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Occulator Nimbus
Act 15: Pictus Trent, Camera Obscurist of The Manhattan Daily
© 2024 James LaFond
Dawn, Wineday, Fifth Day of Sepulcher
He was a wizard in his ivory tower, ruling the idiot tribes all about, huddled in squalor in their huttish warrens below; lives nasty, brutish and short.
‘My chamber is warm, the bed soft, this slave girl about whom I do so snugglesome curl, as soft.’
“Master,’ she whispered, so distantly in his ear, “he is at the door.”
‘No, no, not the barbarian king come to batter at the door of my righteous tower…'
“Boom, boom!” thundered an outsized fist at the door.
“Sweet Master, awake!”
Pictus Trent opened his heavy lids and saw her next to him, not half as young as he recalled.
‘She sags like my weary lids,’ he noted as she put on her shift and slippers, ‘why have I not gotten another, younger girl?’
‘Oh, yes, because I am punished with damnation in a brute age when genius such as mine casts the mighty mind from Merlin’s fair perch down to the basement of this news church!’
“Boom, boom!” roared the door.
“Coming,” sang out her still sweet voice, as she held his patched and tattered obscurist robe of black up for him to step into. The door stopped thundering enough so he might be heard beyond without straining his cancerous throat, “On my way, Oh Client of Might!” for he could tell when a bull among men, some boxer or other form of gladiator, came by early light to get the blessing of Angelic Dawn upon his image.
She placed his pointed sarecenic slippers of hard black leather upon his feet, hung his meteroic adamantine compass upon his neck by its oiled, iron chain. Also in black, was placed his visored cap, fitted with glass spectacles, rimmed in frames of mute polished wood of ash.
Ellen unbarred the door and stood aside with a slight bend of knee, smiling from under her graying hair, her face still somewhat fair.
In walked the man he did not think would come, not with being an affront to the Censor and giving the scandal scoop of the decade to the Jap news concern with that army of brat sketch slaves to put him out of his ancient trade. Yet here he stood, filling the doorway, a darling beauty of great height hanging on his armored left arm like a lily on an anchor chain, afraid of that plunge into the sea.
He gathered his scratching voice of ash, “Max Born, Great Scot, Pictus Trent at your service—come with your own image of Rose Fingered Dawn, I see, upon your great arm.”
The man grumbled incoherently, seeming to be led by the woman like some great child by a nymph of legend. In behind him crowded a beautiful youth, a very lapith, who he now recognized as the dancing mime twin of the singing mute muse. Also, came the tiny tyke gladiator he had read about with disbelief in the Fishday Edition the Kyoto Weekly, now a daily paper that was challenging the Manhattan Daily. His editor, he knew, was in negotiations with Enchigo over the hiring of some Jap child sketch artists. Despite his terminal illness, he had not been assigned an apprentice. His art might soon die or fall into the hands of that genius Jap.
There was too, a mechanic, with oil stained hands, and Clyde of Taps, the boxing champion who Trent had reproduced upon the cover of the Manhattan Daily after he boxed the brains out of some hulking Black Saracen on Christmas Eve two years gone.
The mechanic took the bar and shut the door, treating Ellen with courtesy well above her station and posted himself there, with some kind of iron wrench of great dimensions held as if a musket by a soldier.
The slight Tyke led the procession and Clyde did the talking, the Great Scot apparently terrified.
“Pictus Trent, Max wants a shadow portrait of he with Doris on his arm and Minicus down front.”
“It can be done, Clyde. Usher them to the nimbus alcove—it should be grand, oh my,” he stammered, looking up at the observatory dome and seeing snow fall soft and wintry in summer’s wane.
“This is auspicious, the sketch effect imparted by the refraction of the Dawn sun upon the snow—see, She rises in the east and stretches her soft fingers of light beneath the snow clouds…”
Overcome with excitement Trent merely motioned for Clyde to usher them into the nimbus alcove before the canvas, where the sunlight reflected by his array would cast the shadow of the subject:
“Max, cross your arms and spread your legs.”
“Minicus—you know I thought those sketch happy Japs had invented you, their little hero—stand likewise as your Master, framed in the arch of his legs and place your hands, like Samson did the pillars of the Philistines against those knees!”
“Doris, very image of innocent Dawn: place your left hand above the codpiece, upon that great buckle of belt, your right behind that broad back, and rest your radiant face ever so lightly upon the elbow, even with that flaming heart! Yes, outside of the arc so your face my be outlined.”
“Now stand like so, for a portrait as I chalk you.”
Ellen was there with the hand bellows and chalk gun, steady as ever as he circled the trio and chalked their outlines upon the canvas. He spoke to them, “I have but today, so will work in the facial images and internal details for the woodcut based on the work of the Jap sketch tykes that have made you all the glory of plebes and mobs. It might be my ass. Yet I am an honest craftsman and will credit your interior images to David Enchigo and his troupe. Max, this will be so much more glorious than your brother’s picture, so handsome, we so blandly took! The King David of boy gladiators and the very princess of slavegirls under your protection—Max, you will not be the heel in your bout—but the Hero! Every table in Rome will want a barley man can for super!”
He was so excited he could taste the blood in his throat from too much strident talk—but this was the image of a career.
“The image will be in the Evening Edition, today—My Word on it; Pictus Trent!” came the rasp as his throat tore and he swallowed blood, now in a mania of focus.
“Good Lord, permit me the eye and hand to finish this last work.”
Ellen could tell, was worried as she readied his pencil cup.
Doris as well, came and there sat, steadying him on the chair before the canvas. The tyke brought the Jap Comic strip and held the likenesses of them up for him to see while Ellen lowered his glasses and focused the dials so his fading eyes might wax sharp for one last draw!
A great hand gently straightened his back as the women steadied his elbows, and that great voice rumbled, “Was wrong for this broken-headed Scot to fear ye, Mate. Never figured it would take a nymph, a brat and a Pictus to raise this pug mug from heel to hero.”
Trent grinned, swallowed the lessening trickle of blood, now in the creation zone so deeply that total confidence in the authenticity of this work; an impression worthy of some dream wizard in an obscure tower…
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