Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Prosperity temporal and spiritual is yours to be had!

Wherein done

bear: Duke of Marlborough
dogs: Harley, Bolingbroke, King Looie, King Philip, Marshall Villars, King James the Third

From The System of the World, Neal Stephenson.

A pause for effect. Then the door of an enormous kennel was winched up, like the portcullis of a donjon. Nothing happened. A squib exploded inside the kennel. That did the trick: out came Harley and Bolingbroke, a matched set of poodles with white periwigs strapped to their heads. They rushed out half-blind and deaf, and went separate way; Harley headed for the edge of the ring, Bolingbroke for the center, where the bear knocked him down with one blow of his paw, then rolled him over on his back and brought the other paw down with a sort of scooping motion.

A big spongy piece of poodle viscera was silhouetted against the white sky. It was throwing off a helix of blood-spray as it spun end-for-end. It seemed to be hanging motionless in the air, which gave Daniel the idea it was headed straight for him; but then it plunged and struck, with palpable momentum, into the bodice of the powder-blue silk gown currently being worn by one of the gentleman's two lady companions. From there it tumbled into her lap and lodged in her skirt, between her thighs. Daniel pegged it as a lung. She had the good sense to stand up first, and scream second.

This performance, from the detonation of the squib to the almost as explosive ovation given by the groundlings in acclaim for the lady's role, covered an elapsed time of perhaps five seconds.

The one lady now had to be taken aside and comforted by the other. As their coach had gone missing, this had to be done there in the stands, in full view of all present. It made a sort of side-show to the long-awaited main event: the big dogs were unleashed into the ring. First King Looie and King Philip. They made straight for the bear, until the bear noticed them and stood up on its hind legs; then they had second thoughts, and decided to see what might be achieved with a hell of a lot of barking. Marshall Villars and King James the Third were then let go, and pretty soon it had begun to look like a fight.

The crowd of groundlings were now in a frenzy equal to that of the animals. So much so that they did not notice, for several seconds, when the dogs and the bear stopped fighting, and began to ignore each other. Their muzzles were down in the dirt.

The dogs' tails were wagging.

The crowd stopped shouting, almost in unison.

Bits of read stuff were hurtling into the ring from somewhere near Daniel, and plumping into the ground like damp rags.

All eyes noticed this and back-traced the trajectories to the Nonconformist. He had stood up and set his basket on the bench next to him. Daniel noticed now that the basket was blood-soaked. The man was pulling great hunks of raw meat from it and hurling them into the ring.

"You men, like these poor beasts, do fight for the amusement, and toil for the enrichment, of men such as this wretch--Mr. Charles White--only because, like these beasts, you are hungry! Hungry for succour, of the physic, and of the spirit! But prosperity temporal and spiritual is yours to be had! It falls from heaven like manna! If you would only accept it!"

To this point the meat-flinger's performance had been entertaining, after a fashion, and they'd particularly liked it when he'd called a gentleman a Wretch to his face. But in the last few moments it had taken on the aspect of a sermon, which the groundlings did not care for at all.

4 Comments:

Blogger XWL said...

"Bits of read stuff were hurtling into the ring from somewhere near Daniel, and plumping into the ground like damp rags."

Think that's a typo, though it is a sound-a-like (their should bee a movement too get rid of awl these homophonic words inn English).

Unless they were wrapping the meat in old newsprint as they were chucking it in the pit . . .

(I don't think that's what Stephenson was implying)

(and did I just admit to being homophonophobic?)

8/28/2007 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

I suppose I should fix that. I do like the imagery of finishing off a page of newsprint and throwing it out the window.

Yes, you did.

8/28/2007 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger gwen said...

hello, i was just wondering if you could help me with king "Looie" meaning. It sounds like it's refering to king Louis, but i'm wondering why he's using "Looie".
(as you can guess, english isn't my mother tongue :)
thanks a lot.

11/03/2008 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Gwen, yes, it is King Louis. Looie (or Looey) is a casual pronunciation of Louis (Loo-is). In the story, Neal Stephenson plays around with both archaic and modern spellings. With some of the less educated characters he'll use phonetic spellings.

11/03/2008 07:01:00 PM  

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