Time’s Bending Sickle

This is the last chapter of this novel.  For the beginning, go to the archives under October 2010 and scroll down to chapter one.



40. This Our Time

Although I had no more visions of Tobias Hume, I had a document from the end of his life. I wish that I had visions to clarify some parts of it. The document is The True Petition of Colonel Hume, As it was presented to the Lords assembled in the high Court of Parliament, printed by John Giles in 1642. I have quoted from it earlier, but the full text needs to be seen.

To the Right Honourable the Lords and Others Assembled in the High Court of Parliament
The humble Petition of Tobias Hume, one of the poor brethren of that famous Foundation of the Charter House.

Right Honourable and Noble Lords,
I doe humbly intreat to know why your Lordships doe slight me, as if I were a fool or an Asse: I tell you truley I have been abused to your Lordships by some base fellows; but if I did know them, I would make them repent it, were they never so great men in your sight; for I can do the Kings Majesty and my Countrey better service then the best Souldier or Colonel in this Land, or in all Christendom; which now it is a great wonder unto me, that your Lordships do suffer so many unskilfull Souldiers to goe over for Ireland, to doe the Kings Majesties service, that are not able to lead a Company, neither doe they know what belongs to a Souldier; and yet for all this, your Lordships leave me out, that am able to doe the Kings Majesty better service than all the Souldiers that are now to be sent over for Ireland: so that if your Lordships please to pay for the making of a hundred or six score Instruments of war, which I am to have along with me, if you please to send me for Ireland, and make me Commander of all those men that are now to goe over for Ireland, I will undertake to get in all Ireland in three or four Months at the farthest, or else if I doe it not, I will give them leave to take off my head, if my Commanders will be as forward as my selfe, and yet I will do all things with great discretion. And I do here protest, I will doe my King and my Countrey most true and faithfull service, and give the first onset upon the
Rebels in Ireland, to the honour of all England: and therefore if you will not beleeve me, it is none of my fault, when I speake the truth: But if you will not give me command of all the souldiers that goe for Ireland at this time, I will not goe for Ireland, but I will goe for another Countrey, where I will have a greater command than all this which I have desired from your Lordships. But I yet live in hope that you will be pleased to beleeve me, and help me that live in great misery, by reason that I have maintained a thousand Souldiers in this City to do the King service in Ireland, and this I have done seven weekes together, which hath made me very poore, so that I have pawned all my best cloathes, and have now no good garment to wear.
And therefore I humbly beseech you all Noble Lords, that you will not suffer me to perish for want of food, for I have not one penny to helpe me at this time to buy me bread, so that I am like to be starved for want of meat and drinke, and did walk into the fields very lately to gather Snailes in the nettles, and brought a bagge of them home to eat, and doe now feed on them for want of other meate, to the great shame of this land, and those that do not helpe me, but rather command their servants to keepe me out of their gates, and that is the Lord of Essex, and the Lord of Devonshire; but I thank the good Lord of Pembrooke, and the Lord Keeper, and the Earl of Hartford, and my Lord Mayor, and some other Knights, as Sir John Worstenholm & others do help me sometimes with a meales meat, but not alwayes, for I eat Snailes and browne bread and drinke small Beere, and sometimes water, and this I have thought good to make knowne unto your Lordships, hoping that your Honours will helpe me now with some reliefe, or else I shall be forced presently to runne out of the land to serve another King, and do him all the great service, which I would rather do unto my owne most gracious King, who would not suffer me to want, if I had money to bring me unto his Majesty, for I would doe him true and faithful service in Ireland, and can doe him very great service; if his Majesty want money, I will undertake to fetch his Majesty home twenty millions of gold and silver in ready coine in the space of twelve or fourteene weeks: If this service bee not worthy of meat and drink, judge you that are grave & wise Lords of the Parliament, for I will make no more Petitions unto your Lordships, for I have made many, but have not got any answer of them, and therefore if your Lordships will neither entertaine me, nor give me money to buy me meat and drink, I will goe with as much speed as I can into other Countries, rather then I will be starved here. For I protest I cannot endure this misery any longer, for it is worse to mee than when I did eat horse flesh, and bread made of the barke of trees, mingled with hay dust, and this was in Parno in List-land, when we were beleagured by the Polonians: but now to proceed further, I have offered to shew your Lordships my instruments of war, and many other things which I can do fit for the wars, and yet other base fellows are set forward before me that cannot do the Kings Majesty that great service which I can do him, and therefore I say it is a great shame to al this land, the Lord of Pembrooke, the Lord Craven, and many other Lords and Knights and Gentlemen both in this Country and other Countries beyond the seas, as Grave Maurice, the Marquesse of Brunningburgh, and lastly the King of Swetheland, they all know that I am an old experienced Souldier, and have done great service in other forraine Countries, as when I was in Russia, I did put thirty thousand to flight, and killed six or seven thousand Polonians by the art of my instruments of warre when I first invented them, and did that great service for the Emperor of Russia; I do hereby tel you truly I am able to do my King and Country the best service of any man in Christendome, and I will maintaine it with my art and skill, and with my sword in the face of all my enemies that do abuse me to the Lords of the Parliament and others, and if I did know them I would fight with them where they dare, and also disgrace them, I speake this, because I do hear that some of them have disgraced me unto some of the great Lords of the Parliament. Let those souldiers argue with me, and I will make fooles of them all for matter of warre, although they have perswaded the Lords to slight me, and therefore I say againe, they are not able to doe the King that good service which I can doe him, both by sea and land.
And so I humbly take my leave of your Lordships, being very desirous to speake with all the Lords of the Parliament, if they will vouchsafe to speake with me before I goe out of this Land, for I am not able to endure this misery any longer, for I want money, meate and drinke and cloaths, and therefore I pray your Lordships to pardon my boldnesse, and helpe me with some reliefe if you please, or else I must of necessity go into other Countries presently, and so I most humbly take my leave for this time and rest
Your Lordships most humble servant to do your Honours all the good service I can, for I have many excellent qualities I give God thanks for it.

Tobias Hume Colonell.

I am puzzled by Toby’s reference to being starved for want of food, for I saw him eating in the commons of the Charterhouse. Perhaps he was given an allowance out of which he should have bought food, money which he may have given his “troops.” I sorrow at his poverty and delusions, but reflect that he at least was not confined to Bedlam, or, as far as I know, beaten or subjected to the other tortures inflicted on the mad at this time. I wish Toby could have had the benefit of my Dr. Levin, who in a few months largely cured my post-traumatic stress syndrome.
I miss Toby, though I’m glad I was spared visions of his final decline and the inevitable suffering attending his end. As Clio said, it was in some ways like living another life. But I must confess relief that the nagging sense that I was not right in the head is gone. And somehow I have felt a tremendous surge of energy since the end of my visions, though my marriage to Clio and my new career must have contributed–or perhaps our marriage and my job helped cure whatever neurosis was producing my hallucinations. Anyway, I found myself teaching with gusto, practicing the cello with profit and pleasure, and plunging into the carpentry for Clio’s new studio with enthusiasm. Yes, we found a house with a barn–not the one we first saw, but one with a smaller barn that was connected to the house and that could be converted into a studio more practically. I found that I could teach and practice all day and then work on the barn half the night, make love, and sleep deeply and dreamlessly. We had windows and skylights installed in the barn, but I painted it, put in insulation, wallboard, and a wood stove, plus a block and tackle on a runner for moving large paintings and perhaps sculptures. Vermont marble and granite inspired Clio to think about going in that direction, and she has sold several pieces of sculpture recently.
With Doreen’s help, I got a good university press to publish my book. It was no best seller, even by specialized academic standards, but it got respectable reviews, and helped me get tenure.
In addition to teaching, which I found that I love, I found time to play a lot of chamber music with George and Betty. We gave some performances locally, and there has been some recent talk of giving some concerts for actual money. We are negotiating for a recital next summer at the St. Gaudens estate in New Hampshire, now a national park.

I also seemed to find time to read widely and eclectically. I continued to read history and music history, especially when I wanted to use some information I got from a vision. One can’t allege some fact in a scholarly article and support it with a footnote reading “As seen in a vision by the author on June 1, 1984.” I also read some things about time, for my experiences have raised a number of questions about it.
I was fascinated to learn that some physicists think that time might be reversible. Einstein said that “the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion.” When Newton formulated his laws of motion, he worked them out to describe a frictionless universe, such as the solar system: a film of the solar system would look the same if it were run forward or backward. But the idea of time being reversible is, as the physics teachers say, “counter-intuitive”–it doesn’t jibe with our experience. Nevertheless, to one who thinks he may have experienced a kind of time reversal, the notion is intriguing.
Other physicists talk about the “arrow of time.” According to Stephen Hawking, there are three arrows of time: the thermodynamic arrow, which points in the direction of the increasing disorder, or entropy, in the universe; the psychological arrow, our ordinary sense of the passage of time; and the cosmological arrow, the time in which the universe is expanding. The first arrow determines the second: all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again after he had fallen from the wall; not only can you not make an omelet without breaking eggs, you can’t get eggs back out of the omelet.
The third arrow gets complicated. The theory of general relativity relates space and time, and states that both are curved; but it also implies a point of creation, the Big Bang, the beginning of time. It also implies the Big Crunch, when the universe stops expanding and contracts. But Hawking and others, attempting to combine quantum mechanics with general relativity, raise the possibility that space and time form a four-dimensional space that is finite, but without boundaries–as Hawking says, like the surface of the earth but with more dimensions. Even when the universe contracts, time will still go forward, and not backward, for entropy will continue, though not by much, since by then the universe will be in a state of almost complete disorder. And by then life as we know it will be gone, so there will be no one to observe or to question the meaning of time.
Other physicists have different explanations, which I understand in only the most superficial way. Ilya Prigogine sees thermodynamics as primary and classical mechanics as secondary, and brings the irreversability of the arrow of time into quantum mechanics. Prigogine goes on, however, to see in “dissipative structures” such as living organisms sources of order “floating” in the larger disorder of the increasing entropy described by the second law of thermodynamics. So that life and creativity can at least delay the effects of entropy.
Was I able in some way to see from the head of the curving arrow of time back to the tail feathers? Did I somehow see in a radial line across the curve? Or was I able to escape from the arrow’s path into some realm of quantum mechanics in which processes work as well backward as forward? Or had I somehow been enlisted to slow the effect of entropy on Toby’s life? He lived a long life at a time when life expectancy was low; perhaps he could somehow draw on my allotment of energy to prolong the progress of disorder in his own system. I see that I have written “somehow” in most of the preceding sentences, a ploy to cover my cluelessness about any possible mechanism for my wierdness. I don’t have enough math or physics to do any better. But in music, which exists primarily in time, I may have found a sense of the relationship between time and space. When music is performed or realized, it takes place only in time; but in the mind, on reflection, it has a kind of spatial character–structures take on space in the imagination.

I hope I have not hastened the effects of entropy on my own life, for I find that I have more and more to live for. Despite my intimate acquaintance with Toby’s sad experiences as a father, Clio and I decided to offer our own hostages to fortune: two years after we married, our twin daughters, Thalia and Polly, were born. They have added a dimension to our lives that would have otherwise been unknown to us; and they have made us more aware–and sometimes more anxious–of the future, and our stake in it. They are also growing from charming babies and children into interesting and delightful people, whom we are glad to have in our lives. Thalia loves to ramble through the woods and the countryside in all seasons, but she also enjoys being around people whom she can make laugh. She’s written some very clever comic verse. Polly is more serious, and has started to take organ lessons in addition to the piano. Despite the wonderful music Bach and others wrote for the organ, I’m not fond of the instrument–perhaps it goes back to my own childhood discomfort with churches. But that doesn’t seem to bother Polly. Perhaps she likes controlling the power of the organ; maybe she’ll move on to conducting. But enough about our children; strange as it may seem, I realize that others might not find them as fascinating as I do.

This story is winding to its end. I thought it had ended some time ago, since Clio and I just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary in warm, contented normality–wonderful for us, but perhaps not so interesting to an outsider. But as I gain more distance from the time of my visions, more mundane explanations seem plausible. I was forced to face this possibility one day when I was reading a new book on Dutch history. An episode that I remember vividly experiencing with Toby in a vision could not have happened. It was not Sir Francis Vere who led the troops in the attempt to relieve the siege at Breda, but his younger brother Horace. The documents the historian cited were of the kind no one would have any reason to alter or fake, and they contradicted my vision, in which Toby and several others spoke of Sir Francis Vere. And most Shakespeare scholars agree that his King John was written later than the time when Toby encountered it. I had always had an active imagination; it is at least possible that the stress I was under in my job and first marriage led me to escape into imaginary travels into the past. My readings and researches into Toby’s life and times may have produced a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
If it was escape, it was not merely escape. If these visions were sometimes distracting, they also may have helped me get through some rough times and to make some better choices. I could see that Toby’s life had more serious dangers and stresses than mine, and that he managed to survive them and, until the end, to accomodate them. Toby finally gave up on the relationship with Jane, and that may have helped me give up mine with Jean. But I also saw Toby allowing circumstances to force him to choices that were bad in the long term. I think his abandonment of music was linked to the deterioration of his mental health. I have found music to be genuinely healing. Even if one cannot live by music, that is no reason to live without it.
Whatever the cosmologists discover about the nature of time, we human beings feel its inexorable progress toward our individual dissolution, and take what comfort we can in wishful myths of a paradise after death, or in the generation of those who will cherish our memories for a while. Or, as Shakespeare hoped to do, we may find a kind of afterlife in works of art. Some of us may find consolation of another kind in proverbs like “Truth is the daughter of time,” or “Time trieth truth.” Time sometimes does reveal the truth of the past; but it also buries many truths. Henry Adams is supposed to have thought that the past of history was fact, while Henry James thought of it as a world we make in our imaginations. I think both are right. We use our imaginations to make some sort of comforting or coherent sense of the jumble of facts or alleged facts. And interest in the past seems to be a growing concern of human beings as history drags us on. Perhaps our attempts to recover the past are another way of retarding entropy, at least in our minds.

I had no vision of Tobias Hume’s death, nor do I have any documents other than the date, April 16, 1645. But here is how my imagination pictured it.
Old Toby sat in a corner of the Master’s Court of the Charterhouse, muttering to himself. The new master passed by, greeting him cheerfully; Toby did not reply. One of the servants followed soon after, calling back to a colleague something about ale for the master’s guests. The early evening light grew softer; it was like looking through a yellow bottle. The household noises diminished, and the distant sound of music grew more distinct. Toby blinked rapidly and turned his head. He slowly looked back out over the lengthening shadows on the courtyard and rubbed his eyes. The music stopped, but began again. Toby grasped his stick and reeled to his feet. As he approached the windows to the master’s lodging, he grew aware that the music came from viols–four, no, five–and that one of them was playing a deliberate, firm sequence around which the other voices wove in a stately dance. It was an In Nomine. Toby stumbled to the open window and saw the master and four other men–another clergyman and three modestly dressed gentlemen–sawing away. The candlelight shone on the master’s balding forehead and on the faint smile on his lips. All were completely absorbed in the music and deeply happy. They were amazingly well in tune, and no one had yet made a mistake. Toby found the tears running down into his beard. The music wound serenely on. Toby slid to a sitting position, his back against the wall under the window, sighed “At last!” and died.

The End


One Response to “Time’s Bending Sickle”

  1. g2-71f17efe381c3f06b66d06869fd98f8d Says:

    Your stories are a truly delightful discovery. I am in the process of formulating a short story about Captain Hume myself, so may visit your pages again later to see whether we concur about the flesh we have added to his historical bones.

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