THE PHIAL OF BROTH
Or : THE END OF C. W. SPRAINGUE
by Frank Key
Few people alive today remember the highly entertaining music hall act Guesbaldo Sopwith & His Amazing Tea Strainers. Sopwith - real name Cedric William Spraingue - was born in the Damp Building at Hooting Yard in 18--, and though his parents dragged him off a-circusing before he could even walk, he always recalled his birthplace with affection. At the turn of the century, when his popularity was at its height, Sopwith returned to Hooting Yard for the first time since infancy, to put on a Christmas Show for the bewildered and the fraught.
The show was of course a tremendous success, and so thrilled were the burlap-shanked mayoral officers of the town that they threw an impromptu banquet for Sopwith. A tent was erected over the ice-rink, the rink itself covered in tough cork matting, and trestle-tables were carried in piled high with such delicacies as were available in Hooting Yard at that time.
Sopwith was ushered to a seat at the top table, and a hush descended on the tent as the first course was brought in by the Hooting Yard Duckpond-Cleaner, whose name was Cackbag. This geriatric half-wit carried a capacious tureen containing gallons upon gallons of an iridescent broth, flavoured with pap, rime and bonemeal, and reportedly thoroughly indigestible.
Cackbag slopped a ladleful of the broth into Sopwith's rusty bowl, and the majestic entertainer was about to spoon some of the piping hot liquid into his mouth, when of a sudden the tent was filled with cataclasm and pandaemonium.
"Cedric William Spraingue!" The words rang out, re-echoing round the canvas walls. "Tundists have come for you! We will take you now!"
Poor Sopwith, ashen, trembling and incontinent, could do little else but to obey the bidding of the unseen Tundists. As bolts of purple light spurted around the tent, and mesmerising noises deafened the townsfolk, he crawled to the entrance flap, a piteous figure on his hands and knees. As soon as he was through the flap, the uproar ceased, the tent interior calmed, the air grew still. Clamour and rack were no more: but Cedric William Spraingue, alias Guesbaldo Sopwith, was gone. Like so many others, he had been taken by the Tundists.Who knows why, or to what end? Like all who fell foul of Tundism, he was ne'er seen on earth again.
His tea strainers, amazing though they may have been, were disposed of through a public auction on the first anniversary of his vanishment. All his other personal effects were sold off, burned, cast into canals, or donated to educational institutions for tiny ones. All, that is, except for one item.
The banquet was abandoned after the Tundists had fallen upon the tent. Small urchins were plucked from the gutters to clear everything away, and were given the uneaten food as a reward. One such urchin, who earlier that day had been held entranced by the Amazing Tea Strainers act, was so upset by the disappearance of Sopwith that he carried the bowl of unslurped broth away with him under his sordid tunic, as a trophy.
He kept it at home in his infected hut until it began to moulder and stink out even this most noisome of hovels, whereupon he took it to an apothecary who very carefully encased what was left of the broth in a glass phial, the very phial which is today found underneath the water-pipes in the janitor's cupboard next to the boiler room in the basement of the Museum at Hooting Yard, where it can be viewed by appointment only.