Once again we are beholden to the current executors of the Knolly estate for letting us publish this, the second package of the great man's journals and memoirs.
Imagine if you can, dear reader, the end of the Victorian Age. The new century has just begun, continuing on the age of experiment and wonder and the quest for knowledge. Despite this, there is much which cannot be explained by normal means. To seek out the truth from behind such mysteries a band of men and women from across the world were brought together by a mysterious benefactress to work beyond the confines of national boundaries and laws....
8 February, 1901, London, England — Rather chilly for the time of year.
I sat at my desk, once again pondering the report that had found its way to the top of the pile. It read:
December 25th 1900. Fort Augustus, Loch Ness, Scotland
Fort Augustus: One of many forts and castles over looking the range of lochs in the area. Also designated HMS Augustus: research establishment set up by War Office. Status: classified.
'Humm, classified, eh? Too much trouble brewing these days,' I thought to myself and continued to flick through the pages, reading aloud.
'Officer of the watch reported a storm coming, though barometer showed no signs of falling. Also noted strange swell on the Loch. Commander's log found later that day has no further entries. No bodies found, no sign of a struggle. The cat was still prowling around waiting to be fed and table was set for a meal. Patrolling ships in the area reported no signs of any storm at all.' I sighed to myself. 'It seems to be happening again.'
'Happy birthday old chap,' said Bertie Harrison-Harrison in a sing-song voice as he entered my office.'What's that you're poring over?'
'History repeating itself, Bertie.... Come on, Biggfat wants to see us both.'
'Birthday tea?' he inquired with a Cheshire Cat grin.
I pushed him forward. 'Don't be silly. I doubt if he knows.'
Despite numerous warnings on our part, England was on a war footing once again, and so there were many uniforms about. The war in South Africa that we had tried to prevent from occurring five years previous was not going well, The Boers had begun using 'hit and run tactics' — very underhand — and this was having a demoralising effect on everyone both in the field and at home. The press was having a field day and calling on the Government to 'Bring our brave boys home now!' To make matters worse, the Victorian Age was now at an end. The Queen had been dead less than a month and it was difficult to get used to having a King after all this time. An air of melancholy seemed to still be gripping the country as a whole.
We had only been back in England a few days and had missed the funeral, the procession and the sterling work the Navy's blue-jackets had done in manhandling the gun carriage through the streets of London (one in the eye for the Army). This was our first day back in the office, so naturally we were summoned to see Biggfat in the Services office, a stone's throw away from Admiralty Arch (if you could throw about a mile and then around corners, that is).
Bertie and I were ushered in past numerous Naval types and flunkies into the fug that was Biggfat's own office. The ceiling, or those bits that we could see, had got even yellower in the short time since our last visit.
Biggfat saw what I was looking at and harrumphed. 'Your time away in the Far East hasn't mellowed you then, Knolly?'
I smiled. 'Sir, if you can put up with my habits, then I'm sure I can suffer yours. All I ask is that we can open a window... and by the way, Happy New Year.'
He waved a hand and Bertie shot over to the nearest window, flung it open and shoved his head out, gasping in lungfuls of the slightly cleaner cool London air.
I sat down and waited for Bertie to join me. Biggfat made to light up again and then, seeing the stone-like composure across his desk, changed his mind. He tapped a large file in front of him and pushed it towards me. It was a familiar file but one that I hadn't seen since my early years in Naval Intelligence.
Bertie came over, looked and whispered, 'The Y-file.'
The Y-file had been initiated in 1845 following the Rothwell incident, well before either of us had become involved with the Service. Although it contained numerous strange events that had happened ever since, there was one that had a special meaning to me and it concerned the mysterious death of one Colonel Lord 'Monty' Montagu of Avebury, dear Auntie Lettice's husband1.
For many years I had pored over this mystery, trying to fathom what had occurred to the man who would have been to all intents and purposes my uncle, even though when it came into my hands many others had already tried and failed. So obsessed was I that other members of the Intelligence unit had nicknamed me 'that odd chap obsessed with the Woolwich Ferry.'
Biggfat nodded as Bertie sat down on what he'd hoped was a chair, but actually turned out to be the floor.
'Knolly, it's happened again. While you and Harrison-Harrison were out boxing in China or whatever it was, ordinary people have disappeared once more.'
'That's a bit strong, sir,' said Bertie as he got up and sat down more comfortably. 'I agree it wasn't a sanctioned mission, but one has to help out one's chums in need and we learnt a lot about hand-to-hand combat, too.'
Biggfat growled deeply.
'So sir, why unearth the Y-file and this urgent summons? I mean, it's a New Year, we missed Christmas again and we have shopping to do and a lot of good cheer to spread,' I smiled.
...and it's your birthday,' Bertie mumbled.
Biggfat settled back in his chair. 'Knolly, you'll have seen the report I sent over. Last month a friend of mine, Joseph Moore, left HMS Augustus for three weeks' leave. He returned after his Christmas break to discover his three colleagues had vanished without trace. The last entry in the log told of a strange storm, Knolly. No such storm was recorded by the Admiralty. Poor Joseph's mind seems to have deserted him and he is now in the sanatorium at University College. He claims between babbling that it was all his fault.'
'I read the official report, such as it was and I hardly think they were ordinary people based there, were they?'
Biggfat's eyebrows seemingly gained a life of their own at this comment.
'Great Scott, Knolly!' exclaimed Bertie. 'This is it, the one you've been waiting for.'
I picked up the file, an old friend. 'Steady, Bertie — the truth's not always out there. I suppose, sir,' I continued, turning to Biggfat, 'that you want us to travel north of the border?'
'Indeed I do Knolly, but I also believe that you can call on help that I cannot sanction on behalf of Her Majesty's Government — sorry, can't get used to it yet, His Majesty's Government — and remember, this conversation never happened. You're on your own.'
Bertie grinned. 'And a Happy New Year to you too, sir.'
'One thing before we go, sir: can we borrow Hobbes for this one?'
He looked up. 'Why do you ask? You know and I know that if I said no it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference.'
'Oh well, bang goes that New Year's resolution... is there anything else you want to tell us about this fort?'
Biggfat shook his head. 'I would if it had been sanctioned from above, but there's a lot of red tape surrounding this that even I cannot get through, which is where I hope you and your... um, friends... can. That is all I can say, but there are others who can help. Good evening to you both. Oh and Knolly, happy birthday, and please give that wife of yours my regards.'
'Can I keep the file, sir?'
He nodded and waved us away, something else now on his mind.
'See he did know.'
'Yes, but only because Elspeth told him.'
Outside the air was cool and crisp and invigorating... no, it was damn cold and I remarked to Bertie that I wished I was back in the warmth of the Far East.
'I'm sure Elspeth would be delighted to hear that, especially in her current state. Anyway, it'll be even colder in Scotland,' said Bertie, tightening his muffler under his chin.
'Humph,' was my only reply.
'A job for the League then, Knolly?'
'I’m afraid so... I wonder what was really going on at that so-called HMS Augustus. I didn't like the way Biggfat reacted to my comments about ordinary people going missing. He's hiding something.'
More likely not in a position to let on,' Bertie countered.
'Come on, then. Let's go talk to Merrick and see if we can get to visit the patient — and while we are there, find out who's available on the active list. Then we'll journey down to Hobbes to see what he knows. It will take a couple of days to get everyone together, so we may as well gather what information we can.'
'Well, with the war on in South Africa, most of our military chums will be unavailable.'
'True, Bertie, but don't forget that the ALA knows no borders and I'm certain there'll be others we can call upon if needs be.'
'Shall we take the underground train, then?'
'No let's walk. It shouldn't take us long to get to Tottenham Court Road and after that office up there I need a clear head.'
'It's odd, isn't it, that all these odd things that happen up North....'
'How do you mean?'
'Well, I was reading some of the reports that had piled up while we'd been away and they say that there had been sightings of werewolves in some parts.'
'Nothing unusual about that, is there?'
'No, I suppose not, but it seems to have increased over the years... and someone had scribbled Touchwood in one of the margins, which is rather alarming, don't you think?'
'Well, that's what it looked like and I've heard tell that there is a secret organistation with Royal patronage of a similar name... a rival to the League.'
'Bertie, you have an overactive imagination and perhaps it is you and not Wells or Conan Doyle who should be writing penny fiction?'
Berties' concerns were not unfounded. I too had seen the reports he mentioned and as to the existence of Touchwood, perhaps only time would tell.