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Increase Publico’s Genteel Fault
Act 2: Orpheus Synchronus, Unbranded Slave of the Censor
© 2023 James LaFond
Descent, Ascentday, First Day of Sepulcher
Orpheus had been trained to dance since toddlerhood. To dance required no thought, no calculation, his body and subliminal mind doing all such work, if work it was. For Orpheus felt like water when he danced.
When he danced among the cooing dames, he felt like water flowing under lily pads, moving them about, pooling them in eddies, stranding them in bliss.
When he danced among the howling monkeys and the jaguars in the arena on the Feast of Conception, he was like rain falling from the sky to stupify each of these savage orders, flowing onward and away.
At Easter, when he danced about the effigy tomb of the Christ, as the three Champions rolled aside the quite real boulder, placed their by a team of oxen and a crew of quarry slaves, he was charged with prancing across their broad backs and over the boulder as it was rolled clear of the tomb to reveal the effigy of LIGHT!
At this time, three years dancing now, he felt like water tumbling down to the sea.
Dance was never work, never toilsome, forever joy.
When he danced, it was always to his sister’s wordless song. Some declared this the highest form of mime art, it being utterly unique and confined them them.
Dancing the low languid dance of Cyprian as he was lead to martyrdom, having rejected pagan clemency, was, particularly in church, and certainly at cathedral with the organs blaring their dirge, something akin to effort, like being water whirling behind a dam, crashing upon a breakwater, as he worried over the possibility that he might fail the martyr in shadow.
His greatest joy was to play his ancient pagan namesake, Orpheus, of Thrace, as he lost his nymph bride to the serpent [a cousin song to this Eden mime] rescued her from Hades, lost her again, and at last was stoned by the Scythian nymphs for spurning their love—this was like being the rising water of wells.
His mischievous part—a small portion of his soul, though not so slender a slice of his self as he wished—joyed in playing the part of Bad Dream sent by Zeus to haunt Agamemnon.
But the miming of Adam in the Garden of Eden was his most serene duty, one which he had practiced since age 5, 11 years hence.
There was a method to Orpheus’ training in dance: for he was the First Spy of Increase Publico, Censor of New York, who himself was answerable directly to Caesar himself.
Orpheus had the keenest of ears, trained to listen intently down to a murmur in Common Roman Britannic, Saracen Arabic, Japanese, Church Latin and even Philosophic Greek. Every gathering of dignitaries, whether subjects, allies or visitors of Rome, with the foremost persons seated closest to the dance floor, afforded Orpheus an opportunity to overhear the conspiratorial word and forward such to his Master.
Increase Publico was the kindest master a slave could have, a patron of the arts, a teacher of the written and spoken word, a liberal donatary to Church, Academy, populace and even the hospitals of the legions, fleets and gladiatorial houses. Increase Publico had lost a daughter in childbirth, a son in law and three sons to war, and a grandson to The Cough. His sorrow and that of his wife had been assuaged in part by doting on their slaves, foremost among them Xeno the Clerk and his wife, Beatrice the Cook. Secondarily, Orpheus and Doris, known as The Synchronus Twins, were the prize of the Great Man’s heart.
Since the funeral of Lady Publico, most generous Dame of New York, the personal sponsor and overseer of every public hospital and poor house, the one person who could and did walk unguarded and yet unharmed among the worst elements of the mob as their mother, the bond between Master and Slaves had grown more strident. For at Lady Publico’s funeral, before a hundred thousand silent mourners in the Great Forum of Manhattan, before that rock reserved for Christ’s Ivory Cross, Doris sang an unrehearsed dirge and Orpheus danced like never before. Augustus himself offered three million pounds for the pair. But the Master declined, declaring that he saw his departed wife’s soul in Orpheus’ every dance, as he heard her whispering in the windy dirge of Doris. Only Increase Publico had ever appealed on sentiment to the cold, iron heart of Caesar.
Now, as the weird little child sketch slaves of the Japanese newspaperman crouched, stood on tip toe, peered around Senators and Dames and even crawled under chairs to furiously sketch every angle of his dance, to note every tone of her song, even to sketch background persons like wreaths at an agon, Orpheus danced. He who so danced as he floated on her winged song with his peerless, slippered feet, as well tumbling and springing from his chalked, monkey-like hands.
He glanced over at her, as he sensed that the sorrow of her song deepened, that she felt the pain of their Master and sang it mournfully long. The patricians who had attended this Holy Mime Hymn before shivered the more, thinking that some new timbre of genius had placed an overture of guilt in the throat of Eve. But Orpheus knew his otherwise mute sister, Doris, like no husband knew his wife, like no mother new her child. Doris could only sing. Speech, that plodding articulation of ideas and explanations, of questions and declarations, was beyond—or should he think below—Doris. To explain a thing she must sing and have it translated into mime by her brother.
The theater manager who had found the ailing mother of these runt twins and had bribed a physician to deliver them by brutal Caesar’s method, who owned the guilt together for that poor raped laundress’s death, recognized them as rare tandem muses, one of body, one of voice. Before being trained up for sale they had been named by this flat-nosed brute of a woman. He was named Orpheus, after the very father of lyric arts, though he could not sing a note and was only able to play the lyre by ear and not by note.
She, his frail twin, was named Doris, the sorrow bride of the spear slain. Doris had a sense for Death’s grasping hand. Uncounted times, Doris had been dispatched to the Naval and Army hospitals and to funeral biers of the fatally slain gladiators as they were borne off the sands, to hold their hand and sing them off. Men were known to cry in hospitals for her, like they were said to ask after their mother while mortally wounded on the battlefield. Most recently, Doris had been called to sing through an air vent to workmen drowning in a sealed caison under Long Island Bridge, just begun last year.
Master Publico had refused to brand them and never refused a request for her to sing by a death bed. Even when the Master of Daggers, boss of the worst gang of mobsters in New York, had requested Doris sing after his deathbed confessions, Doris and her brother—he ever knowing that he was her mere pawn, and she the real heart of their duo—were dispatched under guard to deliver that never same song that was becoming regarded as a benediction.
Master Publico had been careful to check rumors that her elemental songs were the language of angels, always repeating, with the sanction of the Bishop of New York, that Doris was merely afflicted with the Sorrow of Eve for her sin and echoed such. For the girl was mute, never having been able to speak a word or sing a word in song. Conductor Colmarge of the New York Harmonium named her the Girl Organ, imitating so vast an audio range from her single pipe.
Orpheus danced closer to Master, seeming to the gathered to be improvising a heightened fear on the part of Adam for the approach of the Almighty through the Garden signified by the base violin.
Doris was worried for their Master.
Orpheus heard the words of their Dear Master to his crude nephew, “Oh Gentry, you are the scion God has assigned me. My patrimony cup is prepared by My confessor. Try and learn mercy.”
-1. A substantial donative to the Bishop, along with proof of ill health, and confession to a Priest trained in exorcism, by a man whom mortality had severed from parents, wife, children and grandchildren, constitutes the rare case in which the Holy Catholic Church recognizes suicide in the presence of a named successor so that the rejoining of family in heaven by its patriarch will not cause social discord in the world. This rare rite of departure is not regarded as an ascent and bars the departed from any hope of sainthood, as he is assumed to make his way via purgatory. No such matrimony rite is made available to a childless widow, for she must suffer according to the duty of her gender.
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