THE IMMENSE DUCKPOND PAMPHLET
A Hooting Yard serial story by Frank Key
A IS FOR AMINADAB
Like Hitler, he took seven sugars in his tea. This had caused some embarrassment on his first day at the House. They had to send an urchin scurrying down to the cellars to fetch up a fresh tub of sugar. The urchin returned empty-handed, explaining that the sugar larder was heavily padlocked. Blodgett was furious. His face growing purple, he apologised to Aminadab, rummaged in the cupboard for a stout pick-axe and - commanding the urchin to dog his every footstep - he thundered down the stairs to the cellar. Shortly afterwards, Aminadab heard the noise of a wooden door being smashed to pieces with a metal pick-axe. By the time he was able to drop seven lumps of sugar into his cup, the tea was stewed and cold. Blodgett affected not to notice, and busied himself with a new trap for flying insect beings.
B IS FOR BLODGETT
Blodgett had been at the House since infancy. He was dyspeptic and cruel. Like Madame Rousseau, he had never learned to tell the time and rarely knew what day of the week it was. This was surprising for a man in his position, charged as he was with running the lower floors of the House. His bailiwick included the frightening rooms on the first floor, the whole of the ground floor, the cellars and underground passages (except for the secret ones), and various ill-defined sections of the grounds, possibly including the boneyards, the engine room, and the pointless hut.
The arrival of Aminadab dismayed him. He had not been told what on earth to do with this lopsided person, which meant he would have to seek instructions from Doctor Cack or one of his cronies. He could barely bring himself to speak to them, with their supercilious manners, spotless frock-coats, and knot-tying expertise. Blodgett's blood boiled. Without bothering to tell Aminadab where he was going, he shoved the trap for flying insect beings back in the kitchen drawer, slammed the door shut behind him, and headed off for Doctor Cack's headquarters.
C IS FOR CORPSE
Oh dear! Hidden behind an iron chest in the pointless hut, bundled up in sacking, there is a dead body. The cause of death is not immediately apparent. In a few weeks time, an inquest will be told that the oesophagus contains three or four small items of ironmongery. The sacking is mostly burlap.
D IS FOR DOCTOR CACK
Doctor Cack was the foremost potato scientist of his day. He rented a disused Leaking Building in the grounds of the House, together with a number of surrounding huts, in which he and his team of top flight tuberologists lived and worked. Most of their unbearably exciting scientific equipment was located in the Leaking Building, through the door of which Blodgett now crashed, breathing heavily through his purple nose.
"Cack!" he shouted, pronouncing the good Doctor's name as if he were a chocolate swiss roll, or a Battenburg. Towards the back of the Leaking Building stood an enormous table on which were stacked flasks, test tubes, scientific hammers, awls, retorts, dye buckets, cruet sets, trunnions, shards of propylite, alembics, jars, lenses, and a burnt quintain. From behind this agglomeration of rubbish, Ruhugu's head appeared, then the rest of his body. He peered at Blodgett with distaste.
"Where's Cack?" yelled Blodgett, repeating his mispronunciation.
Ruhugu was one of Doctor Cack's assistants, perhaps the most fanatical. "It's Cack," he said, "To rhyme with Snack."
Blodgett trembled with rage. "I'll give you Snack," he rasped, although what he meant by this was not entirely clear, even to him. "Cack, Snack, it's all the same to me," he continued, "I don't care if he's called Pack, Rack or Glack. He's still a git." He paused long enough for Ruhugu to interrupt.
"The Doctor is not here at the moment. Why are you flailing your arms around in such an alarming fashion?"
Momentarily disconcerted, Blodgett manoeuvred his hands into his filthy pockets.
"Thank you," said Ruhugu, "Now, as I explained, Doctor Cack is away. I have important potato matters to attend to, so I'd be very grateful if you would turn on your heel and begone."
Blodgett's temper was getting hotter. Oh, how he would like to immerse Ruhugu in a vat of custard, bind him with manacles, belabour him about the temples, and abandon him in a ditch! Not necessarily in that order. But of course, Blodgett was a terrible coward, and would only attack defenceless tinies, small frail animals, and inanimate objects, and only then if he was sure no vengeance would be exacted by some gigantic protector. He spat on the floor, whirled around, and clomped out of the Leaking Building, cracking his head on the lintel as he did so.
E IS FOR EUWIGE
In the scullery, Aminadab sat slumped at the table. His elbows rested on a grimy place-mat, one of a set depicting scenes of Thuringian history. Blodgett had stacked most of the set on the dresser, leaving two on the table. Aminadab's mat showed the execution of Konrad Schmid, flagellant King of Thuringia who predicted - inaccurately, as it turned out - that the Last Judgement would occur in 1369. In colours that were no longer vivid, Schmid's gruesome face leered out of the flames which were about to engulf him. The six other heretics who were burned alongside him at Nordhausen in 1368 were curiously absent.
Aminadab, who had poured his cold tea down the sink, was about to fall asleep when Euwige entered the room. She was wrapped in a blotchy shawl, so huge that it trailed along the floor behind her. Her corduroy boots had been strengthened with scraps of inexpertly-sewn hide from an unidentified quadruped. As she removed her hat, she shuddered, her sightless eyes directed at the ceiling.
"You must come with me," she said. Aminadab looked up.
"Shall I bring my luggage?" he asked.
"It might well be for the best," replied Euwige, in a mysterious tone.
Aminadab loaded himself with his three suitcases, haversack, two satchels, purses, vanity bag, cloth hammock, bandbox, badger tin, caddies and punnets, gunny sack, reticule, vasculum and duffel bag. Tottering under the weight, he made to follow Euwige, but was immediately halted in his tracks when the scullery door banged shut behind her. She did not respond to his cries for help, so he was forced to drop the vanity bag, bandbox, reticule and one of the punnets, wedge the door open with a handy utensil, pick up the items he had let fall - noting that the bandbox was irreparably dented - and hurry after her. So bulky was the haversack, however, that Aminadab was unable to negotiate the doorway without a struggle, and by the time he was free Euwige had vanished around the corner of a sulphurous corridor. By the time he reached the spot, she was nowhere to be seen.
Thinking he could hear her shawl trailing across the floorboards somewhere in the distance, he followed on through dingy, unlit corridors, up and down rotten staircases, through rooms empty of furniture or life, past gigantic indoor fountains, conservatories filled with stinking poisonous spiky foliage, lumber rooms, bookcases stacked with editions of the novels of Ayn Rand, cavernous halls, storerooms full of half-dismantled tricycles, larders crammed with tins of soup, chambers, parlours and cubicles, ventilation shafts, dust holes and laundry rooms.
Hours passed before he admitted to himself that he was lost.
F IS FOR FOOD
In dietary matters, Blodgett deferred to the cook, Mrs Purgative. She was a woman of regular habits and iron will. Every day, she prepared four cauldrons of boiling soup, for consumption at dawn, mid-morning, mid-afternoon and dusk. Each soup was prepared from a different recipe, though Mrs Purgative preferred the antique spelling receipt.
The first soup was a thin clear broth flavoured with kidneys, minnows and saffron.
The second soup was thick and lumpy, more like a stew or what the Bible calls a pottage. Its main ingredients were curds, feverfew, whelks, gin, blood oranges and a sort of puddingy sponge of unknown provenance.
The third soup consisted mostly of duckpond water, into which Mrs Purgative hurled delphiniums, muffins, pike and herring, lights, parsley, cocoa and masa harina, eggs, toffee apples and cake crumbs.
Her greatest achievement, though, was the fourth soup. The receipt had taken her years to bring to perfection. The base was a thick paste of mugwort, the pulp of runner beans, finely ground crocuses, and mustard. This was diluted with boiling duckpond water and left to stand for a week, uncovered, out in a field. Brought back to the kitchen, the topmost layer of scurf and froth would be drawn off and used as a filling for small pancakes with an oaty flavour. The pancakes would be tossed into the soup together with mayonnaise, cream crackers, bloaters, pemmican, tulip-roots, agar, an ox head, krill, the crushed bones of a swan, whey, turmeric, marmalade, groist, badgers' brains, and spinach. Boiled until it had the consistency of mush, the soup would be thinned out with the addition of yet more duckpond water and egg custard sherry, and then garnished with brazil nuts and semi-chewed celery sticks. Mrs Purgative usually asked Blodgett to do the prepatory chewing.
At quarterly intervals through the year, she cooked an ample supply of each of the four soups. She then supervised the canning process, which was carried out in a small factory in the grounds of the House. Once tinned, the soups were stored in larders, from where Blodgett or other Blodgett-like figures would collect daily supplies. As far as can be ascertained, the soup was the only sustenance officially available in the House. Oh, apart from cups of tea, of course.
G IS FOR GABBITAS
The Blodgett figure on the second and third floors of the House was known as Gabbitas, although this was not the name he had been born with. Like Blodgett, he had been in place for as long as anyone could remember. His nose ran. He was clumsy. His disposition was as bleak and unforgiving as Blodgett's. Gabbitas was astonishingly tall - almost seven and a half feet - and his eyes were permanently bloodshot. We shall meet with him again, you can count on it.
H IS FOR HARUSPICES
In ancient Rome, the haruspices were an order of priests who made prophecies by examining the steaming entrails of sacrificially-slaughtered animals. Doctor Cack had made a thorough study of their methods, and for the last ten years had been engaged in experiments to carry out successful haruspication using mashed potatoes instead of entrails.
Ably assisted by Ruhugu and others, Doctor Cack would lay out the "field", a triangular cloth weighted down at each corner by a small piece of bakelite. On to this, a precisely-measured amount of mashed potato would be splattered with the agency of an iron spatula. A second triangular cloth would be placed atop the resulting mess, and pressed down evenly. The upper cloth would then be turned over, and the pattern created by the mashed potato which had adhered to it would be examined with great care. Ruhugu used his box camera to make a photographic record.
Divination completed, and notes and annotations pencilled into the foolscap ledger, the cloth triangles would be scrubbed clean with a special detergent in readiness for the next experiment.
There were arguments, of course. Moop insisted that only certain potato varieties were sufficiently "numinous", as she put it. Maris Pipers, Majestics, and Arran Banners met with her approval. Trellis maintained that the waxy texture of the Red Craig's Royal made it the only suitable variety. Strob said the cloths ought to be hexagonal. The unhinged Jubble went so far as to suggest using boiled and mashed celery instead.
Ruhugu mediated between the factions, protecting Doctor Cack from turmoil and strife, leaving him free to pore over the foolscap ledger, frowning, rapt, determined to eke from it whatever revelations it harboured.
I IS FOR INDEX
Like the novelist Samuel Richardson, Doctor Cack was an enthusiastic indexer of his own work. Even before he arrived at the House, he had been issuing his Bulletin Of Potato Science & Related Matters every quarter. The bulk of the contents he wrote himself, allowing the occasional interjection from Ruhugu, Moop, Trellis and the others. Only Jubble had been barred from its pages, because he was unhinged.
Every five years, Doctor Cack published, as a separate volume, a cumulative index to the Bulletin. His skills lay in thematic rather than purely alphabetic indexing. Indeed, Scridge has remarked that, like Prynne's Histrio-Mastix (1633), Doctor Cack's indices are often more readable than the texts from which they are eked.
Of the most recent edition of the Quinquennial Collection Of Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Descriptions, Footnotes, Evasions, Queries & Accusations Contained In The Bulletin Of Potato Science & Related Matters, Digested Under Proper Heads, Scridge reported that he was "driven to hilarity" by the entry for Potato Cyst Eelworm, an infection which stunts and withers the crop, with haulm dying down prematurely and tubers the size of marbles resulting.
Of course, Scridge cannot always be trusted, for he is a deceitful toad. There are those who assert that he has never read a single word of Doctor Cack's majestic works, indeed that he has never read a single potato-related text in his entire sorry life.
J IS FOR JUBBLE
You are already aware that Jubble was unhinged. This had come to light very early in his days at the House, so long ago that no one - not even Blodgett - could recall precisely what had happened. There were occasional mutterings about a cravat and a thunderstorm, but nothing of substance.
When Doctor Cack had arrived with his hideously food-splattered entourage, Jubble had ingratiated himself immediately. He helped the tuberologists to move into the Leaking Building, tirelessly destroying with his bazooka the piles of accumulated waste materials that had been stored there. He hung their hats up to dry after rainfall. He sharpened their pencils. There were other kindnesses.
Within weeks, Doctor Cack had formally pronounced him as a bona fide assistant potato person. Jubble busied himself researching powdery scab, wireworm and spraing. He worked hard, and Doctor Cack began to trust him with the more outré aspects of potato science. But as the years passed, Jubble became ever more unhinged.
He was often to be found in uproarious carousal with Euwige, the two of them pouring vast quantities of dandelion and burdock down their throats and singing inhuman songs. His moustache grew outlandish, and was forever smeared with lemon curd and other, sinister curds. He wore hawthorns in his hair, and carried tiny abominable homunculi in the pockets of his mackintosh. Doctor Cack had to have words with him on this score, for the potato scientist was not a man to tolerate orthodox raincoats.
K IS FOR KLEPTOMANIA
Morose and insignificant, dyspeptic and cruel, Blodgett was also a kleptomaniac. He would have stolen his own head, given the opportunity. Oh, the things the man brought back from his robberies! Pins, litmus paper, zinc, gorse, pie-crusts… not even Euwige knew where Blodgett stashed everything, or how he disposed of it all.
Euwige was relentless. She listened out for Blodgett, concealed behind parapets, shrubberies, false ceilings. She pried and spied without success. Then she questioned him directly. She tied him to a chair and shone a Toc H lamp into his eyes, puffing the smoke from her cheroot into his face. He coughed, but was otherwise uncommunicative. Later she tried wheedling and deedling, but that didn't work either. Blodgett remained wholly and uncannily silent.
And still he accumulated tuning forks, dishcloths, cortisone and ironmongery, tin baths, cupcake mixture, the heads of oxen, and whisks, and still these things vanished, somehow, as if they had never existed in the first place. Like Trellis.
L IS FOR LARDERS
The tins of soup were stored in a plethora of larders dotted throughout the House. Although the location of each larder seemed random - two adjacent here, another just down the corridor and around the corner, one tiny, solitary larder in the west wing - in fact they were distributed according to a system so stupendous and abstruse that only Mrs Purgative understood it. Blodgett claimed to, and no one was confident enough of their own knowledge to challenge him.
Aminadab, having arrived at the House only hours before, was unaware that there was even a system in the first place. All he knew for certain was that he was slumped, queasy with exhaustion, on the floor of a larder stacked floor to ceiling with soup tins marked "Number Three". He had given up the quest for Euwige. Half his luggage had been abandoned somewhere back in an ill-lit corridor which stank of porridge, though there was no porridge to be found in it. He still had the other half of his belongings with him, and was rummaging frantically in one of his satchels for the bag of gob-stoppers he had packed at the start of his journey, three weeks ago.
As his trembling fingers lit at last upon the crumpled bag, he heard footsteps approaching. Lurching to his feet, he threw open the door of the larder in desperation. Had Euwige come to rescue him?
M IS FOR MOOP
Moop's shoes had been shoved into a red plastic basin on the floor underneath her sink. Each tuberologist had their own sink. Doctor Cack had insisted upon it.
Moop did not use her sink very often. She was more of a field worker, scurrying about the grounds armed with a plethora of ludicrous scientific equipment, trailing wires and mulverts behind her as she darted from potato patch to potato patch, scribbling drivel into her notebook with an exciting new propelling pencil.
She was a sly one, was Moop. She wrote in Glagolitic script to safeguard her memoranda from prying eyes. Several of her projects had only a tangential relationship to Doctor Cack's researches. Had he but known!
N IS FOR NIGHT
High above the House, fat stars sparkled in the firmament. Unimaginable life-forms howled and howled in the darkness. Colonies of nocturnal insects hovered in the air at human-head height, buzzing and twanging. Blodgett patrolled the ground floor, rattling a monstrous collection of keys, slamming doors shut, sounding the tocsins, testing the shutters, checking his fly-traps.
As he passed the Room of Distressed Wooden Bitterns, he heard the unmistakeable sound of Euwige and Jubble, slurping and belching. They had locked themselves in, of course, and barred the door with one of the dandelion and burdock barrels, from which they would drink until they were as gassy as gassy could be. Blodgett loathed them.
On the floor above, in one of the larders, Aminadab was embroiled in a fervent debate with Trellis, who had come upon him quite by accident. After some initial hesitation, they had discovered a mutual interest in - oh, something or other. Beetles, poisonous golden toads, David Blunkett, the darning of frayed flags, it could have been anything, it hardly matters, it's all so tiresome. You may as well be reading a penitential tract by a, by a horse for all the good it will do you. Night has fallen about the House under the twinkling stars. That will do.
O IS FOR OGRE
The next day all hell broke loose. Early in the morning, as Blodgett polished the outside spigots, an ogre or wild man hove into view atop the southern hills. Its progress towards the House was implacable. It stamped through the bracken, vaulted the ha-ha with a single bound, negotiated the massive basalt wall with surprising elegance, and sprang towards the terrified Blodgett, whirling its hirsute arms alarmingly and making disgusting guttural noises. It was matted with filth. Flies, gnats, and tiny things emitting poisonous goo crawled all over its flesh. It seemed to be decomposing. It drooled. It picked up Blodgett, sank its fangs into his skull, and hurled him aside.
Pausing momentarily to spit out particles of Blodgett's head, it smashed its way through the wall of the House, oblivious to the fact that there was an ajar door three feet to its right. Once inside the House, its rage seemed to increase. It rushed wildly from room to room, obliterating the furniture, tearing up floorboards, destroying chandeliers, bashing holes into walls and ceilings, sucking the wallpaper off the walls. It chewed up banister rails and regurgitated them, disgorging them with such force that each rail acted as a lethal projectile. At least one urchin was impaled as a result. Five minutes after the ogre's arrival much of the lower part of the House lay in ruins. Small fires were starting, but they were doused by water spurting from uprooted taps.
Euwige and Jubble were still sprawled in the Room of Distressed Wooden Bitterns when the ogre eventually came upon them. It let out an inhuman cry. It picked at its sores. It became becalmed. Fixing it with a bemused stare, Jubble rose to his feet.
"You know, there might still be some dandelion and burdock left," he said, "Would you care for a drop?"
The ogre pounded its fists against its own head. Then it blinked, shuddered, twitched. Jubble pushed a tin mug into its paw. It gulped the sweet muck down greedily, then threw the mug back at Jubble, missing his ear by a whisker, as they say. Something in its manner seemed to change. By now, blind Euwige too was on her feet. She sniffed at the violent pongs emanating from the ogre, then stepped towards it.
"Thank heaven! You have come!" she said, "Jubble, meet my dear friend Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb! He comes from a far country, and his brain is hot."
P IS FOR PLANARIA
Glagolitic script was invented in the latter half of the ninth century by the monk Cyril, who is better known for having devised the alphabet which bears his name, Cyrillic. Glagolitic was designed to provide a written rendering of Old Slavonic, the language spoken by the Moravians among whom Cyril and his brother Methodius were carrying out their holy work. The word glagol, or hlahol, cannot easily be translated into English. Its meaning involves the sound of bells and the call to the glory of God in worship.
Moop seems not to have considered such associations when one considers the subject-matter of her secretive Glagolitic scribblings. She was embroiled in the study of a fiendish species of flatworms known as planaria, which kill and feed on earthworms. The vile flatworms excrete an enzyme like a narcotic drug that paralyses an earthworm completely. Then they excrete another that dissolves the worm into a sort of soup. Then they suck it up. In the space of half an hour, all that remains is a trace of soil from the earthworm's stomach.
Planaria are successful because they have no known predators. Having no muscles, these hideous flatworms simply fall apart if any attempt is made to eat them. Like a vagabond horde, planaria are highly mobile, wiping out all the earthworms in one area before moving on relentlessly to another. It is not difficult to imagine what havoc Moop could wreak in Doctor Cack's potato-patches by introducing a gang of killer flatworms. Let us remember that the good Doctor had entitled a special issue of his Bulletin Let Us Now Sing The Praises Of The Humble Earthworm, so essential was its contribution to potato cultivation.
Q IS FOR QUINTAIN
Ruhugu's tank rumbled to a halt outside the Leaking Building. He clambered to the ground, the burnt quintain steady in his grasp. He no longer cared that Jubble had almost destroyed it on one of his bonfires. Ruhugu had managed to rescue it in the nick of time, singeing his elegantly-manicured hands as he did so. He knew that he would need the quintain again, otherwise he would have nothing to tilt at on the day of the tourney. So now he seldom let it out of his sight, taking it with him even on his regular tank manoeuvres.
Of course, Ruhugu had reported Jubble's pyromaniacal tendencies to Doctor Cack, but his mentor had been preoccupied. So often in recent weeks Doctor Cack seemed a world away. Ruhugu thought it best to leave him be, as the Doctor moped and frowned, his brow furrowed, a potato in each hand, a potato in each of his innumerable pockets, a potato balanced precariously atop his hat, even a small potato lodged in his mouth. Like the Wild Boy of Aveyron, he would utter shrill cries if his potatoes were taken away from him.
R IS FOR RIGOR MORTIS
It will come as no surprise to reveal that the corpse bundled up in burlap in the pointless hut was that of Doctor Cack. He had not been seen for some days. It is worth noting that because of the presence of potatoes in and about his body, rigor mortis had been delayed. Doctor Cack's corpse was floppy and malleable, like a floppy and malleable thing, by dint of a variety of chemical compounds present within the experimental potatoes and their interaction both with the cadaver and with the stifling fug of the pointless hut. The names of the chemical compounds are so lengthy, and so hard to pronounce, that they shall not detain us here.
S IS FOR SPATS
In the Room of Distressed Wooden Bitterns, Euwige cracked open another bottle of dandelion and burdock. Celebrations were in order. She and Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb had not met for fifteen years, since that time in the aeroplane hangar.
Then, Euwige had just returned from Slot, where she had torn some paper, arched her back like a cat, and stood next to a dam. Unstrebnodtalb was at the hangar to meet her, brandishing a trumpet. At this stage in his career, he looked not unlike a Hungarian fairground proprietor. He wore spats. He had gabbled at Euwige importunately, but his command of human languages was not good, and she had difficulty understanding him. Eventually, she had snatched the trumpet from him and beat him over the head with it repeatedly, stopping him in mid-gabble. Then she pushed him into a cart and rattled off to the House.
Now, after all those years, they had a lot to catch up on. The walls of the Room shook as Unstrebnodtalb told his anecdotes in booming, cataclysmic roars. Jubble shoved putty into his ears to dull the racket. But Euwige seemed unperturbed, regularly refilling their tin mugs and badgering the Detective Captain with questions. What had happened to his spats? Was it true that he had arrested the notorious strangler Babinsky, and shaved off his bristly side-whiskers? Was his brain hot? Did moths fly about his head? Did he make crunching noises? Why had he not come sooner?
Unstrebnodtalb, flicking gnats and hornets away from his head, smashed up the empty dandelion and burdock bottles with a single thwack from his huge and hairy fists. He had his own question for Euwige. What had become of his trusty assistant Aminadab?
T IS FOR TRELLIS
Trellis was mere figment, vapour. He appeared to different people at different times as a sort of phantom. He was a tabula rasa, on to which those who met him inscribed their dreams, their yearnings, their hallucinations.
All, that is, except Blodgett, in whose presence Trellis took on a terrifying reality. He would snivel, and Blodgett would have to mop up the snivellings with his filthy shirt-cuff. He would mewl, and Blodgett would thump him on the head, bruising his fist in the process.
After Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb chewed up part of his head, Blodgett's relationship with Trellis became even more intimate. Trellis would tell Blodgett all about the weather in Finland, and the nature of ice, and give him planks, and show him albumen. He would invoke disastrous plutonian gods, and have them frolic, miniaturised, before Blodgett's eyes, occasionally tweaking the hairs from his nostrils. In return, Blodgett gave Trellis extra helpings of soup, winced at his frailness, concocted diverting bedtime stories and nautical yarns, and plied him with raspberries.
Together, they plotted dark and criminal deeds.
U IS FOR UNSTREBNODTALB
"I shall soon be in a position to make an arrest," growled Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb at breakfast the next morning. Hummingbirds revolved around his head. The scullery had been all but obliterated during the master detective's frenzied arrival, and for their breakfast soup the relevant characters had gathered in the stinking yard.
Late the previous night, as the moon shimmered in the black sky, Unstrebnodtalb had come upon Doctor Cack's corpse. Using detection magnets, and guided by his bat-like inner radar, it had taken him just minutes to pin-point the whereabouts of the dead potato scientist. His immediate diagnosis was that Doctor Cack had been slain with a whelk, a battery, and a puddle of bleach. Further than that he would not go, for the time being. The mysterious presence of ironmongery escaped his notice.
His confidence at breakfast astonished even Euwige. "You know who did the deed?" she screeched.
"Let me say this," howled Unstrebnodtalb, shovelling small insects down his gullet and uprooting titanic cedars from the mud, "I delay only so that I can compare notes with my esteemed colleague, the sleuth Aminadab. He may be in possession of facts material to this foul deed, of information to which I am not privy despite my genius. His methods are obscure, but unfailing in their accuracy. The sleuth Aminadab always carries with him, in either his satchel or his reticule, a small rectangular tin filled with pastilles of a bauxite-like substance which is not actually bauxite itself. He carries, too, a portable kiln. Ignited with a simple household match, the kiln is coated on the inside with a fuel which produces a temperature of thousands of degrees Fahrenheit within two seconds of being lit. It is most uncanny, but I have witnessed this happen with my own eyes. Or rather, eye. Into this tiny furnace, Aminadab places one of his non-bauxite pastilles, using a long, thin pair of tongs which he carries about with him in a special compartment sewn into one leg of his pantaloons. He is a resourceful fellow, the sleuth Aminadab. Ten hours later, when the kiln has cooled, he prises open its tiny hatch, extracts the charred remains of the pastille, and smears it in his hair and upon his brow. Then he packs up the portable kiln, after applying a fresh coating of his inexplicable fuel, replaces it in his reticule or satchel, and goes about his business." Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb stopped howling, and beat his fists on the table, smashing it to pieces.
"And how does this help him solve the case?" asked the languid Jubble. Unstrebnodtalb sank his fangs into a passing horse before responding.
"It has nothing to do with the deductive abilities of the sleuth Aminadab," he roared, "I merely wished to entertain you at breakfast with an anecdote about his untoward personal habits."
It began to rain.
V IS FOR VIOLENCE
W IS FOR WATER
There were twenty-six ponds in the grounds of the House, of varying sizes. Sixteen of them were ponds, and ten were duckponds. One of the duckponds was immense, it had claims to be a lake, there was so much water in it.
Moop trudged around this immense duckpond, her gaze fixed on the mud through which she trod. An hour earlier, she had stolen Blodgett's windcheater while his back was turned. It was far too big for her - it was far too big for Blodgett - and the hood hid her head completely. She was plunged in reverie. Every now and then, she stopped trudging and picked up a pebble to hurl into the immense duckpond, disturbing the eerily calm surface of the water. She wondered if the frenzied creature Unstrebnodtalb would arrest Trellis.
As she began her fifteenth circuit of the duckpond, the water was disturbed by something larger than her pebbles. With a chthonic churning and squelching, something hideous and scarcely describable rose to the surface. It was finned and scaled, but moved with robotic precision. It appeared to have a teeming mass of eyes, thousands of jellied globules quivering on their stalks. It made no noise. At the sight of it, nearby ducks suffered heart-attacks and perished.
Moop had more presence of mind than a duck. Unleashing a large net, she threw it over the hell-spawned aquatic beast-thing, then stunned it with a dart from her blowpipe. Binding it firmly with a length of stolen rope she found curled in a pocket of Blodgett's windcheater, she began to drag the nightmare-being back to the Leaking Building. It might possibly prove useful in her anti-potato research, she reflected.
She had gone barely ten paces when the duckpond-monster unaccountably slipped its bonds and whacked her on the skull with one of its mighty flippers, knocking her unconscious.
X IS FOR X
With his mighty paw, Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb was about to scratch a bloody X on the forehead of Doctor Cack's murderer when his esteemed colleague the sleuth Aminadab came crashing on to the scene. He was carrying a punnet full to the brim with odd and inconsequential objects, which he proceeded to describe to Unstrebnodtalb at length. Readers avid for the details should send an email headed Please tell me what was in the sleuth Aminadab's brimming punnet, to which the author will reply individually, to the point of tedium.
But Aminadab's rambling drivel cannot be allowed to keep us from the denouement of this exciting story.
"Hush! Hush! Aminadab, you are a sleuth about whom legends will accrete, but for the love of G-d hold your tongue!" screeched Unstrebnodtalb, setting fire to a small herb garden with a blast of his breath.
Aminadab unzipped himself from his terrifying aquatic monster costume and placed his punnet on a flagstone next to one of Blodgett's fly-traps.
"You would do well to pay attention to my rambling drivel, Detective Captain Unstrobnedtalb," he said, "For it is only because I carry with me at all times a vial of cassiber serum that I am able to assist you in bringing this case to a satisfactory conclusion. The deranged potato scientist Moop stunned me with an incredibly powerful poisonous dart from her blowpipe. By rights I should be in a coma. As it is, I had a split second in which to bite on a serum pill and thus outwit her!"
Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb clawed at the sky, wailing horribly. "Very clever, Aminadab. But stop calling me Unstrobnedtalb, G-d damn you!"
While the two detectives were occupied with this banter, the culprit fled into the crumbling ruins of the House, forehead yet unmarked with an X.
Y IS FOR YAWS
Blodgett suffered dreadfully from yaws, but the condition cannot excuse his behaviour. Yaws is also known as framboesia. Blodgett was also known as Jubble. The deception had been difficult. Sometimes he had had to be in two places at once. Moop had been willing to impersonate him from time to time, no questions asked. She had been a useful ally, but he had begun to distrust her. She would be the next to go, after Ruhugu. Preening his mustachios, he cackled, as if he were a character in a nineteenth century melodrama.
Z IS FOR ZINCOGRAPH
The sleuth Aminadab felt it was time to retire. This had been his ten thousandth case, quite enough for any detective. He and Unstrobnedtalb, or Unstrebnodtalb, whatever his name was, had parted as dawn broke on the Thursday morning. They had stood triumphantly, arm in arm, each with a foot - or in Unstrebnodtalb's case, more properly a hoof - planted on the dead body of Blodgett, or Jubble.
The end had been horrifying, and very messy. They had had to call on Euwige to help, and by the time they realised the scimitar had not been sharpened it was too late. Afterwards, Euwige and Moop got rid of the corpse. The distant splash led Aminadab to conclude that Blodgett/Jubble's body ended up in one of the twenty six ponds, but he didn't really care which one.
Three weeks later, when he returned home, he wrote up the case as usual. Fuelled by dandelion and burdock and bilgegrew buns, he sat late into the night engraving his zincographs. Half of what he wrote was lies, of course. Unstrebnodtalb hardly featured in the Aminadab version. Moop and Trellis virtually disappeared, although he awarded them a footnote in a sentimental moment.
He was, as usual, merciless with himself. If anyone ever bothered to read the narrative, they would surely conclude that the sleuth Aminadab didn't have a clue what was going on, and still didn't twig what had actually happened even at the end, as he bid farewell to Detective Captain Unstrebnodtalb, his absurd agglomeration of luggage long abandoned save for the punnet and reticule, enormous birds beating their enormous wings around him as he stood ankle-deep in mud, weird and hapless, at the very edge of the immense duckpond.
The Immense Duckpond Pamphlet was originally published by the Malice Aforethought Press in 1990. This Hooting Yard website version contains many significant revisions to the printed text, over which scholars are invited to pore.