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10. In War with Time
Toby leaned on the rail of a ship, watching a boat being rowed from another ship not far away. The boat came alongside, and Sir Roger Williams and the Earl of Essex climbed aboard. The earl was bouyant, Sir Roger was glum. Toby stood at respectful attention as the two paced the deck, the earl almost a head taller than the old soldier.
“Be of good cheer, Sir Roger,” said the earl. “All will be well.”
“All may be well, my lord, if we do well. But I take seriously the Queen’s determination to have my life. We must do better than Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris did at Coruna.”
“We had good information of Spanish shipping there.”
“By your leave, my lord, good as it was, it was wrong.”
“But Sir Roger, think on this. Sir Francis and Sir John do not send us home, as the Queen commanded. When we land with Don Antonio, the Portuguese will rise to aid their rightful prince, and together we shall drive the Spanish from Lisbon. And I doubt not we shall be richly rewarded.”
“It will take a rich reward indeed to blunt the Queen’s anger at us both. My lord, I share your hopes, but I am concerned by two things. The first being that most of the biggest ships from the Armada is in Santander. It is a dangerous harbor, but the Queen’s orders is to destroy the ships.” The earl made as if to speak, but Sir Roger went on. “The second thing is that the Portuguese may not love Don Antonio enough to rise against the Spanish. But if the Portuguese should rise and help us, we may not plunder them. Can we get enough Spanish booty?”
“Surely we will take Spanish ships in Lisbon, and then we may take more in the Azores. And Coruna was no failure. Six Spanish ships destroyed, the town sacked–”
“And the troops sickened by too much conquered wine.”
The earl seemed slightly irritated by this interruption, but he had probably come to accept Williams’s bluntness, for he merely continued: “And Sir John’s and Sir Edward’s battle on the bridge; now that was a noble fight. I would I had been there.” His eyes sparkled, and he gripped his sword hilt.
“Indeed they are gallant gentlemen.” Sir Roger spoke with apparent sincerity. The young earl and the old knight strolled away, both gesturing with excitement. Toby watched as the sailors hauled up the boat.
Armed and excited soldiers scrambled from the ships into boats while guns from a castle on the shore puffed fire and smoke, then banged as shot splashed into the sea. The day was clear but windy, and the surf was high. Toby swung down into a boat holding a dozen other men, stowed his pike, and shipped an oar. Soon his boat was bucking and swooping through the surf. The cannon boomed. A boat a few lengths ahead swerved, the men shouted, and the boat capsized in a tangle of oars. As they swept past, Toby tried to extend his oar to one of the men struggling in the waves, but his armor dragged him down. “Row, damn you!” shouted the sergeant commanding Toby’s boat, and Toby fit his stroke to the others. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the earl in the lead boat, a great tangerine-colored plume waving from his helmet. When Toby looked again, the earl was wading through the surf, which washed around his shoulders. Sir Roger waited until the water was shallower, then vaulted from the boat himself. Toby and his companions continued rowing until their oars scraped sand; then they leaped out and dragged the boat onto the beach between two Portuguese fishing boats. One of these was still hitched to a pair of oxen that had been pulling the boat above the tide line; the fishermen and drovers had abandoned them when the fighting began. The English troops assembled around Sir Roger, who was wet and cursing. Soon several hundred men had gathered on the sand, and they began to move even before all had landed. The musketeers were busy sharing out dry powder and trying to relight damp matchcord as they marched. The earl led half of the forces toward the town; Toby followed Sir Roger and his regiment through the dunes.
Toby and his fellow pikemen kept their weapons low, and the men moved as quietly as their equipment would permit. They wound through the valleys, responding to Sir Roger’s signals from higher points on the dunes. After a while they heard shouts and firing off to their right. Sir Roger scrambled to the top of a dune, then waved the men on with an emphasis urging speed. They emerged from the dunes onto a plain before the town walls where the earl’s forces were engaged with the garrison from the town. Sir Roger’s men appeared on the flank of the Spaniards, and charged toward the gap between the soldiers and the town gates. Those musketeers who had dry powder stopped, rested their weapons on their forked staffs, and fired. Then a rank of pikemen advanced in front while the musketeers began the painfully slow process of reloading. Some Spanish pikemen were running to cover their flank, but for the moment Toby and his fellows faced only a rank of men loading calivers. Toby raised his pike to shoulder level, his extended right hand holding the butt; men pressed close to his sides and behind him. Before him a young Spaniard with a big nose and protruding front teeth knocked at the advancing pikes with his discharged caliver. He turned to run, but Toby, compelled by the press of men behind him, caught him in the side, just under the buckle of his chest armor. The man dropped his caliver and looked down in surprise as the red stream spread down his leg. Toby and his pike continued to push forward, forcing the man down, and Toby let the pike ride up as he stepped over the body, pulling out the dripping tip as he passed. The man behind Toby, pushed by those behind him, stepped on the dying Spaniard’s arm, the man behind him kicked his groin, and the next jabbed him in the neck with the butt of his pike. After the ranks of pikemen passed, a musketeer finished him off with his sword. Toby had charged his pike again, and was pressing forward with his rank into the fleeing Spaniards. One turned and discharged a pistol, and the man next to Toby dropped in a gush of blood. Toby continued wide-eyed, lips grimly set.
Shouts on the right changed in pitch as the English closed on the Spanish, surrounding the main body on three sides. Some small arms fire from the town walls annoyed the fringes of the English forces, but most were out of range. A number of the Spanish were able to run from the tightening bite of the English pincers, but many were enclosed in its grip. Finally the press was so tight that only swords and daggers were of use. It was chaotic, frantic, scrabbling, and the air was filled with high-pitched shouts. The heat of the day matched that of the battle, and sweat flowed more freely than blood.
It seemed a long time, but it was less than an hour before the Spanish had either fled or been killed. The town surrendered, and the English marched in. At the head of the troop was a stout man in elegant black who waved his plumed hat at the people, some of whom gave a diplomatic cheer. This must have been Don Antonio, the Portuguese prince, and the town Peniche, north of Lisbon, which fell May 17, 1589. Alongside Don Antonio was the Earl of Essex, his flamboyant plume broken, but his face radiating fierce joy. Some nervous shopkeepers came out with bread, cakes, and bottles for the troops, who were barely constrained by their officers from taking more. Sir Roger ran up and down the ranks shouting and encouraging them, promising them more and better booty later and threatening those who appeared on the verge of breaking rank.
Detatchments were sent on various errands, while Toby and many of the soldiers assembled in the town square. Some clustered around the fountain in the center of the square, and others dropped in exhaustion, but several soldiers slipped away and were briefly seen on one of the balconies overlooking the square, waving at their fellows while embracing some florid-looking women in low-cut gowns.
Toby drank deeply at the fountain and then sat staring into space. There was blood on his shoes and breeches, but he seemed to be unhurt. The man next to him, sitting awkwardly in a pair of padded Dutch breeches, was binding up a slight wound on his upper arm. He still had on his head a morion with a tall white plume, and wore a short black goatee and a large moustache that curled at the ends. He was struggling awkwardly with the bandage, and muttering. Something about him broke through Toby’s abstraction, and he turned to help with the bandage. The man turned toward Toby, and both started. Toby made a strangled noise.
“Toby!” the other exclaimed hoarsely. It was Felix.
Toby embraced his old teacher and wept. He tried, but could not speak for several minutes. Felix spoke comfortingly, assured him that his arm was not badly hurt, only the old wound he received from his former master had reopened.
“Hush, friend Toby. Do not try to talk. Pocas palabras. I am most curious to learn your story. But while you recover your tongue, I shall tell mine.
“I shall emulate the noble Roman in brevity. I was conquered, I came, I saw; I was hurt, I ran to London, I saw the army. I became a soldier. I followed Sir John Norris, first to the Low Countries, then here. I have adorned my learning with experience. Now am I ancient to Captain Carr.”
“I killed a man,” Toby whispered.
“Ah, you are fleshed.”
“His piece was discharged. He couldn’t have hurt me.”
“Think you he would not had his piece been charged?”
“I may have killed another.” Toby gave a convulsive sob. “God have mercy on me.”
“Amen. Did none try to kill you?”
“I cannot tell.” Toby shook his head. “Yes.”
“We cannot live well unless we live. Could we have lived had we not joined the army? And could we have lived had we not fought off our enemies?”
“I cannot tell. I am too sore and weary to play the philosopher.”
“I too. But all the world agrees that the soldier’s profession is honorable.”
“Perhaps. If it be lived honorably.”
“Ah,” said Felix, “then you must needs play the philosopher.”
At this point they were distracted by the victuallers arriving with baskets of bread and cheese, and barrels of wine, which they diluted with water from the fountain before serving. As they ate, Toby told Felix of his adventures in love and war.
Toby marched in the heat with his troop. Felix was presumably with his own company. Like his fellows, Toby had opened or removed a good bit of his heavy English clothing, and carried his helmet and other bits of armor strung together on his back. He sweated profusely, and frequently sipped at his water bottle. A man in the rank ahead looked very ill, and did not seem to be sweating. Soon he staggered and fell.
“Keep rank!” shouted an officer from his horse in the rear. Toby kept marching.
The tile roofs and steeples of a town appeared ahead. Shouts and a shot brought the captain of Toby’s company, a short, thick, pockmarked man, to stand in his stirrups. He spurred forward, shouting, “First rank of pikes, follow me!” Toby and three others trotted after the captain as he clattered into the square. In front of the church a dozen Spanish pikemen stood, pale with fright, while a group of townspeople huddled together under an arcade. One Spanish soldier lay bleeding on the pavement. Facing the Spaniards were four of the English advance guard reining in their restive horses; one man was reloading his pistol. When Toby and the other pikemen caught up with the captain and joined the advance guard, the Spaniards broke and fled down an alley. The townspeople melted away as more English soldiers entered the square.
The captain sent two of the pikemen around the right of the church, and called Toby to come with him as he hurried around the left side. Turning the corner of the transept, they stopped a priest who was carrying out a gold reliquary. Toby held his pike on the priest while the captain took the reliquary; the frightened priest jabbered in Portuguese and Latin, and as the captain carried the treasure back into the church, the priest’s expression changed from fear to anger, and I’m sure the Latin he was shouting was a curse. Toby followed the captain, banging his long pike on the doorframe. Inside the church, other English troops were gathering jeweled crucifixes, chalices, and other treasures. The captain handed Toby the reliquary and picked up a pair of silver candlesticks. Toby saw a viol in a choir stall, its case open nearby. He put down his pike and the candlesticks and ran his fingers over the strings, making a soft, orderly chord under the shouts and curses of the soldiers. He looked around, put the viol in its case, and awkwardly dragged viol, pike, and reliquary toward the main door. In the square in front of the church Sir Roger Williams was supervising the packing of the loot. Another officer was standing by with pen and inkhorn, making an inventory. The Earl of Essex sat his horse next to Don Antonio, who was grave and silent. Toby put his candlesticks in the pile, and addressed Sir Roger.
“Pray, sir, may I have this viol for myself?”
“This booty is the Queen’s.”
Essex interrupted. “Can you play the instrument?”
“Yes, my lord.”
Essex and Sir Roger exchanged glances. Essex asked the man taking inventory what it would be worth. He opened the case, pulled it out, glanced at the back, and sniffed. “A twelve-shilling matter, my lord.”
“I think the Queen could spare it, Sir Roger.” Sir Roger shrugged, and turned to the silver. Essex said to Toby, “I may have room for it on my wagon. Will you come and play for me when we make camp tonight?”
Toby bowed. “An it please your lordship. Thanks to your lordship.” Unfortunately, I never saw this recital, if it took place.
Toby and the army camped outside the walls of a large city which must have been Lisbon. Most of the men seemed sick and exhausted. There were few signs of food preparation except among the officers and the immediate followers of the Earl of Essex.
That night Toby awoke to shouts in English and Spanish and cries of wounded men. Toby jumped up and grabbed his pike just as two Spanish soldiers wearing white shirts over their armor came into the circle dimly lit by the dying campfire. One took a cut at a dazed Englishman raised on one elbow. Toby shouted, “Up! The Spanish!” The first two Spaniards were joined by two more, as more English scrambled to grab weapons and gain their feet. Toby thrust his pike at the second Spaniard, who parried expertly and whacked at the wood of the pike, almost cutting it in two. Toby parried the Spaniard’s next cut with the shaft of his pike, the metal point swinging with the broken end. Toby just had time to reach down for his own sword and parry another cut. Meanwhile the camp was in a turmoil of shouts and clanging and flashes of weapons in the darkness. It was almost as hard for me to figure out what was going on as it must have been for the men, but apparently the exhausted sentries had dozed off and let a Spanish force slip into the camp and attack the sleeping English. Toby was holding his own with his sword when a drum and trumpet sounded from the Earl of Essex’s camp, and his better fed and rested followers rallied and moved into the thick of the fighting. After a few minutes, another trumpet sounded from the direction of the town, and the Spanish began to withdraw.
Toby’s opponent backed away, then turned and ran. Groans were coming from several quarters, but the only language heard was English. Toby stirred up the fire and waved a branch around to make it flame. With this torch he could see that two of his immediate company were dead and three more wounded. Felix appeared, bareheaded and carrying a bloody sword.
“Are you whole, then, Toby?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Then get your pike and morion and stand a watch. And pray you sleep not, or Captain Cosbie will make you sleep eternally.”
“Let me see to Standish’s wounds first.”
“Nay, the slightly wounded will see to the sore wounded. Off with you to that bank with the low tree.”
Daylight. Toby and others were outside the city walls, burning every shed and building not in musket range. Some small shot flew back and forth, and some buildings close to the walls were torched with flaming arrows.
Sir Roger, Essex, and the other officers, standing at a little distance from the troops, were consulting with a rider who had just arrived. Soon Toby’s captain left the group and strode toward the company, blowing a whistle which hung on a cord around his neck. The men gathered around.
“The cowardly Spanish will not come out and fight in the day, and we have not the force for a siege, so we are ordered to withdraw to Cascais near the shore. Gather your arms and form up when I whistle next.”
The soldiers dispersed and moved toward the camp, and other companies began to prepare for the march. But there was still activity around the tent occupied by the Earl of Essex. Toby watched as grooms saddled his horse, while servants went in and out of the tent. Then the earl emerged in full armor, shining like a storybook St. George with a tangerine plume in his helmet. With the help of his grooms, he mounted the horse, set a lance by his stirrup, and galloped off toward the gates of the city. The soldiers stopped their preparations and watched his glittering figure pass the smoking buildings. The sporadic small arms fire from the city stopped. The earl reined in before the gate, and seemed to be calling out to those inside. He paused a few moments, his horse stamping restlessly. Then he balanced his lance, stood in his stirrups, and launched it at the gate, where it stuck quivering in the heavy wood. He rode back and forth a few more times, then turned and cantered away. The soldiers cheered as he returned.
Felix came up to Toby as he gathered his arms and water bottle. “Well, Toby,” he said, “our honor is safe. We may be withdrawing, but my lord of Essex has left the papists with an unanswered challenge. None would break a lance with him in honor of his mistress, as my lord offered to do for her majesty.”
“My lord seems a gallant warrior.”
“Aye, but more in the style of Guy of Warwick than of the duke of Parma. It is a wonder that some good Spanish musketeer did not buy fame at the price of a bullet.”
A group of horsemen rode by, stirring the dust. Among them was Don Antonio, who cast a lingering look at the city he was turning away from. A few Portuguese horsemen followed him, but I saw no other evidence of the promised rising of the population in his support.
The wormholes closed and opened again on a harbor scene. Soldiers were gathered on the beach as boats ferried them out to ships anchored in the harbor. Most were sick, some unable to move without assistance. I was distressed to see that Toby and Felix were among them. Both were lying on the sand, shivering under cloaks, though the sun was bright and the sailors at the oars were sweating. The Earl of Essex walked along the shore, looking at the men, and occasionally stopped to speak to one. He bent down over Toby and told him to have courage, and that he would pray for him. A boat scraped up on the sand and two soldiers waded into the knee-deep surf to haul it in further. Toby’s pock-faced captain gave an order, and Toby staggered to his feet, but immediately sat with a jolt. Two soldiers grabbed him under the arms and carried him to the boat, where sailors dragged him in without much concern. Two other soldiers bore Felix on a litter of pikestaves and tumbled him into the boat. When the boat was full, the soldiers shoved it free of the sand. At the first swell, Toby turned his head and vomited dryly.
I didn’t feel so good myself when the plane landed in Dallas, and I felt even worse the next day. I was feverish, and dreamed and hallucinated a lot. I must have babbled, for Jean told me I talked a lot of nonsense. To cover any possible delierious references to Toby and other visionary folk, I volunteered that a historical romance I read on the flight seemed to be affecting my dreams.
I was too weak to go to the office for the next five days. For some reason I was especially sensitive to noise: the cycling of the refrigerator, the heels of our upstairs neighbor, Jean turning the pages of a magazine, all irritated me beyond reason. Jean fed me and brought me lots of water, but generally left me alone, which is what I wanted. Although she was solicitous, I got the feeling that she was having to say to herself, over and over, that I couldn’t help being sick, that it was not a failure of will or morals. She played the role of nurse, but her heart wasn’t in it.
During my illness, I yielded to a number of visions, some of which may have been produced by my own fever–but some must have come via the usual pipeline.