Archive for November, 2010

Time’s Bending Sickle

November 28, 2010

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6. Time Doth Transfix

Despite my efforts to study business and avoid visions, they would call to me, more urgently as the economics grew drearier. Over several visions I saw Toby grow into a young man. He continued to study fencing and military sciences with Felix, as well as music. He lived with the Fenwicks most of the time, but would return to the lord’s manor for extended visits. The lord was growing more irritable with age and what must have been arthritis in his knees, but he seemed to enjoy watching Toby’s growth and progress in fencing and shooting. He gave Toby a series of longbows to fit his growing arms. Each summer he would drag Toby out to the field where a haystack had been marked with a target, and make him shoot; he would complain that the bow was too short, and then produce a new one that was just a bit too long. But he also acquired one of the new snaphance muskets–it had a flintlock firing mechanism, more reliable than the wheel-lock, but still less common than the matchlock–and made it clear to Toby that it was not a gift, but was available for his use. Toby was fascinated by it, but also wary of it. He would fire it, then put it down and go away holding his ears. Then after a time, hovering around it, sometimes cleaning it and polishing the stock, he would take it out and fire it, and immediately retreat again. It was if something were building up in him which could be discharged through the gun, but which was also frightening, possibly painful.
The lord was still given to ill-tempered, jealous remarks, delivered under his breath or as an aside, but the lady did not seem to take them seriously, and she gave him no cause for them that I ever saw. She appeared to take great pleasure in Toby’s maturing, and in his music. She was always eager to hear the little pieces that Toby was beginning to compose, and always had a word of praise or encouragement. Toby never played for the lord.
Back in Newcastle, Toby grew more expert with his foil as he grew taller, and Felix made him the usher of the fencing school. Toby had become almost as skillful as Felix, and his youth gave him an edge in speed and agility.
Felix was a good teacher, for he was good at translating what he read into practice, and at analyzing the movements of his pupils. He also seemed to have a knack for getting hold of the most advanced texts in all fields. For instance, he had absorbed the works on fencing by Agrippa, Marozzo, and Viggiani, and had incorporated into his own teaching the important analytical and practical manual of Giacomo di Grassi long before 1594, when it was published in England as the True Art of Defence. Felix discussed all these texts with Toby, as well as matters of fortification and artillery. Master Hume had succeeded in finding a copy of Leonard Digges’s Geometrical Practise, and with the help of this book and a maker of navigators’ instruments in Newcastle, Felix was able to obtain a theodolite and teach Toby how to use it to find height and distance.
“Your gunner,” Felix explained, “can then set the angle of his cannon with the quadrant. This he holds in the mouth of the barrel, and raises or lowers the barrel by adding or removing wedges. If he knows his gun, he will know how much powder will be needed to hurl a ball of so much weight so far.”
“How would he know his gun?”
“Why, he will have fired it with measures of powder and weighed shot and measured the distances.”
“And how if he had not that opportunity?”
“Why, then he must guess, and pray that the charge fall not short and that the gun explode not from overcharging.”
They even took a field trip north to Berwick-on-Tweed to see the fortifications Sir Richard Lee had built there. Master Fenwick had to go there to see that a load of coal was delivered without wastage, so Felix and Toby went along. Toby remarked that it was the first time he had been to sea. And even though they were never out of sight of land, it must have been a memorable experience for him. The channel did not look especially rough, but the dirty little coal coaster rolled and dipped, its dull bow butting against the seas, and Toby was thoroughly seasick. Felix looked quite pale himself, and kept solitary on the frigid deck, leaving Toby to manage on his own. Although the journey was not seventy miles, it seems to have taken two days. By the time they passed Holy Island, Toby was feeling weak but better.
As they approached Berwick, Felix called to Toby and pointed out the fort, indicating that the bastions were on the inland side. On the water side they were not needed for protection from besieging troops. He pointed out the low, thick walls facing the harbor, telling how they were good for keeping off bombardment from ships, for the stone was backed with earth, and would not break. “And the cannon on these walls have longer range than those on all but the biggest ships.”
After they landed they walked, a bit unsteadily at first, to the fort. “Now you can see the bastions,” said Felix as they strolled along the moat. “Sir Richard started his work here nearly thirty years ago, and this is still the best-fortified town in the kingdom. Look.” He pointed to a part of the wall that stuck out like an arrowhead. “A besieging enemy cannot find a blind spot to shelter in while he tries to scale the wall, for every place is in range of the guns. And beyond this oreillon–they call it that because?” The teacher looked at his pupil expectantly.
“Because it looks like an ear.”
“Good. A fox’s ear, I like to think. Beyond this is another, within firing range, so that attackers may be met with shot from two directions.”
“Exactamente. Again the Italians help us English with our defence. For two Italians worked with Sir Richard before he began this work.”
“So how might we overcome such a fort if the Italians also helped the Spanish?”
“Ah, yes, that is a challenge indeed. The attacker must approach the walls with a series of protected trenches. Then he may mine under the walls and blow them up, or make an assault through a breach his cannon have opened. In the meantime he may use mortars to shoot explosive charges over the walls. But the worst is cutting off supplies and starving the garrison.” He shuddered. “The imagination recoils at what Christians have subjected their brethren to during sieges. I have read that the victims of sieges have eaten their own dead.”
Toby’s eyes widened. “Bless me from being besieged.”

Toby had apparently grown accustomed to being the star pupil and student teacher in Felix’s school, and, during a phase of adolescent self-centeredness, slackened in some of his duties. One day during the class Toby sat by the window absorbed in a book. Felix called to him to work with a group of students on defensive footwork. Without looking up, he casually waved Felix away, and said, “Not today.”
Felix saw the jaws of the younger pupils drop. With a tight smile he strode to Toby and flicked the book out of his hand with the point of his foil. “Who is master here, sir boy?” Toby reached for the book, but Felix knocked it away and gave Toby’s right ear a fillip with the point of his foil. Toby leaped up, his left ear almost as red as his right. “Are you awake then, sir boy? Must I send you back to your hornbook? Must I give you a breeching?” All this time he made small annoying jabs and stinging slaps with his foil.
Toby looked around and saw the class aghast, not knowing what to expect. He grabbed a foil and made a furious attack, which Felix cooly parried and punctuated with a slap of his foil against Toby’s thigh. Keeping his guard up and his eyes on Toby, Felix called out “Masks!” Another pupil eventually awoke from his astonishment and tossed masks to Felix and Toby. Before the mask obscured it, Toby’s face registered controlled anger and determination, and he began a more calculated attack. Felix parried again, but as the bout went on, he found it harder and harder to meet the thrusts of his younger and quicker opponent. Both fencers knew the strengths and weaknesses of the other intimately, and both were fighting their best. But after some ten minutes of intense work, Felix began to tire. Finally his response was a split second too slow, and Toby, with a twirling motion of his foil, made Felix’s foil fly across the room, where it landed with a clatter. In the meantime Toby had thrust his foil against the base of Felix’s throat.
They stood frozen for a moment. Then Felix relaxed, turned up his palms, and said with a smile, “I yield.”
Toby jerked off his mask to reveal a frown of intense concentration. Then he too relaxed, and his face regained its customary expression of slightly melancholy innocence. Felix opened his arms, and Toby dropped his weapons and received Felix’s embrace. “Now I know I have done the work I should. A master should rejoice when his pupil outdoes him.”
Toby spoke softly, “Pardon me, Master.”
Moved, the rest of the class broke into cheers, and hands were shaken all around.

A demonstration match was advertised to the public, in which Toby and Felix would accept challenges from all comers. They had a handbill printed which boasted that “Master Baptista and Master Tobias Hume will play with any brave challenger, yea even Blinkinsopps the Bold should he be in Newcastle.” (John Blinkinsopps was one of the English masters of defence; Jonson mentions him in The New Inn.) The crowd was expected to be considerable, so the venue was announced to be the open courtyard of the White Hart, where the comedians played when they came to town.
The balcony overlooking the innyard was full of spectators well before the appointed time, and a crowd was beginning to form around the platform, some ten by twenty feet, used by the players. Felix stood on the platform with paper and pen, taking down the names of the challengers. Toby and other students from the fencing school readied the equipment. Padded jackets of black leather were to be worn by the contestants, and the foils were tipped by pads dusted with chalk. Two hits out of three, as indicated by the chalk marks, constituted a bout.
The show began when Toby easily defeated the first challenger, who was clearly used to the slashing play of sword and buckler or quarterstaves. He had barely got his guard up before Toby spotted his jacket with chalk. Most of the challengers were laboring men and country folk, for few of the gentry would deign to enter into such a display. But a group of young gallants near the stage were so noisy in their criticism that Felix began taunting them to put their words to proof. Finally one of the group, urged on by his fellows, mounted the stage. He clearly had some experience, for he put chalk on Felix’s jacket for the first time that day, though Felix ultimately prevailed.
Although there were still a few challengers when the light began to fail, the demonstration came to an end when the host of the inn mounted the platform and announced a special bargain price on a pint of ale. Toby and Felix were gathering up the equipment when a well-dressed older couple approached the platform. The man, like most of the gentlemen present, wore his sword, but limped and leaned on a staff.
“My lord! My lady!” exclaimed Toby when he recognized them. “I did not know you were coming.”
The lady embraced Toby warmly, but the lord was stern–though his eyes were bright. The lady said, “We had planned to come to Newcastle for some time on business, but when we heard of your exhibition, we came post haste. You acquitted yourself very well. I only hope you never have to use your skill in a fight in earnest.”
The lord spoke gravely. “I would you had not been on show like a player or a mountebank.”
Meanwhile, Felix was busying himself with the equipment, trying not to attract the attention of his former employer. But the lady asked to be presented to his master, and Toby, in a burst of forgetful pride and good feeling, called out, “Master Fe– Signor Baptista!” Too late he recalled what the risks were, and Felix was trapped. The master hesitated a second, then came forward, smiling and bowing in his most Italianate manner and speaking with a heavier accent than usual.
“I am most ‘onored, my lord, my lady. Master Toby, he ees best of all my pupils. He speak of you many time.”
The lady’s eyes widened, but she addressed Felix as Signor Baptista, and allowed her hand to be kissed. The lord was frowning with puzzlement, then recognition and fury rushed with blood into his face.
“Son of a whore! Tis Felix! Deceitful dog!” He gripped his staff in his left hand and fumblingly drew his sword with his right.
Felix dropped all pretence and made calming gestures, saying, “My lord, please. I mean no harm.”
“You mock me, villain!”
“Allow me to explain.”
But the lord had begun to beat Felix with the flat of his sword. “Defend yourself, sirrah. You dishonor me, my wife, and my young kinsman.”
“But sir–”
The lady and Toby tried to restrain the lord, but he shook them off and swept his sword around in a general threat. “Give room, all of you!” He then began a more determined attack on Felix, and drew blood from his left arm. Felix reached for one of the foils to ward off the lord’s blows, and retreated as the lord advanced. A group of onlookers had gathered, trying to make sense of what was going on. Toby and the lady continued to remonstate with the lord, but were ignored. Between blows and parries, Felix tried to shout out an explanation, saying, “No intent to deceive you, sir . . . for the fencing school . . . all the best masters Italian . . . I have not seen my lady since . . . the day you drove me away . . . Toby knows.”
“Lying dogs all!” In a slash, the lord knocked the pad off the end of Felix’s foil. The point was blunt, but not enough to prevent what followed. Felix, still retreating, tripped over a mask at the same time the lord, lunging forward, lost his balance and became entangled with his staff, falling on the raised point of Felix’s foil with enough force to penetrate his left side, just below the ribs.
The lord, on his knees, stopped and felt his side, looking at his bloody hand with curious amazement. Felix scrambled to his feet and stared, his mouth moving silently. The lady screamed and rushed to the lord, who dropped his sword and slumped back on his heels. Toby ran up and eased the lord to a lying position. The crowd, struck silent, now began calling for a surgeon. Felix, with an anguished look, slipped away, holding his wounded arm.
Two men in the crowd brought out a bench from the inn, eased the lord onto it, and carried him inside. Toby helped the lady follow, and she made as if to examine the wound. The lord looked up and focused on Toby and the lady, then waved them away with gritted teeth. After an agonizing few minutes, in which the innkeeper pushed forward, cut away the lord’s garment and applied a rag to the wound, a surgeon appeared. He moved the not-too-clean rag the innkeeper had used, and washed the wound with liquid from a bottle, then bound up the wound with white linen. He turned to the lady. “His vitals were not touched. If we can avoid corruption, he should recover.” The lady sat; suddenly her eyes rolled up, and she melted in a faint.

A fire burned in the Fenwicks’ hearth, and Toby and Master Hume were seated at a table with a candle. A cup of wine was before Master Hume. Toby was looking down and shaking his head.
“But Toby, you are skillful and knowledgeable. You may serve your queen and make your fortune if you are wise. A share in one of Drake’s voyages could be the making of you.”
Toby remained silent, still staring at the tabletop.
“My lord is mending, though he is still angry that you kept your rascally master’s secret; that rogue is nowhere to be found, and you must move on. I have helped you almost as much as I can; you must find some means to live.”
“Good sir,” said Toby softly, “you must know I am grateful for your help. But I must live some other way than by the sword.”
Master Hume gestured impatiently. “My lord’s wound was an accident, as you know. Your fortune will not permit you many scruples.”
“But sir, I fear–”
“So do we all. But you can overcome that and do your duty.”
“You mistake me, sir. I fear that I may do harm.” Master Hume seemed to be unsure how to respond, so Toby pressed on. “You know I have some skill in music; I can teach music and mathematics and other subjects, though I confess my Latin to be weak. If you could but prefer me to service in some sufficient household, I shall be content, and make no more demands on your generosity.”
Master Hume stared at Toby intently, as if to gauge his sincerity. Then he looked away and took a sip of wine. “Very well. I shall do what I can.”

It was early fall in what I guess, from later events, to have been 1587. From the accents of the members of the household, I judged the place to be considerably south of Newcastle. Tobias Hume, now a strapping eighteen, tall, muscular, but still a bit uneasy in his adult body, reddish hair on his now angular chin, but still with the sloping eyebrows and dreamy gaze that made him seem younger, was giving a viol lesson. He and his three pupils, siblings by their looks, were seated by a large many-paned window in a room walled with dark wainscoting and heavy tapestries; a girl of about sixteen sat with another of about twelve in the window seat. Holding a viol, a boy of eight or nine sat on a stool by a small table covered with music. Toby stood to the side, occasionally reaching over to move the boy’s bow arm into a better position. He said some of the same things Felix had said to him, and balanced encouragement and correction as Felix had done. But he was more gentle, less confident, less flamboyant. His pupils, especially the boy and the older girl, were quiet and attentive. The younger girl twitched her foot restlessly and glanced out the window frequently, but made no sound except for a slight sigh when it came her turn to play. She played with careless ease, good intonation, and real flair.
“Well, Mistress Audrey, I can find no fault with your playing of that lesson. Your practice of bowing across the strings has served you well. I think you may now proceed to one of the lessons with more artificial divisions.” Toby handed her a sheet of music, which she looked over with the air of one who was ready for any challenge, and disappointed not to find a greater. Toby pointed to a passage. “Here you must slide your hand down so that your first finger falls behind this fret, thus”–he moved her hand gently. “This note must then be played with the third finger, as I have marked. Look that you find similar passages and mark them.” Audrey looked more interested, and curled up in the window seat, intent on the music.
“Now Mistress Jane,” said Toby, addressing the older girl. She looked up languidly and flowed over to the stool. She had long blonde hair under a white linen cap, pale blue eyes, and full lips. Her complexion was that clear, startling rose and milk that one still finds in English children. She too played well, but without the panache of her sister. Her piece was somewhat more difficult, with rapid runs. One passage gave her trouble, and Toby had to take the viol from her at one point to demonstrate how it should be played. She then tried the passage again, Toby watching her hands intently. “Try yet again,” he said, this time gently supporting her left hand. It went better, and they both smiled. “You must keep your left wrist straight so that your fingers can move more easily.” Audrey looked up, sniffed, and returned to her sheet of music, twitching her foot.
Toby glanced out of the window, measuring the sun’s height. “Now we must cease, and Master Simon and I must pursue geometry. If you ladies continue in your good progress, I may have a surprise for you in a few days.”
“Please tell, Master Toby,” begged Jane. Audrey could not hide her interest in her disgusted glance at her sister.
“Nay, you shall know soon enough. Now you may practice.”
He led Simon to another room, where they worked on geometry, Toby explaining, waiting patiently while the boy thought, finally allowing him to run wild outdoors. Toby then retired to his own small room, where he scratched out some music on a wax-covered board. When he heard the bell for supper, he rose reluctantly, and made a few more marks before hurrying downstairs.
At the foot of the stairs he met Mistress Jane, who looked him in the eye for a second, then looked down and blushed. Toby stopped and looked puzzled, then blushed himself. He watched her precede him into the hall. The long gown swayed gently as she walked through the door. Toby took a deep breath and followed.

Time’s Bending Sickle

November 20, 2010

For previous chapters, go to archives.


5. Reckoning Time

Bonnie Drew, like Howell, had more substance than her appearance suggested. She looked like someone the archetypal jock might marry–blonde, full figured, expert with makeup, expensively dressed and coiffed–and she had in fact been a cheerleader. But it soon became clear that she was an intelligent, ambitious woman, though one I found myself disagreeing with on many topics. She had just served coffee after feeding us an elegant meal of beef Wellington, asparagus, avocado salad, and a wicked reine de Saba for dessert. I was coasting nicely on fat and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, when Howell made a crack about President Carter. I had always admired some things about Carter, especially his human rights stance, so I said something rather inane in his defence, like “Don’t be so hard on Cud’n Jimmy.” But Bonnie started reeling off item after item in a long list of grievances, from the eighteen percent inflation rate to the response to the hostage-taking in Iran. I tried to say that most of those charges could be blamed on bad luck instead of deliberate policy, but I was short on information, and Bonnie was loaded. Howell and Jean weighed in on her side, not that she needed their help. I was glad when the conversation shifted to the business.
Howell began expounding his ideas about the need to expand and develop new products. “The high interest rates are killing us, though. Dinero is too damn dear. Even if Miss Tillie would let us, I’m not sure that borrowing would be the best way to finance our expansion.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jean, mildly interested. Earlier in the evening she had been quiet and abstracted, with a look I had come to recognize as a sign that she was probably obsessing about the baby.
“Well, I know your mother has had a lot on her mind lately. But it would sure help if she would give a little more time to the business. There are some things I just can’t do without her approval, and I just can’t get her to focus on them.”
“No, I meant the other thing you said. About another way to pay for expansion.”
“Oh. Well, we couldn’t do that without her either,” said Howell. He glanced at Bonnie. “What I was thinking about was the possibility of taking Cullen Computing public.”
“Selling stock.” Jean’s interest seemed to grow.
“Exactly. Now there are some risks involved, but there may be a lot to gain.”
“Big gains usually involve risk,” said Bonnie.
“I’d like to hear more about those,” said Jean. “What about mother’s ownership?”
“She would still be the majority stockholder, and she could sit on the board of directors if she wanted–we would have to have a board of directors.” Howell smiled slightly and then cast a light, finely tied fly in Jean’s direction. “Or she could appoint a representative to the board–you, for instance.”
Jean sat quietly, with a thoughtful expression that was not like her recent obsessive look. Her mind, it seemed to me, carefully swallowed the fly. I watched to see when Howell would set the hook and reel her in. Howell and Bonnie watched Jean as if both knew exactly what the other were doing. I was invisible to all three.
After a few more questions from Jean, which clearly indicated her interest in the whole idea, Bonnie skillfully steered the conversation to a neutral topic, the Southern Methodist football team.
“So what do you think?” Jean asked me on the way home.
“It’s up to you and your mother. I’m no expert on this kind of business decision.”
“But do you have any feeling, any instinctive response?”
I didn’t like to sound off on the basis of my instinctive dislike of Howell. But I did say this: “I think you should think about it carefully and try to get some disinterested advice. How about your dad’s lawyer, or even a hired consultant from your good old SMU?”
“Maybe so.”
Maybe so. During the following weeks I thought a lot about the various possibilities of changes at Cullen, and about what I wanted for myself. It seemed as if fate did not intend me to be a musician. So if I am to be a businessman, I thought, perhaps I should start working at it as if it were not just a temporary job. At least I should assume the role, and maybe the interest would follow. Perhaps I should find out more of what is going on with the business. I could use my musical friends among the designers and engineers and maybe get an edge. If Jean is to be a director of a company, perhaps her husband should have a better job. Conversely, maybe Jean would be happier with me if I did better in the business. I didn’t want an empty title and office got merely by my wife’s clout. I had to bring something more than just a mediocre sales record. Also, going public might eventually take away some of the family control, and my job might not be better–it might disappear.
So I began reading books on economics, the trade journals, the Wall Street Journal. This was not easy for me. Economics texts tended to send me off on visions, as well as on ordinary daydreams. But I persisted. I worked at beating down visions when they arose, even interesting ones. I didn’t practice the cello. I began pumping Perry Fein for gossip and technical info. I even tried to see if our other Cullen violinist, programmer John Yazchuck, knew anything but computer languages, chess, and music. He didn’t, but some of the gossip he got from computer bulletin boards was useful and interesting. The most surprising information I got was from a person not connected with Cullen, Myron Fish, our main violist, and a doctor at the local medical school.
Myron was a New Yorker, widely read, hyperactive, politically liberal, and highly critical of his medical colleagues. He continually griped about their greed, their tendency to “cover their butts at the expense of the patient,” their arrogance toward anyone not in the MD club. He was especially hard on surgeons, who he said would “cut off a nose to cure a cold.”
“Why is it,” Myron would ask, “there are more hysterectomies in the U.S. than in any other country, and why more in Dallas than anyplace but New York–or maybe Houston?”
“Aren’t hospital review boards supposed to prevent unnecessary operations?” That’s what I had always heard.
“Sure, but they don’t always. What’s the incentive?”
“Is there any research that would give you a statistical norm for particular operations per thousand population?” I asked him.
“You bet! I can give you the references tomorrow if you’re interested.”
I was. I took the material to Perry Fein and asked if it would be possible to write a program that would flag procedures that exceeded the norm. Perhaps the figures could give review boards, or those who wanted them to work, some useful tools.
“Sure. I know the system the hospital is using, and we could easily develop a package that would slip right into their system and tell them all sorts of interesting things.”
“Do other hospitals use the same system?”
“Yes, quite a few.”
“Let’s work one up on spec. I might be able to sell some of these.”
Perry looked a bit skeptical. “Only if you could convince them that they would save money.”
Who would save money? The patients–and their insurers. “Well, let’s sell it to the insurance companies.”
Perry grinned. “Now you’re talking.”
“Yeah. The insurance companies could match the claims against the norms and put pressure on the review boards. Federal Mutual is already one of our customers. Let’s work on it.”
We did. But we also had to work on the usual business of the company, which for me meant a week-long sales trip. It was a busy one that did not allow me any time for music, but in spite of my efforts to study business in planes and airports, I indulged in some time-travelling. Lots of guys sit around airports staring into space or at the same page of the newspaper, but not many of them make notes about the doings of an obscure three-hundred-year-old when they regain consciousness.

The fall after Felix’s departure in the spring–I would guess of 1580–Toby’s guardians received a visit from a gentleman who must have been the Master Hume who called Toby cousin, for these were the names used during his visit. He was a tall, well-dressed man in his mid-thirties, with dark auburn hair, and several subtle points of resemblance to Toby. He and the lord of the manor lingered over wine one night after having been served dinner by Toby and after being bid a polite, but formal and somewhat distant good night by the lady. Toby busied himself quietly and unobtrusively within earshot, for he had heard his name mentioned.
“What is the lad to do, then, cousin?” asked the lord. “He’s getting a gentle education, but you know he will have no land, and his birth will keep him from a church living.”
“What would you advise?”
“He could go into service. He is agreeable, and can turn to his duties well enough when he is told what to do. He does sometimes stand about dreaming and musing instead of finding another task. To my mind, he is still too much occupied with music, but some houses may be wanton enough to value that in him.”
“Some butler or steward, then.” Master Hume frowned with distaste.
“He could also be a tutor.”
Master Hume pursed his lips and looked into the fire. He watched Toby as he brought in an armful of firewood. “He promises to be a tall, stout lad. You say the fever last winter kept him abed only three days?”
“Aye, he is sound enough.”
“I mislike the thought of my–my kinsman as a finger-kissing servant whose fondest hope is to wear a steward’s chain and marry my lady’s maid. You say he rides well?”
“Aye, he sits a horse well enough.”
“Does military exercise have any part in his gentle education?”
The lord frowned. “He can ride and swim and shoot a light bow.”
“Who knows what troubles will arise in the world? We are friends with the French for the nonce, but we may yet go to the aid of the Protestants in the Low Countries, or the Spanish may tire of our heretical attacks on their ships. If there is a general muster, and the lad is grown, he may have to go. It were better if he were prepared.”
“And if there is no war? Shall he go for hire abroad like a Switzer?” The lord looked at the other with dark suspicion, challenging him. “Do you wish him in harm’s way?”
“No.” Hume answered with some indignation. “But if there is danger in soldiering, there is also opportunity. And do you recall how he spoke of his time with those Liddesdale thieves? He talked of Hobie Noble as other boys do King Arthur. He has spirit, and if he is educated to be an officer he may be in less peril.”
“Well. My groom, old Giles, was in France with the Earl of Warwick. The boy is always pestering him for tales. Maybe Giles can begin his education.”
“Giles, by his own account, was a mere brown-bill man and a Sunday sword-and-buckler player. I doubt not that he still shoots his longbow.”
“And good exercise it is,” the lord said. “Have ye read Master Ascham’s book of Toxophilus?”
“Aye, but the last time bows were used to any good was in King Edward’s time.”
“Tis neglect of practice.”
“Perhaps. And I grant that arquebuses are cumbersome and dangerous. But a trained man with a good musket can kill a man in proof armor at two hundred paces.”
The lord grunted skeptically.
“Well, I suppose old Giles may give him a start,” said Master Hume. “But I shall search out a good fencing-master who kens somewhat of fortification and siege. Does the lad have a head for the arithmetic?”
“Aye, he’s quick enough at sums.”
“I’ll seek out a copy of Master Digges’s Geometrical Practise. Have you a caliver or musket?”
“No. An old fowling-piece.”
“A matchlock?”
“Nay, a wheel-lock. I never use it.”
“Well, I’ll see what can be done.”
Toby slipped into the kitchen at this point. Using a broom as a rest, he squinted down the barrel of an imaginary musket, then pulled the trigger, clicked with his tongue, and said, “Bang!”

I saw Toby with a limping ruffian I took to be Giles whacking away at each other with wooden swords, shooting arrows at a bale of hay with a rag stuck on it, and, using a rake handle as a lance, knocking an old bucket off a post from horseback. Once the lord brought out an ornate but clumsy-looking firearm. He charged it carefully, wound up the spring on the trigger, aimed at the bucket, and fired, the wheel buzzing like a small grindstone and sending a shower of sparks into the pan. It made a loud pop, and knocked some splinters off the post. Toby stood by with his hands over his ears all during the demonstration. After a good deal of anxious hesitation, he tried the gun himself. He hit the bucket, but refused another shot, walking away holding his ears.
On wet winter days I saw Toby puzzling over geometry, but eventually solving the problem his new tutor, an old curate, called the pons asinorum. I also saw him practicing the viol, sometimes idly improvising while he stared into the distance. He also continued to serve the lord and lady at meals, fetch and carry, and do other odd jobs. By summer he had grown a bit taller, and his features had lost some of the roundness of childhood.
Then one day in early fall Master Hume returned, greeted Toby and his guardians as cousins, and asked Toby if he would like to return to Newcastle to visit the Fenwicks for a while. Clearly trying to contain his enthusiasm so as not to seem ungrateful to the lord and lady, he turned to them for their permission. They granted it, though with some affectionate reluctance on the part of the lady.
Master Hume addressed Toby, but glancingly included his older kinsman. “This visit is not merely to see your old friends. I have found you a teacher. Signor Baptista is a young Italian gentleman who has recently set up a fencing school which has earned some repute. And when I interviewed him, I found him knowledgeable in other matters that belong to a soldier.”
The lord scowled, and dismissed Toby, who left the room but lingered behind the door. The lord lowered his voice. “If an Italianate Englishman be the devil, what must the thing itself be?”
“I assure you, cousin, he is a most honorable gentleman. He seems almost English, and is a good Protestant.”
“And will he make the lad a good Protestant swaggerer and dueller, skewering Christian folk over the fashion of a button?”
“We shall both teach him better, I trust. But he whose honor is compromised by his birth may have more than usual occasion to defend that honor. My own honor will not permit him to be ill-prepared.”
The visit lasted several days, during which Toby gathered up his clothes, a few books, and, with the lord’s permission, his viol and music. Early one morning Toby and his kinsman set out on horseback, followed by one of the lord’s servants leading a horse packed with Toby’s belongings, the carefully wrapped viol in a case on top.
Toby was met at the door by his old friend Davie Fenwick, also beginning to grow, and his parents. Master Hume and the lord’s servant soon departed, and Master Fenwick took Toby, armed with a new foil and blunt dagger, to Signor Baptista’s fencing school.
The school was held in the low-ceilinged upper room of a tavern. It was open, though interrupted by posts, and Master Fenwick remarked that it was used at night for cock-fighting and, in bad weather, for bowls. A dozen youths, two or three around Toby’s age, the rest older, stood in a row and practiced thrusts and lunges. “Alla stoccata,” called the teacher, a slim young man in black hose and stockings, a leather jerkin, and flat white collar. His dark hair was greased back, and he wore a large moustache. He looked up at the newcomers and gave a slight start. “So, gentlemen, now in pairs, stoccata e pararla, thrust and parry.” He spoke with an Italian accent, but not a heavy one. He approached, gave a courteous bow, and greeted Toby with a wink and a quick pass of a finger over his lips as Fenwick introduced him. Toby stared at him, looking puzzled.
“I understand from Master Fenweek,” Signor Baptista said, “that you weel also be my pupil in the mathematics and the art of war. We shall work hard. As we say in my country, ‘A soldier must be made before he ees unmade.’ It ees better in Italian. So please to remain after the other gentlemen leave today, and we shall begin. Now come and let me show you what I have been teaching the others.”
The teacher showed Toby how to hold the foil and dagger. “Like a leetle bird–tight enough so eet does not fly, but not enough to strangle. Meglio fringuello in man che tordo in frasca–better a finch in the hand than a thrush on a branch. Now with the rapier, we thrust. Sometimes we cut, but we do not hack. We do not hew wood like a peasant. Why? Because in the time one takes to raise the sword and bring it down for a cutting blow, one may thrust twice. The arm takes more time to go in an arc than it does to go in a straight line.” Here the master demonstrated with a flashing thrust. “Quickness may keep you quick, while he who hesitates is lost.”
Master Fenwick watched for a while, then left. Soon Toby joined the group exercises. When the session was over, he met some of the other young men, and spoke to one who had been at the singing school with him. He remained after the others had gathered their gear and left. Signor Baptista saw them out the door, reminding each of an individual weakness to be corrected by practise. He stood at the door for a moment after the last one had gone, then turned to Toby with a broad smile.
“Master Felix!” cried Toby.
“My old friend Toby, Fortune is good to us.”
Toby embraced his former teacher impulsively. “How came you here? And why are you Italian? And may we study music as well as war?”
“Patience, good Toby. All things come to him who waits. Rest on this bench, and you shall hear.” They sat, Toby all eager attention. “As I foresaw, Master Carnaby was not able to keep me after his neighbor found me offensive, innocent though I was; but he was just enough to be generous, and so gave me my wage for the whole year. That small sum I augmented by some careful dice-play. Even though I helped Dame Fortune as much as I could by teaching my dice to fall to my advantage–I had some fine light graviers and barred cater-treys”–here he rubbed his fingertips together–“it is not wise to presume on that lady’s favor too long. Fortune is fickle. Non fare il passo piu lungo della gamba–don’t take a step longer than your leg. So I then returned to my calling, the education of young gentlemen. Since the Italians are reputed to be the only masters of this noble science–indeed, I myself studied with Signor Bonetti–I thought it meet to take on an Italian outside to complement the Italian learning I have inside. Also”–here he gave another wink–“the strange brings a better price than the home-grown. Three whitters are dearer than four turnbobs.”
“But do you still teach music?”
Felix’s face registered some conflict. “For you, yes. But we must be discreet. I must appear to be master of one trade, not jack of all.”
Toby mused. “So I must call you Signor Baptista and not Master Felix.”
Felix smiled. “Yes. But you may call me Felix when we study music.”

When I returned from the sales trip, Jean was in a good mood. We had a pleasant dinner followed by a long, relaxed session of lovemaking free of the tension and urgency of the baby-making project. We came as close as we had in a long time to bridging that uncomfortable sense of distance between us. As we lay snuggled together afterward, she raised the topic of taking the company public.
“I kind of like the idea of looking in the paper every day to see how our stock is doing.”
“Except Monday.”
“You know, a director gets paid.”
“How much?” I asked. We could use the money.
“I don’t know. Probably not much at first, maybe ten grand a year. But we would get stock options at a discount.”
“If you were a director, would you make your husband an executive?”
“Sure. You could be vice-president in charge of this director’s orgasms.”
“Would I get a bonus?”
“That would depend on your productivity,” she said, tweaking me playfully.
“Have you heard of any reasons not to go public?”
“Well, Howell said that if we let more than half of the stock get out of family control, somebody could try to take us over.”
“I don’t remember him saying that.”
“I think he was talking about it at lunch the other day.”
“Yes, he took me to lunch, it was Wednesday.” She paused. “We went to the Greek place in the Galleria.”
“What was on his mind?”
“The business, of course, and Mom. I haven’t made much progress with her. She just doesn’t want to deal with it.”
“Have you told her about going public?”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t like it. She can’t give me a reason, but she doesn’t like it.”
“Well, to hear Howell tell it, we’re in trouble if we don’t do something. I may have a small contribution.” I told her about the package Perry and I were discussing. She quickly saw the possibilities, and congratulated me.
“I may make you vice president for clever ideas as well as orgasms.”
“Maybe we need to gang up on your mother. Even if we don’t go public, we need to have some movement going.”
“Like an intervention.”
“Something like that. But we need to know where we stand. Talk to your dad’s lawyer, or hire a consultant, as I suggested.”
“I’ll talk to her again.” She ran her hand up my leg. “Now do you want to do some more work on that bone-us?”

Time’s Bending Sickle

November 14, 2010

For previous chapters or previous novels, consult the archives.

4. Never-Resting Time

I was pleased by Jean’s suggestion, but puzzled by its timing. All she would say was that her father’s death had made her think about her own mortality, and about having children while she was still young and healthy. Yet I got a feeling that there was more to it than Jean was telling me. There was a certain vehemence about her decision and the way she spoke about it that I found odd. “Now that we can have a baby,” she would begin, “we should think about getting a house,” or more insurance, or a station wagon. And although her mother was badly shaken by Cullen’s death, and mourned deeply, taking a long time to pass through the classic stages, I never saw Jean drop a tear, express any sadness, or recall any fond memories. She busied herself with the many details connected with the funeral, the will, and Cullen’s clothes and personal items, relieving her mother of many painful tasks. Her haste to get his clothes out of the house was almost unseemly, and she reacted with unusual feeling when I admired one of his ties. She said that she couldn’t bear to see me in anything of his because the memories would be too painful, but her tone and expression seemed somehow inappropriate.
The first month of our baby-making project was great–almost like the honeymoon my testosterone-drunk imagination had fantasized about. I went around in such a haze of stupid, smug satiation that Perry Fein asked me if I was on some drug. Jean would meet me at the door when I came home from work in a succession of flimsy and sexy outfits. Sex replaced the before-dinner drink. It also served as dessert, nightcap, and morning coffee. I had a hard time persuading Jean not to call the office to protest when I had to go on a two-day sales trip. My homecoming welcome was warm. But one morning, instead of waking up to a wet tongue in my ear, I heard Jean in the bathroom sobbing.
“What’s the matter?” I yelled through the door.
“I got my p-p-period.”
Jean was so depressed for the next three days that I seriously considered urging her to see a shrink, although my own experiences with psychiatrists was not encouraging. I tried to persuade Jean that it was not abnormal to miss on the first few tries, that only in Victorian novels did people get pregnant immediately. My reassurances didn’t help much, but she perked up when her period ended, and we resumed our sexual marathon.
By the third month a certain grim determination had set in. Jean had done some research and bought two thermometers. More than once she would come to the bedroom door, nude and shaking the thermometers, and issue orders: “Tony. Now, and hurry.” Once on a weekend, after several bouts, I just couldn’t get it up. Jean was amazed, then indignant. She leaped out of bed and started throwing on her clothes. “What kind of a dud have I married?” she asked, her voice acid. “The Sigma Chis used to warn me about you–they said all you musicians were queers.”
I didn’t say anything, but got up, got dressed, and took a walk. I remember that when I had first heard about homosexuality I was puzzled and discomforted by the idea, but by the time I got to college I had developed a live-and-let-live attitude that I tried to maintain toward anyone who was different from me in some way. I had known some gays, musicians and non-musicians, and the proportion of those I liked or respected to those I didn’t was about the same as for other people I knew. But Jean had intended to hurt, and I responded to that. When I got back, Jean was very apologetic, and worked hard at seducing me. I had had enough time to recover, so I reclaimed my manhood.
But another period came, and another, each with tears and depression, and sometimes with accusations. I finally insisted we both consult a doctor. “It could be that my sperm count is low–or maybe the little guys are just exhausted.” Jean was reluctant, but finally agreed to go.
As we sat in the doctor’s waiting room, Jean grew more and more tense. Her hands were cold and sweating, and she answered in monosyllables. “Hey, it’s not like the dentist. They won’t hurt you. I’ve got to whack off into a cup, which has got to be almost as embarrassing as the stirrups.” Not a smile.
Jean was called first. She grew even paler than she was, but walked in briskly. I was then taken to a sterile little room with a cup, a box of tissue, and some old Playboys. It was not as much fun as it was when I was fifteen, so it took a while. I was grateful to the nurse for not smirking when I handed her my lovin’ spoonful.
Eventually Jean emerged, followed by the doctor, a reassuringly gray and grandfatherly man. “I didn’t find much that could be a problem. Just keep trying for a while, and if nothing happens, we’ll try some more tests.” He smiled and touched Jean on the shoulder. She tried, not quite successfully, not to shrink away. “Try to relax and enjoy the process. Occupy yourself with something else and try just to let it happen. You’ve probably heard about how many couples conceive after they have adopted a baby. It’s true.” Jean tried a smile and murmured thanks.
After a few days the doctor called and told me my sperm count was normal. While he had me on the phone, he offered some advice. “Try different positions. I found a little vaginal scarring that might inhibit the sperm a bit. Nothing to worry about, though.”
“How could that have happened?” I asked.
“Oh, many ways, some childhood accident perhaps.”
Jean relaxed after a few days and we resumed our efforts, now following the Kama Sutra instead of the how-to-have-a-baby book. But nothing seemed to work.
In the meantime, Cullen Computing Services was muddling along. Mrs. Cullen, now sole owner, was still too preoccupied with her grief to pay any attention to the business beyond putting Howell Drew in charge. Howell, to his credit, did not move into Cullen’s office, but energetically went about keeping the momentum of the business going. Of course his style was different, as was his expertise. There was some turnover, mainly among the programmers and designers. Perry Fein told me that Howell just didn’t understand what some of the technical people were up to. True, of those who left, the ones I knew were especially inarticulate and bound by their technical vocabulary, but they felt that Howell was being high-handed with them.
I kept my thoughts to myself, kept a low profile, and went about selling the products as best I could, but my position, always a bit strange, grew even stranger. I was still a lowly salesman, about average in performance. Although the visions came less frequently during the baby-making project, I was tired and distracted, and still worried about the effect of the hallucinations on my life. It had been hard to generate the energy to make that one extra call that might bring in a sale. Although I had acquired a bit more technical knowledge than some of the other salesmen, I was still very ignorant. But I was a link to Cullen’s family, for whatever that was worth.
Several months after Cullen’s death, Howell called me in. I feared for my job. And if I couldn’t make it where I had an inside track with the family, how could I manage elsewhere? I was relieved to find Howell jovial instead of stern, but I kept my guard up. Although his football huddle humor and finger-grinding grip were as intimidating as ever, there was just enough strain in his confident air to call it into question. I began to wonder if he might need some help in connection with the family; it was clear that he was showing me who was in command before he had to confess that he needed anything. Sure enough, after some banter about travelling salesmen and storming the fort to bring back the wampum, he got to the point.
“Tony, how is Miss Tillie–Mrs. Cullen–doing?”
“She’s physically OK, but she’s taking a long time to get over her loss.”
“Any sign of her coming out of it? Any interest in external events? In the business?”
“No, not much. She did once say she was glad you were around to take care of it.”
Howell rubbed his forehead. “I’m doing the best I can. But as things are, I just don’t have legal authority for some things, and that hurts my credibility with some of our customers.” He looked at me earnestly, trying to give me enough to make me feel like an insider. “I try to explain things to her, get her to authorize some expenses, some loans we need to keep up, keep our fighting edge. She says, not now. She’ll sign off on a few routine things, but is too scared by big bucks. She won’t engage. She won’t see why we need this or that.”
“I can see how that would be a problem.”
“Good. We’re all in this together, you, me, Jean, and her mother. All these good folks that work here.”
“Sales are getting a little better.”
“Yes, sure, thanks to you and your hustling buddies. But we’ve got to keep up with what’s going on. We’ve got to give you something to sell. Did you hear that IBM’s working on a system that will compete with the Apple and the Spectrum?”
“Yes, I heard something.”
“Well, you can be a big help to us all if you can get Tillie Cullen interested.” He looked hopeful.
I had to disappoint him. “I’m afraid I’m not one of Mrs. Cullen’s favorite people. She didn’t like the way we got married. I’ve tried to improve her opinion of me, but she tends to hold a grudge. Oh, she sort of accepts me now, but I don’t have much leverage.”
Howell looked down. “Well, shit.”
“I have an idea, though.”
“Let’s hear it.” He was again alert, eager.
“Jean is very smart, and has a lot of influence on her mother, especially now. I may be able to get her interested, and she might be able to do something with her mother.” And it might get her mind off the baby, I thought.
Howell frowned thoughtfully, and swung his chair around sideways so he could stare out the window without quite turning his back on me. After a moment, he slapped his desk, making me jump. “Sounds like a plan!”
“I can talk to Jean and let you know if I can get her to come in for a talk.”
“Naw, Bonnie and I’ll have you two over for dinner first. Soften up the ground a bit before the assault.” His big hand closed over his calendar. I could see his mind whirring with plans. “I’ll give you a call. Thanks, Tony.” I was dismissed.

After this meeting, my visions picked up. Their coming and going still had a lot of unpredictability about them, but I was beginning to recognize some consistent features. I had to be in a receptive attitude. Through a kind of biofeedback, I learned that if I held my mind a certain way, at a certain tilt, as it were, like a dog cocking his ear, they were more likely to come. But not always. A passage from one of Hume’s books or writings–I had xerox copies of the music books and petitions now–could trigger a vision, but not always. And I could be serendipitously surprised. I also learned that I could end them–often by simply shaking my head, or by walking into another room, or getting a glass of water. Fortunately for my job and the other things in my life, the visions took place in a kind of dream-time; that is, what seemed like hours in the vision was only a few minutes in real time–if the time I experience in these last years of the twentieth century can be called real.
Since Jean liked to sleep late, I found the early morning to be the most convenient time to let a vision happen, and I covered myself by reading a book on Zen. Jean teased me about my “meditations,” but didn’t take them seriously enough to be disturbed or especially curious.
One of the many causes of frustration I had over these early visions was their chronological uncertainty. Depending on the stimulus, or on whatever particles were seeping through the wormholes of space-time, or the firing of my neurons, the visions would sometimes leap from Hume’s middle age to his boyhood to his old age, or from one day to the day before. I learned to watch for any clue or hint I could find to put them in any relation to each other. I began to make notes and check the details for help in placing the different scenes in time. And though there were still vast gaps, after several months I began to see patterns. I would remember that doublet, that cloak, and judge how new they were. Hume’s beard would be of one fashion, then another. I watched the seasons. I also began to do research–in time often stolen from work–so that I might understand and identify more of what I was seeing. I pored over portraits in history books and in reprints from the collections in colleges, manors, and the National Portrait Gallery. I studied Visscher’s view of London and Norden’s map with a magnifying glass. I read John Stow’s Survey of London, diaries, chronicles. Eventually I could say, yes, Hume was in the company of that gentleman; or that building must be old St. Paul’s.
So I’ve tried to give the descriptions of my visions some order. I give dates and places when I can, and say when there is a gap. I won’t describe the circumstances in which every vision occurred, but some of them are odd enough to be of interest. But not all the visions occurred at the exact time they appear in my own story, though the later visions came more in chronological order.

Time’s Bending Sickle

November 8, 2010

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3. Time’s Thievish Progress

Arthur Reed-Noble, fleshy and florid, smiling under a bushy guardsman’s moustache, dressed in a suit and tie and holding a glass of Scotch, opened the door of his flat and greeted me by name.
“How did you know me?”
“Elementary, my dear Maclean. You are obviously American–that suit, those shoes, that hair–all very nice, I assure you, but–American. And you are the only American I’m expecting. Do have a drink. You know Ian. This is Fiona, she’s a lutenist. James there stayed in choir school too long, he’s a countertenor. Bridget plays sewing machine–sorry, I mean harpsichord.” He waved me grandly around the room, introducing several other musicians of various sexes and ages. Our host handed me a larger Scotch than I would have poured myself. There was no ice. Ian greeted me and said, “We were just about to hear a song.”
I sat, Arthur picked up his viol, and Fiona pulled back her long black hair and made one final tuning check on her lute. James, tall and bearded, looked over her shoulder at the music stand before them. They did Dowland’s “Flow, My Tears,” which I had heard on recordings. It was full of anguished melancholy, but very melodic. James sang in a rich alto range–though I had noticed his speaking voice was baritone–and the performance was altogether very impressive.
Arthur then passed a sheet of music to James. “Tony here is interested in Tobias Hume, so I thought we’d do this for him.” Then to me: “This is from Hume’s 1607 book, especially dedicated to the Queen. The accompaniment should be played by three viols, but you’ll have to make do with two and a lute.”
Ian picked up a viol, and they performed the song, which began “What Greater Grief.” I noticed that the opening phrase was reminiscent of the Dowland song, and mentioned it to Arthur.
“Full marks! Yes. He’s not exactly a thief–at least no more than many of his contemporaries. But he’s a good border raider, as a Hume should be.”
“Border raider?” I asked.
“Yes. Don’t you know the border ballads?”
“You mean like ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ and ‘Barbara Allen’?”
“Well, those are ballads, but the border between England and Scotland produced some very special examples.”
At this, Fiona and James groaned. “Not tonight, Arthur,” begged Ian.
“Fie, fie! Have you no sense of duty? Just because the lad’s a poor colonial doesn’t mean he should remain ignorant of the great folk art of his ancestral land?” It sounded to me as if Arthur’s proper accent was taking on the notes of Scotland as he spoke. He turned to me. “The Reeds and Nobles were gude border families, as were the Humes. The border in the fifteen hundreds was a very lawless place, and even respectable families took part in murder and cattle-lifting. Family feuds frequently resulted.”
“We had those in my home state of Tennessee a few generations ago.”
“Many of them undertaken by people of Scots descent, no doubt,” said Arthur with a twitch of his moustache.
Ian interrupted. “Go on and get it over with, Arthur.”
“A bit of respect for your host. Whatever do you mean, you starveling, taffy-nosed Sassenach?”
“There were Scotch Ramseys, too, Arthur.” To me: “Arthur will sing ‘The Death of Parcy Reed’ unless we take strong measures to stop him.”
“He told me he would play some pieces by Hume on the viol.”
The group chorused “Yes!” in relief.
But I added mischievously that I would enjoy hearing the song as well. The groans resumed.
“A man of taste,” said Arthur smugly. “But perhaps I should defer that duty until after we play some Hume.” He took up his viol. “Here’s a piece called ‘A Soldier’s Resolution.’ Listen to the imitations of kettledrums, trumpets, and the bouncy little march at the end.”
It was a charming, if somewhat disjointed piece. I had to admit that the frequent chords and double stops did seem more idiomatic on the six-stringed viol than they would on the cello. Arthur played several more pieces, all appealing, some eccentric, none profound.
Finally, Arthur looked up and said, “Now, how about ‘Parcy Reed’?”
Fiona jumped up, saying “I have a pressing appointment.” The others laughed. “You too?” “So do I.”
Ian was more courteous. “Jokes aside, Arthur, I must be off. Very pleasant evening. Good to see you again, Tony.” The others departed in good humor, while Arthur motioned to me to stay.
When we were alone, Arthur offered me more Scotch, which I declined. “I thought of a few things about Hume which might interest you more than they would that lot.” He smiled. “These are just inferences or guesses, but they may point to the truth. For instance, we can infer that Hume was born around 1569, because he was admitted to the Charterhouse in 1629, and the minimum age of admission was sixty. We can infer that he was from a border family because the Humes were so strongly identified with the area around Berwick-on-Tweed. He probably came to England, like many other Scots, when King Jamie took over. He had some education, both in language and music; perhaps he had been a page in some wealthier personage’s household. That seems to have been the way it was done: Daniel Batchelar was Sir Philip Sidney’s page. But Hume served as a mercenary on the continent. That suggests that he was a younger brother or otherwise landless, and that he had no interest in the church or couldn’t afford the education or the price of a living–that’s a church post, which usually had to be bought.”
“Very interesting. But his publications suggest that he was trying to find a post as a musician.”
“Yes, most probably. But they were hard to get, and one not only had to be good, one had to have an advocate at court. Now Alexander Hume was first Earl of Home, and the Earl of Dunbar was George Hume. But our Hume may not have been related. Even if he had been, the connection did not seem to have helped him.”
“Who was Parcy Reed?”
Arthur smiled broadly. “One of my ancestors, I presume. He lived in Redesdale, not far from the really busy area of the border called Liddesdale.”
“Are you going to sing me the ballad?”
“If you insist.”
I didn’t insist, but Arthur sang, all his BBC polish and his musicological sophistication gone, his voice strident as a bagpipe. I applauded, then stood. “I have to leave tomorrow, and see a client early in the morning. So I’d better say good night. Thanks for everything, including the ballad.” Arthur was cordial, but he let me go.
I found a message to call home waiting for me at the hotel. “Did you give my wife the number where I was?” I asked the clerk.
“I did that, sir, but she said it wasn’t urgent.”
Jean answered after a few rings. “Dad died about an hour before I called. Howell says to tell you to reassure your banker, but put him on hold for a while, and come home.”
“I’m sorry, honey. Are you all right?”
“Yeah. I’m sort of numb. Mom is pretty hysterical, and I’m tired, but OK. There’s just a lot to do. I’ll meet your plane.”
“I tried to get an earlier flight, but couldn’t. You could have called me at the number I left.”
“There was no rush. With some musicians?”
“Yes, interesting people. But there’s time for that later. Are you sure you’re OK?”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry. See you at DFW.”
I was genuinely sorry. Oren Cullen was not especially old, and would now never see his grandchildren, if there ever were to be any. It would have been interesting to see if a grandchild could have softened those sharp military edges. There were still many uncertainties ahead, but the roads that could have led to Cullen’s recovery or to a long period of disability were now closed. He would certainly have preferred not to linger without speech or full function. I had not read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych at that time, but when I did, I remembered with a twinge that, like Tolstoy’s shallow Peter Ivanovich, I had thought with some smugness that it was he, not I, who had died.
I assured my banker that there would be no serious problems with our operation, and that his order, if we got it, would be handled with dispatch. He seemed satisfied with the preliminary work I had done, and gave me a stack of papers with information I had asked for and various specifications. He seemed to think it reasonable to expect some delay in the bid under the circumstances, so I left feeling that we might avoid disaster.
On the plane, I settled down for the long flight. After dinner (as usual, the lasagna hot and the tray and roll icy) and the movie, the lights dimmed and most passengers slept as best they could. I thought about Arthur’s speculation that Tobias Hume had been educated while serving as a page in some gentle household, and wondered what it would be like. I started to worry about my strange hallucinations, but I was too tired to keep my mind on the problem. I stretched out, closed my eyes, and dozed off.

I woke to a strange scene. The drone of the plane had turned into the low string of a bass viol being tuned. A young Tobias Hume–maybe twelve–looking well-fed and dressed in a simple but substantial jacket and breeches, was practicing the viol da gamba in a small attic room, the roof-beams of which suggested a fairly large house. After a while he gathered up some sheets of manuscript music and his viol and descended a narrow set of stairs into a larger room. It had a large curtained bed, tables of different sizes, two large chests, and several stools. One wall was covered by a vividly colored tapestry of a hunting scene. A handsome, well-dressed woman of about forty sat sewing by a sunny window; she looked up and smiled.
“Master Felix will be along presently, Toby.”
“Yes, ma’m.” Toby put his music on a small table and pulled up a stool. He sat and began checking the tuning of his viol.
The door opened and a maid ushered in a bony, dark-haired young man of about twenty, bringing in a whiff of sweat overlaid with a musky scent. He had a thin but carefully trimmed beard over a stiff white ruff. Everything about his dress was exaggerated–the sleeveless doublet fit tightly to his thin torso, while his trunk-hose were puffed out like balloons, from which emerged his gangly, stockinged calves. Long-fingered hands stuck out from white sleeves slashed to reveal bright blue-green cloth underneath. He gave an elaborate bow toward the lady.
“Madam,” he said, “I see the sun hath come to your chamber to do you homage. Yet I fear that the brilliance of your countenance may make him hide his face in shame”–here he hesitated a second, probably to see where his conceit might lead–“and in the unwonted eclipse that must follow, Apollo will needs send his empty chariot for you that you may fill the world with light in his stead, and leave your humble worshippers at home darkling.” He smiled smugly and bowed again.
“Master Felix, your tongue runs easily this morning,” said the lady with an indulgent smile.
“Madam, as the steed runneth easiest when on the street to his stable, so my tongue runneth easiest when on the track of truth.”
“Prettily said, Master Felix. But now see to your charge. Toby has been diligent since his last lesson.”
“No doubt you have been his Muse, madam. Well, Master Toby, let us hear ‘Woodycock’ with the first set of divisions.”
Toby played, in relatively good tune, and with only some scraping. The division, or variation, had some tricky scales which made Toby stop and try again. Felix pointed to a passage and suggested a different fingering. I was intrigued by both the similarity to and difference from my own cello lessons. For all Felix’s pretentiousness, he kept a fine balance between correction and encouragement, and patiently guided the young player toward better technique and more musical execution. Toby paid close attention, and tried hard to follow instructions. The lady occasionally looked up from her sewing with a smile.
Confused shouts and clatter suddenly arose from the floor below. Heavy steps on the stairs were followed by the bang of the door against the wall as it was flung open by a middle-aged man whose face was red with rage. He wore a long dark outer cloak and high-crowned hat, and carried a thick stick, which he used at once with force across Felix’s shoulders.
“Out of my house, sirrah!” he shouted.
“But sir, what–” More blows prevented Felix from completing his question. Toby put down his viol and covered his ears.
Felix tried to protect his head as he retreated. “Pray, sir, what have I done to displease–” Flailing about with his arms, he found the door and tumbled down the stairs.
The lady, who had been standing by in shocked silence, now spoke. “My lord, what’s the matter?”
“Madam, I have a care for my honor, as it seems you do not.”
The lady now added a frown to her puzzled astonishment. “My lord, I do not understand you. How have I offended you?”
“Did you accept this from yon puppy?” He took out a crumpled piece of paper.
The lady looked at the paper. “Sir, this is only a sonnet Master Felix showed me for my correction. He meant no attempt on my honesty, or your honor. He is only trying to imitate the fashion of the court.”
“Well, he may go to court, then, and scribble what he likes. You, sir page!” He spoke to Toby, having just noticed him. “Be off with you.”
Toby ran out the door, down a flight of stairs, and through a high-ceilinged hall, still holding his ears. He pushed open a heavy iron-bound door and hurried outside. He stood in front of the large half-timbered country house and looked about until he saw a figure in a drab cloak and floppy hat walking slowly down the rutted road. He soon caught up with him.
“Master Felix, wait!”
“Ah, Toby. We must make our farewells.”
“But it is all a mistake. My lady will make all right.”
“No, lad, my lord is of firm mind.” Felix sat on the roadside bank with a sigh. “As Antaeus gained strength each time he was thrown to the earth by Hercules, so my lord’s convictions grow stronger each time they are overthrown by reason.” He smiled ruefully. “I could say that with more art, but I am too hurt. A sore body breeds a slow brain.”
“But could I not come to Master Carnaby’s house for my lessons?”
“Toby, I am lean enough without the loss of that little fee my lord pays for your lessons, though I would help you if I could. But in any case, I fear I am not to be long in Master Carnaby’s service. He values my lord his neighbor’s good will, and would not keep one who costs him that and good coin as well.”
“What shall you do?”
“I shall use that treasure which neither moth nor rust doth corrupt.” He straightened up and looked determined, touching his head and chest. “I have wit and skill, and a stout heart. Should Master Carnaby deny me a good character, I may find myself a better, and thereby find more pupils. And if that fail, why, I shall be like the camomile, which, the more it is trod upon, the greener it grows.” He stood, wincing as he stretched. “Or like the stone of Sicilia, the which the more it is beaten the harder it is. Shall wit and virtue be metamorphosed into wantonness and vileness because wittols and villains chance to think them so? Nay. Shall art and learning bear up their son, being faithful and diligent, as the dolphin bore up Arion for his song, being full of delight? Yea, verily.” His voice grew in strength as he spoke. “Toby,” he said, looking down at the boy, “be you faithful and diligent, and practice every day. Keep your left wrist straight, mind. Farewell.” And he set off at a brisk stride.

I woke to the smell of coffee and the clatter of the flight attendants’ cart. The speaker crackled. “Good evening, folks. We’ll be landing at JFK in New York in about forty minutes. This flight will proceed to Dallas-Fort Worth shortly after, so if that is your destination, please stay on board. For you folks getting off in New York, thank you for flying with us.”
Although I wanted coffee, I knew the airline brew would be thin and tasteless, and wouldn’t help me adjust my internal clock. So I begged some juice and thought about those visions or whatever they were. I was worried.
I still am, years later, though I have come to terms with my curse–or gift–and have worked out several tentative and provisional conclusions about it. When I got back to Dallas after this trip and things settled down–I’m getting ahead of myself, but now seems to be the time to discuss my visions–anyway, when I got back, I had a CT scan and some other tests, but there was no evidence of a tumor or neurological abnormalities. I had several sessions with two different psychiatrists, but one wanted to drug me and the other wanted to see me three hours a week for the rest of my life at great expense. Neither shrink believed me when I described the visions and their effect on me in ways that didn’t fit their models. I managed to keep these medical adventures from Jean–I said to myself that I didn’t want to worry her, but I think I also feared she might reject me as fatally flawed.
I tried to find models on my own, but with only mixed success. I concluded that I wasn’t schizophrenic, for my visions are very discrete, and never seem to occur when they would directly affect my behavior. I’m no more paranoid or grandiose than most people I know, and less so than most salesmen. No one has ever suggested that I don’t function normally; I’ve never had a vision while interacting with another person, or when I’m engaged in some activity like driving or playing music. And the visions were never directed at me; there were no voices telling me to do anything. I was given scenes to observe.
What I could learn about epilepsy seemed to rule that out, though Dostoevski’s description of the sensations he felt before a seizure was close to what I have sometimes felt before a vision. More recently I read the neurologist Oliver Sacks’s description of the artist Franco Magnani’s obsessively vivid memories of the Italian village of Pontito. I immediately recognized the quality of his visions as like my own; but what I experienced could not have been memory. Besides, I had no history of any illness like the mysterious fever that Sacks thinks was related to Magnani’s visionary memories.
One limit on the models I looked into was my belief in evidence and the laws of probability. I’m not religious, so I didn’t look in that direction. And I certainly wasted no time on any of the “new age” nonsense. I can’t believe I’m experiencing a past life of my own or serving as a “channel” for one. I eventually resigned myself to acknowledging a phenomenon I could not explain. But sometimes when I’ve been especially frustrated, I’ve entertained a theory that at other times offends my sensibilities because it has a science-fiction or Sunday-supplement flavor to it. Suppose, this theory goes, taking Einstein’s model, that the curve of space and time has a few tiny eddies, little swirls, that, for some reason I can’t explain, I can sense. It may be possible that things physicists call “wormholes” are involved. These connections between black holes in space-time are, I have read, the basis for time machines that are theoretically, if not practically, possible. Wormholes are not necessarily enormous planet-suckers; they can be microscopic. Maybe that is what connects Hume’s time with mine, perhaps on the level of the electrical impulses of our brains. Perhaps through my Scots ancestors I have inherited some fragments of Hume’s DNA, and that is part of the connecting mechanism. Maybe music is the link–I read that people are making music out of the symbols of the genetic code, so maybe there is a deeper connection there. Who knows, and who could know?
I am open to many possible explanations, and have been, including a neurological quirk or short-circuit in my own gray matter. But I refuse to leap to embrace some explanation that I can’t somehow test scientifically, and that doesn’t seem to be a likely possibility any time soon. In the meantime, I have come to find most of the visions fascinating and entertaining, as well as frustrating. I’d miss them if they disappeared. One source of frustration is that they all focus on Tobias Hume, minor composer, soldier, and eventually, madman. If I must have hallucinations, why couldn’t they be about Shakespeare, or even a great composer like Byrd or Dowland?
Back in the plane, I tried to go over the London banker’s specs, but kept coming back to Toby. It eventually occured to me that I had not fully considered the consequences of Oren Cullen’s death. Mentally kicking myself for obsessing over my mad hallucinations when real problems were waiting to be dealt with, I tried to think about my life and my business, but all I saw were questions and uncertainties.
The plane landed, people shuffled off, people shuffled on, the plane took off.
I finally controlled my thoughts enough to make some basic preparations. Jean may be greiving more seriously now that the initial shock of her father’s death has passed. I felt some uneasiness in that department–how would this event affect Jean’s coolness toward me since my unwilling conspiracy with her father? Would her moodiness, her volatility, increase? Howell Drew would almost certainly take over management of the company, though Mrs. Cullen, I assumed, would inherit ownership. The company had not yet gone public. I also hoped that my job would change little, though I felt some anxiety about how much my family connection would protect me now. I had not been a spectacular salesman. Would these visions make me unemployable?
The plane landed. I got my bag, declared the perfume I got for Jean in the Heathrow duty-free shop, and since I didn’t fit the profile of a smuggler, got through customs fairly quickly. Jean was waiting at the gate. When she saw me she smiled brightly. She was wearing a short skirt and a forest green sweater I had always liked. Her hair had grown a bit and had a new swirl or flip of some sort. She looked very sexy to me.
She gave me a warm kiss. The first thing she said was, “Let’s make a baby.”