The first of my Musical Mysteries, “Four-Part Dissonance,” is now available as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and iBook. Only $0.99.
Dear Readers: This is the last post I will make for a while. I hope to put the three novels I have posted on this site into e-books, and will let you know when they are available. Many thanks to those who have continued to read my pieces in this inconvenient format, and especially to those who gave me helpful comments. Also thanks to the friends who gave me advice when I wrote them in the first place.
As a reminder, “Four-Part Dissonance” began in October 2009 (see the archives); “Death and the Maiden” in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” in October 2010.
By Edward Doughtie
Phil Sanders, third stand, fifth chair violist, staggered sleepily to his hotel room door. The knocking had been soft but persistent, and he had waked with a little jolt of adrenaline. He looked through the peephole and saw Sara Viotti, second stand, third chair first violinist. His heart gave another lurch.
“Just a minute. Let me get on some pants.”
He struggled into his jeans and opened the door. Sara slipped in with a shy smile; she didn’t look him in the eye.
“Sorry to get you up,” she breathed.
“That’s ok. Are you all right?”
“Oh, yeah.” She hugged her t-shirted chest. Phil, now wide awake, observed the shifting breast tissue. She was a small woman, curvy without being plump. Phil’s imagination surged.
“Ah, Phil.” She took a deep breath. “Could I—could I borrow your room for a while? An hour, maybe? You’re the only one I know with a single room, and I just need a little—private time.” She hugged herself tighter.
“Sure,” he said without thinking. Anything. He started to the door, then stopped. “I’d better put on some more clothes. Won’t be a minute.” He reached for his shirt. As he pulled on his socks, he glanced at the clock radio: one-twenty. Sara stood in leggings and ballet slippers, shifting from foot to foot, looking at the floor.
“Guess I’ll go read in the lobby. For an hour?”
“Maybe an hour and a half?” She looked up, appealing.
“Ok.” On his way to the door she stopped him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
In the lobby, Phil found an easy chair behind a column and settled down with last week’s Time. The only other occupant was a trombonist, still in concert clothes, sprawled and snoring on a sofa. Drunken Duncan, couldn’t make it to his room. Good thing he didn’t have to play tomorrow.
Phil stared at the magazine without seeing it. Sara filled his mind. He had watched her during rests for a long time. He loved the way she tossed her dark hair when she took a fast up-bow, and when she set her lips in determination during fast passages. He had talked to her occasionally, but never felt that he held any interest for her. She always seemed to be looking at someone else. But now she had come to him for a favor. Something positive about him had registered with her. She was grateful. She kissed him.
Phil was almost thirty, not exactly a virgin, but for some time an involuntary celibate. Playing in this second-tier symphony was the goal of years of hard practice and grueling auditions. He worked hard at keeping up. It took a lot of time.
Of the young women in the orchestra, five were married, one was a lesbian, and two didn’t attract him. Then there was Sara. He looked at his watch; give her the rest of the second hour. What did she want her “private time” for? Meditation? A personal phone call? A tryst? That was obvious, but he hadn’t wanted to think of her meeting another man, especially for sex.
No, maybe she had to call her family. Something delicate, something Phil needn’t know about. Her sister was pregnant, maybe. Did she have a sister? No, forget about sex. She was late with her car payment and needed a loan from the Bank of Dad.
He tried to read, but drifted off and dreamed that Sara’s kiss led to a warmer embrace, a deeper kiss—he woke with a jerk. His watch told him he had been gone two hours. He stretched, yawned, and returned to his room. He knocked first, but heard nothing, so he unlocked the door and went in.
The room was dark. As he fumbled for a light switch, he heard a sniff. The dim light showed Sara, fully clothed, curled up on the bed, her back to him. He moved around the bed and saw Sara’s face wet with tears.
“Are you ok?”
She sat up with a sniff and ran her hand over her face. “Yeah. I’ll go and let you sleep.”
“Don’t worry about that. Can I help with—with anything?”
She shook her head, but then bent over, hid her face in her hands, and sobbed. Phil looked around for something to do. In desperation he ran to the bathroom and grabbed a towel. She took it and continued to sob. Phil stared at her, hesitated, then opened the mini-bar. Small bottles of wine, champagne, whisky. He poured the whisky into a bathroom glass and knelt in front of Sara.
“Drink some of this,” he said. She looked up, her face twisted and red. “It may not help, but maybe you won’t care.”
She took a sip and coughed. “Thanks. Is there any ice?”
“I’ll get some.”
He snatched up the plastic bucket and ran down the hall. When he got back with the ice, Sara was quietly staring into the glass, now and then wiping her face with the towel. She thanked him for the ice and drank. She seemed to be more in control as she put the glass on the bedside table, rose, and went into the bathroom. Phil saw her brushing at her hair.
“God, I’m a mess. I’ll go as soon as I look a little more normal.”
She stood by the bed, taking deep breaths. She tried to smile at Phil. “I’m rooming with Bella. She’s so nosy. She won’t let me alone if I come back looking like this. She thinks I’m—“ Again her hands went to her face and her shoulders jerked with sobs.
Phil guided her back to the bed and handed her the glass of whisky. After a while she drank a little more and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I wish I could help.” He wondered if he dared to touch her, hold her hand, put an arm around her shoulders. Instead he handed her the towel again.
She had the hiccups. She looked up between sobs and hiccups and tried to smile. Phil smiled and said, “Boo!” She hiccupped again and smiled.
“Look,” Phil said, sitting on the floor facing her, “it might help if you talked a little bit about what’s the matter. I’m a good listener, and I don’t gossip. I’d like to help, even if I can’t cure your hiccups.”
“Oh, Phil.” She hiccupped. “It’s too much, too painful.” The tears came again.
Phil didn’t know what to say, so he sat silent, watching her cry, wipe her face, and suck the ice in her drink. They were quiet. She made no move to go, but rolled on her back and sighed at the ceiling. Phil thought the whisky was relaxing her. It might not be good if she went to sleep here, he thought. But then . . . .
“I thought he loved me,” she began, very softly. “Eric, I mean.” Eric was the concertmaster, married and fortyish, and in Phil’s mind an arrogant bastard. “He wanted us to be discreet, you know. Nobody should know. It might make trouble in the orchestra. So when he asked me to find a room to meet in, I—well, you can guess. I didn’t expect him to d-dump me.” She stopped and jerked with silent sobs. Phil kept quiet.
“We’ve been—seeing each other for a while. It was easier in town. He kept telling me he was getting a divorce. He didn’t say he wanted to be with me, but there were hints, suggestions. I guess I saw what I wanted to see.”
Phil heard some anger. That was good. But then came more sobs, breaking up her speech.
“I should have known. His wife always met him–back stage. They seemed
glad–to see each other.”
“Do they have kids?”
“Yeah. Two, I think. Oh God. What am I going to do? I can’t sit behind him and look at that mole on the back of his neck and just forget.”
Maybe the start of melanoma, Phil hoped. Sara flailed her hands about. Phil caught one and held it. She let him. Except for an occasional hiccup, they were quiet for a good while.
Phil had an inspiration. “Tell me about something or some time that made you happy.” After a realizing the implications of what he said, he added, “Before you joined the orchestra.”
She gave a brief laugh that turned into a hiccup. “Before the orchestra. I guess that makes it easier.” She swirled her glass and crunched an ice cube. “I was ten. I’d just won a concerto contest with the local orchestra, and I had this new dress for the performance. I was more excited with the dress than with the concert. It was a deep red velvet thing. White lace collar. I loved that dress.” She stretched and sighed. “God, playing was so easy then. I played the Bruch, and it just rolled off. I don’t think I could do it now.”
“Sure you could.”
She looked at Phil as if she were surprised to find him there. “I guess I could play the notes. But not with that confidence—that simplicity.”
“Have you played the other concertos?”
“I’ve studied them all. Well, most of them—Beethoven, Mendelssohn of course, three of the Mozarts, the second Prokofieff, the Berg, Barber, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens third, the Walton—“
(Phil had worked on the Walton viola concerto, but could never have performed it.)
“Played the Brahms with the Interlochen orchestra. Nothing since then.”
Phil tried to think of distracting subjects. “Ever play any quartets?”
“Back at Oberlin. We had to for a semester, but not since then.” She smiled. “I liked it. We did a Mozart, a Beethoven, and a Dvorak.”
“There are lots more, many great ones.”
“I guess. I just never had time.”
“I play with Bob and Jess when we can. Sue used to play with us, but now . . . “ He didn’t finish, because Sara knew that Sue had moved up to a better job in L.A. He hesitated, then said, “Would you like to join us sometime? We just read for fun.”
She looked at him, considering. “Maybe.” She disengaged her hand. Her eyes were red, but dry.
Sara looked at the clock. “I’ve really got to go.” She stood and pulled herself erect. “Thanks, Phil. Sorry to keep you up.”
“Anytime.” She left without kissing him.
Phil knew he couldn’t get back to sleep now. Four thirty. He’d sleep on the plane. Quartets. Sara would be good, once she got to know the literature. With Bob–meaty, sturdy, sensible Bob–solid on the cello and Sara on first, maybe they could get some gigs as a quartet. Maybe leave the orchestra. If they won a big contest, maybe they could make it. And maybe he could get close to Sara. He allowed the dream to spin on.
On the plane the next day, Phil strolled down the aisle and leaned over Sara. “I was thinking. After the matinee concert tomorrow, we’ll be free until the next day. Could you join us for some quartets?”
Sara was sitting by Drunken Duncan, who was leaning on the window, snoring. She looked up from her magazine as if she were trying to remember who Phil was. “Oh. Hi. Uh, tomorrow? I don’t think so.”
She didn’t think so the next two times he asked. Bob brought Anton into their quartet, and he and Jess seemed happy with him, though Phil thought he overplayed. Phil watched Sara surround herself with the two women he didn’t find attractive. She and Eric didn’t look at each other. But he had seen her smile at Drunken Duncan, as he leered at her while moving his trombone slide suggestively.
Phil sat by Bob on the plane home. Bob was engaged, and had three sisters. Maybe he knew something about women. Phil approached the topic gingerly. A woman, he said, had unloaded a lot of personal stuff on him. He was a sympathetic listener, thought he had helped her, and she seemed grateful at the time. But afterward, it seemed that she wanted nothing to do with him.
“Of course,” Bob said. “She let her guard down, showed weakness. She needs control. Can’t let you get close again.” Bob raised one eyebrow and one corner of his mouth. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Phil nodded. Maybe. But if she came on her own terms? He could dream, couldn’t he?
This is the last chapter of this novel. For the beginning, go to the archives under October 2010 and scroll down to chapter one.
40. This Our Time
Although I had no more visions of Tobias Hume, I had a document from the end of his life. I wish that I had visions to clarify some parts of it. The document is The True Petition of Colonel Hume, As it was presented to the Lords assembled in the high Court of Parliament, printed by John Giles in 1642. I have quoted from it earlier, but the full text needs to be seen.
To the Right Honourable the Lords and Others Assembled in the High Court of Parliament
The humble Petition of Tobias Hume, one of the poor brethren of that famous Foundation of the Charter House.
Right Honourable and Noble Lords,
I doe humbly intreat to know why your Lordships doe slight me, as if I were a fool or an Asse: I tell you truley I have been abused to your Lordships by some base fellows; but if I did know them, I would make them repent it, were they never so great men in your sight; for I can do the Kings Majesty and my Countrey better service then the best Souldier or Colonel in this Land, or in all Christendom; which now it is a great wonder unto me, that your Lordships do suffer so many unskilfull Souldiers to goe over for Ireland, to doe the Kings Majesties service, that are not able to lead a Company, neither doe they know what belongs to a Souldier; and yet for all this, your Lordships leave me out, that am able to doe the Kings Majesty better service than all the Souldiers that are now to be sent over for Ireland: so that if your Lordships please to pay for the making of a hundred or six score Instruments of war, which I am to have along with me, if you please to send me for Ireland, and make me Commander of all those men that are now to goe over for Ireland, I will undertake to get in all Ireland in three or four Months at the farthest, or else if I doe it not, I will give them leave to take off my head, if my Commanders will be as forward as my selfe, and yet I will do all things with great discretion. And I do here protest, I will doe my King and my Countrey most true and faithfull service, and give the first onset upon the
Rebels in Ireland, to the honour of all England: and therefore if you will not beleeve me, it is none of my fault, when I speake the truth: But if you will not give me command of all the souldiers that goe for Ireland at this time, I will not goe for Ireland, but I will goe for another Countrey, where I will have a greater command than all this which I have desired from your Lordships. But I yet live in hope that you will be pleased to beleeve me, and help me that live in great misery, by reason that I have maintained a thousand Souldiers in this City to do the King service in Ireland, and this I have done seven weekes together, which hath made me very poore, so that I have pawned all my best cloathes, and have now no good garment to wear.
And therefore I humbly beseech you all Noble Lords, that you will not suffer me to perish for want of food, for I have not one penny to helpe me at this time to buy me bread, so that I am like to be starved for want of meat and drinke, and did walk into the fields very lately to gather Snailes in the nettles, and brought a bagge of them home to eat, and doe now feed on them for want of other meate, to the great shame of this land, and those that do not helpe me, but rather command their servants to keepe me out of their gates, and that is the Lord of Essex, and the Lord of Devonshire; but I thank the good Lord of Pembrooke, and the Lord Keeper, and the Earl of Hartford, and my Lord Mayor, and some other Knights, as Sir John Worstenholm & others do help me sometimes with a meales meat, but not alwayes, for I eat Snailes and browne bread and drinke small Beere, and sometimes water, and this I have thought good to make knowne unto your Lordships, hoping that your Honours will helpe me now with some reliefe, or else I shall be forced presently to runne out of the land to serve another King, and do him all the great service, which I would rather do unto my owne most gracious King, who would not suffer me to want, if I had money to bring me unto his Majesty, for I would doe him true and faithful service in Ireland, and can doe him very great service; if his Majesty want money, I will undertake to fetch his Majesty home twenty millions of gold and silver in ready coine in the space of twelve or fourteene weeks: If this service bee not worthy of meat and drink, judge you that are grave & wise Lords of the Parliament, for I will make no more Petitions unto your Lordships, for I have made many, but have not got any answer of them, and therefore if your Lordships will neither entertaine me, nor give me money to buy me meat and drink, I will goe with as much speed as I can into other Countries, rather then I will be starved here. For I protest I cannot endure this misery any longer, for it is worse to mee than when I did eat horse flesh, and bread made of the barke of trees, mingled with hay dust, and this was in Parno in List-land, when we were beleagured by the Polonians: but now to proceed further, I have offered to shew your Lordships my instruments of war, and many other things which I can do fit for the wars, and yet other base fellows are set forward before me that cannot do the Kings Majesty that great service which I can do him, and therefore I say it is a great shame to al this land, the Lord of Pembrooke, the Lord Craven, and many other Lords and Knights and Gentlemen both in this Country and other Countries beyond the seas, as Grave Maurice, the Marquesse of Brunningburgh, and lastly the King of Swetheland, they all know that I am an old experienced Souldier, and have done great service in other forraine Countries, as when I was in Russia, I did put thirty thousand to flight, and killed six or seven thousand Polonians by the art of my instruments of warre when I first invented them, and did that great service for the Emperor of Russia; I do hereby tel you truly I am able to do my King and Country the best service of any man in Christendome, and I will maintaine it with my art and skill, and with my sword in the face of all my enemies that do abuse me to the Lords of the Parliament and others, and if I did know them I would fight with them where they dare, and also disgrace them, I speake this, because I do hear that some of them have disgraced me unto some of the great Lords of the Parliament. Let those souldiers argue with me, and I will make fooles of them all for matter of warre, although they have perswaded the Lords to slight me, and therefore I say againe, they are not able to doe the King that good service which I can doe him, both by sea and land.
And so I humbly take my leave of your Lordships, being very desirous to speake with all the Lords of the Parliament, if they will vouchsafe to speake with me before I goe out of this Land, for I am not able to endure this misery any longer, for I want money, meate and drinke and cloaths, and therefore I pray your Lordships to pardon my boldnesse, and helpe me with some reliefe if you please, or else I must of necessity go into other Countries presently, and so I most humbly take my leave for this time and rest
Your Lordships most humble servant to do your Honours all the good service I can, for I have many excellent qualities I give God thanks for it.
Tobias Hume Colonell.
I am puzzled by Toby’s reference to being starved for want of food, for I saw him eating in the commons of the Charterhouse. Perhaps he was given an allowance out of which he should have bought food, money which he may have given his “troops.” I sorrow at his poverty and delusions, but reflect that he at least was not confined to Bedlam, or, as far as I know, beaten or subjected to the other tortures inflicted on the mad at this time. I wish Toby could have had the benefit of my Dr. Levin, who in a few months largely cured my post-traumatic stress syndrome.
I miss Toby, though I’m glad I was spared visions of his final decline and the inevitable suffering attending his end. As Clio said, it was in some ways like living another life. But I must confess relief that the nagging sense that I was not right in the head is gone. And somehow I have felt a tremendous surge of energy since the end of my visions, though my marriage to Clio and my new career must have contributed–or perhaps our marriage and my job helped cure whatever neurosis was producing my hallucinations. Anyway, I found myself teaching with gusto, practicing the cello with profit and pleasure, and plunging into the carpentry for Clio’s new studio with enthusiasm. Yes, we found a house with a barn–not the one we first saw, but one with a smaller barn that was connected to the house and that could be converted into a studio more practically. I found that I could teach and practice all day and then work on the barn half the night, make love, and sleep deeply and dreamlessly. We had windows and skylights installed in the barn, but I painted it, put in insulation, wallboard, and a wood stove, plus a block and tackle on a runner for moving large paintings and perhaps sculptures. Vermont marble and granite inspired Clio to think about going in that direction, and she has sold several pieces of sculpture recently.
With Doreen’s help, I got a good university press to publish my book. It was no best seller, even by specialized academic standards, but it got respectable reviews, and helped me get tenure.
In addition to teaching, which I found that I love, I found time to play a lot of chamber music with George and Betty. We gave some performances locally, and there has been some recent talk of giving some concerts for actual money. We are negotiating for a recital next summer at the St. Gaudens estate in New Hampshire, now a national park.
I also seemed to find time to read widely and eclectically. I continued to read history and music history, especially when I wanted to use some information I got from a vision. One can’t allege some fact in a scholarly article and support it with a footnote reading “As seen in a vision by the author on June 1, 1984.” I also read some things about time, for my experiences have raised a number of questions about it.
I was fascinated to learn that some physicists think that time might be reversible. Einstein said that “the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion.” When Newton formulated his laws of motion, he worked them out to describe a frictionless universe, such as the solar system: a film of the solar system would look the same if it were run forward or backward. But the idea of time being reversible is, as the physics teachers say, “counter-intuitive”–it doesn’t jibe with our experience. Nevertheless, to one who thinks he may have experienced a kind of time reversal, the notion is intriguing.
Other physicists talk about the “arrow of time.” According to Stephen Hawking, there are three arrows of time: the thermodynamic arrow, which points in the direction of the increasing disorder, or entropy, in the universe; the psychological arrow, our ordinary sense of the passage of time; and the cosmological arrow, the time in which the universe is expanding. The first arrow determines the second: all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again after he had fallen from the wall; not only can you not make an omelet without breaking eggs, you can’t get eggs back out of the omelet.
The third arrow gets complicated. The theory of general relativity relates space and time, and states that both are curved; but it also implies a point of creation, the Big Bang, the beginning of time. It also implies the Big Crunch, when the universe stops expanding and contracts. But Hawking and others, attempting to combine quantum mechanics with general relativity, raise the possibility that space and time form a four-dimensional space that is finite, but without boundaries–as Hawking says, like the surface of the earth but with more dimensions. Even when the universe contracts, time will still go forward, and not backward, for entropy will continue, though not by much, since by then the universe will be in a state of almost complete disorder. And by then life as we know it will be gone, so there will be no one to observe or to question the meaning of time.
Other physicists have different explanations, which I understand in only the most superficial way. Ilya Prigogine sees thermodynamics as primary and classical mechanics as secondary, and brings the irreversability of the arrow of time into quantum mechanics. Prigogine goes on, however, to see in “dissipative structures” such as living organisms sources of order “floating” in the larger disorder of the increasing entropy described by the second law of thermodynamics. So that life and creativity can at least delay the effects of entropy.
Was I able in some way to see from the head of the curving arrow of time back to the tail feathers? Did I somehow see in a radial line across the curve? Or was I able to escape from the arrow’s path into some realm of quantum mechanics in which processes work as well backward as forward? Or had I somehow been enlisted to slow the effect of entropy on Toby’s life? He lived a long life at a time when life expectancy was low; perhaps he could somehow draw on my allotment of energy to prolong the progress of disorder in his own system. I see that I have written “somehow” in most of the preceding sentences, a ploy to cover my cluelessness about any possible mechanism for my wierdness. I don’t have enough math or physics to do any better. But in music, which exists primarily in time, I may have found a sense of the relationship between time and space. When music is performed or realized, it takes place only in time; but in the mind, on reflection, it has a kind of spatial character–structures take on space in the imagination.
I hope I have not hastened the effects of entropy on my own life, for I find that I have more and more to live for. Despite my intimate acquaintance with Toby’s sad experiences as a father, Clio and I decided to offer our own hostages to fortune: two years after we married, our twin daughters, Thalia and Polly, were born. They have added a dimension to our lives that would have otherwise been unknown to us; and they have made us more aware–and sometimes more anxious–of the future, and our stake in it. They are also growing from charming babies and children into interesting and delightful people, whom we are glad to have in our lives. Thalia loves to ramble through the woods and the countryside in all seasons, but she also enjoys being around people whom she can make laugh. She’s written some very clever comic verse. Polly is more serious, and has started to take organ lessons in addition to the piano. Despite the wonderful music Bach and others wrote for the organ, I’m not fond of the instrument–perhaps it goes back to my own childhood discomfort with churches. But that doesn’t seem to bother Polly. Perhaps she likes controlling the power of the organ; maybe she’ll move on to conducting. But enough about our children; strange as it may seem, I realize that others might not find them as fascinating as I do.
This story is winding to its end. I thought it had ended some time ago, since Clio and I just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary in warm, contented normality–wonderful for us, but perhaps not so interesting to an outsider. But as I gain more distance from the time of my visions, more mundane explanations seem plausible. I was forced to face this possibility one day when I was reading a new book on Dutch history. An episode that I remember vividly experiencing with Toby in a vision could not have happened. It was not Sir Francis Vere who led the troops in the attempt to relieve the siege at Breda, but his younger brother Horace. The documents the historian cited were of the kind no one would have any reason to alter or fake, and they contradicted my vision, in which Toby and several others spoke of Sir Francis Vere. And most Shakespeare scholars agree that his King John was written later than the time when Toby encountered it. I had always had an active imagination; it is at least possible that the stress I was under in my job and first marriage led me to escape into imaginary travels into the past. My readings and researches into Toby’s life and times may have produced a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
If it was escape, it was not merely escape. If these visions were sometimes distracting, they also may have helped me get through some rough times and to make some better choices. I could see that Toby’s life had more serious dangers and stresses than mine, and that he managed to survive them and, until the end, to accomodate them. Toby finally gave up on the relationship with Jane, and that may have helped me give up mine with Jean. But I also saw Toby allowing circumstances to force him to choices that were bad in the long term. I think his abandonment of music was linked to the deterioration of his mental health. I have found music to be genuinely healing. Even if one cannot live by music, that is no reason to live without it.
Whatever the cosmologists discover about the nature of time, we human beings feel its inexorable progress toward our individual dissolution, and take what comfort we can in wishful myths of a paradise after death, or in the generation of those who will cherish our memories for a while. Or, as Shakespeare hoped to do, we may find a kind of afterlife in works of art. Some of us may find consolation of another kind in proverbs like “Truth is the daughter of time,” or “Time trieth truth.” Time sometimes does reveal the truth of the past; but it also buries many truths. Henry Adams is supposed to have thought that the past of history was fact, while Henry James thought of it as a world we make in our imaginations. I think both are right. We use our imaginations to make some sort of comforting or coherent sense of the jumble of facts or alleged facts. And interest in the past seems to be a growing concern of human beings as history drags us on. Perhaps our attempts to recover the past are another way of retarding entropy, at least in our minds.
I had no vision of Tobias Hume’s death, nor do I have any documents other than the date, April 16, 1645. But here is how my imagination pictured it.
Old Toby sat in a corner of the Master’s Court of the Charterhouse, muttering to himself. The new master passed by, greeting him cheerfully; Toby did not reply. One of the servants followed soon after, calling back to a colleague something about ale for the master’s guests. The early evening light grew softer; it was like looking through a yellow bottle. The household noises diminished, and the distant sound of music grew more distinct. Toby blinked rapidly and turned his head. He slowly looked back out over the lengthening shadows on the courtyard and rubbed his eyes. The music stopped, but began again. Toby grasped his stick and reeled to his feet. As he approached the windows to the master’s lodging, he grew aware that the music came from viols–four, no, five–and that one of them was playing a deliberate, firm sequence around which the other voices wove in a stately dance. It was an In Nomine. Toby stumbled to the open window and saw the master and four other men–another clergyman and three modestly dressed gentlemen–sawing away. The candlelight shone on the master’s balding forehead and on the faint smile on his lips. All were completely absorbed in the music and deeply happy. They were amazingly well in tune, and no one had yet made a mistake. Toby found the tears running down into his beard. The music wound serenely on. Toby slid to a sitting position, his back against the wall under the window, sighed “At last!” and died.
For the first chapter of this novel, go to the archives under October 2010, and scroll down.
39. This Most Balmy Time
The longest of my last visions showed old Toby dozing in the sun in what was called the “Wash-house Court” of the Charterhouse. A boy led in a stooped old man in a black clerical gown. He tapped the ground in front of him with a cane–he was obviously blind. The boy led him to the bench where Toby sat, and helped him to a seat, saying loudly, “Captain ‘ume! You have a visitor!”
Toby started and looked at the old clergyman. He rubbed his eyes, looked away, and looked back, his eyes widening.
The old man smiled. “Well, Toby, have you no word of greeting for your old tutor?”
“Can you be Felix indeed? Are you not dead? Or am I dead, or dreaming?”
“I am indeed Felix, and I am not dead yet.”
“But the turnkey said you had been killed.”
“No, I did not die, though the turnkey thought I had. The brute who dashed my head against the wall was to be hanged, so he had nothing to lose by amusing himself with me. I awoke on the dead-wagon, and slipped away. The blow to my head did not kill me, but it left me dazed, and I soon lost the sight in my remaining eye. I groped the streets begging, and would have surely died if my Moll had not found me.”
“Moll, Moll,” Toby muttered.
“Aye, Moll. She had fallen on hard times. From whore she had turned bawd, and thence to ragpicker. I had helped her from time to time when my printing shop flourished, and now I was worse off than she. But she could yet see, and we made do. I had a few small debts among the printers that I managed to collect with her help, and got a stock of ballads. We could not play our old game, but must sell ballads honestly.”
“‘Oh, Liddesdale has ridden a raid,” Toby sang rustily.
“One day a puritan preacher began ranting at me and the small group listening to my ballads. He was able to take my audience and attract more. He preached a deal of nonsense, but he was lively, and when he passed his hat, the standers-by must have thrown in two shillings in ha’pence and farthings–I could hear them chink.”
Toby nodded and smiled.
“Well, the next day, I left my ballads at home, put on the best sober clothes I could borrow, and began preaching. I had searched my memory the night before and had patched together a sermon full of tales and scandal, but based on sound doctrine. I was able to hold two dozen people for an hour, and earned a shilling eightpence. Each day after I drew larger crowds, until–”
“Aye. As I thought might happen, the beadles arrested me for preaching without license. By then I had a large following, who harrased the beadles and then gathered under my prison window, where they heard me preach from my confinement. When I was brought before the bishop’s court, I knew I must strike boldly, or forever be a beggarly bawd and ballad-seller. As humbly as I could, I invited the court to attend to the crowd of my followers outside, who were singing psalms fit to burst their lungs. I said that if the bishop would appoint any learned divines to examine me, they would find me more capable than most who now served cures in the church, and they would find me no heretic or schismatic, and if allowed, more like to serve good order than to disturb it. If the divines found me fit, I modestly begged that they would allow me to take the cloth of the church of England. To my surprise, a gentleman whom I did not know testified that he had heard me, and that I spoke no heresy, nor threatened good order. This gentleman spoke to such good purpose that I was released into his custody while the bishop’s court considered my proposal. While the court deliberated, we spoke for many hours. I told him some of my history, but not that I was hanged, imprisoned, and lived with a bawd. He was a man of wealth and power, but had some unusual notions. He liked my preaching and my doctrine, and had a curacy in his gift. After some ado, and after a tedious examination by a committee of most pedantic divines, I was admitted to the clergy, and the gentleman bestowed his curacy on me. Later, the living proper fell open, and now I am the vicar of the parish of Bray. And the chaste, pious matron who kept my house for years was our Moll–God rest her soul.”
“Ah, Moll. She made a good end?”
“Better than most.”
“But you are blind,” Toby said, reaching out to touch Felix’s face. “I’m sorry for that. I–I sometimes think I am not in my right mind.”
“Who is in his right mind? And be not sorry for my blindness. Some losses bring gains.” He smiled thoughtfully as both sat in silence for a moment. Then Felix began to speak, his voice taking on depth, losing the creak of age that could be heard in his first words.
“You, old friend, live with faces in firelight and figures in sunlight; you dwell in chambers and corridors, where you walk on carpets and sit upon joint-stools and settles; you gaze through windows on steeples and chimneys, clouds and trees. You live in space and time, and you often measure one by the other–so many leagues, so many hours. I live now in time alone, alone in time. I feel the space my body occupies only when it moves, and it moves only in time; it is but temporaneously ambulatory. I can say, like you, that Paul’s is so many streets or miles away, but to do so is mere parroting a forgotten tongue; it is meaningless to me now. How many ticks of my staff, how many minutes trickle from the glass of my life before I hear the boasts of the knights of the post and smell the ink and paper of the bookstalls? Voices come and go, they speak for seconds or hours, I reply, they go away. For me, a voice speaking two rooms away, out of my hearing, may as well be in Trinidado as in Trinity Lane. I touch a table. If my hand in circumtangent motion is busy a score of seconds, it is small; if threescore, it is large.
“I yet have memories of faces–of my plump Moll, my lady in Lincolnshire, my widow, and you, old friend–but they freeze and melt with time. Time, no doubt, takes them one way while my memory takes them another. I know now that my memories are in my own head, cranially confined, and in no other’s. You, too, though you realize it not, assemble in your own head what you apprehend in space, for that is what I do with sound and touch. And that narrow bony box upon my shoulders is a straiter coffin than those of lead or oak. If these bones should stir and burst their cerements at the last trump and come together, reclothed in flesh and with eyes reillumined, I doubt I should know any of you, and I think I might close my eyes, obscure those reborn orbs, and commune with those images that are only cerebrally extant.
“I go, friend Toby. We have parted many times before with little expectation of meeting again, and yet we have. But we both grow passing old, and if we meet again I doubt that it will be on this temporal and mundane plane.”
Felix rose, and Toby embraced him. Then he led him toward the door of the courtyard. Felix’s words echoed in my mind for a long time after.
I could never learn fully what Howell and Tedesco had done, and just how Scarlatti figured in the scheme. Schirmer told me in general terms that it involved laundering of drug money through the complex play of dummy businesses and the money raised for the buyout of Cullen. The wopkraut file was a list of the businesses and bank account numbers. For one reason or another, the evidence was not as complete as the FBI would have liked, but our confrontation with Scarlatti forced them to move. They were able to convict Scarlatti on mail and wire fraud as well as assault and threat with a deadly weapon, but the conspiracy case linking the three of them was weak. Consequently, Tedesco got two years in a country-club prison, and Howell got only six months. In all fairness, Howell may not have known about the drug angle when he first got involved with Tedesco. I heard that both of them lost a lot of money in the 1987 market crash. Howell didn’t get the CEO job at Intersoft, but he had another very good executive position waiting for him when he walked out of the slammer.
I have not heard from Jean since she thanked me for sending her the wopkraut file. Callie told me later that she got in a support group for those who had rejected their recovered memories, and that she was now suing her original Dallas therapist. Callie said Jean met a man in the group, and had been seeing a lot of him.
Clio and I wallowed in the new dimension of our relationship for several days. Like teenagers, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. When the quartet next met, there were gleams of comprehension almost from the moment Alice, Doreen, and Marina walked in the door. Clio swore she hadn’t told anyone, but Marina and Doreen exchanged knowing glances as they unpacked their instruments, and Alice said, smiling, “Something is going on around here.” We must have been giving off powerful vibes or pheromones or something. When they were seated with their instruments, they looked at Clio and me expectantly. I had the Goffriller in my right hand, and put my left arm around Clio.
“We have an announcement to make,” I said.
Clio giggled. “We’re engaged.”
“It’s about time,” Marina said.
The others cheered and Doreen played “Here comes the bride.” Then Clio and I submitted to hugs and congratulations. Eventually we settled down and read through some quartets, but giddiness was never far from the surface. After a jolly allegro from the early Mozart volume, Alice said, “That would make a good processional.” That set them off, suggesting various movements for wedding music.
“A Haydn presto for the recessional,” Marina said. “Gets them out fast.”
“How about the ‘Monty Python’ march?” Doreen laughed.
“You will play at the wedding?” Clio asked.
“Try and stop us,” Marina said. “What’s the date?”
“Soon,” I said.
“We don’t know,” Clio said at the same moment.
Marina bounced up and down. “Wait, wait!” She pulled out her pocket calendar. “The Hampstead Consort is in town for a concert in five weeks. Let’s have it then.”
Clio was curious. “We can’t afford a pro group.”
I caught on to Marina’s idea. “The Hampstead Consort consists of some of our London friends. You’ve heard us speak of Arthur Reed-Noble? It might be fun to invite them. But why don’t we get married next week and just have a party when they come?”
My suggestion was hooted down, and Clio said five weeks was just enough time to plan a simple wedding. Clio and the women began discussing places, invitations, clothes. Music was clearly over for the evening. Everyone followed Clio into the kitchen where she put on water for tea. I looked at my watch. Clio saw me and interrupted Alice to address me.
“Tony, go home.”
“What?” I was surprised. “Don’t I get any–tea?”
“No. We have a wedding to plan. I’ll see you in the morning. Not too early. Work on your book.” She grabbed my shirt and gave me a quick kiss. “You haven’t been home for three days,” she whispered.
“I have too,” I protested. I’d fetched clean clothes, checked my mail. But she shut me up with a longer kiss.
“Good night, Tony,” Doreen said with a laugh.
“Sleep tight,” Alice said, and Marina giggled.
I did work on the book during the next five weeks–more than I wanted to. But I also played Clio’s cello while she painted, which she claimed she had to do to keep her sanity. We also found some time to discuss our future. And to make love. As to our future–I thought I’d try to get a teaching job somewhere. I could pick up a few education courses and try to find a public school job in Baltimore. Clio said that though she loved her studio, she was not fixed in concrete, and if another location should work out well for both of us, she wouldn’t mind moving. Doreen, my mentor, had other ideas. She thought I should try for a college job on the strength of our articles and my book, which she thought should be publishable. She had a friend at a non-traditional college that didn’t require a Ph.D. for their faculty if they had other qualifications. On her recommendation, I wrote the music department chair at Hoosac College in Vermont, and sent along our articles and three chapters of my book.
Plans for the wedding proceeded, and they seemed to get less simple as time passed. Families had to be consulted and invited. My mother, who had been upset when I finally told her about all my misadventures, was pleased that I was marrying, but had doubts about my job plans and was uneasy that Clio was an artist, an occupation that in her part of Tennessee suggested instability and at least potential immorality. But when they finally met, it took Clio no more than five minutes to win her over, her genuineness was so evident. Clio’s brother Frank and his family seemed very pleasant, laid-back folks; they were the young family whose picture I had seen stuck in Clio’s mirror long ago. Frank worked for the National Weather Service out in Seattle, and his wife was a caterer. They had two little girls. They were a little wary of me at first, remembering Clio’s previous relationship. But we got on better footing quickly.
I sent invitations to Tom Backscheider and his wife and to Hiro Watanabe, as well as to Perry, Myron Fish, Carrie, and other old friends, more as a news item than with any expectation that they would come. But many of them did. Arthur Reed-Noble showed up with Fiona, the lutenist, and James, the singer. Arthur, more florid and portly than ever, his moustache bristling fiercely, greeted me warmly with a “Maclean, old chap,” and kissed Clio’s hand, deliberately playing to the stereotyped role he was acting and subtly mocking it too. “I do hope you have laid on some good single malt instead of these blends you Yanks seem so fond of.”
“Will Glenmorangie do?”
“Oh, aye, laddie,” he said, shifting his accent from BBC to Edinburgh.
Tom Backscheider and his wife came, with Tom formally attired in khakis, a white shirt and string tie, and loafers–with socks. Perry came with Tom; it turns out they had been doing some work together, and Tom gave him a plane ticket. Hiro sent good wishes, but he had married and his wife was expecting, so he didn’t come. Myron Fish managed to find a medical conference at Johns Hopkins he could attend before the wedding. Marina recruited another cellist named Donna to fill my space in the quartet for the wedding, and after the rehearsal dinner we played a Brahms sextet with her and Myron. Callie and Arthur seemed fascinated with each other; as they conversed, their Texas and Scottish accents got thicker and thicker.
The wedding was held in a restaurant near the harbor, with the ceremony in a large upstairs room and the reception in the main dining area. A Unitarian minister officiated; Alice and Marina sometimes played in her church when they wanted special music. She was relaxed and humorous, and fit right into our motley crew. The quartet played a processional from an early Mozart quartet, and Clio entered glowing in a long white linen dress, much simpler than the usual bridal gown. An unexpected special treat came when Arthur and James performed Hume’s “Fain would I change that note” before the vows. I was so moved I could hardly croak out “I do.” But I did. And we had one of Haydn’s prestos for a recessional.
The reception was a combination recital and jam session. Tom and Arthur played one of the Bach gamba sonatas; Tom was sight-reading, but he did a good job, and was delighted at the novel experience of playing with another person. Every time the viol added to the counterpoint, Tom smiled one of his squint-eyed grins and said “Cool!” Fiona and James did several bawdy Elizabethan songs, and Arthur, mellow and red-faced from several large glasses of single malt, played a couple of Hume’s lighter viol pieces. I got away with playing only the gigue from Bach’s first cello suite. Then Fiona switched to the wire-stringed orpharion, and James pulled out a shawm, a first cousin of the oboe with a penetrating sound. Together with Arthur they played a group of lively Renaissance dances, to which the guests did disco steps instead of branles and galliards. Callie Warren taught the group the “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” which they danced to the tune of “La Volta”; instead of calling out “la volta” and leaping up, they kicked and yelled “bull shit!” Callie and Arthur, both red-faced from dancing, continued to hold hands after the music stopped.
The biggest surprise came about three in the morning. Clio and I had just fallen asleep at her house, when we heard the wailing of shawms and bagpipes outside the window, followed by another bawdy Elizabethan song. Arthur’s consort had treated us to another Elizabethan custom, serenading the newlyweds. It was thought that the second time on the wedding night was more likely to produce a child. Fortunately for us at the time, Clio was on the pill.
We didn’t go on a honeymoon trip right away, but hung around until all our out of town friends had gone, and then we made ourselves put in a certain number of hours at work every day. Although I had pretty much moved into Clio’s place, my lease ran for three more weeks, so I continued to write in my garage apartment. I was nearly finished with the first draft of the last chapter.
About a week after the wedding, I got a call from Doreen’s friend at Hoosac College. They had an opening for someone who could teach music history, cello, and help with the orchestra. They wanted me to visit and give a talk and a short recital, sometime before the end of the month–that was within two weeks. I thought I could get an acceptable talk out of my last chapter, but I worried about the recital. I hadn’t been practicing for performance. I expressed my gratitude and interest, but also my concern.
“What did you have in mind in the way of a recital?” I asked.
“You’re a cellist, aren’t you? Well, how about one of the Bach suites? That way you won’t have to worry about an accompanist.”
I was greatly relieved. I could play all of the third suite from memory, and I knew Clio’s wonderful cello would give me a boost. So we set a date for my visit.
Neither of us had been to Vermont before, so we decided to make my interview trip into our honeymoon. In the meantime, I pulled my talk together and practiced the third suite, while Clio read up on Hoosac College. She found that the college had a small art department, but the two faculty members were both artists whose work she knew and respected. The college was in a small town near the center of the state, but it was supposed to be surrounded by a beautiful landscape, and was only two hours from Boston. There were galleries in Boston that she knew about, so the prospect of moving to Vermont began to seem more like an opportunity for refreshing change than exile in an American Siberia.
The drive up was very pleasant, once we got past the congestion of the eastern seaboard. Vermont struck us both as beautiful. It was late summer, and the hills were various rich shades of green. I was reminded of the mountains of Tennessee, though here the landscape seemed more domesticated, neater. Hoosac village was a picture postcard of a town, white frame houses with green roofs, a square with a sharp-steepled church, shady maples, oaks, ashes, and beeches. The college blended in with the town; some buildings were early nineteenth century, and others were gray stone in formal quadrangles built in the twenties. There were about two thousand undergraduates.
I gave my talk on the In Nomine , illustrated with taped examples, to an audience of six faculty members, the dean, and a dozen students. The questions afterward were serious and thoughtful, especially those from the students. I managed plausible answers without losing my voice or falling down. The recital drew a somewhat larger audience. My palms were sweaty, but Clio helped by radiating confidence, and I knew the Goffriller would impress the listeners, even if I slipped. After the initial descending C-major scale, I lost myself in the music, and everything worked. The audience applauded warmly.
We had met the music faculty briefly before the talk, and they were very cordial; but after the recital, there was a cocktail party at the chair’s home, and we got to know the individuals a little better. The violin teacher, George Underwood, was a bit older, in his late forties; he had an easy midwestern drawl, thick glasses and thinning hair, and reminded me of my old cello teacher. His wife Betty, the piano teacher, was short, round, and bubbly. Underwood had played in the Boston Symphony until the strain of competitive playing and tendinitis made teaching more attractive. Together they gave sonata recitals, and Underwood played in the less demanding season of the Vermont Symphony.
Betty Underwood was very enthusiastic. “Beautiful playing! And what a marvellous cello! Now we can really get into the trio literature.”
George smiled. “Now, Betty, we haven’t hired him yet.”
“Oh, but we must!”
I may be forgiven for taking Betty’s indiscreet outburst as a good sign.
The chair, Adrienne Beaupere, was also the voice teacher. She had a touch of the grande dame about her, for she was tall, stately, and statuesque. She was about fifty, and a widow. Clio charmed them all, and once had Madame Beaupere shrieking with undignified mirth. The only sourball in the group was the composer, Adam Klima, who lost interest in me when I confessed that I had played little recent music. I said I just had not had the opportunity, and expressed eagerness to try some of his own work. He said, “I don’t write ‘beautiful’ music,” and turned away to the hors d’oeuvres.
The college put us up in a comfortable inn that night, and sent us off the next day full of hope. We drove by a white house with a big red barn a few miles out of town; it was for sale.
“Stop,” Clio said. “Look at that. I wouldn’t paint it–too much of a cliché. But isn’t it lovely?”
“So you wouldn’t mind it up here?”
“No. I’m just trying not to get my hopes up too much.”
We drove around Vermont for the next three days, staying at various quaint bed-and-breakfast places, walking down the Church Street mall in Burlington, eating at the New England Culinary Institute restaurant, taking the tour at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory, hiking up Mt. Ascutney, and going through the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury. This place really appealed to me, for it was a real wunderkammer, a miscellaneous collection of local and foreign things, from a stuffed moose and dusty stuffed birds and Indian pottery, to slippers for Chinese ladies with bound feet, netsuke, minerals and crystals. It was housed in a good old Victorian gothic building. My favorite exhibit was the bug art by John Hampson (1836-1923): Washington saying farewell to his generals, Lincoln, General Pershing, all in mosaics of tiny, brightly colored beetles. Clio was also amused at the possibilites of the bug as artistic medium. “It seems to be archival, too,” she said. “The colors haven’t faded in sixty years.”
Eventually we had to go back to Baltimore, where we waited in anxious suspense. One night the possibilities and implications of the Hoosac job were spinning around in my brain so fast that I couldn’t sleep. I got up and stumbled into Clio’s studio, where the light from a full moon was streaming in through the big windows. I plopped in a chair and stared at the moon. Then I had my last vision of Tobias Hume.
It was a brief one, and not very clear. Old Toby, older than when I saw him with Felix, knocked at the door of a house I recognized as having belonged to Jane and Sir Andrew Monmouth. A servant answered, and Toby asked for an audience with Sir Charles Monmouth, identifying himself as Sir Charles’s mother’s music teacher. After a significant wait, he was ushered upstairs to a room where a man with reddish-blond hair and slightly drooping eyes was standing on a stool being measured for clothes.
“What is your business with me, sir?” he asked rather brusquely.
“By your leave, Sir Charles,” began Toby, removing his hat, “as I told your man, I was your mother’s music teacher; I also taught your aunt, Lady Audrey.”
“I recall Lady Audrey saying something about a poor brother in the Charterhouse. Are you he?”
“Aye, sir, and if you please, I have some private business with you.”
Sir Charles sighed impatiently, stepped down from the stool, and waved away the tailor, who bowed and left the room. “Very well,” he said, facing Toby with folded arms. “On with your business.”
“Sir Charles, you must believe me when I tell you that I come not to beg favor or money. Though I am a poor man, and a subscription to help me develop my instruments of war–” He broke off and shook his head, muttering “No more of that.”
Sir Charles frowned. “To the matter; I have some haste.”
Toby took a deep breath. “I would not depart the world without telling you. I am your father.”
Sir Charles squinted at Toby. “My father? Sir Andrew Monmouth was my father.”
“No, sir. I loved your mother before she left her father’s house. And after she married Sir Andrew, I came to teach her music. And then–you were conceived.”
Sir Charles scowled. “Sir, you are a madman or a rogue, or both. I’ll not have my mother whored and my father cuckolded and me bastardized in my own house. Get out!”
“I go. But I speak the truth.”
“John!” Sir Charles called. “William!” Two servants appeared. “Throw this old beggar out and never admit him to this house again.”
The two men took Toby by his arms and roughly led him down the stairs, pushed him out the door, and slammed it behind him. And then the vision slammed shut, and I have never had another, to my relief, but also to my regret.
Clio brought in the mail, thowing everything on the coffee table but a fat envelope which she waved as she ran toward me. “It’s here.”
I opened it as Clio looked over my shoulder, bobbing on her toes. I was offered an assistant professorship at a modest salary, with hope for promotion with tenure when my book was accepted by a publisher.
We embraced joyfully. “I want that house with the red barn,” Clio said.
The beginning of this novel is to be found in the archives under October 2010. Scroll down to chapter one.
38. The Bettering of the Time
Bewildered, Clio looked at me. “I thought they would be someone else,” I said. My heart surged with adrenaline, but I did not feel faint or panicky. Thank you, Dr. Levin.
“And who would that be?” asked Scarlatti. “Some cop?”
“If you flash a badge, you expect a cop. We’re just good citizens.”
Scarlatti sat on a sofa and crossed his legs, pinching up the crease on the pants of his dark gray double-breasted suit. Mel sat at the dining table, laying his gun down casually before him. I guessed it to be a .45 automatic, the kind they used in old war movies. The candlelight exaggerated the acne scars on Mel’s face.
“So,” said Scarlatti, “what are you going to tell me?”
“I thought you were going to tell me something first. But you didn’t show.”
“I like it here better.”
Clio had found her voice. “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?” She was angry. To me she said, “And how do they know you?”
“I’ll explain later. They are not my friends.”
“Now, now,” protested Scarlatti. “I’m here for a very friendly purpose.” To Clio: “I don’t want your boyfriend here to get hurt. So he’s going to tell me what he knows, and stop playing games.”
“I’ve told you all I know.”
“Why did you call Drew? What were you going to tell him?”
“I was just going to pull his chain a little. Make him afraid I knew more than I do. The bastard fired me, you know.”
“I think you don’t know what you’ve got into, and you don’t wanna know. But I’ve gotta know what you know, and who else knows it. Who knows about that file besides your ex?”
Clio glanced at me. “You, Drew, Tedesco–I guess–my ex-wife, and her lawyer. I don’t know who else might have seen it.”
Scarlatti glanced around impatiently. “You an artist?” he asked Clio.
“Valuable paintings?” No answer. “Nice place. Light in the daytime. Room to work. Be a shame if it burned down, now. Elecrical problem. Power surge after a blackout like this.” I had an image of Clio’s paintings and her cello burning. “Your boyfriend doesn’t have dick–lives in a rat’s nest. You wouldn’t want to have to move in with him.”
“Hold on,” I said. “She doesn’t have any part in this.”
“If you want to keep her out of it, you need to be more cooperative.” He stood and walked into the studio. Picking up a painting from a stack facing the wall, he carried it toward the light. “Very nice,” he said. “Elegant composition, nice pallette. Fetch three-four grand in a Georgetown gallery. What do you think?” he asked Mel.
Mel grinned and squinted at it over his extended thumb. “Very pretty.”
Scarlatti took out a keychain and opened a little gold penknife. “It’s a little too wide, though–needs cropping.” He brought the knife toward the canvas.
“Stop!” shouted Clio, horrified. Mel chuckled and Scarlatti looked up at her, smiling slightly. I was standing two steps from Clio’s work table. I was angry and afraid, but found I could think. I grabbed a can holding about a quart of paint thinner. While they were both focused on Clio, I stepped forward four quick steps and threw the paint thinner toward Mel’s eyes. I had thought to blind him while I dove for the gun, but it turned out even better: as the thinner flew across the candle and onto Mel, it burst into flame. Everything moved fast, but it felt like slow-motion. Mel screamed and fell back, his chair tipping backwards. I grabbed the gun from the table. Clio stood with her mouth open, one hand on her painting. Scarlatti swore and lunged toward me. I managed to dodge him and give him a crack on the back of his head with the gun. Mel was screaming and rolling on the floor. I felt to find the safety catch on the pistol and be sure it was off. Clio now tossed her painting aside and reached under her worktable, coming up with a fire extinguisher, which she sprayed on Mel. Scarlatti, stunned for only a moment, got up and moved toward me.
“No you won’t, you fuckin’ wuss.”
Just then Clio turned the extinguisher on Scarlatti’s face, blinding him for a moment. I got the table between us and aimed the gun with both hands.
Scarlatti stood, slowly pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket, wiped his face, and looked at his foam-covered clothes. “Now you’ve made me mad. This Armani cost me two big ones.” Staring at me steadily, he reached into his coat. I aimed at his armpit, where his hand was going, and pulled the trigger. The recoil was terrific, and the noise deafening. I had a moment under my desk at Cullen, but it quickly faded. The force of the shot spun Scarlatti around and knocked him to the floor. Mel stopped moaning and sat up. His face and hands were blackened like a cartoon character, and his eyes were wide. I swung around to face him, and felt a tug around my middle. What was it? Oh, tape for the wire. The wire–where was Schirmer?
He was at the door. Schirmer and two other agents, guns drawn, entered just as the lights came back on. “What a mess,” he said, looking around. Mel lay back down and moaned. I heard Scarlatti cursing vigorously.
“In my movie, the cavalry gets here sooner,” I said.
“We nearly didn’t follow you, but we’re glad we did. We got enough on tape to take care of these two for a while. We hoped to get more, but you all started making so much noise we thought we’d better see about you.” Schirmer was smiling, almost relaxed, almost human. “Let’s see what you’ve done to poor Mr. Scarlatti.”
“The sonuvabitch shot my damn fingers off, that’s what,” said Scarlatti, sitting up and showing a bleeding hand.
Schirmer bent over Scarlatti. “Broke a pretty little Beretta 8-mil, too. And made a hole in this nice suit.”
“Shit,” Scarlatti said.
Clio sat heavily on a dining table chair. “I wish someone would tell me what’s going on.”
“They are the FBI,” I said. “Those are mobsters. I’m an idiot. I’m sorry about all this. Are you all right?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“I think so.” I pulled her up and hugged her, and she hugged back. Then we both started laughing, and couldn’t stop.
Scarlatti felt under his arm. “Hey, I’m bleeding here.” That produced a new spasm of laughter. “You people got no sense of–of occasion.”
We eventually quieted down, as Schirmer called for medical and police help. Soon there were Baltimore police, detectives, and paramedics swarming around, and then there were only two detectives and Schirmer. We told detectives Pendleton and Bayliss what had happened, and Schirmer confirmed that he had much of what passed on tape, which he would share with the police as soon as he was done with his investigation. My explanation of what led up to the encounter was directed as much to Clio as to the detectives. There were questions that I couldn’t answer, and that Schirmer wouldn’t, much to the exasperation of the detectives.
When the questions and answers began to be repeated, Clio stood and said, “I wish you would all leave. You’ve made a big mess, and I’ve got to clean it up, or I’ll go nuts.”
After we assured the detectives that we would be available, they left. Schirmer rose to go, and Clio gave me a shove. “You go too. I need some quiet time alone. Come for dinner tomorrow.”
“OK.” I left.
At home, I was restless, my mind full of what had happened, questions about how Scarlatti, Howell, and Tedesco were connected. Thoughts about Clio. I paced and stewed. I eventually got into bed, but my mind continued to race around the same scenes and questions. Maybe I could get a vision and at least change my mental channel.
Toby stood in the hallway of a large house, talking earnestly to a man with a chain around his neck. Toby’s hands were full of papers.
“Good Captain,” said the man, “the earl cannot see you now. He is very busy.”
“But I must show him the improvements on my designs.”
The man with the chain closed his eyes, apparently summoning his patience. “The earl will send for you when he has leisure. But he cannot see you now.” There was an unpleasant prissiness in his tone. “Good sir, may I advise you? If you are too importunate in your demands for the earl’s time, you may wear out your welcome here.”
Toby flushed. “Who are you to speak for the earl thus to one of his guests? You–you three-suited, hundred pound, worsted-stocking, chain-wearing, glass-gazing eater of broken meats.”
“Sir,” said the man, also flushing, “it is not gentle to mock a man for his condition, but it seems you need reminding that you are here on the earl’s charity, and should be happy to have such broken meats as fall to you.”
At that moment a younger servant approached. “Begging your pardons, sirs, but Sir James Spens is here to see Captain Hume.”
Both Toby and the steward looked astonished. But Toby recovered, and said, “Ah yes, Sir James Spens, servant of two kings, and my familiar acquaintance. Take me to him, my good lad.”
The servant glanced at the steward, who gave a dismissing gesture; he then led Toby into another room. Spens and another man greeted him. Toby bowed, his expression showing a mixture of pleasure and suspicion.
“Good Captain Hume,” said Spens, “well met. I am here to beg your assistance. Our master, his majesty King Gustavus, has commissioned me to raise troops here to aid the Duke of Mecklenburg. When I learned that you had returned to England, I recalled that you were an experienced old soldier, and, if you have no other business at present, might be persuaded to raise a company for his majesty’s service.”
“Sir, it would be my honor to aid you in serving his majesty. I am now at leisure, and would be grateful for employment.” Toby moved closer to Spens and spoke more confidentially. “I confess, sir, that I had thought you my enemy–”
“Oh, no, sir!”
“–But I am happy to be disabused. By chance, you find me with the latest designs for my instruments of war. We shall show these to the king when we return to Sweden.” He thrust his papers toward a surprised Spens.
“By all means, Captain.”
At that moment, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke entered. He had aged considerably since he had listened to Toby’s music. Spens bowed and spoke. “My lord, I had business with your guest here, and had not hoped to meet you–I am indeed fortunate.”
“You are welcome, Sir James. On the business of his majesty of Sweden, I hear?”
“Aye, my lord. I have asked the captain to raise a company for his majesty.”
“Oh, sir, I fear we cannot part with the captain.”
“Truly, my lord?” Spens looked puzzled.
“My lord–” Toby began.
“The captain may petition King Charles for leave, but I doubt if it will be granted. If you will spare me a moment in private, I shall tell you of the more particular need we have of the captain. But Captain, if you are determined to go, you may use my study to write your petition.”
“By your leave, my lord, I shall do so. I mean no ingratitude or slur on your hospitality, my lord, but I would have employment.”
“Say no more. My study is at your disposal.” Toby bowed and crossed the hall to another room containing books and a writing table. Through the door, I could see Pembroke talking to Spens, who looked up and mouthed an understanding “Ah!” They moved out of view. Meanwhile Toby sat at the table and prepared to write. As he was sharpening a pen he noticed a large folio open on the table. He stopped and read a page beginning “To the most noble and incomparable paire of brethren. William Earle of Pembroke, &c. Lord Chamberlaine to the Kings most Excellent Majesty,” and ending with the names “John Heminge and Henry Condell.” He then dipped his pen and wrote:
To the Kings most Excellent Majesty
The humble petition of Captain Humes.
Most humbly sheweth unto your sacred Majesty that your petitioner hath served in many foreign Countries as a Captain, and also in the King of Sweathland’s wars, who hath now sent for your petitioner into Mickle-Bury Land to do his Majesty further service.
His most humble request therefore to your Majesty is, that your highness will be graciously pleased to grant him liberty for two years to go to serve the King of Sweathland in his wars and also to grant him your royal pass to go over to the King of Sweathland with 120 men that want means to live here in England, your petitioner having taken pains already to get the most of them together.
And as duty binds him he will pray for your Majesties long happy and most prosperous reign.
If it please your Majesty to send any letters by the petitioner unto the King of Sweathen, they shall be safely delivered to his Majesties own hands, he being resolved to pass over unto him within thrice three days with your Majesties favor and leave.
Toby copied this over in a neat italic hand and folded the sheet. He then hurried up to a little attic room, changed into a suit of somewhat better-looking clothes, and set off to deliver his petition.
Toby faced a group of a dozen ragged men and three boys of nine or ten. They were in a small field surrounded by buildings; the square tower of St. Paul’s was not too far off. The men reminded me very much of the homeless drunks around the Baltimore waterfront, and the boys looked like the cast of Oliver, grinning and barefoot.
“Gentlemen,” began Toby, striking a pose with his hand on his sword hilt, “I find that we are not to go to the Low Countries, but to Mickle-Bury Land to serve the King of Sweden, who would redeem that land from the army of the pope.”
“Captain,” said a snaggle-toothed wretch in a stained and torn leather jacket, “tis cold in those parts, and we shall need new coats.”
“Aye, and boots,” added one of the barefoot boys.
“You shall have them,” said Toby, “when the king sends my commission.”
“We cannot wait to eat till then, Captain,” said a gaunt creature with sores on his neck. Others cried “Aye! Aye!”
“Very well,” said Toby, raising his right hand. “You shall have a part of your pay. After drill.”
“Me feet is too sore for drill, Captain,” said a boy, hobbling in place.
“No pay without drill. You must learn to bear some pains. Now order your column!” The group shuffled into formation. “By the right–march!”
Toby, very much like Captain Hall before him, shouted orders and browbeat the group into some semblance of military drill for about ten minutes. The boys seemed to enjoy the game, but the men began to clamor for their pay. Finally, Toby gave up, ordered them to form a line, and gave each a small coin from his thin purse. As they hurriedly dispersed, Toby called out after them, “Bring more men tomorrow! We must fill out the company before we depart!”
As Toby entered Pembroke House, the steward complacently informed him that the earl and a lady wished to see him in the study. Toby entered to find the earl and a well-preserved middle-aged lady in black with a plain linen collar. She had put on weight and her hair was gray, but it was clearly Audrey. She rose and took him by the hand.
“Good Master Toby,” she said warmly. “Do you not remember your old pupil?”
Toby stared, then nodded, wiping his eyes. He did not speak.
“Pray you, sit down. His lordship and I have been talking of you. I only learned two days ago that you were in London, and I rejoiced that you were yet living.”
“Lady Audrey is your true friend, Captain,” said the earl.
Audrey went on. “The earl has been your kind and generous host for many weeks. But it fits not a man of your parts to live here on charity. You have earned a better and more lasting place. There is now a foundation at the Charterhouse established as a kind of college for those who have served well but can serve no longer.”
“I can yet serve,” said Toby, straightening up in his chair. “I am sent for by the king of Sweden.”
“Nay, good Captain,” said the earl, “our king will not allow you to go. You were best to attend Lady Audrey.” He rose. “I must leave, but Lady Audrey will stay and tell you more.”
Toby rose and bowed as the earl left the room. He sat with a sigh and Audrey patted his hand. “Do not fret, old friend. Twill be for the best. You shall have a chamber, food, and clothing for the rest of your days. Tis time to put away your arms and exchange the active life for the contemplative. Do you not remember the old song of Doctor Dowland’s?” She sang in a rich but grainy alto:
“His golden locks time hath to silver turned,
O time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing;
His youth gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain, youth waneth by encreasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots and ever green.
“His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And lovers’ sonnets turn to holy psalms;
A man at arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are age’s alms–
“I forget the rest.” She looked at Toby, who was looking into the distance, a tear leaking from one eye. “How is your music, Master Toby?”
“Eh?” He waved his hand. “I have no time.”
“You shall have time again. I shall try to find you out a viol.”
Toby wiped his eye and looked at Audrey. “And how fares your–your sister?”
“Dead, alas, these two years, and her husband too.”
“Her last years were content. She found peace with her husband and her son.”
“Does he know you are his father? No. When you did not meet us in the park that time–do you remember?–we thought better of telling him. He is now the master of his father’s house.”
“And you, my lady? Is all well with you?”
“Oh, yes. I kept my vow, and never married. My sister added to my little property, and I have lived in comfort, passing my time with music and books, and some small charities. I have no complaints, and few regrets.”
“Alas, my lady, I have many of both.”
The Charterhouse was once a Carthusian monastery. After the dissolution in 1537, it became the property of Sir Edward North and then the Dukes of Norfolk, who tore down parts and built other parts. Both Queen Elizabeth and King James spent time there. In 1611, Sir Thomas Sutton bought the property, and died shortly after. His will established a free school for forty boys and a “hospital” for eighty gentlemen pensioners, which opened in 1614. I visited the Charterhouse myself during one of my London trips. It is still a retirement home for about thirty-seven or eight old military men and civil servants. When I visited, one of the “brothers,” a hale, ruddy, soft-spoken gentleman who had served many years in India, gave me the tour. Although it had been bombed during World War II, many of its medieval, Elizabethan, and Jacobean furnishings survived. Except for the modern conveniences in the brothers’ rooms and elsewhere, and a few eighteenth- and nineteenth-century additions, it was much as it was during Toby’s time: a group of connected buildings enclosing two courtyards, with a chapel, a cloister, and a great hall with a hammer-beam ceiling and an elaborate carved wooden screen.
From a few brief scenes I saw, it seemed that Toby did not slip easily into retirement. He must have been realistic enough to see the advantages of a stable shelter, but he continued to work on his weapons plans, and he continued to drill his “troops,” which had degenerated into a handful of boys. When he was alone in his room, he drooped and dozed–his thinning hair and long beard were now entirely gray. But when he was among the other brothers, he strutted like Basilisco and swore like Captain Hall, sometimes elaborating on his past exploits, but also spinning out his plans for campaigns abroad. If Audrey ever found him a viol, I never saw him playing it.
I called Clio. “Are you all right? Did you sleep?”
“Yes and sort of.”
“Am I still invited for dinner?”
“What can I bring?”
“A good appetite. I think I’ve got too much food, as usual.”
“Invite more people.”
I brought a bottle of wine as well as a good appetite. Clio shook her head in mock reproach when she saw it, but took it and gave me one of her quick kisses. I loved them, and I had even grown to love the pangs of frustration they aroused in me. Although Clio’s meals were always satisfying, her kisses were like appetizers–I always wanted more. Clio looked especially good that night–but then she always looked good to me, even in her grubbiest painting clothes. That night she wore a soft, simple, dark green dress that set off the copper lights in her hair and also clung to her figure in a very appealing way.
“You look great.”
“Flattery will get you a good meal.”
The table was set for two, I was glad to see. And there were no extra cups or other signs of the quartet coming later. Maybe we could have a good long private talk.
“You seem to have disposed of all the evidence of our adventure last night,” I said, looking at where Mel had burned and Scarlatti bled.
“There are still a few scorches and stains, but they give the place character.”
We had a buttery grilled salmon, tender new potatoes, Greek salad, and fresh rolls.
“You’ve really done it tonight. I could never afford to take you to a restaurant this good.”
“Keep going, and you may get dessert.”
It was pecan pie–the center was firm, and the pecans on top were crisp. We sank onto the sofa with contented groans. After a minute I took her hand and a deep breath. “Clio I’ve been trying to tell you something for a long time but you never will let me finish but I’m going to tonight and you can’t stop me so–”
But she did stop me. She kissed me. She kept on kissing me. I kissed back. We wrapped our arms around each other in that awkward way that you do when sitting side by side on a sofa and settled into a long, warm, amazing kiss. At last, an entree. Or just a really good, more tempting and frustrating appetizer? Eventually we came up for air.
“I love you,” I gasped, as quickly as I could.
“I know. I love you too.” We kissed again.
Clio spoke at the next panting break. “I think it’s high time we did something about it.”
I was afraid to speak, so I kissed her again. I tentatively touched her breast. She breathed in sharply, and pressed her hand on mine. Soon she stood and led me toward the bedroom, where we collapsed in a tangle of half-shed clothes on her patchwork quilt. This was the main course, at last. It was worth the wait. The first course was gulped, as it were; we tasted the second more liesurely, and it was even more delicious.
Later, lying as close as we could get under the sheet, we talked.
“Will you marry me?” I asked.
“Great. Now that that’s settled, why haven’t we been doing this for months? Think of what we missed. You must have known that I was crazy about you even if you wouldn’t let me say so.”
“I know. I’m sorry. It hasn’t been easy for me either.” She smiled and nuzzled my neck. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. You’ve got a cute neck, you know?” Then she got serious and sighed with the difficulty of the explanation she was attempting. “I wanted to be sure, and wanted you to be sure. I didn’t want you to rebound to me and then rebound back to Jean. I wanted to see if you would find the life you really wanted. If you were happy with that, then maybe you’d be happy with me.”
“I think I’d be happy with you if I had to work in a salt mine.”
“You may have a chance to prove that,” she said with a laugh. “You remember I told you that my last serious relationship didn’t work out. It hurt a lot, and it took me a long time to get over. I didn’t want anyone that close again unless I could be sure of a lot of things.”
“Are you sure?”
“I guess you get to a point where you have to take a chance.” She gave me a friendly poke. “I was pretty sure. Actually, I guess I’ll have to confess that I fell in love with you the first time I heard you play my dad’s cello. But I needed to get to know you.”
“All that time!”
“I think I began to fall in love with you before I even met you. You remember the time I spent the night here when you were gone? I couldn’t get this place and your paintings out of my mind.”
“And my cello. Would you marry me if I sold the cello?”
“Maybe. What else do you have for a dowry?” She gave me a somewhat harder poke in the ribs, but we both laughed.
“But that brings up another matter. You know The Merchant of Venice? My dad loved that play.
‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.’
I’ve heard him recite that passage a thousand times. We saw it several times, once with Olivier as Shylock. Well, when Dad was very sick, just before he died, he told me that he couldn’t leave caskets with riddles to help me pick a husband. But he said that though many men might love me–he was prejudiced, you know–I shouldn’t marry anybody who didn’t love his cello. So I guess I resisted in some way what I felt when I heard you play. Here’s this unhappy married man, I thought, what did my dad know?”
“Smart man. He had as good a taste in daughters as he did in cellos.” I kissed her a few more times in various places. Then it struck me that I hadn’t been as scrupulous as Clio. She felt me go into myself.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ve got a confession too. It should have come up before. But when I was with you, other things seemed more urgent.”
“Now’s the time if you have to tell me. You don’t have to tell me everything, you know.”
“It’s not what you may be thinking. It’s that I have–hallucinations, I guess you could call them. Visions. Don’t worry. I don’t ‘see things’–it’s not like drunks seeing snakes. And I don’t hear voices telling me to kill or think I have wires in my head from the CIA.” I went on to explain the best I could my strange relationship with Tobias Hume. Clio’s expression gradually changed from concern to fascination and then to a kind of delighted envy.
“Why, what a gift!”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I guess it is.”
“It’s like you get to live two lives.”
“I love you for not freaking out over this.”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Just a couple of shrinks a long time ago. They were not very understanding. They couldn’t believe that there was nothing else wrong with me.”
“Have you written any of this down?”
“Some notes, some sketches. A few filled-out episodes.”
“I’d love to read them. I’m–” It was my turn to stop her from talking. We didn’t say much that was coherent for some time.
My visions began to fade from that day on. I could still evoke them, but with increasing difficulty. And they would come on their own only with powerful stimulation. I had one of my last really vivid ones at an organ concert. The performer was playing a piece by Benjamin Cosyn, full of runs and ornaments. Suddenly I saw Toby, an old man, huddled in a pew of the Charterhouse chapel. It turns out that Cosyn was organist at the Charterhouse from 1626 to 1643.
The beginning of this novel may be found in the archives under October 2010; scroll down to find chapter one.
37. Devouring Time
Although my problems loomed large to me at the time, Toby’s helped put them in perspective. I was not threatened with starvation, plague, or bombardment, and I wasn’t responsible for a wife and child. I might end up in cement waders at the bottom of Baltimore harbor, but at least the law was theoretically on my side, and I could hope for the best. I knew from the history books what was going to happen in Breda, and I watched with concern to see how Toby would survive the siege.
I could see Toby and the others anxiously waiting for Prince Maurice to attack the besieging Spanish under General Spinola, but the books tell me that because of bad luck with weather and other problems, Maurice could neither drive off the Spanish nor get significant relief supplies to the town. As his health declined, Maurice broke camp and retreated. The Dutch had in the past used the force of water to their advantage, and at one point caused the river to flood into the Spanish camp. But a dam that would have not only have given trouble to the Spanish, but would have enabled supply boats to reach Breda, could never be completed because of bad weather and because Spinola had engineers who could manipulate sluices and wash out the dam at crucial moments. Although bad weather in the shape of sudden storms defeated Dutch enterprises, the winter was unusually mild, which was more to the advantage of the Spanish than the Dutch.
Cannon fire was exchanged on both sides, but despite the advantage of the new cannon and mortars, the Spanish bombardment was relatively restrained, especially when one recalls that Maurice fired a total of 29,000 shots from fifty cannon into Steenwijk in forty-four days. And when Spinola was besieging Bergen op Zoom, despite bombardment from a hundred cannon and aggressive assaults on the defensive outworks, he lost nine thousand men in casualties and desertions, and still did not win the city. It became clear that his strategy for Breda was different: it was to prevent supplies and relief from getting in, and to starve the town out. In January, rationing became necessary, and the magistrates and military in Breda began searching all the houses in the town.
Toby and other soldiers stood on the outermost fortifications cheerfully shouting insults at the Spanish. They had just had news that the town of Goch, south of Cleves, had been taken by the Dutch. “Better pack and go to Goch,” was the most popular cry.
An army raised by the German mercenary Ernst von Mansfeld was supposed to relieve Breda. When Toby saw Spinola’s forces digging a series of defensive trenches outside those used in the siege, he took that as a sign that Mansfeld was on the way, and the garrison rejoiced. But Mansfeld’s army, drastically weakened by disease and desertion, also failed to bring relief.
While they were waiting on Mansfeld, the inhabitants of Breda became more and more a prey to disease. There was talk of both scurvy and plague. Toby watched his family with growing anxiety. Returning to his shack against the wall one night, Toby kissed Mary, and then sniffed at her lips. He kissed Elizabeth and said, “Let me smell your breath.” Satisfied, he gave them each a bit of tobacco leaf to chew. Elizabeth made a face and spat it out. Toby caught it and said, “Nay, mouse, you must chew on this bit and swallow the juice. Twill prevent the scurvy.”
Elizabeth protested. Mary said, “I would we had a bit of honey to sweeten it for her.”
“Mix it with the sauerkraut,” said Toby. “Tis not sweet, but tis strong.” Mary scooped some kraut from a crock and mixed the tobacco in it. Elizabeth managed to get it down. I’m sure that the kraut was more effective against scurvy than the tobacco, but even the tobacco may have had some vitamin C. (The citrus remedy for scurvy was not discovered until the eighteenth century.)
“Oil is now a crown a quart,” said Mary, “and dried peas ten crowns the measure.”
“Buy what you need,” said Toby; “I have yet more dead pays.”
I have said that the winter was unusually temperate. But March was bitterly cold. The month began with a celebration of the anniversary of the taking of Breda on March 4, 1590, by means of the Trojan horse peat boat. Toby and Balfour directed the firing of artillery in their section of the fortifications. There were to be three volleys fired by all weapons, cannons and muskets, on a given signal on the trumpet.
“We have store of cannon balls,” said Toby, “would they were cheeses.”
“Aye,” said Balfour, “therefore let them be charged. Our volley should not be for ceremony only.” But I had already seen them fire at the thick earth fortifications that dotted the Spanish trenches, and expected no great results.
“Ready muskets,” shouted Toby. “Fire after the trumpet sounds.” When the gunners and musketeers were ready, the ancient waved the colors of the company. Other companies also showed their colors around the walls. Finally the trumpet sounded, and a rolling volley of booms and cracks shook the air. As the smoke rose, the gun crews and musketeers hurriedly reloaded. The flags waved, the trumpet sounded, and the volley was repeated, and repeated a third time. The soldiers then cheered defiantly, and were answered by mocking cries and shots from the besiegers. The soldiers shouted back. The garrison’s voices were loud, but there was desperation in their faces.
The next day, March 5, 1626, King James died in England; the news would not reach the English in Breda for some time.
Elizabeth’s crying woke Toby and Mary in the dark shack. Their breaths made steam as Toby lit a rush lamp and Mary stooped over Elizabeth’s bed.
“I’m cold,” she said weakly.
“Toby, the fire’s out.” Toby scrabbled in the woodbox as Mary scooped up the child. “Lord, how she trembles. Tis an ague.”
“I’m very cold.”
“Here, come under the featherbeds with me.” Mary wrapped up Elizabeth and took her into the large bed.
Toby stepped into his boots and threw on his cloak. “I must fetch more kindling.” He pushed on the door, which resisted. “Snow is blocking the door. It must be deep.” He turned to Mary, who huddled around the shivering lump that was Elizabeth. “Twill take me half an hour to get the kindling now. Is she no warmer?”
“I’m cold,” was the muffled whine.
Toby got back in the bed, throwing his cloak over them all. He looked anxiously at Mary.
“I’m very warm,” she said, “but Bet is sick. We must have a fire.” Toby got up again and lit a small scrap of wood in the fireplace. It burned up without getting the fire going. He looked around desperately. Then he went to a dark corner from which came a sound of wood splintering. He turned back to the fireplace with a handful of thin wood, some of which had a varnished surface. Soon the fire leaped up, and he fed more wood into the fire, one piece of which I recognized as the neck and fingerboard of a viola da gamba.
Later, in front of a blazing fire, Toby and Mary hovered over Elizabeth, who lay flushed and twitching, the whites of her eyes just visible below her eyelids. Both were praying, Mary crossing herself frequently. From time to time Mary tried to get the child to drink a sip of water, but she was not conscious. A cannon rumbled in the distance, followed by shouts and musket fire. Elizabeth’s breathing became more labored, and she soon experienced a series of convulsions that I could not bear to watch. Watching Mary and Toby was almost as bad, for their pain was searing. Finally, the child gasped and lay still. Sobbing, Mary felt for a pulse, then put her head down on the child’s chest and wept with growling cries that seemed to rip out her bowels. Toby held a small, limp hand and stared vacantly into the fire.
Another day, much warmer. There was no fire, and the door of the shack was open. Mary lay on the bed, her arm over her eyes. Toby entered.
“There is news. Prince Maurice is dead.” Mary gave no response. Toby sat on the bed. “Tis said that his last words were to ask about Breda. Well, here we stand yet, but for how much longer, I cannot tell.” He paused. “Are you not well, sweeting?”
Toby took her hand and lifted her arm from her face. It was flushed. “Let me smell your breath.” He bent and kissed her. “How do you ail?”
“I’m weary and weak, and my head aches.”
Toby felt her forehead with the back of his hand. “You feel feverish.” He touched her gently in the armpits; she winced, and Toby frowned. “I must fetch the physician.”
“Nay, I shall be right after a while.”
“No, my dear, indulge my fancy.”
Toby and a serious, graybearded man in black stood outside the shack. He was telling Toby in German that it was likely that Mary had the plague. Toby must administer to Mary a dose of sack mixed with oil and gunpowder three times a day, but he himself should touch her as little as possible; she should turn her face away when speaking to him or coughing; he should wash his hands with rose vinegar every time he leaves her room, then smoke a pipe of tobacco and drink a pint of strong beer, if he could find any of those items. Toby asked with great urgency what else might be done to save her. The doctor said to pray.
Toby sat watching Mary by candlelight. She tossed and muttered in delirium. There were large purplish blotches on her arms and face, and her hands and fingers were swollen. Toby prayed.
Daylight. Toby approached the shack with a pair of bottles. He recoiled slightly as he opened the door, for the stench was very strong. I gagged and held my nose. In the light of the doorway I could see Mary, her hands now a greenish black, with more blotches on any visible skin. She breathed shallowly, and coughed. Her eyes were open, but showed no recognition.
“Here’s medicine, my love,” he said, as he began mixing the wine, oil, and gunpowder. “Would it were more pleasant to the taste.”
Mary’s eyes clicked into focus. “Go,” she whispered hoarsely. “Go.” She closed her eyes.
“Nay, twill taste bad but for a moment.” He approached her with a cup. She gave a rattling sigh and lay still. He raised her head and held the cup to her lips. Some of the liquid spilled on her cheek. Gently he lowered her head and set down the cup. He sat on a bench and put his head in his hands. Fortune had claimed Toby’s hostages, and I wept with him.
Toby watched blankly as a soldier put a torch to his shack. The flames soon covered the roof. The soldier tossed the torch in through the open door, and the bedclothes blazed. A young officer with a snub nose over a brown vandyke took Toby by the arm and led him away, speaking kindly and volubly in Scots. Toby did not look at the man or respond.
Toby leaned over the wall of one of the outer fortifications, still looking sadly abstracted. I had not seen Balfour for some time, and wondered if he had fallen to the plague. The young officer I had seen with Toby after his shack was fired seemed to be in charge, though he came to Toby now and then to report or confirm an order. When this would happen, Toby would only nod passively, sometimes murmuring, “Thank you, Captain Donaldson.” It was a pleasant, clear, warm day, and the only sound was the calls and laughter of the soldiers. There seemed to be some kind of truce, for Dutch soldiers from the Spanish side had come to the foot of the walls and were joking with the soldiers of Breda. One of the besiegers tossed up a ball of cheese, which was eagerly caught; another threw up a twist of tobacco. The one who caught the cheese threw down a bit of bread; the man who caught it mimed exaggerated pleasure and astonishment, and ate it as if he were starving. This got a lot of laughs. Even Toby managed a small grim smile.
“What did they say?” Donaldson asked.
“The Spanish Dutchman called ter Hooch cousin, and said he should offer ten Hail Marys for the cheese. Ter Hooch said, no, he would do better and give him Our Lord’s great toe, transubstantiated.”
“Flat blasphemy,” Donaldson said, not seriously.
The joking dialog continued. Then one of the men below caught Toby’s eye and gestured that they should move down the wall away from the others. Like the other men below, he wore a red scarf on his arm–there were no real uniforms on either side. When they were out of earshot, he called up in English, “Give me the end of a pike and help me up. I have news.” Toby grabbed a pike and held it while the other scrambled up the sloping wall. I realized then that Toby still had some physical strength, though he was nearly sixty.
“Who are you?” Toby asked. “Do you come from the king of Sweden?”
“Sweden? Why no. My name is Henderson, and I come from Prince Henry, brother to the late Prince Maurice. I must speak to the governor.” He took off his red scarf.
“Nothing from the king of Sweden about my instruments of war?”
“No.” He turned to Donaldson, who had just approached. “Good sir, be pleased to take me to governor Justinian.”
“Please come with me,” Donaldson said. When Toby turned to replace the pike, Donaldson glanced at Toby and tapped his forehead. Henderson gave a brief nod. The three set off toward the main town, across small bridges and through the gates of the outer fortifications.
“What is the news from Parno?” Toby asked.
“Why, tis still the Swedes’,” Henderson said. “And how is’t with you in Breda?”
“Ill, ill,” Toby said, his voice growing angrier as he spoke. “We make love to the enemy for cheese.” His face cleared and he turned to Henderson. “You say you come from Prince Henry? Does he come to succor us?”
Henderson smiled. “That is the message I deliver to your governor.”
“Praise God,” Toby said fiercely. “Now we can fight!”
Henderson said, “You should be able to see our army from the top of your church steeple. Look toward Dongen.”
“I shall be first up,” Donaldson said, “after I conduct you to the governor.”
Somewhat later, Toby and Donaldson were listening to the besiegers shouting to the defenders, mocking them and saying that their rescuers had arrived. From various hints, they gathered that an attack on the besiegers had been attempted but was repelled at some cost to the attackers. This was confirmed in a later scene in which Toby, Donaldson, and other officers were read a message from Prince Henry describing how a large force of Englishmen under Colonel Sir Francis Vere tried to penetrate the Spanish lines near Terheijden. They captured some fortifications, but were driven off by the Italian troops in that sector, and many of Vere’s forces were killed by artillery as they clustered on a narrow causeway that was the only approach. Although the prince promised to take advantage of any opportunity to relieve them, he did not see how he could force his way through the enemy’s defenses, and he advised the governor not to risk all by obstinately holding out. He asked that they acknowledge receipt of the message by shooting three cannons around midnight, and an hour later showing as many lights from the steeple as they had days of provisions. That night they hung eleven lanterns in the steeple.
Toby paced the walls restlessly, muttering to himself. Donaldson watched him apprehensively. The day was quiet, except for a loud argument being pursued by one of the defenders and some laughter from the Spanish trenches. Toby stopped and beckoned to Donaldson. “Captain Donaldson. Call the company together.” Donaldson hesitated, and Toby impatiently shouted “Men! Muskets and pikes! Fall in!”
Puzzled men stood and looked at Donaldson, who gestured that they should assemble. About sixty men gathered their weapons and stood in a rough square.
Toby grabbed a pike and struck a pose. “Prince Henry waits to rescue us, but we need to show some mettle. We must make a sally against these Polonians.” He pointed over the wall. “We shall capture that redoubt.”
“But sir,” Donaldson broke in, “we may not do so without orders.”
“I am giving the orders, Captain.” Donaldson gestured frantically, but Toby went on. “God’s shoebuckles, men! We rust here, our powder grows stale and musty. Would you not, men, rather die in a resolute action than pine away on stale crusts?” No one answered, but all looked at Donaldson. I thought I saw in Toby some of the gesture, the air, of Captain Hall–and of his portrayal of Basilisco. Toby did not hesitate, but shook his pike and shouted, “Follow me!” He slid down the wall and began a limping run toward the Spanish redoubt.
The men stood, their mouths open. Donaldson called out, “Sir!” With a hopeless look, he turned to the troops. “Stay.”
Then he slid down the wall and ran after Toby, who was yelling “England and St. George!” By this time heads were popping up over the Spanish trenches, and a couple of muskets appeared.
Donaldson picked up speed, waving one hand in a desperate calming circle, while knocking on his head with the other. “Don’t fire! No fuego! Nicht schutzen!” He caught up with Toby about a hundred yards from the redoubt. I could see the smoke from the Spanish matches. He grabbed Toby’s arm and spun him around.
“Where are the men, Captain?” Toby was surprised, then quickly angry.
“They did not follow for they did not have the proper orders. Come back, good sir, before we are fired on.”
Toby struggled and cursed, and had almost broken away when a Spanish musket banged and kicked up the dirt two yards from Toby’s feet. Laughter and yells in Dutch and Spanish followed from the trenches. Toby allowed Donaldson to lead him back toward the fortifications, but at a calm, dignified pace. He said nothing as his men helped pull him over the wall.
A warm June day. Through the town gates and across bridges over the ditches between fortifications, drums beating, flags flying, the musketeers’ matches burning at both ends, the garrison of Breda marched out. Toby, erect to the point of affecting a theatrical swagger, marched at the head of his company, with Donaldson close behind. When they crossed the Spanish trenches, the enemy troops were silent. A group of officers, one of whom was Spinola, saluted Toby as he passed.
The great Diego Velásquez painted a picture of a hatless Spinola graciously accepting the key to the city gate from the governor. It is of course marvelously composed, with portraits of the significant officers and nobles attending Spinola, who is backed by an array of erect pikes, while the few on the Dutch side straggle despondently. Spinola’s horse seems to be mooning the Dutch. The painting was of course a political and artistic rendering of the event, not a photograph, though the real scene did have a kind of ceremonial dignity. And odd to say, the Dutch troops–those who could march–made a better show than the conquering Spanish, whose supplies had been irregular, and who had to live in camps instead of a town. Vandyke’s more detailed portrait of Spinola captured his combination of compassion and ruthlessness; today it would be the face of an industrialist who pulls no punches fighting the unions in his shop, while donating to charity hospitals.
The garrison troops swung north toward Getrudenberg. After passing the last of the clusters of enemy soldiers, Toby drooped noticeably. Donaldson fell in beside him and began talking.
“Ah, colonel, think on’t: fresh eggs! Good beer! A savory joint of pork! You shall come with me to the best ordinary in Getrudenberg, and we shall feast.”
“Feast our victory?” Toby asked wryly.
“Feast our resolve, our endurance.” Toby didn’t respond, but slogged on. Donaldson continued. “What shall you demand first when you return to England? A fresh Dover sole with leeks? A good cup of Southwark ale?”
“England?” Toby turned to Donaldson with weary surprise. “I stay here to serve Prince Henry. I will show him my instruments of war, and we shall defeat these Polonians.”
“Oh, no, sir, England’s the only place for us. The new King Charles will need the services of an old soldier like you.” He hesitated. “What friends do you have in England?”
Toby’s face clouded. “None. They are all dead.”
“Did I not hear you say once that you knew the Earl of Pembroke?”
“The Earl of Pembroke! Yes, I know the good earl, and count him a friend. Yes, yes. Thank you for putting me in mind of the Earl of Pembroke.”
“Good. Then we will wait on the Earl of Pembroke when we return to England.”
I thought about these episodes in Toby’s life a lot as I considered my own situation. I found it difficult to work on my book when the images of “G.Q.” and “Graveyard” would come unbidden into my consciousness. I thought of Toby’s terrible losses and the erosion of his mental health, and cursed my weakness. If he could stand so much, why can’t I bear my relatively small burden? Well, my burden is mine, and I have to deal with it the best I can. Then I thought of Toby’s mad, brave charge on the Spanish trenches. He at least took some action, tried to gain some control over his life.
I called Perry in Dallas for news–something I hadn’t done for a while. It was in the evening, so I called him at home; he’d be able to speak more freely there, anyway.
“Tony! How’s your wound?”
“I’m in good shape now. What news with you?”
“I’m moving to California.”
“No kidding? Finally get enough of Cullen?”
Perry snorted. “Haven’t you heard? Cullen is in Chapter Eleven, and the pension fund is gone. Howell, the bastard, cleaned it out.”
“No! The shit.”
“Of course he’s not hurting. He got his salary and bonuses, and the rumor is that he is on the short list for CEO of Intersoft.”
I got more details, but I still didn’t understand the whole picture. How could Howell screw up the company he just bought and then be considered for a job at a big outfit like Intersoft? Rage mixed with curiosity. Maybe it was time to grab my pike and charge the trenches. I called Agent Schirmer and asked for an appointment.
We met at the suburban house where I identified Scarlatti and his goons. Schirmer was his usual contained self. We sat in the living room on opposite sofas.
“Do you have something else to tell me, Mr. Maclean?”
“I guess you know that Cullen is in Chapter Eleven and that the pension fund was looted.”
“Yes. Of course companies can legally appropriate pension funds under certain conditions.”
“It may be legal, but it’s wrong. But that’s not what I wanted. I’m finding it difficult to just sit around doing nothing, waiting for something to happen, waiting for Scarlatti and his boys to do something nasty.”
“We all have to be patient. We’re doing what we can.” His voice dropped from neutral to distinctly chilly.
I stumbled on. “I guess what I’m saying is I’d like to be more involved. I’d like to help more actively.”
“You’ve been very helpful.” The touch of condescension irritated me.
“If it would help more, I’d be willing to wear a wire, have my phone tapped, my apartment bugged–whatever. I’d even seek out a meeting with Scarlatti if you could back me up.”
He wasn’t expecting this offer. I’m not sure I was either, but the words came out. I realized my palms were sweaty, but the image of Mel’s gun–or Abner’s shots–did not arise. I had had six therapy sessions with Dr. Levin, and they seemed to be working. Schirmer didn’t reply immediately. He looked to the left and scratched his clean-shaven chin. Finally he said, “That’s an intersting idea. Let me think about it and give you a call.”
“OK. I’ll be home, unless I get taken for a ride.”
Schirmer called that afternoon. “I think we’ll try the phone tap. Come by the safe house as soon as you can and sign a consent form.”
“Sure. I can come in an hour. Anything else?”
“I don’t think you could get to Scarlatti with a wire. But if you’re willing, we might let you try talking to Drew.”
“Fine.” I was relieved. It could be unpleasant, but not dangerous. “What should I ask him?”
“Don’t ask him anything. Provoke him and see what he says. Tell him you are the source of the file.”
“He must know that.”
“We’d like to confirm that.”
I was to come to the house the next morning, sign the phone tap form, then try to get Howell on the phone in Dallas. When I got to the house, Schirmer gave me a little tape recorder with a connection for the phone. “A full tap takes a while to set up, and I don’t think it will be necessary. All you have to do is turn this on here”–he showed me the switch–“whenever you make or receive a call. Of course it won’t have the beep that indicates a recording is being made.”
“Should I record every call I make?”
“Yes. That way we’ll have a continuous tape which we can match to phone records. Then we can protect ourselves against defense charges of selective or distorted recording. You notice that the tape compartment is locked. Don’t worry–it’s a very long tape.”
When I got home, I connected the recorder and called the time service to be sure it was working right. Then I discovered there was no rewind. Oh well, here goes.
“Cullen Computer Services.” I didn’t recognize the voice–it wasn’t Juliette, the switchboard operator from my time.
“Anthony Maclean to speak to Mr. Drew.”
“One moment please.”
Another unfamiliar female voice came on. “This is Mr. Drew’s secretary. Could you please tell me the purpose of your call?”
“Tell him Tony Maclean has some information about a file relating to Mr. Tedesco.”
“Please hold.” A sugary string arrangement of “Tomorrow” came on the line. Eventually the secretary returned. “Mr. Maclean. Mr. Drew says that he has nothing to say to you, and requests that you not attempt to contact him again. Thank you and goodbye.” The last sentence was spoken with an incongrous chirp.
I struck out.
I called Schirmer. He was out, so I called his beeper. He called back in a few minutes. Though it seemed silly now, I recorded all these calls. When I told him of my failure, he didn’t sound surprised or disappointed. “Just keep the recorder going for now and see what happens. I’ll get back to you if we confirm plan B.”
“What is plan B?”
“I’ll let you know.”
I tried to do some work, but was still pretty distracted. I had just gotten into an In Nomine by Tye when the phone rang. I flipped on the switch.
“Maclean?” A little New York, a little gravel. Scarlatti.
“Can you talk for a minute without passing out?” This was said with an attempt at friendly banter, not sarcasm.
“I think so.”
“Good. You might ‘ve got the wrong impression the other night. Mel’s a bit theatrical–seen too many movies. I need to talk to you some more. Maybe I give you some information, you give me some. Maybe what I tell you helps you unnerstand what I’m after. Whattaya think?”
“I’ll meet you somewhere safe and public–say the Crab House near the pier. I’ll come alone, you come alone. I’ll buy you a good dinner. Whattaya say?”
“You’ll be alone. At the Crab House.”
“Seven, tomorrow night.”
“OK, I’ll be there. But I was telling you the truth the first time–I really don’t know anything about those companies.”
“OK, OK. But like I say, I tell you something, maybe you’ll think of something.” He hung up.
I called Schirmer and told him of the conversation and that I had agreed to meet Scarlatti.
“Interesting that he called after you attempted to talk to Drew. Well, here goes plan B,” he said. “Come by the house tomorrow and get your wire.”
“Will you be nearby when I meet him?”
“Sure. But he wouldn’t try anything in a public place. Don’t worry. I just have my doubts that he’ll say anything useful.”
The next evening I arrived at the Crab House at five minutes before seven, and chose a booth that was visible from several points in the room, but was out of the flow of traffic and might be conducive to conversation. I squirmed in the booth until I got used to the wire and the pull of tape on various parts of my body. I delayed ordering for a while, but about ten after, I asked the impatiently attentive waiter for a bowl of chowder and a beer. About twenty minutes later I went to the counter for a look around the place, and bought a copy of the Sun. I lingered over coffee and pretended to read the paper until eight. Finally, I muttered to my armpit, “He’s not coming. I’m leaving.”
I got in my car with a mixture of relief and anxiety. To my unseen audience I said, “I’m going to stop by a friend’s house, if that’s OK.” I needed to see Clio. I shouldn’t have wanted to burden her with this scary business, but I think I had an immature impulse to show off my wire, spice up our relationship with a little mystery and bravado. And that might lead–and on into fantasyland.
Clio seemed pleased to see me, though I had always called for permission before visiting her before.
“This is a good time. I was just cleaning up. It’s a boring job, and some conversation would help. What have you been up to? I haven’t heard from you in a few days.”
“Oh, this and that.” Good sense was starting to kick in. “What are you working on now?”
Just as she started to answer, the lights went out. “Damn!” she said. “Wait a minute.” She found a flashlight, and went to a drawer and pulled out some candles and matches. She lit one, handed it to me, and lit two more, putting them in the candlesticks on her dining table. I wandered away, looking for a place to stick mine. “Stay away from the studio,” she said, “I’ve got several cans of paint thinner open over there.”
Someone knocked on the door. Clio went and checked the peephole. “I can’t see–It looks like some guy holding up a badge.”
“I think I know him; it’s OK.”
Clio opened the door. But instead of Schirmer checking up on me, there was Scarlatti and Mel, who pushed by Clio and closed the door. Mel grinned and drew his enormous gun.
The beginning of this novel may be found in the archives under October 2010; scroll down to find chapter one.
36. For Such a Time do I Now Fortify
Jean opened the door of the hotel room and waved me in. She looked good, though tired and nervous, patting her hair and looking everywhere but at me. She was wearing a soft, light blue wraparound dress. We sat in easy chairs in one corner of the large room. She was silent for an awkward period, looking down and picking an invisible thread off her dress.
“How are you?” I asked, trying to sound neutral.
“I guess the cello got back safely.”
“Oh. Yes.” More silence.
“I’m grateful, but I just couldn’t keep it.”
“OK. I understand.”
“What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I came. I know you don’t want to get together again–you sent the cello back.” She was speaking more rapidly.
“I guess I should have called or written.”
She went on as if I had not spoken. “I–I’m in such a mess with Howell and the company. I don’t know–I guess I thought you might know something that would help. I’m sorry I bothered you.” She stood up.
“No, wait. Tell me what the trouble is. I probably can’t help, but I might.”
After some hesitation and a few false starts, Jean spun out a complicated story about how Howell had verbally agreed on one price for Jean’s stock during the buyout, but then claimed another price. There were conflicting documents, and Jean had neglected to keep some of the crucial ones, trusting Howell during their affair. Howell was now stonewalling, his lawyers putting out lots of fog. She was not broke, but some of her assets were frozen, and the delay in resolving the conflict had resulted in trouble with the IRS. The tangle with lawyers and accountants was threatening her already fragile peace of mind.
“Nothing occurs to me right now, but let me think about it and make a few calls,” I said.
“Thank you, Tony. You don’t have to do this.”
“I don’t mind giving it a try.” I stood up to leave. Jean came close and put her hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t hurry. I want to hear about you.”
“I’m fine. I’m working on a book on music. I think I’ll be all right.” As I spoke, she put her other hand behind my neck and moved closer, embracing me. She felt good. Memories of how good she could feel came flooding back. She smelled subtly of that soap she always used.
“California’s nice,” she murmured. “Couldn’t you come try it for a while? I have a friend who could get you a good job.”
“I don’t think so.” I put my hands on her waist to ease her away.
“Or I bet that hippie guy who did games would give you a job.”
“Probably. But I–” She yielded to my gentle push and stepped back. She reached for a snap at her waist and the dress came off in one smooth movement. She was wearing nothing else.
“I’ve missed you, Tony. Don’t go.”
God, was I tempted. I hadn’t had sex since our last, distant, half-hearted attempt, months ago–years, it seemed. I recalled that evening, realizing now that she must have been sleeping with Howell then–her weary sigh, her “Oh, all right,” her passiveness, coldness.
I had been acted upon, by any number of events and people, for a long time. It was not my choice to be a computer salesman, a cuckold, a gunshot victim. I may have contributed to those situations by going along with them. But when I left Dallas, things changed. I liked where I was, and I didn’t want to go back. I thought of Clio, of possibility, of hope, of music. I looked at the familiar but still exciting body before me, and said, as kindly as I could, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll still make those calls, and call you tomorrow.” I left before she could say or do anything, but I thought I heard her start to cry as I closed the door.
I called Callie, who knew a little more about the details, but admitted that she couldn’t sort it out. She confirmed that Jean needed help. I didn’t tell her of Jean’s offer. “We don’t expect you to be St. George, hoss,” she said, “but if you can do anythang to get her tit out of the wringer, you’ll rack up a lot of good karma.”
“Karma? Are you getting Californiaized?”
“Must be,” she chuckled.
“Can you give me any hints of what to do?”
“Not really.” She paused. I could imagine her scratching in some unladylike place. “One thang, though. It seems to me that Howell needs more money than he should. The buyout should have fixed him up good, even while it left most of you other peons out. And that’s strange since all the stories about the buyout remarked on how little money was raised for the leveraging through junk bonds.”
I next called J. C. Atwell, the investment banker Cullen used when it went public. “I thought the size of the lever was a bit small myself,” he said. “Ross Johnson, when he tried to buy out RJR Nabisco, was reported to have said, ‘Never use your own money.’ Maybe Howell didn’t follow that advice, and is having to pay up for something else.”
“What, for instance?”
“I have no idea.”
I made a few other calls, but didn’t get anywhere. Maybe it had something to do with Tedesco. Then I remembered the file Howell had named “wopkraut.” I hadn’t thought about it in some time. I went to my little cassette player and popped open the battery compartment. The two sheets were still there. The list of names and numbers made no more sense to me than they did when I first printed them out.
I looked at my desk, where the pile of paper for the manuscript of my book was slowly accumulating. I had spent most of a day fretting with Jean’s problem, and had done no work. Maybe if I sent this to Jean her lawyers or accountants could make something of it. Maybe she could use it to pressure Howell into a settlement. At least, maybe the gesture would help salve my lingering regrets and guilt about Jean. Less charitably, I thought, maybe it would get Howell in trouble. I had to go to the copy store anyway to copy a chapter draft for Doreen’s criticism. I took the list along and copied it. I called Jean.
“Tony. I’m sorry. I’m–embarrassed.”
“Forget it. Please.”
“OK,” in a very small voice.
“I’m sending you something. I don’t know if it is worth anything, but you might show it to your lawyer. And if he shows it to Howell and pretends he knows what it’s about, maybe that will move him to settle with you.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, really.” Then I told Jean how I found it and explained the connection to Tedesco. “I’ll leave it at the hotel desk.”
“Thanks, Tony. I–I guess I’ll go back tomorrow.”
“Have a good flight.”
I dropped off the list and put it out of my mind. I was soon back into the In Nomine of Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger. That night I went to Clio’s to play quartets.
We were in the middle of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Opus 59, number two, when a truck backfired, four or five bangs in rapid succession. Suddenly I was in my old office huddled under my desk, hearing the clicks of Abner’s gun, feeling the warm lump in the metal under my shoulder, seeing the grooves in the floor, smelling the gunpowder and my fearful sweat, feeling the kick of the bullet as it hit my leg. I jumped, of course, kicking over my music stand and flinging my bow across the room. Fortunately, no harm came to Clio’s cello or the instruments of the other players. I had been using my own old bow, thank goodness, for the tip split neatly when it hit the wall. I had not had such a strong reaction in some time. Everyone was concerned, and I was terribly embarrassed. They all knew my story and knew the cause of my exaggerated startle response.
Marina was silent while the others clucked sympathetically, and then said, “Tony, I think you should see one of my colleagues at the medical school.”
“A shrink?” I distrusted shrinks.
“Not really. A psychologist. She’s been studying post-traumatic stress disorder, and gave a very interesting talk on a therapy developed by a California woman.”
“California? Does it involve incense or crystals?”
“No. It’s odd, but it seems to work more often than not,” she said.
I later guessed that I was being negative because I feared that my visions might come up. “I couldn’t afford it.”
Marina persisted. “You’d probably qualify as an experimental subject. It would be free. What have you got to lose?”
The others chimed in supporting Marina. Clio said, “Try it Tony. I don’t want you throwing my cello around if I happen to pop some corn.”
That did it. I agreed to let Marina talk to the researcher and set up an appointment.
A week later, two days before my appointment with Dr. Levin, the researcher, I was banging away at the computer when I heard the stairs up to my apartment creak. I was at the door before my visitor could knock. He was a serious, square-faced young man in coat and tie. I was in my usual summer uniform of shorts, t-shirt, and sandals.
“Mr. Anthony Maclean?”
“I’m agent Schirmer, FBI.” He held up an identification wallet and gave me plenty of time to read it. “Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“What about?” I smiled, trying not to look suspicious or guilty. Why should I feel that I might?
“They are in regard to Cullen Computing. May I come in?”
“Sure.” I opened the door and waved him in. “Sorry it’s so hot. Want to take off your jacket?”
“No thanks.” He looked around at my clutter. I moved some papers from a chair and invited him to sit.
“Want some ice water?” He was not sweating.
“No thanks.” He pulled two sheets of paper from his pocket and showed them to me. “Do you recognize this?” It was the wopkraut file.
“Yes, but I don’t know what it’s about.”
“Did a copy of this come into your possession?”
“Yes.” I explained as best I could how I found the file and why I had sent it to Jean. I didn’t offer the vague speculations suggested to me by Callie and Atwell. Agent Schirmer made a few notes as I spoke. When I finished, he looked at his notebook in silence for a moment.
“Are you convinced that Mr. Drew entered this file in the Cullen computer?”
“And you believe that Mr. Drew was referring to Mr. Tedesco when he named the file?” He didn’t say “wopkraut,” nor did thinking of it make him smile.
He put away his notebook and stood. “Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Maclean. If you think of anything to add, give me a call.” He handed me a business card. “I’ll be going now.”
“Just a minute. Could you tell me anything about what you know? Do you know what the file means? Do you suspect anyone of a crime?” I paused long enough after each question to give him time to answer, but he said nothing and his face was expressionless.
Finally he said, “I am not at liberty to discuss this matter further. Sorry.” He started for the door. “Thank you again for your cooperation.”
I called Jean in California. “What happened to that file I sent you?”
“I did what you said, and gave it to my lawyer. It must have worked, for Howell himself called, sweet as honey, apologized for the crudeness of his lawyers, claimed he had been too busy to supervise them. He said he was sure we could work something out very quickly, and that he would accept any reasonable proposal from me. I wish he’d said that months ago.”
“What did he say about the file, the list?”
Jean gave what almost sounded like a chuckle. “He minimized it, of course, said it was only a list of prospective possibilities for some deal or other. He said it was nothing, but could be embarrassing if it got around. I’ll bet. He couldn’t keep the nervousness out of his voice.”
“Did your lawyer show the list to anyone else?”
“I think he did,” she said. “He said he knew someone who worked for the government who might know what it was about.” I didn’t say anything about my visitor.
Jean and I ended out conversation on a pleasant note. I think we were beginning to get around some of the unfinished business between us, even though one couldn’t call it resolution.
The next day I was walking back to my apartment from the neighborhood store carrying a package of English muffins, when a large black Lincoln with three men in it pulled up beside me. The two men in front were wearing dark suits and shades, but the man in back was more casually dressed. His window oozed down and he called me by name. He flashed a badge and ID very quickly and asked me to get in the car. I looked at him, a well-groomed man of about forty-five in a black t-shirt and a gray silk jacket; he smiled pleasantly. “This won’t take long.”
I got in the car, which moved off smoothly but quickly. “I didn’t catch your name,” I said.
“It’s not important. I just want to ask you a few questions. To help with our investigation.” I thought I saw the driver, in the rear-view mirror, smile at his last word. The man beside me had polished nails and a large gold ring. His voice tanged of New York.
“What do you want to know?”
“You used to work for Cullen in Dallas, right?”
“That’s where you got this, right?” He pulled out another copy of the wopkraut file. Everybody seemed to have one.
“What do you know about it?” He looked serious. The driver glanced at us in the mirror.
“Almost nothing. Mr. Drew entered the file, and named it with a reference to Mr. Tedesco.”
“Very politically incorrect name, don’t you think?” He and the driver smiled slightly.
“I suppose so.” I went on. “I don’t know anything about any of the items on the list.”
“But you thought you might use it to get Drew or Tedesco in trouble, right?”
“Not really.” I was beginning to feel uneasy, and groped a bit. “At first it was just a game, a bit of hacking. Howell and Tedesco were being so mysterious that they aroused my curiosity. Then when I found the file I printed it out–as a kind of insurance, I guess.”
He frowned and looked at the list. “But Albert Salvaggio means nothing to you, right?”
“Or Old Town Imports?”
“Never heard of them,” I said. I noticed that we were in a part of town that was unfamiliar to me.
He pointed to another name on the list. “How about CCC Conversions?”
He put the list back in his jacket pocket with an impatient gesture. “Do you have memory problems, Maclean? Did getting shot back in Dallas give you amnesia?”
“No. How–” Just then the man beside the driver, who had not moved or spoken, turned and put a huge automatic pistol in my face.
“Easy, Mel,” said the man beside me. “Mel seems to think another dose might refresh your memory, right?”
“Fuckin’ right,” said Mel. He clicked back the hammer of the gun and shoved the barrel under my nose. I could smell the oil and burnt gunpowder, and suddenly went cold all over.
Then there really was a gap in my memory, because the next thing I knew, I was lying on a hard, smelly surface, hearing someone say “These his muffins?”
“Fuckin’ wuss. Keep ‘em.” Then a door slammed and the car drove off. I opened my eyes on a patch of sidewalk in a deserted street. I checked myself and found nothing bleeding or broken, but my joints felt watery. It took me a while to get home.
I had a vivid scene from Toby’s life that night. Toby and Balfour were walking on the walls of Breda, looking out on a low, flat landscape crossed with lines of trenches and fortifications of the besieging Spanish army.
“Spinola has studied Prince Maurice well,” said Balfour, “tis siegeworks that the prince could not help but admire.”
“At Bergen op Zoom he could not get close enough to mine the walls. We’ll pepper him here if he tries,” said Toby, fiercely, but with some desperation. “And if they should breach the walls, we’ll have my Devil’s Organ ready for them.”
Balfour looked skeptical. “Aye, if the new brake hold, and the last shots go not straight up to the clouds.” A puff of smoke appeared from one of the guns beyond the first line of trenches, followed by a boom that made Toby wince, and a thud as a cannonball struck the stone wall of a building in the town. “What we truly need,” said Balfour, “are guns with the reach of Spinola’s.”
“Aye. Or better still, relief from Prince Maurice.”
Cheering from a distance turned Toby’s attention to another part of the wall. A coach, drawn by four horses, drove slowly along the top of the wall toward them. As the coach approached, Toby and Balfour joined other soldiers on the wall in cheering and waving their hats. Inside the coach, a rosy-cheeked matron in a white cap and ruff waved back. From beyond the walls another, deeper boom was followed by a loud crash as an enormous hole appeared in the tile roof of a house nearby. The coachman steadied his shying horses, and the coach continued its circuit of the walls.
“Another bomboe from the new mortars,” Balfour said, frowning.
“Damn them,” Toby panted.
“But bless the Drossard’s wife for her show of courage.”
I was still shaky at the time of my appointment the next day. I had slept, but had such a vivid nightmare of Abner Cross shooting through my office door, that when I woke, I was afraid to go back to sleep.
Dr. Levin was a comforting presence, a plump, graying woman with a lively face and a soothing voice. She wore a suit instead of a white coat. She listened with sympathy to my story, and was especially concerned about my encounter with the manicured man and Mel.
“You have been strongly resensitized, which may be a problem. Have you reported this to the police?”
“No, not yet. They didn’t really hurt me.”
“But they did. And one of them seemed to be impersonating a policeman. You need to assert some control, and reporting the incident might help.”
“OK,” I said, thinking of agent Schirmer, “I’ll report it.”
She then began explaining the therapy. “We don’t know for sure why it works, what the details of the mechanism are. We know that when you process an ordinary memory, you integrate information from the senses into a story, a narrative. Details lose their intensity. That’s the difference between experiencing an event and remembering an event, the loss of immediacy. But a trauma seems to interrupt this process. You don’t just remember the event, you relive it.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve felt that. But I’ve had nightmares about the first incident that are full of images that I didn’t really see. I never saw him, before or after he shot me. But I knew he was wearing his hunting outfit, camouflage clothes and an orange hat. Those details seem very important.”
Dr. Levin nodded and made some notes. “That’s very interesting. But you do have vivid recollections of the details you did see?”
“Yes. And heard and smelled.”
“Smell, yes, that’s an important feature of trauma recollections.” She tapped her pencil and looked away. “Do you feel you have an unusually strong visual imagination?”
I became hyperalert. This could get close to my visions. “That’s possible,” I said, “but if I’ve been this way all my life, I wouldn’t think it unusual, would I?”
“Perhaps, if you never discussed things you imagine with other less imaginative people.”
“I don’t make things up,” I said.
“No, of course.” She turned a page. “We may come back to this later. Let me go on to tell you about the exercises that make up the therapy. As I say, we’re not sure about the mechanism, but the therapy may allow the brain to get past the seizing up, the freezing the trauma causes, and go on to process the event as an ordinary memory.” She rolled her chair so that she faced me directly. “Now I want you to visualize your first experience, and describe it to me in as much detail as you can. But as you do so–and this is very important–keep your eyes on my hand.”
“Yes. It sounds like hocus-pocus, but it often works. It will be especially interesting if it works on you. Now watch my hand, and begin from the time your friend saw the man come into the building with his gun.”
I did so. It all came back, sight, sounds, smells, touch. But I watched Dr. Levin’s hand as it moved back and forth, left and right. I stopped at the point at which I passed out.
“Good,” she said. “Now do the same with the events of yesterday. Keep your head still and follow my hand with your eyes.”
Again I got in the car, saw the manicured hands, heard the New York voices, felt and smelled the gun, watching Dr. Levin’s hand.
“Good. Now let’s try a tactile exercise. This time you close your eyes–you can have a blindfold if you have trouble keeping them closed–and brush your hands along this textured board, from left to right and back.” I put on the blindfold and stroked the board as I told my tales.
“One more exercise. This time you don’t talk, but visualize everything as you listen to the sounds over these headphones.”
The headphones produced a pleasant hum that moved stereophonically from left to right and back again. I listened as I relived the shooting and the ride.
“All right,” said the doctor, “that’s it for today. I want to repeat these exercises, along with some talk therapy, for about five more sessions. Any problem with this time Monday, Wednesday, and Friday?”
“That would be fine. Unless the police need me for a lineup or something.”
“Sure. Just let me know. See you Monday, then.” She smiled and shook my hand. I went away feeling a bit less shaky, but not really different.
When I got home, I was curious about whether my visions would be affected. I put myself in a receptive position–on my back on the floor, staring at the ceiling–and tried to trigger a vision. With a mixture of regret and relief, I saw Toby’s aging mug swim into view.
Carrying a loaf of bread and bottle of what appeared to be oil, he entered a low shack built against a section of the inner town wall. Mary sat on the floor with Elizabeth, playing some sort of game with sticks and stones. Toby put the food on a table and sat on a bench, watching the end of the game.
Elizabeth laid a stick between two stones, and cried “I win!” She clapped her hands as Toby and Mary exchanged weary smiles.
“Was our house hit?” asked Mary.
“Not yet. But neighbor Horn’s house was crushed with one of the bomboes. They must weigh an hundred pound. I marvel that any mortar can cast such a ball so far.”
Elizabeth began to pick at the loaf of bread. Mary, as they talked, cut a slice and poured a bit of oil on it, and handed it to the child. “What other news? How stand the provisions?”
“Flesh and fish are gone, and I have heard of cheese, but not seen any.” Toby cut some bread and drizzled oil on it. “Corn we have for some time yet, and rapeseed oil. The hangman, who has been killing dogs for fear of their spreading the sickness, is said to be serving their flesh to the soldiers at a stiver and a half the meal.” Mary ate a piece of bread, and cut another for Elizabeth. “Many of the townsfolk are leaving, though tis said that Spinola will allow no more to pass.” Toby looked at Elizabeth, his eyes drooping. “I would that you would go before he stops all in earnest.”
“I swore I would never leave you again,” said Mary, matter-of-factly dismissing the topic.
“If you left, I could at least hope to see you again. If you starve or die of infection here, you leave me forever, and I could not bear that.”
“We will meet in heaven, I trust, if we must part here.” She looked up determinedly. “At any gate, here I stay.”
Toby sighed. “Well, the more that leave and die, the longer will our provision hold. I keep the pay of my men who die, so if we live, I may be able to pay the rising prices. I saw an egg sell for two stivers today.”
I remembered my promise to report my encounter with Mel and his boss. I called agent Schirmer and told him what happened. He sounded interested.
“I’d like to meet with you and show you some pictures. But someone might be watching your place.”
“Should I come to your office?”
“No, you might be followed,” he said. “Here’s an address near you that’s sort of neutral and unsuspicious.” He gave me the directions. “I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
“Er–am I in any danger?”
“I don’t think so. Just be alert, try to stay where there are other people.”
I wanted to know more about what I was getting into. “Can you tell me anything about who these people are? Are they the mob?”
“I’ll tell you what I can when I can.”
I drove to the address Schirmer had given me, an ordinary middle-class house in a quiet neighborhood. I don’t think I was followed. When I rang the bell, a bald guy whom I’d never seen greeted me like an old friend. “Anthony!” he said with a big smile, pumping my hand, “Good to see you. Come on in.” I entered, and he led me without another word to the dining room, where Schirmer had piled some thick books on the table.
“Thanks for coming, Mr. Maclean,” Schirmer said. The bald man left the room. “Have a seat and tell me if any of these people look familiar.” He took one of the books and opened it before me. I scanned the mug shots as carefully as I could. On the third page I spotted Mel.
“Here’s Mel,” I said.
“Yes. I remember the chin, the jawline, the nose.” Schirmer made a note. I turned pages. In the same book I found the driver. Two books later I spotted the man on the back seat.
“Can you tell me who these guys are?”
“I suppose so,” said Schirmer, looking almost happy. “They are suspected mob figures. Mel is Melvin Hargraves, called ‘Graveyard'; the driver is Gino ‘Buster’ Bustamente; and the other guy is Alex Scarlatti. They call him ‘GQ’ because he likes to be fashionable. He doesn’t have a criminal record. Yet.”
I was not comforted by hearing these names, even though I liked the music of the baroque Scarlatti. “Now do you think I’m in danger?”
“I don’t think so. You didn’t try to lie to them, and they don’t know you’ve talked to me. They probably would have heard if you had gone to the police. They think you’re too scared to be a threat. Just be careful.”
“Are you going to arrest them?”
“Not yet. But when we do, we might need your testimony.”
“OK.” I agreed, but I had fears and reservations. Would the mob be after me? Would I have to enter the witness protection program? I felt besieged.
The beginning of this novel may be found in the archives under October 2010. Scroll down to find chapter one.
35. Wasteful Time
I ground away at the book. I had obtained copies of all the In Nomines I could find, and had scored all those that were not in print. I had over 150 examples by nearly sixty composers, all English, except for the motets in Doreen’s manuscript. I was now into the tough business of analysis, looking for developments between Christopher Tye and Henry Purcell. It was involving work, and did me good.
But I still had nightmares about Abner Cross and his gun, and still had an exaggerated startle response. A sonic boom or clap of thunder could trigger a rush of adrenalin that left me panting and distracted for a long time. Sometimes I would get phone calls in which the caller wouldn’t speak or answer, and I would worry that they were from Abner. But when I called the prison in Huntsville, they would assure me that he was still safely locked up.
Maybe the calls were from Jean. I had not heard from her since I returned the cello she sent. Although she must have inferred that I wasn’t interested in a reunion, I had not said so explicitly, and she hadn’t called to repeat her suggestion. Was she calling to do so and getting cold feet? I had pangs of regret from time to time, but always returned to my determination to keep that door closed.
I saw Clio on the same friendly-but-no-sex basis as before. That doesn’t mean there was no sexual tension. She understood clearly that I would like the relationship to develop in that direction, but she didn’t allow it to. How she did so without teasing or damaging the genuine friendship we were growing is difficult to explain. I don’t understand how she did it, other than to say that she was a model of unobtrusive tact and good humor. The quartet still met almost weekly at her house, and she sometimes fed me beforehand. Once in a while she would invite me to play while she painted, or ask me out for a pizza or a movie–always dutch. I learned what times she was likely to be absorbed in her work, and what times she might go out with me or allow me to visit. She never came to my place. She never hesitated to chase me out when she thought I should go, but she always made me leave feeling good.
Now and then an item in the news would catch my eye and remind me of Cullen. Ramforce, which Howell sold to a group of workers, went bankrupt. Tedesco was still in the news for one deal or another, though the fad for leveraged buyouts seemed to be fading. Dragonbyte seemed to be doing well. Hiro and Tom had come up with several new games, one of which became so popular among college students that even Doreen knew about it. It was a parody of alien invader games called “Space Draft Evaders.” They were an easy sale–I could spend three days selling to college bookstores and make enough to pay my rent. The old Wizardware games were still around, but the new ones Howell’s team came up with went nowhere.
Visions still came, mostly late at night when I was tired. They continued to come in briefer fragments, with more gaps of time between them. But I noticed they were longer if I had been startled or had an especially vivid nightmare or flashback about Abner Cross.
One afternoon I was going crosseyed reading scores and took a nap. I dreamed I was sitting in our old Dallas apartment, reading Jean’s journal, when she entered, carrying a cello. I put down the journal, expecting her to be angry, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead she invited me to look at the new cello she had for me. She turned away and opened the case; she reached in and brought out a rifle instead of a cello and pointed it at me. Then with one hand she ripped off her face, as in the old “Mission Impossible” shows, and she was Abner, complete with orange hat. I woke up in a sweat, heart pounding.
As I lay there trying to catch my breath, I saw Toby working away at his kitchen table by candlelight. He was not writing music, but was drawing some kind of plan or diagram. Mary came to the door in a nightgown and urged him to come to bed.
“By and by,” he replied. “I must do this while tis in my mind.”
“What is it tonight?” Mary spoke with a hint of weary exasperation.
“A refinement on my Devil’s Organ.” He beckoned her in and pointed to the diagram. “You see the wheeled carriage. This lever will brake each rank when it fires.” Mary glanced at the paper and rubbed her eyes. “Now with four ranks of barrels, two can be cooling while this one is being loaded, and this one is ready to fire.” I could see that Toby was describing a kind of gatling gun, with ten gun barrels on each side of a long box supported by a carriage on wheels. The top row pointed forward, the row behind pointed up, and the other two pointed back and down. The box rotated on the carriage and was held in place by a locking lever. “The important thing is that this will deliver a burst of shot quickly; it matters not that it cannot be aimed like a musket.” Mary yawned. “But loading is slow, and it would be dangerous to fire and load at the same time.”
“I’m to bed, husband. Come when ye will.”
Toby did not notice that she had left. He muttered, “Now if we had each charge of powder and shot already together in a packet of paper that would slip down the barrel. . . .” He scratched some more lines on the paper. Suddenly, a log on the fire gave a loud bang, and Toby jumped. I jumped too, and the vision vanished.
Toby started up in bed, and leaped to the floor crying “No!”
Mary sat up with a gasp. “Toby? Wha’ is it?”
Toby stood panting and staring into the dark. The kitchen embers made a slight glow, and a bright moon shone through the small window. He rubbed his eyes. Little Elizabeth gave a soft wail from her pallet. Mary went to her and began rubbing her back and crooning, while still looking anxiously at Toby.
“A dream. Och, a bad one.” Toby sat back on the bed. When Elizabeth grew quiet, Mary climbed back in bed and drew Toby to her.
“Tell us, love. Telling a dream can break its spell.”
“I could swear I was there again. When the mine blew at Steenwijk and poor Captain Hall and my fellows were killed. I’ve never had such a dream.”
“Did ye no dream about it soon after?”
“Oh, aye. But not so clearly. I could smell the powder. Oh, the blood!”
Mary stroked his cheek. “Here you are, safe at home, with a loving wife and babe. You’ll never see such a sight again.”
“I pray so.” Toby shuddered.
After a moment, Mary asked, “And do ye not dream of Parnu and the wound that brought ye to my house?”
“Aye. But that dream ends well.” He gave her a squeeze. “That was also a bad time. Day by day we starved and suffered, so that we expected no better. But Steenwijk was sudden. And I escaped and my fellows did not.” He rubbed his eyes and then looked into the dark distance. He whispered, “Sometimes I think I should have died with them.”
Another day Toby came home, his eyes drooping with weariness. He slumped on a bench at the kitchen table and did not respond to Elizabeth’s gurgling and pulling on his breeches. Mary had greeted him without looking up from her work at the fireplace; now she turned and immediately asked what was the matter.
“I’m to go to Poland.”
“Poland?” Mary looked worried and surprised. “Tis hardly a year since you were in Russia.”
“Aye. I am commanded to go with Nils Stiernskold to take Dunamunde.”
“I know the place; tis near Riga. But are not we at truce with Poland?” Mary put down her spoon and sat across from Toby.
“We were, but the truce expired September last. And truces last only so long as kings wish them to. Perhaps the king fears the Poles will join with the Catholics to the south.”
“Must you go?” Mary grasped his hand and glanced anxiously at Elizabeth.
“Aye. The orders were from Stiernskold, but I suspect James Spens had to do with them.”
“Spens? Has he not gone back to England?”
“Aye, but the letters fly thick and fast, I am told.” He pulled his hand away impatiently. “Tis said we must take Parno too.” He rose. “I must pack my gear.” Mary stood and put her arms around his neck. He stood still a moment, then moved her arms and mumbled “I must go.”
A large but low-ceilinged room without a fire, doors and windows open. Along with five other officers, Toby sat in a corner looking numb, listening to the harangue a large black-bearded man was delivering in German to a middle-aged fair-haired man who squirmed with discomfort. I couldn’t tell whether or not his discomfort was entirely due to the browbeating the other man was administering, or whether he was in physical pain, for he would grimace and rub his leg from time to time. The gist of the large man’s argument was that they should proceed to Parnu at once, with no further waste of time. The other tried to interrupt from time to time, but the large man answered his objections before he could get them out, and continued emphatically and inexorably. Finally, the speaker, separating his syllables and dwelling on each one, hacking one hand on the other, said “So- muss-en-wir-es-jetzt-tun!” He then sat back, highly satisfied with his performance, and stroked his moustache.
“Very well, Lord Farensbach,” the fair-haired man said in German. “We shall march tomorrow. Captain Hume.” Toby looked up suddenly, as if waking. “Give the orders.”
“Yes, General Stiernskold.”
“I shall speak to my own men,” said Farensbach, and left the room without any courtesies to the general or other officers. Toby saluted the general and followed.
Farensbach strode down the hall outside the meeting room. Toby turned the other way and was joined by his lieutenant, young Daniel, who looked worried and haggard.
“So, captain, what news?”
Toby walked silently for a while, one leg jerking slightly. “We march for Parno tomorrow.”
Daniel shook his head. “Well, that’s something. We could have taken Riga if we had moved and not dallied.”
“Perhaps,” said Toby. “But because the Poles have few soldiers here does not mean they have none at Riga.”
“But the Duna Redoubt was on Riga’s doorstep, and it fell like a ripe pippin.” Daniel thought a moment, glancing at Toby, who seemed distant and lifeless. “Were you not besieged in Parnu yourself, captain? Does it not please you to think of giving the Poles there a dose of their own purge?”
Toby’s face, until now without expression, registered a flicker of pain. “I would wish few men that fate. I hope the Poles have sense enough to yield quickly.”
Toby watched as Swedish guns battered Parnu. The defenders returned fire weakly and sporadically. The Swedes, despite Toby’s urging to lob shot and firebombs over the walls, insisted on burying cannonballs in the sloping modern fortifications. But there must have been some damage done, for the city surrendered on August 8, 1617, after only a few days.
After the Polish garrison had marched out and as the Swedes prepared to enter, Toby approached the general. He doffed his hat and requested, in German, that he be sent back to Dunamunde instead of joining the garrison in Parnu. The general, in a state of irritated distraction that seemed ususal with him, asked why. Toby replied that he had been beseiged and wounded once in Parnu, and that he would prefer to take his chances elsewhere. The general denied his request, saying that his past experience would make him more valuable in Parnu. Toby bowed and rejoined his company. Daniel looked at him questioningly, and Toby shook his head. As Toby limped through the gates of Parnu, I could see that his eyes were amost closed with a frown and his teeth clenched.
As it turned out, Toby was better off in Parnu than he would have been in Dunamunde. From brief scenes and from history books I learned that Stiernskold, true to his passive nature, turned from reluctant offence to ineffective defence. The garrison at Duna Redoubt, weakened by disease, was overcome by forces from Riga. The Swedish troops around Parnu were not paid and began to desert. Farensbach, the Polish lord who had betrayed Dunamunde to the Swedes, returned to the Polish side when he saw the Swedes making so little effort. The withdrawal of his troops further weakened the Swedes, who nevertheless held on to Parnu. Throughout the fall, Toby and the other occupants were concerned about the possibility of an attack by the Polish forces under Radziwill. In the early part of the next year, reports of small clashes were heard, but no force challenged Parnu. That summer an armistice was arranged, and a formal truce was concluded in November. Toby and the rest of the garrison assumed that they would turn Parnu over to the Poles in a short time, but they stayed on. The explanation that circulated among them was that the Polish King Sigismund would not formally ratify the truce, and that gave Gustav Adolf the excuse to stay in Parnu.
A montage from this time showed Toby pacing the walls of Parnu, writing letters to Mary and others, working on the plans for his “Devil’s Organ” and hiding them away in his room, and eagerly badgering arrivals from Sweden for mail and news. On one such arrival, Toby ripped open a packet and found a letter from Mary, but nothing else. Accosting the messenger, he said, “Surely there is more for me.”
“No, Captain Hume, I assure you.”
“Nothing from the king? Nothing from Lord Oxenstierna? Nothing from General de la Gardie? I have written them twice, most urgently.”
“No, sir, I am sorry.”
Toby flushed. “Are you one of Spens’s men?”
The messenger, a Scot, looked surprised. “Who, sir?”
“Spens, James Spens, the Scotsman.”
“No, sir. I know the gentleman only by sight.”
“You know him, then.” He leaned conspiratorially toward the messenger. “Could he not have paid you to look into your bag? A crown for a quick look, to be assured that nothing was amiss?”
The messenger, nettled, said, “No, sir, I do assure you.”
Toby turned away, muttering.
Another time, another messenger, a Swede. When Toby looked at his letters, he turned purple-red, grabbed the poor messenger by the throat and shouted at him in tumbling Swedish. I heard the name Spens a few times, as well as “shellom” and what were clearly other terms of abuse. Two other officers had to force him to release the messenger and led him away, cursing and struggling.
Toby, much grayer in his beard, and looking exhausted, was met at his door by Mary, herself showing some signs of stress and time–she was thinner, with deep lines flanking her nose and mouth. Elizabeth, a pretty but runny-nosed four-year-old, clung to her skirts. Mary embraced Toby desperately, and both wept; Elizabeth soon followed their example. Mary picked her up and incorporated her into their embrace, saying, “Wheesht, Bet, wheesht. Tis well; tis your father. We weep for joy.” But I could tell there were tears of sadness and regret as well.
Toby finished his soup and leaned against the wall, careful not to wake the sleeping Elizabeth in his lap. He sighed deeply. “My love,” he said, “we must never be separated again. I could not bear it.”
“Nor could I. If it had not been for the child, I had put my breeches on and walked to Parnu for you.”
Toby grasped her hand across the table. “I shall never leave you again.”
“Nor I you.”
Toby sat at his kitchen table, sketching by candlelight, mumbling. Mary closed the cupboard and looked at him with concern. She straightened up, forced a smile, and spoke.
“All done. Now, Toby lad, let’s have some music. Are there still strings to your viol?”
“Eh?” Toby glanced up, then returned to his papers. “Not now, lass.”
“Toby.” Mary dropped the smile and sat on the bench across from Toby. “Toby. Can ye no talk wi’ me a bit?”
Toby did not look up, but said absently, “Aye–what is it?”
“Ye’ve no been yoursel’. You never play your viol–pray look at me.” Toby looked up, but seemed impatient and distracted. “What troubles you so?”
He shuffled his papers and held up a sketch. “You know how I complain about the men and their pikes. I am trying to combine the pike and the musket, so a discharged musket will be useful for more than a club. It willna be so good as a true pike, for it must be shorter. But you see, if muskets can be made so”–he pointed to the sketch–“a blade can be attached–”
“No, lad, tis something else. You have no cheer, you are never merry. Even Bet can scarce fetch a smile from you.”
“But if the king will only attend to my musket-pike and my Devil’s Organ, I think I may do well. Then I can be merry.”
Mary shook her head and grasped Toby’s hand. Toby pulled free and stood, then began pacing.
“So I am old–aye, but I have experience! I know what belongs to a soldier! Yet they put me by, they smirk and sneer. They give me a rotten ploughgate and not my rightful pay.” He clenched his fists and shook them. “Tis all Spens and his minions. They conspire against me.” He stopped and looked at Mary. The sad concern on her face seemed to register, and his fierce look softened. “I can scarce feed you and the babe. What shall we do if this harvest is worse than the last?”
Mary rose and put her arms around Toby’s neck. “We will be well enough,” she soothed. “Bet is lusty and is growing. And I canna believe that James Spens labors day and night to bar your way.” Toby frowned. “He may not be your friend, but I think he is too busy with his own affairs to be the enemy you think him.”
“Who else would give me such checks, strew such brambles in my path?”
“Perhaps no one. But dinna fret on that, lad; we need not more money or fine cates; what we need is your merry heart. Put up your pikes and guns and sing wi’ me and your babe. Though you feel cheerless, a merry song may lead you to a merry thought.” She pushed up the corners of his mouth with her thumbs, and smiled herself. Then she whirled around and began singing a round:
He that would an alehouse keep
Must have three things in store:
A chamber and a featherbed,
A chimney and a–hey, nonny nonny.
Toby missed the first entrance, but, encouraged by a poke in the ribs from Mary, came in on the next. Toby managed a wan smile by the end.
Toby sat in a tavern with four other officers, none of whom looked familar to me. He sipped from a wooden mug and listened intently as one of the younger officers, whose blond vandyke beard and moustache were barely visible, retailed news in German.
“It’s true, de la Gardie told the Poles we would fight if they would not meet our terms. Already the ships are getting ready in Sandhamn.”
An older officer shook his head. “I have no love for the Poles. But most of their forces are in the east, fighting the Turks, who cut them to pieces at Cecora.”
“So that makes this an ideal time for us,” said the younger, with a touch of condescention.
“As I say, I have no love for the Poles. But they are at least Christian. We should be helping them drive out the Turks, or at least not help the Turks by stabbing the Poles in the back.” Toby nodded slightly.
The young officer was about to reply when another officer, also young, asked, “Where are we to attack? Has anyone heard?”
“Riga,” said the first young officer quickly, trying to reestablish his authority. “It’s surely Riga.”
“That makes sense,” said the fourth officer.
“I’ll not go,” said Toby, firmly but quietly.
All turned to look at Toby. “What?” asked the surprised young officer.
“I won’t go.”
“But Captain, surely you must.”
“No, I’ll go back to England.”
“Well,” said the young officer with a smirk. “You must be feeling your age.”
“His wife’s apron-strings fetter him,” said the other young officer. Toby rose, nodded to the older officer, and walked out without another word.
At home, Toby was in serious conversation with Mary. “I would have some feelings against fighting Lord Bekes, if he be yet living, or his sons.”
“And I know those in Riga I would not have you harm unkowingly,” said Mary. “And to do what would help the Turks also gives me pause. But most of all, I could not leave you again.”
“You told them you would go to England. What will we do there?”
“Ah, but we won’t go to England. I might get leave to go to England, despite Spens. But we’ll go to the Netherlands. The Spanish are threatening again, for the truce has expired. And Prince Maurice will treat us well–we will at least be paid. He will surely have a place for me in training new recruits.” Toby frowned and almost whispered, “And I have debts in Holland.”
“What about the farm?”
“We’ll sell it. We could not bear another bad harvest.” Mary looked troubled. Toby lifted up her chin, smiling. “We’ll live in a good town. Holland is rich. You will have a servant, and all will be clean and handsome.” Mary looked out the open door, across the board walkway covered with mud and into the house across the way, where an old woman was snoring in a patch of sunlight. I guessed it was around June of 1621.
I didn’t see anything that gave me any clues about how Toby and his family got out of Sweden or into Holland, but apparently they did, for I next saw Mary in a clean white apron, bustling about a comfortable-looking room with light pouring in from a large set of windows, a Vermeer interior. A plump young woman led in Elizabeth, who also was fresh, clean, and starched. Mary inspected Elizabeth, nodded approvingly, and rehearsed a curtsy with her. The young woman said something and left the room, leading Elizabeth. Mary circled the room again, rearranged some items on a linen-covered table, and looked out the window. Then she hurried to the door and admitted Toby and a stout older man with a hawkish nose and pale blue eyes.
“Colonel Balfour, may I present my wife.” Mary curtsied and Balfour kissed her hand.
“My husband has often spoken of you, sir,” she said. “You are right welcome.”
“Ah, mistress,” Balfour said, “tis good to hear the right Edinburgh note from a lady. Many of my men are our townsmen, but we have no ladies.”
Toby, looking better dressed and smiling, but still with something of a haunted look, said, “The Colonel was my friend when I was a young soldier. Twas he told me the tale of the taking of Breda by the peat-boat device.”
“And I tell it to my grandchildren still.”
“And he tells it me,” Mary said, smiling, “as if he had been on the peat-boat.”
“And here we are met in Breda,” Toby said. “It will take more than a peat-boat to take it away from us now.”
“Indeed.” Balfour turned to Mary. “Breda is as strongly fortified as any town in Europe. After their losses at Bergen-op-Zoom, the Spanish will never attempt Breda.” They sat at the table and the servant girl poured wine.
“To your health,” said Toby, and raised his glass. They drank. “I would Prince Maurice were in better health.”
“And I the country,” said Balfour. “You must observe many changes, Captain.”
“Oh, aye. I was much amazed that Lord Oldenbarnevelt should be condemned for treason. And I cannot understand why the Dutch should so brabble amongst themselves when they should unite against the Spanish.”
“Twas during the long truce that they allowed their religious quarrels to grow to this pass. I think it beyond any man’s understanding, but I have heard many a passionate argument and seen duels over whether Arminius or Gomarus had the right truth on predestination. Here in Breda the preachers Diamantius and Boxhorn each assured that the other was bound for hell.”
“What was the Remonstrance that I have heard spoken of so much?” asked Toby.
“Twas a petition by the Arminians presented to the States of Holland by Oldenbarnevelt in 1610, the year after the truce with Spain. Arminius, as I understand it, thought Calvin too absolute on predestination, and that all could hope for salvation. The Remonstrants also thought the state should have authority over the church. In the disputation that followed, the Gomarists presented their Counter-Remonstrance. For one reason and another, Prince Maurice–who, I’ll be bound, understands the doctrines no better than I–took the side of the Counter-Remonstrants, as did many others, and now they rule. Now I am as loyal to the prince as any man, but I found not all wisdom to be on the part of the Counter-Remonstrants. And some of the hypocritical preachers that now hold sway would have one believe that there was no lawful pleasure but in singing of psalms.”
Mary, perhaps remembering her tolerant father, shook her head regretfully. Toby sighed and said, “Well, now that the Spanish have renewed their quarrel, perhaps all will pull together.”
“Let us hope so,” said Balfour. “Although the people may have become so accustomed to their dispute that they will not give it up. I have found it prudent to divide my troops, and put no Arminians amongst the Gomarists.”
Toby glanced at Mary, and with some hesitation, asked Balfour, “What think you of my engines of war?”
Mary looked up sharply, but Balfour raised his eyebrows and nodded thoughtfully. “At first I liked the musket pikes, for they could be made easily and could fit most muskets. But as I considered further, I doubt that they would be long enough. They could not serve as ordinary pikes. And as for close fighting, I think a man would prefer his sword.”
Toby looked disappointed. “And the Devil’s Organ?”
“I grant that if it could be made to work as you say, it would be useful on some occasions. But it cannot be aimed, only pointed, and it might be too difficult to build.”
Toby frowned and reddened, and Mary expressed concern. “Nevertheless,” Balfour went on, “I should like to see it tried. I will go with you to the gunsmith tomorrow and we shall see what can be devised.”
Toby smiled and raised his glass. “I thank you, Colonel. To the gunsmith!” Balfour smiled and drank. Mary relaxed some, but still showed concern.
At that point the maid brought in little Elizabeth, who curtsied for Balfour, received goodnight blessings from Toby and Mary, and went off to bed.
The phone rang. It was Jean. “I’ve got to see you.”
“Where are you?”
“In Baltimore. Can you come to my hotel? In an hour?”
I hesitated. She sounded anxious, but fairly sane.
“Please. I need your help.”
“OK. Which hotel?”
Chapter one of this novel may be found in the archives under October 2010; scroll down until it appears.
34. Swift-footed Time
Toby and Mary stood on the board sidewalk of a muddy street looking at one of a number of small, low houses made of squared logs and packed close together. The stench was bad, worse than usual. The smells of the old towns and cities were among the most unpleasant things about my visions. The initial shock to my sense would eventually pass, but sometimes the smell would be so foul that I would end the vision. This time I hung on.
“Can you bear it, lass?” Toby asked.
“Oh, aye. Tis not much worse than Riga.”
They entered and saw a dark, low-ceilinged room dominated by a ceramic stove, a bed, a chest, a stool, and a stiff-looking wooden settle with a high back. There was one other room, which had an open hearth fireplace with hooks and cranes for cooking, a woodbox, a table, two benches, and a cupboard. Each room had one small window with a thick pane of wavy glass. Apparently the glass windows were a luxury feature, for Toby pointed to them with a wan smile.
“Weel, noo, husband,” said Mary, with a humorously determined tone, “dinna stand there wi’ your face hanging oot. Fetch me some wood and find a tinderbox, or ye’ll never get your dinner.”
Prothero and Toby sat in another low-ceilinged room, this one more official than domestic; Prothero was briefing Toby on current affairs.
“And then,” said Prothero, “they burned this Dmitri, charged a cannon with his ashes, and fired them off towards Poland.”
Toby shook his head in amazement. “I wonder what happened to Captain Margeret. He stayed to serve Czar Dmitri.”
“All is coil and right chaos, look you, in Russia. But our General Gardie has recovered his force and has taken Korela, all but the fortress.”
“From the Russians, not the Polonians?” Toby looked puzzled.
“Aye, for there is Russians who wish to deny the agreement Czar Basil made. And there is yet another Dmitri claiming to be Ivan’s heir. He has raised many followers in a place near Moscow called Tushino.”
“And he too is Polish?” Toby seemed to be grasping for clarity.
“I know not. But I hear that most of his followers object to the Polish Ladislaw that is now supposed to be czar.”
Toby shook his head. “Do we then go to the general in Russia?”
Prothero shrugged. “Perhaps. But the council has been urging his majesty to bring our army home. They fear Denmark is about to go to war.”
“Aye,” said Prothero. “King Christian has long wanted to unite the kingdoms, and there have been disputes about lands in the north, privateers in the Baltic sea, and fishing rights.”
Toby’s looks grew troubled as well as puzzled. “I played before the King of Denmark, and his sister, our queen, rewarded me graciously for the dedication of my book. I would we should not fight the Danes.”
“Well, we’re as likely to fight Scotsmen and Englishmen as Danes. King Christian has hired as many of our countrymen as King Charles. My prophecy is that we stay here and train recruits to meet the Danes and whoever they send.”
A cold, wet, spring day in a camp surrounded by trenches and wooden stakes. Toby was seated by a fire watching two soldiers who were squeezing grayish lumps of something. They would now and then hold the lumps out over the fire. The soldiers chattered in Swedish while Toby sat silent, glancing at the sinking sun. One soldier held up his lump for the approval of the other. It had taken the shape of a stout man with a large belly. “Christian,” he said, and both laughed. The other soldier held up his figure and said “Rantzau.” I gathered that they were wax. Toby rose and spoke in German, saying that the sun was almost gone, and that they should go. The soldiers put the images in knapsacks, adjusted their swords, and took up their muskets. They followed Toby, who limped slightly, across two rows of trenches and along a path through dense woods. They walked quietly for some time. I sometimes heard ocean sounds coming from their left, and occasionally got a whiff of salt air.
After a long while, the path rose steeply and opened out on a view of a castle by the sea. Beyond the castle, the dark shape of an island lay a few miles off the coast. The castle was under siege. It was surrounded by trenches and earthworks; clusters of tents and huts were set up out of range of the castle, and soldiers milled about. Cannon fired from earthworks or from gabions of wickerwork filled with dirt. Toby squinted into the distance at three ships that were also firing at the castle. Toby pointed and spoke in German to one of the soldiers, saying something about mining the castle wall. The soldier grunted, then patted his bag and said something in Swedish. Toby followed them down a path until they reached a road. After some cautious reconnoitering from the woods, the soldiers stepped out into the road and hurriedly dug two shallow holes with their swords. They put the wax images in the holes, chanted some sort of rhymed incantation in Swedish, then covered them up. Toby looked on, frowning in the fading light.
Back at camp, Toby entered a tent, and was greeted by a young man who stood and doffed his hat.
“Sit you down, lieutenant,” said Toby, collapsing with a sigh. “No word from Nykoping?”
“No, sir. No reinforcements, no food, no pay. No ships either, I’ll take my oath on’t.” His English tanged of the north country, and he had a red complexion and a thin brown vandyke beard on his square jaw.
“We can do no more than harass the beseigers, then. Wax babies instead of bullets!” Toby snorted. “Would our army in Russia were here! But perhaps it is best that no fresh troops come and tempt us to attack, since they are sure to be worse trained than the poor clowns we have now.”
“And if they come without food, we could not feed them,” said the lieutenant.
“Well, maybe the Danes are as hungry as we.”
“The men ate a horse last night.”
Toby rubbed his eyes wearily, then looked up with a flicker of interst. “Is there any left?”
From the point overlooking the castle, Toby and a handful of soldiers watched the scene below. The day was clear and warm, and the trees were fully leafed out. Except for an occasional shout, all was quiet. The besiegers began to form a rough line along the road leading to the castle gate. After a moment, trumpets echoed across the valley, the gates swung open, and a column of soldiers marched out to trumpets, drums, and a flash of banners. They carried their pikes and muskets, and wisps of smoke trailed from their burning matches. There may have been two hundred men, including a half-dozen in carts pulled by their comrades.
Toby shook his head. “And so goes Kalmar.”
Waving his men to follow, Toby struck out through the woods and emerged on the road, where they met the first of the emerging troops. They were plodding along, drums and trumpets silent, banners drooping, muskets weighing heavily on their thin shoulders. There could not have been a man among them who weighed more than a hundred and twenty pounds. Toby greeted them, saying, “Long live King Charles!” in German. A few echoed him wearily, but some only groaned. He asked one man if they left any provisions behind.
The soldier smiled wryly and replied, in a Scots accent, “Only a few pocks of moldy corn. But we salted ‘em wi’ ratsbane.”
Toby, Prothero, and a number of people in heavy black cloaks stood in a large hall. They turned and bowed as a tall, blond young man entered. He spoke to several of the guests, not only in Swedish, but in German and Latin. I could see his breath in the chill air. He stopped before Toby and Prothero. “Gentlemen,” he said in clear but accented English, “I go south within the hour. You will attend me.”
“Yes, your majesty.” Prothero bowed.
“No time for music now, Captain,” he said to Toby.
“No, your majesty.”
The young king Gustavus Adolphus smiled slightly under a wisp of moustache. He had turned seventeen only the month before, in December 1611, as I learned from one of my landlord’s history books. He spoke gravely to a dozen more important-looking men, then followed an aide out the door and stepped into a sleigh draped in black. Toby, Prothero, and several others mounted waiting horses and followed.
The air was filled with smoke, and flames broke the monotony of gray clouds and white snow. A pig squealed as a soldier dragged it out of a rickety shed and tied a rope around its body behind the forelegs; another soldier threw a burning stick into the shed. Toby sat on a horse frowning as other soldiers carried bags and bundles out of a small log house. A couple in lumpy brown clothes stood by a tree and watched without expression as a soldier touched the thatched roof with a torch. As the flames and steam spread over the thatch, the woman grasped her husband’s arm. Nearby other houses, sheds, and a barn were also burning. Toby nodded at a soldier who blew a call on his trumpet; the soldiers began to straggle into a column, and Toby led them down a snow-covered road.
At a crossroad they met a larger force, many members of which were also carrying bundles of loot and leading livestock, and they were soon joined by the king and his well-mounted guards. The snow muffled much of the noise of hooves and harness, and the talk of the men comparing their prizes was a low murmur punctuated by a laugh or exclamation. Suddenly shots cracked from the rear of the column, followed by shouts and a trumpet. Men began to press on the part of the column where Toby rode; the king and his party moved to the side of the way and stared back with concerned expressions. The king gave an order, and two of his officers tried to move to the rear against the rush of men, who now began to scatter to the sides of the road. One of the king’s officers stood in his stirrups and pointed toward the rear, shouting something about the Danish. Another grabbed the bridle of the king’s horse and led it off the road toward a low, flat space covered in snow. As the king spurred to a gallop, the officer released the bridle, and a dozen of the mounted guard followed. Toby hesitated a moment and followed the king.
The open space proved to be a frozen lake. The king crossed the lake and turned up a path made by one of the streams that fed it. Something gave an unearthly, deep groan, the king’s horse seemed to lose his legs, and in a moment the king, his horse, and two of his guards and their horses were struggling in black water among chunks of white ice. The rest of the guard pulled to a halt and moved to the treeline; two hurriedly dismounted and rushed to help the king. Toby reined in and looked back. A troop of horsemen, some waving swords and others large pistols, were bearing down on the milling Swedes, some of whom turned to face the attackers while others continued to scatter. A pig trailing a rope slipped and scrambled across the ice.
One of the guards lay on the unbroken ice, stretching his sword out toward the king. A horse had broken a canal through the ice, and had climbed the bank where he stood shivering. Toby looked back toward the skirmishing troops and saw a Danish horseman galloping toward him, sword drawn. He wheeled his horse to meet the attacker and drew the long pistol from his saddle holster, raised it, and pulled the trigger. The wheel-lock whirred, but nothing happened. Seconds away, the horseman lifted his sword as Toby hurled the pistol at his head. The heavy pistol struck the horseman on the bridge of the nose, knocking him backwards and sideways; his right foot caught in the stirrup, and his horse dragged him away, leaving his sword and helmet in the snow.
The guards’ horses had all gained the bank, and one of the guards who had fallen through the ice had managed to get enough of a foothold to help the king reach the other guard’s extended sword. More Swedish horsemen were heading toward the frozen lake, and some of the scattered Swedes had returned and were harassing the Danish flanks. Toby retrieved his pistol and guided his horse away from the cracked ice as the king and one of the guards gained the shore. The other guard who had gone through the ice was not to be seen. When he reached the king and his party, Toby dismounted and whipped off his cloak; but one of the guards got his cloak over the king before Toby could reach him. Toby arrived just in time to hear the king thank the officer who held the sword, one Per Baner.
“Per Baner,” Prothero said to Toby, “is the son of Gustav Baner, whom the king’s father had executed at Linkoping for being loyal to King Sigismund. So old debts were forgotten, or new debts made.” They sat in Toby’s kitchen, smoking clay pipes after a meal. Mary, looking about five months pregnant, washed dishes in a tub by the fire. She patiently fanned away the smoke when it drifted by her. The men’s boots were muddy, and both looked tired.
“Tis hard to uphold a father’s acts, and tis hard not to,” said Toby.
“Aye.” They puffed a moment. “King Christian also came near to capture,” Prothero said. “As we were coming from Varberg, Christian and his army caught up with us at Kolleryd. But they were tired from the chase, and we outnumbered them. Twas not long before we had them on the run. I was close enough to see Christian’s belly bounce as he fled.”
Toby’s eyelids drooped. Prothero rose.
“Mistress Mary, I thank you for your hospitality, and that savory pottage. I must take my leave.”
Mary smiled and allowed Prothero to kiss her hand. Toby struggled to his feet.
“I was wrong in my last prophecy,” Prothero said. “But I think that we will fight no more until the weather breaks. And if our drill goes well in the meantime, the general may come to see that you are more useful teaching recruits than chasing Danes in the wood.”
“I’ll serve as his majesty pleases; but I confess that I would be loath to leave Mary as her time draws near.”
“I cannot blame you. And so goodnight.”
Toby and Mary saw Prothero to the door, and Toby fell into the settle with a sigh. “I grow old, lass.”
“Nay, y’are but weary.” Mary knelt and began pulling off his boots.
“I would we had a ploughgate in Lincolnshire, and peace to raise our babe.”
“We’ll rub along.” She chafed his feet.
“The king talks of giving his officers land since he cannot give us the money he promised. Could you abide a farm in Sweden?”
Mary sat back on her heels and looked thoughtful. “Tis colder than Scotland, but some of the land is fat and rich. If the Swedes can farm it, we can.” She looked up at Toby and smiled. “Come to bed and rest ye noo.”
A montage: Toby drilling young Swedes with pike and musket, some of whom imitate Toby’s limp, snickering; Mary sweating in her childbed and delivering a baby boy; Toby playing his viol softly by the cradle; Prothero telling of the siege and capture of Alvsborg and Goteborg by the Danes; Mary and Toby weeping at a small grave; Mary and Toby silently eating porridge at their kitchen table; Toby guiding a plow behind a small, sturdy, long-haired horse; a pregnant Mary bringing him food; Toby smiling at Mary nursing a baby with a wisp of red hair. These scenes were almost as brief as my descriptions. With some notable exceptions, larger gaps seemed to appear between events in Toby’s life in the visions I had around this time.
Toby walked toward his house reading a letter, stepping over the muddy boards with easy familiarity. He looked up sadly and wiped away a tear. The moment he entered the house, Mary asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Och, my love, my son is dead.”
“So he is,” said Mary sadly, “God give his wee soul rest. But that is no news, love, and we have a lusty babe now.”
“I mean my son in England, that was apprenticed to the printer.” He sat heavily and showed her the letter. “Master Thorpe writes that he ran away soon after we left England. He had not heard of him since, until he was taken up for theft and hanged. The letter is three months old.”
“Poor lad,” said Mary. “I mean you, not him. He had his chance and threw it away.”
“Ah, Mary, be not hard on him. If I had been present at his raising, he would not have fallen into bad company. And if I had been there to see him through his prenticeship–oh, Mary, I pray that our wee daughter be spared.”
“Amen,” said Mary, kneeling and embracing him. “But you must not flog yourself. You did all that you could. And many a man has gone bad despite his well raising.”
“It may be so. But I must grieve.”
Toby, looking glum, stood in a gathering of well-dressed people in a large room with a stone floor and impressive tapestries on the walls. A man of about thirty seemed to be the host; between the fragments of conversation I could understand and the history books I consulted, I concluded that he was Axel Oxenstierna, the king’s chancellor and right-hand man. The historians give him high marks for competence; intelligence did seem to be evident in his eyes, which alternated between quick glances that seemed to take in the shifting makeup of the conversing groups, and intense focus on whoever was speaking to him. Toby followed in his wake at some distance, desultorily sampling the talk of the groups he passed.
He lingered by a knot of men listening to the energetic voice of a young Scotsman with curly brown hair, pink cheeks, and icy blue eyes. With great earnestness, he was addressing an older man, a Swede to judge by his accent, who listened with stern skepticism.
“Och, it might be worrse. You might have Christian ruling both kingdoms, and a Dane wi’ his finger in every pie.”
“The Danes have Jamtland, Alvsborg, Goteborg, Gamla-Lodose, Nya-Lodose, and part of Vastergotland,” said the Swede bitterly.
“What could you do? Your navy was corrupt and cowardly. Smaland and Halland are destroyed, devastated, kaput. Ha’ ye been there to see? There’s scarce a house unburnt, nae a pig nor cow alive. And wi’ an army in Russia, how could you fight on here?”
“How can we pay the ransom for Alvsborg? Ten tunnor of gold?”
“Ask the Dutch,” said the Scotsman, as if the answer were obvious. “Christian has so incensed the Dutch, they might be well disposed to you. And think of this; my master, King James, by recognizing your king, casts a shadow on King Sigismund’s claim to your throne. I ken ye’ve lost much; but ye havena lost all.”
The Swede shook his head and moved on. Toby stepped forward. “Captain Spens, are you not?”
“Aye, James Spens.”
“I am Tobias Hume, captain in his majesty’s service.”
“Ah, Captain Hobble.” He smiled mischievously.
Toby leaned forward, frowning. “Cry you mercy, sir. What did you say?”
“No offence, good Captain. Tis what I have heard some of the lads call you.”
“I was wounded in the service of his late majesty King Charles.”
“No doubt bravely.” Spens looked away, seeming bored.
“Twas in the seige of Parno.”
“Aye.” Toby moved with Spens, who seemed about to walk away. He cleared his throat. “I wanted to say that you spoke well, but that tis a hard time for the Swedes now. We–they–have lost many good men and feel the loss sensibly. This peace had to come, but many Swedes think of it as a man does who has just bought a horse–he thinks he could have found a better.”
Spens answered with a note of condescension that Toby and I both noticed. “I welcome advice from a good old soldier like yoursel’. But pray pardon me. Here comes the king.”
Gustavus had entered, making a swirl in the gathering as he moved through the room, greeting various men. As Spens moved in his path and bowed, the king beckoned him. “Captain Spens! A word with you.” They moved off together, the king’s hand on Spens’s shoulder, his ear cocked to Spens’s words. Toby stood grimly still as the crowd moved by.
Toby, at home, dandled his small red-haired daughter and spoke with some asperity to Mary. “I met the famous Captain Spens today, but he had little time for the likes of me.”
“The favor of the king must weaken the humility of a saint.”
“I smelt more the odor of pride than sanctity.” He paused and kissed his gurgling daughter. “Ah, Mary, I do not get on here.”
Mary looked up from her sewing with some impatience. “Captain Spens has the favor of King James as well as King Gustavus. You are an experienced officer and ken your trade; you ha’ respect.”
“Respect? Nay. The men ca’ me Captain Hobble.”
“Wheesht! Show me three young men and I’ll show ye twa fools.”
“I must make a better show.”
The door-latch rattled, and Toby rose to admit the young English lieutenant. His squarish face was ruddy with cold and agitation.
“Your pardon for calling so late, Captain. Mistress Mary, Miss Elizabeth.”
“You are always welcome, Daniel,” said Toby. Little Elizabeth crowed and reached for the young man, who took her and swung her gently. “You have news?”
“Sad news, I fear. The word from Russia is that Colonel Prothero is dead. There has been much sickness at Piskov, and the colonel fell among many others.”
“We have lost a friend, Daniel.” Toby looked down in sorrow, and Mary rose and put her arm around his shoulder. “May God have mercy and give him good rest.”
“Amen,” said the lieutenant. “And there is more news. Our company is commanded to go to Russia. Here is the commission.” He handed Toby a paper. Mary gasped and took back her daughter, as if the lieutenant were infectious. Toby took the paper and read it gravely.
“Tis not all the company,” said Toby without looking up. “You and I and a small troop are to escort emissaries to Novgorod to help negotiate a peace.”
Mary looked somewhat relieved. “And when come ye back?”
“I know not. We stay with the emissaries at the king’s pleasure.” Toby put down the paper and looked at his family. The corners of his eyes drooped, not with innocence, but with weary melancholy. “I could do more good at Piskov, but this will be safer. I must find someone to harvest our crop.”
Toby and Daniel, the lieutenant, wrapped in fur-lined cloaks inside a tent, were trying to carve a piece of meat. “For the life of me,” Toby said, “I cannot fathom why we left Novgorod for this Diderina.”
“What I cannot fathom,” Daniel said, “is how they can talk so long and yet nothing done.” He struggled with his knife. “Look you here, sir. This joint is burnt on the outside and frozen on the inside.”
“At least it is horse. I heard that the Russians ate one of the men that died yesterday.”
“The horses, poor beasts, are eating their manes and tails.”
“Twas all Sir John Merrick could do to get them to meet in his house and not in a tent,” said Toby grimly, looking at the tent walls around him and shivering. “He pled his rheumatism; others of us have it too, but we get no house.”
Daniel sliced some of the burnt surface of the meat. “Where do Sir John’s loyalties lie, captain?”
“He wants the Muscovites’ trade. Twas he that kept the king from pressing the seige of Piskov until we were too weak to accomplish it.”
At that moment shouts and cheers broke out in the camp. Toby and Daniel emerged from the tent and asked a soldier what was the matter. He answered, in Scots, that the negotiators had agreed to a three-month truce, and that they could go home in a few days. Toby and Daniel smiled and beat each other on the back. One of the shaggy horses nearby neighed. Daniel reached out to rub his nose.
“Art eager to ride home, laddie?” he asked the horse. The horse, in answer, nuzzled his chest, then raised his head and champed. Daniel turned in surprise to Toby. “He ate the button from my coat!”
This was in February of 1616.
Toby sat in his kitchen, eating hungrily. Little Elizabeth clung to Mary’s skirt, looking shyly at her father, and getting in the way of her mother as she refilled his bowl. At last Toby leaned back with a sigh.
“Thank you, lass. Tis good to be home.” He smiled at Elizabeth, who ducked behind Mary. “Where’s my wee mousie? Don’t remember your poor father?”
“I’ve tried to keep you in her mind,” said Mary, “but she’s too sma’ to ken.”
“I know,” said Toby. He rose and drew his viol from a corner. It was out of tune, but all the strings were intact. He tuned and then began to play. Elizabeth peeped out. He played a tune I recognized as a version of “Three Blind Mice,” and when the melody repeated, he began singing in canon to his viol. Mary joined the round, and they sang and played until Elizabeth started to dance. When Toby stopped, Elizabeth ran to him and let him scoop her up and hold her tightly for a long time.
Toby looked up at Mary. “James Spens wishes me ill.”
The beginning of this novel may be found in the archives under
October 2010; scroll down to find the first chapter.
33. Woo’d of Time
I found a garage apartment not too far from Clio’s place. It was small and sparsely furnished, but the street was quiet, the air conditioner worked, and I had use of the family’s washer and dryer. My landlords were a sixty-year-old professor of history at Hopkins and his wife, an industrious gardener. He had written a book about the “Defenstration of Prague,” an incident in 1618 in which two Catholic governors were thrown from a window by angry Protestants; this was supposed to have set off the Thirty Years’ War. The couple’s children had grown and scattered, and they seemed to lead a life of quiet contentment. It encouraged me to see that such a life was possible. They were friendly but not intrusive; the prof was amused and pleased that I was what he called “an independent scholar,” and offered me the use of his extensive library if I needed anything. I took him up on the offer several times, since it was a convenient source of historical and general reference books. Since he didn’t have much in the way of books on music, I had to count on Doreen for loans and references. Doreen had taken me on as a cross between a colleague and an informal grad student, helping me get passes to various libraries, reading my drafts, and giving me good advice.
I lived very cheaply, buying almost nothing but food, paper, xeroxes, and an occasional book. I committed one indulgence: I found a stereo at a garage sale and bought it after the owner demonstrated that it worked. He was trading up to a fancier system, and let me have it at a bargain. I was then able to play the records I had salvaged from what I had come to think of as the defenestration of Dallas. I had my little office radio and cassette player, but of course it wouldn’t play LPs. One of the first records I played happened to be one of Joan Baez singing old ballads, one of which was “Jackaroe,” about a girl who disguised herself as a man in order to follow her soldier sweetheart overseas. It didn’t trigger a vision, but there did seem to be a connection to the next one I had.
Toby sat in his room at Edgcoke’s, glumly counting coins out on the table. There were not many. He sighed heavily, knotted the coins in a rag and put them in a hole in the floor, carefully fitting a board in place and covering the spot with his chest. He then picked up a letter that he seemed to have read many times before.
Your last letters arrived safely, and his Majestie and his council found your newes of interest. But I doubt me that such newes will advance your Fortunes as muche as your presence. Things is in much uncertaintie here. His Majestie has made much recovery from his apoplexy, now a Year since, but he is still not whole. General de la Gardie is out of favour with some here after his losse of soe many men in the battle with the Polonians at Klusino. Young Prince Gustavus is doing man’s work though yet a boy, and the Queene is strong, yet all feare the Polonians and some feare the Danes. There may be Wars toward which could be the making of us both. I sorely misse your good help as well as your good companie. If his Majesty’s army is to avoid another drubbing like that at Kirchholm or at Klusino, they must submit to the Dutch drill. The General, who served with Prince Maurice, has tried, but with indifferent success. The young Prince, wise above his yeares, understandes the Dutch method and will support our efforts. The enclosed letters will ease your passage. Conclude your busines soon, an let me see your Face before I see your Hand.
Your well-wishing friend,
Dai Prothero, Colonel
Postscriptum. You may not have heard that our frende Henry Francklin died this May last.
From Stockholm, this last of September, 1610
Heaving another sigh, Toby tossed the letter on the table, picked up his viol and hat, and left the room. Soon he was seated in a richly-furnished room giving a music lesson to a boy of eleven or twelve. He seemed preoccupied, but paid enough attention to the boy’s playing to correct him and supply a fingering. A well-dressed man of about forty interrupted, and Toby immediately stood.
“Enough for now, Harry,” he said to the boy. “Go turn to your book while I have a word with Master Toby here.” The boy left, and the man frowned at Toby. “Sir Andrew Monmouth has told me a tale, Master Toby, and you are not the hero of it.”
Toby inclined his head. “My lord, ” he said, “many men, many tales. I shall tell you the truth of the matter if you wish, though it is no more to Sir Andrew’s honor than to mine.”
“Master Toby, regardless of the truth, my ties to Sir Andrew are of that nature that compels me to please him. I regret that I may no longer continue you in my service, even though I have been content with your teaching of Harry. He will miss you.”
“I regret that I may no longer serve you and your son. Thank you for your past kindnesses.” Toby bowed with some dignity, accepted his last fee, packed his viol, and limped out.
At a familar tavern, Toby plopped down at a public table and called for ale. The drawer brought him a mug.
“There’s a gentleman in the Rose was asking for music, Captain,” said the drawer, wiping a hand on his spotted apron. “Shall I tell him you will play?”
“Let him wait,” said Toby sullenly.
The drawer stood, hesitating. “Tis a handsome young gentleman, says he knows you.”
Toby looked up with a glimmer of curiosity. As he was rising, a footman entered, looked around, and then approached Toby.
“Captain Hume?” Toby nodded. “Please be so good as to step to the coach outside, sir. My mistresses wish to speak to you.”
Toby frowned in puzzlement and hesitated. “Ask the gentleman to wait,” he said to the drawer. To the footman, he said, “Lead on.”
Outside, the footman opened the door to the coach and waved Toby in. He climbed in and sat across from two veiled ladies. They lifted their veils for a moment and Toby recognized Jane and Audrey. He opened his mouth and breathed in sharply, but Audrey touched his arm. “Let her speak, Toby.” She added, “Master Edgcoke told us we might find you here.”
Jane’s voice was low and uncertain. “First I must apologize for my father and his servants. They did you wrong–is it now five years? I am glad you got no greater hurt. And now I learn that my husband has spoken against you. I–“
“I cannot entirely blame them, my lady,” said Toby.
“But you must not be deprived of means to live.” She brought out a purse. “Please take this as a small recompense. And I shall try to recommend you as a teacher among my acquaintance.”
“I want none of your money, my lady.” There was some anger in Toby’s tone.
“Tis not mine; tis his.”
Toby looked at Audrey. “Take it,” she said. Jane stuffed the purse into the wide cuff of Toby’s coat-sleeve.
“And Toby,” Jane went on, “I want you to meet my ” –she hesitated and glanced at Audrey–“our son.” Toby looked down. “You must meet us as we ride. You will be a famous soldier, a man he must remember. Until he can be told.”
Toby looked at Audrey. “So it goes no further,” she said. “I am uneasy, but the boy should have some idea of his father.”
“On Wednesday, at one o’clock, we ride in Moorfields, near the gate,” said Jane.
Toby looked grave. “I shall try to please you, my ladies. Now I must go.” He opened the door and stepped out. The footman closed it, signalled to the driver, and the coach creaked and rolled off. Toby watched it a moment, then hefted the small purse and returned to the tavern.
On his way to the room called the Rose, a slight young man met him, smiling and holding out a book.
“Your blessing, Father?”
“With all my heart,” said Toby, laying his hands on Will’s head. “What have you here?”
“I have been meaning to bring you this for some months. Tis my premium.” He smirked and handed Toby a small book.
Toby took it with a mixture of pleasure and chagrin. “Ah, poor Master Shakespeare! I’ll not have the heart to meet him now. But does your work go well?”
“Aye, well enough. I’m now right quick at setting type, and Mistress Thorpe feeds me well.” He gave a restless glance toward the door. “I must confess that the work often sets me a-yawning even though I have slept my fill. But I am diligent. I provide for my future.” He glanced aside and smiled, slyly, I thought. “And how are you, Father?”
“Ah, lad, I am vexed. I yet have no letters from Mary McNab, and no way of knowing if she has received mine–or even if she is alive. I have just lost my pupil as well. My money from the book is almost gone. But–” he looked earnestly at Will–“do you lack money, lad?” He squeezed Jane’s purse. “I can always find some for my son.”
“The odd shilling is always welcome, Dad.”
“Here,” said Toby, handing over two coins. “Will, if I should have to go abroad again, can you keep honest and safe from harm?”
“I did for some years before you found me.”
“But that life was not honest, Will; you dared the hangman.”
“I shall be well enough. But are you not too old to go a-soldiering?”
“True.” He smiled ruefully. I realized that Toby must be around forty by this time, though he seemed fit enough and still had a touch of youth in his manner. “If I should go, I should be training others, not fighting myself.”
Will glanced at the door again. “I must be off now, Father. Let me know if you resolve to go.”
Toby grasped his hand. “Farewell, my boy, and thank you for the book.” He watched as Will slipped out the door. He then turned to the Rose.
As he entered, a beardless youth wearing wide breeches, an old peascod doublet, a high ruff, and shoulder-length auburn hair stood to greet him. Toby stared. The youth blushed and looked down. “I didna ken if I should come. But I couldna stop.” The voice was a complex mezzo.
“I got one of your letters, so I knew your lodging. Did you not get my letters?”
Toby did not answer, but strode across the room and embraced her tightly. “Oh, Mary, Mary, praise God,” he murmured.
She tentatively returned his embrace. “So you do want me here? I–I can go to my kin in Scotland. My father died, rest his soul, and I knew not if you–“
“Oh, yes, I want you here, above all things. I was about to go in search of you.”
“You were? Do you–” she stopped and ducked her head–“do you still wish to wed?”
“Oh, aye! This day! I had hoped to get a good place and give you a proper home, but if you will share my poor fortunes, I am yours if you will have me.” They returned to an intense embrace, fervent on both their parts. Eventually they sat.
“I am sorry for your father,” said Toby, kneading her hand. “He was a good man.”
“Aye, he made a good end.”
“There is much to say and ask. But have you a gown? I meant true when I said we should wed today.”
“Aye, tis in my bag. Shall I shift now?”
“Yes. I want a wife, not a minion. We must get a licence, since we cannot await the banns. My vicar will help us.”
Mary stood, but made no move to undress. She smiled at Toby’s blank look. “Out with ye, you rogue; we’re not wed yet.”
“Cry you mercy,” said Toby and stepped outside the room. He looked around the public room of the tavern, and called to the boy who washed the cups.
“John,” said Toby, “There’s a sixpence for you if you can carry a message rightly.”
“Try me, sir,” said the boy.
“Go to Master Thorpe, the bookseller, and tell him to bring Will Hume and Mistress Thorpe to St. Michael’s in Huggen Lane in two hours to see me wed. Then go to Master Edgcoke’s with the same message.”
The boy registered mild surprise, but ducked his knee and took off. Toby then spotted John Lowin and Will Sly at a table in the corner. He stepped over, beaming, and invited them both to the wedding. They responded with good-natured banter.
Mary, in a plain gray gown and white cap, stood with Toby before a young clergyman in the transept of the church, surrounded by the Thorpes, Lowin, Sly, a wide-eyed Edgcoke, and a few others I didn’t recognize. Will Hume was not present. The familiar prayerbook service was read, the couple pronounced married, and the group processed merrily to the tavern, where Toby and Mary were treated to toasts and some very crude but well-taken remarks.
Later, they snuggled in Toby’s narrow bed at Edgcoke’s. Their appetite for passion had apparently been satisfied, for they were talking with quiet animation. Mary spoke of her father. “He had tried to provide for me, but his noble friends had weakened, and a rich gallant who wanted me for his mistress had me turned out of our house when I refused him. I had enough money for my disguise and my passage, and a little more besides.”
“Brave wench! Did everyone take you for a man?”
“As far as I could tell, though an officer on the ship would have had me unnaturally as a man.”
“Did he offer to force you?” Toby frowned with protective anger.
“He might have, but I dealt shrewdly with him.” Mary smiled. “I feigned agreement and promised to meet him later, and offered him a pledge in wine. I had provided myself with some of my father’s simples and medicines and gave him a draught that made him sleep; and if he had waked, he would have been incapable.”
Toby chuckled. “I must be wary of what I drink.”
“Nay, lad. I like you awake and capable.” They giggled and wrestled a moment. Then they lay silent.
“What shall we do noo?” asked Mary softly.
After a moment, Toby spoke. “Will you go wi’ me to Sweden?”
“I’ll go wi’ you anywhere.”
As far as I could tell, Toby did not meet Jane and their son.
I was scoring an anonymous In nomine from xeroxes of manuscript parts when Jean called. She sounded very tentative, and spoke softly. After a few awkward but polite exchanges, there was a moment of silence. Then Jean said, “I’m sorry about your cello.”
“Me too.” I didn’t mention the wonderful cello I could play frequently, though not enough.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry about a lot of things–about the way it all happened. Is–is your leg OK now?”
“I want to make up for the cello. I–“
“Don’t bother. It wasn’t worth much, and I’ve got more of your money than I wanted.”
“No, please listen. I’ve sent you something–not money. Try it and think about it before you turn it down.”
“Whatever it is, I’ll think about it.” She was silent. “So what are you doing?” I asked. “How’s Howell?”
“I’ve got to go. Take care. And keep what I sent you.” She hung up.
The next day a goddamn armored truck pulled into the driveway. My landlady, kneeling among her foxgloves, dropped her trowel and sat back on her heels. The uniformed driver, pistol on hip, took out a cello in a shipping case, which he handed to me after I showed my driver’s licence and signed several forms. I waved to my landlady and took the cello into my apartment. I opened the case and found a deep reddish-brown cello, obviously old, probably Italian. I looked inside at the label. Guadagnini. Whew. We’re talking high six figures here.
I closed the case. I didn’t tempt myself by playing it. But I thought about it. The case sat in the corner by the door that night, and I stared at it while I pondered. A peace offering, sure. But how far did Jean mean it to go? A Guadagnini seemed like overkill. How far did I want it to go? Hearing her voice, speaking softly and without the edge it had had during the last months of our marriage, stirred feelings in me that I had thought were gone. I had been focused on Clio so much lately that I hadn’t reflected that that relationship seemed to be stuck at the warm and friendly level. I had hopes for its development, but now the grounds for that hope seemed elusive. What was going on with Jean?
I was inspired to call Callie Warren; miraculously, she was home. “Tony, old hoss! How’s the leg?”
“Fine. I just got an odd call from Jean. What’s going on with her?”
“Funny you should ask. I got a call just the other day. Hadn’t heard from her in ages. She was more like the old Jean. Very friendly, wanted to catch up, mend fences. We talked a long time. I guess the most significant news from her is that Howell dumped her, the sumbitch.”
“Really. What happened?”
“I couldn’t get details, though Lord knows I tried. I know she feels bad about you, and needs some sort of absolution.”
“She sent me a cello. A really good one,” I added.
“Well, that’s a start.”
“What about her obsession with her father and the–the abuse thing?”
“That still seems to be going on,” said Callie, “but maybe less intensely. She’s changed therapists.”
“That’s good. I hope.”
“But she’s now into crystals,” sighed Callie.
We talked a while longer, but we both ended with many questions unanswered.
I woke up the next morning and stared at the clunky, squared-off shipping case. As I was having a second cup of coffee, Jean called.
“Did I wake you up?” she asked anxiously.
“No. I’ve been up, thinking about your present.”
“O, good–it got there. Do you like it?”
“It’s a beautiful instrument. A professional should have it.”
Jean said hurriedly, “I want you to keep it.”
“I don’t know that I can. You don’t owe me anything, and–“
Jean interrupted. “Tony. Please. Listen–this is hard.” She hesitated, and I kept quiet. “Do you–do you think we still have anything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think we have a chance for–should we try again–could we get together again?” Before I could say anything, she went on, nervously. “Don’t answer that. Think about it. I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. We had some good times, didn’t we? Don’t talk. I’ll call you later. Bye.” She hung up.
Well, there it was. I remembered Jean’s eyes, the feel of her body, her quick wit. Her smell. Her voice echoed in my ear and in my feelings. I felt her anxiety, her fear of what I might say. I could imagine her pain, getting dumped by Howell after investing in, or rather gambling on him. I recalled for the thousandth time the day of the break, and under the remembered anger and pain, I felt a little guilt: I had, after all, abandoned Jean when she was not well. Then I thought about Clio, her touch on my hand or shoulder, the quick kisses, her smile, her voice. There was promise in that voice. I remembered Jean’s moods, her rage.
I got up, poured out my cold coffee, and stared out the window. My landlady was back on her knees in the garden, separating her foxgloves. The prof came out the back door; they exchanged some words about the flowers. She smiled. He bent down and kissed her on the lips. Smiling, he got into his car and backed out the drive. Smiling, she returned to her flowers.
I thought about Tobias Hume and Mary McNab. The yellow copy of the shipping papers lay on my desk. I called the armored delivery service and told them to come pick up the cello. Return to sender.