Time’s Bending Sickle

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17.  Time and Outward Form

 

Back in Dallas, Jean was, if anything, more remote than ever.  She was playing a game–“Space Witches,” I think–and hardly spoke until I gave her the new game I brought from Wizardware.  She gave me a nice smile and thanks, but then started playing it immediately.  She was still at the keyboard when I went to bed after midnight.

Howell also seemed preoccupied when I tried to talk to him about our California trip and the ideas I had for Wizardware.  He kept shuffling papers while I talked, and finally said, “Fine. Try whatever you think will get the sales up.  Just be sure the sales in your other departments don’t lag.  Keep the troops on the move.”  He waved abstractedly and I left.

More months passed, full of work, but not much worth reporting.  I played quartets occasionally with Perry, John, and Myron, but not as much as I liked;  I did get to practice more at home, for Jean did not mind so much when she was absorbed in a game.  I also did bits and pieces of reading about Elizabethan life and music, and continued to have vivid visions of the life of Tobias Hume.  I had come to accept these visions as a normal part of my life, like sleeping and eating.  Now and then I worried when I would slip and let them spill over into my ordinary life.  It wasn’t a problem when Jean stumbled across some of my notes, for she knew I had odd research interests in old music.  But Janelle was confused when some of them got loose in my business papers.  “Are you writing some kind of novel?” she asked; I had to confess that I was.  Sometimes if the vision were especially rich, I wouldn’t snap out of it as quickly as I ordinarily would; I’ve gotten some odd looks from cab drivers and waiters on the road, and I was once late for an important appointment because I was with Toby during some crisis of his life.

My own world stumbled on through time.  The Reagan administration dropped the antitrust suit against IBM that the government had been building for ten years.  But the judge wouldn’t let them drop the suit against AT&T, which was settled with the company divested of its regional companies, but allowed to go into computers and data processing.  The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated.  Time named the computer Man–rather, Machine–of the Year.  The highest unemployment rate in decades was recorded in November 1982, and more businesses failed that year than any since 1932.  The Coleco video game comapany saw its stock rise from $6.87 to $36.75.  The Space Shuttle had its first successful flight.  Artur Rubenstein and Brezhnev died.  San Francisco banned handguns; Kinnesaw, Georgia passed a law requiring a gun in every household.  In October 1983, some American Marines were blown up in Lebanon, while others invaded Grenada.  1984, the year George Orwell had imagined as full of oppression of thought and feeling, rolled in to the accompaniment of complacent comparisons and dire warnings based on his book.  Since I was one of the few American males who didn’t watch the Superbowl, I missed Apple’s stunning Orwellian commercial announcing the Macintosh and challenging Big Blue, IBM.  But I saw it several times later.  Much was smashed that year in addition to the screen showing Big Brother.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  A few things happened in 1983 on the home front that had reverberations later.  One was that Callie Warren came from California for a visit.  Callie, as I have said, was probably Jean’s closest friend from Dallas.  She had come on family business, so she stayed with her family, but managed to spend a good bit of time with Jean.  They went out to lunch, did a bit of shopping, and sat around the apartment talking one whole day while I was at work.  We had her to dinner the next night, and Callie was highly entertaining.  Jean laughed more than she had in quite a while.  Callie was especially good at giving a commonsensical Texan’s reaction to the nuttiness of California fads and cults, but she did so in such a generous, lightly self-deprecating way that she never seemed mean-spirited.  Callie on rolfing: “I’m just an old gal from Grapevine, and it just seems wonderful to me that those folks could get such pleasure from getting beat up on.  But I guess them boys in the honky-tonks on U.S. 81 must get into some of the same thang on Saturday nights.  Only they’ll fix you up for free.  Or maybe for a few beers.”

I was surprised to get a call at work from Callie the next day, since we had said our goodbyes that night.  Sounding more serious than I thought she could be, she urged me to meet her for lunch.  I agreed, and found myself waiting at a very modest Mexican restaurant near the office.  Callie breezed in with a smile for a familiar face on the staff, then sat down across from me with a concerned frown and got straight to the point.

“Tony, I’m worried about our Jean.  She’s changed.”

“I guess we all change.  What specifically worries you?”

“It ain’t easy to put your finger on.  She seems sad, then angry, then vague, in ways she didn’t used to.”

“She seems to laugh a lot when you’re around.”

“I try to jolly her up when I can.  But we did some serious talking the other day, and she’s not the same.  Do you know of anything that’s bothering her?”

I didn’t know exactly how to answer her.  On the one hand, Callie was an old, close friend.  But was I at liberty to discuss Jean’s psyche behind her back?  I had talked to Marina somewhat along those lines, true, but they didn’t know each other; besides, I was talking mainly about myself.

“She has her ups and downs.  What do you think it could be?” I asked Callie.

Now Callie hesitated.  “Damn!”  She looked away.  “I hate having to tiptoe around something, like crossing a field full of cow pies in your Sunday shoes.”  Finally, “What has Jean told you about her life before she knew you?”

“Not a lot in detail.  Growing up, going to school.  Friends, family.  A couple of old boyfriends.”

“She mention Thump Wofford?”

“Hard to forget that name.  But the name is about all I ever heard.  I didn’t want to know much about old boyfriends.”

“How did she take her father’s death?”

“Pretty well.  No tears.”

Callie nodded.  “She ever depressed?”

“Sometimes.”

Callie thought silently for a while.  “Tony, as far as I can tell, you’re a pretty good old boy, and I think you wish Jean well.”

“I do.  I love her.”

“I think we both don’t want to break confidences.  I respect that, and hope you do.  If there’s anything I’m not telling you, it’s not anything that ought to make you think less of her.  So don’t hold it against her.”  She took out a notebook and wrote, then tore out a page and gave it to me.  “Here are my numbers–the second one is work.  If you ever think Jean is in any kind of trouble, give me a call.  I want to help her if I can.”

“I will.  Thanks.”

I thought about that meeting a good bit.  Since Callie had not seen Jean in some time, she may have seen changes that were too subtle for me to notice since I saw her every day.  I felt guilty, too; in my preoccupation with work and my crazy hallucinations, I guess I hadn’t been giving Jean the attention I should.  On the other hand, she was sometimes almost hostile, and often seemed to prefer playing computer games to accepting my attention.  But was my attention just a selfish gambit for sex?  Well, sometimes.  I vowed to be more attentive and sensitive.

My vow was almost immediately challenged.  For a few days after Callie’s visit, Jean was cheerful and sociable.  Then she began to retreat into the fantasy world of the computer games.  One day I discovered a disc of birth control pills in the bathroom.

“What’s this?  I didn’t think we needed these.”  I was casual, not accusatory, just making conversation.  I guess I wasn’t thinking sensitively enough, for Jean blew up.

“What business is it of yours?  It’s my body.”

“I thought we were trying to have a baby.  I know our luck has been bad, but I didn’t know we had given up.”

“What makes you assume that I’m just going to be a breeder?”

I was taken aback.  It was a topic that hadn’t come up in a while.  I guess I thought that if we stopped obsessing and trying so hard, it might happen.

“I don’t assume that.  I just didn’t know you’d changed your mind.  Couldn’t we discuss it?  It involves us both.”

“Oh, right.  You carry the fetus for nine months, get stretch marks, take care of it for years.”

“I had looked forward to taking care of it, if we got lucky.”

“Lucky!  We’re lucky I didn’t get pregnant.  You have no right to tell me what to do and what not to do.  You have no right to expect anything of me, or to assume anything about me.”

I was getting pissed off.  At the moment, I couldn’t see that this might be coming from somewhere else, for it was aimed at me.  “Can’t I assume you want what you say you want unless you tell me otherwise?”

“You never hear me.”

“You never say anything.  You’re always playing games.”

“Well, hear this.  I don’t want a baby.  And I don’t want sex.”  She turned back to the screen and punched the keyboard.

I caught my anger before things could escalate further.  “Jean.  Please.  I’m listening as hard as I can.”  I tried to hold her hand, but she jerked it away.  “I wouldn’t presume to dictate to you, but I’m involved with you, I love you, I’m married to you.  We share things.  Please tell me what’s wrong, what I’m doing wrong.  I want you to be happy with me.”

“Go away.  Leave me alone.”

“OK.  But I’ll talk whenever you’re ready.”  She didn’t answer.  I was upset, but hoped to try to talk seriously when she was calmer and I was more prepared.  That occasion did not come for days, and in the interim Jean maintained a hostile silence.  I thought of Toby searching for his lost son, and thought of my own prospects for fatherhood.  I had been attributing all the concern about having a baby to Jean.  Now I realized that I too had hopes and plans.  A child might give some depth to our marriage, might bring us closer together.

Eventually we edged cautiously into a conversation about some of these topics.  I came home to find Jean cooking dinner for a change.  We had a civilized meal.  Then Jean calmly and plausibly told me that since she had gotten interested in the business and had taken on the responsibility of representing the family interests on the board, she didn’t think it would be a good time for starting a family, and that she thought I realized that.  She added that she was taking the pill to prevent an ectopic pregnancy, which might further hurt her chances of a normal conception.  Also, the pill might increase her fertility when she stopped taking it.

I agreed with her arguments, and said that I was sorry if I had been too preoccupied to anticipate them.  While we were talking without anger, I tried to broaden the conversation.

“Jean, you’ve seemed out of my reach for a good while.  I don’t just mean sexually.  What can we do to get close again?  What can I do?  Should we go to a counselor?”

“No.”  That came quickly.  Then she hesitated.  “Don’t worry.  You might take me out once in a while.  I think I play games so much because I’m bored.”

“Whatever you want.  What would you like to do?”

Jean thought a moment.  “Well, I haven’t been to a gallery opening in a long time.  Mother passed this invitation along; it’s this Saturday.”  She dug a card out of the desk.   It was an exhibit of woman painters at the Artemisia Gallery.

“Sure.  We’ll go out for dinner afterwards.”

That night, Jean was in bed before me, and reached for me when I lay down in a way that I had sorely missed.  Later, she said softly, “Maybe I will try to find a therapist of some sort.”

“Good.  Everybody needs some help now and then.”

The opening was at one of the less pretentious galleries near University Park, but it gave some of the more arty members of Dallas society a chance to dress up, shmooze, and sip white wine.  Jean ran into a few old acquaintances who cooed and complained about her being invisible.  Where had she been?  I began looking at the paintings, not all of which were abstract impressionist.  Some suggested to me an almost musical sense of rhythm.  Then I turned a corner and saw something startlingly familiar.  It was a horse, a hawk, a woman, and Clio’s face emerging from twisting colors.  Next to it was another, similar in style, and somehow familiar, but different.  I didn’t need to check the card to know that it was also by Clio.  Emerging from the patterns of color was a golden shape, a cello.  Could the back and arms embracing the cello be mine?

 

Toby stood in a modest-sized church, contemplating the flat brass effigy of a knight.  The knight wore chain-mail; his crossed feet rested on a dog, who bit on the tip of his sheathed sword.  The knight’s palms were pressed together, and the shield covering his left arm bore the figure of a trumpet.  An old man in a black cassock approached, scratching the gray stubble on his chin.

“Good old Sir Roger,” he said, gesturing toward the brass. “A crusader, he was.  There is something military about you too, young sir, if I be not mistaken.  Shall I show you the other monuments of our church?”

“Thank you sir, but not today.”  The old man looked disappointed.  “But you may be able to help me.  I was indeed a soldier.  I have just come from the Low Countries.  I arrived to find my wife dead of the plague, and my child I know not where.”

“God save them.”

“Amen.”

“How may I help, young sir?”

“Do you know of a Pernis family?”

“Oh, aye.  Look here.”  He pointed to another brass, a smaller figure of a woman kneeling.  “That is the monument of Agnes Perneys, buried here in my father’s time.  Her grandson lives yet in the grange cottage.”  Here the old man laid his finger aside his nose and spoke conspiratorially about an old local scandal.  “Her son was a prodigal, though he avoided lying with swine.  He left his own son little more than the cottage.”

“Would the present Master Pernis have a son named Harry, apprenticed in London?”

The old man frowned and shook his head.  “I cannot recall a Harry.  But you may ask Master Pernis himself.”

 

I did not see this meeting, but next found Toby, sad and weary, riding along a muddy road approaching a town.  The fields on either side of the road were covered in the stubble of recently harvested grain.  As he continued into the town, it became clear that the handsome buildings flanking the street were institutions of some sort, but it was not until I saw the magnificent perpendicular gothic of King’s College Chapel that I recognized Cambridge.  Opposite the chapel was another church, behind which was a marketplace where Toby followed a group of people.

A crowd had gathered in a corner of the market around a wooden platform resting on barrels that stood in front of a curtain hung from a scaffold.  Toby dismounted and led his horse to the edge of the crowd.  A man emerged from behind the curtain, blew a trumpet, and retired.  Then a group of colorfully costumed actors entered, two crowned like a king and queen, the latter a young man made up like an old woman.  These two sat in chairs, the only props on the stage, and the other four men arranged themselves so that three stood by the royal thrones while the fourth, whose costume was especially ornate, stood as the focus of the others’ attention.  The king spoke in a well-projected and articulate voice: “Now say, Chatillion, what would France with us?”  Chatillion replied that France would go to war unless the king handed over the English crown to his nephew, Arthur.  The king then refused with dramatic defiance, and dismissed the Frenchman.  Toby’s horse stamped restlessly, but his master stared at the play, enraptured.  In a private moment, the queen, the king’s mother, actually admitted that justice might not be on the side of the English king.

Two new characters entered and faced the king.  One was thin and moved awkwardly; the other was stout and confident.  The thin one professed to be the heir of Sir Robert Faulconbridge, and claimed that his brother was illegitimate, and could not claim his land.  The confident one made witty replies that drew laughs from the audience.  The king and queen conferred and decided that the confident one must be the bastard of Richard the Lionhearted. The queen offered the witty young man a choice: would he rather be the legitimate heir of Sir Robert and get his land, or would he rather be the bastard of Richard Plantagenet?  He chose the latter, and the king knighted him and recruited him for the war with France.  The bastard continued the scene with a soliloquy which delighted the crowd.  Toby, in spite of the loss of his Joan and the so far fruitless search for his Will, laughed with them when the bastard said,

 

A foot of honor better than I was,

But many a many foot of land the worse.

Well, now can I make any Joan a lady.

 

Again the horse stamped and shook his head, and Toby reluctantly led him toward an inn near the marketplace.  After leaving his horse with the ostler and his bag and viol with the landlord, he hurried back to the play.  He missed most of the second act, but arrived in time for another soliloquy by the bastard, in which he began by condemning “commodity,” expediency or self-interest.

 

And why rail I on this commodity?

But for because he hath not woo’d me yet:

Not that I have the power to clutch my hand

When his fair angels would salute my palm,

But for my hand, as unattempted yet,

Like a poor beggar, raileth on the rich.

Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail,

And say there is no sin but to be rich;

And being rich, my virtue then shall be

To say there is no vice but beggary.

Since kings break faith upon commodity,

Gain, be my lord, for I will worship thee.

 

Toby stood attentively as the play rolled out scenes of courtly intrigue in France and Italy, smiled with anticipated pleasure every time the bastard entered, shook his head at the duplicity of King John, scowled at the evil papal legate, drank in the rhetoric of Lady Constance, and wept at the scene in which the boy Arthur persuades his reluctant executioner not to burn out his eyes.  He joined the crowd in cheering the bastard’s heroic and patriotic boasts.

After the play, Toby returned to the inn and ordered supper. As he was eating, the actor who had played the bastard entered the inn and called for wine.  He was a handsome, muscular young man with a square face.  Several of the patrons complimented his performance, and offered to treat for the wine, calling him “Master Sly.”  Toby listened closely to some of their conversation.

“Tis an ill wind that blows no good, as they say,” said one young man.  “The plague is bad for London, but it has blown you and your fellows to Cambridge.”

“Good for you, mayhap,” said Sly, “but tis hard to be from London.  Our theater there is new and convenient, and we get enough custom to keep us from beggary.  Why, we sometimes perform before two thousand.  But here in the country, tis hard going. This house has fair wine, but I am lousy from the bedclothes.”

“Or the chambermaid,” said another young man, to general laughter.

“Nay, never!” said the actor with a straight face, as if gallantly defending the maid.  “The bedclothes provide the lice; the chambermaid fleas and the pox.”  This sally brought almost as much laughter as his lines in the play.  Toby looked disappointed, as if he expected better from the royal bastard.

 

Toby approached his mother-in-law’s cottage in Lincolnshire.  When he saw a stout man with a halberd standing in front of the door, he pulled down his hat and passed on down the road.  He caught up with a man in patched leather breeches and a frayed smock driving a cow.

“Good neighbor,” he said.  The man turned, and Toby and I could see that it was Rafe, the young villager who had been at Tilbury with Toby.

“Toby?  Master Tobias I should say?”  Rafe was pleased, but seemed disconcerted by Toby’s prosperous appearance.  Toby got down from his horse and shook Rafe’s hand.

“Well, met friend Rafe.  I was a lieutenant, but always Toby to old friends.”

“Sir James is away, else I should counsel you to ride on.  Will you come and sup for old time’s sake?”

“With all my heart.  I have many questions.”  They walked on, Toby leading his horse, Rafe switching the cow’s rump.  Toby told him of Joan’s death in the plague and of his search for his son.  Rafe shook his head in commisseration, and in answer to Toby’s question as to whether his son had been seen in the village.

“Why was the constable at Mother Crane’s door?”

Rafe looked around nervously.  “God save us, she’s a witch.  She’s before the magistrate e’en now.”

“A witch?  Why is she accused?”

“The miller’s daughters, Nell and Frances, say she bewitched them, and makes them fall into fits.”

“And her trial is today?”

“E’n now.”

“Good Rafe, I must go.  She is but a poor old woman.  I cannot think it of her, that she could be a witch.”

“They say she has confessed.”

“Was she tortured?”

“No more than ordinary.  The vicar bent her fingers, and they ducked her twice in the millpond.”  I remembered her gnarled, arthritic fingers and shuddered.  Toby thanked Rafe for his information and hospitality, mounted, and rode toward the village hall.  The hall was next to the jail, the place where he began his military career.  He gave it a frowning glance as he passed into the hall.

The benches were crowded with people.  At the far end of the hall, an old man in a black gown and flat cap sat at a table. Mother Crane stood nearby behind a rail, a constable with a halberd standing between her and the audience.  A girl of about fourteen sat in a chair on the other end of the magistrate’s table.  She was speaking in hesitant tones, her eyes on her writhing fingers in her lap.

“She made her dog talk to me,” she said.  “He would snuff at me and then speak.”

“What did the dog say?” asked the old man in black.

The girl twisted in her chair.  “He–he said he would lick my privities.”

“Jack did no such thing!” interrupted Mother Crane.

“Quiet, woman!” said the old man.  “Now, Nell, when did this start?”

“Three weeks ago Saturday.  I remember that the Devil came to see her that day.  He had a big black hat pulled down to hide his horns.”

Toby glanced down at his broad-brimmed black hat and his eyes widened.

“How did you know twas the Devil?” asked the old man.

“Why, I saw his hoof.  And– and I smelled sulphur.”

A man on a front bench spoke up.  “What color were his boots?”

The girl closed her eyes.  “Black,” she said.

“How could you see his hoof, then?” asked the man from the bench.  The audience murmured.

“She lies!” shouted Mother Crane.  “I’m no witch.  I defy the Devil.  May God strike me if I be a witch.”

The old man turned to quiet her, and the girl fell out of her chair and began wailing and jerking convulsively.  A man and woman rushed forward and carried her to a bench.

The old man called for silence and the constable banged on the floor with the butt of his halberd.  Consulting a piece of paper from the table, the old man  said, “Mary Crane, you have confessed to carnal knowledge of the Devil in the form of a dog, to casting spells on Frances Hornsby and Nell Hornsby and causing them to fall in fits.  And you have also confessed to causing the death of Sir James’s son, young Simon.”

“I never!” shouted the old woman.  Toby looked at her in shock.  She turned toward another man in black on the front bench.  “You tormented me!  You put words in my mouth!”

This man rose.  He was younger than the magistrate, and wore a pointed beard.  Turning halfway to Mother Crane and halfway toward the audience, he began to speak.  “Would that Sir James or Mistress Audrey were here.  They would testify as to how young Master Simon called out in his fever, saying how he was bewitched, and how his head and neck hurt him.  But the torments that poor Master Simon suffered, and much less the small pains you experienced, will be as nothing to those eternal torments you will suffer, Mary Crane, unless you repent of your evil traffic and beg for Christ’s mercy.  Think on your soul, woman, and its never-ending burning!  Confess your sins, so that you may abjure the Devil and his works and repent, for unless you confess, your repentance is of no worth.”

During this speech, Mother Crane drooped, leaned back against the wall, and began to weep.  A man on one of the rear benches turned and looked at Toby with a flicker of recognition. He nudged his neighbor and whispered in his ear.  The neighbor turned and looked at Toby, then nodded to the first man.  Toby slipped out the door at the back of the hall.  A man was piling branches at the foot of a stake in the square.  Toby mounted and rode south.  He had ridden about three miles when he topped a steep hill and looked back.  A plume of smoke rose in the distance.

 

Jean enjoyed the art show, made dates for other outings with some of her old acquaintances, and seemed to be in good spirits for some time after.  We were actually friendly toward each other.  Afraid of rocking a boat that seemed to be sailing well enough, I didn’t return to the topics of our past conversations or discuss my meeting with Callie.  Jean actually went several whole days without playing a computer game.  But in a few weeks her depression returned.  Since she had agreed to the possibility of seeing a therapist, it was not as much of a struggle as it might have been to convince her that now was the time to do so.

One night when I came home from work, Jean greeted me with an intense, excited air.  “I just had my first therapy session today.  I think it’s going to be good for me.”

“Great!  Was this with the guy Dr. Bassett recommended?”

“No, this is someone Gigi goes to.  I had heard good things about her, and she seemed very sympathetic and easy to talk to.”

“Good.  I’m glad to hear you feel good about it.  I want to help if I can.  If she wants me to participate, let me know.”

“I don’t think that will come up.  She says that it’s just between us, and that I shouldn’t discuss our sessions with anyone.”

“Including me?”

“Especially you.”  She smiled and patted my cheek.  “Don’t be threatened.”

“I’ll try.  Can you tell me her name?”

“Jenkins.  Dr. Barbara Jenkins.  She’s about forty, sort of glamorous.  I feel as though I’ve known her a long time.”

I was pleased that Jean was seeing someone who might help her avoid her depressions.  I wondered about trying to find someone who might help me with my weird hallucinations.  But I had so compartmentalized them by then that I didn’t worry about them much.  Besides, I rather enjoyed them–they were my private late movie.  I was almost eager to find out what Toby was going to do next.

 

Toby continued to wander, asking after Harry Pernis and Will Hume.  Eventually his  horse disappeared–sold, probably–and Toby trudged, his viol on his back.  Instead of ordering a room at an inn, he would sneak into a barn or crawl into a haystack.  Instead of roast beef, he would order bread and cheese at poor taverns and alehouses.  He grew thinner and his clothes more worn.  Once a hunter fired a gun near a haystack where he was sleeping, and he woke staring and crying out for Captain Hall.

In one town he was stopped by two men with staves and badges.  He showed them his passport.  One handed it back, shaking his head.

“This be old, if it be true at all.  And it only permits you to go to Lincolnshire and back to London.  This be Hampshire.  Get you back on the road to London.  If we find you here again, it will be the stocks or worse.  There be too many of you sturdy beggars about.”

Toby tried to explain that he was searching for his son, but the officers were not buying.  He had to turn back toward London.  That night he found a country tavern where he earned a few pence and a meal with his viol.

 

Another day Toby approached a large inn in a town, probably hoping to play for his supper.  The inn had a sign depicting St. George slaying the dragon.  From the graceful spire dominating the other buildings of the town, I guessed it to be Salisbury.  When Toby tried to enter the innyard, however, he was asked to pay, for the players were performing.  He found a smaller alehouse and played for the few customers there; they tried to ignore him, and paid him nothing.  After a while he returned to the George, where he found the performance over and the players packing their wagon.  He recognized them as the troupe that performed in Cambridge, and approached the one named Sly, who was lashing some timbers to the side of the wagon.

“Master Sly,” Toby addressed the actor, who seemed only mildly surprised.  “I saw you perform in Cambridge.  May I buy you a pint of ale?  I would offer you wine had I the money.”

Sly looked more annoyed than grateful.  “Thank you, but we must be off at first light in the morning, and we have much packing to do.”

“Allow me to help with the packing, then, and we shall have a better relish for our ale.”

“Suit yourself.  Put down your fiddle and help Harry with those timbers.”

Toby ran to help a young man dragging two large timbers.  He picked up the other ends and asked Harry if he were kin to the Pernis family of Cambridgeshire.  Harry answered that his name was Bolton.  Toby lifted and hauled with a good will until the wagon was loaded.  Then Toby joined Harry, Sly, and the six other members of the company in the common room of the inn.

“I wish I could offer you all a cup of ale,” said Toby to the group, “but I have only sixpence to my name.  I have promised Master Sly–”

“Nay, friend,” interrupted Sly, “we’ll stand you a cup for your help.”  The others nodded.

Toby made a thankful gesture, and spoke.  “You may do me an even greater service, and ’twill be cheaper than ale.  Hear me.”  Toby explained his mission, and the difficulty he had been having with watchmen and magistrates.  Several of the company nodded with understanding.  “I suppose you have license from some nobleman to travel with your plays.  Might I go along with you, and help you pack?  You need not pay me, and I will not hinder you.  I can usually earn bread and beer with my music.”

Sly looked at his fellows, who nodded in consent.  “You are welcome, friend.  Our company is much reduced, for we barely earn our victual in the country; we cannot pay for your help except with our company–though that’s not so cheap a commodity.”  Here all smiled.  “Nor can I promise that our license will keep us from all difficulties.  Some towns welcome us, give us meat and drink, and open their guildhalls for our plays; others pay us for not performing; and others drive us away with contempt.  But you may share our fortunes if you wish.”

Young Harry spoke up.  “Mayhap he could fiddle for the dances and between the acts.”

Sly looked skeptical.  “We shall see.”

Toby thanked them all and shook their hands, introducing himself.

 

Another montage: Toby carefully fitting his viol onto the wagon, and singing along with the others as they set out on a clear, warm morning; Toby slogging in the mud, putting his shoulder to the wagon toiling through the ruts; Toby watching a performance, mouthing his favorite lines; Toby on stage with his viol, playing a sprightly tune as three of the players danced; Toby being asked to share a good meal with the actors after a profitable performance.

For a few weeks the troupe performed in several different villages, but returned every few nights to a country inn at the hub of their activities.  The hostess was a middle-aged widow of ruddy complexion and wide but patchy smile who seemed to enjoy the lively actors and gave them good value.  She was especially welcoming to one of the actors, a stout, bluff man a few years older than the others, named Matthew Whitbread.  He played the parts of Hubert and the papal legate Pandulph in King John and Haleb, Guelpio, and Basilisco in Soliman and Perseda-–like almost all the players, he took more than one role.  Whitbread paid special attention to the widow, leading his fellows to make bawdy jibes at his expense.  Whitbread accepted them in good humor, and began reciting his jucier lines, punctuated with broad gestures, to the blushing widow:

 

I have rejected with contemptable frowns

The sweet glances of many amorous girls,

But I am captured with the reflecting eye

Of that admirable comet Perseda.

I will place her to behold my triumphs,

And do wonders in her sight.

 

Here Whitbread kissed the giggling widow’s hand.

One morning as Toby was helping the actors pack the wagon, Whitbread ambled out with a smug turn of his lips, and addressed them with mock bombast.  “My brothers,” he began with a sweep of his arm.  “Here ends my road.  I take my leave of you.  Cupid hath bound my feet with adamantine chains, and here I stay.”

“Pack your gear, Matt,” said Sly without looking up from his work, “and stop rehearsing.  We play in Yattendon tomorrow.”

“I speak true writ, friends.  Here I stay.  This widow has thirty pounds a year, and loves me body and soul.  We wed tomorrow.”

Sly and Toby both stopped and looked at Whitbread.  “Are you in earnest indeed?” asked Sly.

Whitbread put his hand on his heart and rolled his eyes upward.  “Never moreso.”

“You whoreson striking jack,” Sly declaimed.  “You cracked bell with a leaden clapper.  You would maim our company for thirty pieces of silver and the savor of stale ling on your finger.  A stinking pox on you.”

“Let us not part in anger, friends,” said Whitbread, still in heroic character, soothingly spreading his palms down.  “I forgive all debts owed me.  And the company may keep Basilisco’s sword, rightfully mine though it be.”

“We should circumsize you in earnest with that same sword,” Sly said.  (The character Basilisco turns Turk and is circumsized in Soliman and Perseda.)

All the company stood around at a loss.  Finally, Harry said, “Let’s leave this tapster to his trade, fellows, and be off.  We can cobble together his parts among us.”

The others sullenly agreed, and without a word or backward glance, Sly struck the cart-horse and headed down the road.  Toby and the others followed.

“Fare thee well, gallants,”  called Whitbread to their backs.  “Go forth and ride in triumph through Persepolis for my sake.”

The troupe trudged in silence for a good while, then Sly and the other actors began discussing how to distribute Whitbread’s roles.  There was much head-shaking, frowning, and cursing of Whitbread.  Finally, Sly turned to Toby.

“Friend Toby, could you con a part?”

Toby looked surprised, then pleased, then a bit frightened.

Seeing his hesitation, Sly went on.  “You may take a quarter share.  You have a bit of the soldier about you yet, and might make a plausible Basilisco.  Your speech tangs of the north, but that might suit Basilisco well.”

Several of the others voiced agreement.  Finally Toby said, “I shall try.”

 

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