Time’s Bending Sickle

The beginning of this novel may be found in the archives under October 2010. Scroll down to find chapter one.

35. Wasteful Time

I ground away at the book. I had obtained copies of all the In Nomines I could find, and had scored all those that were not in print. I had over 150 examples by nearly sixty composers, all English, except for the motets in Doreen’s manuscript. I was now into the tough business of analysis, looking for developments between Christopher Tye and Henry Purcell. It was involving work, and did me good.
But I still had nightmares about Abner Cross and his gun, and still had an exaggerated startle response. A sonic boom or clap of thunder could trigger a rush of adrenalin that left me panting and distracted for a long time. Sometimes I would get phone calls in which the caller wouldn’t speak or answer, and I would worry that they were from Abner. But when I called the prison in Huntsville, they would assure me that he was still safely locked up.
Maybe the calls were from Jean. I had not heard from her since I returned the cello she sent. Although she must have inferred that I wasn’t interested in a reunion, I had not said so explicitly, and she hadn’t called to repeat her suggestion. Was she calling to do so and getting cold feet? I had pangs of regret from time to time, but always returned to my determination to keep that door closed.
I saw Clio on the same friendly-but-no-sex basis as before. That doesn’t mean there was no sexual tension. She understood clearly that I would like the relationship to develop in that direction, but she didn’t allow it to. How she did so without teasing or damaging the genuine friendship we were growing is difficult to explain. I don’t understand how she did it, other than to say that she was a model of unobtrusive tact and good humor. The quartet still met almost weekly at her house, and she sometimes fed me beforehand. Once in a while she would invite me to play while she painted, or ask me out for a pizza or a movie–always dutch. I learned what times she was likely to be absorbed in her work, and what times she might go out with me or allow me to visit. She never came to my place. She never hesitated to chase me out when she thought I should go, but she always made me leave feeling good.
Now and then an item in the news would catch my eye and remind me of Cullen. Ramforce, which Howell sold to a group of workers, went bankrupt. Tedesco was still in the news for one deal or another, though the fad for leveraged buyouts seemed to be fading. Dragonbyte seemed to be doing well. Hiro and Tom had come up with several new games, one of which became so popular among college students that even Doreen knew about it. It was a parody of alien invader games called “Space Draft Evaders.” They were an easy sale–I could spend three days selling to college bookstores and make enough to pay my rent. The old Wizardware games were still around, but the new ones Howell’s team came up with went nowhere.

Visions still came, mostly late at night when I was tired. They continued to come in briefer fragments, with more gaps of time between them. But I noticed they were longer if I had been startled or had an especially vivid nightmare or flashback about Abner Cross.
One afternoon I was going crosseyed reading scores and took a nap. I dreamed I was sitting in our old Dallas apartment, reading Jean’s journal, when she entered, carrying a cello. I put down the journal, expecting her to be angry, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead she invited me to look at the new cello she had for me. She turned away and opened the case; she reached in and brought out a rifle instead of a cello and pointed it at me. Then with one hand she ripped off her face, as in the old “Mission Impossible” shows, and she was Abner, complete with orange hat. I woke up in a sweat, heart pounding.
As I lay there trying to catch my breath, I saw Toby working away at his kitchen table by candlelight. He was not writing music, but was drawing some kind of plan or diagram. Mary came to the door in a nightgown and urged him to come to bed.
“By and by,” he replied. “I must do this while tis in my mind.”
“What is it tonight?” Mary spoke with a hint of weary exasperation.
“A refinement on my Devil’s Organ.” He beckoned her in and pointed to the diagram. “You see the wheeled carriage. This lever will brake each rank when it fires.” Mary glanced at the paper and rubbed her eyes. “Now with four ranks of barrels, two can be cooling while this one is being loaded, and this one is ready to fire.” I could see that Toby was describing a kind of gatling gun, with ten gun barrels on each side of a long box supported by a carriage on wheels. The top row pointed forward, the row behind pointed up, and the other two pointed back and down. The box rotated on the carriage and was held in place by a locking lever. “The important thing is that this will deliver a burst of shot quickly; it matters not that it cannot be aimed like a musket.” Mary yawned. “But loading is slow, and it would be dangerous to fire and load at the same time.”
“I’m to bed, husband. Come when ye will.”
Toby did not notice that she had left. He muttered, “Now if we had each charge of powder and shot already together in a packet of paper that would slip down the barrel. . . .” He scratched some more lines on the paper. Suddenly, a log on the fire gave a loud bang, and Toby jumped. I jumped too, and the vision vanished.

Toby started up in bed, and leaped to the floor crying “No!”
Mary sat up with a gasp. “Toby? Wha’ is it?”
Toby stood panting and staring into the dark. The kitchen embers made a slight glow, and a bright moon shone through the small window. He rubbed his eyes. Little Elizabeth gave a soft wail from her pallet. Mary went to her and began rubbing her back and crooning, while still looking anxiously at Toby.
“A dream. Och, a bad one.” Toby sat back on the bed. When Elizabeth grew quiet, Mary climbed back in bed and drew Toby to her.
“Tell us, love. Telling a dream can break its spell.”
“I could swear I was there again. When the mine blew at Steenwijk and poor Captain Hall and my fellows were killed. I’ve never had such a dream.”
“Did ye no dream about it soon after?”
“Oh, aye. But not so clearly. I could smell the powder. Oh, the blood!”
Mary stroked his cheek. “Here you are, safe at home, with a loving wife and babe. You’ll never see such a sight again.”
“I pray so.” Toby shuddered.
After a moment, Mary asked, “And do ye not dream of Parnu and the wound that brought ye to my house?”
“Aye. But that dream ends well.” He gave her a squeeze. “That was also a bad time. Day by day we starved and suffered, so that we expected no better. But Steenwijk was sudden. And I escaped and my fellows did not.” He rubbed his eyes and then looked into the dark distance. He whispered, “Sometimes I think I should have died with them.”

Another day Toby came home, his eyes drooping with weariness. He slumped on a bench at the kitchen table and did not respond to Elizabeth’s gurgling and pulling on his breeches. Mary had greeted him without looking up from her work at the fireplace; now she turned and immediately asked what was the matter.
“I’m to go to Poland.”
“Poland?” Mary looked worried and surprised. “Tis hardly a year since you were in Russia.”
“Aye. I am commanded to go with Nils Stiernskold to take Dunamunde.”
“I know the place; tis near Riga. But are not we at truce with Poland?” Mary put down her spoon and sat across from Toby.
“We were, but the truce expired September last. And truces last only so long as kings wish them to. Perhaps the king fears the Poles will join with the Catholics to the south.”
“Must you go?” Mary grasped his hand and glanced anxiously at Elizabeth.
“Aye. The orders were from Stiernskold, but I suspect James Spens had to do with them.”
“Spens? Has he not gone back to England?”
“Aye, but the letters fly thick and fast, I am told.” He pulled his hand away impatiently. “Tis said we must take Parno too.” He rose. “I must pack my gear.” Mary stood and put her arms around his neck. He stood still a moment, then moved her arms and mumbled “I must go.”

A large but low-ceilinged room without a fire, doors and windows open. Along with five other officers, Toby sat in a corner looking numb, listening to the harangue a large black-bearded man was delivering in German to a middle-aged fair-haired man who squirmed with discomfort. I couldn’t tell whether or not his discomfort was entirely due to the browbeating the other man was administering, or whether he was in physical pain, for he would grimace and rub his leg from time to time. The gist of the large man’s argument was that they should proceed to Parnu at once, with no further waste of time. The other tried to interrupt from time to time, but the large man answered his objections before he could get them out, and continued emphatically and inexorably. Finally, the speaker, separating his syllables and dwelling on each one, hacking one hand on the other, said “So- muss-en-wir-es-jetzt-tun!” He then sat back, highly satisfied with his performance, and stroked his moustache.
“Very well, Lord Farensbach,” the fair-haired man said in German. “We shall march tomorrow. Captain Hume.” Toby looked up suddenly, as if waking. “Give the orders.”
“Yes, General Stiernskold.”
“I shall speak to my own men,” said Farensbach, and left the room without any courtesies to the general or other officers. Toby saluted the general and followed.
Farensbach strode down the hall outside the meeting room. Toby turned the other way and was joined by his lieutenant, young Daniel, who looked worried and haggard.
“So, captain, what news?”
Toby walked silently for a while, one leg jerking slightly. “We march for Parno tomorrow.”
Daniel shook his head. “Well, that’s something. We could have taken Riga if we had moved and not dallied.”
“Perhaps,” said Toby. “But because the Poles have few soldiers here does not mean they have none at Riga.”
“But the Duna Redoubt was on Riga’s doorstep, and it fell like a ripe pippin.” Daniel thought a moment, glancing at Toby, who seemed distant and lifeless. “Were you not besieged in Parnu yourself, captain? Does it not please you to think of giving the Poles there a dose of their own purge?”
Toby’s face, until now without expression, registered a flicker of pain. “I would wish few men that fate. I hope the Poles have sense enough to yield quickly.”

Toby watched as Swedish guns battered Parnu. The defenders returned fire weakly and sporadically. The Swedes, despite Toby’s urging to lob shot and firebombs over the walls, insisted on burying cannonballs in the sloping modern fortifications. But there must have been some damage done, for the city surrendered on August 8, 1617, after only a few days.
After the Polish garrison had marched out and as the Swedes prepared to enter, Toby approached the general. He doffed his hat and requested, in German, that he be sent back to Dunamunde instead of joining the garrison in Parnu. The general, in a state of irritated distraction that seemed ususal with him, asked why. Toby replied that he had been beseiged and wounded once in Parnu, and that he would prefer to take his chances elsewhere. The general denied his request, saying that his past experience would make him more valuable in Parnu. Toby bowed and rejoined his company. Daniel looked at him questioningly, and Toby shook his head. As Toby limped through the gates of Parnu, I could see that his eyes were amost closed with a frown and his teeth clenched.

As it turned out, Toby was better off in Parnu than he would have been in Dunamunde. From brief scenes and from history books I learned that Stiernskold, true to his passive nature, turned from reluctant offence to ineffective defence. The garrison at Duna Redoubt, weakened by disease, was overcome by forces from Riga. The Swedish troops around Parnu were not paid and began to desert. Farensbach, the Polish lord who had betrayed Dunamunde to the Swedes, returned to the Polish side when he saw the Swedes making so little effort. The withdrawal of his troops further weakened the Swedes, who nevertheless held on to Parnu. Throughout the fall, Toby and the other occupants were concerned about the possibility of an attack by the Polish forces under Radziwill. In the early part of the next year, reports of small clashes were heard, but no force challenged Parnu. That summer an armistice was arranged, and a formal truce was concluded in November. Toby and the rest of the garrison assumed that they would turn Parnu over to the Poles in a short time, but they stayed on. The explanation that circulated among them was that the Polish King Sigismund would not formally ratify the truce, and that gave Gustav Adolf the excuse to stay in Parnu.
A montage from this time showed Toby pacing the walls of Parnu, writing letters to Mary and others, working on the plans for his “Devil’s Organ” and hiding them away in his room, and eagerly badgering arrivals from Sweden for mail and news. On one such arrival, Toby ripped open a packet and found a letter from Mary, but nothing else. Accosting the messenger, he said, “Surely there is more for me.”
“No, Captain Hume, I assure you.”
“Nothing from the king? Nothing from Lord Oxenstierna? Nothing from General de la Gardie? I have written them twice, most urgently.”
“No, sir, I am sorry.”
Toby flushed. “Are you one of Spens’s men?”
The messenger, a Scot, looked surprised. “Who, sir?”
“Spens, James Spens, the Scotsman.”
“No, sir. I know the gentleman only by sight.”
“You know him, then.” He leaned conspiratorially toward the messenger. “Could he not have paid you to look into your bag? A crown for a quick look, to be assured that nothing was amiss?”
The messenger, nettled, said, “No, sir, I do assure you.”
Toby turned away, muttering.

Another time, another messenger, a Swede. When Toby looked at his letters, he turned purple-red, grabbed the poor messenger by the throat and shouted at him in tumbling Swedish. I heard the name Spens a few times, as well as “shellom” and what were clearly other terms of abuse. Two other officers had to force him to release the messenger and led him away, cursing and struggling.

Toby, much grayer in his beard, and looking exhausted, was met at his door by Mary, herself showing some signs of stress and time–she was thinner, with deep lines flanking her nose and mouth. Elizabeth, a pretty but runny-nosed four-year-old, clung to her skirts. Mary embraced Toby desperately, and both wept; Elizabeth soon followed their example. Mary picked her up and incorporated her into their embrace, saying, “Wheesht, Bet, wheesht. Tis well; tis your father. We weep for joy.” But I could tell there were tears of sadness and regret as well.
Toby finished his soup and leaned against the wall, careful not to wake the sleeping Elizabeth in his lap. He sighed deeply. “My love,” he said, “we must never be separated again. I could not bear it.”
“Nor could I. If it had not been for the child, I had put my breeches on and walked to Parnu for you.”
Toby grasped her hand across the table. “I shall never leave you again.”
“Nor I you.”

Toby sat at his kitchen table, sketching by candlelight, mumbling. Mary closed the cupboard and looked at him with concern. She straightened up, forced a smile, and spoke.
“All done. Now, Toby lad, let’s have some music. Are there still strings to your viol?”
“Eh?” Toby glanced up, then returned to his papers. “Not now, lass.”
“Toby.” Mary dropped the smile and sat on the bench across from Toby. “Toby. Can ye no talk wi’ me a bit?”
Toby did not look up, but said absently, “Aye–what is it?”
“Ye’ve no been yoursel’. You never play your viol–pray look at me.” Toby looked up, but seemed impatient and distracted. “What troubles you so?”
He shuffled his papers and held up a sketch. “You know how I complain about the men and their pikes. I am trying to combine the pike and the musket, so a discharged musket will be useful for more than a club. It willna be so good as a true pike, for it must be shorter. But you see, if muskets can be made so”–he pointed to the sketch–“a blade can be attached–”
“No, lad, tis something else. You have no cheer, you are never merry. Even Bet can scarce fetch a smile from you.”
“But if the king will only attend to my musket-pike and my Devil’s Organ, I think I may do well. Then I can be merry.”
Mary shook her head and grasped Toby’s hand. Toby pulled free and stood, then began pacing.
“So I am old–aye, but I have experience! I know what belongs to a soldier! Yet they put me by, they smirk and sneer. They give me a rotten ploughgate and not my rightful pay.” He clenched his fists and shook them. “Tis all Spens and his minions. They conspire against me.” He stopped and looked at Mary. The sad concern on her face seemed to register, and his fierce look softened. “I can scarce feed you and the babe. What shall we do if this harvest is worse than the last?”
Mary rose and put her arms around Toby’s neck. “We will be well enough,” she soothed. “Bet is lusty and is growing. And I canna believe that James Spens labors day and night to bar your way.” Toby frowned. “He may not be your friend, but I think he is too busy with his own affairs to be the enemy you think him.”
“Who else would give me such checks, strew such brambles in my path?”
“Perhaps no one. But dinna fret on that, lad; we need not more money or fine cates; what we need is your merry heart. Put up your pikes and guns and sing wi’ me and your babe. Though you feel cheerless, a merry song may lead you to a merry thought.” She pushed up the corners of his mouth with her thumbs, and smiled herself. Then she whirled around and began singing a round:

He that would an alehouse keep
Must have three things in store:
A chamber and a featherbed,
A chimney and a–hey, nonny nonny.

Toby missed the first entrance, but, encouraged by a poke in the ribs from Mary, came in on the next. Toby managed a wan smile by the end.

Toby sat in a tavern with four other officers, none of whom looked familar to me. He sipped from a wooden mug and listened intently as one of the younger officers, whose blond vandyke beard and moustache were barely visible, retailed news in German.
“It’s true, de la Gardie told the Poles we would fight if they would not meet our terms. Already the ships are getting ready in Sandhamn.”
An older officer shook his head. “I have no love for the Poles. But most of their forces are in the east, fighting the Turks, who cut them to pieces at Cecora.”
“So that makes this an ideal time for us,” said the younger, with a touch of condescention.
“As I say, I have no love for the Poles. But they are at least Christian. We should be helping them drive out the Turks, or at least not help the Turks by stabbing the Poles in the back.” Toby nodded slightly.
The young officer was about to reply when another officer, also young, asked, “Where are we to attack? Has anyone heard?”
“Riga,” said the first young officer quickly, trying to reestablish his authority. “It’s surely Riga.”
“That makes sense,” said the fourth officer.
“I’ll not go,” said Toby, firmly but quietly.
All turned to look at Toby. “What?” asked the surprised young officer.
“I won’t go.”
“But Captain, surely you must.”
“No, I’ll go back to England.”
“Well,” said the young officer with a smirk. “You must be feeling your age.”
“His wife’s apron-strings fetter him,” said the other young officer. Toby rose, nodded to the older officer, and walked out without another word.

At home, Toby was in serious conversation with Mary. “I would have some feelings against fighting Lord Bekes, if he be yet living, or his sons.”
“And I know those in Riga I would not have you harm unkowingly,” said Mary. “And to do what would help the Turks also gives me pause. But most of all, I could not leave you again.”
“You told them you would go to England. What will we do there?”
“Ah, but we won’t go to England. I might get leave to go to England, despite Spens. But we’ll go to the Netherlands. The Spanish are threatening again, for the truce has expired. And Prince Maurice will treat us well–we will at least be paid. He will surely have a place for me in training new recruits.” Toby frowned and almost whispered, “And I have debts in Holland.”
“What about the farm?”
“We’ll sell it. We could not bear another bad harvest.” Mary looked troubled. Toby lifted up her chin, smiling. “We’ll live in a good town. Holland is rich. You will have a servant, and all will be clean and handsome.” Mary looked out the open door, across the board walkway covered with mud and into the house across the way, where an old woman was snoring in a patch of sunlight. I guessed it was around June of 1621.

I didn’t see anything that gave me any clues about how Toby and his family got out of Sweden or into Holland, but apparently they did, for I next saw Mary in a clean white apron, bustling about a comfortable-looking room with light pouring in from a large set of windows, a Vermeer interior. A plump young woman led in Elizabeth, who also was fresh, clean, and starched. Mary inspected Elizabeth, nodded approvingly, and rehearsed a curtsy with her. The young woman said something and left the room, leading Elizabeth. Mary circled the room again, rearranged some items on a linen-covered table, and looked out the window. Then she hurried to the door and admitted Toby and a stout older man with a hawkish nose and pale blue eyes.
“Colonel Balfour, may I present my wife.” Mary curtsied and Balfour kissed her hand.
“My husband has often spoken of you, sir,” she said. “You are right welcome.”
“Ah, mistress,” Balfour said, “tis good to hear the right Edinburgh note from a lady. Many of my men are our townsmen, but we have no ladies.”
Toby, looking better dressed and smiling, but still with something of a haunted look, said, “The Colonel was my friend when I was a young soldier. Twas he told me the tale of the taking of Breda by the peat-boat device.”
“And I tell it to my grandchildren still.”
“And he tells it me,” Mary said, smiling, “as if he had been on the peat-boat.”
“And here we are met in Breda,” Toby said. “It will take more than a peat-boat to take it away from us now.”
“Indeed.” Balfour turned to Mary. “Breda is as strongly fortified as any town in Europe. After their losses at Bergen-op-Zoom, the Spanish will never attempt Breda.” They sat at the table and the servant girl poured wine.
“To your health,” said Toby, and raised his glass. They drank. “I would Prince Maurice were in better health.”
“And I the country,” said Balfour. “You must observe many changes, Captain.”
“Oh, aye. I was much amazed that Lord Oldenbarnevelt should be condemned for treason. And I cannot understand why the Dutch should so brabble amongst themselves when they should unite against the Spanish.”
“Twas during the long truce that they allowed their religious quarrels to grow to this pass. I think it beyond any man’s understanding, but I have heard many a passionate argument and seen duels over whether Arminius or Gomarus had the right truth on predestination. Here in Breda the preachers Diamantius and Boxhorn each assured that the other was bound for hell.”
“What was the Remonstrance that I have heard spoken of so much?” asked Toby.
“Twas a petition by the Arminians presented to the States of Holland by Oldenbarnevelt in 1610, the year after the truce with Spain. Arminius, as I understand it, thought Calvin too absolute on predestination, and that all could hope for salvation. The Remonstrants also thought the state should have authority over the church. In the disputation that followed, the Gomarists presented their Counter-Remonstrance. For one reason and another, Prince Maurice–who, I’ll be bound, understands the doctrines no better than I–took the side of the Counter-Remonstrants, as did many others, and now they rule. Now I am as loyal to the prince as any man, but I found not all wisdom to be on the part of the Counter-Remonstrants. And some of the hypocritical preachers that now hold sway would have one believe that there was no lawful pleasure but in singing of psalms.”
Mary, perhaps remembering her tolerant father, shook her head regretfully. Toby sighed and said, “Well, now that the Spanish have renewed their quarrel, perhaps all will pull together.”
“Let us hope so,” said Balfour. “Although the people may have become so accustomed to their dispute that they will not give it up. I have found it prudent to divide my troops, and put no Arminians amongst the Gomarists.”
Toby glanced at Mary, and with some hesitation, asked Balfour, “What think you of my engines of war?”
Mary looked up sharply, but Balfour raised his eyebrows and nodded thoughtfully. “At first I liked the musket pikes, for they could be made easily and could fit most muskets. But as I considered further, I doubt that they would be long enough. They could not serve as ordinary pikes. And as for close fighting, I think a man would prefer his sword.”
Toby looked disappointed. “And the Devil’s Organ?”
“I grant that if it could be made to work as you say, it would be useful on some occasions. But it cannot be aimed, only pointed, and it might be too difficult to build.”
Toby frowned and reddened, and Mary expressed concern. “Nevertheless,” Balfour went on, “I should like to see it tried. I will go with you to the gunsmith tomorrow and we shall see what can be devised.”
Toby smiled and raised his glass. “I thank you, Colonel. To the gunsmith!” Balfour smiled and drank. Mary relaxed some, but still showed concern.
At that point the maid brought in little Elizabeth, who curtsied for Balfour, received goodnight blessings from Toby and Mary, and went off to bed.

The phone rang. It was Jean. “I’ve got to see you.”
“Where are you?”
“In Baltimore. Can you come to my hotel? In an hour?”
I hesitated. She sounded anxious, but fairly sane.
“Please. I need your help.”
“OK. Which hotel?”

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