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«Quicksilver», NEAL STEPHENSON

VOLUME ONEOF THE

 

BAROQUE CYCLE

 

NEAL STEPHENSON

 

 

To the woman upstairs

 

Contents

 

Quicksilver: An E-book

Invocation

 

BOOKONE

 

Quicksilver

House of Stuart

House of Orange-Nassau

House of Bourbon

 

BOOKTWO

 

King of the Vagabonds

Houses of Welf and Hohenzollern

 

BOOKTHREE

 

Odalisque

Map of Rhine Valley

Dramatis Personae

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Critical Acclaim

By Neal Stephenson

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

 

Invocation

 

State your intentions, Muse. I know you’re there.

Dead bards who pined for you have said

You’re bright as flame, but fickle as the air.

My pen and I, submerged in liquid shade,

Much dark can spread, on days and over reams

But without you, no radiance can shed.

Why rustle in the dark, when fledged with fire?

Craze the night with flails of light. Reave

Your turbid shroud. Bestow what I require.

But you’re not in the dark. I do believe

I swim, like squid, in clouds of my own make,

To you, offensive. To us both, opaque.

What’s constituted so, only a pen

Can penetrate. I have one here; let’s go.

 

BOOKONE

 

Quicksilver

 

Those who assume hypotheses as first principles of their speculations… may indeed form an ingenious romance, but a romance it will still be.

–Roger Cotes, preface to Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, second edition, 1713

 

Boston Common

 

OCTOBER12, 1713, 10:33:52A.M.

 

ENOCH ROUNDS THE CORNER JUSTas the executioner raises the noose above the woman’s head. The crowd on the Common stop praying and sobbing for just as long as Jack Ketch stands there, elbows locked, for all the world like a carpenter heaving a ridge-beam into place. The rope clutches a disk of blue New England sky. The Puritans gaze at it and, to all appearances, think. Enoch the Red reins in his borrowed horse as it nears the edge of the crowd, and sees that the executioner’s purpose is not to let them inspect his knotwork, but to give them all a narrow-and, to a Puritan, tantalizing-glimpse of the portal through which they all must pass one day.

Boston’s a dollop of hills in a spoon of marshes. The road up the spoon-handle is barred by a wall, with the usual gallows outside it, and victims, or parts of them, strung up or nailed to the city gates. Enoch has just come that way, and reckoned he had seen the last of such things-that thenceforth it would all be churches and taverns. But the dead men outside the gate were common robbers, killed for earthly crimes. What is happening now on the Common is of a more Sacramental nature.

The noose lies on the woman’s gray head like a crown. The executioner pushes it down. Her head forces it open like an infant’s dilating the birth canal. When it finds the widest part it drops suddenly onto her shoulders. Her knees pimple the front of her apron and her skirts telescope into the platform as she makes to collapse. The executioner hugs her with one arm, like a dancing-master, to keep her upright, and adjusts the knot while an official reads the death warrant. This is as bland as a lease. The crowd scratches and shuffles. There are none of the diversions of a London hanging: no catcalls, jugglers, or pickpockets. Down at the other end of the Common, a squadron of lobsterbacks drills and marches round the base of a hummock with a stone powder-house planted in its top. An Irish sergeant bellows-bored but indignant-in a voice that carries forever on the wind, like the smell of smoke.

He’s not come to watch witch-hangings, but now that Enoch’s blundered into one it would be bad form to leave. There is a drum-roll, and then a sudden awkward silence. He judges it very far from the worst hanging he’s ever seen-no kicking or writhing, no breaking of ropes or unraveling of knots-all in all, an unusually competent piece of work.

He hadn’t really known what to expect of America. But people here seem to do things-hangings included-with a blunt, blank efficiency that’s admirable and disappointing at the same time. Like jumping fish, they go about difficult matters with bloodless ease. As if they were all born knowing things that other people must absorb, along with f?ry-tales and superstitions, from their families and villages. Maybe it is because most of them came over on ships.


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