The Restoration was a decade of experimentation: from the founding of the Royal Society for investigating the sciences to the startling role of credit and risk; from the shocking licentiousness of the court to failed attempts at religious tolerance. Negotiating all these, Charles II, the "slippery sovereign," laid odds and took chances, dissembling and manipulating his followers. The theaters may have been restored, but the king himself was the supreme actor. Yet while his grandeur, his court, and his colorful sex life were on display, his true intentions lay hidden.
Charles II was thirty when he crossed the English Channel in fine May weather in 1660. His Restoration was greeted with maypoles and bonfires, as spring after the long years of Cromwell's rule. But there was no way to turn back, no way he could "restore" the old dispensation. Certainty had vanished. The divinity of kingship had ended with his father's beheading. "Honor" was now a word tossed around in duels. "Providence" could no longer be trusted. As the country was rocked by plague, fire, and war, people searched for new ideas by which to live. And exactly ten years after he arrived, Charles would again stand on the shore at Dover, this time placing the greatest bet of his life in a secret deal with his cousin, Louis XIV of France.
Jenny Uglow's previous biographies have won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and International PEN's Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History. A Gambling Man is Uglow at her best: both a vivid portrait of Charles II that explores his elusive nature and a spirited evocation of a vibrant, violent, pulsing world on the brink of modernity.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
November 01, 2009
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Excerpt from A Gambling Man by Jenny Uglow
NO ONE THINKS OF GREENLAND (Chapter One)
"You'll want to scratch," said the nurse.
"Don't," said the orderly.
Corporal Rudy Spruance looked up at them from his bed. Something was wrong with his skin. He was having trouble opening his eyes; they were sticky and almost swollen shut. He could barely focus. Although the nurse and the orderly stood at the foot of his bed, they seemed much farther away, giving Rudy the illusion of being marooned in a vast place. He'd felt that way before.
"To keep you from scratching," the nurse said, "we put mittens on you."
"Winter issue," said the orderly. "They were the only things big enough to fit over your hands."
"You got bit bad," said the nurse.
There was movement near the limits of Rudy's vision, then a light shot into his eyes, making him wince. He tried to turn his head but the spot followed him.
"What day of the week is it?" This was a new voice, male.
"No trick questions, Doc," the nurse said.
Rudy couldn't see anyone, just light.
"All right then, what month is it?"
"Still a trick question," said the orderly. "Give the guy a break."
The spot kept harassing Rudy.
"Jesus Christ," said the voice. "All right, then. What year is it?"
"Nineteen..." Rudy said. The word sounded slushy; he barely understood it himself. "Fifty-nine."
The spot clicked off. Everything looked green and purple. The feeling of being stranded came back, this time worrying Rudy. He had a memory of a huge landscape, of being alone. Then, unaccountably, he remembered standing before a flickering television, and a pang of longing struck through all the other sensations. The pang wasn't comforting, but it was better than anything else he was feeling, so he tried to hold onto it. His mind jumped, though, when he heard receding footsteps.
"He'll be fine," the doctor said from afar. "I've got a plane to catch."
Rudy tried to rub his eyes and felt soft balloons against his cheeks. He held his hands up in front of his face. Two large, olive drab pillows hovered there: mittens as big as boxing gloves.
"Have I been asleep?" Rudy said, not sure if anyone was still in the room. The words came like staggering drunks out his swollen lips.
"Yep," said the orderly. "For hours." The orderly and the nurse were still at the end of Rudy's bed.
"We sedated you," said the nurse. "You were a little worked up."
"My skin feels funny."
"It's swollen," said the nurse. "Also we put calamine lotion all over you. Didn't anybody tell you about the bugs?"
"No," Rudy said. "Where am I?"
"Didn't they tell you?"
"No. They just let me out with a couple of mail sacks and took off."
"Why were you out wandering around?" the orderly asked.
"Nobody came for in-processing. I couldn't sleep. There was too much light. So I stepped out for a stroll."
"'And pretty soon I heard a buzzing in my ears,'" said the nurse.
"'It got louder and louder,'" said the orderly. "'I started brushing them away.'"
"'I brushed and brushed, but it was like I was signaling them to come and get it,'" said the nurse.
"Yah!" said the orderly, and he slapped his hip and snapped his fingers like a hepcat horn player jamming.
"'I began to run,'" said the nurse.
"'It was awful,'" said the orderly.
"'I just wanted to get away.'"
"'But there was nowhere to go.'"
"'I didn't know where I was.'"
"Well, soldier, we'll tell you where you are," the orderly said. "You're on top of the world."
"That's it!" said the nurse. "Bitten on top of the world!"
"Ooooo, yeahhh!" said the orderly. "Bitten on top of the world!" And they dissolved into laughter and self-congratulatory slaps and nudges until they both spun around and did a one-leg-forward, hot-cha turn toward the bed, hands out, grinning, almost gloating. Rudy thought for a moment that they were expecting applause for their vaudeville.
He twisted uncomfortably. Calamine lotion crinkled on his pillow.
"Did I say all that?" he asked.
"Nope," said the nurse, and she leaned down toward his face. "But it's what you would have said. Isn't it?"
They'd gotten that right. The mosquitoes had clouded the sky around him. They'd risen up out of the rivulets and grasses on the bright, sunny tundra where he'd been walking, trying to piece together where the hell he was and what had been happening to him since he'd left the States and, for that matter, since his enlistment, since the arrest, since before the arrest.
The mosquitoes had come at him so quickly and in such numbers that it was like hitting a wall. He couldn't see a thing, and he'd begun to run. The whining of the tiny wings had sounded as if it came from inside his head. That was what had finally panicked him. He thought they were boring into his brain through his ears. He was getting bitten everywhere. The pinpricks gathered into a fire all over his skin, down his collar, up his nose, in his pants. He started screaming, calling for help, inhaling mosquitoes, bellowing, crying. He'd had no idea where he was going.
Then someone had tackled him, and they fell onto the soft, lumpy moss and grass. Whoever it was had wrapped him in a wet towel. Moist OD terry cloth all around his head, a strong grip around his arms that he'd tried to buck against as his panic fought even aid. The person had yelled at him to get a grip. Whoever it was had hauled him to his feet and forced him to walk, blindfolded and whimpering in the towel, back to safety. He remembered picturing what he must have looked like as he stumbled along: a prisoner of war.
"What's your assignment..." The orderly was looking at the name tag on Rudy's fatigue shirt that was draped over a metal folding chair. "...Corporal Spruance?"
"PIO," Rudy mumbled.
"Public Information Office?" asked the nurse. "That's crazy. There isn't one. Not here."
"There isn't any public," said the orderly. "And there better not be any information."
"Tenn-hutt!" The nurse stabbed the orderly with her elbow, and they both immediately pulled back from Rudy's cot and shot to attention.
Rudy could see the door. For an instant he glimpsed a young woman there. She was wearing a nurse's skirt and a women's OD army blouse. She had red hair, almost strawberry blond, brushed back but about as long as army regs would allow. Rudy wanted to see more, when a tall, striding man filled the door and advanced on Rudy's cot. The man was a lieutenant colonel.
Since he couldn't come to attention, Rudy saluted, his balloon mitt chuffing against his brow and sending tiny flakes of dried lotion raining into his right eye.