Archive for January, 2011

Time’s Bending Sickle

January 30, 2011

For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

14. Alive That Time

Cullen Computing, now a public company whose stock was traded on the New York exchange, had become a place full of market watchers. By eight each morning, a blackboard over the main bulletin board carried the previous day’s closing price, but that didn’t prevent the new stock jockeys from checking the listings in the Times or the Wall Street Journal anyway. “I was curious about what the low was,” said Janelle, when I found her long red nails clutching the closely printed pages as she searched for CuCpS. After the initial offering of $14 a share, we were now, two months later, trading at eighteen and an eighth. Howell was pretty jolly, and Jean was cheerfully obsessed. As we expected, Jean would stand in for her mother on the board, and vote the family’s controlling interest.
Jean came home from her first board meeting greatly excited. “The money’s just rolling in! Howell came in with a lot of good ideas about what to do with it, too.”
“Lots of new R and D?” I asked.
“Some, but other things too. One option Howell said he was interested in was acquiring a game company.”
“What?”
“Yeah, computer games. There are several little companies in California that produce computer games, and make a healthy profit. Howell thinks with our marketing, we could make even more.”
“I’m skeptical. Our market is very different. I can’t think of any of my customers who would have any interest in games, or selling games retail.”
“Well, maybe we need some new customers.”
“Maybe so.” In my opinion, we needed to catch up with the competition in our own specialties. Perry and John and a lot of the programmers knew about games, since they played them for fun. But the marketing side would be very weak.
Jean was interested, nevertheless, and was determined to find out more. One positive consequence was that she was more interested in the details of my work than she had ever been before. We had long talks about the business. Jean’s questions forced me to sort out my own information and assumptions, and occasionally gave me ideas. Our discussions kept open lines of communication that had recently had gaps and static. Jean expressed pleasure that I was as current about the business as I was, so I felt I regained some of the ground I lost over the delay at the SEC. For some time after the offering and before the stock rose and the money started to come in, Jean had taken Howell’s line that I should have paid more attention to the documents and caught the omissions, and that I didn’t care enough. The truth is, I didn’t care at any deep level. But I played the part.
After Jean had asked lots of questions, she began to make suggestions. Although some of these showed her ignorance, and led to explanations and more questions, some were very good. Her fresh perspective occasionally would lead her to make a point that made perfect sense, but had been ignored by the company culture and the assumptions it embodied. I took her ideas and questions very seriously.
“Tell me about Wizardware,” she said one evening over after-dinner coffee.
“Is that the name of the game company?”
“Yes. Hadn’t you heard?”
“My department is sales, not acquisitions. Maybe you should tell me.”
“Howell says he’s bringing the owner to town next week for negotiations. We’ll all meet him.”
“If I’m going to be involved in selling his stuff, I guess I’d better. Maybe Howell hasn’t wanted to distract me until the deal is more definite. I’ve been real busy on this new hospital package.”
Jean looked smug. “I understand that their game called ‘Dragonbreath’ is very popular.”
“So that’s Wizardware. I’ve heard Perry Fein talk about how his kid is hooked on it. I think Perry sneaks a game or two himself.”
“Bonnie wants to have us for dinner when he comes. Next Thursday–put it down.” She sipped her coffee. “I wonder what the owner is like–probably very Hollywood. I think I’ll wear that new silk job I got at Nieman’s.”
“You’ll look great.”

We stood in front of Howell’s door, Jean in her classy blue silk dress, heels, matching bag, and me in a suit instead of the blazer I started out in. Bonnie, in an elegant hostess gown and full warpaint, let us in, giving a hint of rolled eyeballs. Howell, in one of his newer Italian suits, introduced us to Tom Backscheider, owner and CEO of Wizardware. He was not yet thirty, wore Birkenstocks on bare feet, well-broken-in jeans, a Spiderman t-shirt, a fuzzy blond beard and a shoulder-length ponytail. He gave me a hip handshake and a broad, eye-squinting smile that I have to describe as sweet. I liked him immediately.
Bonnie served margaritas to us and club soda to Tom, at his request. “I don’t do any of that anymore,” he said, “not even grass.” Without anyone on the Cullen side being so gauche as to bring up business so early in the evening, Tom went on to volunteer that he had been looking for the right deal for some time. “I’m real tired of management, and I’m no good at it. I want to get back to hacking. I can’t keep track of paper, but I’m sure the last accountant we had ripped us off. I’m looking for a deal where I can get somebody else to manage and market while I keep some creative control. Money’s not the main worry–I’ve got my house, my hot tub, my Porsche, my Steinway–”
“Piano?” I couldn’t help interrupting.
“Yeah. I like to warm up on Bach before I hack. You play?”
“Cello.”
“Hey, cool.”
Bonnie said, “I thought you’d be more of a rock fan.”
“I am. I dig the Dead and the Stones and a few others, but Bach is my man. Rock is good for anything below the neck, but I sometimes like to use the rest of my wetware.”
“How do sell your games?” asked Howell. “Is it mainly mail order?”
“Yeah. There are a few stores for hobby hackers around the Valley, and we’re in those, and in a couple of computer stores in L.A. But we’re not in, like, Radio Shack.”
“Will your games run on their computers?” I asked.
“Sure. We write them on Apple, but we make versions for Atari, Tandy, and Commodore.”
“I don’t know much about games,” I continued. “What makes your games special?”
“Pictures. We’ve got great graphics. We’ve got color, and we do them in assembly language, so we can get over a hundred pictures in a single floppy.” He smiled. “You want one?”
“You brought samples?”
“Yep.” He loped back into the hall. Jean and Bonnie exchanged glances I interpreted as urging tolerance and patience. Howell was inscrutable. Tom returned with a backpack from which he pulled a zip-lock plastic bag containing a floppy disc and some cheaply printed folded pages. The outer page had “Dragonbreath” printed in Gothic letters.
Howell said dryly, “I think we could help with packaging.”
“Cool,” said Tom. “We’ve been so busy selling these we haven’t had time to think about that.” If he was responding to Howell’s sarcasm, he hid it well. “I guess if software and games ever start selling off racks like record albums it would be good to have a package that would snag a look.”
“That time may come very soon,” Howell said.
“How do you play this?” I asked.
“Just boot it up and follow directions. Hey, what’s this?” Bonnie was passing a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
“Paté,” said Bonnie.
“Cool. I don’t think I’ll have any, but I like the idea of being around paté, you know?”

On the way home, Jean was critical of Tom and his enterprise, and voiced some of the same reservations I had about where the company priorities ought to be. I, on the other hand, found myself thinking there might be possibilities in games. Wizardware’s sales figures, given the size of their operation and their limited marketing, were impressive. After meeting Tom, I wanted to at least sample the product for myself. As Jean undressed, I heard her grumble, “I might as well have dug out some of my old tie-dyed stuff.”
The next day I took the game to work and plugged it into Perry’s Apple. It was a kind of story. A dragon was guarding a pile of treasure, and the player had seven dwarves trying to steal it. You could try to put the dragon to sleep, distract it, appease it by sacrificing a dwarf, or kill it. If you made a dwarf choose the wrong option, or let him make a misstep, the dragon would shoot out a flame and incinerate the dwarf. If all seven of your dwarves got fried, you lost; if one got the treasure, you won.
It sounds simpler than it was, for if you wanted to put the dragon to sleep, you could choose to use music or a potion. But the musician could drop his instrument and wake the dragon, and the potion could make him belch and fry the dwarf. If you got him to sleep safely, your dwarf could pick up the wrong piece of treasure, and the clatter could wake the dragon. And what worked one time wouldn’t necessarily work another time, so the game was different each time you played it. The only constant that I could find was that if your successful dwarf tried to take all the treasure, the dragon would wake and torch him. Even if your dwarf killed the dragon, the most difficult of the options, it could give a final post-mortem blast if the dwarf tried to take the last piece of treasure. This game was only one of about thirty they sold. I could see how one could get hooked.
The board voted to negotiate the acquisition of Wizardware, Jean going along with Howell after I explained why I changed my mind. At worst, we could make a little money on games if we did a bit of accounting and marketing. At best, we could get a foot in the home computer or computer hobby market, in case it ever went anywhere. The Apple and Radio Shack experience suggested it might, at least for a while. If IBM was making a “personal computer,” as they had just announced they would, that was another big straw in the wind. Maybe Perry and John, who were very fond of the Apple, could come up with home versions of some of the business packages we had developed.
Time passed. I continued to hustle sales, travelling some, trying to research markets and marketing, passing on customers’ wishes for new products. The negotiations with Wizardware continued. I heard secondhand that the deal was taking some time to jell, because Tom was very protective of his employees, and insisted on a number of provisions guaranteeing their jobs for several years. He also insisted on high royalties for his game writers.
After some back and forth on the phone and in the mail with Johns Hopkins, we reached agreement on a deal for the records package. At their request–at Marina’s, no doubt–I was asked to bring the final contract and get things started. Howell and Jean were pleased that I got the contract, and I was pleased at the prospect of playing that wonderful Goffriller cello again. The possibility of meeting Clio and seeing more of her paintings also interested me.

On the plane to Baltimore, I had a number of visions in rapid succession. It was a sort of montage of Toby’s participation in Prince Maurice’s campaigns after the capture of Deventer in June 1591. There were few clever ruses in these episodes, but lots of marshland slogging, booming cannon, and digging. The history books tell me I saw bits of the taking of the town of Delfzyl, north of Groningen, and the forts of Opslag, Yementil, and Lettebaest.
One night around the campfire, Prothero was complaining. “I grant that the prince pays promptly. But there’s no booty. The Dutch is so afraid of disturbing the papist burghers in their towns, that an honest bit of prize-taking may earn a man a noose, like that poor whoreson in Deventer. Regular pay is good for a journeyman mercer, but a man of spirit should have better chance for reward should he put his life in adventure.”
“Be glad we are paid by the prince and not by one of our honest English generals,” growled Hall.
“Aye but,” said Prothero, “they know the game, and a man can prosper if he plays it well.” Prothero looked thoughtful. “Good captain, I think I have served you well and faithfully.”
“Well enough, lieutenant.”
“I think it be time to take my leave of you. I am thinking of trying my luck among the Swedes or Polonians. I hear there is wars there.”
Hall frowned. “Think you of deserting?”
Prothero smiled his usual ironic smile. “Nay, master, think of me as having served my apprenticeship, and taking the freedom of my trade.”
“Desertion is desertion, lieutenant. I’ll hear no more.”
When I next saw them, they were on the march, threading their way between pools of water in a great swamp. It was hot, and flies swarmed around men and horses. Toby looked up and down the ranks anxiously from time to time, but Hall looked grimly ahead. I couldn’t see Prothero.

Toby appeared with a number of troops lying in woods surrounding a long meadow. This time Toby held a musket, as did the troops around him. He checked his length of match, and gave the spark a gentle puff. It was a sunny morning, quiet but for some birds and insects, and distant cannon fire, rumbling like an approaching thunderstorm. Captain Hall stuck his head around a tree to get a better look at the far end of the meadow, then lay back down. After a while, another rumbling noise could be heard and felt through the ground, and shouts and pops from small arms grew closer.
A troop of Dutch cavalry broke into the meadow, follwed by a larger force of nearly a thousand Spanish and Italians. The Dutch thundered past Toby and his company, and I thought I saw Sir Francis Vere and some of his English among them. Then they turned and prepared to fight. More Dutch horsemen emerged from the trees behind the pursuing Spanish, and Hall shouted, “Fire!” Toby and his fellows fired their muskets and several of the men and horses in the Spanish party fell. Horses began rearing and screaming. The decoy cavalry now attacked, swords flailing.
Toby snatched the match out of the lock of his musket and looped it in the fingers of his left hand; then he blew any lingering sparks from the pan, at the same time popping open the flask of powder that hung around his neck; then he poured in a fresh priming charge and snapped the pan cover closed. After blowing any excess powder away from the covered pan, he took one of the wooden flasks from his bandolier and poured a pre-measured charge into the muzzle of his musket, followed by a bullet he had been holding in his mouth. He then pulled the ramrod or scouring-stick from the stock, rammed home the charge, and replaced the stick. After carefully fitting the match into the lock again and blowing on the spark, he was at last ready to fire.
In the meantime, the fighting in the meadow raged on. As Toby was fitting his match into the lock, a Spanish horseman crashed through the line of trees and rode past. Toby raised his musket just as the horseman caught a tree branch and fell to the ground. The horse continued to blunder through the underbrush. Another soldier approached the stunned horseman and held his sword at his throat, waiting for him to awake and yield. Toby turned back toward the meadow and put his bullet through a large Spanish cavalryman who seemed to be getting the better of his Dutch opponent. He could see several other Spaniards who had been wounded or unhorsed surrendering to the troops on the edge of the meadow, and he could see a number of those still mounted retreating through a gap in the pincers of the Dutch at the far end. He began reloading his musket.

Toby watched as cannonballs and scatter shot fell a few yards in front of his company, tossing up clods of moist earth. In the distance, he could see the Spanish guns across a river, over which boats full of Spanish troops were passing. But the troops were moving away from the target of their assault, the fort at Knodsenburg, half a mile away on the side of the river where Toby stood. Captain Hall sauntered up, looked toward the boats and cannon, and shook his head. “Parma knows how to retreat properly. It must gall him that our young pedant of a prince is making him do so.”
“Do you think we will attack Nijmegen now?” Toby asked.
“If Parma gives us room, I cannot think why we would not.”

The air was getting colder as Toby and his fellows dug in and threw up protective gabions around the guns trained on Nijmegen. Toby could see the low wall and round tower at the river’s edge, and the central fort on the rise above with its old butressed walls and square central tower, called the Falcon Tower. Hall mentioned that there were sixty-eight cannon on the Nijmegen side of the river, most of them aimed at the weaker defences between the Falcon Tower and the Hoender Gate. The guns in the fort of Knodsenburg across the river could also throw incindiary shot into the town. Guns from the town boomed and their missiles threw up earth, but to little effect.
Trumpets announced parleys between the besiegers and the town. Hall returned from a meeting of the captains as the prince’s cannon began firing. “Some wag in the garrison made a witty reply to the prince’s demand for surrender. The officers told us that he said the prince was too young a suitor to win such a spinster as Nijmegen, and that a longer courtship would be necessary. The prince has already begun to send his gifts.”
Toby, hands on ears, watched from his post in the defensive perimeter as the batteries fired steadily through the night. The flashes and explosions made for an unlikely storm of thunder and heat lightning in the chilly night. Hot shot from mortars in the fort made red arcs across the sky, and steadier glows from behind the town walls indicated that some of these missiles had started fires.
Early in the morning trumpets sounded from the town and the batteries fell silent. “It appears the lady has yielded to the prince’s suit,” said Hall to a yawning Toby.

Toby and his company settled into Nijmegen as part of the garrison under Count Louis William. Inside, the town was in better shape than some of the previous conquests, despite the bombardment and fires. The occupants had not pulled down houses for wood and iron, and there were still people with goods to sell. Once the seige was lifted, produce from the harvest in the surrounding countryside drifted in, and the prospect of spending the winter there did not give rise to much complaint. Toby told Hall of his musical acquaintences in the town where they spent the previous winter, and speculated with regret that such a group might be hard to find in Nijmegen.
Before the army broke up to move to winter quarters, Toby spoke to several men in the English companies, asking if any could bear letters back to Lincolnshire for him. Finally, one young officer said he was bound for Grimslay and would do what he could. Toby gave him two thick packets wrapped and sealed in waxed cloth and thanked him profusely.
Toby and Hall were quartered with a Protestant family who treated them with reasonable cordiality, especially when they found they would be paid. Toby did not have his viol, and found no other musicians except a tavern fiddler and members of a church choir. Since the church was Catholic, and services were suspended until a time determined by the States-General, the choir did not perform, though individual members sometimes sang at the tavern with the fiddler, usually after some lubrication.
Toby spent his leisure time during the first part of the winter reading and trying to compose without his instrument. Sometimes he would finger the air, then scribble on his wax tablet, and after many corrections and second thoughts, write down the tablature on paper.
As the winter wore on, Toby would more frequently join Hall at the tavern where the fiddler scraped out dance tunes and popular airs. “Wilhelmus van Nassau” was a favorite with the garrison. Toby tried to keep up with Hall’s consumption of beer, but after a few instances of throwing up into gutters followed by painful mornings, he moderated his intake. A tobacco seller came by the tavern at regular intervals, selling white clay pipes already charged with tobacco. Toby seemed to like the smell of the smoke–perhaps it masked some of the other smells–so he began smoking a pipe as he nursed a single pint of beer.
At first, the tobacconist was a hit with the tavern regulars, for he tried to give a good show. The problem was that his show lacked variety, and began to pall after several repetitions. In a hearty bilingual pitch, he preached the gospel of the healing properties of his product. It dried up excess humors, heated the phlegmatic and calmed the choleric. It was soverign against melancholy. It cured obesity, flatulence, and impotence. Sometimes he made up stories about how the Indians took it to increase their endurance or to produce visions, but good Christians would be protected from the latter.
Several times Toby could be seen seeking out men who had been reported as having come recently from England. He would ask them if any had heard of any letters or messages for Tobias Hume. As far as I could tell, the answers were always negative.
One night I saw Toby alone in his room trying to compose music, but having little success, for he kept scraping his tablet smooth and starting over. Finally he stopped, stared at the small fire in the grate, and wept for a good while. Apparently tobacco did not keep melancholy away completely.

Someone touched my shoulder. It was the flight attendant. “Sir, we have landed, and this is the last stop for this flight.” The plane was almost empty.
“Thanks. I must have been daydreaming.”

Advertisements

Time’s Bending Sickle

January 16, 2011

For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

13. Time’s Fickle Glass

I slept well and woke feeling much better. The morning sun came into the studio at a slight angle, freshening the colors of the painting on the easel, obscuring some of the emerging figures, highlighting others. The woman’s face was harder to see, but the bird, a hawk of some kind, was brilliant. A full-length mirror on the opposite wall picked up another angle on the painting, allowing me to see the face. I gave myself a few minutes to contemplate the painting as I stretched, then hurriedly dressed, and called the hotel to check for messages. There were none, I was pleased to hear. I also indulged in one more peek at the golden Goffriller and took a brief tour around the house, not touching anything. Clio’s bedroom contained a queen-sized bed covered with a patchwork quilt and several pillows, an uncluttered antique dresser with a few photos stuck in the mirror–a young family, school pictures of two girls in braces, an old couple. There were lots of books–art books, history, anthropology, archaeology, folklore, a fair amount of poetry–mostly modern–and some serious fiction–Mann, Joyce, Proust. There were also paperbacks of Elmore Leonard and a collection of Frank O’Connor stories. The kitchen had a full wine rack on the counter, coffee grinder, espresso-cappucino maker, pasta machine, high-quality food processor, heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, vessels with shiny copper bottoms. By the stereo in the studio were stacks of records and tapes, not in any order. She had chamber music, some early music, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and scatterings of world music–gamelan, didgeridoo, African juju. No opera, and except for a couple of Beatles and Steeleye Span albums, no rock. I gave the painting one last look, and drove back to DC, where I showered, shaved, put on fresh clothes and had a late breakfast. After a couple of duty calls to the office and home, I gathered my materials and headed back to Baltimore.
The meeting at Hopkins went pretty well. Marina was a cheerful, friendly presence, but the registrar, a rather dry, gray man with steel-framed trifocals and a prim mouth, did most of the talking. I was able to answer most of his questions to his grudging satisfaction, helped now and then by Marina and the bursar, a comfortably plump older woman with a grandmotherly smile and a whiff of gardenia bath powder. She irritated the registrar by patting his hand once and saying, “Now, John,” when he interrupted my pitch. The registrar did come up with a couple of fine points which were technically beyond me. I promised to check them out at home and resolve them as soon as I could. After having stumped me, he relaxed and allowed the meeting to come to a pleasant conclusion. I invited the group to dine on my expense account, but only Marina accepted.
She recommended an unpretentious seafood place near the racetrack with great crab bisque. The Cullen accountant would be pleased by the modest check. I got Marina to talk more about her life, though she seemed to prefer to discuss our London music friends and ask about music in Dallas. But I got from her that she had finished her dissertation quickly, and had overcome Hopkins’s reluctance to hire one of their own students, for she was an assistant professor with good prospects. She had a number of friends, mostly musicians. We didn’t get far into her personal life, since she volunteered little, and subtly discouraged direct questions. I inferred that she was in some sort of relationship, partly because–this is embarrassing to write even now–she didn’t flirt with me. On one hand it was a relief, given the nudging hints Derek had dropped about her interest in me, but on the other it was a bit deflating to my male ego. She was perfectly warm and friendly, as if we had known each other longer and more intimately than we had, but the conversation was surprisingly free of sexual tension.
Perhaps because of this atmosphere I found myself telling her things about my life I had not fully articulated to myself, much less to another person. I told her about my ambivalence toward my job, my dislike of Howell, my concern about Jean’s moodiness, our disappointing efforts to have a child. I told her about my hopes that Jean’s involvement with the company would give her some focus. Although I told her about sometimes wanting to be somewhere else, I stopped short of mentioning my time travels.
“I sometimes don’t have time for music, especially lately. The London stop was a small oasis in a growing desert.”
Marina looked hard at me with serious concern. “You must play. You must have music.”
“I wish I could get hold of that Goffriller now and then; that would be an incentive.” I tried to lighten the tone by leering conspiratorially. “Let’s play at Clio’s again when she’s not there. Maybe the cello will follow me home.”
Marina smiled. “I hope you can come again and we can play when she is there. I think you’d like her, and I’m sure she’d enjoy your playing.”
“Maybe so. Is that her face in the painting?”
“Yes, in the corner.”
“I’d like to see more of her work. It sticks in the mind.”
This time Marina put on the conspirator. “If we buy your system, I’ll insist you come back to close the deal. You can have a private showing.”
I glanced around with mock suspicion, finger on lips. “Deal,” I whispered.

I was surprised that no visions came to me on the flight back, though the images in Clio’s painting crept into my thoughts many times. But I had plenty of visions back in Dallas.
Prince Maurice’s army was in winter quarters, early in what was probably 1591. When not drilling, Toby continued to practice, compose, and avoid the religious disputes and drunken gambling sessions of his comrades.
One day Toby appeared carrying his viol case down a narrow street. An older man in a heavy black cloak and hat turned the corner ahead, looked in Toby’s direction, and stopped abruptly. Then he hurried toward Toby, bowing, touching his hat, and rattling away in Dutch. Toby answered haltingly, apparently apologizing for not understanding. The man switched to slightly accented English without hesitation.
“Pardon, good sir, I hope my English is to your comprehension.”
“Indeed sir, thank you.”
“I see that you carry a viol da gambo. May I understand that you play it?”
“Aye, sir, I have assayed it for some years.”
The man’s gray whiskers wagged with pleasure. “Pray let me offer you my name and my hand. I am Jan van Meergen, and I also try to play the viol.”
Toby smiled and shook his hand. “Your servant, sir. I am Tobias Hume, ancient in his excellency the prince’s army.”
“Good, good, good. Master Hoom, would you like sometimes to join with me and some other gentlemen to make music?”
“Gladly, with all my heart.”
“Good, good, good. Tonight, we play in the upper room at the sign of the Phoenix, across the square. We are only four, but we have many excellent pieces of music for five parts. You know the music of your countryman, Master Tye?”
“Indeed, sir, I know his name, but have not played his music. Thank you for the invitation. I am now bound to get a new bridge, and will be most pleased to join you at the Phoenix in–”
“Two hours. Good, good, good.”
That evening Toby played in a consort with van Meergen and three other solid-looking burghers, men in their forties and fifties. Two played the treble viol, which is about the size of a viola, but held on the knees. Another played the mid-sized tenor viol, and Toby and van Meergen played bass, the cello-sized viola da gamba. They were playing an In Nomine by Christopher Tye, a composer of the previous generation. Toby’s part consisted of slow-moving sustained notes, around which the other voices played in counterpoint. The effect is like a dignified old saint ascending and descending a golden stair, one step at a time, while cherubs chase each other in a solemn dance around him. Toby’s part was in fact the In Nomine theme or cantus firmus, a melody taken from the Benedictus of a mass by John Taverner, an English composer who flourished in the time of Henry VIII. In addition to Tye, more than fifty English composers produced over a hundred and fifty In Nomines in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Van Meergen, Toby, and their companions played with the rapt attention and serene half-smiles I have seen on my fellow string quartet players. The piece they were playing even had some affinity to Beethoven’s “Heiliger Dankgesang” adagio from his opus 132 quartet. If Matthias Gruenewald’s angels are not playing Beethoven, they must be playing an In Nomine.
Toby and the Dutchmen played a number of contrapuntal fantasies and In Nomines that evening, with rather extensive tuning breaks between pieces to accommodate the temperamental gut strings. Finally, the group broke up with much bilingual courtesy and handshaking. Van Meergen fell in beside Toby as they left the inn.
“Master Hoom, if you be not too weary, let me entreat you to take a glass of wine at my house. There is something I wish to show you.”
“Thank you sir, I am honored.”
“Ja, a promising young man like you must continue his education whenever he can. I have had the happiness to travel much for trade in my younger days, and learned much therby.”
The burgher led Toby to a well-kept stone house of three stories in a street somewhat wider than most. He spoke in Dutch to a yawning servant by the door, took a candle from him, and briskly mounted the stairs to the second floor. Taking out a key, he opened the door to a large room full of strange shapes and shadows. With his own candle, he lit a stand containing four more, and as the light grew, Toby looked toward the ceiling and started back. Hanging overhead was a crocodile and a narwhal, a seagoing mammal with a long single tusk. The walls were lined with shelves and cabinets, some covered with glass. Other curious objects hung from the ceiling or lurked in corners–a large bone–elephant or dinosaur?–a shrunken head, a deformed human skeleton, an African mask, an elephant tusk, and various stuffed animals and reptiles.
“You are surprised by my sea-unicorn?” asked van Meergen, smiling.
“I confess I was startled.”
“I have many startling things here. We think we have seen many strange things if we but travel to Italy, but the great world elsewhere contains things we could not imagine.” Here he opened up a drawer and took out a furry object. “Look at this. It was sold to me by a fisherman off one of the islands in the Indies. He got it in trade for he knew he could sell it to such a one as I.” He smiled at his weakness. “Tis dried, but tis not contrived, for the beak is part of the skull. I call it a duck-rat.” I saw that it was a platypus, somehow migrated from Australia. The yawning servant brought them wine, and they continued the tour. As they moved through the room the candles lit up other specimens mounted on the wall and ceiling: a sawfish beak, a giant tortoise shell, the toothy skull of a lion or tiger, an armadillo, a sinuous Hindu temple statue, a Roman portrait bust with a broken nose, and along the top of the shelves at the far end of the room, an Inuit kayak.
Unlocking a cabinet, van Meergen drew out an elaborately mounted crystal sphere. “This is a great rarity. Whether it has lost its virtue, or whether I am ignorant of the means to invoke it, I know not. But the mounting is old, and here is engraved a legend which says this is the glass by which Merlin foretold things to come.” He held up the candles, which sparkled and cast colored spots through the globe, and smiled ruefully. “Some may see the future here, but all I see is the past, figured in my own wrinkled countenance and white hair.” Toby looked intently into the glass, then silently handed it back to his host.

Toby, hands on ears, stood in a damp trench close to a battery of guns behind “gabions,” large wickerwork baskets filled with earth. The gun crew were busy around one of the big siege guns: a soldier with a dripping sponge on a long pole thrust it into the muzzle, where it hissed and steamed. In the meantime, other guns were going off with much noise and smoke. There was hardly a silent interval. The wall of Deventer, the town under siege, had a number of pockmarks, and one spot looked as if it had been chewed by a monstrous beast. The nearest gun fired, and Captain Balfour, who was standing next to Toby, shouted, “That makes four thousand shots by my count.”
“How can you tell? It sounds like a continuous roar to me,” Toby shouted back.
“I count the flashes, not the bangs.”
“What makes them hold out so long?”
“Because the garrison is commanded by Count van den Berg, cousin to Prince Maurice. Some thought the cousins would only play at fighting, but the count is a papist, and his kinship to the prince has only made him more stubborn.”
“The breach is opening,” yelled Toby, pointing to the part of the wall of Deventer that was now a slope of rubble. “We could enter if we could cross the Haven quickly.”
Balfour pointed upstream of the body of water separating the prince’s forces from the breach. Several boats were being tied together out of range of fire from the town; Balfour said that they would be floated down and used to make a bridge for the assaulting forces.
Captain Hall approached and beckoned Toby to follow. Balfour came along. They followed the trench away from the battery for several yards, then proceeded to a group of tents set at some distance from the action. They came upon a group of officers in the middle of an intense argument. A Dutch officer, speaking in English, was arguing that his men should lead the assault on the grounds that they were fighting to liberate their own town from the Spanish, and could do so with more fervor than their noble allies. A Scots officer arose and complained of the boredom of siege warfare, and begged that his men have the recreational opportunity of some good, bloody, hand-to-hand combat in the breach. The presiding officer, whom I learned later was Prince Maurice’s cousin and deputy, Count Louis William, then recognized a handsome young man with short hair, strong nose, and no beard except for a tuft under his lower lip: “Sir Francis Vere, what say you?”
“Your excellency, gentlemen and soldiers all. I do not wish to slight in any way the valor of our Dutch and Scots comrades when I beg for the English to have the honor of leading this assault. Indeed, I beg it on the grounds that we English need to redeem our honor from the treachery, greed, and cowardice of our own countrymen. If Sir William Stanley and Rowland Yorke had not surrendered Deventer to the golden bullets of the Duke of Parma, we should not need to be wasting powder and risking lives today. Please, brave comrades, give us the chance to wipe out this disgrace.”
Toby and Hall and several others cried “Hear, hear!” when Vere finished. Several of the other officers nodded in agreement. Scottish and Dutch spokesmen reiterated their arguments, but it was clear that Vere had made an impression. Soon Count Louis William held up his hand for silence, turned and consulted with some senior officers nearby, and then announced that the English would lead the assault. The bridge would be floated down and completed so the assault could begin at first light in the morning.
The English troops gathered by the bridge of boats, which was not quite long enough to reach across the water. Toby gripped his pike with the ensign and waited for the signal to advance. He could see the defenders waiting in the breach, the sparks from their matches glowing in the gray dawn. The seige guns opened fire on other parts of the town, and provided a noisy accompaniment to the action at the breach. Another English company marched up to join those at the bridge; it was headed by a familiar figure. Toby stepped out of rank and grasped Felix by the hand. Felix’s moustache was even more formidable, and a fresh white plume waved above his shining morion.
“Toby! Well met. Achter iedern berg ligt weer een dal–behind every mountain lies a valley. We’ll talk after we fight. Guard yourself well.”
“You too. Have a care.”
Toby fell back in just as the trumpet and drum signalled the charge. With a great yell, the men surged across the bridge. At the end of the bridge, there was a stretch of water about two yards wide and a steep bank. The first four soldiers leaped across and scrambled up the bank, but the fifth fell short with a splash and only with great effort struggled out of chest-deep water. Another fell in even deeper water, and was carried down, burdened by his armor. I didn’t see him emerge. Most, but not all, of the following troops made the jump or waded successfully to shore. Some of the defending musketeers ran down the bank of rubble in the breach to get close enough for a shot. Toby made the leap, and, swinging on his pike like a pole vaulter, got up the bank. He looked back in time to see Felix poised to jump, then jerk back. Suddenly, his helmet flew off, and as his hand reached up to the side of his head, he fell forward into the water. Toby gasped when he saw him fall, and ran to the edge, holding out his pikestaff to help him ashore. But there was only a red spot in the muddy water. Captain Hall landed on the bank with a thump, and fell on his knees. Grunting, he pushed to his feet and shouted at Toby.
“God’s knuckles, Hume, forward!”
“Captain, my friend is shot in the water.”
“Then it’s too late for him. On with you, while we yet live.”
With a pained backward glance, Toby followed the others as they surged forward up the hill of rubble. Musket fire rattled from the walls and the breach. As they approached the defenders, the attacking musketeers stopped and got off a shot, then began the reloading process, which seemed to me interminable. A stout middle-aged man in a shiny breastplate and helmet was conspicuous among the soldiers in the breach. “By God,” muttered Hall, pointing out the man to Toby, “old van den Berg himself.” Soon the first of the English were within pike push of the defenders, and the fighting became fierce and personal. The defenders of the breach fought with a strange kind of abandon: one swung his sword so hard that he staggered and fell when he missed his target. Some of the defenders crowding behind the front line could be seen with a sword or pike in one hand and a cup in the other. One attacking soldier who got a cut on the arm fell back and slid down the hill, shouting to his comrades climbing toward the breach, “They’re all drunk!”
The fighting at the breach ground away. Soon more wounded were crawling or being carried back down to the bank. Although the shouting was constant, it suddenly surged in volume, and the word was passed down to those pressing uphill, including Toby. “Van den Berg has fallen!” The English pushed forward. Now the Dutch and Scottish troops crossed the bridge and climbed up behind the English. Fire from the breach and the walls continued to find targets in the packed troops struggling up the hill. But after the push that followed the fall of van den Berg, movement slowed. Time passed, more men fell, but it seemed that the breach was holding. Toby and the men around him were like people in a queue, lined up to enter some chamber of horrors. Toby looked back and saw that the bridge had been extended enough to get the wounded back across. He could see no sign of Felix.
After a long, painful period in which the only movement was of the dead and wounded from the front line and the inching forward of their replacements, a trumpet sounded, and the attackers retreated. Toby had not reached the front line at the breach. There were shouts of defiance, but the faces of the soldiers who could retreat under their own power could not hide feelings of relief. Toby lingered at the bank, peering into the water. It gave back no reflection. The cannon still boomed.
After the troops had crossed the water and the wounded were taken away, Captain Hall called his company together to take stock. Sixteen men out of their company of ninety-two were gone. I heard reports that more than a hundred of the attackers were killed or died shortly after the assault, and at least that many were wounded. While they were assembled, Prince Maurice rode up and spoke in French, saying that English honor had been redeemed by their work in the breach that day. Then he said in English, “T’ank you, my brodders.”
Toby, looking dazed, wandered away from the company and sat on the piled-up earth from a trench that gave him a view of the Haven. As he sat, the town gate opened, and a huge man in full armor, a lance resting by his stirrup, rode out into the space between the trenches beyond the region of the breach. He rode as close as he could to the bank, and began shouting at Prince Maurice’s forces. His tone indicated that he was taunting them in Dutch and some other language I didn’t understand, and finally he spoke French, challenging anyone in the opposing forces to break a lance with him.
There were shouts from Toby’s side in return, and commotion around the area where the cavalrymen were posted. Prince Maurice emerged from a tent, and several young soldiers knelt in front of him. I could see the prince shaking his head and making calming gestures. Several of the young men walked away, clearly disappointed. Others came to the bank and taunted the horseman, inviting him to come within musket range. He replied with multilingual insults. One of the men near Toby said, “I’ve heard of him–he’s an Albanian, and he’s six and a half feet tall.” Meanwhile, one young gallant had not given up the attempt to get the prince to permit an answer to the challenge. Finally, the prince appeared to give in, for the young man kissed his hand, and ran to his tent. Soon he emerged partly armed, attendants hovering around him, tightening buckles, strapping down the helmet. With help, he climbed on his horse, seated his lance, and rode out toward the bridge, accompanied by the cheers of his comrades. The man near Toby identified him as Louis van der Cathulle.
This chivalric spectacle drew crowds both on the prince’s side and on the walls of Deventer. The combatants faced one another, lowered their beavers, couched their lances, and galloped toward each other. Both lances struck their opponents on their armed chests, and splintered with audible cracks. Both horsemen kept their seats. They turned, the Albanian drawing a pistol, and van der Cathulle a sword, and ran toward each other again. At the last moment, van der Cathulle swerved, and instead of passing on the Albanian’s left, he passed on the right, and as the Albanian lifted his pistol, he brought the sword down on his arm, knocking the pistol to the ground. Van der Cathulle reined in his horse and turned. The Albanian, whose arm was now bleeding profusely, rode a bit further before he could control his horse and turn. With his good hand, he took a gold chain from around his neck, and held it out. Van der Cathulle approached cautiously, and the Albanian tossed the chain over the Dutchman’s helmet, and bowed. The Dutch and British forces cheered wildly as van der Cathulle led his prisoner across the bridge. Several of the prince’s special band met the combatants and escorted them to the prince. Toby could see the prince talking to them as his own physician bandaged the Albanian’s wound. A little later, the Albanian, carrying a packet of papers instead of a weapon, mounted his horse and rode back to Deventer.

Toby woke to the sound of a trumpet from the town. It was not quite daybreak. On hearing the trumpet, the prince’s men began to cheer, some lustily, some sleepily. The town was surrendering.
A delegation from the town arrived at the camp, one of whom was bandaged around the eyes. “Van den Berg!” exclaimed Captain Hall to Toby. “I thought he was killed in the breach.” Prince Maurice met the delegation, and embraced his cousin cordially. They retired into his tent. Even as they spoke, Toby could see preparations being made to move the guns to yet another town, yet another battle, quickly, quickly.
Toby entered Deventer with the prince’s forces. The town was in terrible shape, with hundreds of houses pulled down, and little that I could see to provide the citizens with a livelihood. Thin and ragged children ducked into doorways as Toby’s company marched through the streets. The men dispersed to find billets, but Toby followed the sounds of shouting around a corner, and found himself in a square where a gibbet had been set up. One of the prince’s officers stood on the platform beside a poor wretch with his hands bound and a noose around his neck. The officer made a speech warning against theft and looting, saying that the Dutch soldier in the noose had stolen coins and other property to the value of eight guilder from a citizen of Deventer, and would now receive the punishment that would be given all such thieves. An executioner then pushed the prisoner off the platform. He twitched at the end of the rope for a few minutes, and then was still. The officer and the executioner climbed down from the platform and left the man hanging.
The crowd started to disperse, with some muttering from English veterans about the severity of the punishment, and about how war was not what it used to be. But a noisy group approaching the square from another direction caught their attention. Some two dozen soldiers, many passing around bottles, came into the square carrying a mud-smeared coffin. They plopped the coffin on the platform by the gibbet, and a spokesman mounted and stood with one foot on it. He explained in English that this was the body of the traitor Yorke, who had died and been buried in Deventer. “Hang him!” came a voice from the crowd. This was met with cheers. Two men rushed forward, cut down the hanged man, and tied the rope around the coffin. The man on the platform kicked it off, and the box dangled where the man had been. The crowd cheered again. Toby joined them.

Time’s Bending Sickle

January 11, 2011

For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

12. The Clock That Tells the Time

It was the middle of November, 1980. Although it had been only four weeks since the stock promotion tour began, the geography I’d covered, the time-travelling I’d done, and the bug I’d caught made it seem longer. The travel and the bug also seemed to distract me from the election and mute my disappointment at Reagan’s victory. We expected final approval from the SEC any day, and going public would follow immediately. Howell called a meeting.
Virtually everybody in the company attended, even the most abstracted programmers and lowest mailroom hands. Many had shares of company stock, and knew that going public would mean that its value would increase dramatically. So, in the lobby, the biggest single space in the building, there was a motley mob, some in heels and pearls, some in jeans and sneakers, some in Italian suits and razor cuts, some in Grateful Dead t-shirts and greasy ponytails.
Howell began with an upbeat review of what everybody already knew about going public, stressing the money available for new products, growth, and ultimately more money for everybody. But then he dropped a bomb.
“You can exchange your company stock for public stock on the basis of a two-for-one reverse split.”
The group responded with two expressions, puzzled or angry. Several hands shot up, and there were murmurs and exclamations. Howell smiled reassuringly and spread his hands out as if to smooth out the ripples of noise and waving arms.
“Now I know some of you have been multiplying your shares by the usual price of new offerings, and have been measuring your garage for your new boat. We can’t do it that way, and I’ll tell you why. Believe me, you’ll be happy in the long run. Before I take your questions, let me say something that may answer some of them. Yes, two of your company shares will be equal to one share of the public stock. But this will not change the value of the shares. Please be patient while I explain.”
“This better be good,” came from an anonymous corner of the room.
Howell looked in the direction of the voice. “It will be, and anyone not satisfied can check out what I’m saying with an expert of your choice. Now any broker will tell you that buyers don’t like single-digit stocks. Look at any recent public offering, and you’ll find stocks going for from about $12 to $18 a share. Those numbers aren’t just pulled out of the air.” Howell went on to explain, in more detail than I have the patience to reproduce, how the price-to-earnings ratio affects the valuation of the company, which then affects the price of an offering. Since there were about forty million shares of company stock outstanding, not doing a reverse split would dilute the price of the stock and put it in the single-digit range. By reducing the number of shares to around twenty million, the public issue could be priced around $12 to $14. There was still some muttering, but eventually most of those present were satisfied or gave up in confusion.
Howell tried to shore up morale by arguing that now was a good time to go public, because the Dow was up, and because the market expected good things from the new administration. He said that he expected the offering to bring in around $80,000,000. That would enable us to upgrade our equipment, hire some people, and take on some money-making projects. He predicted that everybody would get a raise or bonus by the end of the next year.
When I got home that night, Jean asked me, “How did the people take the reverse split?”
“Mixed. Say, how did you know? I just heard today myself.”
“You’ve been out of it, remember? Howell told me so I could help explain it to Mother. There was no use telling you when you were really sick, and when you got better, I guess I forgot.”
“That really blows my insider image.” I wasn’t especially concerned, or even irritated, but Jean was defensive.
“So I’m supposed to tell you everything? My every move and conversation?”
“No, but I like to know what’s going on with the company. It would be good for us both if I could do a good job right now.”
“I’m not your boss. And you’re not mine, while we’re at it.”
“Did I ever claim to be?” I wanted to move on. “It’s not a big deal. I don’t remember to tell you everything either. Anyway, Howell was pretty persuasive. It’s just that some people had already counted those stock chicks before they hatched.”
Jean was on a different track now. She thrust her chin forward, drawing her lips into a thin line. “What else have you conveniently forgotten to tell me?”
“If I knew, I’d tell you. What do you think I’m holding out on?”
“What about your English mistress?”
“I don’t have any kind of mistress.” What was going on? “I’m a faithful married man. I love my wife.” I smiled and tried to take her hand, but she moved away, folding her arms.
“There’s something you’re not telling me. You talked about people when you had a fever.”
Toby and Jane and Joan? “What did I say? I told you about the trashy book I read on the plane. Don’t movies get in your mind when you’re feverish?”
“You talked about getting money to someone named Joan, and I remembered what Howell said.”
“The only Joan I know is Joan Bidderfield from the third grade. I certainly haven’t given money to any Joan.”
“And who is Prince Maurice?”
“There you go. He was a Dutch army commander in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Maybe I was babbling real history. There was a Pope Joan.” Of course I was lying, and I am so bad at it that I must have seemed suspicious to anyone with Jean’s sensitive antennae. I was innocent of philandering, but guilty of hallucinating, and I knew I couldn’t tell Jean about my visions. “I guess Prince Maurice does sound like the name of a pimp.” That got a bit of a smile, which I tried to make the most of. Jean relaxed a little, and we moved on to less sensitive topics. Later she even gave me a spontaneous peck on the cheek.
Back at work the next day, Howell was going noisily insane. People were running around trying to gather material to satisfy still more questions from the SEC. “Next Tuesday!” Howell shouted at no one in particular. He was standing in the hall, his jacket off and tie undone, by his standards looking like a tramp. “Next Tuesday at 9:30 AM Eastern Time! Do you hear me, people? D-Day is next Tuesday! We hit the beaches at oh-nine-thirty!”
I nodded as I headed to my office to work on the sales figures and put some editorial polish on the prospectus.
“Tony!” Howell bellowed, waving me to follow him into his office. I stood in the door and watched him roam around. He was still in his old office, but he had upgraded his furniture; the desk was large, dark, and heavy, and the chair was a leather job with a high back. In the corner was a globe and stand that had been in Cullen’s office. He gave it a spin in passing.
“Tony, how about carrying the baby to Washington?”
“Fine, but why me?”
“Well, I figure you can find the SEC without too many disasters. Also there’s a hot prospect in Baltimore I’d like you to check out. After”–he jabbed with his finger–“after everything’s square at the SEC and the offer is officially public. Here.” He handed me some sheets of paper from our east coast rep. “Apparently someone there knows you.”
The letter said that Johns Hopkins might be interested in one of our records packages, if it could be shown to save them money. The rep added that one of the faculty advisors on the committee mentioned knowing me, but he didn’t give any name. He thought it might be a plus if I took advantage of whatever connection there might be. Who did I know at Hopkins? Someone from college?
“Fine. What do I have to do at the SEC?”
“Deliver the papers, the exhibits, any last-minute material. I’ll go over it with you.”
“When do I go? Monday morning?”
“I hope. But it may be Tuesday morning, wee hours. It depends on when we get everything ready. I wish you could teleport.”
How about travel in time, I thought. “I’ll make two reservations, the second to get to Washington around seven on Tuesday.”
“OK. Be ready for anything.”
I went back to my office, entered the trip in my calendar, and asked Janelle, the secretary I shared with the local sales reps, to make my reservations. At my desk were piles of sales figures and marked-up pages of the prospectus. I wasn’t looking forward to dealing with them or with a red-eye flight to Washington and who knows what hassles at the SEC. I moved the papers around, looking for a way to delay plunging in. Janelle, still hearing the country music station she played softly at her desk, bounced in doing a toned-down step from the “Cotton-eyed Joe,” her platinum ponytail bobbing.
“First reservation on Continental has you out of DFW at nine fourteen, in at Dulles at eleven fifty-five. The second leaves at two ten AM”–here she pouted in mock sympathy–“gets in at five forty. OK?”
“OK.” Groan. Janelle gave a little kick as she went out, whispering “Bull shit.” What could I do to fight combat fatigue? I pulled out my directory of chamber music players. Baltimore. A familiar name. “Dr. Marina Casberian, viola A. Department of Mathematics, Johns Hopkins.” A phone number. Marina, the quiet little bell-ringer, whose face I mainly remember as covered by bangs and glasses. Could she be my mysterious acquaintance? I punched in the number.
“Mathematics.”
“Could I speak to Dr. Casberian, please?”
“Just a moment.” A pause, a ring.
“Hello.” The voice was fuller than I remembered.
“Dr. Casberian, this is Tony Maclean. I think we played some music in London a while back.”
“Tony! How are you?” Her voice was bright and welcoming. “I thought I might hear from you after I told the Cullen rep I knew you.”
“That was you, then. I’m flattered you remembered me.”
“Of course I remembered. Are you still playing cello?”
“Not as much as I’d like. I’m afraid I’m working too hard. That’s actually what I called about. I’m coming to D.C. next week, and would like to meet with you and your committee about our records package.”
“Fine. When will you be available?”
I set up a meeting for Wednesday afternoon, with an emergency backup time for Thursday in case I got entangled with the SEC. I then got some idea of what the university needed, so that I could bring appropriate materials.
We had just about settled our business, when Marina said, “How about quartets Wednesday night? I can get you a cello.”
I hesitated a moment. I would enjoy some music, and it might help the sale. “That would be great. I’ll try to scrape the rust off my fingers.”
“I look forward to seeing you again.”
“Me too.”

Jean took the news of my trip with barely a ripple of interest, except when she heard that I might have to take a red-eye. “Well, don’t count on me to take you to the airport.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll borrow the pickup and leave it in long-term parking.” The pickup was her father’s. Her mother kept it, but would lend it to us on such occasions. We had only one car.
“I may get some music in. I have to see a prospective client at Hopkins, a math prof I played with once before.”
“Good. How soon after we make the offering will our stock be reported in the trading pages?”
“I don’t know exactly. Immediately, I should think.”
“What’s our symbol?”
“CuCpS.”
“Coo-cups. Coo-coo cups. Coo-coo for coo-cups.” She giggled. “On the New York exchange?”
“Yep.”
“Don’t screw up, Tony. I want to see Coo-cups in the business section on Wednesday at nineteen and a quarter.”
“I just carry the paper.”

I took the red-eye, and almost didn’t make that because Howell and the banker’s men were still putting the documents together in the car as they drove me to the airport. I didn’t have time to take the pickup and shuttle from the parking lot. I was to call as soon as I landed in case there were further developments. One of the bankers told a story in the car about a guy in a similar situation who was waiting at the airport for documents to take to the SEC. They hadn’t arrived, and the plane was boarding and scheduled to leave on time.
“Josh, the poor bastard, was about to plotz until he spotted a kid with a USC sweatshirt on. Paid him fifty bucks to fake an epileptic fit in the door of the gate to keep folks from getting on. Turns out the kid was a drama major, did a great job, twitching and thrashing right in the door. They called the paramedics. About then, here comes Al Freund with the papers. Al’s about forty, five ten, two thirty, had been running for about two hundred yards. Handed over the papers, couldn’t breathe. The paramedics came for the kid, who of course got better immediately, bopped off with his fifty bucks. But Al had a heart attack. Lucky the paramedics were right there, and saved his ass. Josh made the plane, too.”
I was panting only a little when I got to the gate. We took off, my adrenaline subsided, and I eventually dozed a bit. I was wide awake and more or less alert when the plane landed at Dulles, on time. After calling Dallas, and being assured that there were no last-minute changes, I took a cab to the SEC, arriving about hour before the file desk opened. I found a coffee shop nearby, and got waffles and a much-needed jolt of caffeine. I got back to the desk and waited a few more minutes; the desk opened, and I filed the documents. Then I took the courtesy copies down to the courtesy desk, which was not yet open. The examiner, I was told, would go through one of these copies, looking for the most recent corrections, since he would be familiar with the application; and, with luck, he would confer with his colleagues, approve everything, and our offering would be effective when the stock market opened at 9:30.
So I went down to the courtesy desk and waited. Eventually a woman appeared and took the documents. I waited some more. After a while, I checked my watch; 9:05. Another five minutes passed. A middle-aged man came out of an office and looked around the reception area, frowning. “Cullen Computing?” he said.
“Here.”
He consulted a file, put his finger on a line, then held it out with one of the courtesy copies. “This pricing document is not in my copy.”
“I’m sorry. Let me check the other copies.” It wasn’t in any of them, and was probably not in the filed copy. “I’m sure it was just an oversight. I’ll phone the office and get them immediately.”
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” he said with a tired sigh.
Howell was frantic and furious. “What the fuck were you doing on the plane, picking your nose? Why didn’t you go through them?”
“Hold on. You and the bankers were putting that stuff together in the car. I thought you had it all.”
“In a situation like this you check everything over and over until you have to turn it in. You were our safety net, and you dropped the baby.”
“What’s the big deal? You express the missing stuff and we go effective tomorrow.”
“Everything was set for today. The bankers are ready, the press will know there’s been a delay, and some investors may think something’s wrong. This may cost us hundreds of thousands.”
“What can I do?”
Howell snorted. “At this point, about all you can do is go to your hotel and catch the papers when they come, and hustle them back to the SEC. Then you can sell Hopkins on the records package. I’ve got to get on the phone and try to explain to the bankers and the press why we fucked up.”
He hung up. Shoot the messenger, I thought, that’s a good tradition for tyrants. But he had a point. I hadn’t cared enough to check the package; if I had found out soon enough, we still might have gone effective today, if not at the opening of the market. I didn’t feel too good.
It was too early to get in my hotel room, so I brooded in the lobby for a couple of hours. I remembered my meeting at Hopkins, and realized I’d better cancel the Wednesday option and confirm the Thursday time. I called Marina. She was in class, but the department secretary took the message.
Eventually I got into my room, and had just fallen on the bed when I got a call from Marina. “Thursday’s fine,” she said. “Are we still on for quartets tomorrow night?”
“Sure. The SEC closes at six, and I can’t imagine having anything else to do after that. What’s the address?”
She gave me a Parkville address. “I’d offer to pick you up, but–”
“No problem. I’ve already got a rental car reserved.”
“See you around eight, then.”
I left word at the desk to call me the moment a package arrived. Then I zoned out on the bed. I guess I hadn’t quite recovered from my bug.
Around 3:30, the phone woke me up. The package was here. I asked the desk to have a cab waiting for me, splashed water on my face, put on my tie, and dashed out. This time I checked the package carefully. It seemed to have the right pricing documents. The cab pulled up at the SEC just before four. I dropped off one set of documents at the file desk, explaining the problem. The clerk showed no surprise. In the basement, the same examiner I had met that morning took one of the courtesy copies, checked it against his file, nodded, looked at each page for a few moments, and made a note in his file. “Looks OK. Have a seat. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I sat and twitched for a while. After what seemed a long time, he came back with a paper. “You’re effective. Good luck.” The paper was a copy of the official notice, with several important-looking reference numbers. The original would be mailed to Dallas, but the numbers would allow the machinery to move. I called Howell, who sighed heavily in relief after I had read the notice to him. He copied the numbers and the names of the examiners and read them back to me.
“Anything else I need to do?”
“Sell that Hopkins job. You meet tomorrow?”
“Thursday. I kept tomorrow clear for the filing. I guess I’ll be back Friday.”
“Call me after your meeting.”
Howell didn’t sound as irritated with me as he had earlier, but he was still not very jolly. I was tired and hungry. It occurred to me that I had not had lunch. I found an inviting seafood place and had some tasty crab cakes. Back at the hotel, I read awhile, then slept as if I had not had a two-hour nap that afternoon.
The next morning I prepared for the Hopkins meeting on Thursday. By lunchtime I had gone over all the material I had, and could not think of any more questions to anticipate. I had sold the records package several times before, and knew it about as well as I was going to. Maybe I would have some lunch and go browse in the Smithsonian museums.
I was a perfect customer for “the nation’s attic.” I loved the old, curious, miscellaneous, and historical. I went to Air and Space, American History, Natural History. I looked at the airplanes, the Hope diamond, the insect zoo, the Indian artifacts, colonial memorabilia, Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I was still absorbed in the collection of old musical instruments when I noticed that it was nearly six, and I hadn’t eaten or rented a car. By the time I had taken care of that and hit the road for Baltimore, I was feeling pretty tired.
I found the address without much trouble, arriving just after eight. It was a curious building, with a high wedge-shaped outline. Marina met me at the door. I was surprised to see a pleasant-faced young woman with bright brown eyes behind unobtrusively fashionable rimless glasses, and a short but neat and flattering haircut. Immediately she seemed more confident and outgoing than the shy, quiet student I had met in London. She shook my hand warmly and introduced me to the rest of the quartet, both women. They were a bit older than Marina and I, and both had a vaguely academic style about them: cotton sweaters, corduroy pants, sensible shoes. Alice, a handsome black woman, taught at Towson State, Doreen at Goucher. We chatted pleasantly for a few moments, the women teasing one another on the basis of a friendly relationship of some standing. I was distracted by the large room, and apologized for myself. The slanted part of the wedge, the roof, was almost all glass. We stood in a corner set aside for ordinary living, with a sofa, table, lamps, and chairs; the rest of the room was clearly an artist’s studio. A long table against one wall was covered with cans, bottles, and junk; several large canvases leaned against another wall, and an easel with a work in progress dominated the center of the room. It was a striking splash of color from which a few recognizable forms–a horse, a woman–emerged as I looked at it.
“Who’s the artist?”
“Oh, Clio,” said Marina. “This is her place.”
“Will she join us?”
“Ordinarily she would, but she’s away. She doesn’t play herself, but she claims to enjoy listening to us while she paints. As you see, she lets us play here whether she’s here or not. We love playing in this wonderful room. It’s like singing in the bathtub.”
Alice broke in. “You’ll be especially glad we play here. Clio inherited a great cello from her father, a Goffriller.”
“Wow!” Casals preferred his Goffriller to his Strad. “You mean I get to play it?”
“Yes,” said Doreen, with relish. “Our regular cellist is on leave in Germany. When she writes, it’s clear that she misses the cello more than she does us.”
Marina reached in a closet and brought out a cello. I opened the case and stared. It was like opening a chest full of gold–old gold. It didn’t glitter, but it glowed, as if it were lit from within by a low but intense and steady fire. I took it out gently and tightened the bow. I found a chair, adjusted the end pin, and stroked the D string. The room filled with sound. I tuned it and began playing a Bach suite. The sound was amazing–rich and buttery in the middle register, ringing and clear in the upper, and solid and vibrant in the low. It had no muffled spots, no unpleasantly nasal spots, and I couldn’t find the “wolf,” that patch of bad sound that almost every cello has. After a while I looked up and saw the three women seated with their instruments, watching me and smiling.
“Sorry. I got carried away.”
Marina spoke. “Don’t worry. We’re used to the effect it has on cellists.”
“It practically plays itself,” I marvelled. “It won’t let you play a wrong note or a tasteless phrase.”
They laughed. “We’ve had some that tried,” said Alice. “But it is a wonderful instrument. Shall we start with Haydn?”
We played Haydn’s “Emperor,” the Beethoven opus 95, and Brahms’s third. Marina did well in her solos in the Haydn and Brahms, her sound seeming to build on the increased confidence she now displayed in her manner and speech. Alice and Doreen were fine musicians, technically adequate, and especially sensitive to the ensemble. We had very few glitches caused by disagreements in tempo, and everybody paid attention to dynamics. It was a very satisfying evening.
At the end of the Brahms, Alice said, “Anyone for one more movement?” Doreen complained that she had an early class. Suddenly I realized that I was bone tired.
It must have showed, because Marina said, “I’m afraid we’ve worn Tony out.”
“I’ve got to drive back to D.C. tonight,” I said, unable to disguise my weariness. “This has been great, but I just got over a bug. I’d better go.”
“Listen,” said Marina eagerly. “Just stay here tonight. Clio won’t mind–in fact, she’ll be glad to have had someone in the house.”
I hesitated. “I might get a call at the hotel. I’ll have to go back for my material for the meeting anyway.”
“Do it in the morning when you’re rested. Call the hotel and give them this number.”
I was too tired to argue. “OK. If you’re sure Clio won’t mind.”
All three chorused assurances. Doreen and Alice parted with concern and advice, and recommended a nearby cafe for breakfast. Marina lingered long enough to say that she would like to stay and visit, but that she was expected home. We would catch up on our London friends after the meeting. She shook my hand, squeezing mine in both of hers.
I didn’t disturb Clio’s bed, but found a blanket, stripped to my jockey shorts and t-shirt, and settled down on the couch. I had missed turning off one light; it lit up the painting on the easel. I’ll get up in a minute and turn it off, I said to myself. But I lay looking at the painting, seeing the woman, the horse, a bird, and now another face emerge from the swirl of colors. The face was in the lower corner, looking toward the other forms. It was a woman’s face, a strong face with high cheekbones, full lips, and slightly slanted eyes. I would get up and turn off the light. In a minute. But the bird began to soar, the horse to prance. The face of the woman smiled.

Time’s Bending Sickle

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year, dear readers!
For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

11. Time’s Injurious Hand

Toby, reddish stubble covering his thin cheeks, lay on his side on a filthy straw mattress, vomiting into a stinking basin. The room was a tiny, dark, irregular attic corner; a ragged curtain blocked off a triangular space. Groans and coughing could be heard coming from beyond the curtain. He lay back panting and called for water. Jean held the glass while I sipped the cool liquid; my bed was rumpled but clean, my room neat. The print on the wall was striped by light from the partly closed blinds; the surf crashed, the waves moved, the sails rippled. The old woman’s soiled linen apron smelled of bacon fat as she held the wooden cup for Toby. Wrinkling her nose, she emptied the basin into a bucket, called “Anon, anon!” impatiently, and flapped through the curtain. Jean turned off the light and shut the door. I thought I heard the TV saying that Reagan had been elected president; but I attributed this to delirium. The floors creaked annoyingly. The red numbers on the electric clock read “11:06.” I sat on the edge of the bed until my head settled, then shuffled to the bathroom, holding to the walls. Toby leaned against one of the low roof beams and urinated into a clay pot; he finished and stretched out on the bed, panting from the effort. Toby and I slurped from a bowl of chicken soup and chewed eagerly at a piece of bread. He put his lips to the bowl and drained it. He took his breeches from a peg and drew them on, tucking in his long-tailed shirt. He slipped his bare feet into his shoes and walked slowly toward the curtain. Passing through a larger room with three beds, each containing two sleeping or coughing men, one of whom I’d swear was Abner Cross, he descended several sets of dark, narrow stairs, and entered a courtyard containing geese, chickens, and a well. After some awkwardness with the bucket, he drew water and began splashing his face and scrubbing his hands. He looked up at the early afternoon sun breaking through the clouds, and three gulls flew over, squawking. I pulled up the blinds and let the sun in, then dug some fresh underwear out of my drawer.
After a shower and shave, I felt better, but tired. I crawled back into bed. Toby sat in the courtyard, eyes closed, soaking up sun. The old woman came out and began scattering crumbs from a basket, and the geese and chickens gathered noisily. After a while, she turned the basket over and beat on the bottom. Then she came to where Toby sat. She stretched her mouth, making her nose dip toward her chin.
“How now, Master Hume. Feeling better, are ye?”
“Yes, thank you, hostess. Your collace helped.”
“Pray that you keep it down,” she cackled. “It seemed to help your Ancient. He left yesterday while you were sleeping, and bade me tell you that he was off to the Low Countries. He gave me a sixpence for you, which leaves your reckoning at four shillins thrupenny fardin.”
“Did my captain not pay you anything?”
“Naught but one shillin and sweet words.”
The sun dipped behind the roof, and Toby shivered. “Good hostess, I hope I shall be stronger tomorrow. I must ask charity of you until I can collect my pay.”
“Charity begins at home, Master Hume. Have you no pledge to leave while you fetch your pay?”
“My cloak? Beyond that, I am naked.”
The old woman shook her head. Then she brightened, remembering something. “You have a fiddle. A servingman brought it Wednesday last, said he was the Earl of Essex’s man.” She snorted skeptically. “I might take that for a pledge.”
“Where is it?” Toby was alert, eager.
“Here, come see.” She led Toby inside and into her kitchen. There, leaning in a corner, was the Portuguese viol in its now battered case. Toby took it out, tightened and tuned the strings–remarkably, none were broken–took up the bow and played a piece I recognized as one he published in 1605 called “Life.”
“Well done, Master Hume,” the hostess said with a nod. “That fiddle is more grumblesome than others I have heard, but it will suffice for my pledge. And if you please to play for my guests tonight, you may earn somewhat towards redeeming it. D’ye know ‘John Dory’?”
“Thank you, hostess, I may play ‘John Dory’ for your guests. And maybe ‘Turkeyloney.’ Until I get my pay.”
“In sooth. Until you get your pay.”

Toby looked a bit better when I saw him next, and his clothes were cleaner but worn. He was sawing away on his viol in a corner of the public room of the old woman’s tavern. A few of the patrons in the rush-floored room appeared to be listening to Toby as they drank their ale, but others were gaming and talking or warming their backsides at the fire, and a harassed tapster trotted between the bar and the private rooms down the hall. Two new customers entered, one big and red-nosed, one lean and stooped. They wore plumed hats, high boots, and, like most of the others, swords under their cloaks. The large man pounded on the bar and demanded service in a resonant voice.
“Hostess! A quart of canaries in the Rose!”
The hostess comes forward, wiping her hands on her smudged apron. “Good captain, be pleased to take the Grapes, for the Rose is occupied.”
“God’s kneecaps, dame,” the man bellowed, “the Grapes is worse than your jakes. The Rose or the Crown.”
Toby looked up and stopped playing. The man turned toward where the music had been, then peered through the murk. Toby rose and stepped forward.
“Captain Hall, Ancient Prothero, well met.”
“Hume!” Hall’s mouth and eyes widened. “God’s earlobes, why are you in Dover and not in France with Sir Roger?”
“I came home sick from Portugal, and was left here. I am well enough now, but in debt to mine hostess.”
“I wish you joy of your health,” said Prothero. “Wish me joy of my lieutenancy. I am no more ancient.”
Toby shook his hand. “Well deserved, I’m sure.”
The tapster hurried up. “Sirs, I have set your wine in the Crown.”
“Very well. Bring us another cup. Come, Hume, share our wine. I have some news for you that I did not expect to give you so soon.”
They entered a narrow room with a crown painted on the door. There was a fireplace with a small fire beginning to catch, a table, a bench, and two stools. The tapster hurriedly added a cup to the two set by the wine jug. Hall sat with a grunting sigh and splashed out wine into the cups, making a faint gesture of salute before taking a good swallow. He looked at Toby. “You should know that a woman with letters of yours claimed your pay.”
“Good. Thank you. Please, sir, tell me how I might get my pay for my service in Portugal. I have enquired of several officers, but got no satisfaction.”
Hall looked down and shook his head. Prothero smiled ironically. “If Sir Roger were here, I might do something, but he is in France. So I think is your captain. Who was he?”
“Captain Cosbie.”
“Ay, he is in France, and has no doubt spent your pay. But I’ll do what I can, though I cannot hope for much. My lord treasurer, Sir Thomas Sherley, keeps strange accounts, from what I hear.”
Toby hesitated. “Captain Hall, did . . . were my other letters delivered, do you know?”
Hall looked at Prothero, who again smiled ironically. “I spoke to Rafe when he collected his pay,” said Prothero. “He said to tell you that he could not reach the lady, but gave your letters to her sister.”
Toby looked distressed, then hopeful, then worried. Finally he sighed resignedly. Hall watched him indulgently, then drank off his wine and banged the cup on the table.
“Well, by God’s points and trusses, enough of this effeminate hugger-mugger! We have more manly business forward. Now Hume”–he poured Toby more wine–“we have heard from some of Sir Roger’s people that you aquitted yourself manfully in Portugal.”
“I only tried to stay alive.”
“Come now, a soldier may boast of truth. Now attend. You know the Dutch Prince William, the one they call the Silent, was murdered by the Spanish, and his eldest son imprisoned. Parma must have thought he had the Dutch by the ballocks. But William’s second son, Prince Maurice, a man not much older than yourself, is showing some strength, and is like to prove a brave commander. Now the word I have”–he leaned forward and lowered his voice–“is that sundry Scots and Englishmen are going to join his army, and that he pays well, and timely, too.” He drank, winking over the brim of the cup.
“We are taking a few experimented men to offer our services,” said Prothero with his tight smile. “A few men like you.”
“What say you,” said Hall, “are you with us?” He cocked his head and squinted.
Toby looked reluctant. He stared at his wine cup, moving it from hand to hand. “Good sirs, I thank you for your good opinion. But my–I needs must collect my Portugal pay and send it to my wife. And I am in debt here.”
“Tush, man,” said Hall. “You may make thrice in two months in the Low Countries what you would get by waiting six months on my lord treasurer in London. What’s your reckoning here?”
“Tis now three shillings fourpence. And my instrument is pledged.”
Hall took out a purse and dropped it on the table with a chunk. “We are so confident of the prince that I will advance you enough to pay your debt”–he slapped down a coin–“buy you clothes and a sword”–another two coins–“and have something to send your wife in earnest of more”–three coins this time. He shoved the money toward Toby.
Toby looked at the silver with a troubled frown, and made no move to take it. Hall looked at Prothero, who jerked his chin. Hall put down another coin. “And as you are to be ancient, here’s another crown. We can get your commission good cheap, and you may pay us at your leisure.”
Toby looked up, then away. “How long are we–you–to serve?”
“Who knows?” shrugged Hall. “A few months. A year.”
Toby stared at the money for several moments. Hall and Prothero sat silently, sipping wine. Slowly, Toby cupped a hand around the coins and slid them into his other hand. “When do we go?”

Toby stood behind Hall and Prothero, who were seated at a long table in a dark wood-paneled room along with some twenty other men. Several other men stood. The view out the many-paned window on Toby’s left showed new leaves emerging on trees in a large courtyard. A melancholy-looking young man with a high forehead sat at the head of the table listening to another man speak in what I soon realized was Dutch. I couldn’t understand it, but I heard so many words that sounded vaguely English or German, that I thought I should be able to get it if I only paid attention. After a while, the young man at the head of the table said a few words to the speaker, then to the assembly in general. His voice was deep and penetrating. He was plainly dressed in a brown wool doublet and hose and a small pleated ruff; but his presence seemed to command attention. He had large hazel eyes, a straight nose, thick lips, and a heavy jaw; except for a moustache and a tuft of beard on his chin, he was clean-shaven. He rose, and all those seated rose too. Toby followed Hall and Prothero out into a hallway, where they caught up with a man in his thirties. He had freckles and a hawkish nose between dark blue eyes.
“Captain Balfour,” said Hall, “did you understand that?”
“Aye, captain. Prince Maurice said that while the Duke of Parma is busy in France, we must sieze opportunity by the forelock.” He spoke with a decided Scots accent.
Prothero gave one of his ironic smiles. “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.”
Balfour smiled briefly. “Just so. We are ordered to hasten our training so that we may repeat the success of the taking of Breda.”
“Where are we to go?” asked Toby.
“We are not told yet. If we are to surprise the Spaniard, it is well if few know.”
Balfour allowed himself to be wined at a tavern nearby and to be pumped on what he knew of Prince Maurice, his strategy, his methods.
“The prince is both learned and wise,” said Balfour, “remarkable in one so young. He loves to cite the ancients, especially the Emperor Leo’s Tactics, and the works of Aelian. Yet he does not scorn to learn from his present enemies, and he does not allow the ancients to cast mist over his eyes when he looks about him. I know of no commander who has thought so deeply about firearms. And with the help of his old tutor, now our quartermaster, Simon Stevin, he has learned a great truth about how to use this country’s greatest weapon.”
“And what is that?” asked Toby.
“Why, water. You will see in our fortifications.”
“Were you at Breda?”
“Aye. But I came in at the end. I was not one of the heroes of that famous exploit.”
Toby leaned forward eagerly. “We have heard enough to whet our appetites for more, but never the whole tale. Would you be good enough to tell it, sir?”
Hall signalled for more wine. Balfour smiled with closed lips and let his cup be filled. “I shall tell it to my grandchildren, if I live, for tis a tale worthy of Virgil. I have heard it from Captain Heraugiere himself, our Ulysses, and have gathered particulars from Captain Fervet and Lieutenant Held as well.
“You must know,” began Balfour, touching up the ends of his moustache after drinking, “that the castle at Breda was garrisoned by Italians in the service of Spain. It has a deep double moat that joins with the Merk, and on this river a boatman named van der Berg was wont to bring peat to the castle for fuel. This man obtained a secret audience with Prince Maurice, and assured him that the garrison was so used to his coming and going, that they would not search his boat. Prince Maurice found the boatman to be trustworthy, and proposed a stratagem to Captain Heraugiere. Now this captain was especially eager to show his valor and loyalty. He agreed to the stratagem, and chose sixty-eight brave men to venture with him.
“They were to meet with the boatman near the Swertensburg ferry, but he did not appear at the appointed time. After many cold hours, when they were returning to the prince, they met the boatman, who claimed that he had overslept. But they perceived some signs of cowardice about him, if not treachery. In despite of all, they agreed to meet the next night. This time, the white-livered boatman sent his two nephews and stayed home. But twas a good bargain, for they were good boatmen, and made good their boast that they were daredevils.
“Now the captain and his men went down in the hold of the boat, and the boatmen packed the turfs of peat so that it would seem that the boat was full. Matthew Held said they felt like herrings in a barrel. Then the boat began to make way up the river to the castle. Unhappily, the wind was in their teeth, and they made slow progress. It was still February, and there were great lumps of ice in the river, as well as sleet in the wind. At last the boat could not move at all, and the poor men sat in the hold from Monday night to Thursday morning, with their wee bit of food and drink long gone, perishing with cold. They wisely took thought and saw that if they were to have strength for their enterprise, they must somehow restore themselves.
“They were then near Nordam castle, where they thought they might be received secretly. The master there was most hospitable, and they fed and warmed themselves for most of a day. But then the boatmen came with news that the wind had changed, and they returned to the hold, expecting to be out and about their work in a few hours. But they sat for more than a day.”
Toby shivered sympathetically, and stirred the fire. Balfour swished wine in his mouth, and continued.
“Finally on Saturday afternoon they passed the last sluice before the castle, and there was no going back. As they neared the water-gate, an officer from the castle rowed out to meet them. He looked over the peat and sat about at tittle-tattle with the boatmen in the cabin, a thin plank away from the men. If a man had sneezed or coughed, it would have gone hard for them all. At last the officer left, and the boat proceeded toward the water-gate.
“As ill-luck would have it, the boat then struck a rock and sprang a leak. Only manful pumping kept it from sinking, and the poor men in the hold were soon sitting in water. You can barely conceive how cold it was. Matthew Held said he could not feel his toes until hours after they got out. The soldiers from the castle soon had lines to the boat and warped it through the gate into the inner harbor, where it was made fast near the guard-house. It had been cold for some time, and the ice had prevented the delivery of peat, so the garrison was eager for fuel, and the unloading went faster than our men wished; they needed the cover of darkness, and it was still light. Worse yet, the cold bath the leak had given them had set them all to coughing and sneezing. Matthew Held was so struck by coughing that he handed his dagger to the man next him and beseeched him to stab him to the heart if he should cough, so that the whole company should not be betrayed. But our boatmen had the wit to man the pumps with great clatter and ado. The nephew who had assumed the part of the skipper also kept up a stream of jests and blether with the soldiers and unnecessary orders to his brother, so that none noticed the coughing.
“This same skipper–who should have been a player on the stage–soon saw that if the workers removed much more peat the secret cargo would be revealed. So, feigning fatigue, he called a halt to the work and gave the workers money to buy beer. They left for the town, along with the brother boatman, who was to go secretly to Prince Maurice to tell him of how things stood; this boatman also bore news he had heard from the soldiers of the garrison, namely that the governor had gone to Getruydenberg, leaving his young kinsman in command, he being most unfit for that office. The skipper and one of the guard were left alone. The guardsman falls to complaining about the quality of the peat, saying that his captain would never be satisfied with it. This precious rogue of a skipper–I drink his health–then says to the guardsman, ‘Ah, but the best part of the cargo is is yet to be unloaded, and it is expressly reserved for the captain. He is sure to get enough of it tomorrow.'”
His audience laughed heartily at this. Balfour smiled, hooking his beaky nose.
“Before leaving the hold, Captain Heraugiere spoke to his men, telling them that their future held only complete victory or certain death, since retreat was not possible. And if any should prove coward or traitor he would kill them with his own hands. But he doubted not that all would prove worthy of the honor accorded them in being chosen, and if that all did their duty he was assured of their success. He himself would lead the attack on the main guard house, while Captain Fervet would lead half of the company to take the armory.
“Captain Heraugiere and the rest then leave the boat and approach the guard house. When a sentry challenges him, ‘Who’s there?’ he answers, ‘A friend,’ and takes him by the throat. ‘Speak only in a whisper, or you are a dead man,’ says the captain. ‘How many men are in the garrison?’ ‘Three hundred and fifty,’ says the guard. ‘How many?’ asks the man next the captain. ‘He says fifty,’ says the captain.”
This brought smiles to Hall and Prothero, and a look of concern to Toby.
“Well, the captain of the guard steps out. ‘Who’s there?’ ‘A friend,’ says our captain, and runs him through. More come out, some dozen; they fight for a bit, even give our captain a wee wound. But then they run back into the guard-house. Our captain orders his men to fire through the windows and doors, and they kill them all.
“In the meantime Captain Fervet and his men had taken the armory and killed the soldiers there. The young deputy governor and some of his men came out of the palace, but were soon driven back and into a close corner. The rest of the garrison ran like rats from a house afire, spreading panic in the town. Back in the castle, the deputy governor offered to parley, hoping to gain time for a rescue. But just before dawn, old Hohenlo and his men were at the gates, which were better guarded by ice than by the Italians, for they were frozen fast. They had to batter down the wall near the water-gate and come in the way our Trojan sea-horse had come. And not long after that, the Prince and the main force, of which I had the honor to be a part, marched into the town singing ‘Wilhelmus van Nassau.’ Sir Francis Vere’s Englishmen were also in this band.
“Our men had killed forty of the garrison, and lost never a single man. The town paid every soldier two months’ pay to commute plunder. The prince has a rich and handsome town for the States. Tis indeed a tale worth telling.”
Hall, Prothero, and Toby agreed heartily.
At the urging of Hall, Balfour went from this exploit to the more arcane details of the Dutch drill. He told how repetition helped make a complex task like loading and firing a musket automatic, for the distractions of battle often prevented conscious thought. Repetition also promoted speed, one of the themes in all the Dutch drills and tactics. Instead of taking nearly an hour to form a body of a thousand men, Balfour claimed the Dutch could form two thousand in twenty minutes. The tactical units were smaller and more controllable, and could therefore change direction and focus very quickly.
“Here’s something the Prince learned from the ancients,” said Balfour. “Tis a way of making orders clear. Commands often come in two parts, and we give the particular part of the command first, then the general: thus we say ‘left face’ instead of ‘face left.'”

I experienced a montage of visions of Toby learning and then performing the Dutch drills with various weapons. Then the company divided into smaller squads, with a ratio of about two musketeers or calivers for every pikeman. Unlike the square formations of bristling pikes one can see in old pictures, the Dutch units were shallower and more flexible. Toby and the other soldiers practiced a variety of fast, close maneuvers, wheeling, reversing, presenting firearms through a screen of pikes.
Then as summer came on, I saw Toby in another montage as the army took a succession of towns and strongholds, whose names I got from history books: Heyl, Flemert, Elshout, Steenbergen, Rosendael, Oosterhout. What I saw was scenes of sporadic fighting, orderly occupations, and occasional digging and bombardment: Toby marching with his company into a town, Toby watching cannon fire into a wall while he covered his ears, Toby digging in a trench along with other officers and men. Once I saw a pike-wielding Toby lead a group of soldiers rather dramatically over a slope of rubble where a section of town wall had been. They shouted enthusiastically, but met no opponents.
The seasons changed, the canals froze, and snow appeared on the ground. Toby’s group settled in a larger town for the winter. Many of them diced, played cards, and drank heavily, in scenes right out of Adriaen Brouwer. Toby practiced his viol, and wrote music.
Except for a liason officer who spoke both Dutch and English, all the men in Balfour’s regiment, which contained Toby’s company, spoke mainly English. Along with Toby and his comrades, I learned some of the basic Dutch commands, and I listened carefully to the translators. Many of the officers spoke French, which I could sometimes follow on my own. But I still heard a lot of confusing gabble.
Much of the talk, in English and, as far as I could tell, in other languages, was about religion. Since most of those opposed to the Spanish were Protestants, the discussions tended to be about fine distinctions between reformist sects. Some of these arguments became quite loud, and threatened to become violent; but the quarreling parties could usually find a common ground in anti-Catholic sentiments. Toby tended to listen quietly, then go practice his viol.

Still a bit weak in the knees, I returned to work to find Cullen Computing in a frantic buzz of phone calls, paper shuffling, and computer punching. Going Public Day was hard upon us.