On an anniversary trip with his wife, a retired doctor solves a small mystery.
A dapper young man bounded down the sweeping staircase of the hotel. He almost knocked into the bellhop juggling the obligatory 25 suitcases required by a well dressed flapper who was currently checking in.
His fringe flopping forwards, he spoke rapidly with the concierge, whose head bobbed up and down delightedly. The guest passed over a thick envelope then ran back upstairs.
An older man sat in the foyer observing this energetic hopping about. He contemplated the concierge’s bowing and fawning with amusement. There for his silver anniversary, Dr Soper had seen this same routine many times over the years. He and his wife visited the Sadlewell Hotel annually, ever since their marriage in 1910. The concierge was, as ever, eager to please, the young people always up to tricks and schemes. He suspected a clandestine request for a champagne delivery to the golf course in the small hours, or the tennis courts.
Lost in remembrance, he missed the descent of a portly yet well dressed matron who called him to attention.
Soper glanced up guiltily at his wife.
“Hello, dear!” He rose to meet her and kissed her on the cheek.
“Shall we dine?”
The two moved determinedly to the restaurant, where they were rapidly seated by the waiter.
Soper noticed the trim young man he had seen earlier entering with a rather pretty young thing, all frills and beads. Her shingled hair suited her round rosy face. Yes, I would consider a clandestine meeting with her, if I were 20 years younger. The thought must have shown on his face, for his wife frowned at him, recalling him to the present.
The young couple were seated two tables away, and he thought no more of them until the desserts were served.
As the Soper’s blamanches arrived, the young man beckoned to the waiter, who then signaled to the kitchen. The chef appeared with a small platter bearing the special of the day, an individual layer cake, which he placed in front of the young woman with a flourish. She smiled up at him and then at the young man, who encouraged her to eat.
Soper continued to watch them, his own dining partner too busy with her dessert to continue their stultified conversation.
The young man seemed to be waiting for something. He frowned. He whispered a few words to the girl. She shook her head, her bangs bobbing. She laughed. A tinkling that drew the attention of other diners too.
The man half stood, looking puzzled, and then cross as she continued to eat. He said more. She shook her head. He rose, excused himself and left the dining room.
Returning a minute later with the concierge, the two beckoned over the waiter and whispered. Soper wondered at the fuss. A bad pudding was not worth this outrage.
At that moment, on the other side of the restaurant, a rather portly gentleman began to cough. Diverted from the young couple, Soper missed what happened next. His brows rose into his hairline at the sudden realisation that his medical skills were required as the ill man’s colour deepened and he began to make retching noises. Dashing over to the man, Soper slapped him on the back, deftly catching up a napkin for the man to wipe his face. He felt something small fall into the napkin and, folding it back to see what the blockage had been, smiled at its sparkle.
He looked up at the table. In front of him sat a layer cake identical to the one in front of the young woman.
Later, Gerald Soper was passing the golf course. It wasn’t the early hours, but there was the young man reaching a hand to the girl’s, from his traditional bent knee.