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.
Was it Spain or was it Sweden? Part 2
I waited as patiently as I could for my colleagues to settle themselves again amid much huffing, puffing and other such distant noises. The mention of that date created an aura of alertness and anticipation between us all, and it seemed to me that Elspeth was almost fizzing with excitement as she clutched the book. I'm sure that Hobbes if he had been in the room would have designed a mechanism on the spot to harness such energy and power goodness knows what!
A voice - I was not sure to whom it belonged - came over the wires.
'So what is actually in it?'
'Well to be honest,' I started, 'we have not had sufficient time to study its contents. Auntie only handed it over to me this morning, and then she very nearly took it back once she discovered that Elspeth would be coming to Scotland with us.'
'Ah! So we can assume that your Aunt had read some of it?' asked Bertie.
'Oh, of that I'm quite sure. But, I believe that she has not browsed it for some considerable time. I am also certain that she did not fully understand the true meaning of what she read, the implications of the content or how it all connects with the strange goings-on that were going-on around Loch Ness. She is scared for Elspeth's safety precisely because she has a good idea about the work that Uncle Monty was engaged in before his disappearance. And from what I've glanced at to-date, her fear is well justified.'
A strange stillness fell upon the room as we all considered what might be revealed by my Uncle's diary and I swear that I felt the temperature drop.
The silence was broken by some static and a crackly voice.
'Knolly, it's Hobbes here ..... Does the diary tally with the official file? Are there references to the canister and the remains that we discussed the other day?'
I thought about this and chose my words carefully.
'Yes and no,' I replied.
'Hmmmm... I see,' replied Hobbes in a tone that suggested that he did not fully understand.
Elspeth could contain herself no longer.
'There's lots of blank pages, too. Very wasteful, I thought!'
'Yes, thank you my dear. But profligate use of paper is not really a point of discussion here. It is not as if we are short of trees or anything, is it?'
There was a snort and chuckle from Bertie and Hobbes on the other end of the line and muttering about South American rain forests. Elspeth glowered at me, and I knew that sometime in the future I would pay handsomely for that remark with some conjugal rights being removed, no doubt. Merrick leaned across to her.
'May I see the diary?' asked Merrick.
Elspeth handed it to him and crossed her arms with a flounce.
'It's got a lovely poem in the front, even if it is wrong,' she said in a rather sulky manner.
Merrick took the book carefully and studied the cover. He seemed rather shocked at what he found in his hands.
'This is a copy of "Dracula", or so it would seem?' he said.
'What's that?' piped up Bertie.
'No, don't worry Bertie.' I said. 'My uncle is not Bram Stoker! It is merely a bit of subterfuge, that's all - disguising the diary to keep it away from prying eyes.'
Merrick opened the cover and Elspeth pointed out the poem - in particular the misquoted line of which she had earlier spoke.
'There!' She said. 'It should say "Spain", not "Sweden".'
John just nodded ... And continued to nod as he read.
'You've all gone very quiet,' came Hobbes' voice on line. 'What's going on? Who is that humming?'
'John's just having a look though the diary.' I replied.
'Well that's so unfair!' Sulked Bertie. 'I want to see it, too!'
'Bertie, behave please! I think that the diary warrants a proper study but we do not have the luxury of anything like sufficient time to do so in this gathering. I suggest that we leave it with Hobbes and John while we journey northwards. They can contact us if they discover anything that will help our quest. But I admit, the poem of which Elspeth speaks confounds me. I am certain that it is not what it seems and I would appreciate the thoughts of the good people here gathered. Would you like to hear it?'
'Oh, yes please!' said Bertie and Hobbes like excited schoolboys.
Very well. Elspeth - would you be so kind as to recite the ditty? Bertie, Hobbes - please ready yourselves to write it down.'
There then came a commotion on the other end of the telephone line, followed by Hobbes' distant voice - which was much vexed - and given to mumblings to the effect of 'How is it that I can never find a piece of paper when I need some.' and 'I refuse to believe that there is not one working writing implement in this house!'
Eventually, Bertie obliged with his ever-present notebook and ever-present pen.
'Gentlemen, are you quite ready?' I asked.
'Fire away!' Came Bertie's voice.
And finally, Elspeth read the poem beautifully and clearly. As she did so, Merrick again hummed an unrecognisable tune and stared out of the window as if in some form of trance.
'Well read! Bravo!' Said Bertie when Elspeth had finished. 'Hobbes has got it written down. What are we looking for?'
Merrick continued to hum. And then he began to shake in a most peculiar manner.
'John?' I asked. 'Are you feeling unwell?'
Merrick did not respond, but instead continued with his strange behaviour. I crossed over to him and shook him to no avail.
'Hobbes, John seems to have gone into some sort of trance like state.'
'Dear me, please place the telephone ear piece close to his ear and also the one you are using next to his other ear.'
Juggling the handsets and ear pieces as best I could, I nodded to Elspeth to talk.
'Hello, it's Elspeth. Knolly's managed to do that, what do we do next please?'
'JOHN?' Shouted Hobbes over the wires. This seemed to shock the poor fellow to his senses and almost deafened my wife who was still holding her telephone.
'What is happening now please?' Asked Hobbes in his normal voice.
'I do apologise.' Mumbled Merrick, clearly confused and dazed.
'Whatever is the matter?' Asked Elspeth as she moved across the room to comfort him, whilst massaging her own ear. He sipped at the water that she offered and seemed to calm down when she dabbed his face with a kerchief.
'Bertie, Hobbes,' I called into the telephone. 'John's had a bit of a turn. He's back with us now.'
'What happened John?' asked Hobbes. Merrick answered slowly:
'I am not at all sure, but I think it was the poem. While I was reading it I felt quite tired. When Elspeth read it, I felt as if I were entering the deepest of deep sleeps, one from which I might not wake.'
'Oh!' Said Elspeth. 'How dreadful!'
'No, no - not at all. That's the strange part. I did not mind; I welcomed the feeling and the dream.' He replied.
'What did you dream?' I asked.
'I dreamt that I was an angel.' Replied Merrick.
'An angel, eh?'
There was an uncomfortable noise from the Hobbes residence.
'Knolly, if I may interrupt,' he said quietly. 'May I ask what John has found out from the patient in the upstairs of the hospital sanatorium?'
It shames me to say, but I felt somewhat irritated by what I considered to be a diversion from the current agenda.
'My dear fellow,' I began. 'Whilst I am sure that Biggfat will doubtless appreciate news of how his friend is bearing up, we have a distressed colleague in this very room, and we have - what I believe to be - a code to decipher, the outcome of which will provide information pertaining to the true meaning and the level of danger in our latest endeavour. Could this little report on the poor chap's health not wait awhile?'
There was a momentary uneasy silence and I was just about to re-commence when Elspeth spoke.
'Oh, pooh, Knolly! Stop being such a bossy-britches. Who put you in charge, anyway? Apologise to Mr Hobbes this instant, and then if John feels up to the task we shall hear what he has to say about the patient.'
As quiet descended again, I heard stifled laughter from Bertie and Hobbes.
Elspeth was perfectly correct (as ever). My sounding-off at Hobbes was inappropriate and I apologised profusely. Fortunately, Merrick was not in the least bit upset and proceeded with his update. I am glad that Hobbes did ask the question; John's news was indeed relevant and intriguing, for he said:
'I do not think that this is a coincidence .... But the patient has been reciting the last two lines of that poem since he was admitted to the hospital.'The Shepherd and