Part 6: A Tale of Tudor Time
Not only did I win a rather spontaneous, trip back to Tudor Times, it seems I get a husband in the bargain. Kidding, kidding! I won’t actually be around long enough to cut the big white cake (make that free four and twenty black birds trapped in a pie these days). You see there is a real Lady Elizabeth Chumley and I’m just her stand in back here in the year 1581, until the new moon rolls around. (William Sainsbury swears he can get me back through the time portal, on the next neaps tide. That boy better know what he’s talking about!) Lady Elizabeth, it turns out, is from one of the new upwardly mobile merchant class, and she’s just rollin' in the shillings. Lucky Liz is apparently looking for the guy of her dreams, and I get to be her proxy.
If I’ve got it right, my hostess will be lining up the suitors and I more or less take my pick. Won’t the other Liz be surprised when she does eventually make it on over to Northumberland, and finds out the papers have been all drawn up? All she’ll need to do is sign on the dotted line!
My hostess is Lady Margaret Hoby, she of the time-portal-connecting claviorgan. (Did you miss the lead-in to this story? You can catch up by following this link and listening in to the June podcast. That podcast extends the introduction of this story beyond what is published in this art journal.) Lady Madge has her own little flock of unmarried women living in the house right now, and I fit right in with the crowd. Thomas Hoby’s lady seems to be in the business of marrying off girls who need husbands, and from what I can tell that’s anybody who’s single, has her eyesight, and is more or less in possession of her right mind.
One good thing about my little time-away jaunt is that this group of unmarried gals, or Lady Margaret’s Maides as we’re called collectively, spend a good part of each afternoon and evening doing needlework and making music. And as you well know both are pretty high up on my list of priorities. It’s also late spring back in these times, just like it was when I left London in 2011. Up here in Northumberland the wildflowers are thick, the birds are singing, and the fuzzy lambs are gamboling their little hearts out. I’ve seen a bit of English countryside in my own time and I must say, the rural scene, if you overlook manure piles, is even prettier back in the days of 1581.
The bad thing is that I have to share not only a room (yeah, yeah they call it a chamber) with the other Maides, but also a bed. Cecily’ has adenoids and Lettice gets up several times during the night to pray out loud. The snoring I can live with and even the oratory has a kind of cadence that puts me back to sleep about as well as an old-movie on t.v. It’s more the lack of, (how can I put this delicately?), well let’s just say hygiene. Not only are these gals not at all big on bathing, they don’t go in for any kind of deodorant that I’ve been able to locate. And don’t let anybody tell you that gillyflower water will do the trick. It doesn’t. Believe me.
I didn’t have much choice about my new persona. William had it all fixed up. (You probably guessed that ole Will was up to something back in the introduction didn’t you? I must have been taking my gormless pills that day.) My options were pretty limited and he knew it, the bozo. Either I said I was Lady Liz or I’d be lucky if they put me to work shoveling horse pucky or scrubbing pots in the Hoby’s kitchen. OK, call me elitist, but I got a whiff of my potential colleagues in the stable and the kitchen. At least Cecily and Lettice wipe themselves down once or twice a day, and dot on a little eau-de-gillyflower in the more offensive areas. I’ll take the less-crowded zone upstairs. Besides, given that I’ll be back in my own time in less than two weeks, I might as well make the most of the opportunity.
It’s all about culture isn’t it? Here I’ve got a change to sink my needle into a piece of blackwork embroidery that might just turn up at the V&A in my time, and blend my soprano with Cecily’s alto, while Lettice plays Crecquillon latest hot little chanson on her lute. I can think of at least three reenactors at our Elizabethan Springtyme Feste, who’d consider bumping off a fellow player with digitalis for this chance.
Travel’s like that, isn’t it? It’s the unexpected stuff that really hits me over the head. There was that time I came across three spring hares cavorting like total nuts around the meadows in Yorkshire. They made me feel like I’d taken a quick broomstick to OZ. Then there was the cab-driver veteran of World War II, who told me about his life during the blitz, and how it impacted his attitude when he was part of the bombing raid to Dresden. That’s when it hit me, that the war had been real and not just something from books and the movies.
You gotta open your eyes and ears to the moment you land in. Then again, sometimes you just stumble on a real dissembling jolthead like William Sainsbury who finagles the moment for you. Should I even speak to a man who’s sent me spinning back to Tudor times unasked, just because he couldn’t get back there himself without an assist?
At the very least I ought to get some kind of free miles for this. I wonder what I could cash them in for…
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