On the Grill
10.17.2003 by .
[Author's Note: Our heroine relayed the following conspiracy at a backyard barbeque this past summer. She wore an ensemble constructed entirely out of hay and sipped at her G & T, though everyone else drank Pabst.]
I wouldn't eat the hotdogs, if I were you. I saw a copy of Hilaire Belloc's book "Cautionary Verses" in the bookshelf in the hall. It looks innocent enough, just simple rhymes to warn and amuse. One poem tells of "Rebecca, who slammed Doors for fun and Perished Miserably." Another, "Jim, who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion." And of course, "Henry King, who chewed bits of String, and was early cut off in Dreadful Agonies." It goes something like this:
The Chief Defect of Henry King
Was chewing little bits of String.
At last he swallowed some which tied
Itself in ugly Knots inside.
Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered, as they took their Fees,
"There is no cure for this disease.
Henry will very soon be dead."
His Parents stood about his Bed
Lamenting his Untimely Death,
When Henry, with his latest Breath,
"Oh, my Friends, be warned by me,
That Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch and Tea
Are all the Human Frame requires..."
With that the Wretched Child expires.
Aha. Henry King chewed bits of string, did he? But what kind of string? That is the sordid detail. Hilaire Belloc, prolific social commentator whose provincial childhood home was destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War, harbored an ill-disguised and life-long grudge against the Germans. Little surprise, then, that two decades after this book's publication, an unknown man in the German countryside would be framed and murdered in a horrific parody of Belloc's well-loved verse.
The string, of course, is no string at all by our standards. Consider, for example, the 1747 account of the natives of Brazil: "They eat human flesh when they can get it, and if a woman miscarries devour the abortive immediately. If she goes her time our, she herself cuts the navel-string with a shell, which she boils along with the secondine, and eats them both."
This Henry King fellow is a filthy cannibal. The disease for which there is no cure is the psychotic compulsion to steal into London maternity wards and greedily devour the cast-off umbilici of new-made mothers. The wretched child about whom Belloc rhymes is figuratively none other than Belloc himself, which fact explains why he left France in his childhood where he discovered on the Franco-Prussian battlefield his appetite for human flesh, and only returned to the mother country to participate in another war against the Germans, World War One. Here was the chance to once again sink his teeth into tender Aryan viscera. A chance that Belloc would not miss.
A decade passed from the end of the war. Hilaire Belloc continued to publish his treatises on current social and political issues, along with the odd satirical verse, but his mind was in Deutschland. In 1924 he made his way to Hannover, a small town in lower Saxony, and initiated a campaign of terror that would last for two years. The inhabitants of the town began to notice that the young men of the town were slowly disappearing, vanishing without a trace. Then they discovered the skulls. By 1926 twenty-seven Hannoverians found their way into Belloc’s insatiable belly. Surely, many more would have met this undignified end had the police not charged the local butcher, an unassuming man named Fritz Haarmann with murdering en masse and producing sausages out of his victims'flesh for his own and his patrons'consumption.
Belloc must have taken that happy accident as his exit cue. Perhaps he had had enough. Few, if any, ever learned his secret, and surely fewer condoned his actions. I'm not saying that our host is one of those few. I just wouldn't eat the hotdogs.