Secret World by Gaslight: The Wildcat of the Darkmoons

Howden Moor Hall
Howden Moor
Derbyshire

15th October 1888

My Dearest Emma,

Firstly, I must apologise for the delay in my reply to your last letter; there has been some activity in the isolation of the Derbyshire Moors, not as much as your letter indicates that occurs in London, but certainly enough to distract me from being a good cousin to you. Certainly the adventures you describe sound rather thrilling if not a little taxing for the female constitution, though not, I imagine, the spirit, and certainly not the blood that flows through you, for this is Darkmoon blood and it fortifies sterner stuff in our family.

But as I say, there have been incidents occurring here amongst the tors, scrubland and meres. The staff have been informing me of a series of rather odd things such as the scream and screeches of a creature that sounds inhuman. Mary, the maid, swears that it is the sound of a Banshee, but she is Irish, and her education limited, so is prey to flights of fancy. Mrs. Pearce, the cook, however, is a woman of greater resolve and resilience and I would have expected better of her normally, but she had to be nearly coerced into describing what she experienced., which to her was the sound of a rather large cat, much like those described by Uncle Peter following his safari in Africa last year. There have been reports of sightings too, silhouettes against a cloudless night where the moon and stars provide much illumination.

I, myself, have neither seen,nor heard, any of these sights or sounds and would normally believe that those involved have either been at the cooking sherry or seeking some increase in their wages, but they appear resolute in what they have witnessed, or believe to have witnessed.

I would not normally countenance such nonsense, but I fear that I shall have no peace, nor an acceptable standard of work until this is all disproven. With that in mind, I wonder if you would do me the honour of attending Howden Moor Hall at your earliest convenience in order to get to the bottom of the matter. I know that this is quite a journey for you, but the trains stop at a station rather near to the Hall, and there is always a man and trap on hand to ferry passengers around the area.

Oh, please say that you will, dearest Emma, from your letters, you are becoming quite the sleuth and it would be a great weight off my mind for this situation to be resolved. Please feel free to invite Mister Ashcroft, and Doctor Ainsworth, if you feel that their support would be beneficial also. I would be as intrigued to meet them as I would be delighted to see you again, dearest Emma.

Yours,

Dorothea

Following the receipt of a letter from her cousin Dorothea, Emma has taken the train up to the Derbyshire Moors. She travels light with only the two cases as this is not thought to be a long stay.

With her, in the same carriage, are Mordecai Ashcroft, and Dr Ainsworth. It has been a little time since the events of Trafalgar Square and the sinister machinations of Dr Henry Jekyll, but they have caught up in their various news quickly

Emma’s maid, Molly, is also present and stares out of the window; having rarely left the smoke of London, the trip to the north of England a treat,

[Molly]: “Oh look, Miss! More sheep!”

[Emma]: “It is nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, is it not?” Emma smiles.

[Molly]: “Oh, it is! Already the air feels cleaner!”

[Mordecai]: “It’s a good thing to get out of the fog, smoke and rain that is london? I have been in your country for a while now, but I haven’t seen much more than just a fraction of it.”

Emma chuckles. “There is no getting away from the fog and rain, I’m afraid. But the fresh air does wonders for the wellbeing.”

[Molly]: “Are you close to your cousin, miss?”

[Emma]: “Oh.” Emma gazes out of the window. “Two peas in a pod we were when we were little. But the responsibilities of adulthood rather have a way of changing that. We do keep in touch, as much as we can.”

[Molly]: “And all the way up to Derbyshire! I mean, it’s nearly Scotland?”

[Mordecai]: “You must be happy to get the opportunity for a visit, then?*

Emma smiles at Molly’s comment. “It must seem that way for one who has barely seen beyond the outskirts of London town. And indeed yes.” She smiles at Mordecai. “While people now are so eager for the city life, soon, they’ll all be clamouring for the peace and quiet of the countryside, you mark my words.”

[Mordecai]: “It is weird, I swear that it is the same language we learn to speak when overseas, but I still sometimes have trouble understanding some of the heavier accents of the northern counties?”

[Molly]: “There does seem to be a lot of wild animals around”

The Doctor looks into the distance, absent minded after reading a letter he received before they left over and over, and was not paying much attention to his surroundings "Animals… where?”

Molly points out of the window. “Sheep, cows, horses!”

Mordecai smirks. You never got much out of the city? If this excites you that much, have you ever been on a ship?*

[Molly]: “A ship? Oh no. All that being on water? It ain’t natural” Molly looks towards the Doctor, “Is everything all right, Dr Ainsworth?”

The Doctor sighs "Sorry I have not been so attentive to the surroundings, or to your conversations. My Family… My son who went across “the pond” to find his fortune in America… I have received news that he Is missing at sea. He has been working as a Whaler for a time…”

[Emma]: “Missing? How dreadful. I am very sorry to hear that. Do let me know if there is anything I can do.”

[Mordecai]: “A dangerous profession… can´t currently say when I will get back home, but I could ask some people to look into it?*

[Ainsworth]: Seems his Vessel went Missing … My Daughter in Law Wrote something about a Strange Misty Fog not sure what to make of it… sounds so unreal.

[Molly]: “Oh, I am so sorry, Dr… And there;'s ,e going on about the cows and horses and sheep and chicken. You must think me so ignorant.”

The Doctor smiles "No no my dear just been a lot to Process nothing one can do about it… If they find Wreckage and bodies then i believe he is dead until then he is simply missing no trace of the whaler or its crew just been on my mind since i got the Letter. They were headed for somewhere called Solomon Island over in New England, and never got there.”

[Mordecai]: “That is all they told her? there are accidents at sea, but that sounds like it is worth to dig deeper… knowing might be better than just worry? sorry, I might sound really inconsiderate…”

[Emma]: “You mustn’t think like that, Doctor. I’m certain that they will turn up alive and well.” Emma states with absolute conviction.

Time passes on the train as it will do, and following a change at Derby Midland Station, they are close to arriving at Howden Moor station.

[Mordecai]: “Are your relatives really fine with us just tagging along?*”

[Emma]: “Oh. Yes, yes, of course. Don’t you worry about it.”

”Howden Moor!" A distant shout from down the train. “Howden Moor!”

[Ainsworth]: "The Doctor takes a deep breath "Well, if this old fool can help solve some problems it should keep my mind from wandering into dark places guess we are at our stop already… how time flies…”

Emma looks out of the window, smiling. “And here we are. It really has been too long.”

The train pulls to a stop, and luggage is gathered and brought to the platform.

[Ainsworth]: "The Doctor grabs his suitcase and helps to take one of Emma’s cases down "There… I’ll help take one, you the other my lad?” The Doctor looks at Mordecai.”

[Mordecai]: “Fine with me. Should I have brought more formal clothing?” Mordecai takes the other one.

The Doctor sighs. "Just like my wife when we went travelling… These are heavy. What did you pack? An entire armoury?”

A porter arrives with a barrow. “Help, ma’am?”

[Emma]: “Please, and thank you. I’m afraid I may have overpacked just a wee bit.”

[Mordecai]: “How do they say? Exercise and fresh air clear the mind?*

[Porter]: “Will you be wanting a trap, ma’am? We have old Jeb out the front. He should be able to accomodate?”

The Doctor sighs and flinches after Lifting the suitcase down "I hate getting old… Ooh my back… can use some fresh air… and some exercise in the coming days. The Doctor stretches and a cracking sound can be heard.

[Mordecai]: “Are you okay? you took quite the fall in our last adventure?*

[Molly]: “Oh, Doctor Ainsworth, you should not be out in the cold and damp with your bones.”

The Doctor sighs "Yes… but … if my expertise can help any I will … just not as young and fit as I used to be in my army days…“

[Mordecai]: “How far is it to our destination? Some tea or coffee and a crackling fireplace might do wonders?*

[Porter]: “Where are you headed, sir?”

[Emma]: “Cousin Dorothea is expecting us.” Emma chimes in.

[Porter]: “Dorothea…” The porter says slowly, thinking. “That wouldn’t be Dorothea Darkmoon over at the Hall, would it?”

[Emma]: “The very same.” Emma smiles. “Unless more have sprung up since last I saw her. And we’d be happy to take you up on your offer. I daresay the good Doctor should not be on his feet for too long yet.”

[Mordecai]: “Your assistance is very much appreciated.” Mordecai searches for some coins and hands them over.

The porter nods dumbly, acquiring alacrity as he wheels the luggage to the other side of the station and towards a man sitting atop a large horse and cart. “Four for the Hall, Jeb.”

[Jeb]: “Ar…”

The porter loads the luggage onto the back. There are two benches facing each other at the front of the trap. There are metal steps than unfold to help gain access to the seats

Emma hitches her skirts up and climbs onto the cart.

[Molly]: “Oh, careful, miss!”

[Emma]: “Don’t you worry.” Emma sits down and takes a deep breath of the country air.

Jeb sits staring forwards barely moving.

[Mordecai]: “Okay, let’s get on the road, and get you to a warm place, Doctor.*

The Doctor sighs "Well fresh air, the smell, hay and… and horse excrement? … Aaah… Speaking of … The Doctor sighs as the horse does its thing as he gets into the trap

Emma snorts before adopting a mock-admonishing tone. “Language, Doctor!”

[Jeb]: “Ar…” Jeb comments on the hilarity of the situation, and apparently sensing that everyone has boarded despite not turning around, cracks the reins and starts the trap forwards.

[Mordecai]: “Nature’s call? But then, these mundane moments are enjoyable, never had them before coming to this country…”

The journey is not too long, around twenty minutes, through some beautiful countryside, if a little grey and hilly at times The road is not as smooth as the cobbles in London. Throughout the journey, Jeb says little.

Soon, the estate can be seen as the trap reaches the crown of a small hill and starts down the other side. The estate has a long and fairly high wall that has a large iron wrought gate in the middle.

The Doctor sighs as he remembers what Mordecai said "By the way if you had no mundane bowel movements since you got to this country I suggest you get professional help Mordecai… that would be pretty painful by now.”

Mordecai splutters at the Doctor’s suggestion but recovers and looks around the passing scenery. “Quite idyllic. “I would not mind if this is just a trip to the country and some ghost stories. If not, we´ve faced worse? Heh, we both better shut up when meeting the family or Emma will never be allowed to go back to the big city?"

[Emma]: “I do suggest you keep talk of bowel movements away from the dinner table. This may be the countryside, but we are civilised people.”

[Molly]: “Oh, that’s a beautiful home!”

The trap glides through the gates and around a large fountain like structure in the centre of the driveway.

[Emma]: “It is rather lovely, isn’t it? And very spacious.”

The Doctor sighs "Right right , and this does have a nice feeling to it , but somehow it seems a bit,… dark or is it a trick of the light?”

As the trap comes to a stop, the front door opens and a tallish woman descends the steps. “Emma? Is that you? Oh! It is! Thank goodness!”

[Mordecai]: “It is an old place, so it has seen it´s share of tragedy, violence and sorrow. but it has a cleaner energy than london.”

Emma climbs down and brushes the dust of the road off of her clothes. “In the flesh.” She frowns. “Why, were you expecting someone else?”

The Doctor exits the trap and stretches with another audible cracking sound. "I will regret this … excursion later I bet…ouch…”

[Jeb]: “Ar…”

[Dorothea]: “No, no, I mean I am just so glad that you have arrived. There has been the most terrible occurrence.”

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Emma Darkmoon, Mordecai Ashdown, and Dr Ainsworth have arrived at Howden Moor Hall in Derbyshire at the request of Emma’s cousin Dorothea. There appears to be unnatural sounds that are disturbing the locals and servants.

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Dorothea looks pale and not a little anxious, a tendril of hair from her normally immaculate arrangement has escaped and hangs across her eye like a deep scar.

[Emma]: “Oh, poor dear, calm yourself and take a deep breath.” Emma puts on an encouraging smile. “And then start at the beginning.”

[Dorothea]: "Oh, but it is good to see you again, dear Emma. And welcome to your friends also. I do hope, I–” She looks behind her, "I will get Branston to get your luggage.”

[Emma]: “I daresay you look like you need a calming cuppa more than we do. Or perhaps a spot of brandy.”

[Dorothea]: “Perhaps it would be best to allow you to get to your rooms and then we can all sit down with a little light tea?”

Doctor Ainsworth looks at Emma’s cousin. "Sleep deprivation exhaustion and, I wager, an iron deficiency from the pure looks of it. Do pardon my question, but I think I am close in my guess you have not had much rest the last week or so?”

Dorothea smiles tightly. "I think a combination of the two perhaps. Oh, sirs, please forgive my manners. My name is Dorothea Darkmoon. Welcome to Howden Moor Hall.” She looks towards the doctor. “And no. I-- we-- no one in the house has for some time now.”

Emma opens her handbag and produces a bottle with a bow neatly tied to the neck, which she holds out to Dorothea. The vintage matches the year of their births.

[Dorothea]: “Oh, oh my dear, that is so sweet of you! And considerate!”

[Mordecai]: “No worries. This must be a terrifying time for you. Hopefully we can be of assistance to solve the issue.”

Dorothea looks towards Mordecai. “Are you Dr Ainsworth? Perhaps you might prescribe something to help people sleep?”

Mordecai smiles with a slight but polite bow. “You have mistaken me for another, madam.” He indicates Dr. Ainsworth. “I am sure the good Doctor can work something out. I am merely a travelling salesman.”

The doctor sighs "My name is Doctor Ainsworth. A pleasure. Mister Ashdown over there is capable in most fields other than medicine. Ainsworth rummages in his bag "I have some pills that should help with iron levels …and some supplements ment for sailors actually but to prevent vitamin deficiency. This should help you and your staff… And some sleeping draughts.”

Ainsworth indicates Mordecai. "Besides whatever troubles you, I am sure this strapping fellow can take care of most problems, mundane or otherwise.”

[Dorothea]: “Oh, please forgive me, it is wonderful to meet you both. I-- Oh, thank you Branston. Please take our guest’s luggage to their room."

A large, heavy set man in his 50s comes down the front steps and moves with a slow nod and begins to pick up the cases. He manages to lift each of Emma’s cases under her arms.

[Emma]: “Whilst I have no doubt that the good doctor has something in his magical bag of concoctions, perhaps we had better get to the bottom of what’s keeping you up at night.” She smiles at the other man. “Good day to you, Branston, it’s been too long. You look in good health!”

[Branston]: “Miss Emma,” Branston says sonorously."

[Dorothea]: “Just the two cases. Emma?” Dorothea looks anxious again. “Are you not intending to stay long?”

Emma tilts her head. “Packed too much, packed too little… Be a wonder if anyone ever agreed that I packed just the right amount! And, of course, I’ll stay as long as you’ll have me.”

[Dorothea]: “Thank you, my dear, that is such a relief! Branston will return for you two gentlemen’s cases in a moment, but in the meantime, we could enter the front parlour?”

The Doctor sighs. "Right…” He looks around "I wonder why I have the chills only looking from the outside… already.”

[Dorothea]: “That is something that I would like to bring up once we enter the house. Please, this way. You may find Gemma and the other staff in the kitchen, Molly.”

[Molly]: “Thank you ma’am!”

[Jeb]: "Ar… " Jeb departs with a soft crack of the reins.

[Mordecai]: “We´ll have to find out what it is and make you all feel safe again.”

Deodand glances at the cat near the front gate with a slight frown.

The interior of the Hall matches the promise of the impressive facade. The walls and floors clean, the furnishings and wood panelling polished and bringing out the redolent mahogany finish.

[Emma]: “There is a certain chill in the air,” Emma murmurs, mostly to herself. “But the house looks as homely as ever.” Emma smiles as the familiar scent of the house brings back childhood memories.

[Dorothea]: “Please, make yourselves at home. I will call Gemma for the tea,” she raches for tugs a cord and a distant bell rings

[Mordecai]: “It is a beautiful home. almost like in a painting.”

Dorothea smiles a tired smile. “Thank you very much, you are very kind. It is a large house, too large perhaps for the people who dwell and work within, but have done my best to keep it all maintained. It is what Richard would have wanted.”

The doctor shivers slightly. "Indeed, a bit chilly but nice… Wonder why I feel a bit colder than outside, how strange…”

The door opens and a young woman in a black and white maid’s outfit enters pushing a small trolley with tea things upon it.

[Dorothea]: “Thank you Gemma, just set it down on the table please. We can help ourselves."

Gemma bobs a quick curtsey and heads back out of the room where her voice can be heard mingling excitedly with Molly

Emma eyes the Doctor warily. “I do hope you aren’t coming down with something, Doctor? Perhaps it was a mistake to interrupt your recuperation for a trip to the countryside.”

[Mordecai]: “Maybe the tea helps with warming all of us up. But it indeed feels like it is getting colder?”

[Dorothea]: “They say that the moors have their own climate, markedly different to the rest of the area. Normally ten months of rain and fog, with some sunlight in the other two months.”

Dorothea drifts into a reverie but blinks and smiles, looking at the tea things. “Shall I be mother?”

[Emma]: “Oh, please do.”

Doctor Ainsworth smiles "I am fine… I can’t explain it. There is a feeling that this place evokes, not awe or dread, only a sense of cold… Maybe I am imagining it but it does affect me somewhat. "The doctor reaches to collect his tea.

[Emma]: “An extra set of blankets apiece for the night wouldn’t go amiss, I should say. Wouldn’t want anyone catching a cold!”

[Mordecai]: “Since when did this cold weather occur? Is it unusual for this time?”

[Dorothea]: “One does get used to it. At times… Maybe I should explain my letter asking you to come here?"

[Emma]: “I rather figured that you didn’t call on me to relive old memories of hiding away in the old clocktower.”

Dorothea smiles tiredly at the wit. “Indeed, you know me so well.”

[Emma]: “Well then, why don’t we all make ourselves comfortable and you start at the very beginning.” She suggests.

[Mordecai]: “I believe that all of us have a talent to run into things and then solve them. So why not put that talent to a good use here.*

[Dorothea]: "Well, it is as I described in the letter, circumstances have been changeable recently. The staff have noticed, as have some of the locals. There has been talk of a large animal on the moors, screeching and howling in the night

[Emma]: “Has anyone seen this animal? Is it perhaps not just the call of an injured beast? Even small ones can be frightfully loud.”

[Dorothea]: "One of the maids, Eliza I believe, even said that she has seen it, or rather its silhouette on one of the small tors. She described it as a large cat, maybe even a “big cat”, practically human sized, or so she said. She did not make a lot of sense at the time and left my employ some little time later.

“But, as I say, I have yet to see, or even hear it, but the staff swear on the bible to what they have seen, and it is causing some difficulties with the people in the nearby village. There have been rumours that the beast has been seen in the grounds of the Hall."

The Doctor raises a eyebrow. "A large cat…? Could one have escaped from an exhibition and survived this long in the Moors?”

[Dorothea]: "As far as I am aware, there is no zoo within one hundred miles of here, and we have not had the circus pass our way in some years, and, to my knowledge, no one has been on safari.”

The Doctor nods. “Peculiar indeed…” He sips on his tea

[Emma]: “Surely an African wildcat would not survive this climate without human intervention?”

[Dorothea]: “There has been another unusual occurrence…”

[Emma]: “Do go on.” Emma encourages.

[Dorothea]: “The area domestic cat population appears to have… increased… substantially…”

[Emma]: “I was not going to mention it. You didn’t adopt a new litter, then?”

"The Doctor frowns and takes a biscuit "Indeed? Immigration? Or are we talking excessive reproduction?”

[Dorothea]: “Doctor!” Dorothea is momentarily shocked at the idea. “I am sure that I know nothing about that.” She relaxes. “Please forgive me, I am a little on edge. But no, I have no idea. They are all different kinds and colours and it is as if they have come from across the county to be here.”

[Mordecai]: “Wouldn’t the farmers try to keep the population small? Do the cats show strange behaviour?”

[Emma]: “I imagine that the farmers do not mind as long as the birds are kept away from the grains.”

[Mordecai]: “So we have one big mystical cat and a flock of normal ones? Did anything else happen, despite people being scared?”

[Dorothea]: “For the most part, they appear to just sit there, watching Though… and this is another source of tension with the village. A couple of dogs, not large ones, terriers I understand, have been found dead. Torn apart by small claws apparently.”

The doctor nods. "What was it again? An old Legend of the Islands… Cat-sìth? But surely that can’t be… We are far from Ireland, and not too close to Scotland…”

[Dorothea]: “Indeed we are not. We occasionally have a tinker pass by - he sharpens the garden tools - but no cat is seen with him.”

[Emma]: “Let us not jump to conclusions. Not every feral cat harbours a spirit.”

The Doctor sighs “The people of the Scottish Highlands did not trust the Cat-sìth. They believed that it could steal a person’s soul, before it was claimed by the gods…” He murmurs. "Ah sorry. Old Tales coming back to me from an Army friend…”

[Dorothea]: “Well, this may sound fairly unimportant, certainly no threat to the state, like I understand that you deal with on a day to day basis, but this is deeply affecting my home and my… reputation. I am holding onto my staff by my fingertips. The groundsman offered his notice the other day."

[Emma]:“I assure you that we will not leave until we get to the bottom of it!”

[Dorothea]: “I do appreciate you all coming here to help me and hopefully solve this little mystery.”

[Mordecai]: “Could someone have brought the cats here and spread rumours to maybe scare you and the staff? any old rivalries? interest in the property?”

The doctor murmurs, "The demonic Cat-sith called ‘Big Ears’ could be summoned to appear and grant any wish to those who took part in the ceremony. The ceremony required practitioners to burn the bodies of cats over the course of four days and nights. never thought those old wives tales could be true…” The doctor shivers.

[Dorothea]: “No, nothing,” She shakes her head gently but emphatically, “Nothing like that. Nothing in the family, it is normally rather quiet in this area, both geographically and family-wise.”

[Dr Ainsworth]: “I thought my army friend had a few too many pints when he talked about this stuff with his miss…

[Emma]: “Doctor!” Emma admonishes. “You’re meant to help Dorothea and her staff get a good night’s sleep, not frighten her more with tall tales!”

[Dorothea]: “I rather think that the best course should be to rest tonight and perhaps discuss this with the staff tomorrow? I am sure that they will be relieved by your presence, and I will instruct them to cooperate fully.”

The Doctor looks up. “Ah sorry, my dear. I… was thinking and that was all I could come up with. Maybe someone is trying this… “Wish ritual” that called the giant cat… Old wive’s tales and humbug, I am sure, but you never know… Aah my head hurts…” Ainsworth sits back and takes a deep breath. He looks suddenly pale. "Why do I feel like I am forgetting something important…?”

[Mordecai]: “We´ll get to the bottom of this. Maybe we can look around the surrounding areas after we have spoken with the staff tomorrow?”

Ainsworth takes another cup of tea "I am sure it’s only the fatigue.”

[Dorothea]: “If you can resolve this mystery and restore things to how they were, I would be ever so grateful.”

The doctor sighs "I am sure there is a logical explanation for this Incident that can be solved rationally.”

From outside comes the loud screech of a yeowling cat.

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