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 2
A light flurry of snow had started to fall and so, with Hobbes' and the boy's help, we eased my vehicle into one of the less full of the outhouses. I hasten to add that the occupying fowl were not amused by this intrusion, but there had been no time for me to read the manual on how to get the roof on. Young Louis, however, was in his element and no sooner had we pulled the doors to keep the inclement weather out than he had the bonnet open and was poring over the engine housed within.
I pulled Hobbes to one side. 'He's very keen, isn't he?'
Hobbes nodded. .Runs in the blood. His father, the Count, races the new German Mercedes automobiles.'
'Really.... So Louis, what's your opinion of my new pride and joy? How does it compare with others you've seen?'
Louis looked up, narrowly missing his head on the overhanging bonnet. 'Your pride and joy, the vehicle? But Mr 'arrison-'arrison told me you were bringing it over for 'im.'
'Ah, well, Bertie does get easily confused....'
Louis thought about this and looked to Hobbes. 'An assistant with 'is own transport. It's my birthday soon, Mr 'Obbes, sir.'
Poor Hobbes seemed lost for words and so I jumped back in. 'My automobile, Louis, your opinion?'
'I can make it go faster, Mr Knolly, so fast you'd think you were flying.'
I looked to Hobbes, now recovered from the thought of an expensive birthday gift. He shrugged and raised his eyebrows.
'That fast, eh? Speed’s not really an issue, though I'd like to talk to you about a way to go into reverse quickly.'
Louis looked thoughtful — a new problem had caught his imagination. It was, I must admit, quite scary, as if Hobbes and I weren't even in the room.
A blast of wet snow flew in. 'I think being able to fly would be a splendid idea. And how about being able to turn into a boat?' said a familiar voice.
I turned and there stood Bertie, a light dusting of snow on his shoulders and hat, waving a bottle of milk. 'Is the kettle on, then?'
'Bertie, good to see you in such fine fettle. I understand I have you to thank for my new role?'
Bertie seemed nonplussed.
'My role as your assistant?' I added as an explanation.
'Haha... I was hoping that I would be here when you arrived... to, um... explain. You ain't cross, are you?'
'Louis, let's go and sort out that pot of tea, shall we, and perhaps some...' Hobbes took the milk and the small paper bag Bertie was still clutching and peered inside, '... muffins. Good.'
With that Hobbes, ushered the boy away from the car. 'We'll leave you two for a few minutes, shall we?'
I nodded and the pair went off to the house, closing the door behind them.
Left alone, we discussed various issues — not least who was in charge — but I decided that for the sake of Bertie's relationship with young Louis, I would continue to play the 'umble assistant. After all, it was soon to be the boy's birthday and I didn't want to unmask his new role model.
'So Bertie, did you and Hobbes come up with any sort of plan in my absence, or were you in particular too busy with gaining the attention of the young lady who lives with her family up at the corner shop.'
I let Bertie bluster at this and left him to wonder how I'd deduced his current romance. He was about to explain his actions but I waved him on.
'A plan, Bertie, a plan.'
'Right, of course. Well, it seems that a chappie known to Hobbes has a marine laboratory up in Ayrshire and is currently surveying many of the lochs on behalf of HMG. Should provide us with the perfect cover to poke around Loch Ness.'
'Sounds promising. Is that it?'
'No no no, not at all. Even better is that he studied medicine at Edinburgh — and who else do we know who did that?'
'Conan Doyle! But he's off to Norfolk.'
'Indeed yes, but I'm sure we can get him to pen a letter of introduction that can arrive before we do. Merrick can sort it out, I'm sure.'
'Well, that gives us a cover story, but what about getting up there, along with any other League members who are available?'
'Oh, well, that part is relatively easy. Hobbes tells me that the Train can be made ready in a few days. We just need sanction from Biggfat to use it, along with an engine to pull it to Edinburgh.'
This mode of transport was, it must be said, one of Hobbes's marvels. It was not an original idea, for it was based on the train idea that Bertie and I had found ourselves on back in '95, with the Kaiser at the controls. Hobbes, however, had taken the information we had brought back, adapted and then improved upon it. When we last made use of it, it had consisted of not one but two carriages. The larger of the two was basically an office with the capability of linking to the railway telegraphy system and thereby allowing mobile communications to anywhere in the world.
'Capital, Bertie, well done. And now that cup of tea, I think.'
Bertie paused and looked longingly at my automobile, its bonnet still propped open. 'I'm surprised it's still in one piece with young Louis about.'
'Hmm, I was thinking along those lines myself. Still, Hobbes thinks highly of the young chap and I'll happily accept any minor charges he can make to improve its performance.'
'My my Knolly, you do surprise me. After all, you’ve only had it a day.'
'You're right, of course, but he has a gift, it would seem, and it would be a shame to waste it.'
'I see you have the file with you. Hobbes has only ever seen odd scraps alluding to some of its contents, but it will be down to us to brief him on what we believe connects it with recent events at Fort Augustus.'
I nodded, grabbed the file from the Talbot's passenger seat and opened the workshop door. 'Bertie, how serious were you about an amphibious automobile?'
He chuckled. 'Oh, pure fantasy, Knolly, think nothing of it. Although I think that some kind of musical entertainment could be a goer, you know, for those long journeys and summer picnics.'
'What, some form of portable phonograph, you mean?'
'Yes, exactly that. Powered off of the internal combustion engine, too, so no more winding up.'
'Well, that would keep Louis busy and out of earshot, I'm sure.'
'Knolly, are you serious?'
'Never more so, old friend. Let's grasp this Edwardian age with all our appendages, eh?'
'I think that I need something stronger than a cup of tea!'
I clapped him over the shoulder and pushed him out the door.
The snow had now turned to drizzle and we ambled up to the house to the back door, which opened from the kitchen to the garden. Suddenly, a strange bell-like sound began to ring both from within the house and the workshops. I looked to Bertie for an explanation.
'I believe that that is Hobbes's telephone.'
'He has a telephone? He never told me.'
'Well, why would he? We've been away, and it's not as if you are connected by telephone at home or the Hall, is it?'
'That is beside the point. One never knows....'
My petulance was interrupted by Hobbes waving from an upstairs window in a highly agitated manner. 'Knolly, it's for you!'
'I think, Knolly, he means the caller wishes to converse with you,' Bertie whispered.
'Really? But who other than Elspeth knows I'm here?' I looked at Bertie and a thought crossed my mind. 'Does Merrick have one of these telephone thingies, too?'
Bertie shrugged. 'Only one way to find out, isn't there?'