Time’s Bending Sickle

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23. May Time Disgrace

As I had expected, Tom Backscheider found the idea of using Ramforce computers laughable. “No way! I’d as soon play Bach on Shroeder’s toy piano.” When he realized that Howell meant the proposal to be taken seriously, he became angry. “Howell’s got his head up his ass. Doesn’t he ever consult anyone who knows anything?” He pulled on his frizzy ponytail.
“Yes,” I said, “but I think there were other considerations in this case.”
“What considerations? Shit, man, everybody knew Ramforce was on the way out.”
“What would have to happen for them to be competitive?”
Tom sighed in exasperation, as if there was so much as not to be worth the effort. “They’d have to overcome their shitty reputation. They might do that if they had a real technical breakthrough, such as a new and better operating system or a cheap way to expand memory, and they upgraded their materials and manufacturing standards. You’re talking a big capital investment just to catch up with Apple as they are now, and who knows how far ahead they’ll be by then.” He made a global gesture with both arms.
“You couldn’t customize some units for your use?”
“What is the fucking point?” His good-natured squint had vanished in wide-eyed indignation. “Why blow time and money on a souped-up V-8 in an Escort when you can get a faster and better Porsche for less? It would be deceptive, too. If I fixed a Ramforce so I could write a game on it, it wouldn’t be like any other Ramforce you could buy.”
“OK, I’m just doing what I was told. Would you be a good guy and write up what you’ve told me in a little technical detail so I can show it to Howell?”
Tom looked pained. “Write? That’s the shit I wanted to avoid when I sold out to you guys. Why can’t you just let me hack?”
“I know, if it were up to me, this never would have come up. Just tell someone else what to say. But please help me out here.”
Tom groaned. “Aw, man. OK, I’ll try to come up with something.” I followed Tom as he kicked away some pizza boxes and roamed back to the cells to see who was hacking. We found a long-haired fat kid who couldn’t have been more than sixteen; he was playing a game. When Tom asked him to write up a critique of Ramforce and come up with a list of needed improvements, the kid grinned maliciously.
“He’ll give us all the dirt, and I can calm it down for Howell.” Tom was still not happy. “I need a soak after this. Come on back to the house and we’ll mellow out in the hot tub.”
I declined, and returned to Los Angeles, where I had to see some clients and prospects. Since I had to stay over the weekend for a Monday meeting, I decided to mellow out by going to San Marino on Sunday and visiting the Huntington.
I enjoyed browsing in the library exhibit and in the museum. Although I didn’t share old Henry Huntington’s love for eighteenth-century portraits, I had to give him credit for using his wealth to collect books and art and to make them available to the public. The day was especially pleasant–the smog had lifted enough to allow the mountains to be seen, and the Huntington grounds were full of blooms. I found a bench in the Shakespeare Garden and mulled over my problems as the bees murmured and the sun turned my blood into viscous honey.
Howell’s treatment of Bonnie did not bode well for Cullen and those who worked there. Could there be another Ramforce in the future? What else might he be planning that had Bonnie worried? What would happen if Howell goes through with the buyout? How divided is the board? Jean had not been consulting her mother, but Tillie, characteristically, had not shown much interest. If Jean is right and something is seriously wrong with Tillie, more complications for the business and my life with Jean might be on the horizon. What I should or shouldn’t do was not easy to see. I wondered how Toby liked Sweden.

“I think it to be the coldest country in the world,” said James Hill to Toby as they looked back toward Stockholm from their ship, shivering in their cloaks.
“And tis only September,” said Toby. They went below to the small saloon below the quarterdeck, and sat at the table. It must have still been cold, for they kept their cloaks on, but they were out of the wind. Dim light filtered in from the swirling glass in the stern windows.
Hill spoke Swedish to a boy of ten or eleven who, wrapped in a cloak, had been dozing on a bench. He rose, and briskly fetched a bottle and two cups, turning away with a yawn. “Thank you, Nils. Now what say you?”
“You are velcome, sir,” said Nils.
“He learns English faster than I learned Swedish,” said Hill to Toby.
“I understand that Duke Charles is a good Protestant,” said Toby.
“Aye, thank God. So are most of the Finns, but many do not see the danger of the alliance with the papist king of Poland.”
Toby looked confused. “But the king of Poland is the king of Sweden and Finland, is he not?”
“Aye. But Duke Charles has been regent for Sweden while King Sigismund has stayed in Poland among the papists. The king is the duke’s nephew, but he defied his uncle and led an army against him just before you arrived. Thanks to God, the duke prevailed at Stangebro and at Linkoping, and even now a treaty is being negotiated at Linkoping.”
Toby looked troubled. “Are the Finns then loyal to the king?”
“There are some who would put the king before God and his true religion. We must watch and see that they do not rebel. Old Sootnose, the king’s Marshal Fleming, was a stiff opponent, but he is dead.” Hill paused and laughed. “When the duke captured the castle at Abo last year, this Fleming was still in his coffin in the chapel. The story goes that the duke ordered dame Ebba, Sootnose’s widow, to open the coffin. The duke pulled the corpse’s beard, and said that if he were alive, his head would not stay long on his shoulders. Well, old Ebba had some of her husband’s mettle, and a man must admire it even in a stubborn papist. She said to the duke, if her husband had been alive, the duke’s grace would never have entered this castle.”
Toby smiled. “Who commands the castle now? The duke is in Sweden.”
“The duke left the castle with a man who proved a traitor, and Fleming’s successor, Governor Stalarm, now commands. He has fed the duke fair words, but we trust him not. Too many of his friends came to help the king when he invaded.”
“We sail for Abo, then?”
Hill looked away with an embarassed grimace. “Nay, we go to Sand Haven for now.”
“Will Colonel Prothero be there?”
“I know not. He may be; if not, we shall await him.”

Sand Haven turned out to be an island not far from the new town of Helsingfors, the name the Swedes gave to Helsinki. There were a few log houses on the island, but most of the duke’s Swedish troops were quartered in tents. Prothero was not there, and Hill busied himself writing letters. Small boats occasionally went in to Helsinki and back, bringing food. From time to time a larger ship would anchor off the island, stay a few days, then sail away, presumably back to Sweden.
Toby at first seemed to have no duties. After a few days of wandering around the island and trying to talk to the soldiers, he attempted to give a company a taste of Dutch drill. With the help of a Swedish sergeant who professed to know some English, he taught them some pike exercises and some simple movements. At first, the soldiers treated it as a sort of game or dance, and went along good-humoredly. But Toby’s explanations about the military value of drill did not seem to survive translation, for when a cold mist blew in, the men flatly refused to leave their tents. Toby complained to Hill.
“Good Captain Hume, let them be. Tis too wet and cold, and the Dutch drill does not suit the Swedish style of fighting.”
Toby did not press the issue, but spent his time with the Swedish sergeant in mutual language instruction. The sergeant, a young man with white-blond hair, square jaw, and stocky build, had been a sailor on a ship with a number of Englishmen. His vocabulary was rich in scatology, blasphemy, and malediction, but weak in grammar and common nouns. “Bugger de bishop” was his favorite exclamation.

The weather grew colder, and the mist and rain more frequent. The next time one of the larger ships arrived, the longboat that brought the officers and messengers to shore was met by a noisy crowd of soldiers. I couldn’t understand them, but I heard them say “Sverige” many times and guessed that they wanted to go home. What followed seemed to confirm my guess, for after much shouting and arm-waving, four of the soldiers grabbed the two sailors who sat at the oars, pulled them from the boat, and shoved off. Toby shouted and waved his sword, but to no effect. Several other soldiers splashed out and tumbled into the boat. Others followed, enough to overload and sink the boat, but they were persuaded to wait by those already aboard. Persuasion in two instances consisted of blows from an oar. After a time, the officers and messengers returned to find their boat gone, and the gang of soldiers shouting and waving at the ship. Toby and the sergeant tried to disperse them, but were not successful.
Suddenly a puff of smoke appeared on the deck of the ship, followed by a sharp bang. Those on shore could see two figures swinging out from the deck, suspended by their necks from the yards of the two main masts. Two others were pushed from the deck and splashed in the frigid water. Toby and the soldiers on shore breathed in sharply and fell silent. Soon the longboat made its way to the shore. The two sailors who rowed it were accompanied by four soldiers with muskets at the ready, and two figures in dark cloaks and plumed hats.
As the boat drew to shore, the soldiers trained their muskets on the crowd. Those on shore fell back, though there were some who shouted threateningly. The prow of the boat ground on the sand, and the two men in plumes stepped ashore. One, in a heavy black cloak with a fur-lined cowl, was Prothero. His companion, a shorter, red-faced man, began speaking in Swedish in an oratorical manner. From time to time, Prothero would speak softly to him. The mob of soldiers listened; many scowled and grumbled, but none shouted. The red-faced man finished and waved his arms in a dismissing gesture. The men began to walk back toward their tents. Toby approached Prothero.
“Colonel, Captain Tobias Hume. How might I do you service?”
“Well, Hume! You got my letters at last. Well met!” They shook hands. Then Prothero’s smile turned into a frown. “You might have done us all a service by keeping this rabble in some order.”
“Alas, colonel, I tried, but could not make myself understood.”
“They understand your sword. They understood our rope. Fools, we come to fetch them home, but only in good time and order. Where’s Hill?”
“I’ll take you.”
Hill was warming his hands over a fire in front of his tent. Nils, his page, was poking sticks of wood into the flames. “Pack your traps, captain,” shouted Prothero, “we’re for Nykoping.”
“Thank God,” said Hill.

Toby and Hill were on a ship tossed by a wintry sea, apparently en route to Sweden. They paced the deck, grabbing at ropes and rails to keep their balance, shivering under their cloaks. Finally they took deep breaths and plunged down the companionway to the saloon. It was only slightly warmer, but the air was close and foul. Another man and a boy of about ten looked up as they entered. They were seated side by side on a bench under the stern window. Hill’s boy, Nils, rose from another bench in the opposite corner.
“Blows the wind as cold as it did?” asked the man. He was short and plump, with pink cheeks and thin, brown beard. His voice was high and nasal.
“Aye, Master Tucker,” said Hill. “Cold and wet. But tis in our favor, so we should make land the sooner.”
The boy seated by Tucker, a thin boy with brown hair and large brown eyes, rose and bowed, bending his knees, before his master. “Please, sir, may Nils and I go see the cook’s cat?” His accent identified him as English.
“Very well. Take care of falling overboard.”
The boys pulled their cloaks on and ran up the steps, letting in the roar of the wind as they opened the hatch. Hill turned politely to Tucker. “What news from Sir Walter Ralegh, Master Tucker?”
“Nothing of late. I suppose he lives quietly at home, the ships for Guiana not appearing.”
Hill looked pained. “I regret not being able to help Sir Walter more. His grace the duke could not spare the ships, contrary to his expectation.”
Tucker looked skeptical. Then, squeezing his eyes almost shut, he asked Hill, “And what news have you from Ipswich?”
Hill blushed and frowned. “I know not what I should hear from that town.”
“Cry you mercy. I thought you had kinsmen there.”
“A distant cousin, an honest tailor. I was able to do him a small service once, but I do not keep up the acquaintance.”
“Well. So. I think I shall also go see the cook’s cat and air my lungs.” He rose with a smirk, rolled to the hatch, and went out.
Hill shook his head. “Sir Walter recommended this man for service with the duke, but I like him not. He has heard some twisted tale about my cousin in Ipswich, but will not lay it out like an honest man.”
“What was the service you did your cousin?”
“Ah, twas just before I came to Sweden. I was visiting friends in Thetford, and cast some business his way, making apparel for my journey. As he fit me, he complained of some players travelling in the county. He had made them fine garments for their shows, and they had paid him only in fine speeches. I gave some help to the bailiff with my sword, and recovered the garments. Mayhap they have slandered me out of spite.”
Nils banged open the hatch and hurried to Hill, speaking Swedish to him with both urgency and hesitation, as if he did not know how to tell about something he sensed was important. Hill listened with frowning intensity. When the boy finished, Hill spoke to him with some emphasis. The boy nodded and ran off.
“Now I have cause for my dislike. Nils tells me that this Tucker is abusing his boy. I must say nothing, however, or the boy may suffer more for telling. We must watch and speak only of what we see.”

Toby stood near the prow of the ship, looking toward the coastline ahead. He glanced back and saw Hill and Tucker in conversation by the mainmast. Tucker’s complacent smile vanished suddenly, and he turned very red in the face. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword, as did Hill. Hill leaned forward, speaking more forcefully. Tucker, still red, released his sword, and turned both palms out, shaking his head. They exchanged a few more words, then Hill turned and entered the hatchway. Tucker staggered to the rail. He looked out over the water, scowling and beating his fist on the rail. The wind hummed in the rigging.
Someone touched my shoulder. “Closing time.” It was one of the Huntington guards. I sat for a moment and listened to the humming of the bees in the Shakespeare Garden.

The visions I had of this time skipped over weeks and months, and some were so brief I had few clues to place them. In one, Toby was playing the viol for a group of well-dressed men in a room with large tapestries and a blazing fire. He played a piece he called “A Soldier’s March” in his 1605 collection, music that triggered this particular vision after my Huntington visit. Hill sat on a stool near a lean middle-aged man in a large chair by the fire, who listened with attention. He was balding, his high forehead shining above a prominent nose with a hook at the upper part of the bridge; his eyes were hooded and pouched, but bright and mobile. Toby finished, and the important personage led the company in applause. Toby bowed deeply. When the important man rose, the company stood and bowed. He spoke briefly to Hill and smiled; Hill smiled and nodded deferentially. Then with courteous words and gestures to the company, he left the room.
Hill rushed toward Toby, smiling and rubbing his hands. “Ah, Captain Hume, very good. His Grace was pleased to tell me that while the king of Denmark has a very fine English musician, Master Dowland, he doubts that he can lead a company or do the Dutch drill as well as make music.”
“I am glad the duke was pleased.”

Toby, his cloak and hat pulled tight against a chill breeze, approached a stone building. He entered a doorway and climbed a winding stair to a room where Prothero sat by a fire, writing. He glanced up, wrote a few more words, threw down his pen, and rose.
“You sent for me, Colonel?”
“Aye, Toby. Come warm yourself.” His pockmarked cheek twitched with a fleeting smile. “Do you tire of your winter’s music-making?”
Toby moved close to Prothero by the fire and smiled wearily.
“Well. I confess to be somewhat weary of the headsman’s axe. Tis one thing to kill a man in battle, and another to chop off his head like a capon. I am glad to have a little music to sweeten my imagination.”
“Well, sugar your mind with this: the duke may have you go to England with Captain Hill this spring.” Toby brightened, and Prothero smiled slyly. “The duke needs cloth and horses. I perceive that you need something you may find there too. Some London honey, mayhap?”
Toby turned his distracted attention back to Prothero. “Aye, if the bees and bears keep me not away.”

In a large hall hung with tapestries and lighted by many-paned windows, James Hill knelt before Queen Elizabeth, who gestured for him to rise. She herself remained standing. Toby stood to the side among a group of a dozen courtiers. The Queen showed her age more clearly than at Tilbury. The cords and folds of her neck were more prominent, and her teeth–those she still had–were blue and black.
“Most gracious Majesty,” began Hill. “Be pleased to accept the words of my master, Duke Charles, by the Grace of God hereditary prince of Sweden, the Goths, and Vandals. My master begs your most gracious Majesty to aid him in curbing a most vile slander. Be assured, your Majesty, that, contrary to that slander, my master the duke has no intention to usurp the throne from his newphew, Sigismund, king of Poland and Sweden. My master asks that you refuse to believe those who slander him thus, and that you support with word and deed his efforts to defend the true religion founded on the word of God. So says my master.”
The Queen spoke seconds after it was clear that Hill had finished. Her voice had some of the gravel of age, but was firm and audible. “God forbid that your master the duke should do otherwise than what he has sworn. Say to Duke Charles that it is my hope that he honestly keep the oath of allegiance to his nephew, for if he should do otherwise, he would go against nature, justice, and the laws of kinship. And”–here the Queen leaned forward and gestured in a way that reminded me, however inappropriately, of one of my grade-school teachers–“the duke should do his duty faithfully from the heart and not out of courtesy only. So say you to Duke Charles.”
Hill bowed and moved to Toby’s side. The Queen heard another suit, then left the room.

After dinner, I sat in my hotel room watching MTV with the sound off. The images flashed by, swirling and pulsing. Soon I saw the flash of colored silks in Edgcoke’s shop at the sign of the Boar’s Head. Edgcoke smiled benignly as Toby put a gold coin in his hand.
“Again I must thank you, Master Edgcoke, for caring for my instrument and papers, though they overstayed my rent.”
“Thank you, Captain; a pleasure to serve you, sir.”
“Now must I ask you another favor. I should like to send a message to a certain lady to inform her of the fine new silk you have here.”
“Very kind of you, sir.”
“Your boy is a good messenger?”
“Tolerable, sir; he can read a little and he has good legs.”
“Good. May I?” asked Toby and indicated a pen and paper on the shop counter.
“With all my heart, sir; here is ink.”
Toby wrote, reading aloud as he wrote: “Master Edward Edgcoke begs to advertise to Lady Monmouth that he is in receipt of fine new silks from overseas. He trusts them to be worthy of her attention at the sign of the Boar’s Head hard by Cheapside Cross.” He looked up at Edgcoke. “Do you find anything amiss?”
“Not at all, good Captain. John!” The boy appeared from a back room. “Attend the captain.”
Toby gave John a coin. “A good lad. Take this paper to Sir Andrew Monmouth’s house in the Strand, near York House. You may give the paper to any servant, but if you should see the lady herself, tell her that the silk merchant from overseas has some excellent new songs as well. Can you do that?”
“Aye, sir.”
“Be off, then.” The boy tugged at his cap and ran out the door. Toby turned to the smiling Edgcoke. “I shall be here for some months on the business of Duke Charles of Sweden. I have letters to some merchants here who will see that I do not fall into debt, as I did before”–Toby smiled–“and I hope not to have such uncivil visitors. I shall no doubt receive letters here; any reward you extend to such messengers as seek me will be repaid you.”
“Thank you, sir; happy to serve you, sir.”
“I shall go rest in my old chamber. Please inform me if I have any visitors.”
“Most assuredly, sir.”

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