Time’s Bending Sickle

This novel begins under October 2010 in the archives; scroll down to find chapter one. Two previous novels begin under October 2009 and March 2010.

31. Time that Gave

I didn’t hear from Ollie for several days. Then I got a sheaf of papers from him with places highlighted for my signature. A note read:

Sign these on the highlighted lines and get them back ASAP. It’s boilerplate, so you don’t need to read it all.

Of course I read it all. Eventually I found that I was agreeing to forego all claims on community property for the material consideration of my car and for–one hundred thousand dollars. I called Ollie. He was in conference.
“Tell Ollie that if he doesn’t call me within the hour I’m going to burn some expensive boilerplate.”
He called in twenty minutes. “What’s the problem?”
“One hundred grand.”
“That’s a problem? Let me tell you–”
“No, what did I tell you?”
“Now listen. Take it. They want you to take it. They offered it before I could open my mouth. They’re ecstatic that we took it–they’re overjoyed. Let me get this all out. I think Jean is having some guilt. She was a little weepy at the meeting. I think it would be therapeutic for her if you took it. It would take so much time and trouble to change it now. We’d have to draw up new papers. I’d charge you more. You’d never get out of debt to me.” He laughed evilly. “You won’t get to keep all of that hundred grand. Wait’ll you get my bill. It’s a work of art. You can even pay me more if it will make you feel better.”
“Are you having fun now?”
“Well, yes. The novelty of it all. I even enjoyed accepting their offer, they were so surprised. Art nearly plotzed.” He chuckled again.
I thought about the money. I didn’t want clothes, car, house–stuff. But I wanted a new start and some freedom to make it. Could I buy that? Could I buy what I really wanted? Could I buy time? Maybe I could get there without Jean’s money. Or maybe I’d get stuck in some job I’d have to take to get out of debt.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Think fast. And FedEx those papers. I’ve got bills too, you know.”

I called Clio. “Can I come over for just a few minutes? I need your advice.”
“Sure. I’m just standing here trying to think what to do about this piece of crap I’m painting. It’ll be a good break–but you shouldn’t expect much in the way of advice.”
“Be there in a minute.” It was about three in the afternoon. The Baltimore summer was just beginning to show its malice. I had been scoring parts in shorts and a t-shirt; I grabbed my wallet and drove the few minutes to Clio’s.
She was waiting in her painting clothes, a paint-speckled tank top and cutoffs. “I made some iced coffee.”
“Wonderful.” We sat and sipped, while I tried to say something intelligent and encouraging about her work in progress.
“Oh, give it a rest,” she said, smiling. “Let me have my creative snit. What’s on your mind?”
I explained. I told her that I was tempted to take Ollie’s deal, though I had misgivings that the money would be tainted.
“Take it!” said Clio without hesitating. “You’re not being greedy. That money could let you do something useful, something positive. What would you really like to do? Sell computers? Play the cello? Teach? Go to dental school?”
“You really think I should?”
“Yes. You’re not having second thoughts about the divorce, are you?”
“No. But I think Jean is vulnerable, and I don’t want to take advantage.”
“If all she had was a two-hundred-thousand-dollar house and you were insisting on your half, that would be another matter. But she’s rich. She’ll get it back in two weeks without lifting a finger.”
I sat and stewed.
Clio broke the silence. “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”
It struck me that I really liked what I was doing right now. I was getting into Doreen’s research. We had finished one article and I was thinking about another, one I might do on my own. I also enjoyed trying to sell Dragonbyte games when I could do so in a low-pressure kind of way. I rather liked the people that dealt with them, as I liked Tom and Hiro. I told Clio what I was thinking.
“There you go. Why don’t you live off that money while you go to grad school or write a book about this music? You need time.”
That possibility began to grow in my mind and take on plausibility within minutes of Clio’s suggestion. “Maybe. Why not?”
“Well, now that I’ve solved your problem, maybe you can help with mine. Why don’t you play my cello and inspire me with a way to fix this painting?” Of course I agreed.
I soon became absorbed in the sound of Clio’s golden Goffriller. It seemed to be made for the Bach suites, for I know I played them better on this cello than on any other. I had the first and third suites pretty well in my memory, so I played them–I don’t think I’d ever done them better. Then I played what I could remember of the fifth, mainly the wonderful sarabande. Near the end of that movement, I was aware of Clio in my peripheral vision. When I stopped, she put her hand on my shoulder.
“Thanks. That seemed to help. I don’t want to get clean enough to go out. Want to share a pot of hasty pasta?”
“That would be great. Thanks.”
Clio loved good food and was a great cook, though at times art prevailed over gastronomy. But though her pasta was hasty, it was never dull. To the jar of bottled sauce she added more garlic, oregano, wine, and a dash of salsa, throwing in a can of clams just before pouring it on the linguini and sprinkling on fresh parmesan. We ate heartily and drank just enough red wine. Her painting looked better even before the wine. We took our cups of dark roast coffee to the sofa and sighed with well-fed contentment. After more sighs and sips we put down our empty cups and sat quietly for a moment.
My hands were suddenly sweaty. I wiped them on my shorts and grabbed Clio’s right hand. There was a dab of green paint on her thumbnail. “Clio, I–”
She put the fingers of her left hand on my mouth. “Shh. Go home now, Tony, and sign those papers.” She stood, pulling me up by the hand I was still holding, and gave me a gentle shove toward the door. As soon as I was outside, she took hold of my t-shirt and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. “Night.”
“Night.” I signed the papers when I got home and sent them the next morning.

Felix, cocking his head slightly to favor his good eye, sat reading through Toby’s manuscript. Sometimes he would nod in approval, sometimes smile.
“Did you mean to write this note here?” he asked, pointing to a passage.
Toby squinted at the paper, fingering an airy viol. “Aye. You see, it carries on the line from here.” He pointed to an earlier spot.
“Ah,” said Felix, nodding. They sat at a small table behind the counter of Felix’s shop in Paul’s Churchyard. Eventually Felix turned the last page and looked up at Toby. “I think your music will give gentle players pleasure and amusement,” he said. “The learned may not praise it all, and some may find some songs too strange for their tastes. In your preface, your praise of the viol at the expense of the lute may set some teeth on edge. But tis you, my friend, and they must all take you as they find you.”
“Then you approve?”
“Indeed. You surpassed me in fencing, and now you have done so in music. My music would not fill such a book, and I have not been as industrious as you in collecting and polishing what I have done. But now we must think on the dedication. Your song of tobacco has put an idea in my mind. What think you of the young earl of Pembroke?”
“I have heard that he is handsome and witty, and tis said that he wrote the ditty for Master Dowland’s song of Apollo’s oath.”
“Tis also said that he takes tobacco for the headache. And more to the point, he is rich and, as he is young, may be generous. He has married an heiress, and has favor at court.”
“I had already thought to give his name to one of my galliards. I think it worth the venture. I’ll name an almaine for the duke of Holstein.”
“Write it fair, and we’ll off to Master Windet.”

Two young men were finishing a late breakfast in a wood-paneled room, dipping pieces of bread in their wine-cups, when a servant announced Captain Hume. Toby entered and bowed, his hat in one hand, and a linen-wrapped parcel in the other. The older of the young men greeted Toby courteously.
“I understand that you have a book for me, Captain.”
“Yes, an it please your lordship. I have taken the liberty of dedicating this book of music for the viol to your lordship.” Toby unwrapped his book, a thinnish folio bound in white vellum, and handed it to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who began turning the pages.
“Very handsome. You do me honor, Captain.”
“Your lordship is kind. Your name honors my work.”
Pembroke smiled, and chuckled at something he read in the book. The younger man, whom I gathered was Pembroke’s brother Philip, shared his good looks but was more sharp-faced. He now spoke. “Where have you served, Captain?”
“Many places, my lord. I was with the earl of Essex in Spain; I served Prince Maurice, King Charles of Sweden, and the late emperor of Russia.”
Both men seemed impressed. William spoke up warmly. “I too was in Cadiz; I was enough a boy to think it great sport. And our poor earl–a gallant soul, tragically fallen. Who was your officer?”
“Sir Roger Williams.”
“Brave Sir Roger!”
Philip then waved at the book. “And now you wish to leave soldiering and turn fiddler?”
“Well, my lord, you may judge. If it please you, I can play my music for you; my instrument is without.”
“What say you?” Philip asked William.
“If you will be so good, Captain, we have leisure for one or two songs.” William gestured to the footman by the door, who brought in Toby’s viol.
“By your leave, my lords, I must sit to play.”
“Of course.”
Toby sat and played “The Earl of Pembroke’s Galliard.” While he was playing, Philip looked through the book; he also smiled at several items. When Toby finished, Philip said “Let’s have this song of tobacco.” Philip and William exchanged amused glances. Toby sang the song, after which both men laughed and applauded. Toby rose and remained standing.
“Thank your lordships. I am glad to have given you some diversion.”
“And now, Captain,” William asked, “are you in earnest to leave the wars?”
“Aye, my lord, I have seen enough of wars. I hope to live by my music. My greatest wish, begging your lordships’ pardon, is to serve his majesty with my music.”
“Ah, Captain, that is not easily done. Places in the king’s music do not often fall vacant, and the musicians who have them now are jealous to keep them for their sons.”
“I understand, my lord. I speak only of my wish.”
“Are you married?” asked William.
“No, my lord. But I am betrothed to an honest maiden who lives in Riga, though she be Edinburgh born. If I may be so bold, I must say that I yearn to get a place so that I may bring her to England and make her my wife.”
“Enjoy your freedom while you may, Captain.” William spoke to Toby, but smirked at Philip.
“That’s a great way for a wench, Captain,” said Philip, “there are many closer to home. And at night all cats are gray.”
“Love has wings, my lord.”
“But men do not,” said William. He then drew out a small purse. “Well, Captain, thank you for your pains. And I wish you good fortune in love if not in war.”
“Thank you, my lord, for giving me audience, and for this generosity.”
“If I hear of a suitable place, I shall keep you in mind.”
“I should be ever in your debt, my lord.” Toby turned to leave, but Philip followed him into the hall.
“Stay a bit, Captain. I am curious about the wars. What battles were you in?”
Toby mentioned a few in the Low Countries, when Philip interrupted.
“And did you kill any of the whoreson Spanish?”
“Aye, my lord.”
“How many men have you killed?”
Toby looked pained. “Some dozen that I know of, God forgive me. Others may have died of wounds, or I may have killed without seeing that I killed. Sometimes the smoke and confusion in battle is very great.”
They chatted for a few more moments. When Toby left the house, he hurried to a sheltered spot in an alleyway and counted the coins from Pembroke’s purse. He looked pleased.

Felix and Toby entered a tavern, where Felix greeted a couple of acquaintances. Toby’s clothes seemed newer and more substantial. They moved to the largest group of men clustered before the fire, and ordered wine. Felix struck up a conversation with one man whom he overheard talking about music. After some ingratiating remarks of agreement with his new friend, Felix mentioned that his companion, Captain Hume, was a great player on the viol and had just published a book of music. This aroused general interest, but Toby modestly said that he hoped the book would get him a place, though he feared it would show him a fool.
“Nay, Captain, for shame,” said Felix. “Though it is a pity that this gentleman, who seems a man of good taste, should not have the opportunity to judge its quality.”
“I should be glad to hear your music, Captain,” said the gentleman; “would that we had an instrument.”
“Why, here’s a viol,” said a young man who had been listening eagerly. “The host here keeps one for the amusement of his guests. I’m sure he would be happy to lend it to the captain, if he would favor us with some of his music.”
Several of the group voiced encouragement.
“If it be your will, gentlemen,” said Toby, “I shall be pleased to obey you.”
Toby tuned up the viol and played some of his livelier pieces–I recognized “Tickle me Quickly.” Most of the group stood and listened with varying degrees of interest, and though one wandered off after the first piece, three more drifted over from another part of the tavern. Toby had the good sense to quit while they were still asking for more. Then the young man asked the question Felix and Toby must have been fishing for.
“Where might I buy your book, sir?”
“It is to be had at Master Windet’s, at the Cross Keys at Paul’s Wharf.”
“And at my shop,” Felix interjected, “at the sign of the sword and pen in Paul’s churchyard. The book is called The First Part of Ayres, or Captain Hume’s Musical Humors.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow,” said the young man.

A montage: Toby giving viol lessons to the young man from the tavern. Toby composing music. Toby, modestly yielding to Felix’s promptings, playing in other inns and taverns. Toby and Felix standing with a crowd in Paul’s churchyard watching the execution of four of the conspiritors in the Gunpowder Plot. Toby writing letters to Mary. Once, Toby received a small packet, which he opened with parted lips and trembling hands; but it was from Van Meergen, who wrote that he had done his best to forward the letters to Mary, but could not promise that they would reach her. He complained of illness, and asked Toby to pray for him.
Toby stood outside Felix’s shop, looking depressed.
“Be of good cheer, my friend,” said Felix, leaning on his counter. “Many books move slowly after the first months of sale. Have you not the dedication money yet?”
“Some. I have lived as frugally as I can, and have acquired a few pupils, but it trickles away. I must get a place.”
“No word from my lord of Pembroke?”
“Do you know any of the new Scottish knights?”
“No. Some kinsmen of my cousin–or mayhap my father–are at court, but I know not whether to claim them or whether they will acknowledge me.”
Felix pulled his nose. “You must create the proper circumstances. Words talk, but money walks. Offer some of your store of money to the steward of Sir George Hume. Surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer could find you a place.”
“The steward?”
“Aye. He could plead your suit, perhaps arrange an audience. He must see Sir George every day.”
“It may be,” Toby agreed reluctantly.

Toby stood before the Earl of Pembroke, who sat in an armchair by the fire, smoking a clay pipe.
“Thank you, my lord, for admitting me. You are most kind.”
“Not at all. As you see, I am drinking tobacco. When my man announced you, I remembered your song. How is it with you, Captain?”
“I would it were better, my lord. I have been laboring mightily in search of a place, and husbanding your generous gift. But I am now without a penny, and no nearer my goal.” Pembroke blew a puff of smoke and reached for his purse. “No, my lord, I did not come to beg money of you. I have spent my last sixpence on presents for Sir George Hume’s steward, in hopes that he would hear my suit. I am a distant kinsman of Sir George.”
“But you have not had access?”
“No, my lord. In my desperate straits I find I must impose on your patience and beg for your help.”
Pembroke rubbed his forehead, closing his eyes. Then he got up and went to his writing table. “I could get you an audience with Sir George,” he said, “but you may be shaking the wrong tree. I have another thought. Do you know Daniel Bachelar?”
“I have heard his name, my lord, and know that he is a gentleman musician.”
“Aye. He was page to my uncle, Sir Philip Sidney, and is now one of the grooms of her majesty’s Privy Chamber.” He took a sheet of paper, dipped a pen, and began writing. “He may be able to put you in the way of something. He plays very well on the lute, and has composed music.” He sprinkled some sand on the wet ink, shook it off the paper, and handed it to Toby. “This will introduce you.”
“My lord, I can barely speak, much less express my gratitude.”
“Say no more. Did you bring your instrument?”
“Not today, my lord, but I shall gladly play for you at any time you desire.”
“Thank you, Captain. Another day, then. Good luck to you, Captain.”
Toby thanked him and left. He hurried through the streets toward Whitehall. Announcing that he had a message from the Earl of Pembroke, an usher directed him to another door, where he was told that Bachelar was with the queen at Greenwich.

Early the next morning, Toby began limping toward Greenwich. Before noon he approached the turreted walls of the palace, and I recalled his last visit here, when he bore a message to Lord Burghley. Eventually he found himself in a hallway speaking to a slim, dark-haired man in his early thirties, elegantly dressed in deep purple. Holding Pembroke’s letter, Bachelar looked up as Hume offered him a book.
“My music. Some of it is for the viol tuned lyra-way, so that you could play it on the lute, if it would amuse you to do so.”
“Thank you Captain. I shall study your music, and endeavor to find means to satisfy you and my lord of Pembroke.”

Toby, in his best clothes, carrying his viol, walked down a corridor with Bachelar.
“You should know, Captain, that her majesty is six months gone with child, and since so many of her children have miscarried or live but weakly, she has times of worry and melancholy. I play the lute for her often, and it seems to calm her. But she and her physicians think some variety of entertainment may not be amiss. I agree, and find your music likely to please her.”
“I hope it does.”
“I, too. Here is her chamber.”
Bachelar knocked discreetly, and was admitted by a waiting-woman. The queen sat by a small fire with her feet on a stool and an embroidered cloth over her knees. Although she was only in her thirties, she looked older, with lines of strain and worry around her mouth and eyes. Her face was long, with a pointed chin, and her blonde hair was in a frizzy puff pulled back behind her ears. “Ah, Master Daniel.”
“Your majesty,” said Bachelar, bowing. Toby bowed too. “May I present Captain Hume.”
“Captain, you are welcome. Master Daniel has told me something of your story.” She spoke fluently, but with a slight accent. “I thank you for coming. I find music helps relieve my sick fancies.”
“I shall endeavor with all my heart to please your majesty.”
“You may begin at your leisure.”
“I thank your majesty. By your leave, I shall tune my instrument.” Toby sat gingerly on the edge of a nearby chair, tightened his bow, and tuned. The bow skipped a bit on the strings, registering Toby’s nervousness. He began to play. After a few shaky notes, he settled down into a lively version of the piece he called “Life.” The queen’s toes twitched in time to the music. When he finished, he stood and bowed.
“Very good, Captain. Pray play another.”
“An it please your majesty, I have called this next song ‘A Merry Conceit,’ or ‘The Queen’s Delight.'” Toby played this and three others; either the queen enjoyed them, or she was practiced in polite inattention. As he was about to begin another piece, the waiting woman interrupted, reminding the queen that her doctor was to visit soon. The queen thanked Toby and Bachelar, who bowed themselves out.
“Very good, Captain,” said Bachelar, “the queen seemed pleased.”
“I am very grateful for the opportunity, Master Daniel. I shall be ever your debt if this should lead to some place in her majesty’s service. I beseech you, sir, to speak of me when you can.”
Bachelar looked skeptical. “I shall be happy to do what little I can for you, Captain, for I know how ill a musician’s life must be without a place in some great person’s service. But there are many impediments. I should not nourish too many hopes.”
Toby looked disappointed. He explained briefly to Bachelar about Mary, and his hopes to bring her to England. Bachelar seemed to listen sympathetically. They continued down the corridor silently for a moment.
“Captain, do you have more music composed since your book?”
“Some dozen new songs. And I have a few old songs not in the book.”
“Perhaps a new book, dedicated to her majesty, might do you good. You would at least earn a hansome reward for the dedication.”
“Very like. I thank you for the suggestion.”
“You might also compose it so that more gentleman players would buy it. I have always thought it very long-headed of Master Dowland to print his songs so that they may be performed in many different ways.”
“Indeed. Thank you for that notion as well.”
“And now,” said Bachelar, stopping at a door, “let us claim your reward for entertaining her majesty.” They entered a room in which a clerk was busy over piles of papers. Bachelar explained what they had come for; the clerk made a note in a ledger, unlocked a chest, and counted out five silver coins. Toby took them with a grateful look, and offered one to Bachelar, who took it without hesitation. They then shook hands, and Toby shouldered his viol and limped toward the gates.

In a few weeks, I got a large manila envelope from Ollie. Divorce papers. Jean and I were officially divorced. A certified check for one hundred thousand dollars. Ollie’s bill. I figured that I could live, without extravagance, about two years on what was left. I had the gift of time. I had to decide what I could do to make that gift count.
I called Clio. “My ship has come in. Let’s celebrate. Dinner on me.”
“Oh, Tony, I can’t. Please give me a rain check. But I’m glad it’s settled.”
“Me too. How about tomorrow?”
“I’m sorry. Make it Friday?”
“Sure.” But I was disappointed. The gloss and the glow would have faded by then.
That night, I dreamed I knocked on Clio’s door. I had flowers. The door opened and I went in. Then Abner, as usual in camouflage and orange hat, stepped from behind a large canvas and took aim at me. I held out the flowers as a shield, and they turned into the Goffriller. I could see the bullet holes and the splinters before I heard the shots. I woke up panting.
I did a lot of practical things the next day. I deposited the check, bought one certificate of deposit for a year, one for six months, and opened a money-market account, leaving about fifteen hundred in checking. Maria would be back in a month, so I gave my car a long-postponed servicing, and began looking for an apartment. Then I called Tom Backscheider and made a deal for one of his obsolete computers, to be worked off in sales commissions.
I also called Perry and Callie. Perry had rumors and gossip, but little hard information about Cullen. They seemed to keep busy, but there hadn’t been many new contracts. The work force had stopped shrinking after the post-buyout contraction, but nobody was happy. Howell had seemed distracted and distant. Perry said that Jean had once come to the building in jeans and a t-shirt, no makeup, spent an hour in Howell’s office, and left looking tired. Callie had talked to Jean, but had not got far in any conversation beyond small talk.
“She doesn’t say much. When I ask, she says she’s fine. But the way she says it bothers me, because she’s just flat.”
“Still on the satanic abuse stuff?”
“She hasn’t mentioned it.”
“What do you mean, ‘flat’?”
“Well, Doctor Maclean, it’s what we psychos–I mean psychologists–call ‘flat affect’–no cussin’, no yellin’, no laughin’. Like a day-old sopapilla.”
“Even you can’t make her laugh?”
“Nope. It’s making me lose my own self-confidence.”
“She say anything about the divorce?”
“Just that she’s glad it’s over.”

Toby hurried into Paul’s churchyard, beaming. I guess he was going to tell Felix about his performance before the queen. When he got to the sign of the pen and sword, the stall was tightly shuttered. Toby asked the keeper of the next shop if he knew where Felix might be.
“Newgate.” The adolescent apprentice wore a flat cap, an apron, and a knowing grin.
“The prison? On what charge?”
“For selling filthy and lascivious books.” He leered and winked. “They were good ‘uns, they were. Nashe’s ‘Choice of Valentines’ and Aretino.”
Toby hurried through the streets until he arrived at the grim old prison. A few small bribes soon brought him to a large common cell containing a dozen rough-looking men. Felix was not visible.
Toby caught the eye of a man hunched in a corner near the grate. He turned and grinned, revealing a four-tooth gap and no nose.
“Looking for someone, sir?”
“Yes, a one-eyed man, just arrived.”
“Oh, sir, ‘e’s dead.”
“Lean coe in german slops? ‘E got in a fight with the Badger, who bounced ‘is ‘ead on the wall. ‘E wouldn’t wake, so the turnkeys took him to wait for the corpse wagon.”
“Thank you for your news, ill though it be.”
“Even bad news is worth thruppence for a poor man, eh sir?”
But Toby had turned to go, and the inmate shouted some unintelligible curse at him. Toby asked about the corpse wagon and was directed to a back gate, where he was told that the wagon had left with its load for the potters’ field. He grimly set off after it. Some miles later, he came upon two men beside a large ox-drawn wagon. They were shoveling dirt into a large pit. One discolored bare foot could still be seen.
“Looking for a friend or an enemy, sir?” The elder gravedigger said to Toby, smiling at his sorrowful face.
“A friend. A one-eyed man.”
“Aye, I remember loading him aboard. This lot’s about under. Pray for him here sir, and for the other miserable folk that keep him company.”
“I will.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: