Pg. 17, #16

It was, I suppose, a kind of motor-car, but unlike anything I had ever seen before, and nearing no more resemblance to a modern machine than a ‘bone-shaker’ of twenty years ago to a modern ‘free-wheel.’ It appeared to be built of iron, and was painted a dead black. In the fore-part of the structure a fore-wheel spun round at a terrible speed, and various bars and beams moved rapidly backwards and forwards. The chimney was quite ten ft. in height, and poured out a dense volume of smoke. On a small platform behind, railed in by a stout iron rail, stood a small man with his back to us. His dark hair, which must have reached nearly to his shoulders, streamed behind him in the wind. In each hand he grasped a huge lever, and he was apparently gazing steadily into the darkness before him, though it seemed to me that he might just as well have shut his eyes, for the machine had no lamps, and the only light in the whole concern streamed out from the half-open furnace door.

*

After a ride up the mountain, Halifax narrowly avoided an early disaster as he was getting out of his car. Hitler was decked out in local costume, which included “black trousers, white silk socks, and pumps.” Halifax assumed he was a footman, and was about to hand him his hat and coat when Neurath, the German foreign minister, whispered hoarsely “Der Führer! Der Führer!” Halifax barely avoided mistaking the dictator of one of the world’s most powerful military powers for a servant in livery.

*

‘My idea about the lecture, resumed the Duchess hurriedly, ‘is to inquire whether promiscuous Continental travel doesn’t tend to weaken the moral fibre of the social conscience. There are people one knows, quite nice people when they are in England, who are so different when they are anywhere the other side of the Channel.’

*

“If it’s only a case of multiple personality I must really cry off,” interrupted the doctor again hastily, a bored expression in his eyes.

*

From the earliest literature, it is evident that the notion of spontaneous human combustion emanated from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century popular belief that the drinking of strong spirits might light a spontaneous flame in the stomach. Since this belief had its origin in Scandinavia, it was no coincidence that the Dane Thomas Bartholin was the first scientist to assimilate it into seventeenth-century medicine. The idea of aquavit drinkers bursting into spontaneous flames this preluded the first mentioning of the phenomenon we can call increased combustibility by more than 100 years; the first of these odd postmortem reports of bodies found extensively destroyed by fire without major damage to the surroundings was published in 1673. Many others have followed, and at least 120 well-attested cases of this phenomenon exist on record. There has been no satisfactory instance of any individually combusting spontaneously, and in the greater part of the cases an external source of fire is apparent.

*

‘Look,’ the President said. Sputtering fires and swirling ropes cast their lights and shadows through the window and into the room. ‘It’s all like that, everywhere. We can’t put it out, but if we could learn what let you walk through it out of Europe…’

*

Mr. Thwaites had since 1939 slowly learned to swallow the disgrace of Hitler, of whom he had been from the beginning, and still secretly remained, a hot disciple. He could now even force himself to speak disparagingly of Hitler; but to speak well of the Russians was too much for him. He could not mention them save gloweringly, defensively, almost savagely. He had also undergone the misfortune of capturing Moscow and Leningrad within three weeks of the outbreak of the war, and so his boarding-house sagacity had been struck at along with his personal feelings.

*

Seven passages from seven pages seventeens from seven more-or-less random books from various shelves hereabout. The first Hitler story is, apparently, true.

Lord Boden’s Motor, by J.R. Harris-Burland, from the collection Strange Tales from the Strand Magazine; The Oster Conspiracy of 1938, by Jerry Parssinen; Reginald at the Carlton, by Hector Hugh Munro, from The Complete Stories of Saki, from A Psychical Invasion, by Algernon Blackwood, from the collection The Dance of Death and other Stories; A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, by Jan Bondeson; The Price, by Algis Budrys, from The War Book (Panther Science Fiction), edited by James Sallis; The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton.

3 Responses to “Pg. 17, #16”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    As I trust y’all recall “Spontaneous Combustion” figures prominently in the great “rockumentary” parody “This is Spinal Tap,” about a “Heavy Metal” band that keeps losing drummers to it.

  2. Yes, I guess that’s the main cinematic example of the phenomenon. I believe it occurs in Bleak House, too, but am unsure if it has been carried over into any adaptations.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Krook dies of spontaneous combustion in BLEAK HOUSE. IMDb says, of the 2005 adaptation, that he’s found “burned to death in gin” — and that the *courts* rule it spontaneous combustion. I don’t remember whether the only version I’ve seen, the 1985 one, dealt with the spontaneous combustion.

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