“Tudor revival” houses are very common in the suburbs of the United States. Many were built during the 1930s under the influence of Edwin Lutyens.
11. The Copious Matter of My Song
After the elevator incident, Jennet found herself increasingly curious about Jonathan Sebelius. She couldn’t stop thinking about him. Sometimes she speculated about the possible sources of his misogyny, but other times, she simply daydreamed, allowing images of him to pass through her mind, like clouds scudding across the sky on a breezy day. Finally, she decided to look up his research on Joseph Swetnam. She found a 2005 article called “The Printing History of Swetnam’s Arraignment,” in which Sebelius described the pamphlet’s great popularity during the seventeeth century and its constant reprinting, mentioning in a footnote that his private collection included several exemplars. Another article speculated on Milton’s possible use of Swetnam’s work in Paradise Lost to reinforce the idea that the guilt for Man’s fall belonged to Eve. Finally she turned to the pamphlet itself. Reading though his bitter list of grievances against women, she came upon Swetnam’s acknowledgment that some might accuse him of sour grapes:
Yet perhaps some may say unto me that I have sought for the honey, caught the Bee by the tail, or that I have been bit or stung with some of these wasps, otherwise I could never have been expert in betraying their qualities.
Here, she thought, must lie the key to Sebelius’ character. His birth mother had dealt him one of the worst emotional blows a person could receive. Perhaps his sexual and romantic life had been disastrous too. He had a scar on his face. Could it be that other parts of his body were damaged? Maybe he’s impotent. That would explain a lot. One part of her felt compassion for him, even as another part was outraged at the nastiness of the language in the pamphlet. In her house she will be waspish, peevish, testy, tetchy, and snappish. It is meat and drink to her to exercise her spleen and envy, and with her twittle twattle to sow strife, debate, contention… Little wonder, indeed, that one of Swetnam’s female contemporaries had published an indignant response entitled The Worming of a Mad Dogge.
After a few days, Jennet received an email from Sebelius saying that Special Collections had politely refused to house the papyrus. He suggested they meet in the library so she could study it with a view to publication, and rather stiffly mentioned that he would be grateful for her help mounting the document in glass. Accordingly, she began to spend Thursday and Friday afternoons on the seventh floor, whenever neither of them had committee meetings to attend. Sebelius always seemed restless during these hours, setting out his notes and laptop to work on some project, then suddenly getting up to prowl the stacks.
Meanwhile she deciphered the papyrus in growing excitement. She quickly became accustomed to the unknown scribe’s handwriting, which was fine and regular. The document was almost certainly a New Testament letter, but she wasn’t sure which one. What she had so far looked familiar, yet she couldn’t quite place it. Certainly it was Pauline, not one of the Pastoral epistles, or Peter, or Jude. Now that she had transcribed several lines, she could compare these passages with a searchable version of the Greek New Testament, enabling her to make a quick identification
“This isn’t working.” She jumped as Sebelius spoke behind her, breaking into her thoughts.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t get anything done here,” he complained. “I need my library at home. That’s where I usually write. It’s too much trouble to reassemble all the books I require every time I come here, and this library doesn’t have most of them anyway.”
The solution is pretty obvious, she thought, but remained silent as he sat down next to her. Finally, sounding surprised and rather reluctant, he said, “Oh. You could work at my house. If you wanted.”
“It doesn’t matter much to me whether I work here or there,” she said carefully. “Unless it’s a long drive.”
“No, I live in Parnell,” he said, sounding distracted.
“I can take a high-resolution digital photograph of the document, if you agree. Then I can study it on my own time. But I’ll still need to spend a fair number of hours checking the original. Is your house well-lighted?”
“I don’t think you’ll find it inadequate,” he told her, bristling a little.
The next afternoon, a Friday, she drove to Sebelius’ house, which was on the outskirts of campus in a neighborhood of mixed Craftsman and cottage-style houses from the 20s and 30s. His was a quaint Tudoresque stone cottage with a rounded doorway and meticulous landscaping. Seeing the small front and dormer windows, she worried that there wouldn’t be sufficient light to take a photograph in spite of the bright afternoon.
Sebelius answered the door in one of his jeans and puffy-shirt ensembles. His shirt appeared to be fine linen and had a V-slit at the neck, with two strings hanging from each side. His gold chain was visible as usual, and he was barefoot. Jennet couldn’t help staring down at his long, high-arched feet. Is there any part of him that isn’t beautiful? Jennet dragged her eyes away as he turned to lead her through the house toward a spacious sunroom addition in back. She viewed the interior of the house with amazement. It appeared to be furnished with props from the set of Captain Blood or The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Large, ornate chests in dark woods; tables of thick, heavy planks paired with sturdy benches and stools; thronelike chairs with leather upholstery, studded with brass nails. A tapestry covered one wall; another held a collection of swords and daggers. The only thing missing was a suit of armor. He probably keeps that in his bedroom, she thought in amusement. All the better to prevent anyone touching him.
“This is the best space for working in natural light,” he was saying; he had a study well supplied with lamps in case she needed extra lighting for the photograph. Collecting her wits, she got to work and was soon absorbed in the intricacies of the papyrus. After about half an hour, she looked up, noticing that Sebelius was nowhere to be seen. She worked on, and as the afternoon light began to dim, she packed up her things. Taking a few tentative steps toward a hallway that she supposed led to his study, she called, “Jonathan? I’m done for today. I’ll be going now.”
“Okay,” he answered, not showing himself. “See you next Thursday, same time.”
Sebelius listened as Jennet Thorne closed the door behind her. Before him sat the handwritten first draft of a new paper on Milton’s Samson Agonistes. During the past two hours, he’d completed more work on this project than he had in the past month. When the Woman appeared on his doorstep, he had fully expected to be restless and uncomfortable with her there, just as he was in the library. Yet once she was ensconced in the sunroom with the papyrus, he had retreated here— and immediately felt the urge to write. His focus had been sharp, his concentration complete. The ideas flowed freely from his pen.
Her presence in his house —but out of his sight— gave him an unfamiliar feeling, one he couldn’t explain. Knowing exactly where she was and what she was doing calmed him. The sure knowledge that she was settled here, within his domain, freed his mind of anxieties. Now, as she drove away in her little blue Honda Civic, he felt that elusive serenity slipping away, like the last grains of sand in an hourglass.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: The feeling Jonathan has when Jennet is working in his house is based on something the Long Suffering Husband once told me, before we were married. But I felt much the same way about him, and still do. In Jonathan’s case it is partly his feelings of possessiveness, but there is something deeper as well, the simple knowledge that THIS is the person he should be with.