My decision to join Charteris and his friends was rather a last minute affair. His cryptic invitation arrived several weeks ago, but sat unanswered on the mantlepiece. I was determined to take advantage of the summer’s respite to pursue the more laborious aspects of translating an ancient codex, the identity of which I prefer not to reveal until my work is complete. This is no mere academic prissiness or pretension. The codex has been translated before – indeed, by one of my more illustrious predecessors at the university. My researches among the incunabula he bequeathed the library that are held in its sealed room led me to conclude – at first – that his work, based on a series of peculiar errors, was fatally flawed. However, as during the long hot evenings I pondered these mistakes and the paths down which they had taken him, I began to perceive that it was not a case of mistranslation at all but one of misdirection.
I confess, I was frightened by this realisation. I dispatched a hasty message to Charteris, advising him of the time of my arrival at the nearest train station, on the edge of the Peak district. I packed a bag, shut up the house and, not to put too fine a point on it, fled.
I remember little of the journey. My mind was in such turmoil that even the several changes of train, with all the loitering on draughty, dank and increasingly rural platforms they involved, barely registered. At some point, a fellow traveller commented on a stretch of one of the branch lines supposedly being the most beautiful in the country. I grunted concurrence though in truth I had not noticed.
Charteris met me at the station and whisked me away past fields and through country lanes, the verdancy of which seemed somehow obscene.
We had not spoken in a number of years, and conversation did not seem inclined to flow.
The cottage Charteris has rented is rather narrow. It strikes me as too small for all of us. We shall see when his companions return from their day’s excursion. I can always book into a local inn if their presence and proximity becomes too onerous.
In truth, I am beginning to feel rather foolish. I am not one to act in haste, nor am I commonly prey to the weird fancies that now preoccupy me.
Outside, dark clouds are massed in the sky and the rain has started. It is the kind of thin drizzle, little more than a mist, which will soak through everything and leave the place smelling of damp wool. In the tree by my window, a squirrel is busy bringing in food to its nest. Perhaps it has young to feed? I shake my head – the habits of Rodentia are hardly within the purview of my concerns. Besides, Charteris tells me as we struggle to converse over the pot of thick black tea he made while I unpacked, it is the wrong season.