The Polyglots

It is quite something to witness tongues of pentecostal fire lapping and flickering around the head of a monoglot, quite something indeed. And then to hear the monoglot babble in languages previously unknown to him, that is even more extraordinary. There has been but one disappointment, thus far, in the course of my experiments, and it is that not one of the languages inspired by the flames is identifiable as a genuine foreign tongue.

When I decided to embark upon this important religio-linguistic hoo-hah, a year ago, my first step was to have constructed for me, by decent honest tradesmen, a chamber, the ceiling of which was so designed that serried ranks of Bunsen burners could be installed in it, pointing downwards. It was not enough, you see, that the heads of my monoglots be lapped by flames. Being of pentecostal fire, the flames must descend from on high, upon the heads below. I next had to make adjustments to the burners themselves. Much as I would like to, I cannot divulge the exact nature of my tweakings and tinkerings. Suffice to say that my assistants at this stage were not the decent honest tradesmen but figures plucked from various ranks in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, plus a couple of fire scientists. Well I knew that ordinary flames could hardly be expected to prompt a monoglot to speak in a foreign language. My burners must blast forth true pentecostal fire.

Obtaining an old reel-to-reel tape recorder to keep a permanent record of the languages uttered by my test subjects was a simple enough matter. There is a boy with a barrow in the marketplace from whom such items can be bought. I purchased two, just to be on the safe side, and a mountain of reels of magnetic tape.

The beadle at Pang Hill Orphanage was of immense help to me in procuring volunteers. He gave me his personal guarantee that each one of them was a monoglot, and I never had reason to doubt his word, especially when I saw the grubby drooling halfwit urchins he regularly delivered to me on his cart, drawn by horses as inelegant as his cargo. Indeed, it was a wonder to me that some among these tatterdemalion hobbledehoys had ever mastered their mother tongue.

Ushered into the chamber, where the reel-to-reel tape recorders were already whirring away, each volunteer was strapped into a chair. Nothing if not rigorous, I had each of them utter a few words, to provide recorded evidence of their spoken language before the pentecostal fire was unleashed upon them. Some had to be prompted to speak by being poked at with sticks. I owe a debt of gratitude to my hunchbacked assistant Mungo for expediting this part of the process.

Mungo and I then left the chamber, locking and bolting the door behind us, and fastening it further with a length of heavy iron chain. I took my place in an armchair, while Mungo scrambled up on to the roof of the chamber in his spidery way and set the Bunsen burners roaring, spitting out pentecostal fire upon the heads of my monoglot volunteers.

On the following day, the beadle came rolling up in his cart to collect the newly-minted polyglots, taking some back to Pang Hill Orphanage, some to a clinic discreetly hidden in the mountains, and some to the graveyard. With Mungo at my side, I transcribed the recorded utterances from the tapes while snacking on loganberries and fried dab.

I have now filled thousands upon thousands of pages with polyglot speech inspired by pentecostal fire, and every single word of it is incomprehensible babble and raving. But if I have not my faith, I have nothing. I know, deep in my holy bones, that sooner or later one of my little orphan volunteers is going to pipe up in pure unalloyed Swedish, or Tagalog, or Vlaams. For through the pentecostal flames speaks the Spirit. If, thus far, it has not made clear its intentions for the people of the earth, prattling gibberish instead of sense, then I must wait, wait with inhuman patience, and continue to funnel monoglots into my chamber, and have Mungo set the burners in the ceiling belching fire down below.

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