Archive for March, 2011

Time’s Bending Sickle

March 26, 2011

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21. Time’s Furrows

I never could find out what disturbed Jean at Clio’s. I assume she told her therapist. After we returned to Dallas, Jean returned for what now passed as normal: keeping her journal, keeping up with the business, and keeping me at a polite distance.
She went shopping with her mother one Thursday a month after the trip to Washington. When I came home after work, she was sitting on the sofa, her Nieman’s bag on the floor with nothing unpacked. She looked up, worried.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Mother. She’s not well, and I can’t get her to go to the doctor.”
“Tell me.” I sat down by her.
“She got so tired. She never gets tired shopping.”
“Jean, she’s getting older.”
“No, she’s different from the way she was just weeks ago. And she had no appetite at lunch.”
“She may just have a bug. Check on her tomorrow. If she’s not better soon, I’ll help you truss her up and we’ll haul her off to Dr. Bettis.”
She smiled. “OK. So, what’s new?”
“Well, I finally met this mysterious banker, Tedesco.” I told Jean how I happened to catch Howell and Tedesco in the elevator, and introduced myself when it seemed that Howell wasn’t going to. I kind of forced the issue, for I told Tedesco I had heard he was in investment banking, and wondered if he had any ideas for boosting our stock. He glanced sharply at Howell, who just shook his head. Tedesco then said he was a student of Chinese philosophy.
“What?” Jean had been smiling knowingly during my tale, but this brought a questioning frown.
“He told me that he was a student of Sun Tzu, an ancient philosopher.”
“Well, he may be, but he’s mainly an LBO specialist.”
“What?” It was my turn to be surprised.
“A guy who does leveraged buyouts. Howell sent a letter to the board just the other day saying he was exploring the possibility.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Howell and a few other officers would raise money on the company assets and buy up enough stock to control the company and take it private.”
“I know what a LBO is. What throws me is that we just went public!”
“I know. But there are some economic arguments for going private again.”
“But what about the board? And the family interest?”
“He can’t do it without board approval. But we may give it to him.” Jean enjoyed her private knowledge. “It would drive up the stock and make the stockholders happy. And Howell says other businesses have done better after going private.”
“Does he say why?”
“Yes–they become more efficient.”
“If he is in charge now, how is he going to make the business more efficient later? Why not now? It seems to me that the whole deal is full of conflict of interest. He’s supposed to be running the business for the shareholders; how can he do that if he wants to sell the business to himself for the lowest price he can?”
“But it will be lots higher than the stock goes for now.”
“But think of the debt the company will be loaded with.”
“That’s why it will be more efficient.” Jean spoke with deliberate patience. “The debt will force management to be more innovative. And managers have more incentive if they’re working for themselves.”
We argued along these lines for some time. Jean was a smart debater, and made my arguments seem simple-minded. But commonsense notions about what a business should do kept stubbornly coming back to my mind.
At work, the word about a possible buyout had begun to leak, and some of the employees were worried. Hiro confirmed some of my own misgivings. “One of those efficiences they talk about is usually laying off a bunch of workers. I read the Japanese business press now and then. They seem really bewildered by all the LBO and takeover activity. They see that some people, especially managers and bankers, get rich, but that companies often get weaker. They see a good, well-run, profitable company go into debt to fight a takeover or get broken up by a raider, and don’t see why. One letter writer said they shouldn’t try to understand the crazy Americans, but just be glad they are making it so easy for the Japanese to compete.”
“Ever think of going home?”
“Naw, I like you crazy Americans. Besides, I would be seen as too American if I tried to go home–I wouldn’t be accepted. And I don’t think I could put up with all the hedges put up around individual creativity there.”
The argument continued at work and at home. I would think I made some progress with Jean against the LBO, but then she would come back with more arguments from Howell. Howell never talked to me directly about the buyout, but I felt I was debating him through Jean. The press was full of reports on buyouts, hostile takeovers, and junk bonds, the fuel for both of these activities. Big money was being made, but mainly by those manipulating the process, not by those running ordinary businesses for ordinary profits.

During this time I had to go out to California to discuss some matters with Tom Backscheider at Wizardware. Howell insisted that I try to talk them into using some Ramforce hardware. I knew that this suggestion would be met with derision and incredulity, but Tom and his colleagues might give me some ammunition I could use.
At the airport, I was surprised to see Bonnie Drew sitting at the gate next to the one for my flight. She was trying to read the Wall Street Journal through dark glasses in rather dim light. She seemed very absorbed, but I peered over the top of her paper and said, “Hi Bonnie. Escaping Dallas?”
She reacted oddly, glancing around and saying, “I sure am.” Then she smiled and said, “Hi Tony. Off to sell Cullen?”
“As always. I’m off to see Tom Backscheider.”
She smiled at the memory. “I hope Cullen will make him enough money so he can afford a new wardrobe.”
“Now, now, he’s an artist.”
“He did seem a bit unworldly.”
“Where are you off to?” I didn’t think I was being too nosy, but Bonnie sighed and looked away.
“Visiting my sister in Oregon.”
“Well, have a pleasant trip.” I started to move on.
“Tony.” Her tone puzzled me. I looked back. Bonnie had removed her dark glasses and looked at me with a real shiner, a purplish bruise around one swollen and bloodshot eye. “Come back and sit.”
I sat. Bonnie sighed. “You might as well know now. You will sooner or later. I’m leaving Howell. This is one of the reasons.”
“My God, Bonnie, did Howell do that?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Me too. It’s been coming a long time, but I never thought it would go this far. I’d take a lot from him, but I won’t be his punching bag.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes. You can watch out for him. And for yourself. I still care about Howell–he’s got a lot of good qualities. But he’s changed lately.” She paused and bit her lip. “He could get himself in real trouble, and take others with him. For his good and your own, watch out for him, don’t let his ambition make him cross the line. You may not be smart enough for this, Tony. You know we disagree about things, and I think you’re pretty naive. But I think you’re basically honest.”
“What do you think he might do?” I asked.
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me, and gave me this when I objected too strongly. It may not be illegal, but it may be greedy as hell.”
“You mean besides the leveraged buyout?”
She looked at me curiously. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you know about that. But yes.”
“Does he know where you’ll be?”
“No, but he could figure it out easily. But I don’t think he cares.”
“Bonnie, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. Just take care of yourself. And Jean. That’s my flight. Good luck.” She got up and hurried toward the gate.
I had a lot to think about on the plane to California, but as I might have expected, thoughts about present problems were replaced by visions of the past.

I was naturally curious about what would happen if Toby met Jane again, so I didn’t resist the vision of them together in Sir Andrew’s house, in the small parlor where I left them. Jane had grown from a girl to a handsome young woman. Her face was still smooth, but the outlines were sharper and the expression deepened by experience. The atmosphere in the room was tense, but both seemed to have recovered from their initial shock. Both must have realized that they had to go along with the present situation in order to avoid dangerous revelations about their past relationship. Both were very formal, playing their proper roles.
“My lady plays very well. Has my lady been practicing?”
“I have only recently taken up the viol again, Master Hume. I fear I have forgotten much.”
“Indeed, I have forgot some things myself. But they can be easily recalled.”
She looked stern. “Some things, I trust, are best forgotten.”
Toby looked down. “Yes. Well, an it please you, play that strain again.” She played. “Pray keep your left wrist straight, my lady. And elevate your right elbow somewhat more. Now, please you, play again.” Toby demonstrated, but did not touch his pupil.
The lesson continued with master and pupil maintaining polite control. After an hour or so, a maid opened the door.
“Please your ladyship, Mistress Audrey waits on you above.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth. I shall be there presently.” The maid left, and Jane and Toby rose. “I shall practice this lesson for Friday, Master Hume.”
“Very good, my lady.” Toby bowed, then spoke softly. “I hope I may offer my condolences to my lady and Mistress Audrey for the loss of their brother.”
“Thank you, Master Hume.” Jane’s reserve softened a bit. “Mistress Audrey will be glad that you are well.” Here she stammered, “I trust your–wife is in health?”
“Alas, my lady, she died in the plague.”
“God rest her soul.”
“Amen.”
They stood quietly a moment, not looking at each other. Then Jane said, “Farewell, Master Hume.”
Toby bowed, and Jane left the room. Alone, Toby gave an immense sigh, gathered up his viol and music, and went to the door. As he passed along the hallway, he heard excited whispers from the stairs above, a rustle of clothing, and steps hurrying down the stairs. He looked around to see another handsome young woman approaching him. Audrey was sharper of feature than her sister, and her brown hair, much of it hidden by a cap, was not as eye-catching; but she moved with nervous grace and her intelligence shone from her eyes. With quick movements and a serious expression, she touched Toby’s arm and guided him down the hall.
“A word with you in the gallery, Master Hume.”
Toby let himself be led. “I am glad to see you well, Mistress Audrey.”
Audrey did not speak until they were in the long gallery at the back of the house. Without any small talk, she began. “Master Hume, I understand what has happened here, and do not blame you. But I must ask you if you still feel as you did when you first wrote to my sister.”
“I must confess that I do, but–”
“Your feelings are your own, but you must not give them vent. If you truly wish my sister well, you must never act on your feelings.”
“So I intend, but–”
She faced Toby and bored in with her dark eyes. “You must understand. Even if you are–permitted, even prompted, you must not act. Sir Andrew is a proud and powerful man, who will brook no crossing, nor from his servants nor his wife.”
“Mistress Audrey, insofar as I am able to control my will with reason and prayer, I will do no dishonor to Sir Andrew, Lady Jane, nor myself.”
Audrey relaxed for a second, then turned back toward the hall, Toby hurrying after. “Thank you,” she said gravely. “I would we could talk further, but this is neither the time nor place. I am glad you are well. Pray you remain so.” She turned abruptly and ascended the stairs. After watching her a second, Toby left the house.

Time’s Bending Sickle

March 20, 2011

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20. Time’s Best Jewel

The Houston hospital sent back all but nine of the forty Ramforce computers, saying that they did not work properly. When Howell found out about it, I could hear his shouted curses all the way down the hall, followed by the crash of broken glass. Steve Keller came hurrying by my door. The shouting picked up, then gradually became intermittent and declined in volume. A few days later Perry Fein told me that the technical department had been ordered to run a few basic tests on every Ramforce unit before it was shipped, but that if repairs would take more than a certain amount of time or money, the unit should be scrapped.
“That’s going to take a lot of our time,” griped Perry. “I may be able to talk them into hiring a few schoolkids to test the units, but dealing with that crappy hardware at any level is a big mistake–it keeps us from doing the productive work that will keep us up with the business. Besides, even the ones that pass a test here will likely crash in a few weeks or months.”
I didn’t tell anyone about the anonymous suggestion I sent the hospital, and as far as I could tell, no one suspected what I had done. I didn’t even tell Jean.
Several times in the next few weeks I saw the foxy Mr. Tedesco slipping in and out of Howell’s office. Howell never mentioned him, and he talked to no one but Howell. Perhaps Howell was consulting with him about possible ways to get our stock over the twenty dollar mark, where it had been stuck for a long time. Whatever he suggested didn’t seem to be working, however. I asked Jean what the board said about the stock price.
“Howell seems to be the only one that’s bothered,” Jean said. But she was bothered. “All those old guys care about is sales volume and profits.”
“I’ll be curious as to how they react to the report of the quarter since we got Ramforce.”
She frowned at me. “I guess you expect it to be down. Can’t you give Howell any credit? We’ll get the bugs out.”
“Maybe so.”
Jean’s moods in the last weeks still swung up and down, but within a tolerable range. The therapy may have been helping; she wouldn’t discuss it with me, but I could tell that she was intensely preoccupied at times. She spent a lot of time with her notebook in her lap, staring into space, then scribbling rapidly with great concentration. I did what I could to please her. We went out to movies, we went to dinner with some of her old friends and their husbands or boyfriends. I took her with me on sales trips to Denver and San Francisco, but she complained that I had to work too much, and she didn’t like sightseeing on her own. Nevertheless, she agreed to go with me to Washington.
“Good. You can meet my Washington mistresses.”
“What?” She missed my joking tone.
“The women I play music with. The Hopkins prof and her friends. They always play at the home of that artist. You know, Clio Novak, whose work we saw at the Artemisia Gallery. She’s got a great cello that belonged to her father.”
She looked at me for a minute without expression. “Oh. Yeah, I didn’t much like her work.” Then she thought a moment. “It might be interesting to meet them, though. Do you all squeak much?”
“Not much. They’re good players and nice people.”
“Maybe I can poke around the National Gallery and the Smithsonian while you work.”

Marina seemed glad to hear that I was coming, and set up a music session at Clio’s. We flew in to Washington, I made my calls, and Jean went exploring. When we met for dinner, Jean said she sat in the Senate gallery for a while.
“That old gasbag Kimmel was there, going on about yielding to the gentleman from Georgia. I wish he had been worth working for. I kind of enjoyed that job.”
“Maybe you could find a similar one if you looked.” Jean had been out of her last job for months.
“In Dallas? I doubt it.”
“There are politicians and pollsters there, too.”
“It would be hard to find one that I could respect.”
“Maybe you could just find ones you didn’t respect, and I could sell Ramforce computers to them.”
Jean didn’t like to be teased. She frowned and said nothing.
We pulled up in front of Clio’s wedge-shaped studio, and went to the door. “Interesting house,” said Jean, not quite approving. Clio and Jean, on meeting, seemed to focus very closely on each other. Jean was very polite, but a little guarded. She made well-mannered admiring remarks about the house and various pieces of furniture and art. Clio was humorous, welcoming, natural–but alert. She pulled out the cello, saying “This is the only thing here that interests Tony.” I probably proved her right by getting it out of the case and warming up. But I didn’t get too absorbed; when Alice and Doreen arrived, I let them in and made the introductions. They too were friendly and at ease. But when Marina arrived, she seemed nervous and a bit too eager to please Jean, who seemed to withdraw into a more formal politeness.
“Tony tells me that you were a math major,” Marina said, “and that you did some work with statistics.”
“I worked for a political pollster for a while, but he was less interested in what the statistics said than in what they could be made to say.”
“I know the type, especially in this neighborhood,” Marina said with a laugh, and went on at great length about a consulting job she had had. After a while, Doreen grabbed her by the shoulders and gently pushed her toward her chair; the rest of us had our instruments ready to play. Clio offered Jean a choice of books and magazines, saying, “I’m in the habit of painting while they play–I hope you don’t mind. They won’t let us talk anyhow.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Jean sat on the sofa with some magazines and art books. Clio began mixing paint. We started with the cheerful “Hunt” quartet of Mozart. Marina didn’t get some of her sixteenth-note bits and grace notes quite as cleanly as she might, but otherwise it went pretty well. Between movements, I could see Jean absorbed in her book, and Clio in her painting. We went on to the minuet without much talk, and then to the slow movement. This is a fine lyrical piece, with many beautiful moments, including a poignant theme stated first by the violin and then by the cello. It’s just a few bars, but it’s one of my favorite passages. Everybody had warmed up by then, and was paying attention to dynamics, intonation, and each other. Suddenly we realized that we were having a rare experience. Everything jelled. We were not just playing, we were making music. It was like the moment a pitcher realizes he really is going to pull off a no-hitter. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck prickle. We all felt it, and when we finished we sat quietly for a few seconds, until Clio called out, “Wow! That was something!” Then we all burst out in happy self-congratulation.
“Great tone, Doreen.”
“Thanks for feeling that rubato with me.”
“Really sweet, Tony.”
Jean looked up, almost startled. She glanced from one glowing face to the other, as Clio and the quartet tried to cling to the moment. We eventually settled down and started the finale, our euphoria causing us to set an optimistically fast tempo. But we kept it up, laughing with the pleasure of a kid racing downhill in a wagon with no brakes. We came to the bottom of the hill without crashing, and just sat there giggling and grinning. I noticed that Jean was staring at us.
“What can we play to keep this mood up?” asked Doreen.
“How about the ‘Emperor’?” said Alice.
“We did that the last time Tony was here,” said Marina. “How about opus eighteen, number three?”
“OK, fine.”
So we dug out Beethoven. Jean stared at the page of her book, but she was not reading. We played two movements, when Jean put down her book and stood. I thought I heard her say, “I’ve got to get out of here.” She came toward me. “Tony, give me the keys.”
“What?”
“Give me the keys. I–I’m not feeling too good.”
“If you’re sick, I’ll take you.” Clio had stopped painting, and the other women were looking concerned.
“No, you finish playing. I’ll get back OK.”
Clio had come forward. “Not if you don’t know this area. Do you want to lie down in the bedroom?”
Jean began to cry. “No, I just want to go. I’m sorry.”
I put down the golden Goffriller. “I’m sorry. We’d better go.” Jean protested, but I left Clio to put up the cello, and helped Jean out to the car. We got in and started off.
“Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?”
“No,” she sniffed. “Just go back to the hotel.”
“Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I can’t talk now.”
So we rode in silence back to the hotel, where Jean quickly undressed and went to bed. By the next morning, she seemed better, but still refused to talk about what bothered her the night before. She was quiet, but talked about ordinary things, the time of our flight, whether we should stop somewhere for dinner when we got to Dallas.
I took a chance. “How did you like the quartet?”
“They seemed very nice.” After a moment of silence, she said, “Marina’s gay.”
“What?”
“She’s gay, a lesbian.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I can tell.”
“Was that what was bothering you?”
Jean looked genuinely surprised. “Oh no, not at all. It’s just something I noticed.” Then she smiled slightly. “If you didn’t know, I guess you never made a pass.”
“That’s right. I don’t make passes.”
Jean smiled to herself and stopped talking.

My visions had taken on the quality of an old serial, like the “Perils of Pauline” my father used to talk about. Felix had come back from the dead, and I had been left dangling and curious. With Jean along on the Washington trip, I couldn’t time-travel on the plane as I often did. But after we returned to Dallas, I resumed my “meditating.”

“Are you truly alive?” Toby stood in the dark street, clutching Felix’s shoulders and staring intently at his face. “I saw you shot and fall into the water.”
“Neither of which was fatal, happily. But I lost my eye in that assault. Come, out of the street. Let me but dup the giger.”
“What?”
“Pardon. Open the door, I should say.” He drew out a key and opened the door behind them, drawing Toby into a narrow hallway. The went past several doors, stopping at one at the end of the hall. This one took two keys to unlock. Inside, Felix fumbled in the dark with a tinderbox and struck a light. As the candles drove the darkness into the corners, Toby looked around to see a modest room filled with a variety of goods–bolts of cloth, garments, silverware, dishes and cups of pewter and pottery, rapiers, pistols, a musket, even a saddle and a bundle of feathers. A chest with a heavy lock may have held more valuable items.
“You may conclude,” said Felix, waving his hand at the hoard, “that I have taken up a new trade. In the cant or language of that trade, this is a stuling ken, where I give rufflers and hookers a few win for a fambling chete worth a few bordes. In the vulgar, this is a place where I receive stolen goods, where I give robbers and thieves a few pence for a ring worth a few shillings.”
“I know not what to say.”
“Friend Toby,” said Felix, setting the candle on a table and drawing up a stool, “you are an honest man, and what I hope is your content at finding your old tutor alive is curdled by finding him a . . . an outlaw.”
Toby looked away. “I have many questions. Why, if you have escaped death in battle, must you tempt death on the gallows?”
“Need, need, old friend. Tis a long story. Will you hear it?”
“Of course. What happened to you at Deventer?”
“I hardly know. I was told that another soldier who had fallen in the water felt me under him and dragged me to shore. Since the shot that took my eye knocked off my heavy morion, and since another knocked the wind out of me, I was neither too burdensome to haul out, nor choked by breathing in water. The Dutch surgeons healed me as best they could, and I was sent back to England. My beloved countrymen treated me worse than the Dutch. I was robbed of my money in Dover. Though I had a passport to London, where I hoped to find a place as a tutor, when I tried to make my way there, the magistrates in Canterbury arrested me. It seems that many sturdy rogues have been abroad under forged passports, pretending to be soldiers. And some soldiers, unable to provide for themselves otherwise, have taken to robbing and stealing.”
“Magistrates made my travels difficult as well.”
“You, too? I will hear your tale by and by. Well, twas in Canterbury jail that a fellow prisoner offered me help. He knew I would be released sooner than he, so he proposed that I should call for a sealed box at a certain inn in Canterbury, using some words of this same cant. If I would deliver this box to a man in London, I would earn thirty shillings for my pains. I could not refuse to be a carrier for such a wage, though I suspected some knavery was involved. After a week, the magistrates did release me, having no proof of any particular crime to blame me with. I took the box to London, earned my thirty shillings, and more besides.”
“Did you learn what was in the box?”
“Aye. Do you remember the great carrack, the Madre de Dios, captured in the Azores in the summer before the plague?”
“I have heard of it.”
“Well, many of its treasures, gold and rich jewels, were carried off by the sailors. It had been landed at Dartmouth, and when the pillage became known, the Queen’s officers stopped every man with a bag going from Devon and Dorset to London. My fellow prisoner had taken ship to Dover with his bit of the loot, jewels worth, I dare guess, a thousand pound.”
“God’s ears!”
“He got not that for them, trust me. Well, my quest for a tutor’s place was fruitless. The gentlemen would praise my service in the wars, and express satisfaction with my learning, but the wives found me disgusting. My wounds were yet green, and my patch did not add to my beauty. There may have been other reasons, but the upshot was that my poverty grew. I could not teach fencing, for though my one eye is quick enough, I cannot judge distance as well as before. I tried scribbling a few pamphlets, and staved off starvation by that and fiddling in taverns.”
“I, too. I never wish to hear ‘Turkeyloney’ again.”
“Amen to that. To continue. A wench who worked in the Three Crowns did not find me as disgusting as the gentlewomen. After we had known one another for a while, and enjoyed some niggling in her libbege in the darkmans–I need not translate, I trust–she employed me as my fellow prisoner in Canterbury had done, for she was a skillful foist, a picker of pockets. And so by degrees, I crept into the profession in which you now find me.”
Toby recounted some of his own recent past. Both were moved to tears at his account of the fate of Captain Hall’s company at Steenwyk. Felix seemed intrigued by Toby’s theatrical experience. “Had I not been disfigured, I might have tried the stage myself,” he said. “I may yet try my hand at writing a play.”
Felix stared thoughtfully into the candle. Toby yawned and shook his head. Felix smiled. “I am a kind of actor in my current trade. You too, to judge by what you tell me.”
“Would twere only acting,” said Toby ruefully. “Signor Saviolo is dead in sooth. He cheated and insulted me, but I would I had not killed him. If only I could find a quiet place as a music master.”
They sat quietly for a time. Then Felix glanced at Toby and quickly looked away. “Not all captains were as honest as Captain Hall.”
“True. I knew good men to go hungry because of their captain’s greed.”
“Such a captain now lives in London, whoring, drinking, and wearing fine clothes bought with the money he gulled from his poor men.”
Toby looked interested. “One you knew from the Low Countries?”
“Aye. Captain Pricket. I see him at the Cardinal’s Hat, the Crown, the Serpent, and the Boar’s Head.” Felix gave a slow smile. “Would it not be just that such a guller be gulled?”
Toby yawned again. “Indeed. Your thief’s wine has made me sleepy. What do you intend?”
“I may turn playwright sooner than I thought. Rest your head on that bundle of cloaks, and when you wake we shall rehearse your part.”
“My part? Good Felix, I am poor but yet honest.”
“Sleep, now, talk later.”

Outside the Devil tavern near Temple Bar, Felix stood holding a staff from which waved a number of long strips of paper. He was singing, in a high, strident voice, to a crowd of two dozen people. In the audience were Toby and a red-faced man in boots and rapier, lean except for a pot belly partially hidden by a peascod doublet, who was leaning familiarly on a fleshy young woman wearing a lot of rouge.

And when he had been seven long years
And his love he had not seen,
‘Many a tear have I shed for her sake
When she little thought of me.’

When Felix sang these lines, Toby staggered, gasped, and fell to the ground. The audience turned and watched as Toby’s eyes rolled up, his back bowed, his lips foamed, his hands clenched, and his legs twitched. Felix broke off singing and moved toward Toby, brushing the florid young woman as he passed. “Give him room, good people, do not try to hold him. Tis but a fit–I’ve seen the like before. Give him room, twill pass.” Felix unbuttoned Toby’s collar, thrusting his hand briefly down his shirt. “Some kind soul step inside and get the poor man a drop of aqua vitae or sack.”
Gradually Toby’s convulsions ceased, and he was able to sip from the cup offered by a young journeyman from the audience. Toby thanked them all, assured them he was recovered, and said that he would go to his lodging and rest. He walked slowly down the street, his hand grazing the wall to steady him.
“Now, good people,” said Felix, shaking the papers on his staff, “who’ll buy my ballads? I have that sweet song of the daughter of Islington. I have a new and true ballad of a foul murder done in Reading. I have another true ballad of a monstrous fish, like that that swallowed Jonah, that washed ashore near Penzance. Who’ll buy?”
The red-faced man began to fumble around his waist, then looked at his empty hand. “Body o’ me! My purse! Ho, thieves, thieves!”

Toby pulled up a stool to the table in Felix’s room, and smiled at Felix and the fleshy young woman. He reached in his shirt, drew out and opened a purse and poured out several coins, some silver, some gold. The woman squealed. Felix began sorting them and counting. “Five, and six. Three pound, six shillings, and fourpence. Each a pound, two shillings, and a penny–there’s for you, Moll, and you, Toby–with a penny for the poor box.”
Toby frowned. “A penny? No more? Are there none of Pricket’s poor soldiers we could relieve?”
“You and I are both such. You may give your share to any of the poor men in Paul’s walk.”
Moll smiled sweetly at Toby. “You played your fit well.”
Felix agreed. “Aye, so well that we should take our play to the provinces.”
Toby frowned skeptically. “Are we like to find greedy captains there?”
“Very like. Friend Toby,” Felix changed from jocular to earnest. “If we are to live well, we must first live. We will gull no widows of their mite, nor orphans of their bread.”
“Why must we travel?”
“Why, we must have a fresh audience. Those who know our play may not be amused at seeing it twice, and their censure may prove painful to us.”
Felix poured wine and toasted Moll. Toby thoughtfully clinked his coins.

Thirty or more people–women, children, farmers in smocks, and two substantial-looking country gentlemen–were gathered around Felix as he sang and hawked his ballads in front of an old, half-timbered, thatched house with a fading sign depicting a bell. Moll demurely cast sheeps-eyes at the younger of the squires, whose eyes and attention flicked back and forth between her and Felix. Toby arrived well after the performance had begun. He appeared to be the most prosperous person present, a travelling gentleman in a silk-lined cloak. He stood on the edge of the crowd for a while, then edged in closer, just enough to be noticed by those standing by. Felix reached the climax of a ballad about a gruesome murder, when Toby began his fit. Felix stopped singing, came forward admonishing the bystanders, brushing by Moll. But before he could reach Toby, a large, calloused hand fell on Felix’s shoulder, and another grasped his arm. The hands belonged to a stout farmer in leather breeches and smock.
“This one has sommat,” he said, reaching into Felix’s sleeve and producing a purse. The farmer looked at the younger squire, whose eyes widened as he groped for his missing purse. The members of the crowd exclaimed, Toby’s eyes flickered for an instant before returning to their epileptic position, and Moll gasped.
“A thief!” she exclaimed. “Why, he might have taken my own purse.” She looked appealingly at the young squire, who managed to make a calming and protective gesture in her direction before turning an angry glare at Felix and recovering his purse. Toby maintained his fit. Felix stood absolutely still, without expression.
A toothless old man chuckled. “Handy Harry! ‘E can catch an eel with his bare fingers.” Several neighbors murmured assent.
“Quickest eye in the parish.”
“Nay, in all Essex!”
“Hang up the thief!”
“Aye, call the magistrate!”
“Here I be,” said the older squire. “Bring him into the Bell. Happily, the assize is tomorrow, and we’ll hang him by sundown Wednesday. Fetch the smith and his irons.” All trooped into the inn, except Toby, Moll, and the younger squire. The squire cast a suspicious eye on Toby, who was pretending to recover from his fit.
“Oh, I have had such a turn,” said Moll, dabbing at her cheeks with her handkerchief.
The squire turned his attention toward her. “By your leave, madam, step inside and allow me to fetch you a cordial.”
“Thank you, kind sir.”
Toby, alone, kept up his act. He sat up, shook his head, recovered his hat, and got unsteadily to his feet. Then he walked slowly to a horse tethered to a tree, mounted, and rode off. When he reached the edge of the village, he spurred to a trot, wiping his eyes.
That night, Toby stepped cautiously around the Bell. A flickering light drew him to a crack in a shutter, and he looked in. Felix, his eyes closed, sat in a corner by the fire, his wrists and legs in chains. On a bench nearby sat Handy Harry with a big rusty sword on his lap, and across from him the young squire sat at a table on which lay two long pistols. Two other men with stout staves sat close by. One of these was sleeping, but the others seemed alert. Toby no doubt thought about Hobie Noble, as I did; but he must have considered the odds too risky, for he fingered his sword hilt but eventually withdrew.
The next afternoon, Toby, in different clothes and a shady hat, stood in a crowd of about a hundred people gathered around a large tree. A wide ladder leaned against the trunk, and a noose dangled from a limb. From the Bell came the old squire, followed by Felix in his fetters, the young squire, and Harry. The old squire made a short speech stating the cirumstances of the crime, concluding that the thief’s just punishment should serve as a warning and example.
Two men assisted Felix up the ladder and fitted the noose around his neck. Felix leaned inward toward the tree as much as he could to keep his balance on the ladder. One of the two men descended, and the other, the toothless old man who had praised Harry, whispered something to Felix, who shook his head vigorously. Then the old man, with a deft nudge, turned Felix off the ladder. Toby flinched as Felix swung out into space; Felix twitched at the end of the rope, his eye beginning to bulge, his tongue to protrude. His breeches swelled visibly at his crotch, and a dark wet stain appeared. Toby turned and hurried away. A woman called out, and the crowd began shouting, but Toby did not look back.

London. Toby sat in an attic room, playing his viol by a small window open to the air. The inner shutter of the window had no glass, but a piece of parchment, oiled to admit some light. The only furniture was a narrow bed, a stool, and a battered chest. Some worn fencing masks and foils were heaped in a corner. His gentleman’s clothes were carefully folded on his bed; he wore the threadbare remains of his military clothing. He played a version of a piece he published in the 1605 book called “My hope is decayed.” His naturally drooping eyebrows sagged even further in an expression of profound melancholy. He stopped playing in mid-phrase and put the viol in its case. The latch was broken, so he tied the case shut with a string. He looked out the window, then at the clothes on the bed. Taking a key, he unlocked the chest and put the clothes inside, then locked it carefully, testing the lid. He left the room, went down several dark and smelly flights of stairs, and made his way through the shadowed and smelly streets until he reached St. Paul’s.
The old gothic cathedral had a number of stalls thrown up between its butresses, like a poor mangy bitch nursing a litter of scrawny pups. Booksellers seemed to predominate, and some of the stalls had the solidity of long occupation. Toby browsed among them for a while, picking up a book of music–Thomas Morley’s First Booke of Balletts to Five Voices (1595)–and leafing through a new poem–Sir John Davies’ Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing (1596). He read several pages of the latter, then sighed and put it down. Passing into the cathedral, he strolled down the crowded aisle, observing faces and listening to snatches of conversation. I heard little prayer, but much of this sort of thing:
From a young woman: “I assure you sir, I keep company with no gentleman for under two shillings.”
From a tough-looking man in a patched doublet and a cap pulled over to hide one ear: “Sir, my oath is good as any man’s here; tell me your tale and I’ll swear to’t.”
From one silk-and-velvet doublet to another: “Tell me not of importunate tailors, Ned; my bill is but a quarter old, and bailiffs. . . .”
Toby approached a pair of men in leather jerkins, one of whom, a man in a tangerine cloak, greeted him with some cordiality. They discussed the recent victory of Prince Maurice in capturing Turnhout. Toby listened eagerly as the man in the tangerine cloak told how Count Hollocke, Sir Robert Sidney, and Sir Francis Vere cut off a troop of Germans and Neopolitans fighting for the Spanish; they killed over two thousand there on a heath near Turnhout, while losing only twenty men. Toby asked his acquaintance if the earl of Essex might entertain a suit to help him find a place.
“It is a bad time for the earl, Lieutenant Hume. He is sick.”
The other man, out of the view of his fellow, gave a skeptical smile, but said nothing. Toby thanked them and continued his walk.
Toby stopped abruptly, staring at a man of about his age wearing a plain but clean and well-cut gown, which he had thrown open to rest his hands on his hips while studying a monument. Nearby, Moll was sizing him up along with the purse tucked in his belt. The man turned and looked up at another monument, his mouth slightly agape. Moll glided forward, but Toby moved quickly in her path, hissing “Bing a wast, Moll!” She frowned and sniffed at her handkerchief as if he had made an offensive proposition, but moved away. Toby turned to the man, who was still absorbed in the monument.
“Davie Fenwick?”
The man addressed stared at Toby, then smiled and grasped his extended hand. “Toby! I am glad to see you alive. I heard that you had gone to the Low Countries.”
“Aye, I am back whole, but no richer, as you see.”
“You are rich to have your life. My father, I am sorry to say, is the poorer for his.”
“I grieve to hear it,” Toby said in a choked voice. “He was almost a father to me. I hope your mother is well.”
“She is, thank God.”
“Amen.”
“I must hear of what you have been doing. Have you dined?”
“No–tonight I dine with Duke Humphrey.”
“Oh. Well, I was about to offer you my poor company.”
Toby smiled wanly. “Davie, we London sinners say that we dine with the Duke when we have no dinner and walk here by the Duke’s tomb in Paul’s. He is a most cold and niggardly host. I accept your hospitality most gratefully, and regret that I cannot be your host myself.”
They walked to an ordinary, where Fenwick ordered a large meal of bread, cheese, cold beef, a meat pie, and various boiled vegetables. Toby ate rapidly and with concentration. Fenwick sampled the pie, but concentrated on the bread, cheese, and beef. After mopping his plate clean with the last of the bread, Toby gave Fenwick an edited version of his adventures. Fenwick in turn said that he was continuing with his father’s coal trade in Newcastle, which occasioned his first visit to London. He was staying with a respectable family of long acquaintance.
“Would I had friends here of substance and respect,” said Toby. “Most soldiers of my acquaintance are ruffling companions, and I desire to leave that life.”
“What would you do?”
“I would return to teaching music could I but find a place.”
Fenwick thought a moment. “Would it provide you a sufficient living? I would I had a place in my giving.”
“I care not for wealth, so it be honest and peaceable.”
After some further discussion, Fenwick promised to consult his London friends, who might possibly provide an introduction to a suitable family. Toby thanked him, and promised to wait on him at their house the next day.
Wearing his gentleman’s clothes, Toby presented himself at the door of a large but unpretentious house in the city. He identified himself to the servant as a friend of Master Fenwick, and was conducted to a parlor on the second floor. There Fenwick introduced him to his friends, Roger Clarke, a merchant in his fifties; his wife; and their son, a clergyman. Clarke was rectangular–his graying beard was cut square, his head a block in a flat cloth cap, his plain black gown hanging straight down from angular shoulders. His son was made along the same lines, but was slimmer, and his square chin was beardless. Mistress Clarke was small and leathery, and sat perfectly still, as if the hard work of her younger years could be compensated for in prosperity only by total inactivity.
They welcomed Toby cordially, gave him wine, and a chair by the fire with a footstool. With few other preliminaries Master Clarke kindly but straightforwardly questioned him about his life and qualifications as a teacher. It became clear that Fenwick had told them of the circumstances of his birth, for Clarke never asked about his family. Clarke did press closely about the circumstances under which Toby left the employ of Sir James.
Toby appeared to be forthcoming without telling quite the whole story. “Sir James,” he said, with an appropriately rueful expression, “is not likely to give me as good a character as I might wish. I was dismissed from his service when I contracted a marriage with one of my fellow servants.”
“You did not obtain his permission?”
“In my youthful folly, I confess I did not. But he knew of the marriage.”
“And where is your wife now?”
“Dead in the plague, along with our son.” His voice cracked slightly, and he touched the corner of his eye with a finger.
Clarke looked toward his wife, who moved her eyes to meet his. He may have noticed some softening in her expression, but it was not visible to me.
Clarke continued. “And you then went to fight in the Low Countries, rising to the rank of lieutenant.”
“Aye, sir. I met a learned merchant there, Master Jan van Meergen, who could speak to my musical ability.”
The son spoke up. “And did you meet Prince Maurice there?”
“I had that honor, sir, a most perfect Christian prince.” Here Toby drew out a much handled piece of paper that had broken along the folds, and handed it to the elder Clarke. He moved to the light, drew out a pair of spectacles, and read the paper.
“This is the prince’s hand?”
“Aye, sir. He had me deliver letters to my lord Burghley, who favored me with this passport.” He handed over another worn piece of paper. Both Clarke men examined it closely.
The elder Clarke returned the papers. “Master Hume, you have the marks of a capable man who could do her majesty some service. Why do wish the quiet life of a poor teacher?”
Toby looked gravely at both men, settling on the younger as he spoke. “I have lived the active life, and have seen the death of many of my friends. I have also taken the life of enemies, God forgive me.”
“Amen,” said the minister.
“Now I need the contemplative life for the good of my soul. I may also be of service to others by imparting some knowledge of the divine art of music to my pupils, as well as giving them instruction in letters and mathematics.”
“Well spoken,” said the minister.
“Master David,” the elder Clark said, rising and turning to Fenwick. “Show Master Hume our gallery. We have some rare examples of the painters’ and sculptors’ arts.”
The two young men left the room and paced the long gallery along the back of the house. One wall contained a number of glass windows looking out over a garden. The other contained a number of paintings, mainly portraits of solemn men and women in black. There was also a Last Judgment, in which a stern Trinity sat among a few more sober persons, clearly the kin of the people in the portraits, and oversaw the punishment of a much larger number of vainly dressed and underdressed sinners. Toby and Fenwick spoke quietly, Toby thanking Fenwick for the introduction, even if nothing should come of the visit, and Fenwick offering hope and encouragement.
After a few minutes, the younger Clarke appeared and brought them back to the parlor. Master Clarke shook Toby’s hand benignly, and Mistress Clarke allowed herself a slight upward movement of her lips.
Master Clarke spoke. “Master Hume, I hope I may be able to help you find a suitable place. Your old connection to Master David and his family obligates me to do no less. You should hear from us soon.” Fenwick and Toby made polite speeches and took their leave.

Toby, in plain but sound clothes, stood before two boys of about eight and ten. He did not look happy, and the boys showed a mixture of fear, sheepishness, and defiance. A viol lay on the floor, lacking about half its strings. Toby held a broken bow which had had the horsehair replaced by a gut string. Another bow was stuck through a sheet of music and into a cushion, like an arrow into a target. It seemed that the boys had been more interested in archery than music, and had played at Robin Hood instead of practicing.
“Master Robert, Master John,” said Toby sternly. “Your honorable father has given me the authority to punish you if necessary. You have broken a bow worth three shillings, and have ruined some fourpence worth of strings. When I tell your father of this expense, I shall recommend to him that I give you lessons in archery, since you show such love of the art.”
The boys looked puzzled, not knowing whether to be more afraid of their father’s anger over the expensive bows or pleased at the prospect of learning archery. Toby dismissed them with admonitions about the necessity of discipline and practice in any art. The boys ran off, and Toby restrung the viol and straightened up some of the music and horsehair. He opened his own viol case and looked relieved to find it undisturbed. He picked up his case and left, going from a small parlor with a window looking out into a garden to a shop full of bolts of cloth.
The merchant and his wife, a handsome, ruddy couple in their thirties, were chatting with a young gentleman as they showed him samples of cloth. The gentleman was dressed like a courtier, with a sparkling white ruff over a rich red doublet and a black velvet short cloak. His pointed beard was carefully trimmed, and his hair curled. He glanced at Toby’s viol case, and then at Toby.
“Who is your musical friend, Master Case?”
The merchant smiled and said proudly, “This is our music master, Sir Andrew. Master Hume, we have the honor to serve Sir Andrew Monmouth.”
Toby bowed. Mistress Case spoke up. “We should say Lieutenant Hume, Master Case.”
Sir Andrew raised an eyebrow, and addressed Toby. “So you served in the army, Lieutenant? In France?”
“Aye, sir, and in the Low Countries.”
“And now you give lessons on the viol de gamboy?”
“Aye, sir, and in singing to pricksong, and the lute.”
“How did you come to find such a martial music master, Master Case?”
“Why, Master Roger Clarke found him for us, Sir Andrew.”
“Master Clarke, you say? Indeed. Well. Master Case, do your two young pupils occupy all of Lieutenant Hume’s day?”
“Why, no, Sir Andrew.” He looked puzzled, but continued to smile at his valued customer.
“If you could spare the good lieutenant for two hours on–say, Tuesdays and Fridays, I think I might give him more employment. If you are sure you have no objection.”
“None at all, Sir Andrew.”
“And you, Lieutenant?”
“I should think it an honor to serve you, sir.”
“Very well. Be so good as to call at my house in the Strand, near York house, on Friday next at two o’clock.” Toby bowed, and Sir Andrew turned to go. “Oh,” said Sir Andrew, stopping in the door, “you shall have four shillings the week.”
Toby watched him leave, then turned to the Cases. “I do hope you have no objection, Master Case. I shall find time to make up any lessons Masters Robert and John may miss.”
“No objection at all, Master–Lieutenant Hume. We value Sir Andrew’s custom. See that you please him, and you will please us.”
Toby then spoke of the archery practiced by the boys, and of his plan to teach them the real thing, explaining his reasons. Case was angered by the expensive damage, but thought Toby’s plan might have merit.

Toby, viol case on his back, was admitted to an elegant house on the Strand by a dignified servant in a well-cut blue coat. He was ushered into a well-lit secondary parlor. Before the servant left, Toby asked him politely what the names and ages of his pupils might be.
“I understand that your pupil is Lady Monmouth, sir. Sir Andrew has no children as yet.”
The servant left, and Toby frowned, then shrugged. He took out his viol and began tuning it. The door opened, and a handsome young woman with blonde hair under a lace cap entered. Toby started to rise, then dropped his bow and sat down heavily. The young woman caught her breath, and clasped both hands over her mouth. It was Jane.

Time’s Bending Sickle

March 12, 2011

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

19. Time So Idly Spent

From the time she began her therapy, Jean spent more and more time writing in a thick notebook, a journal her therapist urged her to keep. She was intense and preoccupied, so I guess that was better than her usual depression; but she also seemed more anxious, and was no more cheerful or interested in any other activity. The one exception was the Cullen board, on which she spent a fair amount of time and energy. She even gave up computer games.
In the meantime, the other computer game, Cullen, CuCpS, was rocking along. Our sales and profits were up a bit, and Howell seemed too distracted to bother the free spirits at Wizardware, so they were not complaining. They even talked about writing a stock market game to please the new computer users and their new bosses. But it was the real stock market, I discovered, that was bothering Howell.
Although our stock had risen pleasantly enough shortly after we went public, and made a tick up when we acquired Wizardware, it got stuck just below twenty, and refused to break through that ceiling. Going public seemed to do what we said we wanted: we had the cash to retire some debt, get some new equipment, do some R & D, acquire another business. There were problems, of course; the IBM PC and now the Macintosh continued to flake away our small customers, and the competition for big jobs was stiffer. We rode up and down with other companies during recessions, shakeouts, or other terms for the business cycles. But we did all right. Still, the stock price was clearly eating at Howell.
The word drifted down from Steve Keller, our technical head, that Howell was again going to try to acquire a hardware company. Jean later confirmed that the proposal was before the board. I naturally asked Perry Fein what he knew.
“Junk. Crap. Shit on a power cord. They used to make lousy stereos and now they make lousy computers. Their chips are all seconds, their wiring is often in trouble with UL, they’ve had several lawsuits over warranties. The only reason they’ve been in business this long is that they’re cheap, and that they got in ahead of the better manufacturers. Many of their customers feel locked in. There’s talk that they bribed their way into some utilities and local governments.”
“Why on earth does Howell want to buy them?” I was aghast.
“I suppose because they can be had cheaply. ‘Ramforce’! Around the lab we call them ‘Ramfarce.'”
“Why do you think Steve Keller is going along?”
“Maybe he thinks we can shape them up and make some money.”
“If other people share your opinion of their reputation, they will be a hard sell,” I said.
“That’s your problem.”
It certainly was. I asked Jean what the board had been told. She reported that Howell had vaguely talked about some “small liabilities” but had been stressing the price and the advantages of having an in-house hardware company. Howell wanted to be able to sell the hardware as part of our regular packages. “It’ll give the customers something concrete to keep.” I told Jean what Perry had said, and asked if Howell had said much about how fast hardware technology was moving. It would take constant development to keep up, and it might be a saving in the long run to do as we had been doing, leasing the available hardware that was best for our programs. Jean defended Howell, insisting that he was too smart a businessman to make a bad deal, and that Cullen engineers could fix Ramforce. I had to admit that Howell was a hell of a salesman.
To Perry’s disgust and my dismay, the deal went through. Howell’s salesmanship must have won over the rest of the board–I know it had made Jean impervious to my arguments. I dropped in on the lab one day after the sale was completed and found the engineers peering at the guts of a computer that had a logo of a ram’s head on the case. Those sleek gray cases were quite handsome, but from the head-shaking the engineers were doing, the insides must have been a mess. “Look at this,” Jack Cutting, our senior hardware analyst, said to me, pointing to a board. “We have to start by firing all the people on the line who are legally blind and have palsy. Some of these solders will break if you sneeze, others look like goose turds.”
Perry straightened up from the lab table and pushed up his glasses. “We’re making a list of technical fixes that we recommend. I’m for keeping the case and throwing everything else out.”
Jack picked up a clipboard. “Better chips. Better boards, better solder, better assembly. They get their CRTs and hard drives from the worst shlock suppliers; we’ll have to do better.”
“We could sell the CRTs as birth control devices,” said Perry. “I hear they make you sterile.”
The stories about the acquisition in the press always managed to mention the spotty reputation of Ramforce, and carried quotes from Howell boasting that that would change now that Cullen was in charge. “Watch out, Apple,” one story had Howell saying, “Cullen’s going to make Ramforce a Sherman tank.”
Not long after, Howell and Steve Keller met with me and some of the sales staff. They handed out sheets of specs and revised service packages that included the Ramforce hardware.
“Should we be selling these before the technical fixes are done?” I asked–reasonably, I thought. Howell was impatient and condescending.
“Go ahead and sell. Of course the fixes will be in before we deliver anything.”
The fix was in, but not in the Ramforce cases. I sold a records package to a school district in the Valley near Brownsville, a poor district with a lot of Hispanic farm workers. They hadn’t had it a month before I got calls about glitches. The system hadn’t gone a week without crashing. The local service company we had contracted to make repairs was happily billing us for more than our profit. I had the school send up one of the units, which I took to the lab. In less than thirty seconds Jack Cutting saw that no changes had been made.
Howell was angry at me when I told him about it. “What do you expect us to do, throw away all that inventory? If we rebuilt all those units, we’d spend more than new ones would cost.”
“I can’t sell that shit,” I said.
“You’d better.”
“Look, Howell, if you let that stuff go out, you’ll just let Ramforce’s bad reputation taint Cullen’s pretty good one. If you won’t fix the old units, it would be better to give them away.”
“Tony,” he said, his anger subsiding into a quiet burn, “all computer hardware is subject to problems from time to time. With our own hardware, we can sell the packages cheaper than with leased equipment. If we get an occasional bad unit, we’ll fix it or replace it. And if you won’t sell it, I can replace you. It’s that simple.”
I hadn’t heard such a threat before, though I had had my fears. Was he just bluffing, or did he feel confident that he could risk the opposition of Jean and her mother? I tried one more point.
“Have you seen the bills for those turkeys we sent to that school district in the Valley? Warranty repair in one month has cost us more than our profit.”
This seemed to get his attention. “Let me see the warranties.”
“They’re industry standard.”
“Let me see them.”
I sent copies to his office. In a week, I got revised warranties. Instead of being repaired by a local serviceman, units would have to be returned to the factory in Fort Worth. A tough sell got even tougher.
Our stock price twitched upward slightly after our acquisition of Ramforce, but didn’t go over the twenty dollar mark. Howell stayed in a sour mood for weeks.
Several regional sales reps called me to complain about the new packages. Two reported losing sales when the customers found they had to take the hardware and the new warranties. Complaints continued to come in from the school district in the Valley. Some old customers were dismayed to find that the hardware they were used to would be replaced by Ramforce units when their leases were up. But the bad word had not gotten very far, for we had an inquiry from a Houston hospital about our records package. It would be a big job; I had to go try and make the sale myself.
It was a cool spring day, clear and crisp. In another few weeks, Houston would settle into its unrelieved summer sauna, but that day I didn’t even mind wearing my salesman’s costume, a lightweight navy suit, white shirt, yellow tie. My target was one of the big charity hospitals at the medical center. I hated what I had to do; at least I promised myself that if I made the sale I would do what I could to get them the improved hardware.
The halls of the hospital were lined with urban wounded. Some were merely old and poor, but some had actually been shot or stabbed. Those not actively bleeding, in shock, or otherwise near death were sitting patiently, gingerly holding bloodstained bandages tight to their injuries. The harrased administrator I first talked to jerked his thumb toward the hall and said that he hoped we could do something to speed up that situation. He said that our lower rates encouraged them to inquire about our package. “If we can save some money, we can treat more people, and if we can speed up our records, we might get to them quicker.”
I laid out our package; I didn’t push anything or make any promises. But I didn’t tell them about our troubles with Ramforce. Although I tried hard to assuage my guilt by not trying to sell the package, my restraint may have worked against me–rather, it may have helped me make the sale. The administrator was impressed enough to take the prospectus to his committee of managers. He said he would call when they were ready for a demonstration.
I tried to flush out the noise and smells of the hospital by walking for a while in the adjacent park. Then I crossed the tree-lined street to the campus of the small but select university I had heard about ever since I moved to Texas. The campus was built in a pleasant Mediterranean style out of red brick and white marble. Live oaks provided shade, and the students, leaving their classes at noon, provided life and color. The middle of the main quadrangle was dominated by a seated bronze statue of the founder. I was checking it out when four young men approached from different directions, and without a word, burst into tight, four-part barbershop harmony: “Hello, my honey.” A small grinning crowd had gathered and applauded as they finished with professional flourishes. Of course they had rehearsed this act, but they made it seem that any random four students could meet and toss off any difficult feat, especially if the weather was nice. I was moved by this disciplined play. I strolled among the bright, appealing figures in t-shirts, ragged shorts, sneakers or sandals, feeling as if I were trapped in medieval armor in my navy suit. I wasn’t very old, but the contrast made me feel old, and nostalgic for the free yet focused time in my life when I had music and the first washes of love for Jean.
I sat on a bench and asked myself how I had gone from an unworldly music student to a creep who was trying to sell a defective system to a charity hospital. Instead of helping those poor, damaged folks, the computers would go down and make their waiting and suffering drag on even longer–if they didn’t die. I thought about Toby looking at the dying Saviolo.
Back in Dallas, I got the demonstration ready for the hospital officials, who would come up in a few days. Of course the hardware was rebuilt–almost to the extent of Perry’s suggestion that we keep the case and replace everything else. The package worked very well, and the software was actually very good. I was sure we’d make the sale. The officials arrived, were duly impressed, and returned to Houston after signing on for a package that included forty Ramforce units.
In processing the order, I casually inquired of the shipping foreman about the packing dates on the boxes of the units, ostensibly for identification. Those marked for shipment to Houston all had packing dates from before Cullen acquired the company. So the hospital would unpack their pretty gray hardware, plug the units in, boot up the software, and–all the lights would go out, or a patient would get an order for a hundred high colonic enemas a day. I had to do something.
I wrote an anonymous letter on our home computer, took the disc to a copy shop and printed it on Cullen stationery, addressing it to the administrator I first talked to. I told him to get one of their technicians to open the cases of a few units, and if the chip cartridge lacked the brand of a certain high-quality chip, they should refuse delivery, for they wouldn’t work reliably. I asked him to protect my job by not trying to identify me and by not telling the company about my warning.
I felt better, but also uneasy. I didn’t know if my scheme would work, and I didn’t know what I could do about future sales. Should I try to tell Jean, or even Tillie, what was going on? Would they take my word, or would they run to Howell and let him persuade them that I was out of line? Would Howell then fire me or just make my life miserable?
After I mailed the letter and returned to the office, a dapper man, not much older than I, got off the elevator and gave me a sharp glance. His eyes had a feral quickness, and his hair looked like fine, smooth, brown fur. He went straight into Howell’s office.
“Who was that?” I asked the receptionist.
“Oh, that’s Mr. Tedesco, the investment banker.”
I wondered what Howell wanted with an investment banker, and why he wasn’t talking to J. C. Atwell, the ruddy, amusing man who helped us go public. Maybe this Tedesco was Atwell’s new assistant.

My previous vision of a hung-over Toby about to meet Ben Jonson had been interrupted. At the next opportunity, I picked up Every Man in his Humor again, concentrated, and was rewarded with a sequel.
After fingering his tangled hair and adjusting his rumpled clothing, Toby welcomed Sly and the burly young man he introduced as Ben Jonson. The latter, just a few years younger than Toby, had a heavy, pockmarked face, wavy brown hair, a crease at the top of his prominent nose, and a wart by his left nostril. He carried himself as one ready to defend or attack, as the need arose.
“Pardon my disorder, gentlemen,” said Toby. “Some gallants, my pupils, poured more sack down my throat than my belly could entertain, and my head is paying the score. How may I serve you?”
“You may attend us to the new theater, the Swan,” said Sly, relaxing on a bench.
“Tis open, then?”
“Aye, just. Ben here will be performing with my lord of Pembroke’s men.”
“You are a player, Master Jonson?” asked Toby.
“Sometime a scholar, sometime a soldier, now a player.”
“Ben is Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy.”
“A marvelous well-penned play, that,” said Toby. “I would fain see all the poets of these times pen such another play as that was.”
“You may yet see a better,” said Jonson, with a challenging tone.
Sly spoke. “Let us walk on toward the theater, if you are ready, Toby.”
“Lead on.”
They walked out into a street, more like an alley, and as they walked, Toby said to Jonson, “You said you had been a soldier–so have I. I was in Portugal and the Low Countries.”
“I was in the Low Countries also, at Knodsenburg, with Sir Francis Vere. I killed an enemy there, and got opima spolia.”
“I was at the ambush with Captain Hall’s company. Did you go on to Nimwegen?”
Jonson seemed displeased with Toby’s innocent question. “Nay, I returned to England.”
Sly smiled. “Ben is a married man.” Jonson nodded soberly and said nothing.
“I lost my wife in the plague,” Toby said quietly.
They walked in silence for a while. They crossed London Bridge and continued along the Bankside.
Sly brightened, and said, “As I told you, Ben, Toby here is a fencing master. Did you not say you wanted to better your handling of the rapier?”
“Aye,” said Jonson. “Sword and pike served me well enough in the Low Countries, but here tis all foining fence.”
“Indeed,” said Toby, “a gentleman must needs know rapier play if he is to defend himself in London. I have practiced that art for many years, and studied the best Italians, and have acquired a few rudiments.”
“You could show Ben some tricks, could you not, Toby?”
“I would gladly impart some of my poor learning in the science.” They were in an open area, not far from the new theater. “Here,” said Toby, stopping, “let me see your stance, Master Jonson. Use your sheathed rapier.”
Jonson gripped his sword and held it before him, his wide body a threatening bulk. Toby also gripped his sheathed rapier, and turned to face Jonson so that he presented his right side.
“Twine your body about, Master Jonson, so that you present a slender mark. Hollow your body more, sir, thus. Now stand fast on your left leg, note your distance. Look you, sir, exalt not your point above this state.” He got Jonson’s stance to suit him. “Now try a passada, a thrust.” Jonson lunged forward, but Toby easily parried his blade and touched his shoulder with the point of his sheath. Jonson frowned. “You are very stout, sir, if I may say so. But this fence demands more speed than strength.”
“I must go on to dress for the play,” said Jonson, “but I should like to engage you for a few lessons, Captain Hume.”
“Most willingly. But I was only a lieutenant.”
Jonson went on ahead to the theater. Sly took Toby on a liesurely tour of the new building while they waited for the play to start. It seemed a bit larger than the Rose, but had the same basic circular–or rather dodecagonal–shape, with three floors of galleries overlooking an open yard partly covered by a stage about forty feet wide by thirty deep. A structure over the sage covered the first and third floor galleries behind and made an area the players called the tiring house. The second floor gallery continued directly behind the stage, and was decorated with small pillars. A small room on top of the structure overhanging the stage contained a winch for raising or lowering supernatural beings. As Toby and Sly were coming down a ladder after visiting this area, one of the players met them, carrying a trumpet. After they were out of the way, he climbed up, raised a flag bearing the figure of a swan on a pole above the peaked roof, leaned out one of the windows, and sounded his trumpet.
Toby and Sly opened one of two arch-topped doors and stepped out on the stage. They turned and surveyed the area where the stage met the tiring house.
“At a need,” said Sly, “they can hang a curtain from the lord’s rooms above and cover the doors.”
“At the Rose, as I recall, they have one large door, almost always covered by a curtain.”
People were beginning to file into the seats and the standing area on three sides of the stage. Sly and Toby jumped down from the stage and climbed a narrow stair to the second gallery, where they found seats on a bench. Two young women began circulating through the audience with baskets of oranges, apples, and nuts. When the theater was about three-quarters full, a group of four brightly-dressed gallants entered, and were escorted by a boy–a theatrical apprentice, no doubt–to a set of steps leading to the stage. The boy bustled into the tiring house and brought out stools which he placed on the edge of the stage. The gallants, with much supercilious conversation and flourishing of cloaks, took their seats. The boy then brought out two more stools which remained empty. The orange women retired, and the noise of the audience subsided to whispers and rustles.
Two armed figures entered. One was all in black, with the visor of his helmet covering all but his mouth. The other had splatters of red paint on his armor, and his face was painted chalky white. This character was the ghost of Don Andrea, and his companion was the personification of Revenge. After a long expository speech, they sat on the empty stools, and watched as other characters, including Jonson as the middle-aged courtier Hieronimo, entered. Hieronimo’s son, Horatio, came on as a hero, bringing as prisoner the prince who had killed Don Andrea in battle. Later, Horatio talked with Andrea’s beloved, Bel-Imperia, who decided to take her late lover’s friend as her new love. Plot and rhetoric carried the play along.
In the second act, a couple of players brought an arched trellis covered with artificial flowers onto the stage, indicating that the scene was a garden. A love scene between Horatio and Bel-Imperia was interrupted by a jealous rival of Horatio, the captured prince, and two henchmen, who hanged Horatio from the arbor. I noticed that they discreetly hooked a black rope to a harness under Horatio’s coat when they put the noose around his neck. They stabbed him for good measure and left, carrying the screaming Bel-Imperia. In response to Bel-Imperia’s cries, Hieronimo–Jonson–entered in his shirt, carrying a sword and torch. He cut down the body and discovered it to be his son. Jonson moved vigorously, and spoke his part without a lapse. But he was stiff, and his voice had a limited range. He would either declaim on one level or rant at a higher one.

Who hath slain my son?
What savage monster, not of human kind,
Hath here been glutted with thy harmless blood,
And left thy bloody corpse dishonored here,
For me, amidst these dark and deathful shades,
To drown thee with an ocean of my tears?

Despite Jonson’s less than convincing delivery, I could see tears welling up in Toby’s eyes; perhaps he thought of his lost son. Jonson improved only slightly when he spoke a long passage of Latin at the end of the scene; the language rolled off his tongue with the ease of long familiarity.
The play wound on, Hieronimo pretending madness to cover his genuine grief and passion as he plotted revenge. He arranged this by staging a play within the play, a version of the story of Soliman and Perseda, in which dramatic deaths covered “real” ones. As the corpses began to pile up, Hieronimo bit out his tongue in a bloody stage effect, and finally stabbed himself. The audience was generous with applause, though the gallants sat on their hands when Jonson took a bow, and a few catcalls could be heard from the upper gallery.
“Ben is a witty fellow,” said Sly as they waited for the theater to empty, “but no great actor. Yet let’s keep my secret and flatter him. I’ll stand us a quart of wine at the Cardinal’s Hat.”
Eventually Jonson emerged from the tiring house, spitting. “Tis almost as bad if I had bit off my tongue in sooth. A cup of canary to sweeten my mouth, good Will.”
Over their wine, the three men talked of the play and the performance, commending Jonson within reasonable limits. Toby confessed to being moved by the play, and spoke of playing in Soliman and Perseda. Jonson spoke slightingly of the play, saying there were much better tragedies in Roman history, if a true poet would only compose them according to art.
They talked of war and the slaughter wrought by firearms and mines. “If only wars were fought by the codes of honor,” said Sly.
“Aye, indeed,” said Toby. “At Deventer I saw a most terrible slaughter in the breach, but also a most chivalrous fight between an Albanian champion and young Van der Cathulle. If only battles could be settled by single combat, ‘twould save many young men from maiming and death, and the state much wealth. If ’twere a just world, twenty gentlemen of good spirit, strong and able constitution, should be able to stand up to an army, if all obeyed the rules of honor.”
Jonson looked amused. “How so? Twenty hold an army?”
Toby laughed. “Oh, tis a mere fantasy, I know. In this fallen world, strength and force is all. But just put the case that all were compelled by honor to answer challenges, one against one. Then, if twenty tall men, perfect in your stoccata, your reverso, your punto, your imbrocatta, your passada, your montanto–if these men met with an army of, say, a thousand, and they were content to wait their turn while our twenty fought twenty of theirs, killed them, fought twenty more, and killed them, and so on, at the rate of sixty a day, within”–here Toby made a comic consultation of his fingers–“three weeks, ours would have killed them all, by God’s foot.”
Sly and Jonson smiled. “A patient army, that,” said Jonson.
“‘Twas almost so at Deventer. We pressed so at the breach, it was as if we were waiting our turn to collect our wound or our death. Is there more wine?”
“I will find the drawer,” said Jonson, and walked into the next room. The drawer soon came in with a fresh jug, but Jonson did not return. Sly and Toby poured wine and Toby talked about Deventer. Jonson entered smiling.
“A marvelous witty rogue, Will Shakespeare. Please pardon my absence, gentlemen, but when Will begins a tale, tis hard to leave it.”
Toby looked up eagerly. “Shakespeare here? I would be glad to meet him, Master Jonson. I admire his King John.”
“Come, then,” said Jonson, and strode into the adjoining room. Toby followed, gripping the door frame for a moment and shaking his head. Jonson stopped and looked around, frowning. They went into another room, then another. “He must have gone. Another time, Captain Hume.”
A tobacco seller strolled through the tavern, hawking his wares. Toby called out to him. “Sirrah! Is that right Trinidado? A pipeful here.” He bought a pipe, and walked a bit unsteadily to the fire, where he pulled out a stick and lit his pipe with the burning end. Back at the table, he blew a puff into the air. “I began taking tobacco in the Low Countries. I have heard much of its virtues, but I know only tis a pleasant fume. I have heard it to be an antidote, so that, had you taken the most poisonous plant in all Italy, it should expel it, and clarify you with as much ease as I speak. And for your green wound, I am told, your balsamum and your St. John’s wort are all mere gulleries and trash to it, especially your Trinidado. I have heard it good for the expulsion of rheums, raw humors, crudities, and obstructions. Is there no more wine?”
“No more wine, Toby,” said Sly, “but there may be music. Is not that a viol, such as you play, hanging on that wall? Play for us.”
Toby looked at the viol and smiled. “And so I shall.” He pushed up from the table, steadied himself, and fetched the viol. He tuned it up and began playing “Fortune my foe,” with variations. Several of the patrons broke off their talking and listened. When he finished, many applauded.
At this point a man with ornate, but rather threadbare clothes approached the table. “Pray excuse me, gentlemen, but I am a lover of music, and found your playing, sir, most artful. Allow me to bestow a quart of wine upon you for giving us such pleasure.” He was smooth spoken, but somehow more theatrical than the three actors. Toby thanked him, and the others invited him to sit. He threw his cloak on the bench and ordered wine. “And bring a good pewter cup,” he told the drawer. Turning to Toby, he again praised his playing, and said that he knew a family who might have a place for him as music tutor if he were interested. Toby eagerly responded. The wine and extra cup came, and the stranger poured wine for all. After sipping his, he made a face.
“Tis somewhat hard. I’ll to the bar for a bit of rosewater. The drawer knows me, and will favor me with a little. Who else would like rosewater or sugar?” Sly sipped and said a little sugar would not be amiss. Leaving his cloak on the bench, the stranger took Sly’s cup and his own and went around the corner.
“A most kind gentleman,” said Toby. “I have longed to return to music, but have not known how I might get a place.” They talked of Toby’s prospects for a while.
After a time, Sly looked around, irritated. “He is in no hurry to return my cup; I would it were here, sugar or no.”
“He’ll return,” said Toby, “his cloak is here.”
But he did not. When the drawer came for the reckoning, he insisted that the stranger had left earlier. He demanded payment for the wine and the two cups. The cloak was, on examination, ragged, and worth only a tenth of the value of the cups and wine.
Toby was dismayed, Jonson and Sly angry. “We’re a fine clutch of coneys,” said Jonson. Leaving the cloak for a bar rag, they scraped up enough among them to pay the reckoning, and went their separate ways.
Toby crossed the bridge, walking a little less erratically now, then stopped and looked closely at two figures standing in a doorway. One was cloakless, the other wore a long cloak and broad-brimmed hat that shadowed his face. Toby turned so that he came up behind the man without a cloak.
“Cut ben,” said the man in the cloak, “two skews for an old caster?”
“Aye,” said the other, “a bord for each.”
“Half a bord. Here’s no stuling ken.”
“D’ye wish to cly the jerk? A bord three win for both.”
“Here,” said the man, handing over some coins and tucking two cups under his cloak. “Bing a wast.”
Toby strode forward, grabbed the cloakless man by the collar, and tripped him backwards over his extended leg. The man in the cloak had turned to run, but Toby quickly caught him. The cup thief scrambled to his feet and ran off. Toby twisted the other man around, bending his arm and knocking off his hat. He revealed a scarred, bearded face and one eye covered by a black patch. His other eye widened in surprise.
“Toby!”
“Felix?”

Time’s Bending Sickle

March 6, 2011

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

18. The Fools Of Time

As the troupe continued toward the town where they would next perform, Sly and the others coached Toby in the part of Basilisco in Soliman and Perseda, a tragedy with a few comic roles. One of these was the braggart warrior role Toby was rehearsing. He had seen enough performances by this time to be pretty familiar with the part, but speaking the lines gave him some trouble. After a few tries at one of the longer speeches, he had the words, but delivered them in a rather mechanical and monotonous way.
“Toby,” said Sly, “Matt was a traitor and a rogue, but he could make our auditors laugh in this role. Think how he gestured, how he spoke.”
Toby tried the speech again, making some awkward efforts at mimicking the tone and movements of Whitbread. Some of the actors grimaced and shook their heads. Sly tried to be encouraging. “You grow better, but think on what you do. How shall I say? You must seem naturally unnatural.” Toby looked puzzled. Sly went on. “You have been a soldier in sooth, and have seen many soldiers. Basilisco is no true soldier, but a mockery of a soldier, and moreover a mockery of what people think belongs to a soldier. Did you know a soldier whose manner would be more natural to you, but which you might ape to fit this false soldier? Think on it.”
Toby reflected a moment, his face growing sadder than usual. “I would not mock the dead,” he said softly.
They had reached the town and had set up their stage in an innyard. Toby stood behind the curtain, wiping his sweaty palms on his bombast-stuffed breeches. He also wore enormous boots, a breastplate, a scarlet cloak edged with silver braid, a morion with an especially full plume, and a long, curved scimitar. His eyebrows had been darkened so that his usual look of innocent melancholy was obscured, and he wore a fierce false moustache that stuck out three or four inches on either side of his face. He had watched Sly perform the young hero, Erastus, with confidence and dash. Young Harry, though he had to shave, could hide in an elaborate gown and tune his voice to make a plausible heroine, Perseda.
Toby’s character had a long, fantastic speech in the third scene. The moment came, and Toby stepped on the stage along with all the rest of the actors except Sly and Harry. After several characters had spoken, Toby said his first line, laying his hand on his sword: “I fight not with my tongue; this is my oratrix.” He stumbled slightly over the last word, which came out something like “ostritch.” There were snickers, and a call from the audience, saying, “His tongue fights with him!” The players grimly waited out the laugh this brought and went on. Then Toby launched into his long speech, part of which went:

As I remember, there happened a sore drought
In some part of Belgia, that the juicy grass
Was seared with the sun god’s element:
I held it policy to put the men children
Of that climate to the sword,
That the mothers’ tears might relieve the parched earth.
The men died, the women wept, and the grass grew,
Else had my Friesland horse perished,
Whose loss would have more grieved me
Than the ruin of that whole country.

Toby’s reading had none of the sureness and flair of Whitbread’s, but it had a kind of intensity that carried him through, and the laughs he got were from the character, not his stumbles.
As the play continued, Toby slipped a few times, and seemed stiff, but he muddled along, getting heckled only occasionally. Near the end of the play, as the corpses began to accumulate, Basilisco had a long sololoquy, for which Toby again found some intensity. Erastus had been killed, and Perseda had just killed Lucina; Basilisco asked,

where is that Alcides, surnamed Hercules,
The only club man of his time? dead.
Where is the eldest son of Priam,
That abraham-colored Trojan? dead.

Several other ancient heroes were called for, and all found dead.

I am myself strong, but I confess death to be stronger:
I am valiant, but mortal;
. . . . . .
I love Perseda, as one worthy;
But I love Basilisco, as one I hold more worthy,
My father’s son, my mother’s solace, my proper self.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff was not yet born, but I couldn’t help thinking of him and his eloquently cynical speech on honor.
After the performance, the actors assured Toby that it would get easier and he would get better. They gave more suggestions for action and gestures. Toby drank his share of the ale that night, and laughed as much as the others.

When I next saw them on the road, I could see Toby walking apart from the others, moving his lips and gesturing. When I saw them perform again, Toby had improved. He was not as flamboyant as Whitbread, and still had not acquired the ease and confident movement of the others, but there was that intensity that gave even the comic role of the miles gloriosus a spice of credibility. The northern coloring of his voice had a kind of penetrating distinctness. Some of the gestures he used haunted me for a good while until I recognized that the way he touched up his moustache was one of Captain Balfour’s characteristics, the way he jerked his chin one of Prothero’s, and several of his expressions–widening his eyes, puffing out his lips, and cocking his head while squinting–recalled Captain Hall.
Toby soon took up the roles of Lewis, Dauphin of France, and various nameless lords and messengers in King John, as well as Whitbread’s other small roles in Soliman and Perseda. The troupe also performed Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, in which Toby played Usumcasane, Mycetes, King of Persia, the king of Arabia, and several nameless roles. At some point the actors discovered Toby’s expertise at fencing, for they had him coaching some of the fight scenes.
One winter day one of the actors reported that a travelling merchant had told him that the long plague had abated and playing had resumed at the Rose theater in London. This improved the spirits of the troupe considerably. They turned their wagon toward London, stopping for performances now and then. Finally one rainy, cold day found them cheering as the blunt tower of Paul’s appeared on the horizon. Before reaching the bridge, the actors turned left and continued until they could see two cylindrical buildings. They approached the first with growing excitement. It had a sign with a brightly painted rose hanging over the door, but the flagpole on the peaked part of the roof was empty. They burst through the door with boistrous shouts echoing in the tiers of seats surrounding the open yard. Rain dripped off the eaves and onto the stage, a platform at one end of the yard partly covered by a gabled structure. A figure emerged from a door by the stage, and was greeted noisily by the actors. Sly and a few of the others hurried up to him and shook him heartily by the hand. The small, balding middle-aged man, his sharp, dark eyes snapping from one speaker to the next, was much more restrained in his greeting.
“So, good Master Phil,” began Sly, “we hurried in from the country to save the Rose and show London what she has missed. What plays are forward? We are sharp as a case of Spanish razors. We have polished Soliman, Tamburlaine, and King John until they shine.”
“Peace, peace, good Will. I am glad to see you gallants, but times change.” He rubbed his hands, looking from face to face. “We have been starved for custom for so long that we can stage no new plays, nor hire more players.”
Here began a long, emotional argument carried out with many dramatic gestures and soaring theatrical voices; I couldn’t follow it very well. After Sly and the others had been shouting at the small man for some time, and he in turn had been stubbornly insisting that there was no money, a handsome younger man with a full dark beard emerged from behind the stage and entered the fray. His deep, penetrating voice was almost a match for all the rest. Sly at first tried appealing to him as “good Ned,” but eventually called him “a bloody tyrant, worse than Tamburlaine.”
Toby stood by perplexed as the shouts and gestures grew in volume and vehemence. Finally Sly stalked out, calling to his company, “I’m for the Cardinal’s Hat, join me if you will.” Toby followed.
Sly and one of the older actors, striding along the street, continued the discussion, their anger tempered only by the fact that they shared opinions. In a pause between indignant curses, Toby asked, “What must we do?”
“We must take thought,” said Sly. “We must find out some warm man who will build us a theater. But now we must quench our thirst.”

Sly and the older actor sat in earnest conversation with a well-dressed young gentleman in a tavern where Toby himself, viol in hand, was negotiating with two musicians. They were even more ragged than Toby. One carried a fiddle and the other a pipe like a pennywhistle and a small drum. They reached an agreement that left Toby frowning, but soon they were playing and collecting small coins from the other customers. One gallant at a table with a woman in bright colors made a show of ordering music and paying generously.
At this point Harry rushed in, calling “Will!” Sly looked up. Toby was nearby, and heard Harry say, “They’re closed again. No more plays for fear of infection.”
Toby drew near as Sly said, shaking his head, “It serves him right, that miser Phil–but we must suffer too. Good sir,” he said to the young gentleman, “be not dismayed. This cannot last. The plague will end and a new theater will be much in demand. But we must break off until then, for it seems we must go on our travels again.” After exchanging further polite reassurances, the gentleman departed, leaving Sly swirling his cup thoughtfully.
“Will,” began Toby, gingerly. “I would not betray the company as Matt did. You have been generous and helpful to me, and have given me apprentice work in a new trade. But if you know of another who could take my place, I would remain in London for a time.”
Sly smiled, then sighed. “Toby, you have been a good fellow, and you are making progress, like a good apprentice; but you are not yet a journeyman. If we had our theater, we could have found work for you. But as we are to travel, I confess I know a dozen actors more practiced than you who are clamoring to join our company. So I heartily wish you well in London. Look about you, avoid the plague, and beware of cony-catchers. What will you do to live?”
Toby seemed disappointed at the ease of his release, but he answered, “I shall try to live with this noise of fiddlers until I can case myself better; then I shall try to find a place in some gentleman’s family teaching music, and perhaps mathematics and letters.”
“You might find employment at a fencing school.”
“I would rather it were music.”

Toby, more ragged than ever, but still carrying his viol, approached the Rose theater. It was a warm spring afternoon; from the roof of the theater a flag was fluttering against a blue sky. Toby waited by the door as a noisy crowd filed out, then slipped in. A few people were bustling about, retrieving props and picking up orange peels from under the rows of seats. Toby asked one where he might find Master Philip; he pointed to a door behind the stage. Toby entered a cluttered area through which actors in various stages of undress passed, hanging up props on pegs on the wall. I noticed several pieces of armor, a trident, a caduceus, a boar’s head, a cluster of three dog’s heads–Cerberus, no doubt–a papier maché lion, a large pair of wings with straps, a lute, a trumpet, and several crowns. Toby went through another door into a room lined with chests and costumes hanging from pegs. The small man called Master Philip sat on one chest counting a stack of coins on another and making entries in a ledger. The younger man called Ned sat on a third chest, picking his teeth.
“Your business, sirrah?” intoned Ned.
“Sirs, I come in the hope you will let me be of service to you. I can play this viol very well, I can fence as well as any man, and I have done some acting. I have played Basilisco, Lewis the Dolphin, Usumcasane, Arabia, and sundry others. Can you give me employment?”
Master Philip interrupted his counting and looked at Ned. Then he narrowed his eyes at Toby. “What company did you play with?”
“My lord of Berkeley’s men.”
“Sly’s rabble?” Master Philip scowled and Ned stiffened.
“Patience, good sirs. I was with them, but had no part in your quarrel. I have not been with them since.”
Master Philip relaxed a bit, but shook his head. “I fear we have no places. We still have many debts from the plague time, and can hardly employ our own apprentices. Give you good day.” He returned to his counting.
Toby lingered. Ned looked at him curiously. “What now, sirrah?”
“I beseech you, good sirs, if you cannot employ me, you may be able to help me in another way, if I may presume on your patience.” Ned nodded; the other kept counting. “If I leave my viol as surety, might I borrow some clothing from your stock for a short time?”
Master Philip and Ned exchanged glances. “Play us a tune,” said Ned. Toby opened his case, tuned his viol, and played a lively tune, one he printed later as “Tickle me quickly.” He also played some popular dance tunes, “Woodycock,” and “Turkeyloney.” I could see Ned’s toes twitching to the beat. Master Philip scratched his chin. “Perhaps we can find you some presentable clothes. But you must pay us rent–a shilling a day, with your viol and your own clothes as surety.”
Ned smiled. “Aye. We may use them for a beggar’s part.”
“I have but threepence, though I hope to earn more. May I owe you for a time?”
“Aye,” said Master Philip, smiling dryly, “at twenty per cent a week.”
“May I work off the rent first? I’ll do what you will.”
“But we have no work that our company cannot do.”
Ned held up his toothpick. “What about Cutlack? His tunes would give some life to the dances, and the viol might suit the dream well. Martin Slaughter plays the lute only.”
“The lute will do.” Master Philip returned to counting. Ned raised his eyebrows at Toby and shrugged. Toby picked up his viol and left without a word.
Toby crossed the bridge and headed up Gracechurch Street, through Moorgate, and eventually reached another theater, this one somewhat smaller and older than the Rose. It was octagonal and had a thatched roof. It was almost dark; performances were over, and only a few people were about. One, a young man about his age with a large nose and expressive brown eyes, greeted him in a voice almost as resonant as Ned’s. Another man emerged from behind the stage when he heard the first one speak. It was Sly.
“Will!” cried Toby, and ran to grasp his hand, which Sly shook warmly. The first man Sly introduced as Dick Burbage. Toby repeated his desire for work, and was again discouraged, but this time Burbage and Sly showed genuine regret and a wish to help. They were much more receptive to the loan of clothing, especially when Toby offered to leave his viol as collateral. While Toby selected garments–some of which Burbage refused as too valuable–Sly told him of the events of the last tour and the disposition of the various actors. Sly professed to be very content with the company he now acted with, and was especially full of praise for the clown, Will Kemp.
“We have a poet among us, too. Will Shakespeare wrote a most admirable poem during the plague; tis printed. Have you read Venus and Adonis?”
“No, but I have heard it talked of in the taverns where I play.”
“He wrote our King John, you recall, and has written some plays on Harry the Sixth. He is at work on another, as I hear. Watch the bills and come to see it.” Here Sly came close to Toby’s ear and whispered, not too softly, “I shall get you in gratis.”
Soon Toby was clothed in a costume that appeared to have elements of the dress he wore as a soldier in the Low Countries and of the character of Basilisco. This time his cloak was fashionably short, and instead of a comic snickersnee of a scimitar, he wore a serviceable-looking rapier. He looked much better, and his posture seemed to improve.
Toby approached a house with a sign of crossed swords. I could see Paul’s in the background at some distance, so I guess he was still in a northern suburb. He entered the house and climbed the stairs to a large, open upper room, very much like that of Felix’s school in Newcastle. This room was also full of young men fencing. Toby stood in the doorway a moment, then swept his cloak off his shoulder in a rather exaggerated gesture, and let his left hand fall casually on the hilt of his sword.
“Who is master here?” Toby called out in a penetrating voice I had not heard him use off the battlefield or the stage. A lean, dark man in his middle thirties took off his mask and stepped forward. The other fencers stopped and turned their eyes on Toby.
“I am Vincentio Saviolo. Who are you, sir?” The master spoke with a pronounced Italian accent.
Toby swept off his broad-brimmed hat and bowed. “I am Lieutenant Tobias Hume, come to pay my respects to the famous Master Saviolo. I also come to offer my services as your assistant.”
Saviolo gave a faint smile, and spoke with courtesy tinged with irony. “Thank you for your kind offer, lieutenant. I do not need an assistant, but if I did, he must be a maestro di maestri. Who was your teacher?”
“I have studied Wedderburn, Bonetti, Marozzo, Agrippa, DiGrasso, Viggiani, and Carranza.”
“I know not this Wedderburn. Did you study their practice or their precepts only?”
“Both. I have experience of battle in the Low Countries, and have slain with sword, pike, and musket both Spaniards and–Italians.” Saviolo’s mouth drew tight. Toby thrust out his chin. “Let me put them to proof. Stand a bout with me, and judge yourself–you and these gentlemen.” He waved grandly at the staring students.
Saviolo stood silent for a moment, looking grim. I interpreted his looks as calculating the risks of fighting or not fighting. The consequences of not fighting would have been a certain loss of reputation; those of fighting would be less certain, but the risk would be higher. “Bene!” he said with a half-smile.
“Thank you, good sir. May I borrow a foil?”
“You have a rapier, I see. You use rapier, I use foil.” Saviolo’s smile widened.
“I would not hurt you, sir.”
“You will not. Begin.”
Toby threw aside his hat and cloak and drew his sword. They saluted and faced each other. The students watched with open mouths. I had not seen Toby fencing for some time, so I was not surprised that Saviolo quickly had him on the defensive. Then I realized that his apparently reckless gesture must have been a shrewd tactic to inhibit Toby’s offence. That at least was its effect. Toby parried the master’s thrusts, but could not find an opening for scoring a harmless hit. Toby frowned in concentration, while Saviolo smiled.
“God’s fist, signor,” called Toby, “I beg you, let me use a foil.”
“No, lay on if you can.”
Toby continued to back away and parry defensively. Saviolo pressed on. Finally, after turning away a thrust, Toby pushed forward, quickly sliding his blade along the other’s foil until the hilts clashed. Toby pressed down on his shorter opponent, preventing him from backing away, then with his left hand wrenched Saviolo’s foil away. He then tossed his own pointed rapier hilt-first to the Italian, and gripped the foil. The students gasped, and Saviolo’s eyes shifted uncertainly.
“Now lay on, signor, by God’s shin,” panted Toby.
Toby now became the aggressor. But Saviolo, perhaps seeing the risk to his reputation rising, was less inhibited about attacking than Toby had been. Soon Toby realized that his doublet had a small slash. He backed off, again becoming defensive. Saviolo grimly pressed on. Suddenly, with a stamp of his foot and a cry of “Ho!” Toby attacked, and with a quick twist, flipped the sword from Saviolo’s grasp, as he had done with Felix some years before. Two students flinched out of the way as the sword flew across the room and banged against the wall.
Toby touched the foil gently to the breast of the master. “A hit.”
The students began making admiring comments. Toby and Saviolo stood gasping. Saviolo seemed to be thinking as hard as he was breathing. Finally he stretched his mouth broadly, showing his teeth. “Bene. Gentlemen,” he said turning to the students and waving toward Toby, “ecco un maestro.”
Toby bowed low. “Grazie, maestro.” The students cheered and applauded.
“That will be all for today,” said Saviolo to the class; to Toby, he said quietly, “We shall talk.” The students stowed their equipment and gathered their belongings. Saviolo sat on one of the benches against the wall and mopped his face with a white handkerchief. Toby accepted his rapier from one of the students and returned it to its sheath. He picked up his hat and cloak, brushing them off as the students filed out. He moved to a place near Saviolo’s bench, and stood with exaggerated erectness, almost striking a pose. When the students had gone, Saviolo gave Toby an intense look, and said, “Tell me why I should take you as an assistant and share my modest earnings, when I can teach as well without you.”
“For two reasons,” Toby answered promptly and confidently. “I can bring you more pupils. Or”–he paused with a hint of menace–“I can take away those you have.”
Saviolo frowned while showing his teeth. “What are your terms?”
“I shall not burden you greatly. Five shillings a week, lodging, plus half the fees of any new pupils I bring to the school.”
The master rose, gave his neck and forehead a final pat and restored his handkerchief to his sleeve. “New pupils must be gentlemen. I want no apprentices and idle merchants’ sons.”
“Some of those may become gentlemen.”
Saviolo stared at this remark. “I insist on examining new pupils before they are admitted. But I accept your other terms. Benvenuto.” He extended his hand.
Toby shook it. “Agreed.”

Toby, still in his borrowed costume, was holding forth in a tavern before a group of four young gallants, none of whom could have been older than eighteen, but who wore velvet, gold lace, and fine linen. He was telling the story of the taking of Breda as if he had been on the boat, under the peat.
“We were wet and sore afflicted with the cold, which made us all rheumy. I told the captain to cut my throat if I could not still my coughing.”
“Did he?” asked one of the young men, with a wink at another, who nudged him with an elbow; all laughed.
“Nay,” said Toby, soberly, “nor has anyone so much as scratched me since.”
“Tis easy to avoid scratching if one avoids cats and battles,” said the wag.
Toby sprang to his feet, knocking over his bench, right hand on his sword. “God’s teeth! Do you give me the lie, boy?”
The young man flushed and stood as well. “You know the truth on’t. What reason do we have to believe you?”
“My word as a soldier. But before I proclaim you a coward or skewer you, I shall give you proof and a chance to make your apology. Come you to master Saviolo’s school at the Crossed Swords, formerly in Blackfriars, now in Gray’s Inn Lane. There you shall have either satisfaction or a fencing lesson.”
“We’ll all come,” said one of the gallants.
“The fee for a lesson is one shilling. Bring your purse.”

Toby and Saviolo were instructing a room full of young men, including three of the four from the tavern. These three paid close and respectful attention to Toby as he demonstrated a fine point of parrying. Toby was wearing plain but new clothes.

Toby and Saviolo were shouting at each other, both very angry and red in the face. I couldn’t follow the argument, but it seemed to be about money. Toby swore several times by God’s guts and lungs. Both were wearing rapiers and both put hand to hilt from time to time.

A road in the suburbs, fields on one side. Toby, brushing away tears, held the hand of a young man lying on a shutter which was being borne at a trot by two other young men. The man on the shutter was clutching at a wet red spot staining his shirt around the belly. He was one of the young men from the tavern, the one who was skeptical of Toby’s military narrative.

Toby and Saviolo were fighting furiously with real rapiers. It was gray and misty; I could make out the shapes of trees and a cow blowing steam from her nostrils. Through the clash of blades, grunts, curses, and heavy breathing, I could hear a rooster crow. That sound reminded me of mornings in Tennessee. I was tempted to end the vision and daydream about my peaceful youth on my grandmother’s farm. But I had to see the outcome. Both fighters were bleeding from small wounds in the arm, thigh, and side, but they fought on without slacking. Toby looked grim, but Saviolo was beginning to look desperate. After an exchange that was too quick for me to follow closely enough to say exactly what happened, Saviolo dropped his sword and raised both hands. They stood panting for a few seconds. Saviolo sat down heavily, like a toddler learning to walk. Toby sheathed his sword and pulled Saviolo to his feet, draping his arm around one shoulder and supporting him at the waist. They walked this way for a few yards until Saviolo collapsed limply. Toby let him down and felt his pulse. Then he stood looking folornly at the man on the ground. The rooster crew again.

I had not been thinking about Toby, but I had been pursuing general Elizabethan interests by reading Jonson’s plays. In the middle of Every Man in his Humor, Toby appeared, looking scruffy and seedy. He lay on a bench in a room empty except for a few masks and foils hanging on the walls. It was smaller than the room in Saviolo’s school. His head lay on a stained cushion and he was wrapped in a cloak. Turning from his back to his side with a groan, he opened his eyes wide and vomited into a basin on the floor. He spat and heaved, then rolled to his back.
“Hostess,” he called hoarsely. He cleared his throat and called again. A toothless woman, not very old, wearing a patched dress with a stained apron, opened the door. “A cup of your small beer, sweet hostess,” he croaked. “And be so good as to take away the basin.”
“I would rather take away the rent you owe.”
“Directly, in good time.”
“No time like the present, say I.” Wrinkling her nose, she took the basin and closed the door behind her. Toby groaned and sat up, holding his head. In a few minutes the woman appeared with an earthen cup.
“Master Sly is below with another gentleman.”
“Send them up, please you. What’s the gentleman’s name?”
“Master Sly called him Ben.”