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.
The House of Halogen Hobbes Part 1
No sooner had I driven to the end of the road when I suddenly realised I'd forgotten something. I had to pull on the brake and put the vehicle into quick reverse. My poor automobile made an awful noise in the process, which led me to think that perhaps there was a better way to enable the transition from forward motion to reverse as quickly as possible, and I made a mental note to myself to take this up with Hobbes.
Elspeth, once she'd recovered form the shock of almost going over the top of the windscreen, tapped me on the shoulder, reached into her bag and drew out the Y File.
'Is this what you're missing?'
I nodded and smiled wanly.
'Good. Can we proceed then, please? I wouldn't want to miss my train.'
The rest of our shared journey to the railway station was without event, it being well after the morning rush and there being few people about on the road. As we drove down the hillm Elspeth brought up the subject of nannies. I must admit that I thought this a trifle early; the child not due to be born for a good few months yet. But then again, Elspeth was ever one for being prepared and thus I was tasked with getting in touch with Mary as soon as this little adventure was over. Perhaps the tales Bertie and I had recounted about Miss Poppins' discipline had struck a chord; however, I felt that any inexplicable events in the child's future upbringing would be laid plainly at my door. Then again there was always Bertie to blame.
I got Elspeth to her destination with time to spare and then with a 'parp' on the horn I was off once more, king of the open road.
Ha — if only that were true. I spent much of my journey stuck behind a drayman on his deliveries and then sandwiched between two horse-drawn buses. This got me many amused looks from pedestrians who obviously thought the future was not in mechanised transportation. The amount of vehicular traffic these days in and around London was getting beyond a joke. Still, at least, I was in charge of my own destiny and was not restricted a specific route. I had toyed with the idea of dropping in on Herbert Wells to bring him up to speed. Alas, by the time I thought of this, I'd gone past the turning I required for Eltham.
I got to St John's Village about an hour or so after dropping off Elspeth and knew full well that she would have reached the centre of town by now — poor John, I thought.
Hobbes' house was end-of-terrace, which gave him extra land for his workshop and sheds for those occasions when he brought his work home. What his neighbours thought of the fellow, I have no idea. Most likely they thought of him as a civil servant with some very explosive hobbies.
I knew that there would be no point in trying the front door, and so drove up the rutted track, trying to avoid getting my new present too dirty in the process, to what now remained of the garden. It all seemed very quiet and so I gave a short blast on the horn followed by a loud 'Hulllooooo... anyone home?'
The door flew open and a boy of about six or seven, dressed in an apron and over-sleeves, came rushing out, making signs, flapping his arms and making load shushing noises. Quite taken aback at this, I stood my ground. As he approached, it seemed as though he had little or no control over his legs, for he seemed to want to go in opposite directions at the same time. It took him a while to cover the short distance between us.
'Mr 'obbes says can you keep the noise down please.'
I grinned. 'Really... bit of a hango...'
'He's in the middle of an hexperiment at the moment and any sudden noise could break his concentration. Now, if you'll follow me, Mr....'
'Knolly. You'll have heard of me, yes?'
The boy looked me up and down, wiped his hand on his trousers and offered it.
'Why, of course, you'll be Mr 'arrisson-'arrisson's assistant, he said you'd be bringing his car. Pleased to meet you. I'm Louis, Louis Zborowski, but Mr 'obbes, he just calls me "L".'
Rather taken aback by my demotion and loss of my birthday present in one fell swoop, I enquired, '...and you do what here...'
'Mr 'obbes assistant, see, assistants together me an' you, now come on in.'
Young Louis seemed to gather up his legs and point them in the right direction and all seemed well until he decided to engage once more in conversation, which led me to believe that multi-tasking was not one of his strong points. At last we made it to the workshop he had erupted from. He put a finger to his lips and made me follow him in. Of Bertie I could see no sign and a horrid thought crossed my mind. I was about to ask Louis when from behind a screen Hobbes emerged.
He waved at me, pointed to his mouth and nose and then pointed at Louis. I stop a step towards Hobbes and saw that he seemed to have a very bushy moustache, which was deuced odd, as the day before he had no facial hair whatsoever. The poor fellow also seemed to be going a very interesting shade of reddish purple, as if holding his breath.
'This is the result of some post-drinking wager, is it?' I asked to anyone who was listening.
'Mr 'obbes is experimentin' with the power of 'uman suction,' piped up Louis.
'Really... and that is a false moustache, then?'
'Good Lord, no, sir. That's a caterpillar, all the way from Africa, so it is.'
I resisted the urge to make some joke about it having taken a long time to get here and instead turned to face Hobbes once more, who now seemed to be locked in concentration. The poor caterpillar seemed to quiver slightly. Obviously this was a battle of wits between the suction produced by Hobbes and the will of the caterpillar to wriggle away.
'Oh, this is silly. What purpose can this serve? Hobbes, stop this nonsense at once and start breathing.'
There was a sound of a huge rush of air and a sort of pop. Lois rushed forward with a glass jar to catch the hairy insect as it rolled off of Hobbes' top lip, and passed him a towel to wipe his dripping brow.
'Phew... so how long was that, L, eh?'
'Three minutes I think you'll find, Mr H.'
'Capital. See, Knolly, goes to show that an agent in the field can use anything at his disposal to disguise himself.'
I looked from him to the glass jar containing the caterpillar and a few leaves that the youngster had now added.
'Quite, but only if said agent doesn't have to exert himself or talk, it would seem.' Hobbes looked rather hurt at this and so I quickly added, 'More work required, I think, Hobbes.'
'Oh, do you really think so? I thought I was on to a clear winner there, you know, breed the right sort of caterpillar and we could look like the King.'
I shuddered at the thought of this and looked around once more. 'So where is Bertie, then?'
'Gumpf,' was the response from beneath the towel.
'I'm sorry, Hobbes, that sounded like "gone".'
'Yes, that's correct, gone...'
'Gone, gone! I expressly told him to do nothing without consulting me, and you tell me the fool has gone, gone to Scotland to face who knows what.' I realised that I was shouting and paused for breath. 'How could you do it, man, tell me how!'
Hobbes and Louis were now looking at me as if I'd gone mad.
'Knolly, when you've quite finished I'll finish what I was saying. Bertie has gone...'
'Yes, I know, I heard you, gone...'
'... to the corner shop, Knolly.'
'I know, you let him go to... the... corner... shop.... Oh.'
'We were out of milk and Bertie offered, and I think he's sweet on the shopkeeper's daughter,' winked Hobbes, and Louis giggled in the way only children can.
'L, run along and put the kettle on. I think Mr Knolly could do with a sit-down and a cup of tea. Bertie should be back soon.'
With the lad out of the way and my composure somewhat recovered, I proceeded to question Hobbes about his 'assistant'.
Hobbes beamed. 'Young Louis, a great find. Wonderful engineering mind in that young head of his. Reminds me a lot of you and Bertie in many ways, though you were much older when I taught you at Addlies.'
I smiled. 'So who is he, then?'
'His father is Count William Eliot Morris Zborowski and his mother is related to the Astors.'
'Ah... so looking after him is helping with funds somewhat, then?'
'Rather bluntly put, Knolly, but yes. Every little helps, and he is a whiz with an engine. He comes to stay whenever his parents are up in town; it will soon be his birthday, too.'
'Do you miss the company of younger minds that much then, old friend?'
'Knolly, none of us are as young as we were and someone has to keep the Service up to date with new advances in science. I foresee a great future for the lad.'
I thought back to the summer of '83 when Hobbes had unfortunately blown up his chemist's shop and a few others in the row. The explosion caused much consternation; the police were called in to investigate and carted Hobbes away, believing him to be some sort of anarchist. It was only my timely intervention and that of the Service that had saved him from incarceration.