Time’s Bending Sickle

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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.”


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