Motherwell, North Lanarkshire / Scotland / Circa 1900
“Nobody ever seems to dare speak about the damn creature Professor Osgood,” the little Scotsman almost whispered as they peered out across the steamy miasma of the eerie moor. “Only a knot of the older and bolder folks, after a pint or two of Guinness down at The Picayune, hunker together a wee bit and speak of it in very hushed tones by the pub’s smoldering hearth.”
Osgood seemed transfixed by the moor’s maddening mystery. After hearing this rather obscure pronouncement from the diminutive Captain Percival he entreated for more information regarding the ghoulish monster of the moors known simply as Hobbleslag.
“I see,” Osgood replied as he blew out a dense cumulus cloud of tobacco smoke he had drawn in from the glow of his curling alabaster bowl Meerschaum. “And just ‘where’ exactly is this barroom, The Picayune, my good captain? Is it nearby?”
Percival looked up and detected a kind of odd glint in the professor’s black and leery eyes. It was rather hard for him to discern and decide just where, or what, this would all lead him into. He opted to take the bait. There might just be some money for him in it all in the end.
“Not too terribly far sir, just down the road that skirts the peat bog aways. If you care to hop back into the phaeton carriage I can get us there before something happ–… I mean before–”
“Before ‘what’?” Osgood finished for him with a befogged curiosity.
“Well sir,” Percival recovered. “You know… before it gets too terribly dark and all. I mean all I have for the carriage is a singular glass and brass lamp for engaging night travel way out here in the moorlands and such.”
At this Osgood turned about silently as if on some kind of swivel or turntable. He tamped out the ash from his bowl there on the marshy heather grass and ground it down with the very tip of his black and silver buckle saddle boot. Somewhere off in the distance, far out across the moonlit mire, there was an odd groan, perhaps it was a howl of some sort. They both froze in place, and then the corners of their rolling eyes eventually met.
“Very well then. Let us go enjoy a pint… or two, shall we my good captain?”
“Splendid idea sir,” from the slightly quivering cabby. “A splendid idea indeed.”
Approximately one half hour later at The Picayune Pub
“Might we join you gentlemen?” Osgood inquired with a slight bowing bend of his towering black velvet vested torso. The golden linkage of his watch fob swung out a bit as he made this slightly dipping maitre d like gesture. His lantern jaw and other decidedly aquiline facial features were made even more imposing within the shadows created by the licking flames and golden glow of the pub’s stone and mortar inglenook. Captain Percival simply lofted his frothy pint with a dubious, but friendly grin of neighborliness.
The two men seated around the curvature of the gray stone, smut-stained fireplace looked at each other with a deadpan indifference and then back up at the two cordial interlopers.
“Why certainly gentlemen,” one of the two be-stooled fellows replied in a harsh, but not unfriendly way. He two fingered a kind of respectful salute off the sagging brim of his oversized tartan flat cap. The other man seemed a bit wary, but managed to crook a tidy half smile with an accompanying ‘why not’ shrug of his hunching shoulders.
“My name’s McCraken and this is Mr. Donlan. Whyn’t you grab a couple of them wood stools up at the bar. You can scoot ’em right on over here by the fire. Hell, that little bar gal Lyndsey don’t care. Long as you make it worth her inconvenience if you know what I mean,” he winked as he rubbed his thumb across the tips of his fingers.
There was another courteous nod down from the understanding Osgood. He removed his black top hat to reveal a pomade plastered back shock of raven hair. He offered Percival an impassive look and then pulled two gold coins out of his vest pocket.
“Here we are then captain,” he said as he handed him the money. “Will you sort it all out with our pretty matron of honor miss Lyndsey?”
“Very good professor,” Percival answered as he pecked the coins out of Osgood’s extended palm. “I’ll be right back then gentlemen.” He politely nodded again to no one in particular this time and disappeared off into the smoky shadows.
“Hobbleslag is it then?” McCraken almost sighed as he looked over at the now awkwardly perched dark stranger across from him.
“If you wouldn’t mind sir,” Osgood replied as he blew into his glass snifter of heated cognac. “I’m intrigued by the entire thing I dare say. I seem to have been drawn in somehow to this whole Hobbleslag business. Perhaps you can expound on the ‘legend’ if you will for me and my companion here.”
“If you would be so kind sir,” Donlan tried sheepishly after a deep slurp on his pint of dark ale, “you have our names, may we ask what ‘yours’ might be and just maybe where you’re from and all?”
“Why certainly my good man. Please forgive my rudeness,” Osgood answered with a playful slap at his deeply furrowed brow. “My name is Dunham Clayton Osgood III. I am from London, but my ancestors are from here in Scotland. I came here on holiday to visit and to catch up on some rough drafts of a manuscript I am currently working on. This gentleman is Captain Percival. He has become my expert tour guide and trusted, and I dare say devoted, confidant. He is indeed a man of talents beyond measure.”
Percival smiled and colored a bit at these slightly oblique accolades from his decidedly intimidating passenger. He opted then and there to swallow the bait… hook, line and sinker. “At your service gentlemen. Please proceed,” he ventured as he tried to settle up onto his wobbly stool, and settle into his new auspicious position as Professor Osgood’s entrusted secondary and director.
The two locals pondered Percival for a moment with a rather perplexed look and then turned back to the patiently looming Osgood.
“So you’re a writer then is that it Mr. Osgood?” McCraken asked bluntly.
“‘Professor Osgood’ I do say sir. I am a paleontologist. Cambridge University if you will. I also dabble in the fields of criminology, geneaology, and the budding new field of cryptozoology.
McCraken slipped a bit from his perch on his wooden stool. Donlan concurrently almost dropped his half full pint of stout ale. Even the newly knighted Captain Casper Percival did an eye popping double-take at his mysterious, multi-faceted fare.
“Oh… I see,” from the now completely befuddled McCraken, “that explains everything then. I guess.” He drained his pint and then rather rudely held it out just afore the bulbous nose of the priggish Percival. “Perhaps I might bear witness to one of your multitude of vested ‘talents’ Captain Percival.”
There was an awkward pause and then they all (save for the belittled and embarrassed Percival) had a light hearted guffaw. Percival arose from his stool with a resolute indignation, but before he had time to make some hurried decision on what to do in response to the callous remark Osgood piped in.
“You know fairly well by now my liege and mentor that my game leg is the only thing preventing me from visiting the buxom Lyndsey to fetch us ‘all’ another round of drinks. If you wouldn’t mind please…” .
Percival thought it over, very briefly, and with only the slightest moment of hesitation dutifully accepted more coins from the stretching, smiling Osgood. He withdrew once again for the bar in search of the sweet and sour miss Lyndsey.
“Now my lads,” Osgood returned in a much more serious vein, “tell me what you know about this ‘creature’ they call Hobbleslag.”
15 minutes later
“Well ‘Professor’ Osgood as I… ‘we’ told you a minute ago the ‘creature’ in question is probably nothing more than a resurfacing Scottish myth. However, on the other hand, there are those that still claim to hear the blood curdling howl of the Hobbleslag as they wend their way over or around the midnight mire of the bog. There’s even been a handful of apparent sightings of the damn thing, fairly recently I dare say. Why even old Donlan here claims to have witnessed it himself skulking across the marsh and moor late one night. Am I right Donley Boy?”
“Can’t say for certain just exactly ‘what’ I saw that night,” Donlan offered back solemnly as he looked around the dimly lit pub. “But it wasn’t right with God or the devil himself, I’ll have you know that for a fact.”
“You saw it?” Osgood almost shouted out in shocked surprise.
Donlan interrupted his owl-eyed sweep off into the lingering smoke and sharp shadows. He turned about slowly on his stool to confront the now aghast professor who had bolted upright off of his ‘borrowed’ oaken barstool.
“I don’t know,” he replied as if he were now trapped in some kind of haunting daze or vision. “I saw… something. It was just a hulking silhouette as I passed down the peat bog road that wanders around and about the unforgiving moorland, but it was huge and it loped forward on ‘two’ legs… bent, but upright none the less. I ‘can’ tell you that!”
“But if you–”
“Now let me just ask ‘you’ a question or two Professor ‘Osgood’,” Donlan cut in with a gnarly, arthritic hand.
“Certainly my friend. Go right ahead.”
“Are you by any chance related to Sir Dunham Osgood from over in Wishaw Council?”
“Why yes, yes I am,” Osgood replied with a not so completely unwelcome surprise at that particular point in the pub’s proceedings.
“Then I feel it might be in all of our best interests if you tell us just ‘exactly’ why you’re so curious about the creature? You must see that the reason that I ask is because there are those who strongly believe that Sir Dunham Osgood had much to do with the legend of the monster Hobbleslag. That being with all his furtive midnight surgical experiments and the like.”
Osgood was somewhat taken aback by the little man’s challenging effrontery, but he quickly decided that he had best reveal some of the cards in his hand or his entire fact finding investigation would come to a screeching halt right then and there.
“Well, by all means Mr. Donlan. I can expound on my curiosity, interests if you will, in the Hobbleslag legend. If you must.”
“We must,” Donlan checked over with the nodding McCraken.
“Very well then,” Osgood gave in with a sigh. “I’ll do my best.”
“Sir Dunham is… ‘was’, in fact my grandfather,” Osgood began as he leaned in a little closer for a desired secretive affect. “He was indeed a rather eccentric fellow there is no doubt. He had devoted his entire life and medical practices, you see he was a self-taught geneticist and surgeon, to the study and experimentation of mutations of nature, hybridization and such. He was far ahead of his time in these burgeoning fields of research. A certain number of his peers considered him quite the genius. I’ve even been told in my visits here to Scotland by several of my distant relations that my own father Dunham II would oft times assist him in his radical and avant-garde procedures and hybridization surgical experimentations.”
Osgood paused for a moment, but the moment was cut short by the chin-rubbing Donlan.
“Well sir I can tell you this with no ill respect there are also those of a lesser class and caste, right around these very valleys in fact, who believe your erudite ancestor, Sir Dunham Osgood, was indeed quite mad in his ways and means. Some go even further to suggest that he had everything to do with the very creature that prowls our marshy moorlands out there. “He thumbed over his shoulder to a steamy dark four paned window just to the right of the glowing fireplace. “Your thoughts Professor?”
Osgood had colored somewhat at these blunt suggestions, but now that all the cards were on the table he offered back this rather sordid rejoinder.
“Conjecture and speculation do not a conviction make my good fellow in ‘any’ court of law. And, in closing, not that it’s any of ‘your’ concern or business, but if it helps me explain to you my puzzling passion in any way, I have never seen or heard from my own father since my very birth.”
“I see,” Donlan replied with a respectful raise of his empty pint of ale. “Fair enough.”
“Yeh, I guess that’s about enough,” Percival interjected with a giggle and a wiggle of his drained glass and then wished that he hadn’t.
“We bid you goodnight and adieu gentlemen,” Osgood said as he slid away from his stool. “Thank you for your candor and hospitality. Our lodgings on the far side of the grimpen mire await us. Come along then my captain we have miles to go before we sleep.”
Approximately 30 minutes later
It had grown quite dark outside since their ‘discussion’ with the two Picayune Pub patrons. The pallid waxing moon appeared almost pinned up against the vaulted midnight sky. The orb’s soft light and the candescence of the captain’s kerosene carriage lantern were surprisingly enough for both he and the phaeton pulling horse to negotiate the convoluted path around and about the daunting grimpen mire.
Osgood leaned forward from his pleated, red leather cushion seat in the back of the rolling calash.
“How far along are we then captain?”
“There is still a fair ways to go yet sir. Ol’ Bartlebee up there has a tendency to stray mentally when a full moon makes its presence known. You know how things can be when a moon with that kind of presence and pull is out and about.”
“Hmm,” from the pondersome professor as he lit anew his curvaceous Meerschaum pipe. “Give us a bit of a song why don’t you then old fellow? It will help the time pass by and, just maybe, the oppressive gloom of this ungodly boorish bog we attempt to circumnavigate. Something gay and pub worthy mind you. Perhaps something our buxom kitten Lyndsey would fancy. It would only seem apropos… don’t you agree me hearty?” Osgood asked as he presented the cabby with a few more coins.
“Very good sir,” from the financially rejuvenated cabby. “In fact I have just the ditty for the deed.”
Percival turned round and snapped the reins a touch and started into the ancient seafarer’s song ‘Drunken Sailor’. Before too long his lighthearted (and light-headed after several cognacs!) passenger joined in on the ballad in a rather churlish attempt at harmonization.
“Ho Ho and up she rises
“Ho Ho and up she rises
“Ho Ho and up she rises
“Erli’ in the morn–”
“Look their!” the harking cabby cried out in shock.
A large, bi-pedal figure was standing, perhaps crouching would be a better description, just out atop a massive, jutting outcrop of rock. The entire bizarre circumstance was happening, quite suddenly, just up ahead in the mist and gloom of the bog just off to the right of the two now totally bewildered travelers.
“Stop the carriage! Stop the carriage!” Osgood yelled wildly at the cabby. He slowly withdrew a daunting double-barreled derringer from the inner sanctum of his long black topcoat and thumb-cocked both deadly hammers into readiness. He leapt free of the calash as might some caged animal or opportunistic captured felon.
“Stay here,” he yelped at the frozen in place captain of the carriage. He snatched away the glowing lantern from its mooring hook on the front of the coach and crept around the haunches of the now unnerved, prancing in place Bartlebee. “I’ll see to this my friend.”
He bent low and stole off into the gloom and shadows of the grimpen mire.
“Who goes there?” Osgood fairly whispered as he precariously rounded to the top of the mammoth, mountainous kopje. He held the swaying lantern outstretched in one hand and the dual pistolette in deadly readiness in the other. A single twisted turn remained and he would then confront his fears and, perhaps, his fate.
It was as silent as some long forgotten sealed tomb.
“Halt I say… I’m on to you!”
Silence at first. But then, just then… a kind of disturbed, gurggling growl ensued.
“I’m coming round now. I have a cocked and loaded pistol at the ready. I’m alone.”
Silence again. Then a rustling, sliding noise from down by the base of the mountainous rocky protrusion. Soon the sound of running, scurrying… hooves? Osgood made the final turn to the top of the precipice.
There was nothing.
He disarmed the pistol and held forward the glowing lantern as he inched over, carefully, to the slippery moss adorned ledge. With squinting eyes he peered off and out into the moonlit blackness of the moor. He spied some large, grotesque, loping figure scrambling off into the depths of the murky marsh and mire.
And, just then, he noticed something gleaming just at the heel of his dark boot. He carefully knelt down for a closer inspection of the golden object. Osgood pocketed the derringer and then picked up the crested medallion and held it up to the lantern’s glow.
It was a gold and silver family crest, a double crossed broadsword atop a proud griffin, embossed on an onyx and leather swatch. The agog Osgood stared at it for a moment, pondered it, studied it in total awe and disbelief. He flashed a look up and then peered far out into the black morass of the grimpen mire. He sucked in a great measure of the chilly midnight air. Then…