Time’s Bending Sickle

June 12, 2011

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.
“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.”


Time’s Bending Sickle

June 5, 2011

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.”

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 29, 2011

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

30. Time Wastes Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last song was another downer that began

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

Later lines seemed to speak to Toby’s experience:

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

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

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

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

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

Further down, the list reads:

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

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

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

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

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 23, 2011

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

29. The Wastes of Time

It was dawn. The town of Dobrynichi, surrounded by a log pallisade, was about a hundred yards from a shallow trench that scarred the snow-covered plain. The trench stretched out of sight in both directions, curving around the town. It was crowded with men, most of whom rested an arquebus on its rim, and held matchcord which they occasionally blew on. Cannon were placed at intervals a few yards in front of the trench, and were protected by wickerwork barriers filled with earth. In that section of the trench nearest the town gate, Toby limped from one man to another, explaining, sometimes in German, sometimes in English, and sometimes, through Jacob, in Russian, how to fire an organ pipe. The smaller pipes were raised and backed by mounds of earth; the ends of the larger ones were weighted with stones. The sound hole of each pipe was filled in with clay, except for a small touch-hole charged with powder.
“Do not be afraid that the pipes will burst, for they hold no shot. But after you touch your match, turn away so that a backfire may not burn you. Now, all you, cannoneers, arquebusers, all. Hold your fire until I signal. We must fire all at once, together, ensemble, zusammen. We must make a good show.”
Toby turned and looked out into the mist. After a while, muffled sounds of firing and shouting could be heard, and then the roar of cannon, not so distant. More shouts, shots, and the cry of horses and the thud of hoofbeats. The medley of noises grew louder as the conflict grew closer–one could now hear swords clashing. Then, through the valley that led to the town, a crowd of horsemen came galloping. When the valley widened, they spread out.
“They’re ours!” someone called out in English.
Behind the retreating Russian cavalry, Dimitry’s horsemen pressed on. But rather than spreading out to pursue the Russians, they headed straight for the town. They were densely packed, and I could not see the last of them. Toby stood on one of the cannon wheels.
“Get ready! Fertig!”
The men blew on their matches. Toby strained forward toward the approaching riders. The rumble of hoofbeats was the ground bass over which the shouting and firing were mere grace notes.
I couldn’t see the whites of their eyes, but Dimitry’s cavalry were about fifty yards from the cannon when Toby shouted “Fire!” The cannon and arquebuses joined the organ pipes in an unholy chorus of noise, flame, and smoke, rolling along the trenches like thunder. For a while, I couldn’t see a thing for the smoke. However, if horsemen had been jumping the trench I think I would have noticed. When the smoke began to thin, I could make out a confused turmoil as the horsemen, who had turned in retreat, met their comrades pressing from the rear. The Muscovite cavalry had turned as well, and was now coming back to harass the edges of the milling Dimitrians. Eventually, the retreat gained momentum, and the Muscovites followed in pursuit. A few of the Russians in the trench, yelling and waving their swords, left their discharged arquebuses and set off running after the horsemen. The rest jumped up and cheered, or soberly began to reload. The men who had fired the organ pipes grinned in happy astonishment. Only one had ignored Toby’s warning, and got his face blackened when his pipe split; he seemed unhurt, but for a while he was puzzled by the jeers of his comrades.
Toby was clearly pleased and excited. “Brave music, men!” he shouted to his organists.

I awoke feeling much better. I had slept nearly ten hours, and my head was clear enough to make me grind my teeth in chagrin at my bizarre intrusion on Clio the night before. I’d call to apologize, then stay away. For a while. Until–what? Until I was a little more in control, more respectable, more presentable. Why? OK, the attraction was not only the wonderful cello. I allowed myself to think things that I had denied myself in my role as faithful husband. Yes, Clio interested me. But I was just a casual acquaintance, and it would be presumptious of me to think the interest could be returned. She had a life, and clearly had an interest in at least one other man. But I think Clio–and Marina, and Alice, and Doreen–were friends, though our acquaintance was neither long nor deep.
I shaved, showered, checked my wounds–which seemed fine–and ate a big breakfast of ham and hash browns. My leg felt better, but it usually did in the morning. Back in the room, I determined to call Clio, but put it off while I looked through the job ads in the Post and the Sun. I jumped when the phone rang. It was Clio.
“I thought you were going to call. I tried three different Day’s Inns.”
“Listen, I’m sorry. I was about to call and apologize for barging in like that, but I was slow getting up the nerve. Thanks for putting up with my weirdness.”
“It’s OK. But I would like to know what’s going on with you. You don’t have to say now, but you could come have dinner tonight and talk then.”
“I’d like that a lot. I promise I won’t speak in tongues or communicate with UFOs.” I couldn’t promise not to have hallucinations. “As an explanation, not an excuse, I can tell you quickly that I was shot, and fired, and that my marriage is over.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Jean threw my cello off the balcony of our apartment.”
“Oh, no!”
“I’ll give you the bloody details if you’re sure you want to hear.”
“Jean didn’t shoot you, I hope? Or a jealous husband?”
“No.” I was losing my nerve. “Look, you can give me a rain check. I feel bad about you rewarding my presumption with one of your dinners. If you’re sure you don’t mind talking to me, let me take you out.”
“No, thanks. I’ll expect you at seven.” She hung up before I could weasel out.
I got through the rest of the day somehow. I made a few responsible calls, one to Janelle asking for unemployment paperwork, one to Perry, one to the insurance company, and one to my lawyer friend, the viola player who played quintets with us on occasion, and was the victim of dual-purpose jokes.
“Hey, Herm, it’s Tony.”
“Where the hell are you?”
“Baltimore. That’s why I’m calling.”
“I heard about that nut shooting you. I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t hear any more jokes. Now I guess I will.”
“How about now?”
“OK, let’s have it,” he said with mock resignation.
“How is a lawyer like a viola?”
Sigh. “How?”
“They both sound better when the case is closed.”
“Ho ho. Why Baltimore?”
“I’m not sure about that myself. It ain’t Dallas, for one thing. Anyway, I not only got shot, I got fired and dumped. Jean may be trying to find me to file for divorce.”
“You don’t sound like a happy camper.”
“It only hurts when I laugh. Anyway, you might call Jean and tell her you’re representing me–you will, I hope?”
“I don’t do divorce, but I can fix you up.”
“OK, I guess. Anyway, I’m at the Day’s Inn, Baltimore East. If I find something to do and settle elsewhere I’ll let you know.”
I resumed my search through the Post and the Sun. Was I fit for anything besides sales? I could work a computer a little, and knew some of the things they could do, but I was not a programmer or hacker, so I was not employable in that area. No jobs for second-rate cellists. The momentary pleasures of gallows humor faded rapidly. A halluciation began to flicker in my peripheral vision. I’d better get it over with before I face Clio.

I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of the scene I tuned in to. I expected to see wounded and dead, which is bad enough. But the Russian army was enthusiastically hanging all of the prisoners from Dimitry’s forces whom they discovered to be Russian. The disarmed prisoners were backed up against the pallisade wall of Dobrynichi and held at gunpoint by an almost solid ring of streltsy. A group of officers was separating them into two groups, one of which was herded into the town, and the other was pushed into a mob of yelling soldiers who began filling the trees with their hanging bodies.
Toby and Margeret looked on. Toby, visibly repelled, asked Margeret if it could be stopped. The Frenchman said, in effect, that it would be too dangerous to try to interfere with the soldiers’ revenge. He then launched into a dissertation on Russian society. The Russians were cruel because they had been taught cruelty; they had been beaten and robbed by those in authority time out of mind, so they naturally beat their wives and children and any creature weaker than they. If any of the common people should accumulate any goods through thrift or hard work, their betters take them away; so they live hand to mouth, and drink up anything they may earn as fast as they can. Your Swedes and Danes and Dutch are great drinkers, but they are nothing to the Russians. Since they have no power over their lives, they have no honor, and can be great cowards, as we saw at Novgorod Seversky. Like any wild beast, they will fight to survive; but they have no loyalty to anything but themselves.
Toby argued that many are fighting for Czar Boris, and many believe Dimitry to be the true prince, and, however misguidedly, are fighting for him.
Momentary passion and mistaken self-interest, replied Margeret. He was about to elaborate when Toby interrupted and pointed in horror to a gang of soldiers who had thrust a sharpened stake up the rear of a poor screaming, writhing wretch and were setting the stake upright in the ground. I shuddered to realize that gravity would slowly impale the victim further until death released him from his agony. Toby turned and vomited. I ended the vision as soon as I could. I drank a lot of cold water and took a long walk, letting the stinking and noisy traffic and garish signs for fast food and sexual display cleanse my imagination.

I remembered to bring wine. Marvellous smells attended Clio when she opened the door. She was in denim shirt and jeans, but no apron. “Sit,” she said, handing me a glass of her own chilled white wine. “We have time to talk a bit while the oven does the work.” We sat. “Now, how did you get shot? I noticed your limp last night, but I assume you’re OK.”
“Yeah, I’m a bit sore.” I explained about Abner Cross, not minimizing my role in the loss of his job. I had figured out that my firing and Jean’s affair were related; at least Howell must have felt that his relationship with Jean would allow him to do it with no problems. I also speculated on the use he might have made of Jean’s “memories” of satanic ritual abuse, but I may have painted him blacker than he deserved. Clio listened with sympathetic fascination, but no judgments–only a few questions.
“Jean has seen a therapist?”
I explained that she might be contributing to the problem rather than helping.
“So all your stuff went off the balcony with the cello?”
“Yeah. I salvaged all but a few clothes, papers, records, and odd junk.”
“The cello–not fixable?”
“It’s toothpicks. I saved the bow, the neck, and the tailpiece. I don’t know why I bothered.”
A buzzer sounded from the kitchen. “Let’s eat.”
We had lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and a good red wine. Comfort food. When the coffee was ready, Clio put out five cups. I was just about to ask about the cups when the doorbell rang. Clio admitted Marina, Alice, and Doreen, all carrying instruments. Marina gave me a big hug, and they all clucked over my wounds. But we didn’t take too much time with my woes; we quickly finished our coffee and got down to playing. Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn–cheerful, engaging music, very therapeutic.
Over dessert it became clear that Clio had assigned the group the problem of cheering me up and helping me out.
“Now, Tony,” began Alice, “I have a colleague who’s going on sabbatical, leaving next week, and needs someone to stay in her apartment and feed her fish. Could you manage that for a quarter?”
“I don’t know what your plans are,” said Doreen, “but I have a grant with a bit of money for a research assistant. I normally would hire a grad student for this, but none is available this term. Could you do some scoring of manuscript part-books for eight dollars an hour? When you feel like it, there is some research I need done at the Folger and the Library of Congress.”
“These aren’t long-term solutions to anything,” said Marina, “but they may help while you settle things and see where you want to go.”
I tried to thank them, but I couldn’t talk. I cried. After a while, I said, “Please don’t tell the men’s union about this. Thank you all very much.”
“We just have to do this sort of thing now and then to remind everyone that women are better than men,” said Clio, smiling. I believed her profoundly.
I hugged them all as we said goodnight. Did I detect any difference in Clio’s embrace? It would be a flattering fantasy.
The next day I met Alice’s colleague, Maria Boniface, who trusted me implicitly on Alice’s recommendation. “I’m going to do some work on the art in little Italian churches before the Mafia steals it all,” she said. She was a wispy little woman in her early sixties, maybe a hundred pounds after Thanksgiving dinner, but she gave the impression that any Mafiosi would have a hard time getting a painting out from under her scrutiny. She showed me her fish, and described the regimen for their care. She pointed to a computer in a corner surrounded by loaded bookshelves. “I’m taking my portable, but you can use my Macintosh if you like,” she said, assuming that everybody must be writing something. “Otherwise just feed the fish and keep track of your long distance phone calls.”
I moved in two days later. I found some high shelves–too high for Maria–that would hold my books. There was plenty of room for my clothes, and even a parking slot for my car. I called Perry, Callie, Janelle, and Herm with my new address and phone number. None had much news. Herm had made contact with Jean’s lawyer, and gave me the name of a colleague who did divorces for somewhat less than a pound of flesh. Callie said that her relations with Jean had been strained when she left; she had called Jean a few times, but had had a cool response. “She insists she’s fine, but won’t really talk,” Callie said. Perry said that morale was low at Cullen, but the layoffs had subsided, and at least Ramforce was out of the picture. He said that Hiro had gone to work for Tom Backschieder.
On a whim, I called Wizarware and asked to speak to Hiro.
“Excuse me?” A youthful female voice.
“Hiro Watanabe.”
“One moment please?” A pause. “I’m sorry, sir? Like, we don’t have anyone by that name?”
“How about Tom Backscheider?”
“I’m sorry, sir? Mr. Backscheider is no longer with this company?”
I was puzzled. I still had Tom’s home number, so I called, and Tom answered.
“Tony, my man! You OK? Hiro told me about the shooting.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll live. You’re not at Wizardware?”
“Nah, I couldn’t take that corporate shit. I thought about suing, but I got them to pay me off, and I’m starting a new company with Hiro and a few other old hackers.”
“What about your games?”
“The old ones? They have them, but we’ve got some new ones that’ll blow them away. I’ve got one called ‘Evolution,’ with dinosaurs and everything.”
“Great. What do you call the new company?”
“Dragonbyte, with a y of course. Cool, huh?”
“Right on. Say, do you need a cello player?”
“We could use a salesman–at least we could use you. Come on out.”
“Many thanks, but I’d like to stay east for a while. But let me sell some of your stuff on straight commission out here.”
“Sure. I’ll send you some samples and poop.”
I gave him the address and sent regards to Hiro. So maybe I wouldn’t starve.
My other job started the day after I moved. Doreen was a music historian and was working on a newly discovered manuscript of mid-sixteenth-century Netherlandish motets. They were in five seperate partbooks, one for each voice part. Doreen had xeroxes of these parts, which had to be transcribed in score for publication and study. She would edit them and resolve what appeared to be copying errors and other problems, but I could do a lot of the preliminary work. It was just what I needed, sedentary, peaceful, exacting, engaging, but not particularly difficult work. I enjoyed hearing in my head the music emerge as I added each part to the score. It had that same serenity and contrapuntal interest of the In nomines that Toby played with Van Meergen and his friends.
In fact, as I was surprised and fascinated to discover, the part of one of the motets I was transcribing sounded familiar because it was the In nomine theme. I flipped through the xeroxes and discovered the theme in a good quarter of the motets. When I pointed this out to Doreen, she was also excited. “I don’t know much about the In nomine, but it’s very interesting to find it used in these motets. When you can get around better, why don’t you look at some of the other early string In nomines and see what the relationships might be? We could get an article out of this.”
“We? I’m hired help.”
“But you discovered it, because you knew something I didn’t. I’ll do my share, but you’ll do a lot of the legwork. It’s the way it’s done, or should be. But it’s easy to be generous when there’s no direct money involved. The journals that might publish this article, if we do it, don’t pay anything.”
We did the article, and it was eventually published in an academic journal on music history. I was excited to see my name in print after Doreen’s. That, and the thrill of discovering something new, something I hadn’t hallucinated, whetted my appetite for more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The lawyer that Herm recommended to me seemed pleasant enough on the phone. His name was Oliver Johnstone; I soon learned from the people at his office that everyone called him Ollie. I started off by telling him that I didn’t want to contest the divorce in any way, and that I didn’t want anything from Jean, not even damages for my cello. I’d brought nothing to the marriage, and had had a fairly rewarding job as a result of it. I had, over the years, earned what I had spent on my car, books, and clothes, and would like to keep them.
“Look, Tony,” Ollie said, “I’ll be neglecting my obligation to you if I don’t ask for something. It’s a community property state, for God’s sake. You don’t have to ask–you just make trouble if you insist on not taking what’s coming. Besides, you’ve gotta pay me.”
“I don’t want to take advantage of her. She’s been through a lot of emotional and mental stress.”
“She can buy a lot of comfort and therapy with what she’s got. Drew must have paid her five or six million during that buyout.”
“Nevertheless, I don’t want any of it. Changing the subject, can we do all of this on the phone? I don’t want to come to Dallas unless I have to.”
“As much as I’d like to see what an idiot like you looks like, I think we can. But think about what I’m saying. I’m meeting with her lawyer tomorrow. I know him, he’s good. He’ll want me to argue. He won’t have any fun if we can’t haggle. How about it?”
“Well, I’ll see what’s on their minds and call you. Remember, I may be a friend of Herm’s, but I’m not cheap.”
“We’ll work it out.”
“I don’t know how. I hope you do.”
He called back the next day. “I had a little fun after all. They want your car.”
“Yeah. They’ll generously let you keep your clothes and books. Don’t worry, they know it’s outrageous. It’s just a tactic to keep you from asking for more.”
“It seems more like a tactic to piss me off. Did you tell them what I said?”
“Well, not exactly. I just let them state their position. I told them I’d consult with you before we respond.”
“Go ahead and tell them. Get it over with.”
“OK, but I’m sending you a bill.”
“Please do. Hit me a little at a time.”
Maybe I could manage. I was living very cheaply, and was earning a little money doing Doreen’s work. When Tom’s samples from Dragonbyte arrived, I checked them out on Maria’s Mac, and was very impressed. I took them around to computer stores and college campus stores in the Baltimore-Washington area, and actually made a few sales. I found I could live in my monk-like present circumstances, but I’d be in trouble when Maria returned and I had to pay rent. And when I got a bill from Ollie for $250 for three hours’ work and two phone calls, I began to worry. How much would the whole process cost? Since I hadn’t insured or listed my cello seperately, my insurer coughed up only $200. It was worth at least six thousand. Well, I’d think about money later.
On the bright side, I got to play Clio’s cello with the quartet several times. The women continued their sympathetic and supportive interest, which was of course gratifying–but also, I must admit, a bit burdensome. When I got the insurance check–before I got Ollie’s bill–I talked Clio into letting me take her to dinner. I took her to the seafood restaurant Marina had introduced me to, for it was cheap and good. Fortunately, Clio knew and liked the place, and we had a good meal. She was friendly and at ease, and didn’t raise my misfortunes as a subject for conversation. I appreciated that. Instead, we talked about art and music, and I managed to get her to tell me more about her life.
She had had the good fortune to have stable and loving parents, who were themselves children of immigrants. Her father’s parents had lived in a Jewish neighborhood, where every other family was trying to raise another Heifetz. Her father was a big kid, so he was steered toward the cello. But as much as he had loved music, her father had felt it would be impractical to make it a profession, so he worked his way through NYU and got into Columbia Law School. Her mother played piano, so Clio grew up with music.
“I remember the looks they would give each other when they were playing together and the music was going well. It was almost erotic. Of course that bothered me a lot when I was an adolescent.” She laughed.
Clio had taken piano lessons, but her interest in art was so much greater that she had focused intently on it since high school. Her parents, perhaps regretting their own sacrifices of art to practicality, were very supportive.
“I wish I had had to fight them more,” she said at one point. “I got where I assumed everyone loved my work. Then in art school I ran into some really cruel teachers and fellow students. They told me what I was doing was crap, but they couldn’t explain why–at least not to my satisfaction. Maybe if I had been forced to fight and argue my point of view earlier, I would have had an easier time.”
“Or maybe your parents’ confidence in you gave you strength to persevere, which you obviously have done.”
“Maybe so. But you know at a certain time of your life your parents have no credibility, especially compared to your peers or to some charismatic mentor. And although I’m doing OK, there are still a lot of artists and critics who think my stuff is crap. It took me a while to learn how to take that.”
“Music is not like that. I guess it is in composition to a degree, but in performance, gross competence is so demanding that questions of nuance and interpretation come up only after you have shown that you have the technique. You have to play the right notes in tune, you have to be able to play up to tempo.”
The conversation led to the discipline of art and the time it took to cultivate it. Clio said that her grandparents worried because artists, more than musicians, seemed to have loose morals and eccentric behavior. “What a laugh. I worked so hard that art almost made me a kind of nun.”
I was eager to explore the implications of that remark, but I didn’t dare press it. Clio, however, went on to say that she did have a few dates in school, and one long serious relationship with another artist. He couldn’t take the competition of her success, however, and broke it off. “He was older, so I thought he was mature. I guess I was naive.” But most of the time she painted instead of socializing.
When we arrived at Clio’s, I made a clumsy attempt to kiss her. She gently put her hand on my chest and gave me a peck on the cheek. It was a long time after that before I got in Clio’s house without the quartet or other guests present. Yet the next day, Clio invited me to a gallery opening that weekend. We went to a lot of free concerts and galleries, and occasionally had lunch or dinner out–dutch, at her insistence. We got to know each other pretty well, on one level, and, I think, became good friends. I wanted to go beyond that, of course, but for some reason Clio held me at a warm, friendly, but firm distance. And sometimes she could not go with me because she was doing something with Brian. She would say this without a hint of sexual provocation–she would use the same tone and expression if she were doing something with Doreen or Alice. Somehow I managed to find comfort in that.

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 15, 2011

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

28. This Bloody Tyrant, Time

McNab sat at the table smiling, but with a hint of concern around his eyes. Mary was singing, flushed and bright-eyed, and Toby was playing Bekes’ viol, looking significantly at Mary. She sang “Fain would I change that note” to Toby’s accompaniment.
I remembered that Toby wrote the song in the throes of love for Jane. Was a recycled love-song less meaningful? Was he trying to form new associations, to clear his artistic palate, as it were? I decided not to assign him any blame, but to enjoy this expression of hope and love. I myself needed hope at this point, lying in a hospital bed, abandoned by my wife.
Toby and Mary finished the song and exchanged smiles. McNab sighed and rose. “Mary, while you see to the supper, the captain and I will take the air. I want to see how he goes wi’out his staff.”
Toby followed the doctor out to the dirt lane, limping slightly. McNab watched him a moment, nodding approvingly. They walked side by side for a while.
“So, Captain, I give you your leg, and you want to take my daughter.”
“With your good leave and blessing, sir. I know I am but a poor stranger here, but with Lord Bekes’ help, I may–”
“You are still a prisoner,” interrupted McNab.
“Surely you and Lord Bekes–”
McNab waved impatiently. “Perhaps, perhaps. You are a good man, Captain; I think you would provide for my daughter as well as you are able. But I must confess I had higher hopes for her.”
“She is worthy of better than I.”
“No doubt. But not all falls out as we would wish. I am too indulgent a father–I think I wish my daughter’s happiness more than I do her good.” He paused. “Would you be willing to serve his majesty King Sigismund against the Swedes?”
Toby looked pained. “I had hoped that my music could bring me employment.”
McNab looked grim. “Aye, a base employment, dependent on the whims of the rich. But you are an experienced soldier, a captain; moreover, one who has fought under Prince Maurice. Your release might come more readily if you offered your service to the Poles. And you might put yourself in the way of a fortune, if you are wise. Not all soldiers die poor.”
Toby shook his head, the corners of his eyes drooping sadly. “I see your reasons, but I must think on this. I have seen much evil in the wars, and would avoid more if I could.”
“I understand, and would things were otherwise. But I know the world.”

Mary, McNab, and Toby sat soberly at the table, half-heartedly eating soup of some sort. A loud knock at the door made them all jump, especially Toby. McNab opened the door to an officer and two soldiers.
“I am Captain Ingram, doctor, and have come to take custody of your prisoner.” He was English. I should have been used to all the European armies having English and Scottish soldiers, but this man surprised me. The McNab household was also surprised and frightened. Mary grasped Toby’s arm. McNab started to say something about Lord Bekes, but the officer thrust a paper at him. McNab read the commission, and turned to Toby.
“I fear there is nothing to be done noo. I’ll wait on Lord Bekes tomorrow morning early, and do what I can. Be of good hope, child.” This last sentence was aimed at Mary, who had begun to cry. Toby looked intensely mournful.
“Well, Captain,” said Ingram, “I regret that I must encumber you with these irons. But I must obey my commission.” He spoke Polish to one of the soldiers, who locked a pair of irons on Toby’s wrists. Ingram took another paper from his hat and handed it to McNab. “Here is your release. You seem to have put him to rights very well, doctor. Thank you for your pains.” He smirked slightly at Mary. “With your permission, doctor, I may at some future time call on you and your handsome daughter.” Mary turned away and Toby stiffened. “Until then, farewell. Captain, by your leave.” He took Toby by the arm and led him toward the door.
“I’ll return when I can,” Toby said to Mary. “Soon.” Mary nodded tearfully. They left.

Toby sat on a bench in a stone-walled cell. He blinked as Ingram entered with a lantern, which he hung on a hook in the wall.
“Be of good cheer, Captain. I bring you your freedom.”
Toby stood. “Lord Bekes?” he asked hopefully.
“No.” He leaned closer and spoke softly. “King Charles.” He smiled at Toby’s puzzled expression. “Although I am an officer in the Polish army, I am King Charles’s loyal servant and a good Protestant.”
“King Charles?”
“Aye, he has now accepted that title from the Swedish people. His majesty has seen fit to arrange for your escape from the papist enemy. Although he has many who could serve his turn, he thinks you would be the right man to send to Russia at this time.”
“Aye. Here’s the tale. Czar Boris, though an able man, is somewhat unsteady on his throne, for some say that Czar Ivan’s son and heir, Dimitry, died by the hand of Boris’ agents. Now a pretender, feigning himself to be that same Prince Dimitry, has arisen in Poland; the Poles find him a convenient means to trouble the Russians, and perhaps to enthrone an ally there. Duke–I should say, King–Charles would not enter an alliance with the czar at this time, given the uncertainties of the wars in Livonia, but he would prevent a Polish ruler in Russia. So he thought to send you and a few other foreigners to serve among the mercenaries in Czar Boris’ service, to help the czar avoid defeat–but not avoid trouble–and to bring the king timely information in any event.”
Toby frowned miserably. “What if I refuse? Lord Bekes may be able to obtain my release. Although I am grateful to the duke–the king–and wish him and my friends among the Swedes well, I do not wish to serve in any army.”
Ingram smiled unpleasantly. “Lord Bekes is away on King Sigismund’s service. He may be gone many months.” He looked around and sniffed. “The air here seems wholesome. Perhaps you could survive here until then, if they remember to feed you. If you are so enamored of the Polish papists, King Charles would sooner have you in their prison than in the field against him.”
Toby leaned down and clasped his hands behind his head. Ingram sat down by him. “Good Captain,” he began, changing his tone, “think of your soul, as well as your true loyalties. Would you serve the antichrist, those who sent the Armada, those who have tried to murder the Queen, God rest her soul–”
“What do you mean?” asked Toby in surprise. “Is the Queen dead?”
“Aye, tis old news. King James of Scotland is now on the throne.”
“King James.”
“Aye. A good Protestant prince, welcomed by all true Englishmen.” Impatiently, Ingram renewed his harangue, appealing to Toby’s faith, loyalty, and self-interest. “You must choose between freedom and imprisonment.”
“To me it seems that I must choose between prisons.”

My leg had healed well enough for me to be released from the hospital. Myron Fish, my viola-playing doctor friend, came by and gave me a free consult. He checked my chart and told me what the other docs told me, but he spent a little more time and was a friendly presence. Though my leg was improving, my mind was still reeling from all that had happened. I still dreamed of Abner Cross, and jumped, sweated, and panted at any sudden noise. Callie had been to see me a few more times for brief visits. I promised to leave word at the hospital when I checked out so she could get in touch with me without my having to call and possibly talk to Jean.
I hobbled out of the hospital on crutches and took a cab to the Cullen parking lot where my car had been. I drove to a K-Mart, bought a couple of cheap bags, and organized the pile of clothes I had rescued from where Jean had thrown them. They had been festering in a chaotic heap in my car. I checked into a motel, and ordered a pizza for lunch. It was the first food I had had in days that tasted good. I did a little more organizing of my stuff, then flopped on the bed and rested my leg, sore from moving around.
The phone rang. It was Callie. “They sprung you, huh? How’re you feeling?”
“Better. I just had a pizza.”
“I prescribe a Mexican dinner. I’ll pick you up and I’ll buy.”
“Are you courting me, Miss Warren?”
“Naw, you ain’t my type. But I have a soft spot for pore wounded critters. See you around six.”
“Thanks, Callie.”
I spent the afternoon dozing and trying to pull my life together. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t get very far. I called the bank and found that Jean had moved all but three hundred dollars to a separate account. My credit cards were good for a while, but I knew I had to set up an account for my last check. I called Janelle, who was very sympathetic, and said my check was at her desk. I called Perry and found out what had been going on. He invited me to dinner the next night and offered his home computer for work on my resume.
“I’d ask you to move in for a while, but the kids take up every inch of space, and you wouldn’t get any rest. Too bad about your cello. Any insurance?”
“I hadn’t thought. It was on our renters’ policy. But I think they exclude civil war.”
Perry told me that Abner would plea bargain down from attempted murder to assault and reckless endangerment on the condition that he would get psychiatric help. I was relieved to learn that he was still in jail and would have to serve some time. I hoped the help would do him some good–but I still didn’t want to be around when he got out. I got a paper and checked the help-wanted ads. There were a couple of sales possibilities, but they clearly involved legwork, which was not very attractive to me under the circumstances. I gave up and dozed until Callie came.
I pogoed out to her rental car. “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve given up ties until a boss makes it a condition of a job.”
“Osbaldo will give you a house bolo at the door. You notice my heels.” Callie never wore high heels.
When we sat in our booth and ordered margaritas, Callie got serious. “I’m going back tomorrow. I can’t get Jean to come with me.”
“Why not?”
“Take a good slug of that drink. I’m sorry to add this to your wounds, but Jean won’t go because she’s having an affair with Howell and doesn’t want to be away from him.”
I couldn’t speak for a while.
Callie went on. “I just found out. I’m as shocked as you. It can’t be good for her.” She looked at me closely. “How are you taking this?”
“Not well.” I thought of the coyote, at the bottom of the canyon, sitting under the shadow of the falling anvil. “Did she say how long this has been going on?”
“For a while, I’m afraid. Before the buyout.”
I remembered Bonnie in the airport with her black eye. Maybe it started even before then. You grow to hate those you wrong–you beat them or throw their cellos from balconies.
“I don’t think I can eat anything right now.” I stood up, juggling the crutches.
“We can just drink and talk for a while. It might help to talk.”
“I think I’d rather get back. I’m sorry.”
“I understand. Just a sec.” Callie took another big swig of her drink and a handful of chips. I let her pay for the drinks. Neither one of us had much to say as she drove me back to the motel. I was aware that she would have listened sympathetically if I had wanted to talk.
What I wanted to do was to get the hell away. Early the next morning I drove to Cullen, picked up my check, got what was left out of our bank account, and bought two thousand dollars worth of travellers’ checks. I threw my bags in on top of the books and music and cello scraps in the car, and headed east. To hell with Dallas, to hell with Texas. I wanted trees and hills. To hell with the job, to hell with the resume. To hell with Howell. To hell with Jean.
I got as far as Texarkana. Scenes of Toby on horseback began flickering at the edge of my vision, and I had to stop before I got distracted. I found a motel near the interstate with a takeout Chinese place nearby. As I ate General Cho’s chicken I watched Captain Hume, just as other folks might watch Sergeant Bilko or Colonel Klink on the reruns.

Four men, one dressed as a Polish officer, and the other three–one of them Toby–in the round hat and thigh-length coat of Polish calvarymen, rode along at a quick walk. Toby seemed to be saddle-weary, sometimes lifting his injured leg from the stirrup and stretching it. Most of the time they seemed to follow a river; I suppose it must have been the Dvina. I did a mental fast-foward until I heard one of them point to a town ahead and identify it as Vitebsk. They tumbled wearily into a grubby wooden inn. The streets of the town were mud and boards, in some ways reminding me of something out of old western movies.
In the morning, they left the town and turned south. After riding some distance–I caught up with them one late afternoon–they stopped and changed into nondescript dark cloaks and hats, stuffing their Polish gear into a hollow tree trunk. They rode into a birch grove as the sun set, the white trunks glowing ghostlike in the fading light. After moving stealthily through forest land for a while, they emerged onto a rough road. They had not gone far, when a band of a dozen horsemen blocked their way. As the officer talked to one of the horsemen, the others unobtrusively moved to surround Toby’s group. They were a rough-looking bunch, farly large and burly, wearing sheepskin hats and coats. All had curved swords and bows and arrows, and three had lances; two had large pistols in saddle holsters, but no other firearms. The officer showed a paper to the leader, who shook his head and waved it away. He went into a vehement speech, repeating “Smolensk” several times. Then he turned his horse and headed down the road. One of the other horsemen indicated that Toby’s group should follow.
Eventually they reached a town by a river. It was surrounded by a dry moat and an old wall punctuated at frequent intervals by cone-topped towers. A tall central tower dominated the buildings within the wall. A bridge across the river led to another cluster of buildings. They rode over a drawbridge and through a tall gate in the main wall, where they dismounted and were met by a short, compact, dark-haired man. He wore his moustache, goatee, and heavy blue cloak with a touch of elegance that seemed different from the Poles and Russians. In a surprisingly deep voice, he addressed the leader of the Russian horsemen, who pointed to the officer. The Russians then mounted and trotted back out the gate. The officer introduced himself as Captain Holtz, and handed over a paper. The deep-voiced man looked it over, nodding, then looked inquiringly at Toby and the other two men.
“Capitan ‘Ume?”
“I am Tobias Hume.”
“Je suis Jacques Margeret, capitan dans l’armeé imperial. C’est une honneur.” They exchanged bows. Toby and Holtz, a German, followed Margeret into a nearby building, while the other two soldiers took care of the horses. Margeret continued to speak, but in German, which Toby seemed to understand, and which I could follow pretty well.
After a glass of what must have been vodka, judging from Toby’s coughing fit, and after some small talk about their travels, Margeret began explaining the situation. Dimitry and an army of Poles, plus a number of Russians who were either disaffected with Czar Boris or genuinely believed that Dimitry was the true prince, were besieging Novgorod Seversky, some two hundred miles to the south. Margeret did not expect them to take the fort there, for it was very strong, on a promontory over the river Desna. But several nearby towns–Putivl, Krony, and Rylsk–had defected to Dimitry, and others may have followed their lead. The commander at Novgorod Seversky, Pyotr Fyodorovich Basmanov, was strong-minded and probably loyal to Boris, and might hold Dimitry’s army for a while. Czar Boris was assembling a large army at Bryansk, about one hundred and fifty miles to the southeast; the forces under Margeret, largely foreign mercenaries, would leave the next day to join them.
Holtz asked a few questions about their route, and Toby asked about their roles, and the nature of the troops they were to command. Margeret said that most of the foreign troops were used to order and discipline, and should perform well as long as they were paid; so far, they had been paid well. The Russians were another matter. Some were brave, or at least daring, and many were skillful horsemen; but they had little discipline, and their officers were largely incompetent, having advanced more because of their birth than because of their military knowledge. The commander of the entire army, Prince Fyodor Ivanovich Mstislavsky, was not only ignorant, but stupid. On this promising note, the vision faded.

As I lay in bed, waiting for sleep, I worried for a while about what I would do in the real world. I was heading in the general direction of home and Tennessee, and part of me wanted to go home and let my mother feed me and fuss over me. But another part knew how upset she would be as I admitted that yes, I had been shot–only twice, hardly worth mentioning–and, yes, fired from that good job you were so proud of, and, well, cheated on and dumped by that pretty rich wife, who now thinks she was a victim of satanic cultists, her parents. Maybe I would postpone that visit for a while. Find a place far enough from Dallas, find a job, and then talk about the down side when some things were looking up. Maybe after I got a grip on my hallucinations.
Eventually I drifted off to sleep. Abner Cross, in his fatigues and orange hat, was there, but every time he popped up, I would fire a dream gun at him as if he were a figure in a video game. Then I had another dream, a different one, quite vivid. I was in the hospital, in a wheelchair, feeling pretty bad. A nurse came in with a kind of gurney covered with scraps of wood. It was my cello. The nurse was a new one, but somehow familiar. She told me that it might be fun to put it back together. “See,” she said, “this bit goes with this one. See how they fit?” When she put them together, they stayed together and the cracks disappeared. She guided my hands, and I put two more pieces together. She left and I continued to work. The pieces were a real jumble, but somehow it became clear how they fit. I put the pieces together and they healed. After a while the cello was all together. It glowed a rich gold.
The next day I was still sore and jumpy, but the visions stayed under control, and I covered some ground. At Little Rock I picked up interstate forty and stayed on it, passing Memphis and Nashville. Around Cookeville things began to get interesting as I started getting onto the Cumberland Plateau. I finally stopped near Oak Ridge. I managed to sit through a good dinner and do a little more sorting of my books and music before weariness threw me to the bed in my motel room, where the late show in my brain compelled my attention.

Something significant had happened. Toby was in a camp in a birch forest, looking miserable and exhausted. All around lay the bodies of men; the living were breathing, many snoring in profound weary sleep; the wounded were groaning and crying; the dead were silent and still. Horses whinnied in the distance. A few had summoned the energy to build small fires, and a few were eating what looked like lumps of raw dough. Toby sat and stared into space. A young man with a full black beard and a black fur hat stumbled toward Toby. He looked like a species of bear, with only his eyes and nose visible.
“French captain speak vit you.”
“Thank you, Jacob,” sighed Toby, and heaved to his feet, wincing. His limp was more noticeable as he followed Jacob to a tent, where Margeret, alert and unruffled, sat at a table with a candle and maps. Holtz and a few other officers, including another German named Von Rosen, soon joined them.
Margeret summed up what had happened. Dimitry’s left-wing horse had attacked, were driven off, but attacked again. Another company joined them and then another; they charged so furiously and caused so much disorder and confusion that the main army, except for the left wing, was shaken and began to retreat. If another company of Dimitry’s cavalry had made a flanking move, said Margeret, these four companies might have defeated the entire army. It was if, he said, the Russians had no arms to fight with, only legs to run with. For some reason he could not understand, all the Muscovite streltsy–the infantry with firearms–stayed in the valley and did nothing. And the general, Prince Fyodor Mstislavsky, was badly wounded and almost captured. (This news brought some ironic glances, but no grief.) The gold standard, with its image of St. Basil, was indeed captured. (This brought some mournful groans.) The Muscovite army lost many men; the count of known dead was over three thousand and was still climbing. They could confirm only a few dead on Dimitry’s side. Tomorrow the army would retreat north to Starodub, regroup, and await reinforcements and a new commander. In the meantime, Basmanov continued to hold firm in Novgorod Seversky. Toby asked if any wagons would be available to carry the wounded. One of the officers gave an incredulous snort. Margeret gravely shook his head.

The next morning was clear and crisp and the mountains drew me off the interstate. I crossed over Tellico Lake and wound around to Townsend and Gatlinburg. I stopped and got out several times, but couldn’t walk as far as I would have liked. But the land and the glimpse of the Smokies was restorative. After getting back on interstate forty, I drove only a few miles before it turned south to Asheville. For some reason I took eighty-one north and stopped near the Virginia border at Bristol.
Although the miles and the landscape had burned away some of my fear and anger, I still felt only a little guilt at running off, and couldn’t find the energy to be more responsible. I called no one. I didn’t plan where I was going the next day. I just ate dinner, found another sterile and anonymous room, and watched the show from my brain. At least my troubles were relatively minor compared to those of a Russian soldier.

Toby was drying clothes before a fire in a small, low-ceilinged log house, when a knock on the door was followed, before Toby could speak, by the entrance of a young man. He snatched off his fur cap and began speaking rapidly in Russian. Toby, holding up his hands, said “Wait. Stop. Halt.” Then he went to the door and shouted “Jacob!” The young man approached the fire and opened his coat–sheepskin, the wool on the inside–to catch the heat. Toby poured vodka in a small pewter cup, which the man drank gratefully. The black-bearded soldier who spoke some English entered. “What says he?” asked Toby.
The two conversed for some time, the messenger speaking with excitement, pointing and gesturing. After a while, Jacob waved his hand, the other bowed slightly with a jerk, and left.
“He say they catch peasants. They try make fire, burn Dobrynichi. They say many Poles come. They say before they die.”
“They die just now.”
“No, when will the Poles come?”
“Tomorrow, maybe sunrise.”
“Does the French captain know?”
Toby frowned in thought. “Where did Captain Holtz store the powder?”
“In church.”
“Did he tell them not to light candles?”
Jacob’s mouth stretched briefly. “Aye.”
“Did he find any more arquebuses in the village?”
“He find four, but one no good.”
“Every man should have something to fire.” He adjusted the clothes drying on a bench. Then he took his hat and cloak from a peg by the door. “Come show me the church.”
They walked out into a village full of low wooden houses, with snow covering the thatched roofs. The streets were covered with squared logs, the snow on them reduced to brown mud by the soldiers milling about. In the square there was a stone church with a single onion-shaped dome. Toby started towards it, but Jacob stopped him.
“No. There.” He pointed toward a more modest wooden building with a cross by the door. This cross did not have the slanting bars of the orthodox crosses.
“A Catholic church?”
“Aye. Some Poles here.” He wrinkled his nose. “Not now.”
It was dark inside, for the windows were few and small. But the moon on the snow outside reflected enough light for them–and me–to perceive a stack of barrels. And from near the altar, something metallic gleamed. Toby, staring hard in the darkness, moved toward the glint. I was an organ. It was not large, but it contained fifty or sixty pipes of various sizes. Toby sat and fingered the silent keys.
“Three score two barrels powder,” said Jacob, watching Toby with some puzzlement.
“Good.” Toby leaned back, looking up at the organ pipes. “How many cannon by the gate?”
“Maybe fifteen.”
“And fifteen thousand men with only eight thousand arquebuses.” He stood and turned to face Jacob. “Mayhap if we cannot have real cannon and muskets we can have theater cannon and muskets.”
“What is theater?” asked the frowning Jacob.
“Where players pretend to fight. Come, lend me your hand.”

I hit the road early the next morning and kept on eighty-one, past Roanoke, Staunton, Harrisonburg. Soon I saw a sign pointing to Washington. I thought of the Smithsonian, and those rooms of musical instruments. Without much further thought, I was hobbling into the Museum of American History. I stopped and stared at a group of Amish people in the lobby, wondering if they were a living exhibit, or like me, just tourists. A thoughtful guard broke into my reverie and offered me a wheelchair, and soon I was on the elevator to the third floor.
There I visited again all those curious devices men have contrived to make noises that try to sound like the human voice but please by not exactly succeeding, and by making noises that human beings can’t. As objects, some are comic, like the serpent, some clumsy, like the sousaphone, and some graceful and beautiful, like most of the violin family. Those curves in polished wood seem to be physical embodiments of the sounds they can produce in the right hands.
I saw the Stradivarius quartet with the Marylebone cello, and the violin, studded with mother of pearl, that the virtuoso Ole Bull played; I saw the quartet of instruments by Stainer, with the lion’s head on the viola scroll. I was looking at the Stradivarius cello that belonged to Adrien-François Servais, who earned the gratitude of all cellists by inventing the end pin, when it occurred to me what I had to do.
I wheeled out, got my crutches, and vaulted down the Mall to where I had parked. It was getting dark as I turned north from the beltway. After a while I was threading my way through Baltimore, and by the time I reached the familiar wedge-shaped building, it was night. I rang the bell.
“Tony!” Clio’s expression changed from pleased surprise to concern. “What’s the matter? You don’t look so good.”
“May I come in?”
“Of course. Sorry.” She stood aside and waved me in. Clio had her cooking apron on, one without paint, over a dark blue turtleneck. Her hair was pulled back to reveal that she was wearing small silver earrings. The light in the studio area was off, but the light by the dining table revealed a setting for two and the one by the sofa a man holding a drink. He started to get up.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company. I won’t stay, but I’ve got to ask you a favor.” I was babbling and must have sounded desperate.
“Sure, what?” The man was standing by, sipping his drink.
“If I could play your cello for fifteen minutes, it would make me feel a lot better, and then I promise I’ll go.” I nodded toward the man, whose expression was becoming perplexed. Clio made a slight “It’s OK” gesture toward him.
“It’s a long story,” I said trying, in the face of all the contrary evidence, to sound normal. “I’ll tell you another time, if you’re curious. I promise I’ll call first.”
“Sure. I want to hear it all, another time. You can call tomorrow. I’ll get the cello.” Turning to the man, she said, “Brian, this is Tony Maclean. He plays music with Marina sometimes, and is in love with my cello. Tony, this is Brian Holcombe. He runs my gallery.”
Holcombe shook my hand, a little uncertainly. He was a bit taller and older than I, with a square chin and a thick moustache. He wore a denim shirt, no tie, and a suede sportcoat. “Are you a musician?” he asked, trying to make small talk. Clio was dragging the cello from the closet.
“I studied music, but I’m–I was–a computer salesman.”
“We have an Apple at the gallery.”
“Good machine.” Clio handed me the cello. I limped to a dark corner of the studio and began to play. Bach, the first suite. The notes rolled off, falling with such ease, such logic. Everything was in place, but there was feeling, there was wholeness. It was an incredible relief to find that realm again, led by that marvellous instrument. I forced myself to stop after the first movement. Clio and Brian had been sitting on the sofa. They were watching me attentively when I looked up; they could have been talking about me while I played, but I wouldn’t have noticed. I put the cello down gently, and moved toward the door, apologizing again for the interruption. Clio came to the door and stepped outside with me.
“Listen, I mean it. Call me first thing tomorrow. Where are you staying?” She held my right forearm.
“I don’t know. I think I passed a Day’s Inn near the ring road.”
“Any other time–anyway, call!” She squeezed my arm.
She stood in the door until I limped to the car and started off. I turned back north, found the ring road and the motel, and checked in. I had no visions, and slept without dreaming.

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 8, 2011

This site has two previous novels: “Four-Part Dissonance” can be found in the archives beginning October 2009; “Death and the Maiden” begins in March 2010; and “Time’s Bending Sickle” begins in October 2010 (scroll down to find chapter one).

27. Time’s Fell Hand

I slept a little that night in the hospital, but between bad dreams and the pain in my leg, I was almost glad to see day break and be relieved of the obligation to sleep. The doctor, a young resident with thick glasses and acne scars, pronounced my wounds in satisfactory condition, and the friendly black nurse from the day before put on fresh dressings and emptied the drain. Breakfast was about as tempting as dinner, but I managed to get down a banana, juice, and lots of water. Later, I dozed without dreaming and felt better.
That evening, Callie showed up. Her usual bounce and humor was much subdued. “Well, hoss, you must have had a pretty shitty day yesterday.”
“I’ve had better. Seeing you helps. Thanks for coming so quickly. How’s Jean?”
Callie winced. “I wish I could give you good news. She’s OK–I don’t think she’s suicidal or anything, but she seems obsessed, and I can’t make much sense of what she’s saying. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Right off, I’d better say that whenever I tried to talk about you, she got angry. She even thinks your getting shot is at best a ploy for sympathy and at worst a sign that you need shootin’.”
“Maybe I do. I had the guy who shot me fired, and I’m not proud of that.”
“Well, we can’t let everybody get shot who deserves it. Who’d be in the legislature?” We both smiled at a flash of the old Callie. She grew serious again. “Anyway, I felt if I pushed your case too much I’d lose my credibility, and wouldn’t be able to help.”
“What about her therapist?”
“I think she may be part of the problem. I think she got her diploma from a cereal box. She says this gal helped her remember that her dad abused her sexually.”
“Oren Cullen?” I was shocked.
“Yeah, it’s hard for me to believe, too. But there’s so much of that around, you never know.”
“What does she mean, ‘helped her remember’?”
Callie frowned. “That’s what bothered me. Now I took psych in college, and more than just jocks and rats freshman year. I know Freud thought all kinds of problems could be the result of suppressed traumas–things so bad you put them out of your conscious mind.”
“I would think childhood sexual abuse would do that.”
“That’s the theory, and it may be so in some cases. But lots of victims of horrors remember them too damn clearly. The stories my law partners tell, not to mention my clients, would straighten your short hairs.”
“I surely can’t go a minute without thinking of those shots and me under that desk.” Those scenes were indeed going round and round in my mind.
“Anyway, Jean talks about these memories as somehow different from ordinary memories. It wasn’t until the therapist hypnotized her and made her go over her memories and see where the abuse might fit that she started recalling them.”
“It’s plausible, I guess, though I still find it hard to believe about Cullen. But he was a controlling bastard.”
“Yes, but here’s where I get off. Listen. The therapist helped her remember, not just old Oren doing dirty things to her in secret, but as part of satanic rituals.”
“Yeah. I tried to act as if I believed her, but Lord! Every time she talked about it, it got more elaborate and less believable. She said Oren and she were present when a bunch of folks in black hoods sacrificed animals and even a baby. Then Oren did it to her while these folks looked on, and while–get this–while Tillie took pictures!”
“Yeah, totally unbelievable. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Can you imagine Tillie in satanic drag? ‘I’m off to the beauty parlor to get my haiuh set–we’re going to a sacrifice and orgy tonight in Foat Wuth. Now how does this little ole camera work?'” She did Tillie’s tone and prissy little gesture so well that we had to share a glum chuckle.
“I guess no one found any pictures.”
“No, Jean thinks they’re hidden somewhere.”
“And Tillie and Cullen can’t defend themselves.”
“Yeah, they’re conveniently dead. But you’re still here.” Callie looked at me sympathetically.
“Oh, God. Am I a suspect? She didn’t meet me till college.”
“But you worked for Oren, and conspired with him about something, according to her.”
“Jesus. Am I a devil-worshipper too?”
“She hasn’t put it that clearly yet, but she’s working on it. That’s the beauty of all this stuff. You don’t have to believe in the devil, you just have to believe that some people do–and apparently some really do. Maybe a few headbanging misfits who take heavy metal too seriously. But Oren and Tillie?” Callie shook her head.
“All I can think of is that Cullen tried to fix Jean up with a job when she didn’t want his help. I knew about it but didn’t tell her.”
We sat mulling over the situation. At least for a while I didn’t think about my leg or Abner shooting at me. Then something occurred to me.
“Callie, when you were here last you said something about Thump Wofford. Maybe now is the time to tell me about that.”
“Why not.” Callie looked down at her purse and plucked at her skirt. “Thump knocked Jean up. About that time she realized he was a dumb jerk and wanted to be rid of him. But Oren got wind of the situation, scared the shit out of Thump, and told Jean that, by God, they were going to do the right thing and get married in the Baptist church.”
“Tillie wouldn’t even acknowledge what had happened, much less help Jean with Oren. She seemed to be upset that she’d have to plan a church wedding on short notice. Jean then did the best thing she could have done. She sold a diamond bracelet Oren had given her for her eighteenth birthday and got an abortion. She wouldn’t tell me any details, so I’m not sure how professional it was. Then she told her dad and Thump that there might be a wedding, but she wouldn’t be there. Thump was mightily relieved.”
“So there was a reason for her attitude toward Cullen.” And, I thought, for our inability to have a child.
“You bet. I’ve always admired her for taking charge like that. I think it made her feel good about herself for a long time, and helped her through college. But there were complications in her feelings that may have come out as time passed.”
“And when she moved here near both parents.”
“Do you think there’s any connection between the Thump business and the abuse memories?” I was groping for some answer.
“Maybe. Who knows? A really good shrink might find out. Maybe there really was some abuse, and Oren’s reaction to her pregnancy was fueled by that. But it also might be just the old-fashioned dad getting out his shotgun.”
I despaired of ever finding out the truth. “What’s to be done?”
“I’d stay away and not stir her up. She’s talking a lot about divorce. I’m going to try to talk her into coming out to California with me for a while. I think I might find a shrink who could help. This quack she’s been seeing is part of the problem.”
I didn’t mention my own experiences with shrinks. Maybe I had the wrong problem or the wrong shrinks. But I was relieved that Jean had a friend like Callie, whose good sense might help in any case. I allowed myself a few selfish thoughts. I shouldn’t have, for I felt myself sinking into pain and exhaustion. “You’re the designated grownup now. Any suggestions for me? What should I do?”
Callie patted my good foot, gently. “Get well. Get a job. Get a life. Maybe you’d better at least think about the possibility of one without Jean.”
The night nurse, a maternal woman with a tough jaw and rimless glasses, stuck her head in the door. “Time for visitors to leave now. Thank you.”
“I don’t want to think about that now,” I said. “Please keep in touch.”
“I will. Rest, and don’t worry.”
I slept but without resting. Funny, I never actually saw Abner in his hunting outfit when he came after me. But in my dreams it’s very clear, the camouflage fatigues and the orange hat. I dreamed of running down long sterile hallways, and finding Abner and his gun whenever I turned a corner. He was also at some kind of satanic ritual where guys with black hoods were poking my leg. But despite the discussion with Callie, I didn’t dream about Jean. And in my obsession with reliving my ordeal under the desk, I didn’t give much thought to the idea of Jean filing for divorce. Somehow her throwing my cello off the balcony made the idea of Jean with lawyers and papers tame, remote, unreal. I consulted my feelings, and realized that I couldn’t smother my own pain with my sympathy for Jean’s, and that I couldn’t distinguish between hurt at the loss of her and hurt at her rejection of me.
For relief, I tried to summon up Toby playing music or travelling with the players or making love to Jane. What I got was a return to the siege of Parnu.

The air was still smoky, and cannon fire was just infrequent and irregular enough to carry some surprise. Toby and his fellows looked thinner. I hardly recognized James Hill. The two men were watching as a soldier pried out the nails that were holding a shoe to a horse’s hoof. The hoof was not attached to the rest of the horse, which was not in evidence; when the shoe fell to the ground with a clang, the soldier tossed the hoof into a large steaming pot. Another soldier was hacking at some loaf-shaped gray lumps with a small axe. He was short and blond, and one could tell that he would normally have been heavyset; but his cheeks were lined and thin. He offered one of the lumps to Toby with an almost cheerful look, and gabbled away in Swedish. Hill replied, and the two walked away chewing on the pieces.
“What was that he said? This bread made him think of home?”
“Aye.” Hill gave a wry snort. “Whenever there is a bad harvest, the peasants eat bark bread. And as you well know, it is not easy on the digestion. So many peasants make a habit of eating bark bread the year round so that their insides will always be prepared.”
I remembered that Toby had written in his “Petition” that he had eaten bread made of bark and hay dust during this siege.
“So, colonel,” said Toby to Hill, “how much longer? I confess I am ready to test the mercy of the Polonians.” Toby’s voice was weak, and the hands that tried to break the ersatz bread trembled. There was a kind of desperation in Toby’s eyes that I had not seen before.
Hill broke into a fit of coughing. “Yet a few days,” he said hoarsely. “If we hear of no relief we shall seek terms.”
“Two more men died last night.”
“I know. And more are like to die before the duke can raise the siege, even if he is able to make the attempt.”
Cannon boomed in the distance, as fragments of stone flew off the ragged top of a wall nearby. Toby flinched. “I grow too weak to fight. But I had rather heft a pike and take the field than be penned here starving another day.”
“Patience, good captain.”
Another large burst of fragments flew from a closer section of the wall. Toby suddenly appeared sitting on the ground, clutching at his leg. His eyes were wide with shock, and blood was flowing between his fingers. He looked around. “Captain Hall?”
Hill called out, “Ho! A surgeon!” He knelt by Toby, who had rolled over on his side, still holding his leg. Hill did not seem to be aware that his own left arm was bleeding.

Hill, his arm bandaged, led his lean and ragged troops through the gates of the town. The troops made as good a show as they could, with banners and a drum, carrying their muskets with lighted matches. Toby was borne on a litter, bandages around his leg. Other men were also carried or hobbled along on crutches. Troops of the Polish army lined the road, and stood saluting as the duke’s forces filed by.
Hill, Toby, and a few other of the garrison’s officers were escorted to a large tent. There an older officer greeted them with courteous gestures and spoke in German. I caught something about Hill being a guest and something about a surgeon. Toby seemed to be in considerable pain and did not pay much attention to the proceedings.

Toby lay on a narrow bed in a small low-ceilinged room. He looked pretty bad, but he was awake and seemed alert. The sound of steps and a rustle of cloth was followed by the entrance of a woman carrying a steaming wooden bowl. Toby’s attention focused first on the bowl, then on the woman. She seemed to be in her twenties, with strawberry-blonde hair tucked under a white cap. She had a slight overbite, lots of freckles over a thin nose, and light green eyes.
“Noo, sir, and will ye be feeling like a bit o’ brose?” I was startled to hear a thick lowland Scots accent, and Toby seemed to be too.
“Thank you, kind mistress. But tell me, am I still in Poland?”
She smiled; her teeth were better than those of many of Toby’s contemporaries. “Aye, to be sure. This is Riga, where my father is surgeon. But we came from Edinburgh when I was a wee lass.” Her voice was captivating, not only for the lilting accent, but for the rich overtones; if she sang, she would be a mezzo-soprano.
“I lived in Carlisle,” said Toby, between rapid spoonsful of what must have been oatmeal. “And I have not had good brose since I left until this moment.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure tis better than what you would be having at the prison. You may thank your wound for that. My father gave assurance that you would not run away. He wanted to see if he could cure your wound without cutting off your leg.”
Toby dropped his spoon. “Cut it off! God defend!”
“Nay, lad, I think we’ll let ye keep it.” A balding, middle-aged man in a plain black gown entered. “There seems to be no corruption. I cleaned the wound with aqua vitae and Mary here keeps the bandages fresh. I have good hope for you.”
“Thank you, sir. And Mistress Mary.” He looked at them and relaxed a bit. “My name is Tobias Hume.”
“And I am Alastair McNab, and this my daughter.”
“I am grateful for your hospitality.”
“You are my prisoner, sir; I am paid for your keep.” McNab spoke sternly, then softened. “But you are also my patient, and, I find, my countryman. So, if you can remember that you are a prisoner, and do not try to escape, we will try to forget it, and treat you as a guest.”
“You have my word on’t,” said Toby, “as a gentleman and soldier.”
McNab’s mouth twitched at the corners. “Very well, captain. Now, you must eat and rest. We will talk again.”
Toby, left alone, closed his eyes. I relaxed too as the vision merged into ordinary dreams. I managed to sleep for some time before Abner began hunting me, and I awoke, panting and sweating. It was around six in the morning. I returned to Toby.

Some time had passed. Toby, looking much better fed, sat with his leg on a stool by a tile-covered stove that almost filled the small room. McNab sat opposite him, while Mary sat by a smoky candle, sewing. Toby and McNab puffed on short clay pipes. Toby leaned his head back, blew a stream of smoke, and sighed contentedly. “Tis too much, Doctor. Too generous. I’m sure my Colonel Hill is not treated better in the castle at Marienburg. I am ever grateful.”
McNab waved his hand. “The Poles are ignorant of the use of tobacco. They took this from one of their English prisoners, and gave it me, saying I should make medicine of it.”
“And you have. I feel much mended.”
“Tis a pleasant scent, and goes weel wi’ an idle hour. But I doubt its value as a cure.”
“There was a rogue in the Low Countries who sold the herb.” Toby smiled at the memory. “He claimed many virtues for it; for him twas a panacea.” The two puffed a moment in silence.
Mary’s scissors clattered on the table. “Weel, I like it not. This chamber is close as it is, and blowing smoke only makes it worse. Smoke is smoke.”
“Three things there be,” declaimed McNab, “will drive a man from home–a smoking chimney, a scolding wife–I forget the third.”
“Why did you leave home?” asked Toby, shaking out his pipe with a glance at Mary. “Why did you leave Edinburgh?”
“For some of the reasons you left Carlisle, no doubt. In the main, to make a living. There are, as you may have seen, many Scots peddlers in Poland. The Poles think ’em as bad as gypsies. I’ve a cousin who rose from peddler to merchant some years back, and since I had treated his gout with somewhat more success than his Polish physicians, he persuaded me to come. He promised me introductions to some of the better folk here, and over time, my art has made way for me even against the reputation our countrymen have made. Mind ye, I am no better than a servant to most, even so.”
“And I the servant’s servant,” said Mary, with some asperity.
“Wheesht, ma dearie! Ye maun have patience.”
“I can see na mair. I’m to bed, and ye two may smoke like a’ the chimneys of Edinburgh for me.” Mary folded her sewing and left the room. Toby followed her movements with interest.
McNab leaned forward, speaking softly. “Poor lass. She has no proper suitors.”
“I find that hard to credit.”
“Och, there are those that would be her gallant. Many a young dog has come sniffing about. But they would take her to bed and not to kirk.”
“A shame.”
“Aye.” McNab looked at his pipe. “Will ye take another pipeful?”
“Thank you, not now.”
“Weel, we must be up betimes tomorrow to hear mass.”
Toby could not conceal his surprise. “Catholic mass?”
“Aye.” He looked at Toby’s expression and gave a short laugh. “When in Rome, as they say. An I lived wi’ the Turks, I’d turn to Mecca and knock my head on the ground.” Toby’s surprise turned to concern and maybe a little fear.
“You jest.”
“A wee bit,” said McNab, smiling. “Dinna worry, captain. I am not of the Inquisition; I wish to avoid all such. I would rather be in the kirk at Edinburgh.” Toby looked relieved. “But to tell truth, I know not where the truth lies.”
“Have you not faith?”
“Aye, I have faith that a just God, if he exists, will not damn a man for choosing the wrong house to pray in or the wrong prayer. And since the papists may as well be right on some points as the Scottish Kirk, I will not risk martyrdom. Have ye read Montaigne, the witty Frenchman?”
“No. Is he a papist or a Huguenot?”
“Oh, a papist. But he would never kill a Huguenot, as the Guises did on St. Bartholomew’s. Faith!” He opened the door of the stove and spat. “How is it faith if one runs howling after the blood of this papist, that Protestant, this Turk, that Christian? When one book says love thy neighbor as thyself and do good to them that hate you, and the other book says much the same?”
“But the Spanish– ” Toby began.
“Aye, the Spanish. Did they launch the Armada or fight the Dutch because they were Catholics or because they were Spanish?”

On this theological note, my vision was interrupted by a hospital chaplain, in black suit and dog collar, asking if I would like his company. After some small talk, he asked if I were Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. I said “Protestant,” but with mental reservations, as the Elizabethan Jesuits used to do. He continued the visit on a polite and friendly level for a while, then promised to send me the Protestant chaplain.

Toby scratched on a wax tablet, humming to himself and smiling. He was sitting on a bench outside the timber and plaster house in the shade of the low thatched roof. It seemed to be a pleasant spring day. He had a crutch beside him, but his leg looked better. Dr. McNab approached along a dusty dirt road lined with similar houses. Behind him one could see steeples and a few taller buildings about a mile away. The doctor stopped a few yards from his door, put down his bag, and fanned himself with his broad-brimmed hat.
“Weel, noo. I maun post an extra guard on ye, lest ye flee. You look too pleased wi’ yoursel’ to be a wounded prisoner.”
“The Muses have not forsaken me, good doctor. I have a song for you. Would I had my viol.”
Mary appeared in the doorway. “He’s been humming like a beehive for hours.”
“Let’s hear it, then,” said the doctor, joining Toby on the bench.
In a rather hoarse baritone, Toby sang an unaccompanied version of his tobacco song:

Tobacco, tobacco,
Sing sweetly for tobacco;
Tobacco is like love,
O love it,
For you see I will prove it.

Love maketh lean the fat men’s tumor,
So doth tobacco;
Love still dries up the wanton humor,
So doth tobacco;
Love makes men sail from shore to shore,
So doth tobacco;
Tis fond love often makes men poor,
So doth tobacco;
Love makes men scorn all coward fears,
So doth tobacco;
Love often sets men by the ears,
So doth tobacco.

Tobacco, tobacco,
Sing sweetly for tobacco;
Tobacco is like love,
O love it,
For you see I have proved it.

“Quod est demonstrandum!” laughed McNab; Mary also laughed, showing some gum above her slightly protruding teeth.
McNab alternated chuckles and compliments for a few moments. “Marvellous witty, I assure you.” Then he smiled thoughtfully. “You had a viol?”
“Aye, I left it in Reval. Where it is now I cannot tell.”
McNab hummed a bit, then turned to Toby. “I have a scheme. I have a patient, a lady whose illness is slight, but compounded by melancholy. Her husband is a lord of some state here, a Hungarian, and one who takes tobacco. His father was a great hero to the Poles, and he has served them well himself. They enjoy music, and have a number of instruments, among them a fair chest of viols. Come with me and sing this song for the lady. If it improves her humor, I’ll bind you prentice.”

Limping and leaning on his crutch, Toby followed McNab to the door of a fine stone house. A servant in clean but worn livery admitted them and led them to an upstairs room. There a lady in her forties was propped up in bed, where she sipped broth from a silver bowl. McNab and Toby bowed, and McNab made the introductions in Polish. After some explanation, the lady spoke to the servant, who returned with a viol and bow. Toby tuned, and spoke admiringly of the quality of the viol. Then Toby sang his song, and McNab translated the words. The lady smiled, but much seemed to be lost in translation. She spoke pleasantly to McNab for a few moments.
“Lady Bekes would like you to play some more, perhaps a jig or a brawl.”
Toby obliged, and began a lively tune, one of the jigs he printed in his 1605 book. The lady’s bedclothes began to move near her feet. Suddenly McNab stood and bowed, and Toby broke off as a wiry, dark-bearded man entered, looking surprised but pleased. The lady and lord began to jabber happily in Polish, and McNab answered them deferentially. The lord then sat on his wife’s bed, held her hand and waved at Toby for more. Toby resumed playing.

Later scenes revealed Toby playing and the lord and lady dancing energetically. Another time Toby performed “The Lord Beccus Almaine,” and “Beccus an Hungarian Lord his delight.” The couple was obviously pleased. But when the lord pulled out a purse, Toby spoke to McNab, who then spoke to the lord. When I next saw Toby at McNab’s, he was playing the lord’s viol, with Mary listening intently.

All this cheerfulness helped me considerably, much more than the reruns of “Mary Tyler Moore” on the hospital TV. But when I actually slept, eventually there would be Abner with his orange hat and deer rifle, coming around the corner of McNab’s cottage, or bursting into Lord Bekes’s parlor.

Toby sat by the cottage door; the crutch had given way to a stick. Mary was a few yards away, scrubbing clothes in a wooden tub, singing to herself. Toby watched and listened. Absorbed in her task, Mary sang freely and without self-consciousness in her rich natural mezzo.

Oh, whar ha’ ye been the livelong day,
My little wee croodin’ doo?
I’ve been to see my stepmother,
Oh mummy, mak my bed noo.

I remembered a version of this song, a kind of grim lullaby variation on “Lord Randal.” A “croodin’ doo” is a cooing dove. A strange expression came over Toby’s face as Mary sang, and tears sprang to his eyes. He leaned his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands. His back heaved. Mary, rising to hang out a shirt on a tree branch, noticed and broke off her song. Stepping to the bench, she put her hand on Toby’s shoulder.
“Captain Toby? Are ye ill?”
Toby shook his head.
“Speak to me,” said Mary, sitting by Toby, “what is it?”
Toby looked up, red-faced, with a sheepish smile. “A memory. Och, I’m too soft to be a soldier.”
“Tell me,” Mary pressed.
“The song. I remember very little of my mother–she died when I was but a babe–but it came to me just then that she sang that song.”
“Ah, I’m sorry to make you melancholy.”
“No, no. It was a good memory. But it made me think of other losses.”
“Tell me. It may help.” She smiled gently, her hand still on Toby’s shoulder. “I’ll be a good Protestant confessor.”
Toby reached up and took Mary’s hand from his shoulder and held it, looking at it thoughtfully a moment; then he placed it on the bench between them. “I lost my wife to the plague. And my son. And friends in the wars. And–” He stopped and put his hand to his mouth.
“I have lost so many, I fear to have more to lose.” He almost whispered. Mary sat quietly, looking at her hand on the bench. Then she grasped his arm with both hands and leaned her head on his shoulder. They sat for a long time without moving or speaking.

Time’s Bending Sickle

May 1, 2011


For previous chapters (or previous novels) go to the archives, or scroll down for more recent posts.

26. A Hell of Time

Howell had a serious, almost sad expression on his face, but something about his eyes and body language was in conflict.  I was reminded of the undertaker at Tillie’s funeral sympathizing with Jean after selling her a twenty-thousand dollar casket.  Howell sat in Cullen’s old office now, at an expensive new desk.  Cullen’s antique globe stood in a new mahogany stand by his chair; Howell gave it a spin.  He did not ask me to sit.

“Tony, you’ve no doubt heard that an LBO forces a company to be more efficient, more disciplined, to do more with less.”

“I’ve heard that.”

“We can’t afford to carry people for sentimental reasons.”

“Of course.”

“Our sales are going to focus now on the really big jobs.  We don’t have time for the little ones.”

“Schools, hospitals.”

“Yeah, that sort of thing.  I know that’s been your specialty.”

“I’ve helped with the games.”

“We’re selling off some of our subsidiaries.  We have a nice offer for Wizardware.”

“How about Ramforce?”

He ignored the question.  “What I’m getting to is that I think you could do better elsewhere.  I don’t think you’ll be happy under the new structure.”

I was surprised I wasn’t more surprised.  “I’m pretty adaptable.”  I wouldn’t beg, but I didn’t want it to be too easy.

But Howell was getting bored and cut to the chase.  “Yeah.  Well, you can adapt elsewhere.  We’re outplacing you.”

“You’re firing me.”

“If you want to see it that way.”  He began looking through files on his desk.

“You’d be surprised how I see things.”

“You have until noon tomorrow to clean out your desk.  You will take no computer equipment, floppy discs, printouts, or files.  Goodbye, Tony.”  He picked up a file and began reading.  I left.

I went home.  I’d get my tape player and pictures tomorrow.  Although I’d have to talk to Perry, I wasn’t up to it then.  In some ways, I was relieved.  I didn’t have to act a part I felt less and less convincing in.  But I didn’t have a job, and I was uneasy about breaking the news to Jean.  It was not clear to me how much Jean could do after the buyout, particularly about Howell’s decisions on personnel matters.  What would, or could, Jean do about my job?  Howell didn’t seem at all worried.

Jean wasn’t there when I got home.  After pulling off my tie and dropping it in the trash, I got a beer and plopped on the sofa.  The mail was on the coffee table.  Southern Living, electric bill, bill from Jean’s therapist.  And one of Jean’s notebooks.  Although I had been curious about her therapy, especially since she had been so secretive, I respected her privacy.  But I guess my guard was down, for without a second thought, I opened the book and read.

Memories more and more clear.  Mom’s death seemed to break down a barrier.  Before, always had trouble putting together new memories and ordinary memories, outside memories–happy little girl, domestic mother, strict father, school, horses, summers on the lake, Jakeo.  Jakeo on the lakeo.  They stood apart from the ones B. has helped me find.  But now they come together.  Now I remember the blood and the candles at the lake.  Men in black.  Dad on the sleeping porch and the fireflies.  Zipping sound.  H. supportive, understanding, helps.  T. doesn’t have a clue.  He wouldn’t believe me.  I think he’s one of them.  He says he plays music but he was with dad.  H. says soon.

I didn’t know what to make of this.  Jakeo was a dog Jean had when she was younger, and the Cullens did have a lake house with a sleeping porch.  I supposed I was T., but I wasn’t sure about H. or B.  And who were “them?”  I was about to read on when I heard Jean rattling her keys at the door.  I closed the notebook and picked up the magazine.

“What are you doing home?”  Jean, in shorts and t-shirt, had some library books and a bag from the drugstore.

I raised my beer.  “I got fired–sorry, outplaced.”

She didn’t seem surprised.  She reacted as if I had told her I lost my hankerchief.  “What are you going to do?”

“Thanks for the sympathy.  What’s the board’s role after the buyout?  What are you going to do?”

“What do you expect me to do?  You want me to pull strings, encourage nepotism?”

“Isn’t that how I got the job?  Why can’t I keep it that way?”

Jean didn’t answer.  She was focused on the coffee table.  Dropping her bag and books, she strode to the table and picked up the notebook, looking closely at the edge.  “You read my journal.”

“I picked it up.  I didn’t realize what it was.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“All right.  I wouldn’t have ordinarily.  I don’t get fired every day.  I didn’t read much.”

“You’re lying.  You lie all the time.”  She clasped the notebook to her chest and burned into me with her eyes.  She was furious.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t lie all the time.  What do you think I lie to you about?”

“Everything!  You lie about women, you lie about music, you lie about where you go and what you do.  You lie so you can’t believe.”

“Believe what?”  I was losing her.

“I won’t tell you because you won’t believe.”  She looked around, wild-eyed.  “Get out!  I don’t want you around anymore!”

“Jean!  Please!”

“Get out!  Now!”

“Please, sit and talk.  What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to talk.  I don’t believe you.  Go away!”

“Where should I go?”

“I don’t care.  Just go!”  She picked up my jacket and threw it into the hall.  She ran into the bedroom and started struggling with the window.  I came in, fearful of what she might do.  The window resisted her, so she glanced around, eyes wide, lips open, and grabbed some of my clothes from the open closet.  Shoving me aside, she ran into the living room and opened the door to the balcony.

“Jean!  Don’t!”  I was afraid she would jump.  But she threw my clothes off the balcony and came back in.  I tried to grab her, but she struck me surprisingly hard and twisted away.  She was panting.  Stopping at the bookshelf, she grabbed an armload of my music scores and dumped them from the balcony.

“Get out!” she snarled, coming in and grabbing more music.  I tried to stop her again, and she kneed me in the crotch.  I backed away and sat hard on the sofa, doubled up.  I had practiced last night, so my cello was propped in the corner, not in its case.  She grabbed it and headed for the balcony.  I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t believe she would do what she did.  Without hesitating, she threw the cello over the rail.  We were six stories up.

She became less frantic, more methodical.  Out went my books, more clothes.  Finally she stopped, looked around.  I believe she would have thrown me off the balcony if she could.  I found I could move and walked to the door.  She rembered my records, grabbed a handful, and headed for the balcony.  I picked up my jacket on my way out.

Below, I found the pitiful kindling that used to be my cello.  It was not a fine, irreplaceable instrument, nothing like Clio’s Goffriller.  If I ever got a job that paid as well as Cullen, I could afford to get another as good.  But it was an old friend, and I had sacrificed much as a student to get it, and I knew where its weak spots and its strengths were–like an old love, I knew what turned it on.  I salvaged the bridge, tailpiece, neck and pegbox; the bow had landed in an azalea bush, and had not split.  But the case came down then, almost hitting me.  It was fiberglass, but the hinges sprung and it dented badly.

I gathered up shirts, underwear, socks, and carried armloads to my car.  Some of the books, music, and records had sailed into the swimming pool; others I found and loaded into the car.  It was hot, and I was suddenly very tired.  My possessions–books and music that had given me pleasure–seemed just so much litter.  I looked up at our balcony.  Jean threw down my robe and a handful of stuff that I guessed included my razor and toothbrush.  If she had exhausted all but the bathroom, she must be about finished.

Numb, not knowing what else to do, I got in the car and drove back to the office.  The receptionist gave me an odd look, but said nothing.  My office was empty, and the hall was quiet.  I sat down at my desk.  Like a kettledrum crescendo, rage welled up inside me.  I clenched my fists and teeth.  “Bitch!”  My cello, the only thing I owned that I had any feeling for, was gone.  I had been discarded, trashed, as well.  I banged on the desk until I realized my hands might get hurt, and instinctively stopped.  The anger drained away.  There was a misunderstanding, a serious mistake somewhere, a delusion.  Jean may not be rational just now, not fully responsible.  Unstable, unbalanced, delusional, mentally ill.  Maybe she is having hallucinations.  Maybe she sees whatever happens to Lady Jane Monmouth.  I ground my teeth.  These terms, these slippery, evasive words for whatever throws us together or pulls us apart, makes us hurt, help, love, or kill one another.

I pulled out my pocket calendar, and found the numbers Callie had given me.

“I can’t come to the phone now,” said Callie’s recorded voice, “but please leave your number at the beep.”  There was a pause, and then the Roadrunner said “Mbeep-mbeep,” followed by a loud crash ending in a tinkle of broken glass.  I couldn’t help smiling.

“Callie, it’s Tony.  Jean is having a bad time.  She just threw me out, so I’m no use to her.  You might get me here at 214-786-3301.”

I tried the other number, but there was no answer.  I looked around the office.  What was mine?  The tape player, some tapes, a frame with pictures of Jean and an old one of my parents.  In the desk drawer were nail clippers, aspirin, and Tums.  My canvas briefcase stayed at the office unless I was travelling–everything fit in easily.  I’ll ask at the desk if there is a check for me.  Where should they send it?  I called Callie’s second number again.


“Callie, it’s Tony.”

“Hey there, Antonio.”  Her voice was bright.  “How you doing?”

“Not so good.  Jean’s in some kind of trouble and lit into me.  Threw me out.  Oh, and I got fired.”

“Lord, lord.  I’m sorry.  What about Jean?”

I explained what happened, and paraphrased what I had seen in the journal.

“Poor child.  I remember that she talked very fondly about how she and her dad used to sit on the porch at the lake and spot fireflies.  I don’t get that other stuff.”

“Jean needs a friend with some sense right now.  Can you come?”

“I’ll try.  I’ll call her now, first.”

“I wish I could do something, but I seem to set her off.  Callie, you’ve got to believe me–I haven’t been beating her or cheating on her or anything.”

“For some reason I trust you, Tony.  But if I’m wrong, I’ll slap the shit out of you.”

“I’ll try to stay at this number for a while.  Then I guess I’ll find a room.  Try me at the Holiday Inn in Irving.”

“OK.  Hang in there.”

I hung up, got out the phone book, and started to look up the Holiday Inn.  Then I stopped and called Perry’s extension.  I needed a friendly voice.

“Perry, it’s Tony.  You still have your job?”

“So far.  Say, do you mean you–”

“Yeah.  Howell says ‘outplaced.’  And I’m having trouble at home too.  I won’t be playing for a while.”

“Oh shit.  Hold it.  Are you in your office?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Abner Cross just went in the east door carrying a gun.”


“Yeah, he’s in hunting fatigues, orange cap, with a deer rifle.  Disappear, quick.  I’ll call the cops.”  He hung up.

I was paralyzed for a moment.  The east door led to the stairs this side of the elevator, and there was no other exit on my end of the hall.  Jesus.  With a desperate surge of strength, I shoved the file cabinet against the door, then braced it with the desk turned lengthwise.  The door couldn’t be opened more than a crack.  The file cabinet was metal, but it wouldn’t stop a large caliber bullet, though the papers inside would help.  I huddled in the kneehole of the desk, drawing the phone down by me.  I had to urinate.

The elevator door chimed.  Damn–I could have made it down the stairs.  “Maclean!”  It was Abner.  He tried the door, gave it a shove.  I felt it move, but only a crack.  “Tony, you in there, buddy?  Come on out, I just want to talk.”  He was making an attempt to sound natural, but there was a hysterical quaver in his voice.  I kept quiet.  “I know you’re in there.  Just wanted to let you know what I’ve been up to lately.  Got a job selling burial insurance.  Ever sold burial insurance, Tony?  Worked nights, too, in a Jiffy-Shop.  Got fired for drinking their beer.  Wife’s gone.  Still get out to hunt a little.  Want to go hunting, Tony?”

Then the shots began.  I’ve talked about this incident before; I don’t think we need to go over it again.

I woke up in bed, terribly thirsty.  I tried to turn over but my legs felt heavy and awkward, and there was an IV in my arm and a tube leading to a pouch hanging on a stand.  My mind and eyes cleared enough to realize that I was in the hospital, and that my leg was bandaged and the bed was raised under my knees.  I found a glass of water with a straw, and drank it all.  There was a pitcher with more water, and I drank that.  My head ached, and my leg was sore, but I poked around and decided that I was not hurt anywhere else.  After a while a nurse, a friendly young black woman, brought me some pills and emptied a plastic pouch of red fluid that seemed to be draining from my leg through a tube.  Another woman brought food.  The meal was some sort of hambuger steak in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, english peas, a doughy roll, iced tea, and a cup of melting ice cream.  I felt a wave of nausea.  I drank the tea and tasted the ice cream.

I tried to relax.  I could tell that one of the pills must have been a sedative, for I felt drowsy.  But my mind kept going over the events of what must have been the worst day of my life.  It was almost funny, almost a cartoon: fired, dumped, and shot in one day.  I thought of Callie’s Roadrunner on her phone machine–I was the coyote, walking off the cliff, standing on air till I noticed where I was, and then falling to make a puff of dust.  I started laughing, and couldn’t stop.  The tears ran down my cheeks, and my sides hurt.  Somewhere along the way the laughter turned to crying.

I dozed off and dreamt I was in the woods in Tennessee.  I knew the area I was in, for it was near my uncle’s farm.  I walked up a hill, feeling very anxious.  I knew I had to get home as fast as I could.  I thought I saw something move to my left–a flash of orange.  I hid behind a tree, but did not feel safe. Everything seemed quiet, so I moved off again toward my uncle’s house.  Abner Cross stepped out in front of me in his camouflage and orange hat, pointing his rifle, and grinning maliciously.  “Want to go hunting, Tony?”  He sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger.

I sat up panting and sweating in the hospital bed.  Abner was not here, I repeated; he’s in jail.  Maybe they took him to a hospital, mental ward.  Maybe he’s in this hospital.  Maybe he’ll get loose and find me.  How?  He could just call information.  He could get a scalpel, or even a pillow, and smother me while I slept.  I crawled out of bed, and my leg stabbed me when I touched the floor.  Wincing, I limped to the door, dragging the IV stand.  No lock.  The pain and the movement cleared my head a bit, and I realized how paranoid my actions were.  At least, while I’m up, I could empty my bladder.  Still thirsty.

Back in bed, I tried to think in another direction.  Jean.  I reached for the phone and called.  No answer; the answering machine came on.  I told Jean to call me at the number printed on the phone cradle; I didn’t say where I was or how I got there.  Then I called again, giving the code to check other messages.  There were two, both for Jean.  One was from Callie, sounding urgent and concerned, leaving several numbers; the other was from Howell, very brief and businesslike: call him at home.

I lay back, exhausted, but wakeful.  I had nothing to read.  I turned on the TV and found nothing that held my attention.  I wondered if I could invoke Toby.

Toby huddled at the base of an old stone wall.  He seemed to be asleep under a stained and torn cloak.  His feet were wrapped in dirty strips of cloth.  He looked thin and ill.  A cannon fired nearby, and Toby jerked upright, his eyes staring.  “Captain Hall!  Captain Hall!” he cried.  He looked around frantically, then relaxed, closed his eyes, and groaned.  Other haggard men sitting in corners or shuffling along close to walls paid him no attention.  He moved slowly to his feet and climbed a stair leading to the platform that allowed the soldiers to look out over the fortifications of the town.  As he walked the platform, I could see several ships at anchor in the harbor.  One close in fired a cannon at the town; the ball thumped into the sloping wall without having much effect.  On the land side of the town an army had settled in, and trenches snaked about linking gabions that protected cannon.  I could make out maybe fifteen batteries.  The terrain was flat; tents and cooking fires could be seen for some distance.  I realized that Toby was being besieged in Parnu.

This was not exactly the escape I wanted, but I let the vision run on.   Toby stopped to speak to another thin and sick-looking soldier.  Both flinched as a mortar round sailed over the wall near them.  Fortunately, it was a solid lump–it seemed to be stone–and hit nothing in the open field below the wall.  Toby and the other soldier climbed down from the platform and walked toward a building with thick stone walls.  Inside was a long room with a low ceiling containing three long trestle tables with benches.  A man was stirring a large pot hung on a crane in the fireplace at the far end of the room.  As they approached, I smelled rotting meat.  I was still feeling nauseated, and decided I couldn’t take any more at the moment.  I shook my head and closed my eyes.  The vision was still there.  I took a drink of water, and turned on the television.  This produced an annoying static-like effect, but did not end the vision.  The man at the pot dished up a bowl of some gray substance and handed it to Toby.  I hobbled to the bathroom and threw up.  After splashing water on my face and rinsing out my mouth, I finally shook off the vision.

My inability to end the vision disturbed me greatly.  To my relief, a nurse came in with two men.  They were detectives, come for my statement about the shooting.  They were matter of fact, and registered no surprise or disapproval when I told them why Abner might have had a grudge.  After they left, another nurse came with more pills.  I kept her there chatting, asking about her work, her home life, her boyfriend.  She was a cheerful young Asian woman, Filipino probably, and indulged me for a while.  But she eventually eased herself out.  I forced myself to play an imaginary game of Dragonbreath, until, mercifully, the pills took effect.

Time’s Bending Sickle

April 24, 2011


For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.


25.  Time Decays


            Jean was absorbed in a book when I got home from work.  There had been a board meeting that afternoon, the first in which Jean had independent power to vote the Cullen stock.

            “What’s that?”

            She looked up.  “Howell gave it to us.  He’s going to make a formal bid to buy the company.”  The book was a large-format paperback with a title suggesting that leveraged buyouts were a good thing.

            “So he’s really going to go for it.  How did the board take it?”

            “Well, there were a lot of questions.”  She smiled wryly.  “Some I’d already been through with you.  You should have been there.  I think Howell would have made you change your mind.”

            “I doubt it.”

            “Howell is very persuasive.”

            I knew that, but I still couldn’t believe that the board would, on sober reflection, think it a good idea.  There were several bankers and a college president on the board–surely they wouldn’t be swayed. 

            “What’s he offering?”

            Jean frowned.  “I’m not supposed to say.  But it’s more than double the current price.”

            The stock was selling at nineteen and an eighth.  He must be offering forty dollars a share.

            “Are you going to vote for it?”

            She looked me in the eye and lifted her chin.  “I think so.”  I started to speak, but she interrupted.  “I know what you’re going to say.  I’ve heard all your arguments.  But I’ve got to think of the company.”

            “I want you to think of the company.  The company is the people.”

            “It’ll be better for them in the long run.”

            “With all that debt?  For Howell, efficiency will mean firing people.”

            “Then they’ll work harder.”

            “They’re not bolting parts together.  They’re thinking, and it’s hard to do that if you’re worried about your job.”

            “There are lots of cases of buyouts that worked well.  Gibson Greeting Cards–“

            “For whom?  The buyout artists make a bundle, but there are always losers, usually the employees.”

            Jean looked away.  “Just read this book when I’m done.  I’m tired of arguing.”


            There was a fairly big story in the local business pages, and a small one in the Wall Street Journal.  Howell, along with Steve Keller, had put together a group of backers and investment bankers, one of whom was a strong supporter of junk bonds, for the buyout bid.  What struck me as curious was that I didn’t see Tedesco’s name mentioned at all.  My curiosity surged when, a few days later, a bigger story in both papers talked about how the company was now “in play,” and that “LBO shark Tedesco” was preparing to make a competing bid. 

            I suppose that Howell could have been negotiating with Tedesco about helping with the buyout, but couldn’t agree on terms, which may have started Tedesco thinking about the possibility of outbidding Howell.  Why Tedesco would want the company, I couldn’t say.  The physical assets were not great, so I wouldn’t think them tempting to a stripper.  But what puzzled me even more was that the file I found, Howell’s “wopkraut” file, didn’t jibe with what was going on.  What did those names and numbers under Howell’s and Tedesco’s initials have to do with the buyout?

            The papers reported a rumor that Tedesco was going to bid $42 a share.  I checked the stock market; CuCpS had closed the day before at twenty-one and a quarter.  Well, Howell should be happy that we had got over the twenty-dollar hurdle.

            J. C. Atwell got on the elevator with me, and started shaking his head as soon as he saw me.  “Don’t ask!” he said.  He had been asked by the board to determine whether Howell’s bid was fair.

            “Aw, come on,” I teased.  “I’m family.”

            He continued shaking his head.  “I don’t know why Jean seems to favor this.  The bid would get nowhere without her.”  He looked up, a question in his eyes.

            “She thinks it’s a good idea.  She’s read a book.”

            He sighed.  “Don’t quote me, but I have to say, from the stockholder’s point of view, that the bid is fair.  But I still think it’s a bad idea.”

            “What about Tedesco?”

            “We haven’t got his bid yet.  But if it’s more than Howell’s, it has to be fair too.”

            “Even if it involves junk bonds?”

            “That could be a problem for the company or the new owners, but not for the stockholders.”  He moved closer and lowered his voice as the elevator slowed to a stop.  “Can’t you use some friendly persuasion?”

            The door opened and I escaped, answering only with a sheepish shrug.  I chewed on the implication that my opinion didn’t carry much weight with my wife.  But I had made my arguments, and felt inhibited about pressing them.  After all, it was her father’s company, and now it’s hers, and I’m–what, not a parasite exactly, but I wouldn’t be involved if I were not Jean’s husband.

            The market, after the rumor of Tedesco’s bid, pushed Cullen’s stock up to twenty-three and an eighth.  It kept going up every day for almost a week.  Then some people started taking profits and it dipped.  But a new rumor that Howell was going to top Tedesco’s bid started making the rounds, and the stock took off again.  Soon it was twenty-eight and three quarters.

            Jean had become increasingly preoccupied.  She read the papers and watched the market, but never raised the buyout with me or had much to say when I brought it up.  I think she must have talked to Howell on the phone when I wasn’t around.  She saw her therapist at least twice a week, and sometimes went in for extra sessions.  She wrote a lot in her journal.  She clearly wanted space, and I tried to give it to her, but I always left an opening for some kind of renewal of intimacy.  We made love a few times, or tried to, but Jean was unresponsive and remote.  The unspoken deal seemed to be that if I got my rocks off I would leave her alone.  I played music when I could.  I also “meditated.”


            Tobias Hume and James Hill were celebrating.  From the log walls of the tavern room and the sound of the language being spoken by the tapsters bringing in cups, jugs, and plates of bread and dried fish, I gathered that they were back in Sweden.

            Toby raised his cup.  “Your health, Colonel!”

            Hill smiled and returned the salute.  “And yours, good Captain!”

            They drank.  “Perhaps we shall soon celebrate your promotion,” said Hill, leaning foward across the table.  “Once more, my hearty thanks for your help in the matter of that rogue Tucker.”

            Toby smiled and waved his hand.  “I am content to celebrate my pay.  Forty Swedish daler fatten my lean purse gratifyingly.”

            “Are you prepared for the campaign in Livonia?”

            “Almost,” said Toby, frowning thoughtfully.  “I lack a good, stout horse.”

            “Ah, there I may be able to help.  I know a man who has a gelding not three years old, a fine, sturdy mount.  He owes me a favor.  If the horse pleases you, I may be able to get it for ten daler.”

            “I would be glad to see this horse, and would be in your debt if it could be had for that price.”

            “We shall see it tomorrow.”


            Toby was playing the viol for Duke Charles and a company of ladies and gentlemen. They appeared to be in the hall of a castle–I think it must have been at Reval–a fire was burning in a large fireplace at one end.  Hill exchanged smiles with one of the ladies, who then said quiet word to a somewhat better dressed lady next to her.  A boy of about six, with striking blond hair, sat on the floor and watched Toby’s movements intently for a while.  Then, when Toby struck up the little march tune at the end of “A Soldier’s Resolution,”  the boy hopped up and strutted about, producing smiles from all, even the duke.  When Toby finished, the company rose and began saying their goodnights.  The boy grasped the hand of one lady, very pregnant, and obviously his mother.  She continued to speak to Hill’s lady and her friend. 

            Another boy, this one about twelve, thin and sleepy-eyed, approached Toby and languidly asked questions about his viol in Swedish ; Toby answered in respectful tones, thanking “his grace” for his interest.  I later gathered that this was Duke John of Östergötland, half-brother of King Sigismund of Poland, and hence the dedicatee of Hume’s “Duke John of Polland his Galliard.”  The object of Hill’s attention was his new wife, Elizabeth, who had been a lady in waiting to the princess of Mecklenburg, who was at that moment kissing her on both cheeks.  The pregnant lady was Kristina, the wife of Duke Charles and the mother of young Gustavus Adolphus.


            Toby was in a small church or chapel, carefully dressed.  Hill  and his wife, along with Henry Francklin, sat in the pew beside him, while the princess of Mecklenburg, Duke Charles and his wife, several other ladies and gentlemen, and a restless Gustavus Adolphus stood near the font.  A baby was being christened.  The minister repeated his blessing, placed his wet hand on the baby’s head, and the baby cried.  The duke smiled and the boy made a face.  The minister handed the baby to its mother, pronounced another blessing, and the company began to move toward the exit, talking quietly.  Two of the other gentlemen spoke English.  Toby bowed as the duke passed his pew, and he followed the group outside.  It turned out that the chapel was in the castle I had seen earlier.   A modest feast was served in the hall, during which Henry Francklin approached several of the guests, holding out a small volume to them.  Soon he came up to Hill and Toby at the lower end of the long table.

            “Colonel Hill, a happy occasion.  And Captain Hume.  As you see, I am at my album amicorum again.  You both did me the honor to write therein.  Captain Hume, you seem less melancholy, if I may say so.”  He smiled.

            “Your kindness and hospitality was very helpful to me, I thank your honor.”            As Toby was chatting with Francklin, a high-booted messenger entered, bowed, and handed a packet to a gentleman, who immediately handed it to the duke.  The duke moved to a window, opened the packet with his dagger, and read, with increasing agitation and anger.

            “Colonel!” barked the duke.  Hill jumped up and strode over, followed by Toby.  The duke spoke rapid Swedish to Hill, whose expression grew more and more somber.  Toby listened intently, but I couldn’t tell from his expression if he understood.  Finally, Hill responded and bowed, then turned, gesturing to Toby to follow.  Outside, in the courtyard, they called for horses.

            “So?” asked Toby.

            “That fool Gyllenhieln has let the Polonians beat him at Kokenhusen.  We must go help pick up the pieces.”

            “These Swedes need good Dutch training.  They fight like bears, not men.”

            Hill looked at Toby thoughtfully.  “Aye, you fought with Prince Maurice.  And you tried the Dutch drill at Sand Haven, but to little effect.”

            “I had no authority, and was ill understood.”

            Grooms trotted up leading their horses.  As they mounted, Hill said, “We will speak more of this.”


             Duke Charles, in armor, was speaking to Toby, Hill, Prothero, and other officers in a tent illuminated by three candles.  He spoke quietly, but with the inflection, gestures, and eye contact of a persuasive orator.  Now and then he paused while Hill translated for Toby and the other foreign officers. 

            “His Grace says that he will personally lead our forces.  We attack just before dawn.  The town will surely fall quickly, and the castle must follow.  Colonel Prothero’s company will follow his Grace, my company will take the left flank, and Captain Hume’s the right.”

            The duke spoke again, but Hill did not bother to translate, for the duke strode out of the tent shouting orders, the other officers close behind.  Squires ran to help the duke mount his horse, and the officers hurried to join their units.  Toby ran to where his sergeant waited with his company in a grove of tall firs.  He glanced at his lieutenant, a tough old Viking with a butter-colored beard who barely tolerated Toby’s attempts at Dutch discipline, and his ancient, an aristocratic young man whose chin was trembling visibly.  The soldiers fingered their swords, while those with firearms–mainly old arquebuses–blew on their matches.  All, including Toby and the other officers, wore a strip of blue cloth around their left arms.

            “Tell them to keep their pikes,” Toby said to the sergeant.  “Pikemen must protect the shot.  Any man who loses his pike will be flogged.”  Several of the pikemen looked displeased when this command was translated.  Of all the units, only Toby’s had a significant number of pikes.

            The duke, on horseback a hundred yards away, raised his sword and pointed forward.  As Toby’s company emerged from the woods, I could see the old walls of a town ahead, and beyond it a glimmer of a river.  Peasants in cottages outside the walls ran inside and barred doors and shutters when they heard the clank of arms and saw the woods streaming with soldiers.  The duke and a company of a hundred or so horse now began to gallop toward the main gate, two wooden leaves reinforced with iron, but looking old and vulnerable. 

            Toby’s company broke into a jog toward a part of the wall to the right of the gate.  Toby had a pistol in his left hand and a sword in his right, with which he pointed toward a low place in the wall under which several market stalls were thrown up.  Small arms fire could now be heard all along the wall, and the soldiers, who had been surprisingly quiet during the first part of the charge, now yelled with abandon.  Toby reached the stalls, dodging under the roof just as a defender leaned forward and snapped his arquebus.  It failed to fire.  Toby climbed on the roof of the stall, stuck his pistol in his belt and his sword in his teeth, and grabbed the top of the wall.  His company hesitated a moment, but the old lieutenant gave a deep-throated yell and leaped up himself.  Soon they were all scrambling onto the stalls and over the wall. 

            As Toby dropped onto the platform on the other side, two defenders attacked with swords.  Toby parried both thrusts and drew his pistol.  The man on his left ducked out of the line of fire behind a guard booth, and the man on his right was skewered by the lieutenant as he jumped from the top of the wall.  The other defender broke from the cover of the guard booth, jumped from the platform, and ran toward a cluster of soldiers just inside the main gate.  Most of Toby’s company was now over the wall, with no enemy to resist them for maybe twenty yards.  The sergeant, flushed, ran up.

            “Men leave goddam pikes.  Dey climb mit on vall.”

            Toby shook his head.  The noise grew outside the main gate as chopping and banging was added to the shouting and firing. “We must open the gate.  Have the shot follow along the wall and fire at those men on command.”  He pointed at the defenders on the ground.  Toby then led his men around the inner platform until they were almost over the gate, driving a few of the defenders before them.  Then Toby stopped.  “All shot.  Fire at once.  Now!”  The arquebusers, about twenty of them, fired a ragged volley at the fifty or so men protecting the gate.  Three or four fell, but the rest, instead of engaging the attackers sword to sword, scattered. 

            Toby leaped down from the platform, and his men followed.  A lone defender held his ground by the enormous bars on the inside of the gate.  Toby raised his pistol and fired.  Blood gushed from the man’s neck.  He grasped his throat and leaned back against the gate, his sword slowly falling; then he slid down to a sitting position.  Toby’s men wrestled the bars from the gate and began pulling it open.  The dying defender slumped to his side and was dragged by the gate, leaving a smear of blood on the paving stones. 

            With a burst of shouting, the duke’s troops crowded through the opened gates.  Toby’s men waved and called out, some pointing to their blue armbands.  They swept forward through the streets toward the castle, which was protected by the river and a moat. Although now and then a sniper would fire from the upper window of a house, most of the defenders seemed to have retreated into the castle, for as Toby’s men approached it, the drawbridge was hastily raised. 


            The castle did not hold out long; I next saw Toby calmly walking across the lowered drawbridge, his hat and cloak in his hand, for it was warm.  On the wall above, impaled on three of the spikes that lined the top, were three human heads.  Seabirds fluttered around them, sometimes lighting long enough to tear off bits of flesh.  In the castle courtyard, Hill and Prothero were seated at a table under a tree, poring over papers and maps, sweating and arguing.

            “Swedish fighting won this town, did it not?” insisted Hill, jabbing the table with his forefinger.

            Prothero jerked his chin.  “And a great prize it is, valued so much that the Poles garrisoned it with a vast army of fourscore.”  He nodded at Toby.  “And that poor fourscore would have held you longer if it had not been for Toby.  Having his shot fire all at once, though it killed but four, seemed to break the enemy quickly.  You put much in adventure, my friend.”

            “I wanted to give us a chance at the gate.  It seemed to serve.  But my men had dropped their pikes climbing the wall.  We would have been hard put to reload.”

            “And our small success here must be weighed with the rout elsewhere,” said Prothero.  “When King Sigismund’s cavalry is in the field, the duke’s army is helpless.”  Prothero mopped his brow, and Hill shook his head.

            “And they will not use their pikes as they should,” added Toby.  “Perhaps Count John will help.  He has been much in the service of his cousin, Prince Maurice, and knows all the Dutch drill and tactics.”  Prothero nodded thoughtfully, but Hill continued to shake his head.


            I learned from history books that John of Nassau had come in the summer of 1601 to warn Duke Charles that King Philip of Spain might send naval aid to Sigismund, and that he was persuaded to stay and reform the Swedish army.  I also learned that he had little success, and left in frustration a few months later with the army only half-reformed.  I saw a montage of this period which seemed to confirm this: young Count John supervising the drilling of Swedish troops, arguing vehemently with Duke Charles and his officers, talking despondently with Toby and Prothero, who were of course sympathetic.   I also saw Swedish soldiers shedding their heavy body armor and throwing away their pikes to meet Polish cavalry charges with swords and shouting, then being cut down by the horsemen.   I saw Toby weeping over the body of his old lieutenant, his Viking beard stiff with blood.  I saw many other things I’d like to forget: devastated fields, thin and ragged troops of peasant refugees trudging toward Sweden, mutinous Swedish soldiers shaking their swords at Toby, demanding pay and food.


            Toby and Hill, leading a somewhat less ragged company of soldiers, moved across a flat landscape and entered a town.  The battered walls had been partially rebuilt into modern defensive fortifications.  But several of the buildings were damaged, and some looked newly built.  Some were brick, some timber and plaster, some were logs, but not so many as in Sweden.  Toby’s band was greeted by a young Swedish officer who seemed very glad to see them, mainly because they were to relieve him and he was eager to be off.  After sorting through some papers, the officers toured the town.  It was on a peninsula formed by a river and the sea.  There were seabirds and a salt tang in the air, occasionally relieving the stench of a seventeenth-century town.  The river was fairly broad, and not much activity could be seen on the opposite bank; three ships stood at anchor in the harbor, and a number of smaller vessels were clustered around piers or drawn up on the beach.  This was Parnu or Pernau, a port town north of Riga, “Parno in List-land.”

            The next morning the young Swedish officer and two lieutenants rode out the gates and headed north.  Soldiers from their garrison who were on the walls called out insults and curses to their backs.


            Jean was up before me, dressing for the board meeting.  The stock had gone to thirty-six and a half, and Howell’s latest bid, according to the rumors, was forty-six dollars.  Tedesco had, apparently, not tried to cap it. 

            Jean was grimacing in the mirror, checking for lipstick on her teeth.  I dodged behind her, combing my hair.  “I don’t suppose anything will change your mind at this point.”


            “What if Howell, in a burst of entrepreneurial efficiency, fires me?”

            Jean looked at me levelly.  “I guess you’d have to look for another job.”

            “Maybe I’ll go work for the competition.  Tell them all our trade secrets.”

            “Then we’ll sue you.  Or enjoin you.  Whatever.”  She was not joking, and didn’t see my joke.

            “Do you think I can get a job on my own?”

            “We’d find out, wouldn’t we?”

            “Call me after the vote and let me know how it goes.”

            “I can tell you right now.  We’ll accept Howell’s bid.”  She clicked the top on her lipstick, patted her hair in a gesture that reminded me of Tillie, and walked out, her heels cracking on the bathroom tiles.

            Jean was right.  That afternoon, Howell stepped out of his office and gave a kind of Tarzan yell.  Then he called to his secretary, “Wynona!  Get your butt in here!  We got to move some moola.”

            For days Howell never moved at less than a lope.  Steve Keller and the various bankers and junk bond people were in and out.  The papers, after the initial story of the buyout, published interviews with Howell and Tedesco.  Tedesco said that he simply reached the end of his resoruces, and felt that the value of the company did not justify going further.  They couldn’t get much more out of him, except that he was now going to “focus on other projects.”  Howell, however, was voluble about sharpening Cullen’s technological edge, moving forward, getting lean and mean, and so on. 

            One thing I found interesting: Howell said that some of the workers at Ramforce were trying to raise enough money to buy their company.  Poor schmucks.  “If they can come up with a reasonable offer, I think we can do business,” said Howell.  “We would hate to lose them, but I think having our own hardware is something of an indulgence.  In the interests of efficiency and the future growth of the company, we will have to make some initial sacrifices.”



Time’s Bending Sickle

April 17, 2011

For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

24. Dear Time’s Waste

I had a little time to kill before my plane the next day. I had read about another museum, a place called the “Museum of Jurassic Technology.” The cognitive dissonance in the title alone intrigued me, so I soon found myself at a storefront in a rather grubby commercial district. Inside was a series of dim rooms with lights focused on glass display cases; these were accompanied by recordings of serious-sounding educational voices explaining the contents. An ant with a kind of horn protruding from its head was identified as Megaloponera foetens, or stink ant, which sometimes inhales a spore from a fungus that grows in the head of the ant and eventually erupts into a horn. Other horns were on display, but these purported to have grown from human heads. A stuffed duck head, its bill in the mouth of a sculped human face, illustrated duck’s breath as a remedy for thrush and other diseases. A diorama showed where one Wilhelm Sonnabend attempted to build a bridge across Iguazú Falls near the Argentinian-Brazilian border. The bridge was not in the model, but if you looked through a viewer, you could see the bridge as it might have been. Other displays illustrated the wierd memory theories of Geoffrey Sonnabend, son of Wilhelm and author of Obliscence: Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter. A small room was dedicated to a collection of letters received by the Mount Wilson Observatory from a number of crackpots. Another display concerned art and artifacts from mobile home parks. And so on. The whole place seemed to hover between the bizarre but possibly true and the plausible but possibly bogus–a museum of fact and fiction slipping into each other’s garments, always keeping a straight face. Of course I thought about Van Meergen’s Wunderkammer. The old Dutchman would probably have admired the display and the exotic material, but would have missed the irony. I had some interesting visions on the plane home.

Toby looked out his small window in the Boar’s Head. Light steps rattled up the stairs, and someone knocked on the door. Toby opened it to find the boy, John.
“Lady to see you, sir.”
“Thank you, laddie. Please send her up.” Toby waited outside his door at the head of the stairs. A lady ascended, a dark, broad hat obscuring her face. Toby smiled anxiously, twisting his hands together. He stood aside and gestured to the lady to enter; she did, the hat still blocking his and my view. He closed the door behind him. The lady, facing the window, removed her hat and turned around.
“I regret that I must disappoint you, Master Toby. Yes, I received the advertisement and the message, and thought it best to come.”
Toby looked confused and embarrassed. “I–I am pleased to see you. I hope your father is well?”
“Yes, thank God, and my sister too.”
“I am glad to hear it.” Toby’s response was probably to Audrey’s inclusion of her sister. After the father had had him beaten and shanghaied, I doubt that Toby wished him well. Toby paused a beat, then went on. “And do you still attend to your music?”
“Master Toby, you are very courteous, but we both know other matters are of more interest to us than my music. I must tell you that my sister has a child.”
Toby sat abruptly on the edge of his bed. Audrey came to rest on a stool by the window. Her foot twitched under her long skirt. Toby recovered enough to say, “I wish my lady and Sir Andrew much joy of their child. A son?”
“Yes, Sir Andrew is pleased, for it is a son. His name is Charles.” Audrey’s voice took on an ironic tone. “I say it favors him, even if this hatchling is a cuckoo.”
Toby’s concern and confusion grew. “Mistress Audrey–”
“My sister is persuaded the child is yours.”
“Oh, Lord!”
Audrey leaned forward. “Now attend me carefully. Your past actions make me doubt that you truly wish my sister well; but if you do, and if you wish this child to thrive, you will stay away and let them be. Jane is not in love with her husband, but he is fond of her, and they have been more content with one another since she was got with child. If they’re left alone, they may rub along as well as most married folks, and their child, if he live, will be well brought up and come into a handsome property.”
Toby stared miserably at his hands. He nodded.
Audrey went on. “Put the case that she were to run off with you; what life could you give her? Winters in a cold house in a foreign country, summers following you from one battle to another, as like to perish from disease or hunger as you from a wound?”
“Please stop.” Toby wiped his eyes. “You are right, and I am a villain for not thinking of these things. But it is hard to give up hope for–for. . . .” He broke off and rested his face in his hands, his elbows on his knees.
Audrey spoke more softly. “I know tis hard. Tis hard for Jane, too. Tis hard for all who cannot marry where they would. That is why I have determined never to marry.”
Toby looked up, curiosity seeming to infringe slightly on his misery. “Never?”
“No, never. I fear it a sin of pride in me, but I cannot give over my life to the will of another, even were I to choose him myself.”
“Why, what will you do? Will not your father–”
“Aye,” she interrupted, “he will find me a suitor, and I shall entertain him most properly, but he shall not marry me. I have learned much from our wise Queen.”
“But if you should love?” Toby’s curiosity seemed to take on a personal edge.
“I love many people. But you mean poet’s love.” She made only a slight wrinkle of her nose. “Marriage and that love, as you should know, do not often keep company, or if they do, they wear down to a comfortable friendliness at best, or sour hatred at worst. I may love–”
“One cannot choose to love or not.” Toby’s eyes drooped mournfully.
“So I understand. If I should love, I shall remember Cupid’s wings and Vulcan’s net. I mean to fly, and not be fettered. Even the best husband is yet a husband, and the law will have him my master, and give him leave to wear me away with childbearing.”
“But how will you live?”
“That is the misfortune of too many of my sex. We must drudge or whore, one way or another. After a long siege, I cajoled my father into conveying to me a small plot of land, enough to maintain me in a very humble state. But I shall be queen of it, and it will seem as vast as the Spanish empire to me.” She smiled. “I begged it as I would a kitten or a hound, or some jeweller’s toy. I could not be as open with him as I am with you, old friend.”
“Your friendship is somewhat hard, mistress,” said Toby ruefully, “yet I am grateful for it.”
Audrey relaxed. “To answer a question you asked before, yes, I keep up my music. And like you, Master Toby, I sometimes compose.”
Toby managed a smile. “And does your father enjoy your music?”
“Yes, because he knows not that it is mine. I make music for my own contentment, and I am pleased if it pleases others for itself. But I wish neither to be flattered nor condescended to. Momus mocks women with more asperity than men.” Audrey glanced out the window, then rose. “I must go. I have your promise to leave my sister in peace?”
Toby twisted in anguish. “You have my word that I will not seek her out or send to her. But if she finds me, by chance or diligence, I cannot promise what I will do. I cannot think I could deny her to her face.”
“Well, I must be content with that. Fare you well, Master Toby.” She moved toward the door. Toby rose, opened it, and followed her in silence down the stairs. She nodded to Toby, put on her hat, and went out the street door. Toby looked after her with profound sadness.

Toby turned over bolts of heavy blue wool in a warehouse packed tight with cloth. A stout, well-dressed older man stood by and pointed out the virtues of the weave. Toby fingered the end of a bolt critically. The room was hot and stuffy, and the older man was sweating.
“Would the weave were closer. Sweden is very cold.”
“Trust me, captain. Twill serve, twill serve.”
“Well, Master Ives, I am content. But I must see every several bolt before it is shipped. The duke trusts me only so far as I serve him well.”
After some further skeptical inspection of cloth and obsequious assurances by Ives, Toby left and wadered through the crowded London streets until he entered the familiar house under the sign of the boar’s head. Edgcoke met him at the foot of the stairs.
“Gentleman to see you, Master Hume. He waits in my shop.”
Toby thanked Edgcoke and entered the shop to meet a young man holding a packet. Seeing Toby, he doffed his hat. “Captain Hume? My master’s compliments, and begs that you be his guest for dinner at the Angel. He also sends this packet from friends in Nicopen.”
“Your master is from Sweden, then?”
“Yes, sir. Oh, I beg your pardon. My master is Henry Francklin.”
“Your master is known to me as a valued servant of Duke Charles. It will be an honor to wait on him. Please give him my thanks and compliments.”
“Gladly, sir. He expects you in an hour, and advises you to read your letters in the interval.”
Toby thanked the young man, who politely refused the offered tip and took his leave. Toby took the packet to his room. Cutting the outer wrapping with his penknife, Toby opened a letter and began reading.
I saw that it was a long letter, in English, from “Nicopen,” dated May 4, 1600. It was signed by several men who testified that Leonard Tucker had called James Hill a “shellom,” “which is in these partes the greatest name of infamie that can be spoken to the meanest or vilest person,” and that Tucker had accused Hill of stealing clothing from players in England, of being a tailor in Ipswich, and of buggering his pageboy. The packet contained another letter from James Hill himself, telling how he had written Queen Elizabeth asking for help in countering the slander Tucker had spread about him in Sweden; Hill begged the Queen for some sort of certificate of confidence and some statement about Tucker’s reputation in England. Hill asked Toby to find out what else he could about Tucker and to write as soon as possible.
When he finished the letter, Toby put it on the windowsill and stared out the window with a thoughtful frown. After a while, he sighed heavily, stood, picked up his hat, and left the room.

Henry Francklin was in his fifties, richly but not flashily dressed in a long sleeveless coat thrown open so that fashion and dignity were maintained despite the heat. He smiled and greeted Toby warmly. “Good Captain Hume! I have heard much good of you and rejoice that we meet at last.” He grasped Toby’s hand, then took his arm and led him into a private room in the inn where a table was set with silver and very white linen. He kept up a steady stream of friendly conversation as a generous dinner was served. Toby’s polite but melancholy air gradually warmed.
“Good Captain, I too was a soldier. I served with the first earl of Essex in Ireland, and then came to Poland to serve King Sigismund, and then to Sweden and Duke Charles–though at my age, I am glad his grace has found other uses for me than in the field. I hear that you fought under Prince Maurice–ah, a prince without peer. So many famous victories. Were you at Deventer? Nijmegen? Steenwijk? Twas your company that was blown up? Alas, alas–a great loss.” Francklin’s brow knit in deep sympathy. “You have cause to be melacholy. But you have life–God saw fit to spare you, no doubt for some good purpose.” He cast about for a change of subject. “Do have another glass of this wine. I also hear that you are a lover of music. I, too–I used to sing as a boy, but now I croak like an old frog.”
Toby and Francklin eventually came to discuss the affair between Tucker and James Hill, agreeing that Hill was a good man who was villainously wronged. Francklin added what little information he had, and Toby recounted what he had observed on the ship returning from Finland. Francklin briefly described his own mission, a more diplomatic one. As the wineglasses were refilled, Toby hinted that he had another cause for melancholy, one that involved a lady. He gave no details, but Francklin appeared to understand the seriousness of matters of the heart, and offered still more of his avuncular sympathy.
Then Francklin produced a small leather-bound book. “Good captain, when I was in Germany I took up the custom of keeping an album amicorum. You see I have entries from many of the noblemen and gentlemen I have had the pleasure to meet in my travels. I should be glad if you would add your name.”
“It would be an honor, sir.” Toby took the book and leafed through it. He stopped at a page that contained only a few lines at the top. “Here?” Francklin nodded. “What must I write?”
“Your name, at least. As you see, others have inscribed their arms, or a motto, or some sentence. What you will.”
The page already had this inscription: “Patience and Constancy overcomes tyranny. Johannes Powntes Anglus. 1588.” Toby hesitated a moment, shook his head–perhaps to clear out some of the effects of wine–and wrote an H. Then he stopped, and wrote in italic script:

Love is lost, but now love is found
For Francklin hath turned it upsee down.

He went back and inserted “me” after “For” and then added “Hold fast when that ye claspe.” He drew lines bracketing this last line, under which he wrote “Tobias Hume” and a flourish. He returned the book to Francklin, who smiled and nodded. Finally, after warm thanks on both sides, Toby rose, steadied himself, and took his leave.

I saw a montage of Toby talking to various people around London. Some I recognized–the grave Roger Clarke, Case the cloth merchant, Burbage the actor, and Moll the prostitute and pickpocket–but there were many I didn’t, though the same range of social classes was represented. Some shook their heads, some sent Toby to talk to others, and some–notably Moll–gave him an earful. After talking a good while with Moll, pouring her generous amounts of wine and giving her a coin as he left, Toby called on a man in a small chamber of the Middle Temple. This thin and threadbare man was at the end of his youth, and seemed reluctant to speak. But eventually he did, even signing a bit of paper on which Toby had made notes as they talked.
A morning after this meeting, probably the next day, Toby sat writing in his chamber. “This Tucker,” he wrote,

was a Devon man, recommended to Sir Walter Ralegh by his friends in that country. Sir Walter got him a pettie office in the Queen’s majesty’s service, where he soon found meanes to line his purse. Having heard of a man who had two children with his own Daughter, Tucker wrote himself a letter in the Queen’s name and stole a seal for it, this letter giving him authoritie to investigate the matter. He found the incestuous father, presented his commission, and offered to arrest him, saying he surelie would be hanged for his crime. The father was mightilie penitent, and offered this Tucker an hundred Pounds in gold to let him go free, which he did. The father then found meanes to let a magistrate know of Tucker’s act without bewraying himself. Tucker got winde of this, and knowing he could lose both Eares and be whipped and pilloried, begged a place abroad from Sir Walter before he could be discovered. It is also saide of Tucker that he is a notorious Paederast and sodomite.

Toby put down his pen and stared gloomily out the window; the light lit up the swirls in the glass. The colors began to move, and the flashing lights became the jumpy images of MTV on the silent television set in my hotel room.

Howell was not pleased with my account of the meeting with Tom Backscheider, in particular my inability to persuade Tom to use Ramforce. I thought about asking him if I should have blacked Tom’s eye, using the method of persuasion he had used on Bonnie. But instead I tried to make Howell see Tom’s point of view. The best I could do was to get Howell to agree, grudgingly, to wait and read Tom’s report before taking any further steps.
Bonnie’s warning about some stunt Howell might pull was nagging at my memory, and I kept my antennae out for anything suspicious or unusual. The presence of Tedesco, although explainable by the possible leveraged buyout, still had more mystery about it than anything else. Something didn’t smell right whenever he came around. So I resolved to find out what I could about the man and his business.
The usual sources produced little of interest: I learned that he went to Northeastern and Harvard Business School, that he had worked for several investment bankers before settling in with his current firm five years before. Newspapers began discussing his role in buyouts about two years ago, and recent stories identified him as “LBO impresario Tedesco,” and “Tedesco, conjuror of unlikely LBOs.”
I turned to the Cullen computer files to see what I could find. Nothing appeared under any straightforward headings, nor did I expect it to. Howell would have hidden anything to do with Tedesco under some impenetrable code name. So, as a kind of lunch hour game, I began playing with passwords. I tried LBO, I tried buyout, I tried leverage, lever, fulcrum, Archimedes. I tried Ted, Tico, desko, and other free-association possibilities. Knowing Howell’s thesaurus of terms for money, I tried bread, loot, dinero, gelt, stash, and a number of others. Anyone observing me would think me a scrabble fanatic fallen off the deep end.
One night around this time I was reading madrigals with some Dallas friends. We did the famous one by Orlando di Lasso, “Matona mia cara.” Perry Fein, singing tenor instead of playing violin, asked, “Who’s this Matona?”
I had no idea. The name of the lady? I hadn’t given it much thought. But Carla Beasley, our soprano and resident trivia expert, smiled. “It’s ‘Madonna’.”
“What? Why?” I knew that a lot of poems were addressed to “madonna,” my lady. But why the misspelling?
“This is one of a bunch of songs making fun of the German mercenaries in Italy at the time. It’s supposed to sound like Italian with a German accent. They called these songs tedeschi.”
A bell went off in my head. “So a guy named Tedesco would be from a German family that settled in Italy?”
This information set off a new line of inquiry. Back at work, I tried German, Italian. Think like Howell, I told myself. I tried lira, mark, DM. I tried kraut, hun, eyetie, dago, wop, krautwop, wopkraut–
Bingo! A file appeared. A list of names and companies, none of whom I had ever heard of, each followed by a number. The list was divided into two parts, one headed “HD” followed by a number, and another headed “JT” and another number. Nothing else. I printed it out–two single-spaced pages–and exited the file. I committed a few of the names to memory, samples I could check, and then considered what I should do with the list. I knew it was important, and I knew if anything happened it would not be good for Howell to find it on me. My eye lit on one of the few personal items in my office, a radio-cassette player. I had it plugged in, but I knew it had a space for batteries so it could be used as a portable. The battery compartment was empty, and the folded sheets fit inside neatly.
I checked the phone book for the names I remembered from the list. Nothing. They didn’t appear in any of the other references I looked at, nor were they in the phonebooks of Houston, Washington, New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. I also drew a blank with Who’s Who and other resources and indexes I could think of.
I soon had to put my investigation on hold, for other matters began to occupy my attention. About two weeks after my visit with Backscheider, his written report came in. Without telling Howell, Tom sent me a copy, so I knew what it contained. It managed to be devastating in its evaluation of Ramforce, but with a degree of tact I hadn’t expected Tom to be capable of. To soften the blow of his irrefutable demonstration of the impossibility of writing games on Ramforce, he included several games designed to run with minimal trouble on the machine. Howell called me in, cursed a lot while giving a highly selective version of Tom’s report, and concluded by giving in while doing his best to appear that he was standing firm. “They’d better come up with some good, fast-selling games, and damned pronto.”
At home there were also unsettling developments. When I got to the apartment after this last meeting with Howell, I found Jean gone. She had left a hasty note saying only “At Mother’s.” There was no answer when I called. So I got busy in the kitchen and put together one of the elementary casseroles I had learned to make, and stuck it in the oven. I was having a glass of wine with the news when Jean called.
“Tony.” She sounded anxious.
“What’s up? Are you all right?”
“Yeah, it’s Mother. You know I finally got her to the doctor yesterday. They called and want her to come to the hospital right now for surgery in the morning. I can’t get her to go.”
“What is it?”
“I’m not sure. She won’t say. Can you come?”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Why don’t you call her doctor in the meantime? Maybe he can persuade her.”
“OK. But you come too.”
“I’m on my way.” I bareley remembered to turn the oven off. When I got to the Cullen house, Tillie was frowning at the local newscaster on the TV, her mouth set in a stubborn pout. Jean was on the phone, twisting the cord nervously.
“Just a minute, doctor. Mother, please come to the phone.”
Tillie sat as if she had not heard. Jean spoke into the phone: “Please hold on a little longer.” She carried the phone to her mother’s chair. I turned off the TV. Tillie scowled at me, but didn’t move or speak. Jean said, “Go ahead, doctor,” and held the phone to Tillie’s ear. She listened for a while, the lines around her mouth deepening. Then she shook her head and would not allow the phone near her ear.
Jean said, “She heard you, doctor, but she won’t listen any more. Yes. Yes, I understand. Thank you for trying. I’ll do what I can.” She hung up and turned to her mother looking worried and exasperated.
“Mother. You can’t just sit there and pretend this will go away.” She looked at me. “The doctor says she has breast cancer. They need to operate immediately to stop it from spreading.” Out of Tillie’s line of vision, she silently mouthed, “If it hasn’t already.”
I squatted down in front of the sullen woman. Her eyelids, jowls, and mouth were drooping, but her eyes shone defiantly. “Miss Tillie,” I began in my best Tennessee gentleman accents, “please help us out here. We don’t want you to be sick. We don’t want you to hurt. The doctor seems to think it’s serious enough to hurry, but nobody’s giving up on you.”
Her mouth tightened further. “Everybody’s pushing,” she said, biting off the words. “Somebody’s always pushing. Do this. Do that. I’m sick of it. Mother. Oren. Howell. Now Jean and you.” She looked around the room. “I’m going to die. Why can’t I stay home instead of going to that awful hospital? When Oren was there you couldn’t even get a decent cup of coffee.”
“You don’t have to die yet, Miss Tillie. You’re not an old lady.” Jean sat down on the sofa behind me with a sigh and let me talk. “Plenty of people catch this trouble in time and enjoy life for many more years.” I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I looked at Jean, who only gave her head a slight shake. “Don’t give up, please, for Jean’s sake.”
She sniffed. “I’ve done about all I can for Jean. You take care of her and let me take care of myself.” Tillie resumed her stubborn stare.
I groped for another tack. “Don’t you want to see your grandchild?” Jean jerked, but Tillie, giving me a hard look, didn’t seem to notice.
“How much longer will that be?” Tillie tried to hide her interest behind a skeptical tone.
“I honestly don’t know. But we’ll keep trying if you will.” Tillie’s mouth relaxed a bit, and her gaze wandered toward the window. “Miss Tillie, you go on and go to the hospital, and I promise you I’ll bring you a fresh thermos of my best coffee every day.”
Jean finally thought of something. “Mother, I’ll bring Mavis to the hospital to do your hair just as soon as the doctor will let me.” She leaned forward. “And I’ll get you that satin bed-jacket we saw at Nieman’s.”
Tillie patted her hair. “Don’t patronize me, Jean. Just let me think. You two go for a walk and leave me alone. Now go. Shoo!” She fluttered her fingers at us. We left the room, walked through the sun porch and out around the pool. The little mechanical pool cleaner swam on its tether along the edge.
“You and your precious male seed,” said Jean with some bitterness. “Is reproducing yourself all you can think of?”
“Good God. That wasn’t the point. I was just trying to get Tillie interested in a possible future.”
“But now if she makes it for a while but relapses because I can’t come up with a baby, don’t you think that will make me feel real good?”
“I admit I didn’t think that far ahead. But why do you assume it would be your fault?”
“She would.”
I couldn’t keep this up. “Let’s just get her to the hospital now and straighten out our family life later.” We circled the pool in silence three more times. A jay heckled us briefly, and the pool cleaner hummed. Without speaking, we turned back toward the house at the same time.
Tillie was not in the family room, but we heard her heels on the upstairs bathroom tiles. Soon she came downstairs with a small bag. “Let’s go,” she said.

Tillie went to the hospital and submitted to its many indignities: mutilation of her body, loss of her hair, her appetite, and finally her life. There had been metastases, and the chemical and radiation treatments only drew out the process. But it seemed as if Tillie, nagged and pushed by death, had stubbornly resisted until she herself had decided to go. I duly brought her coffee, which she accepted with grave courtesy even when she had no taste for any food or drink; Jean brought her the satin bed-jacket, as well as a pathetic turban when she lost her hair. She wore both with as much dignity as she could muster.
Jean cried little, mainly out of fatigue and frustration, but mourned in her own way. I regret that this way involved arming herself against any sympathy or comfort I tried to offer. Neither Jean nor her mother ever referred to a possible grandchild after Tillie entered the hospital.
After the funeral, Jean made arrangements to sell the big University Park house; she didn’t even mention the possibility of moving into it. I certainly wouldn’t have suggested it. But Jean said nothing about getting a place of our own, even though she had come into a good bit of money, not to mention stock and other assets. Although I was content enough with our modest apartment, since it was convenient and comfortable, I was surprised that Jean seemed to have no interest in making any changes. She continued to read, write in her journal, see a few acquaintances, and visit her therapist; except for giving up any pretence of finding work, she resumed her usual habits.
Howell, though still a bear at work, made several gestures of sympathy and support during Tillie’s illness and after her death. I have to give him credit, for he managed to show interest without intrusiveness. He visited Tillie several times, pulling out all his reserves of good-old-boy charm, and giving her moments of real pleasure. But after the funeral, the rumors of the leveraged buyout became more frequent and persistent.

Time’s Bending Sickle

April 10, 2011

For previous chapters, scroll down or go to the archives.

23. May Time Disgrace

As I had expected, Tom Backscheider found the idea of using Ramforce computers laughable. “No way! I’d as soon play Bach on Shroeder’s toy piano.” When he realized that Howell meant the proposal to be taken seriously, he became angry. “Howell’s got his head up his ass. Doesn’t he ever consult anyone who knows anything?” He pulled on his frizzy ponytail.
“Yes,” I said, “but I think there were other considerations in this case.”
“What considerations? Shit, man, everybody knew Ramforce was on the way out.”
“What would have to happen for them to be competitive?”
Tom sighed in exasperation, as if there was so much as not to be worth the effort. “They’d have to overcome their shitty reputation. They might do that if they had a real technical breakthrough, such as a new and better operating system or a cheap way to expand memory, and they upgraded their materials and manufacturing standards. You’re talking a big capital investment just to catch up with Apple as they are now, and who knows how far ahead they’ll be by then.” He made a global gesture with both arms.
“You couldn’t customize some units for your use?”
“What is the fucking point?” His good-natured squint had vanished in wide-eyed indignation. “Why blow time and money on a souped-up V-8 in an Escort when you can get a faster and better Porsche for less? It would be deceptive, too. If I fixed a Ramforce so I could write a game on it, it wouldn’t be like any other Ramforce you could buy.”
“OK, I’m just doing what I was told. Would you be a good guy and write up what you’ve told me in a little technical detail so I can show it to Howell?”
Tom looked pained. “Write? That’s the shit I wanted to avoid when I sold out to you guys. Why can’t you just let me hack?”
“I know, if it were up to me, this never would have come up. Just tell someone else what to say. But please help me out here.”
Tom groaned. “Aw, man. OK, I’ll try to come up with something.” I followed Tom as he kicked away some pizza boxes and roamed back to the cells to see who was hacking. We found a long-haired fat kid who couldn’t have been more than sixteen; he was playing a game. When Tom asked him to write up a critique of Ramforce and come up with a list of needed improvements, the kid grinned maliciously.
“He’ll give us all the dirt, and I can calm it down for Howell.” Tom was still not happy. “I need a soak after this. Come on back to the house and we’ll mellow out in the hot tub.”
I declined, and returned to Los Angeles, where I had to see some clients and prospects. Since I had to stay over the weekend for a Monday meeting, I decided to mellow out by going to San Marino on Sunday and visiting the Huntington.
I enjoyed browsing in the library exhibit and in the museum. Although I didn’t share old Henry Huntington’s love for eighteenth-century portraits, I had to give him credit for using his wealth to collect books and art and to make them available to the public. The day was especially pleasant–the smog had lifted enough to allow the mountains to be seen, and the Huntington grounds were full of blooms. I found a bench in the Shakespeare Garden and mulled over my problems as the bees murmured and the sun turned my blood into viscous honey.
Howell’s treatment of Bonnie did not bode well for Cullen and those who worked there. Could there be another Ramforce in the future? What else might he be planning that had Bonnie worried? What would happen if Howell goes through with the buyout? How divided is the board? Jean had not been consulting her mother, but Tillie, characteristically, had not shown much interest. If Jean is right and something is seriously wrong with Tillie, more complications for the business and my life with Jean might be on the horizon. What I should or shouldn’t do was not easy to see. I wondered how Toby liked Sweden.

“I think it to be the coldest country in the world,” said James Hill to Toby as they looked back toward Stockholm from their ship, shivering in their cloaks.
“And tis only September,” said Toby. They went below to the small saloon below the quarterdeck, and sat at the table. It must have still been cold, for they kept their cloaks on, but they were out of the wind. Dim light filtered in from the swirling glass in the stern windows.
Hill spoke Swedish to a boy of ten or eleven who, wrapped in a cloak, had been dozing on a bench. He rose, and briskly fetched a bottle and two cups, turning away with a yawn. “Thank you, Nils. Now what say you?”
“You are velcome, sir,” said Nils.
“He learns English faster than I learned Swedish,” said Hill to Toby.
“I understand that Duke Charles is a good Protestant,” said Toby.
“Aye, thank God. So are most of the Finns, but many do not see the danger of the alliance with the papist king of Poland.”
Toby looked confused. “But the king of Poland is the king of Sweden and Finland, is he not?”
“Aye. But Duke Charles has been regent for Sweden while King Sigismund has stayed in Poland among the papists. The king is the duke’s nephew, but he defied his uncle and led an army against him just before you arrived. Thanks to God, the duke prevailed at Stangebro and at Linkoping, and even now a treaty is being negotiated at Linkoping.”
Toby looked troubled. “Are the Finns then loyal to the king?”
“There are some who would put the king before God and his true religion. We must watch and see that they do not rebel. Old Sootnose, the king’s Marshal Fleming, was a stiff opponent, but he is dead.” Hill paused and laughed. “When the duke captured the castle at Abo last year, this Fleming was still in his coffin in the chapel. The story goes that the duke ordered dame Ebba, Sootnose’s widow, to open the coffin. The duke pulled the corpse’s beard, and said that if he were alive, his head would not stay long on his shoulders. Well, old Ebba had some of her husband’s mettle, and a man must admire it even in a stubborn papist. She said to the duke, if her husband had been alive, the duke’s grace would never have entered this castle.”
Toby smiled. “Who commands the castle now? The duke is in Sweden.”
“The duke left the castle with a man who proved a traitor, and Fleming’s successor, Governor Stalarm, now commands. He has fed the duke fair words, but we trust him not. Too many of his friends came to help the king when he invaded.”
“We sail for Abo, then?”
Hill looked away with an embarassed grimace. “Nay, we go to Sand Haven for now.”
“Will Colonel Prothero be there?”
“I know not. He may be; if not, we shall await him.”

Sand Haven turned out to be an island not far from the new town of Helsingfors, the name the Swedes gave to Helsinki. There were a few log houses on the island, but most of the duke’s Swedish troops were quartered in tents. Prothero was not there, and Hill busied himself writing letters. Small boats occasionally went in to Helsinki and back, bringing food. From time to time a larger ship would anchor off the island, stay a few days, then sail away, presumably back to Sweden.
Toby at first seemed to have no duties. After a few days of wandering around the island and trying to talk to the soldiers, he attempted to give a company a taste of Dutch drill. With the help of a Swedish sergeant who professed to know some English, he taught them some pike exercises and some simple movements. At first, the soldiers treated it as a sort of game or dance, and went along good-humoredly. But Toby’s explanations about the military value of drill did not seem to survive translation, for when a cold mist blew in, the men flatly refused to leave their tents. Toby complained to Hill.
“Good Captain Hume, let them be. Tis too wet and cold, and the Dutch drill does not suit the Swedish style of fighting.”
Toby did not press the issue, but spent his time with the Swedish sergeant in mutual language instruction. The sergeant, a young man with white-blond hair, square jaw, and stocky build, had been a sailor on a ship with a number of Englishmen. His vocabulary was rich in scatology, blasphemy, and malediction, but weak in grammar and common nouns. “Bugger de bishop” was his favorite exclamation.

The weather grew colder, and the mist and rain more frequent. The next time one of the larger ships arrived, the longboat that brought the officers and messengers to shore was met by a noisy crowd of soldiers. I couldn’t understand them, but I heard them say “Sverige” many times and guessed that they wanted to go home. What followed seemed to confirm my guess, for after much shouting and arm-waving, four of the soldiers grabbed the two sailors who sat at the oars, pulled them from the boat, and shoved off. Toby shouted and waved his sword, but to no effect. Several other soldiers splashed out and tumbled into the boat. Others followed, enough to overload and sink the boat, but they were persuaded to wait by those already aboard. Persuasion in two instances consisted of blows from an oar. After a time, the officers and messengers returned to find their boat gone, and the gang of soldiers shouting and waving at the ship. Toby and the sergeant tried to disperse them, but were not successful.
Suddenly a puff of smoke appeared on the deck of the ship, followed by a sharp bang. Those on shore could see two figures swinging out from the deck, suspended by their necks from the yards of the two main masts. Two others were pushed from the deck and splashed in the frigid water. Toby and the soldiers on shore breathed in sharply and fell silent. Soon the longboat made its way to the shore. The two sailors who rowed it were accompanied by four soldiers with muskets at the ready, and two figures in dark cloaks and plumed hats.
As the boat drew to shore, the soldiers trained their muskets on the crowd. Those on shore fell back, though there were some who shouted threateningly. The prow of the boat ground on the sand, and the two men in plumes stepped ashore. One, in a heavy black cloak with a fur-lined cowl, was Prothero. His companion, a shorter, red-faced man, began speaking in Swedish in an oratorical manner. From time to time, Prothero would speak softly to him. The mob of soldiers listened; many scowled and grumbled, but none shouted. The red-faced man finished and waved his arms in a dismissing gesture. The men began to walk back toward their tents. Toby approached Prothero.
“Colonel, Captain Tobias Hume. How might I do you service?”
“Well, Hume! You got my letters at last. Well met!” They shook hands. Then Prothero’s smile turned into a frown. “You might have done us all a service by keeping this rabble in some order.”
“Alas, colonel, I tried, but could not make myself understood.”
“They understand your sword. They understood our rope. Fools, we come to fetch them home, but only in good time and order. Where’s Hill?”
“I’ll take you.”
Hill was warming his hands over a fire in front of his tent. Nils, his page, was poking sticks of wood into the flames. “Pack your traps, captain,” shouted Prothero, “we’re for Nykoping.”
“Thank God,” said Hill.

Toby and Hill were on a ship tossed by a wintry sea, apparently en route to Sweden. They paced the deck, grabbing at ropes and rails to keep their balance, shivering under their cloaks. Finally they took deep breaths and plunged down the companionway to the saloon. It was only slightly warmer, but the air was close and foul. Another man and a boy of about ten looked up as they entered. They were seated side by side on a bench under the stern window. Hill’s boy, Nils, rose from another bench in the opposite corner.
“Blows the wind as cold as it did?” asked the man. He was short and plump, with pink cheeks and thin, brown beard. His voice was high and nasal.
“Aye, Master Tucker,” said Hill. “Cold and wet. But tis in our favor, so we should make land the sooner.”
The boy seated by Tucker, a thin boy with brown hair and large brown eyes, rose and bowed, bending his knees, before his master. “Please, sir, may Nils and I go see the cook’s cat?” His accent identified him as English.
“Very well. Take care of falling overboard.”
The boys pulled their cloaks on and ran up the steps, letting in the roar of the wind as they opened the hatch. Hill turned politely to Tucker. “What news from Sir Walter Ralegh, Master Tucker?”
“Nothing of late. I suppose he lives quietly at home, the ships for Guiana not appearing.”
Hill looked pained. “I regret not being able to help Sir Walter more. His grace the duke could not spare the ships, contrary to his expectation.”
Tucker looked skeptical. Then, squeezing his eyes almost shut, he asked Hill, “And what news have you from Ipswich?”
Hill blushed and frowned. “I know not what I should hear from that town.”
“Cry you mercy. I thought you had kinsmen there.”
“A distant cousin, an honest tailor. I was able to do him a small service once, but I do not keep up the acquaintance.”
“Well. So. I think I shall also go see the cook’s cat and air my lungs.” He rose with a smirk, rolled to the hatch, and went out.
Hill shook his head. “Sir Walter recommended this man for service with the duke, but I like him not. He has heard some twisted tale about my cousin in Ipswich, but will not lay it out like an honest man.”
“What was the service you did your cousin?”
“Ah, twas just before I came to Sweden. I was visiting friends in Thetford, and cast some business his way, making apparel for my journey. As he fit me, he complained of some players travelling in the county. He had made them fine garments for their shows, and they had paid him only in fine speeches. I gave some help to the bailiff with my sword, and recovered the garments. Mayhap they have slandered me out of spite.”
Nils banged open the hatch and hurried to Hill, speaking Swedish to him with both urgency and hesitation, as if he did not know how to tell about something he sensed was important. Hill listened with frowning intensity. When the boy finished, Hill spoke to him with some emphasis. The boy nodded and ran off.
“Now I have cause for my dislike. Nils tells me that this Tucker is abusing his boy. I must say nothing, however, or the boy may suffer more for telling. We must watch and speak only of what we see.”

Toby stood near the prow of the ship, looking toward the coastline ahead. He glanced back and saw Hill and Tucker in conversation by the mainmast. Tucker’s complacent smile vanished suddenly, and he turned very red in the face. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword, as did Hill. Hill leaned forward, speaking more forcefully. Tucker, still red, released his sword, and turned both palms out, shaking his head. They exchanged a few more words, then Hill turned and entered the hatchway. Tucker staggered to the rail. He looked out over the water, scowling and beating his fist on the rail. The wind hummed in the rigging.
Someone touched my shoulder. “Closing time.” It was one of the Huntington guards. I sat for a moment and listened to the humming of the bees in the Shakespeare Garden.

The visions I had of this time skipped over weeks and months, and some were so brief I had few clues to place them. In one, Toby was playing the viol for a group of well-dressed men in a room with large tapestries and a blazing fire. He played a piece he called “A Soldier’s March” in his 1605 collection, music that triggered this particular vision after my Huntington visit. Hill sat on a stool near a lean middle-aged man in a large chair by the fire, who listened with attention. He was balding, his high forehead shining above a prominent nose with a hook at the upper part of the bridge; his eyes were hooded and pouched, but bright and mobile. Toby finished, and the important personage led the company in applause. Toby bowed deeply. When the important man rose, the company stood and bowed. He spoke briefly to Hill and smiled; Hill smiled and nodded deferentially. Then with courteous words and gestures to the company, he left the room.
Hill rushed toward Toby, smiling and rubbing his hands. “Ah, Captain Hume, very good. His Grace was pleased to tell me that while the king of Denmark has a very fine English musician, Master Dowland, he doubts that he can lead a company or do the Dutch drill as well as make music.”
“I am glad the duke was pleased.”

Toby, his cloak and hat pulled tight against a chill breeze, approached a stone building. He entered a doorway and climbed a winding stair to a room where Prothero sat by a fire, writing. He glanced up, wrote a few more words, threw down his pen, and rose.
“You sent for me, Colonel?”
“Aye, Toby. Come warm yourself.” His pockmarked cheek twitched with a fleeting smile. “Do you tire of your winter’s music-making?”
Toby moved close to Prothero by the fire and smiled wearily.
“Well. I confess to be somewhat weary of the headsman’s axe. Tis one thing to kill a man in battle, and another to chop off his head like a capon. I am glad to have a little music to sweeten my imagination.”
“Well, sugar your mind with this: the duke may have you go to England with Captain Hill this spring.” Toby brightened, and Prothero smiled slyly. “The duke needs cloth and horses. I perceive that you need something you may find there too. Some London honey, mayhap?”
Toby turned his distracted attention back to Prothero. “Aye, if the bees and bears keep me not away.”

In a large hall hung with tapestries and lighted by many-paned windows, James Hill knelt before Queen Elizabeth, who gestured for him to rise. She herself remained standing. Toby stood to the side among a group of a dozen courtiers. The Queen showed her age more clearly than at Tilbury. The cords and folds of her neck were more prominent, and her teeth–those she still had–were blue and black.
“Most gracious Majesty,” began Hill. “Be pleased to accept the words of my master, Duke Charles, by the Grace of God hereditary prince of Sweden, the Goths, and Vandals. My master begs your most gracious Majesty to aid him in curbing a most vile slander. Be assured, your Majesty, that, contrary to that slander, my master the duke has no intention to usurp the throne from his newphew, Sigismund, king of Poland and Sweden. My master asks that you refuse to believe those who slander him thus, and that you support with word and deed his efforts to defend the true religion founded on the word of God. So says my master.”
The Queen spoke seconds after it was clear that Hill had finished. Her voice had some of the gravel of age, but was firm and audible. “God forbid that your master the duke should do otherwise than what he has sworn. Say to Duke Charles that it is my hope that he honestly keep the oath of allegiance to his nephew, for if he should do otherwise, he would go against nature, justice, and the laws of kinship. And”–here the Queen leaned forward and gestured in a way that reminded me, however inappropriately, of one of my grade-school teachers–“the duke should do his duty faithfully from the heart and not out of courtesy only. So say you to Duke Charles.”
Hill bowed and moved to Toby’s side. The Queen heard another suit, then left the room.

After dinner, I sat in my hotel room watching MTV with the sound off. The images flashed by, swirling and pulsing. Soon I saw the flash of colored silks in Edgcoke’s shop at the sign of the Boar’s Head. Edgcoke smiled benignly as Toby put a gold coin in his hand.
“Again I must thank you, Master Edgcoke, for caring for my instrument and papers, though they overstayed my rent.”
“Thank you, Captain; a pleasure to serve you, sir.”
“Now must I ask you another favor. I should like to send a message to a certain lady to inform her of the fine new silk you have here.”
“Very kind of you, sir.”
“Your boy is a good messenger?”
“Tolerable, sir; he can read a little and he has good legs.”
“Good. May I?” asked Toby and indicated a pen and paper on the shop counter.
“With all my heart, sir; here is ink.”
Toby wrote, reading aloud as he wrote: “Master Edward Edgcoke begs to advertise to Lady Monmouth that he is in receipt of fine new silks from overseas. He trusts them to be worthy of her attention at the sign of the Boar’s Head hard by Cheapside Cross.” He looked up at Edgcoke. “Do you find anything amiss?”
“Not at all, good Captain. John!” The boy appeared from a back room. “Attend the captain.”
Toby gave John a coin. “A good lad. Take this paper to Sir Andrew Monmouth’s house in the Strand, near York House. You may give the paper to any servant, but if you should see the lady herself, tell her that the silk merchant from overseas has some excellent new songs as well. Can you do that?”
“Aye, sir.”
“Be off, then.” The boy tugged at his cap and ran out the door. Toby turned to the smiling Edgcoke. “I shall be here for some months on the business of Duke Charles of Sweden. I have letters to some merchants here who will see that I do not fall into debt, as I did before”–Toby smiled–“and I hope not to have such uncivil visitors. I shall no doubt receive letters here; any reward you extend to such messengers as seek me will be repaid you.”
“Thank you, sir; happy to serve you, sir.”
“I shall go rest in my old chamber. Please inform me if I have any visitors.”
“Most assuredly, sir.”