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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.”
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.