Time’s Bending Sickle

This novel begins in the October 2010 section of the archives; scroll down to find chapter 1. Two earlier novels are also in the archives: “Four-Part Dissonance” begins October 2009, and “Death and the Maiden” in October 2010.

30. Time Wastes Life

Toby, Margeret, and Von Rosen sat listlessly around a rough table in a log-walled room. They spoke mostly German, so I could get the drift of their conversation, but not all the details. Mainly they were complaining that they had been outside Kromy for weeks and nothing was happening. There was not enough shot and powder to keep the cannon going. There was only a puny little wooden wall, which should be easy to breach, but no one would order ditching and mining. In Holland, Prince Maurice himself would wield a shovel, but here, the lowest infantryman was too proud for such labor. No one would order an assault. The guards were so lax that Dimitry’s people came and went from Kromy almost at will. The Cossacks popped out of holes in the ground and cut the throats of the Russians, and were gone before anyone could catch them. Dimitry himself, they had reason to believe, was down in Putivl, which was about as strong as Novgorod Seversky. Toby put his head down on the table, yawning. Margeret rose and roamed restlessly around the room.
Holtz entered, allowing a glimpse through the open door of the muddy log streets of a Russian spring. Von Rosen chided Holtz for his dirty boots. Holtz ignored him, looking significantly at the group. When he had their attention, he said, “Czar Boris ist tod.”
Margeret stopped in mid-stride. Toby jerked upright and asked in English, “Dead? Can this be true?”
Holtz defended his source. Basmanov himself had arrived to take the army’s oath of loyalty to Fedor Borisovich. Everyone spoke at once. They seemed to agree that Boris’ son Fedor, though good-natured and intelligent, was too young to rule and would not last, and that Dimitry would soon gain power. Toby asked Margeret what he would do if Dimitry won? Offer him my services, he replied.
“I must go to Sweden,” said Toby.
“C’est impossible,” said Margeret. No foreign mercenary can leave Russia.

Shouting and waving their swords, Toby and Margeret rode up and down a disorderly column of men filling the muddy road. Most ignored them, but some shouted back, not respectfully. Many said something about “Moscva” and pointed forward. Toby and Margeret met a Russian officer who was riding along with the column. They spoke vehemently to him for a minute. He shrugged, gave a brief answer, and rode on. They rode back toward the rear of the stream of men to where the last of them were gathering what they could carry and joining the rest. The trenches around the town were empty, and cannon and wagons stood abandoned. Toby and Margeret rode around the trenches for a time, then turned their horses in the direction the soldiers had taken.
They soon caught up with and passed the main body of retreating soldiers, and were approching a rickety wooden bridge spanning a river running high from the spring thaw. As several hundred of the men on their side drew near the bridge, another mob, led by four priests carrying crosses, entered the bridge from the other direction. The priests’ chanting was soon drowned out by the shouts of the mobs, and hand-to-hand fighting broke out in the middle of the bridge. Men pressed forward from both ends of the bridge, which began to creak and sway crazily in the middle. The turmoil on the bridge increased as it came apart and tumbled all but a few into the swiftly flowing river.
“My God,” said Toby, “they’ll all drown. What can we do?”
“Rien. Il faut qui nous allons une autre route.”

Toby and Margeret rode into Moscow. Eventually the streets of wooden houses opened up on to Red Square, where the colorful domes of St. Basil’s and the Kremlin looked almost as they look today. But the square at this time had a more sinister feature, a circular platform from which announcements and speeches were made, and where executions took place; it was called the Place of the Skull. The square was also much more cluttered and crowded with excited people. A large number of them were staggering drunk. Margeret and Toby halted, exchanged a few words, and shook hands. Margeret rode off in one direction, while Toby dismounted and began speaking to street vendors and men who were dressed in a style likely to be foreign. Most seemed not to understand him or able to answer his question.
Eventually he found a German who told him that the English traders occupied a house down a street which he indicated. Toby thanked him, and made his way to the house, where he left his horse with the groom, and began making inquiries of a young man in a blue coat.
“Ah, sir, you are English.”
“Yes, and I am glad to find a fellow. Are there more of you here?”
“Aye, sir. Sir Thomas Smith, Master William Russell, Master John Merick, and more of their company.”
“Could you take me to them? It is most urgent that I speak to one in some authority.”
“Sir Thomas is within, sir. Tell me your name, and I’ll see if he is at leisure.” He grinned and held out his hand in a gesture that was subtle but unmistakable. Toby gave his name, then fished out a coin, which the man accepted with neither joy nor disdain. He stepped through a door and came back a minute later. “Sir Thomas will see you, sir.”
“Thank you.”
Sir Thomas Smith was a substantial-looking man in his late forties, wearing a black velvet doublet and cap and a goatee and moustache of brown touched with gray. He had thrown off his fur-trimmed gown because of the warm day. He looked Toby over without much expression, and got down to business. “What would you with me, Captain?”
“Thank you for the audience, Sir Thomas. As you must know from my garb, I have been serving in the Czar’s army. Now I find that I must leave the country. It is urgent for reasons of state that I go to Sweden as soon as possible.”
Smith’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “And what state might that be?”
Toby hesitated a moment. “First, I am a true and loyal subject of his majesty, King James. But I was sent to Russia by his Swedish majesty, King Charles. I am obliged to report to him what I have seen these last months.”
Sir Thomas sat silent. At last he spoke, still without much expression. “It is difficult to trade here. We are told that our trade is wanted, but we are treated with great suspicion, and obstacles always seem to prevent our doing business with dispatch. We do not wish to have the Russians displeased with us, especially in these unsettled times.”
“I understand, but–”
Smith continued, speaking over Toby. “We do not want to deprive the Czar of a valued officer. But as I told the company before we set out on this voyage, that as Christians we should love one another, and express our loves in helping and cherishing in time of distress.”
“It is very urgent.”
“Unfortunately, one of our company has died. Our ships stand ready in the harbor at Archangel, ready to depart now that the ice has abated.” He closed his eyes.
“Perhaps I could take the place of your dead man.”
Smith opened his eyes and allowed the smallest flicker of a smile. “That may be possible. How much money do you have, Captain?”
“Why, about twelve roubles.” Toby patted his purse, mildly surprised. “Three month’s pay.”
“Luke says you rode a horse.”
“Yes, a Russian gelding.”
“Have you any furs or jewels?”
Smith looked away and sat silent a moment. “Well, I suppose that might pay for your passage. But you must expect only sailors’ fare. We put ourselves at some risk, you understand.”
Toby’s mouth drooped, then set. “I do.”
“Very well. We leave for Archangel soon, and the ships will sail when weather and tides allow. When you reach Archangel, you must give your horse to none but Luke. Do you understand?”
“Now, good Captain, give me your purse, and all will be settled.”
Toby reached for his purse, but held on. “Shall I lodge with you here until we leave?”
“I fear not. There is an inn further down the street where lodging is to be had good cheap.” He held out his hand, and Toby gave him the purse. He shook it out on the table and counted it. Seperating a few coins from the rest, he handed them to Toby. “This should suffice for your lodging.”
Toby took the coins and shook them in his hand. Then in a lower voice, he said, “I must trouble you for a receipt and a letter of passage, Sir Thomas.”
Smith looked up calmly. “Very well.” He wrote a few lines on a piece of paper and handed it to Toby.
“Your seal, if you please.”
With a slight sigh, he struck a light and dropped wax on the paper, then pressed his ring into the wax. Toby took the paper.
“Good day, Sir Thomas.”
But Smith seemed to relax and put on a more amiable appearance. “Why such haste, good Captain? If I may impose on your leisure, I would hear the news from beyond Moscow. We hear many rumors, but little we can credit. Pray, take a seat.”
Toby stood a moment, puzzled at this change of demeanor, and probably still affronted by the extortion he had just experienced. Then he sat and told what he had seen. One item he reported must have come to him off stage, as it were, for it was new to me. “I was told on good authority,” he said, “that Peter Basmanov, while attacking Dimitry’s forces, suddenly declared himself converted, and is now of Dimitry’s party.”
“Basmanov?” Smith was clearly shocked. “Then farewell, young Prince Fedor.” He frowned in thought for a moment. “We must tread carefully here.”
“If you please, Sir Thomas, I should like some news of England. I have only just learned of the accession of King James. All was peaceful, I hope.”
“Quite peaceful. He was warmly welcomed throughout England. I must confess much pleasure and relief on my own part at his coming, for he not only released me from the Tower, but gave me my knighthood.” Smith smiled at Toby’s inquiring look. “Aye, I was confined after the Earl of Essex’s uprising, though I had no part in it. The earl did come to me for support, but I, for one, laid my hand on his bridle and advised him to surrender to the lord mayor.”
“The earl? Rising against the Queen?” Toby was incredulous.
“Aye, twas folly. He had failed in Ireland, was desperately in debt after the queen cut off his farm on sweet wines, and he was sure that Sir Walter Ralegh and others were plotting against him.”
“The Queen was not harmed?”
“No. The earl misled a few hundred gallants, thinking that the city would rise at his command. They were soon put down, and the earl lost his head.”
“A tragedy indeed.”
“Aye, the earl had many virtues. Tis said that the earl’s revolt hastened the Queen’s end.”
“How did she die?”
“Sickness, age. It was nothing sudden, like Czar Boris’ death.”

At sea. Toby, pulling his cloak around him, climbed the steps to the quarterdeck of the ship. He greeted the officer, who responded amicably.
“When shall we reach Sweden, Master Wye?”
“Sweden? We are now passing along the coast of Norway, but we sail straight for London.”
“I thought we went to Sweden.”
“Nay, captain. Look at the map. We’d have to bear east past Denmark and enter the Baltic.”
Toby looked distressed. “I remember the map. But I was told. . . . How may I get my message to Sweden?”
“You may send it from London.” He looked at Toby and seemed to try to think of something helpful. “Sometimes we pass a ship out of Hamburg or the Low Countries while we are in the North Sea. Sometimes they are bound for Sweden. We sometimes exchange a boat and letters, but more often do not, for some prove to be privateers.”
“I see. Well, I shall be obliged if you will tell me if you meet such a ship.”
“Surely, Captain. And Captain–I should be pleased if you dined as my guest this night.”
Toby looked gratefully at the sympathetic face. “I should be honored. Thank you.”

For much of the voyage, Toby could be found below, writing. Apparently the kind Wye allowed him to use the small table in his cabin while he had deck duty. Some of this writing I could see was a long report to King Charles. But he was also making fair copies of some worn sheets of music. At other times I saw him scratching notes and tablature on a wax-covered tablet and then copying them onto paper. He also from time to time added to a long letter to Mary McNab. Much of it dealt with his difficulties, his experiences in Russia, and his hopes to be reunited with her, either in Riga or in London. One passage caught my eye as especially poignant:

I long for your presence, and turne over in my memorie every feature of your person, your hair, your eyes, your mouth. Yet I think it idle to blazon your beauties like a sonnet-scribbler, when what I desire is your whole living being. I must confesse that I miss one part, your Voice, most desperately. Your Soul, your very selfe breathes out with your voice, which penetrates to my own Soul like the finest Musicke. I sometimes fancie that the Angels in heven must speake your Edinburgh Scots.

Toby and Wye stood on the London docks. From their conversation I gathered that Wye had found a ship bound for Stockholm that would carry Toby’s report to King Charles. They were then looking for one bound for Riga, and were not having any success.
“Perhaps if you could get your packet to Amsterdam or Antwerp,” said Wye, “means could be found to get it to Riga. But tis somewhat risky. Know you anyone in the Low Countries whom you could entrust with your letters?”
Toby, who had been looking discouraged, brightened. “Happy thought! Aye, I have a friend who could do me that office.”
They found a shop where they could buy paper and waxed cloth so they could go through the fairly elaborate process of writing a cover letter to Van Meergen and sealing the whole packet again. They soon found a ship going to Amsterdam, and Toby’s business was settled. Wye said that he must return to his ship.
“I shall be ever in your debt, Master Wye. I hope I may soon repay the five shillings you have lent me, but I can only repay your kindness with my gratitude and prayers.”
“You are most welcome, Captain. Perhaps you may one day help me at a time of need. How will you live now? Will you try to return to Sweden?”
“Not now. I have a little credit with a merchant here, and hopes for my music. When I have earned some money or a place, I hope to make my way to Riga, or find means to bring my betrothed here.”
“Well, may God assist you.”
“Amen. And once more, my thanks.” They shook hands and parted.

Toby was in his room over Edgcoke’s shop. He was riffling through a stack of music manuscript. He paused over a song and smiled; I thought I detected a hint of irony. The song was the first in his 1605 collection, “The Soldiers’ Song”:

I sing the praise of honor’d wars,
the glory of wel gotten skars,
the bravery of glittring shields,
of lusty harts & famous fields:
For that is Musicke worth the eare of Jove,
a sight for kings, & stil the Soldiers love.

It went on in this vein a little further, with one note of realism when it read “bullets now thick are chang’d:/ Harke, harke, shootes and wounds abound.” He paused again at the “Tobacco” song with a more indulgent smile. Then he scanned the pages of instrumental music, two or three times stopping to check a passage on a viol–I don’t know how he acquired one–and once correcting the manuscript. Then he turned a leaf and there was “Fain would I change that note.” He stared out the window for some time, sighed, and turned the page. Another song began, “What greater griefe then no reliefe in deepest woe.” It continued in the spirit of the melancholy Dowland had made fashionable with his “Lachrymae”: the first stanza concluded with “No man unhappier lives on earth than I.” The second stanza ended on a slight upturn:

Death be my friend with speed to end and quiet all
But if thou linger in despaire to leave me,
Ile kill despaire with hope and so deceive thee.

The last song was another downer that began

Alas, poor men, why strive you to live long
to have more time & space to suffer wrong?

Later lines seemed to speak to Toby’s experience:

Thou pinst the pale cheekt Muses
and Soldier that refuses
no woundes for countries safetie–
he only thrives thats craftie.

The next piece was an instrumental work entitled “Captain Hume’s Lamentations.”
Toby turned the pile of sheets over, took a fresh piece of paper, and began compiling “A Table containing all the Songs in this Book.” He copied titles and turned the pages of the manuscript. After writing

My hope is decayed. 7
Adue sweete Love. 8
Be merry a day will come. 9

he paused and smiled wanly. Thoughtfully sharpening his pen, he reread what he had written. Then he laughed a short, sharp chuckle and began leafing hurriedly through the sheets. He paused and moved some of the sheets into a new order, turned some more pages, then rearranged some more. He then turned back and continued his list of contents.
He smiled as he wrote this sequence:

A merry conceit. 30
My Mistress hath a prettie thing. 31
She loves it well. 32
Hit it in the middle. 33
Tickell, tickell. 34
Rosamond. 35
I am falling. 36
Tickle me quickly. 37
Touch me lightly. 38

Further down, the list reads:

Touch me sweetly. 100
The second part. 101
Loves passion. 102
Loves pastime. 103
A snatch and away. 104
This sporte is ended. 105
I am melancholy. 106

Completing the list, Toby straightened the stack of papers with satisfaction, and bound them with a string. Taking his hat, he trotted down the stairs and went out into the street, turning toward the spireless tower of St. Paul’s. There he began to browse among the bookstalls that nestled between the buttresses of the old cathedral. He found some music books and began turning their pages with interest. The man behind the counter, a lean, gray man with an eyepatch, smiled and leaned forward.
“I am pleased to see you still interested in music.”
Toby looked up in astonishment.
“But you are dead! I saw you hanged!”
“You saw me hanged,” said Felix, “but you did not see me dead. The eyes see many things, but tis the mind that tells us what we saw.”
Toby reached out and tentatively touched Felix’s hand. Felix smiled.
“Aye, still warm. Touch is also subject to what the mind tells us. I have read of a fable in which five blind men try to describe a horse from the parts they feel.”
“I am heartily glad you are alive.” He took Felix’s hand and shook it vigorously. “But how did you escape?”
“Well, you have heard how a man who is hanged is said to marry the ropemaker’s daughter. Tis a good saying, for a hanged man and a bridegroom share one of the pleasures of marriage, if only for a moment. Although I should not like to repeat the experience, I rather enjoyed the first few seconds of my hanging. Then it began to weary me. Fortunately, I was hanged in a town with a singular custom. Time out of mind, they say, this custom has prevailed; I suspect it began in a plague, like the time of the Black Death in the third King Edward’s reign. This custom decreed that a widow may claim for her husband a man condemned . If the man refuses, the hanging goes forward. I am told that there were a few men who chose the rope instead of the widow, but I was not one.”
“So a widow claimed you and saved you? Why did she wait until you were hanged?”
“Ah, she said she had no thought of taking another husband. But when the ropemaker’s daughter brought me to the little death before the great one, the widow saw something about me that aroused her admiration.”
Toby smiled. “So how have you fared as a married man?”
“Well enough. The widow got a bargain in me beyond her expectations. Though I must say she put me to it, in fulfilling her main expectation. But I am a grateful man, and try to give good service. But to the point. Her late husband was a printer in a small way, a rare thing in a village, but enough to make a small farm a more comfortable living. He printed little more than broadsides, ballads, and the odd proclamation or placard for a strayed cow. With me she got a scholar and a musician, a man with more vision and experience. I know what a good printer might do for himself.
“I began carefully. I printed as many ballads as the local custom would bear; then I made a few chapbooks. Word got around that a new printer was at work, but it did not get as far as the Stationers’ Company or the Lord Chamberlain in London. But my work came to the attention of a witty man who paid me to print a libel he had written, a pamphlet attacking the bishops and the practice of granting multiple livings to ministers who do not minister or preach, and who leave their flocks in the care of ignorant, starving curates. He named these men, and ridiculed them in telling portraits. It was a great success: it was called in within a week and burned by the public hangman.”
“But do you not put yourself in danger by printing such stuff?” Toby asked anxiously.
“If I were careless. But I made sure that the author distributed the pamphlets far from my town, and I resisted the temptation to sell them from my shop. After most were burned, I could have sold one for the price of four of the original. And after this first venture, I refused further offers.
“But I didn’t stop. I saw that a discreet printer with the right bookseller might make a pretty sum if he put his mind to it. I found that some pamphlets sold well if they were lively enough, even if they did not arouse the authorities. Gabriel Harvey and Tom Nashe kept their flyting up for months without trouble. So I wrote a pamphlet myself attacking one Nates. I called Nates a flatulent, truculent, finical, broom-bearded ink-pisser,whose splenetic humor and crossed eyes were sure signs that he was heir apparent to the kingdom of nodgscombes. Then I answered it myself, as Nates. I called myself a one-eyed paper slubberer, a well-bumbasted swaggering fat-bellied trencher-licker, a gouty flantitanting fantastical cheek-stuffer, a coistral clerk whose sulphurous breath clung to his words through ink to type to paper. I attacked my answer, and then answered my attack. The public began to tire of our squabble about the time I began to tire of keeping it up, but I made a pretty sum.”
“But now here you are in London.”
“Aye, and a respectable member of the Worshipful Company of Stationers. Many things may be bought for the right price, including a new name.”
“So you are no longer Felix Wedderburn?”
“To you and a few others, but not to the world.” He smiled at Toby. “But how have you fared? Did I not see you halt?”
“I am happy to walk, halt or not. But can you not leave your shop and dine with me? I have much to tell and much to ask.”
“Custom is scarce this time of day. Let me close up and we will to the old Paul’s Head.” Felix lowered a wooden shutter across his counter, barred it, and locked the door from the outside.
As they strolled the few yards to the tavern, Toby asked if Felix printed music, for he was determined to publish his compositions.
“I wish you joy and success of your enterprise, and would help if I could. But when I last enquired after a music font, it was too dear. You must go to Master East or Master Windet. I would advise Master Windet, at the Cross Keys, just down on Paul’s Wharf.”
At the tavern, over a meat pie and ale, Toby told Felix of his many adventures, and his hopes for his music and his love.
“And Mistress Jane?”
“An old wound, still sore to the touch,” Toby sighed, “but I have given up hope in that quarter, as I should and must. And Mary McNab gives me a strange joy; she is yet a maid for me, though I desire her deeply.”
“You are old enough to think with your head instead of your privities.”
“Ah, but little Robin often reminds me of his presence and my neglect,” Toby said with a wince. “But back to my music. To whom should I dedicate my book? I need a generous dedication to pay the printer, and I would be glad if it could lead to my finding a place.”
“A serious question.” Felix thought for a time. “The queen’s brother, the Duke of Holstein, has been making a long visit. He was made Knight of the Garter this April past. Or perhaps one of the Scots the king has brought down–are you not kin to some?”
“A poor bastard? My cousin, who found me the place with my Lady Jane’s family, is not likely to welcome my claim on him after my disgrace there.” Toby’s eyes drooped with melancholy memories. “Do you know, I have come to think that he was my father in truth and not only a cousin. I could never learn the full story of my father from him.”
“Very like.”
“I think I should have been a good father, given the means,” Toby said wistfully.
“No doubt. But as my lord Bacon says, ‘He that hath a wife and children has given hostages to fortune.'”
They drank their ale in silence for a moment. “Bring me your book and let me see it,” said Felix. “Perhaps it will suggest to me someone to whom you can dedicate it. And then I shall take you to meet Master Windet.”
“I shall be most grateful. You will sell my book, will you not?”
“Of course. I think Master Windet and I may agree.”

Ollie, my lawyer, called. “I could make you rich, you know.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Just listen. She was at the meeting yesterday. I was about to give them your wimpy, spineless, idiotic terms–”
“Flattery will not get you a bigger fee.”
“Listen. Before I could surrender, they raised the offer. They’ll let you keep the car, and offered fifty thousand just to keep out of court and get it over with. Then Jean started in on some wild story about satanism. She wouldn’t shut up, though Art did everything but stifle her with his bagel. Now if we could get that out in court, we could take her for a bundle–that is, your fair share of the community property.”
“Aw, come on. I know she threw your fiddle off the balcony.”
“Whatever. The court would love it.”
“No. Absolutely.”
“You’re killing me here.” Sigh. “All right, I’ll wave the white flag. I’m going to pad my bill in revenge.”
“I should be taping you and get you disbarred.”
“I can’t stand so much gratitude. I’m gone.”
I thought about Ollie and Jean. And Howell. I thought about what Toby said about Jane and Mary. At that time, Jean made me feel sorrow, regret, loss, anger. Part of me wanted to punish her for what she did to me, but a stronger and, I hope, better part felt pity, and hope that she could come out of all this and stop hurting herself and others–though I wouldn’t mind if she did a number on Howell. But the love was gone. Clio now made me feel that strange joy that Toby spoke of, and the source of some of that joy was in her voice. I picked up the phone.
“Clio. How about a pizza and a movie?”
“Oh, sorry, Tony. Not tonight. I’m on a roll. How about a quick lunch tomorrow?”
“I’ll take what I can get. One?”
“Fine. See you then.”

Later that day I had a brief vision of Toby passing the door of Edgcoke’s shop on the way to his room. He stopped abruptly and stood to the side of the door. Jane was in the shop, examining a bolt of yellow silk. She was pregnant. A maid was by her side, conferring with her about the cloth. Holding the maid’s hand was an elegantly dressed little boy. He had his mother’s complexion and long blond hair. He twisted around and looked directly at Toby with eyes slightly drooping at the corners. Toby dashed up the stairs, threw his hat on the bed, and sat at his table. He stared at the neatly-wrapped bundle of paper, then began to weep.


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