Time’s Bending Sickle

The first chapter of this novel can be found in the archives under October 2010; scroll down to chapter 1. Two other novels are in the archives: “Four-Part Dissonance” begins October 2009, and “Death and the Maiden” begins March 2010.

32. Eternal Lines to Time

As I scored old partbooks, I had moments for idle speculation about my peculiar relationship to time. Here in my own time, I worked with artifacts from the past, trying to make them more intelligible to my contemporaries. But I wondered if I were not distorting them in some way. Would modern singers reading from a score perform the songs differently from sixteenth-century singers reading from partbooks? My other experience of time through mental movies tells me that yes, they sound different: singing styles were different in Toby’s time, the pitch was lower, and there were other subtle differences. But I cannot tape what I hear in my head, and my head may be just as distorting a medium as the written notation. And I also wonder if my observing Toby and his music changes it, as the observing of a subatomic particle changes its position. Am I really seeing the past, or just reassembling it?

Toby stood in the printer’s shop talking to a burly middle-aged man in a leather apron. Two younger men and a boy were working one of the presses, the thump of the inking pads and the creak of the screw press punctuating the conversation. The room smelt of damp paper and acrid ink. Printed sheets hung drying like laundry from cords stretched across the ceiling. Toby leafed through a bundle of paper.
“Now, Master Windet, this will be two books in one. The first book will be dedicated to the queen, thus.” He showed the printer a page. “But in the second book, I must have this page left blank, except for one copy which must bear this dedication to my lord of Arundel, and one which has this to the lords and Sir Christopher Hatton.”
The printer looked at the pages and frowned. “Only one copy of these?”
Toby hesitated. “Well, maybe a dozen of the latter, and two or three with the dedication to the earl. I must have a good clean copy for presentation.”
The printer looked over the papers and nodded. He didn’t seem especially excited about the project. “Very well, Captain. Now do you have the sum we agreed upon?”
Toby pulled out his purse. “Aye. Twas hard won, but I doubt not to recover it from the dedications.” He counted out several coins.
“I pray so, Captain, for both our sakes. I still have copies of your first book about, and they are little called for.”
“Fear not, Master Windet, the new book will make people call for the old. Keep them from the pieman yet a little longer. And how can I miss with this book? The good queen will surely reward me, as well as the earl and Sir Christopher. And look.” Here he shuffled the papers, pointing. “Every song has its own dedication, surely worth some token from these worthy ladies and gentlemen. See here, ‘The Lady of Suffolk’s Delight,’ and here, ‘The Duke of Lenox’s Delight,’ ‘The Earl of Southampton’s Favorite.'” He looked up at the printer with a shrewd glance. “And you see, each piece may be played several ways, so that a gentleman may play alone, or with company. You may be assured that when I play these musics in the inn, I shall inform the gentlemen auditors that copies may be had at your house at the sign of the Cross Keys at Paul’s Wharf.”
Windet nodded. “Very well, Captain. We shall have the first forme set by day after tomorrow; you may correct any errors then. As before, I suggest you be present when we begin printing, so that such faults as escape infect only a few sheets.”
“I shall not fail you, sir. I have too much at stake.” Toby smiled slightly, with an anxious wrinkle in his brow. “I may tempt Fortune by telling my hopes, Master Windet, but if the queen should smile on my efforts, I may find a place in the royal music.”
“I heartily wish you well, Captain,” said Windet, without quite hiding his skepticism.

One of my earliest visions was of Toby giving his presentation copy, with its hand-written plea, to a courtier-kinsman to deliver to Queen Anne. Apparently, since his meetings with Bachelar, he had gotten access to another of his Scottish relatives, though not, as it seems, Sir George Hume. That vision left Toby pacing in the kinsman’s anteroom. A later vision found Toby limping away in the dark, looking depressed.
He walked some distance until he came to a tavern with a sign depicting a mermaid. Several men greeted Toby when he entered. Toby abstractedly returned the greetings, and found a solitary bench by the fire. I heard one young man in an expensive-looking doublet and lace collar ask an older companion, “Captain Bobadilla?” The other nodded, and both smirked. If Toby heard, he gave no sign. He ordered a cup of ale, then stared into the fire. Talk buzzed around him.
“Captain,” said the older man, a compact gentleman wearing spectacles and an unfashionably full gray beard, “I see you have your instrument. Will you favor us with some music?”
Toby looked up as if awaking. “Sir?”
“Some music, good Captain.”
“I pray you pardon me. My spirits are out of tune tonight.” Toby turned away and fished a short clay pipe and small bag from a pocket. He loaded the pipe and lit it with a coal from the fire. He puffed thoughtfully for a while, spitting once or twice into the embers.
He didn’t look up when the door opened and a boy of fifteen or so entered. But when the boy called out, “Captain Tobias Hume!” Toby jumped up.
“Word from the queen?” Toby asked loudly. The boy looked puzzled, and the younger and older men looked at each other and smiled. A jowly, red-nosed man at another table stared at Toby in surprise, then gave a snort and turned to his ale.
“Be you Captain Hume, sir?” the boy asked Toby.
“Aye, lad. You have a message?”
“Yes, sir, but not from the queen. My lord your kinsman bade me give you this.” He handed Toby a paper. Toby took it and gave the boy a small coin–not much to judge from the boy’s expression. Toby sat on his bench and read:

Good Captain Toby,
The Queene has asked me to convey her thankes for the gift of your Book. She says she has no leisure now to hear your Musick, but that she will send a proper reward for the dedication. I dared mention your deserts and skill, hinting at your suitablilitie for a place in the Royal musick, but she put me by. I fear me that suche places come by succession and not Merit, for the royal musick has been filled by Bassanos and Lupos time out of mind. I would doe more, but I would not feed you false hopes.
Your well-wishing Cousin.

Toby stared at this note for a while, his eyebrows taking on an even more melancholy droop than usual. With a kind of reflex jerk, he tossed the paper into the fire.

A montage. Toby stood at the gate of a large house, holding another flat package. A servant asked his business, told him to wait, and took the package. After a while, he returned with a coin. In a similar scene, he waited, but the servant never returned. Again, at another house, the servant refused the package, and waved Toby away. Once, Toby was invited into a house, received by a dignified man in a furred gown, who seemed pleased with the book, who listened as Toby played, and who presented him with a small purse.

Toby entered the tavern with his viol. The jowly man with the red nose looked up and grinned. “Captain! What word from the queen?” The man and the rest of the company laughed loudly.
Toby gave a tired smile and unpacked his viol. “Gentlemen,” he began, “an the music I play likes you, tis all in two printed books to be had at Master Windet’s at the sign of the Cross Keys”–by now the red-nosed man and others were reciting along with Toby–“at Paul’s Wharf.”
Toby resignedly began playing. A few listened, others resumed their conversations. A noisy group of men entered, laughing and talking. I recognized Ben Jonson and Will Sly. Both men had put on weight: Sly was noticeably thicker in the jaws and neck, which were covered by a few days’ stubble, but no beard. He was modestly but respectably turned out in a black doublet with dark purple sleeve slashes and a flat white linen collar. Jonson was heavier around the middle, and wore a full but short beard. Toby stopped playing and looked up with an expression of annoyance, which changed to pleasure mixed with something else when he recognized his old acquaintances. He rose and extended his hand toward Sly.
Sly and Jonson had seen him by then, and greeted him heartily. “Well met, Toby! You remember Ben?”
“Of course.” Toby’s smile faded, and he spoke with some asperity. “How could I forget the maker of Captain Bobadilla? Keep you your sword in its scabbard these days, Master Ben?”
“Good Captain,” said Jonson, “twas but a jest. Take it in good part.”
“I took it well enough myself, but there are others who will not let it rest, and it grows stale.”
Sly stepped between them, embracing a shoulder of each man. “Men of wit and good will should be friends, and I would we were all friends here. What say you?”
“I say,” said Jonson with dignity, “that I beg the good captain’s pardon if my personage has caused him to suffer any discomfort.”
“Handsomely said, Ben,” said Sly. “Now, Toby?”
“If Master Ben will defend this real captain as well as he does his feigned one, I have no quarrel.”
“Agreed.” Sly brought their hands together. “Now, gentles,” he said brightly, “let us be merry. Let me make you acquainted with John Lowin, Toby.” Toby shook hands with another stocky man wearing a small goatee and moustache. “We shall sit a while and let you make some music for now, but soon we expect to be joined by another I think you wished to meet.”
“Who is that?” asked Toby.
“Why, Will Shakespeare.”
Toby raised his eyebrows. “Indeed, I admire that man’s wit exceedingly, and would be pleased to be known to him.” He turned to Jonson. “And I must say, Master Ben, that I thought your play of the fox to be most excellent. And Master Alfonso’s songs were most pleasing.”
“Thank you. I shall tell Alfonso you approve.”
The men took their seats, ordered drinks, and Toby took up his viol and resumed playing, closing his eyes. At that moment a woman in a low-cut dress entered, saw Toby, and stopped. She was not old, but her heavy, cracking makeup made her seem frayed around the edges. She lacked two front teeth, an upper and a lower. She moved toward Toby, standing at his side while he finished playing. The red-nosed man nudged another at his table and jerked his head in their direction.
“Captain! The quean is here for a word. Mind your courtesy.” The company laughed, and Toby looked around, startled.
“Moll?”
“Aye, Toby. Come away from these hobbyhorses. I’ll buy us a pint of wine, for I do mean to have a word with you.”
“Thank you, Moll, but a gentleman is coming whom I have longed to meet.”
“My news will not wait, nor when you know it, will you want it to have done.” To the drawer she said, “A pint of wine in the Crown.”
She pulled Toby by the sleeve, and as she led him to the private room, the red-nosed wag called out, “Captain! Were you of foot or horse?” He got another laugh. “Mind your spurs!”
“Well, Moll,” said Toby, sitting on a stool across from the woman and looking her over, “it appears you pursue your old trade.”
“Tell me another trade for a poor wench once fallen, Toby, for I would fain find such a one. It appears you pursue yours as well.”
“God help me, I do, though I hope I am cured of thievery.” Toby caught himself and shook his head. “I meant no offence to you, good Moll. You were ever my friend.”
“And mean to be so still. For I have news I thought I would never see you to tell. But my poverty and the laws of my mystery prevent me from giving it you gratis.”
Toby smiled faintly and pulled two coins from his purse. “I have but two shillings. Will one buy your news?”
Moll gave a gapped smile. “For you, yes. And you will find it a bargain.” Toby handed her the coin. “I think I can show you my news better than I can tell it. Come.” She drank her wine and rose. Leaving his viol in the care of the tapster, Toby followed her.
Moll led him down several dark lanes and alleys. Foul smells greeted them as they turned a corner and walked along a wide open sewer. At the river bank they turned left and went down a narrow set of stone steps. They stopped at a door in a shabby half-timbered building that was losing its plaster, showing the wattle underneath. Moll gave a set of three rapid knocks followed by three spaced ones. The door opened and they went in.
The first room had a low ceiling but a large fireplace in which a few coals glowed. The woman who admitted them appeared in the dim light to be younger and slimmer than Moll, but seemed to be of the same profession. Moll asked, “Will is yet here?” The woman nodded to another door. They crossed and looked through the doorway into a room that was almost completely dark. The floor seemed to be covered with piles of rags, and the smell of stale sweat, ale, and urine was strong. “Will?” called Moll.
“Away, leave me be.” The sleepy voice was deep but youthful.
“Come out to the light. We have a visitor.”
“Pox on your pox, you rotten whore. I’m sick.”
“I bring a cure better than any leech.” Her tone coaxed. “Come now, Will.”
The rags stirred and a figure stumbled to the door. A young man stood frowning and blinking, leaning in the doorway. He had long, dirty blond hair, and reddish fuzz on his pointed chin. He was a head shorter than Toby, taut and wiry like a gymnast. His eyes were narrow and seemed to be on different planes–but his eyebrows sloped down on the sides.
“The only physic I need is a gage of bowse,” he growled. “Who’s this gull?”
“Tell the gentleman your name,” said Moll.
“Will Slider. What’s his? Is he a ben cose or a harman bek?” His tone and look were profoundly suspicious.
“Nay,” said Moll, patiently. “Your right name.”
“I’ve been Slider since I was a kinchin coe, sliding down chimneys and windows. But they said twas Hume.”
Toby stood astonished. “Will Hume?”
“Aye,” said Moll, smiling at Toby. “I recall you telling Felix about searching for a babe named Will. Was this not worth a borde?”
Toby shook his head and stared at Will, who shifted uneasily. Toby then asked, “Who do you remember?”
“From when? I remember morts and coes of all sorts.”
“Who is the first person you remember? Do you remember your mother?”
“Nay.” He shifted his gaze from Toby to Moll. “What’s he mawnding about?”
“Answer him,” said Moll.
“I remember a coe named Harry.”
Toby staggered back to a bench by the fire and began weeping. After a moment, he looked into Will’s puzzled face and said, “I think I am your father. I am Tobias Hume.”
“Niggle the ruffin!” said Will.
Will, Moll, and Toby sat around the fire, tearing pieces from a large loaf of bread and eating. Toby spoke, while Will listened with suspicion, now and then smiling slyly. Moll sat quietly, but with attention.
“I say again, I tried long to find you. I have done little of what belongs to a father. Alas, I have little means to do what I should, and what I wish to do. I would keep you from the gallows.” He looked earnestly at Will, who grinned and looked away. “I would help you to an honest trade. I am not fit for the trade I have, and have not that I am fit for.”
“I have a good trade; I’m a ben nip, but a better foist. The chates will never get me.”
Moll sniffed. “The chates have stretched better necks than yours.”
Toby shook his head. “Youth thinks twill live forever. I have seen many young men surprised by death.”

Toby had taken Will to his lodging in Edgcoke’s house. I saw him trying to teach Will to read. Will seemed quick but resistant.
“How do they put so many letters on the paper?” Will asked Toby at one point.
“Have you never seen a printer’s shop?”
“Nay. I stole some books once by Paul’s, but got only a pittance for them.”
“Some books are worth much. But one must read them to know their value.” Will seemed to take that in, and returned to study more willingly.

Another day, Will came to Toby’s lodging with a book.
“What’s this worth?”
Toby looked skeptical. “How did you come by it?”
“At the Mermaid. I was cleaning a table in the Unicorn–”
“Honest work,” interrupted Toby, “though I hope to get you a true apprenticeship if I can ever raise the sum for the premium.”
“–a table where a bald coe–”
“Man, not coe.”
“–a bald man had been sitting. Found it on the table. He was gone.”
Toby looked at the book, a leather-bound blank book nearly filled with handwriting. He turned to the flyleaf and read “W. Shakespere his book.”
“I know this man,” he said with some excitement. “Tis Master Shakespeare’s!”
“So is it of value?”
“To him, surely. We must return it.” Will looked disappointed. Toby looked through the book. Each page seemed to contain a single item, for there were blank spaces at the top and bottom of each page; a few pages were covered with extensive revisions. The pages were full until about halfway through; then there were a few dozen blank pages. Then more writing, though not as many pages were used. Then more blank pages, except for the last two. He stared at the last page long enough for me to read

. . . and this by that I prove:
Loves fire heates water, water cooles not love.

“We must find Master Shakespeare. I’ll to the Globe tomorrow.”
Will frowned. “I didn’t steal the book. He thought so little of it that he left it behind.”
“He may have had a visit from his muse and forgot it. I once left a book worth a shilling twopence in a close-stool.”
Will flipped the pages. “What think you of this? Would a printer take such a valuable book as premium for an apprentice?”
Toby hesitated, and Will grinned and narrowed his eyes. His canine teeth were noticeably pointed. “I might do well with a printer,” said Will, giving Toby as sidewise glance. “I can read better now, and I would like beating with the ink balls. I could learn to set the little letters quickly; when I trained as a foist, I could pick three pockets in a wink, and no one the wiser.”
“No more thought of thievery.”
“No indeed. This book, now–if a printer printed it, twould be giving to many rather than taking from one, would it not?” Toby said nothing, and Will continued. “If it bought me an honest trade and kept me from thieving, one small borrowing of one man’s discarded trash might prevent a thousand thefts.” Toby frowned but said nothing, looking down. Will grinned.
“Well, you wouldn’t learn honesty with old Windet,” said Toby. “He cheated me of my music books, I’m sure. Now Master Thorpe seems a cheerful, honest man. Maybe we should just put the case to him, to see how he would answer.”
“Ah,” said Will, “tis good to have my own dad.” Toby smiled and brushed his nose.

Thomas Thorpe was indeed a cheerful, jolly man, a temperament that seemed to be fueled by a steady intake of sack, a bottle of which he kept at his elbow in his crowded bookshop. He sat at a small table piled with books, some unbound and some covered with vellum. He had a pronounced paunch and rosy cheeks over a thin beard; he was about Toby’s age. He seemed delighted by the proposition, especially when he saw the book in question.
“I have just come by another poem by Master Shakespeare, not his best–nothing like Venus and Adonis–ah, if only I had the selling of that poem! But these sonnets will carry it bravely. Some few sonnets have been going about in copies for years, and old Jaggard printed them in a book of cuttings and sweepings”–here he made a gesture of disgust–“some ten years ago. So there will be gentlemen and ladies who have had a taste who might pay for a feast.” He smacked his lips, turning the pages. He read for a while, gave a chuckle and an appreciative murmur, then turned back to Toby and Will. “So, this is Will Hume, who would learn the book trade?”
“Aye, sir,” said Will, managing to look both modest and shrewd.
“Well, I think I may accept this book as your premium. You may take it to Master Eld’s print shop and begin your study while the captain and I draw up your articles of apprenticeship. But wait a moment.” Thorpe took a sheet of paper and scratched on it with his pen for a few moments. “Tell Master Eld to set this as the dedication. Twill be our joke.” He showed Toby the paper with an inscription in italic capitals. “I dedicate the book to Master W. H., only begetter of these sonnets. I know several gentlemen with these initials who might pay for the flattery. But we know who the true begetter is for the book trade.” He laughed as he handed the paper to Will, who set off with it and the book.
“Now, Captain. Let us to the articles. Tis a common form, the scrivener in the next street can draw it up for sixpence. But let us say ‘a material consideration’ for the premium.”

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