The ball was an enormous success. Shoeburyness and Armagnac had danced and danced and were now taking time out for a breather. Mr. and Mrs. Wainscotting were also taking a breather. Mr. Wainscotting was sitting by a potted fern looking very pale and drawn.
"What's the matter with daddy?" asked Armagnac.
"He's a bit tired," said Flotsamblouse, "He's waved one too many half-scale inflatable Norman Wisdoms. Always overdoes it."
"I feel queasy," moaned Mr. Wainscotting.
"Oh dear, daddy," said Armagnac, "You don't look at all well."
Mr. Wainscotting was beginning to perspire.
Armagnac loosened his tie and unfastened his collar in order to release
"Oh, my God!" she shrieked. Something most disturbing was begin-ning to happen to her father.
The left side of his neck began to quiver. The quiver grew to a wrig-gling movement as if something beneath the skin was struggling to break out. Suddenly the flesh parted and a little soft, pink snout poked out of his neck.
"Oh, father," howled Armagnac, "Is this what I think it is?"
"I'm afraid so," gasped Mr. Wainscotting, "I'm sorry Armagnac, but I was doing it for your mother."
"Doing what, daddy? What have you done?"
"A canteen of cutlery," wheezed Mr. Wainscotting, "It was for our silver wedding. For the last two weeks I've been secretly engraving the handles."
"Oh daddy, daddy," wept Armagnac, "How many spoons were there?"
"A dozen teaspoons, a dozen dessert spoons and half a dozen table spoons."
"Thirty spoons in a fortnight!" exclaimed Armagnac, "Oh, foolish, foolish father!"
The snout pushed its way further out and sniffed the air curiously.
"Oink!" it said.
A number of other guests had begun to notice Mr. Wainscotting's affliction. Some of them screamed. Mrs. Ectoplasm fainted spilling her cheesecake onto Flotsamblouse's dress. Flotsamblouse, who had been anxious for the opportunity all evening, took a finger of it to taste.
"Bramble," she said, "I thought so."
The snout on Mr. Wainscotting's neck had pushed its way further out to reveal a full hog's head. Further snouts were now appearing all over his body, tearing his clothing and squealing like swine to the slaughter. In under two minutes he was a mass of full blown pigs, surgically attached to his body by their bottoms. The band had stopped playing and everybody had gathered round to witness the horrific spectacle. In the sheer bally hoo Flotsamblouse had successfully switched loganberry cheese-cakes with Lady Nostrilpeople and was parading herself about to, well, to nobody for they were all too interested in Mr. Wainscotting's apparel.
"Let me through, I'm a doctor!" came the inevitable obligatory cry in these situations.
The crowds parted for Dr. Nosebag the local practitioner and bean critic. After a thorough examination he announced gravely, "I'm afraid Mr. Wainscotting is in the final stages of spoon-handle pigs."
The crowd gasped in horror.
"Well, get rid of them!" demanded Armagnac.
"I'm sorry, Miss Wainscotting," said the doctor, "but it is incurable."
"But, you must be able to do something!"
"No," said Dr. Nosebag, "There was once a cure but the technique is lost in the history of time."
"What was that?" asked Armagnac.
"The only treatment is to recite limericks composed by eels. There was only ever one person who could train eels to write limericks but he is long since dead and the secret died with him. I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do."
Armagnac began to cry.
"Pity," said Dr. Nosebag, "He grew some damn fine runner beans."
"Not so fast there, good doctor," came a cry from the back.
Standing at the door to the foyer was Anglepoise with a bucket of eels, a pad of parchment and some charcoal sticks. He made his way to the front and addressed the crowd.
"This very night," he announced, "the secret of extracting limericks from eels has been brought to me from beyond the grave."
He lifted the eels from the bucket and handed them each a charcoal stick and a sheet of parchment. The eels eagerly grabbed the charcoal sticks and began to scribble industriously onto the parchment.
Anglepoise took one of the sheets and read it out.
* Although nobody knows what these are, people invariably sweat them.