Time’s Bending Sickle

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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.

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One Response to “Time’s Bending Sickle”

  1. Elle Says:

    I’m hooked! Discovered your first installment last night, read until 2a.m. When I inexplicably lost my Internet connection, rushed home to read this latest chapter. What will happen to Tony? To Toby?? We must have answers!

    Best story I’ve read in some time, thank you.

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