and silver backed brushes lay there waiting. Well, when in Rome ...
I descended the wide staircase and through the open double doors to the Palm Court. "Manhattan, darling?" The man talking to his lady was dressed in formal tuxedo. The lady he addressed wore a gown similar to my own but bright red. I continued to make mental notes, promising myself I would e-mail the features editor and tell her about this place.
A waiter in tails approached. "Cocktail, Madam?" Champagne, what else on New Years Eve. I took a seat at a small table in the corner of the room from where I could observe the occasion. A heavy set, middle aged man barged into the room, cigar in hand. Behind him, a mousey creature in beige followed like some ancient servant. "Bring me a whiskey," he boomed, "and whatever she wants." Wife, secretary? Who knows.
The next arrival was a slim gent about my age. He looked furtively around the room. He almost whispered his order to the waiter but I swear there was a faint accent, possibly German. Other groups and singles arrived but the foreigner had peaked my interest. He looked nervous. What was he up to?
"Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner is served." Tables for ten shone with candelabra, glass and silver tableware. I was seated at the same table as the foreigner. I was right, he was German. He didn't say much, merely muttering brief answers to other's questions. The journalist in me wanted to interview Herr Fleisch, find out what his game was. But this was not the time.
"Name's Lang," a voice boomed. It was cigar guy, holding court at a table the other side of the room. He caught the attention of the entire room. "Hilda, the lady wife," he continued. I took the phone from my bag to google this guy. No signal; might have guessed. A delicate plate of crab and greenery was placed in front of me.
"I say, have you been to the Palace?" It was the big guy again, his voice echoing around the room. Who is this guy; or, more importantly, who does he think he is? The teenaged girl next to Herr Fleisch gave me a look that said much the same. I turned to the elderly gent next to me, Mathadius Potts, and asked "Who is he?"
"That's Herbert Lang, soon to be Sir Herbert if the rumours are correct. He does spend rather a lot of time at the Palace I believe."
"And what makes him so important?"
"He's an armaments manufacturer. The Government believe war is inevitable and they will need him to supply our troops." Dishes were cleared. New wine was poured. Pork was the next course. I looked over at our German friend. His nervousness had increased. Sweat was accumulating around his stiff collar. "And Ami, what do you do?" I turned back to Potts.
"I'm a writer." Ambiguous enough without actually lying. Surprising how people stop talking to you when they know you're a journalist. I couldn't help but notice one couple were tucking in to cod. Herr Fleisch had noticed too and was looking at them in disgust. The pork was okay but a bit dry; I would have preferred the fish but it seems that was special order.
We were given a choice of desserts; I chose the champagne and rose water jelly, without the ice cream. The couple ordered likewise. I bet Lang got the cheese board. Don't forget the port, Herbie. Was I being prejudiced against the man or was he really that hideous? If I was a fiction writer he would be my baddie. But what about Herr Fleisch? Where would he be in the story? What colour would his hat be?
The peace was disturbed as the first chords of 'Makin' Whoopie' rang out from the small stage. The younger guests hit the dance floor. They were surprisingly adept at the charleston; at least, I think that's what they were doing. This 20s vibe is starting to really mess with my mind. The website didn't say anything about this being a themed event. The music changed to 'Ain't Misbehavin'' and I decided I needed some quiet.
I went back to my room, sorry suite, to send some e-mails. Guess what, still no wifi. What's with this place? It's like I'm really in the 20s. Really? No, course not. It's an island, of course there's no phone signal, no wifi, and no TV. I reached up to the shelf of my own private bar and grabbed the vodka. No mixers. Guess I'll swig it neat. Too early for bed. So ... back to the Palm Court? The Ballroom? Where?
I reached the foyer just in time to see Herbert Lang, glass in one hand, cigar in the other, disappearing through a door marked 'Billiard Room'. He didn't look like much of a sportsman but ...
Herr Fleisch was sidling through the foyer, looking over his shoulder, like he was being followed. He too disappeared into the billiard room. Clandestine meeting, or a simple game of snooker? The door was thick oat. I could hear nothing. I moved outside the building and worked out where the window to that room would be. The top pane was open.
"Ve need ... yes or no ... Hitler" That got my attention. There was only one Hitler.
"If the money's right." That was Herbert Lang's booming voice. Armaments manufacturer, German, mention of Hitler, and money of course. What was this? Some kind of after-dinner performance? Or had I really woken up in 1929? I could see the headline now; 'British Knight backs Nazi war effort'. I'd missed the odd deadline but this was ninety years too late.
I moved quietly away from the window. It was really cold out here. I headed back into the hotel. Strains of 'That Crazy Thing Called Love' came to my ears from the ballroom. I headed for the lift. I needed to go to my room and work out what was happening here. As I waited for the door to open something hard poked my back.
"You are nosey parker, Mizz Douglas. You know too much. Let us go for leetle walk."
"Hello Ami, off to bed already? I was hoping for a dance." It was Mathadius Potts.
"Well, okay, one dance. Come on." I took the old man's hand and we moved in the direction of the ballroom. Fleish just stood there, quickly hiding the pistol.
"I know what's going on," Potts whispered as we waltzed. "I was in military intelligence in the last war." I looked at the old man with new eyes. "I too have my suspicions." Everything told me this was for real, some sort of timeslip thing. As the music ended we moved to the Palm Court. "Somehow, I've got to get you out of here." Potts said with urgency. "But we have to wait for the tide."
"What about that contraption I came over on?" Potts looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Then I remembered from the brochure, that thing wasn't built until '69. Now I knew this really was 1929. And I had just pissed off a Nazi.
From the ballroom we could hear the crowd. "... eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, HAPPY NEW YEAR!" Safety in numbers, we joined the throng. "Should auld ..." Fleisch hovered by the door. With much kissing and hugging, 'cheers' and 'bottoms up' we welcomed 1930, a new decade, one which would throw us into war; if they only knew.
Within half an hour the party was breaking up. Fleisch still waited his chance. I turned to Potts. "When's low tide?" He indicated we still had some time to wait. I grabbed the arms of a couple getting ready to leave, then addressed the room. "Let's take the party back to mine." I marched the couple to the door, Potts did similar. By the time we entered the lift we were squashed in like sardines. I gave Fleisch a little wave as the doors closed.
The party continued for another two hours, two hours of relative safety. Then, as the last guest was leaving, Fleisch put in an appearance. He took advantage of the open door to push his way in. "Eez the party over?" He closed the door behind him and pulled out his pistol. "Ze party is definitely over for you two." Potts flew at him, with an energy belieing his advancing years. The two struggled and I grabbed a heavy statue and attempted to hit the German on the head.
I failed. Fleisch threw Potts against the wall and the old man collapsed in a heap. Then he turned to me. "On ze bed , face down." He grabbed the chord holding back the curtains and proceeded to bind my hands. I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head then lights out.
"Ouch, bright light, bright light." The sun streamed through the open curtains. I stretched and realised I was no longer bound. I was wearing the same clothes I had arrived in. Had it all been a dream? No, the lump on my head told otherwise. I quickly packed the few things I had removed from my case. I could not get out of here quick enough.
The contraption took me back to civilisation. The first thing I did was log into the net.
"Herbert Lang. Armaments manufacturer. Birth year ... em ... 1870s, 80s." The search engine whirred into life until I saw an ageing picture of the big man. He got his knighthood. There were no suspicions back then, but I'm going to find proof the bastard worked with the Nazis. As to Fleisch, well, he was just another dead Nazi.
British knight was Nazi sympathiser
By Amelia Douglas