Time’s Bending Sickle

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8. Sluttish Time

One of the visions I had on the stock-touting tour was of Tobias Hume rehearsing a trio with his two female students. The boy, Simon, sat by listening closely. I later identified it as a piece for three viols he published in the 1605 volume. I had been scoring Hume’s music–translating the tablature and bringing the parts together in score–for some time, but I didn’t have much of it in my head at that point.
They reached the end of the piece, and Toby smiled and spoke. “I am pleased you liked your surprise well enough to learn it so well. Perhaps your honorable parents will be pleased with it as well. I’m sure they will be proud of your skill.”
Jane, the older, blushed and smiled. Audrey, the younger, avoided looking at her sister, but allowed herself a small twitch of pleasure. Then she frowned at her music.
“Master Toby, please, is this note right? It sounds false.”
Toby looked at the place in her part, then checked his own. “Well done, Mistress Audrey. You have caught me in a fault. That should be a b in the tablature.” He reached for a pen, dipped it into an inkhorn, and wrote in the correction. While his attention, and Audrey’s, were focused on the music, I noticed Jane gazing at Toby with wide eyes and slightly parted lips.
They played the passage again, and Toby and Audrey agreed that the revision sounded better. Glancing at the sun through the window, Toby announced the end of the session. Simon hopped to the table to look at the music, and Audrey began to put away her viol. Jane sat looking at Toby, and when he looked up at her, she began.
“Master Toby.” She hesitated, then shook her hair, catching sunlight and scattering gold and copper lights. “How do you think of music?”
Toby smiled, but wrinkled his brow. “Do you mean how do I compose it?”
“It is difficult to explain. I have a thought, an idea. Then I make it grow. My own master taught me ways to make thoughts grow. For example, if I should choose to make divisions on ‘Carman’s Whistle,’ I listen for the way the air rises and falls, and then I make faster notes flow around that rising and falling.”
“But how if you do not use an air we know? How do you make your own air?” Toby must have found the intense interest on the part of this beauty most flattering. He smiled and hesitated.
“How do you make the sentences you speak? You have learned language from your mother and nurse. When you learn language well you can make it say what you will. When you learn the language of music well, you can make it say what music says.” Audrey was now paying close attention, and Jane was concentrating fiercely. “I have heard you tell Master Simon tales about dragons and monsters you have never seen; but you have imagined them–you have pictured them in your mind. Then you use words to describe what you have imagined. When I imagine music, I use musical language to describe what I hear in my mind. But it takes study, just as mastery of language requires us to study rhetoric. Just as we shape language into sentences and learn how to make a good sentence move to a conclusion, so we make music into periods that move to a cadence. Of course if the music is fitted to a ditty, it must follow the words; and if it is for a dance, it must follow the steps.”
“Must we study geometry today, Master Toby?” It was Simon, looking out the window.
Toby laughed and looked out the window also. “Tomorrow we will study twice. You are like a foxhound, and need your run.” Simon bolted for the door.
Audrey also moved toward the door, but Jane lingered. “Master Toby, please, would you help me with this strain?” Audrey stopped and turned back sharply. Then she left, twitching her shoulders.
Toby turned to Jane, keeping his eyes on her music. “Of course. Play the strain for me.” Jane played, making an awkward shift and losing the beat. “Try moving your hand before you cross the string. Play the g with your first finger.” Jane tried again, but without improvement. Toby reached over and guided her hand to the proper position. Jane gave a slight intake of breath. “Now try again.” She tried again, but made a new mistake. “Once more.” It was some better. “Again.” Another new mistake.
Jane’s face wrinkled and she choked out a sob.
“Mistress Jane?”
She dropped her head and the tears flowed. “I’ll never learn to play as you do.”
“Pray do not weep.”
“I can do nothing.”
Toby spoke with concern. “You are a very accomplished lady. You should scorn a mechanic’s skill as unsuitable for your station. You will never have to serve as a music master.”
“But I–I love music–extremely. I want to make it properly.”
Toby smiled. “You want to serve the Muse. She is very forgiving of her devotees. If you love her and pay her homage in that spirit, she will favor you.” Toby reached out and patted the hand resting on the strings. Jane gave another intake of breath or after-sob.
Toby withdrew his hand and looked at it briefly. “Practice the strain by yourself tomorrow. Take some exercise now and clear your head.”
Jane sniffed and smiled at Toby. “I wish I could go run like Simon.”
“It is almost time for supper.” Toby smiled and looked away. “Pray excuse me.” He rose and walked out.
Toby went outside and strode through the geometrical paths of the garden. At the far end, he stopped and stared into the field beyond. He raised an imaginary musket, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger. “Bang!” he whispered.

From time to time Toby would meet Jane, apparently by chance, in the garden or in the hallway. Toby would seem nervous and deferential, but Jane would ask him some question, usually about music, and Toby would relax as he spoke. Jane would attend with her full lips slightly open and her gaze fixed on Toby’s occasionally blushing face. They were never alone for long. A servant, Audrey, or Simon would either be with Jane or appear shortly after they met.
After observing the life on the estate for some time, it seemed to me that no one had much privacy except the lord and lady, and then only at night. Toby had his small chamber, but other servants were always scurrying around nearby.
Toby continued the group lessons for his three pupils, but he also instituted private lessons. He was usually alone with them during this period, but various members of the household would pop in from time to time without warning. It seemed that these interruptions came more frequently when Toby and Jane were talking, and less so when they were actually making music.
His sessions with Jane seemed to grow more and more tense. The subtext of their private lessons seemed to be less and less about music. They sometimes fell silent and cast intense glances at each other. When Toby would touch her hand or arm to correct her position, she would close her eyes, inhale sharply, or flare her nostrils. Toby would let his hand rest on hers longer than was absolutely necessary. Often both their hands would tremble noticeably. Once he had taken her viol to demonstrate a fingering. He had been speaking quietly about the music and demonstrating the hand position, when the door was opened abruptly by the bustling steward. Both jumped at the noise and blushed. The steward gave them a sharp glance, picked up a basket, and left. Toby handed back the viol and ended the lesson. He dashed up the stairs and shut himself in his chamber. He collapsed on the bed and tossed about with an agonized expression. When I saw that he was about to relieve himself in the time-honored fashion of adolescent males, I ended the vision.

One evening Jean was watching TV and I was attempting to transcribe a particular piece of Hume’s, “The Prince’s Almaine,” from the 1605 volume. It is mentioned on the title page as an “Invention for two to play on one Viole.” I had come across four-handed keyboard music from this time, and I knew that Dowland published a piece for two to play on one lute at the end of his 1597 songbook. I was curious about just how such a piece could be played, and was transcribing the music when the vision came.
Toby entered the room and found Jane tuning her viol. Both smiled and blushed. Toby placed two sheets of fresh manuscript on the table. His hand left damp spots on the paper.
“I have made a new duet for us.”
Jane smiled. “Oh, good. Will you play Audrey’s viol, or is your own now repaired?”
“The glue is not yet dry. I don’t like Mistress Audrey’s, or Master Simon’s. We’ll play it on yours.”
“How?” Jane frowned at the music.
“I’ll show you in a moment. First, try your part. Yes, here.”
Jane played the part. It began with the left hand in a high position; after a while it switched to a low position. Toby made her stop and try some of the chords again. At one point he suggested another fingering. It was not very difficult, and after a few tries, Jane played it fairly smoothly.
“Now let’s try it together,” said Toby visibly nervous, wiping his hands on his sleeves, and picking up a bow.
“I still don’t see how . . .”
“Stand up.” Jane stood obediently, looking puzzled. “Now sit on my lap.” He smiled, but his eyes pleaded. Jane hesitated with open lips, but then sat gingerly on his knees. Toby reached around her shoulder and waist, grasping the viol and touching the bow to the strings. “Now count,” he said, with a pedagogical inflection. He began playing. His left hand moved to a low position, and his bow to the lower strings, as she began playing on the top string in high position. Then he played the notes she had played, and she played what he had played, their hands brushing as they exchanged positions. Their hands and bows then got into a tangle; they giggled nervously and started over. They played on. Toby’s arms could not help but squeeze her a bit here and a bit there as he reached for the notes, and he could not help brushing her breasts now and then. His mouth, his breath, now touched the back of her neck, now her right ear. Jane slid back along his knees as they played until she was leaning against his chest. Once, as she moved her hips back, he moved his forward, and Jane jerked upright in wide-eyed surprise, missing several notes. They both breathed in heavy rasps. At the end of the piece, Jane leaned forward on the viol, her eyes closed. Toby gently put down his bow, took hers and put it beside his own. Carefully lowering the viol to the floor, he put his arms around Jane, who turned and kissed him, her hands pressing into the back of his head and neck. They kissed for some time. Then Toby tentatively touched her breast, and Jane gasped.
At this point the vision faded, despite my efforts to keep it going. But another time I was able to bring back a similar scene. It must have been some time later. Jane eagerly sat on Toby’s knees. They played the duet, with similar results. But this time, when they reached the end, Jane kept playing. Toby put down his bow and began to make adjustments to their clothing. While Jane continued to play, I could see Toby’s hand at work on a more sensitive and subtle instrument. As Jane’s breath became more labored, and her body moved to another rhythm, her playing deteriorated. Soon she was playing only shaky scales. Finally she stopped altogether and her body arched back in a series of convulsive spasms. Toby joined her in their harmonious finale, their moans descending in a glissando of parallel thirds.
After a moment of panting recovery, they quickly readjusted their clothes, and Toby took up the viol. They were looking over the music on the table when the steward opened the door.

In the hayloft of a barn, moonlight played over the naked bodies of a young man and woman. They lay facing each other, the hands and eyes of each exploring the other. After a time, they kissed, they embraced, and the young man–Toby–rolled on top of the young woman, whose face was now visible over his shoulder. Much to my surprise, I could see that she was not Jane, but rather the pretty young girl who worked in the kitchen. I had seen her flirt with Toby, but did not expect this development. Perhaps Toby’s sexual frustration with Jane before the duet had prompted him to take advantange of an outlet which his culture would have found less intolerable than an affair with a person of higher rank. An old Latin proverb I had run across came to me: “Penis erectus non habet conscientiam.”

Toby and the kitchen girl–whose name was Joan–both pale and weeping, were standing before Sir James, Jane’s father, a well-knit, forceful man in his forties, who was now flushed with controlled rage. Now and then, someone, presumably Jane, could be heard weeping upstairs. Audrey lurked near the door and listened to her father’s strangled words to Toby and Joan.
“Damned lecher! No better than a goat, a town bull.” Sir James paced back and forth, his heels ringing on the floor. “All wenches should wear iron belts from twelve to fifty, and all such young stallions should have bridles on their ballocks.” Sir James stopped his pacing and jerked Toby’s head up by the hair. “You may have cost me an alliance worth five hundred a year,” he growled in Toby’s face. Then he resumed pacing, pulling on his short dark beard. Joan pulled up her apron and rubbed her eyes and cheeks, leaving a sooty smear on the white cloth. Sir James stopped, faced the couple, and grasped his hands behind his back. “Well, someone must be married, but I’ll not have my blood linked to a penniless Scotch bastard. Diggory!” A large servant entered and bowed. “Lock this miscreant in the cellar, and see that his whore is kept close by the cook. Then fetch the curate, post haste.”
Diggory dragged the couple away, holding each by an arm. He left the girl with a stout woman in the kitchen, and shoved Toby down the stairs to the cellar. Toby stumbled into the cool, dark room, redolent of cheese, wine, and grain dust. He sat on a barrel and sighed despondently. Eventually Diggory returned and brought him back upstairs where a skinny, disheveled man in a worn black gown stood by in respectful silence, yawning discreetly while Sir James paced. Then Diggory returned with Joan, and stood as witness while the curate rattled through the prayerbook marriage service. Joan tried a wan smile in Toby’s direction as she repeated her vows, but could not catch his eye. Toby repeated his vows mechanically, his eyes on the floor. During a moment of silence, a muffled wail could be heard from upstairs.
Sir James then turned to Joan, speaking sternly. “Prepare yourself to leave in the morning. I have made sure your child will not be another bastard, therefore I deem the obligation of this house to you is finished. With luck, you may find yourself a widow soon, and able to make a better match.” Joan burst out in a fresh fit of weeping.
Sir James spoke to Diggory. “Take our proud ram here to the jail, there to remain at my pleasure.”

Toby was sweating in a stinking cell in what must have been the village jail, eagerly eating from a bowl of something that made me gag to see. He was thinner, and his clothes were beginning to show wear. Voices and steps punctuated by metallic jangles made Toby look up to the door. It opened, admitting a thin, balding man carrying a bunch of keys and a big, full-bearded man in a short orange-colored cloak, sword, feathered hat, and boots with spurs. He stood in the door a moment, looking Toby over. Toby rose.
“Tobias Hume, is it?” His voice was deep and rough. I could see the veins in his bulbous nose.
“Aye, sir.”
“Well, sirrah, you have the honor to serve her majesty, whose constable has been pleased to have you released into my custody for the musters. I am Captain Hall.”
“Thank you sir. Am I to be in the army, then, sir?”
“Well concluded,” he answered with sarcasm. “God’s holy buskins, man, don’t stand agape. Pull yourself together and come along.”
“Yes sir. I am ready, sir.”
Toby straightened, put on his hat, and draped his cloak over his arm. Captain Hall turned and strode out, and Toby followed. As they stepped outside, Toby blinked at the bright sun of an early July noon, and blinked again at a ragged troop of about two dozen men standing in a rough column. A few were sturdy farm boys, but some looked like beggars in their thirties or forties. A few had swords or poles tipped with rusty heads that looked like a combination of spear and axe. One had a very long spear or pike; two had bows and bundles of arrows. One had a dented, ridged helmet. There were no firearms.
“Hume! Fall in and keep up,” bellowed Captain Hall, as he mounted his large black horse.
Toby looked up and asked, “An it please you, sir, where are we going?”
Captain Hall’s dark brows came together and he puffed out his lips. “God’s eyelids! Do as you are told, or you’ll be whipped! Don’t presume to speak unless I ask you a question! Now fall in!”
The captain spurred his horse, and Toby fell in at the end of the column, which moved off at a brisk walk. Another man on horseback rode nearby. He was not so well dressed as the captain, and his bay horse was bonier. Besides a sword, he carried a long spear, the butt in a rest by his stirrup, and a banner or ensign near the tip. He glanced at Toby and a smile of amused contempt curled his thin lips. He was lean, rather stooped, and had short dark hair and a patchy goatee growing through old acne scars.
“Your name, young gentleman?”
Toby looked up. “Tobias Hume, sir.”
“And are you from Scotland, then?” There was a lilt to his speech that was not familiar to me.
“Newcastle, sir.”
“Bit of trouble with the wenches?” His b’s sounded like p’s.
Toby looked up, surprised. “How did you know?”
“A mere guess. Look you, a good gentleman steward would have paid another to go to musters. You have no money, then?”
“No, sir.”
The horseman sniffed, jerking his chin. They went on in silence for a time. Toby looked up at the horseman, who still seemed amused by something.
“Sir, may I ask you a question?”
The horseman glanced down and frowned. Then he looked up toward the head of the column. “Yes, but only one, look you.”
“Where are we going?”
“South.” He looked straight ahead, smiling slightly.
After a while, the horseman added “Essex.”
They marched on. After another long pause the horseman said “Tilbury.”
The afternoon grew warmer, and the troops were sweating. Toby begged a drink of water from a bottle carried by the man in front of him; there was only a swallow left.
Toby hesitantly addressed the horseman. “Good sir, may I speak?”
“You may address me as Ancient Prothero.”
“Ancient Prothero, sir. May we have some water to drink?”
“You may drink it if you have it.”
“I was not so provided. Tis very hot and thirsty work, sir.”
“In good time and in good order.”
After a time they passed through a village with a well in the central green. The troops broke ranks and rushed for the well. Toby hung back and looked at Prothero. The ancient rose in his stirrups and shouted, “Keep rank! Keep rank!” The captain looked around and saw the mob around the well, wheeled his horse, and drew his sword. He rode into the crowd, beating the men with the flat of his sword and shouting for order. Finally the men fell back into line under the blows of the captain and ancient. “Now stand!” shouted the captain. “Now follow!” He led the troop down one side of the green, watching to be sure they came. Toby and the others glanced back longingly as they left the well behind. But when they came to the far corner of the green, instead of going on down the road, the captain led them in a turn. They went completely around the green. Then they circled it twice more, and halted by the well. The captain indicated two men with his sword. “You two! Bingley and Steaton! Draw water.” The two men eagerly ran to the well, dropped the bucket and hauled up the water, and started to drink. “Hold!” the captain bellowed, and the men froze. “By file! Approach and drink!” The outside line of men stepped hesitantly forward, and the first man took a hearty drink. Others followed. When the bucket was empty, the first two men drew another. Finally all had a turn. “Now all with a bottle step forward and fill. By file!” When all had done so, the captain filled his own bottle and turned to address the column. “We shall henceforth proceed in good order by command. Any man who breaks rank without permission will be flogged. Now march.”
By evening the troop had reached a fairly large market town where more soldiers–or rather potential soldiers–had assembled. Some arrived under the leadership of a younger officer, who seemed to be the lieutenant; he rode a fine horse and wore expensive-looking clothes and a jewelled ring. Men were queued up before several clumsy-looking carts at one end of the market square, walking away with a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese, a bag–or hat–full of dried peas, and beer in any vessel that would hold liquid. Captain Hall was passing among the troops, handing each a small coin, while the ancient followed and ticked off names on a list. Toby, finishing the last crumbs of his bread and cheese, took his coin and bought a leather bottle with a strap from a stall at the edge of the square and filled it with water from a nearby well.
Near sunset, the lines in front of the supply carts diminished. Captain Hall mounted one of the carts, and blew a shrill whistle. A minister with a round red face climbed up beside him. A young drummer standing by beat a loud pattern on his drum. The crowd grew silent. The mininster prayed for a few minutes, and the soldiers murmured “Amen.” Then the captain stepped forward.
“Loyal Englishmen!” began the captain. “Tomorrow we must march hard and fast, harder than today. And why? Even now, very now, the Spaniard is sailing a vast fleet toward our shores. The Spaniard intends to invade our lands, rape our wives, slaughter our babes, and murder our most gracious Queen. Who among you would be so base as to permit such crimes? Who among you would be so cowardly that he would not be a shield to protect her most sacred majesty? Who among you would be such a limb of the devil that you would permit the pope’s false priests to put true Christian Englishmen to the sword and the fire? Do I hear any?” Here he cocked his head to one side and squinted.
Several voices in the crowd–one being Ancient Prothero’s–shouted “None!” and “No!”
“Then you will march hard, obey your officers, and fight to defend this sacred realm?”
“So let it be shown in proof. Rest you well.” Captain Hall stepped down to a general cheer of “God save the Queen!”
The troops, now over a hundred, marched out the next morning. More were now carrying pikes –Toby among them–and matchlock calivers, and there were a few new-looking muskets, but a number still had no weapons. As the square emptied, I noticed some old women of the town bending over the still form of one of the men, searching through his clothes. Across the square another man lay shivering under his ragged cloak and calling weakly for water; no one paid him any attention.

I got off the plane from London and found myself behind my next door neighbor, a lawyer, in the customs line. He had been gone only a few days, so he had left his car at the airport; I naturally accepted his offer of a ride home. Jean would not have to meet me at the limo stop. I heard voices as I put my key in the door of our apartment. Jean was sitting on the sofa holding a glass of wine. Howell was standing nearby. It was the first time I had seen him without a tie.


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