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Clyde of Taps, Continued
Act 13.5: Orpheus Synchronus, Runaway Slave of the Censor
© 2024 James LaFond
Night, Fishday, Fourth Day of Sepulcher
Orpheus walked, no, he strode, wolf-like, next to the pantherish stalk of his captor, towards a knot of people which had formed a rude circle about the cresset.
The tiny Japanese children followed Clyde and he, sketching with such an animate fury that one might imagine the very devil was upon their heels. A girl was nearly under his feet, walking backwards and looking up into his face, another to his side, sketching his gait, another behind him, four scampering about Clyde, as if a new addition to this living sketch that had become his life, required an additional hand.
He looked down into her eyes and she lost some distant innermost composure and stumbled backwards. Orpheus, trained to dance and stage and the catching of fallen graces in the form of patrician’s dames China vases, bent on the instant and caught the child before she struck her head. She looked up, as light as a feather, as she hung in his hand that had grabbed the front of her tiny white jacket, and said, her little onyx eyes searching his, “Hero,” and continued to sketch his face. Four other Japanese children where now sketching this tableaux.
“Bring her along, My Boy,” whispered Clyde, “We have a crowd!”
The circle of mob, perhaps a mixed crowd of sixty souls, opened about the cresset where Dear Doris stood beneath a brute gladiator of monstrous proportions who turned her in his mighty hands like a delicate doll, admiring her song shift of white linen under whiter silk, under yet lighter gossomer, the outer layer clinging like the rest to her lithe form and beginning to pick up grime from their fleeing crime.
That man was surrounded by Japanese sketch children, and was the center of attention for their director, who Orpheus recalled from their last performance before Master Publio. A common mechanic held the cresset tongs and Clyde patted Orpheus on the back, “Ho there, Big Burl o’ Bastard Scott, that be my brand o’ tong!”
Orpheus understood already that Clyde spoke for the onlookers and bystanders and whispered to his fellows. The boxer was an actor of rude sort.
Doris looked into his eyes with tears of glassy joy, her mouth aquiver.
The crowd was awed to silence under the hiss of the engines ahead and the voice of the gladiator, who smiled wider, and more crooked then Clyde, ground out like an engine itself, “Clyde, you’d not whip me would ye—me bein’ as easy hit as a harbor tug?”
Clyde then stopped and pushed Orpheus forward, “Not a me—Clyde of Taps cares too much fo’ his good hands ta wreck dem on ye battered mug, Max.”
The gladiator named Max, a man impressed in the ruder portions of Orpheus memory of common sights such as broadsheets and fight posters, was in all manners King of this platform, complete with a court—and the Japanese artists were now being conducted in a flock of some 20 little souls by that weird master of theirs.
“I see Clyde, ye have a fresh pug to brand, like a match to my fresh maiden here—a coincidence ta be sure.”
Clyde grinned, opening both hands to Orpheus, “I should call him Pollux, he moves so fair. Tapped out Netty Sam over this affair, loogin’ for a fight ta pick—mayhap we pack up ‘til yer event, maybe Ole Clyde opens the sands ‘fore yer brotherly affray come Carney Day?”
The maim-faced giant grimaced, “Ye dropped Netty Sam?”
“Oh, right up there, Max. Truth be bold, he seems ta ‘ave lost a step, had a bit of a limp. But, net, dagger and all that gall—I still right it fair, a good build-up I should say to a sandsmen affair.”
“Billy,” motioned Max to the mechanic holding the tongs, “if ye please, Clyde here is more Scott then me, birthwise.”
A medal was taken from the shoulder plates of Clyde’s ornate and polished harness, which contrasted with his modest tunic and trousers and his hard dancing shoes. He grinned from his scarred chin as the medal was taken to be heated and gave a pleasing oration, departing from his common way:
“This fair boy of grace and dance, on the run in despair from the loss of the best master in New York, has agreed as penance, to swear to the House Pugilistic, to, through discipline and trial, to rise as the brightest champion of the Fistic. He further swore to me just now, that he feels so bad from running from his new master—such a fine supporter of our sandsome arts, that he will dedicate all of his prize money to that Worthy Master, which I have justly took from Netty Sam—Sam havin’ been cruel mean to excess, in just cause to save this beautiful boy from harm… fer his Good Master, as it were, who shall have him again in Carney Day, by way of manly afray.”
The man then paused as the brand was heated and pointed at the Japanese man, “They write English, you gettin’ this accurate, Japman?”
The man piped up in his weird accent, “Will run off the presses in six hours, Hero.”
Clyde then grinned and cast his hand towards Orpheus and continued to lie like a gutter born poet, “Ye see, Ole Netty Sam, was set to injure this runaway, through cruel jealousy… So good Clyde of Taps here, he says, ‘Clyde,’ you need to step up and venture the fistic pride. May the good and just Censor of New York, find it in his heart to hold House Fistic close to his—roughest, toughest house of New York, forever in his debt!”
The beast named Max snorted, “Clyde, this is your ass—ye ‘ill be put to the sword, matched with some Provocatuer, to cross steel not fists.”
Clyde beamed, “Ain’t it grand, Big Man? Don’t forget that Saint Castor of the Sword looks over his brother Saint Pollux! Here—look at the mug that will never be pugged in!”
Clyde was pointing maniac-like at Orpheus as he took the brand and snarled, “Not on his knees does he take this brand!” grabbed Orpheus by his right shoulder and brought the steaming brand close, whispering, “Pull that pretty hair back… the girls and dames I’ll swoon over you’re flurry of fist!”
It hurt with holy fury as Orpheus dressed his face in a mask of grace and did not wince, did not even sniff at the smell of his burning flesh.
The surrounding mob was clapping and cheering. Three little Jap girls rushed to Orpheus with white lilies in their hands to pose for a nymph scene sketched by the rest of their likes. As this was being directed with hands and Japanese words by the strange newspaper man, Clyde hissed, “A word for he ye ran from or we hangin’ high.”
Orpheus, then summoned his best narrative voice, used to introduce plays for the Patrician and Plebean audiences alike, “For House Fistic and my Master and Patron, Gentile Publico, Censor of New York, I go into training.”
Clyde put his arm about him in a fatherly way, and lifted the armored thumb of his left hand, affecting a grin that might have spanned a dinner plate and announced, “We are off to secret training, to appear on the Censorial Sands before The Brothers Born settle their score! Clyde of Taps and Orpheus Pollux, taking on any Aptus and Tiro in double fight!”
Max then grabbed the Japanese man, hissed something in his ear, and let him go with a look that few would have disobeyed. The conductor of sketching tykes then scurried aboard the train, save one little girl who had been at Orpheus’ feet, who gathered the lilies from the other two and took them to a miniature Scott, with a kiss, to dart up the coach stairs and disappear within.
Clyde offered, “We in an irregular way, Max.”
The giant snorted from his mangled face, “Dead come Carney Day, hopelike before the devil smells our bier.”
The mechanic with the tongs put them away as the crowd drifted off and hissed among their closing circle, “Mates, ye houses are far and the Netmen and Lictors lurk near. My cousin runs a speak your pleasure house down and away from here.”
Clyde pushed Orpheus lightly to his sister, “See to yer siss—Miss,” your shawl for a kiss?”
“Not, you, you old pug!” snarled the middle-aged women with a few broken teeth and a scarred nose, yet with magnetic eyes still lit with the fire of life, as she stood on tip toe under Orpheus and kissed his cleft chin, wrapping her shawl over his golden locks.
Rocking back on her shoe heels she opined, “Prettiest man in Creation! And here, my kerchief for to cover your sister’s fair hair. Every toiled soul on this platform is with you—we’ll point the lictors cross river.”
Various folks who seemed to regard this woman with some kind of authority, murmured, “Like Mah says,” and scattered to whatever dubious task they so cryptically inferred.
“Thank you, Mother,” Orpheus blurted, picked her up, hugged her, kissed her on the forehead, and set her down, “Thank you.”
The workmen were beginning to sweep the platform and some commotion further up was heard, as the Synchronus Twins, dubiously owned by two suicidal brutes, and led by a tiny tyke of Scots, followed the thin man named Billy Gear down off the platform into the shadows that, Orpheus would note over these next few nights, were always near.
Yet one light held him weird, his sister’s eyes, alight with her muted song, retaining in this lambent benediction—for Orpheus believed she was an angel and he merely her cast off physical half—that ability she had to communicate with him without a word, ‘We are sheltered under brute brows, Brother.’
‘Yes,’ he smiled, ‘and you according to my rude avows.’
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