Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Septimus and the Magician: a Fable

uring the mid-nineteenth century, the talented magician and ventriloquist, Signor Mortiz, travelled the North American continent charming audiences--to the chagrin of most clerics--and made a great name for himself. The Great Signor Mortiz became a name that any householder in any city would be familiar with. The great magician and ventriloquist, however, began to discover that impostors were living off his reputation, travelling in advance of him on his own circuit, calling themselves by his name and even using his advertising handbills. Some purported to be his son, others to be his nephew, but the majority of these impostors pretended to be the very man himself. It became commonplace, upon arriving in a city for a show, to be served with unpaid bills for food, lodging, clothing and other amenities, bills left unpaid by his impostors. The vexatious nature of these demands and the damage to his reputation were becoming much more than a nuisance, they were threatening his very means of existence.

One day, after leaving the constabulary office in a mid-western town after having explained he was not responsible for the unpaid bills there, he stopped to light a cheroot, and looking down to toss away the spent match, he noticed a rather tame old tom cat, a handsome thing he had to admit, and upon closer inspection, sporting seven toes on each front paw. It was at this moment that Signor Mortiz--his real name was really Walter McLaughlin--thought of employing this unusual feline as an accomplice. What is a necromancer without a cat he thought? And how could his impostors manage to duplicate his very unusual assistant. Looking down, he asked the cat if he would like to join Signor Mortiz on his travels and see a bit of the world, meals included. The Tom cat tilted his head and scratched his side with his hind leg in response, so Signor Mortiz threw his voice and replied on behalf of the cat that indeed that was an appealing offer and he would very much enjoy a bit of travel.

And so it was that Signor Mortiz made up new handbills advertising "Signor Mortiz and Septimus, the seven-toed cat."

But a year later, Septimus disappeared. Mortiz had been extremely careful in the security of his feline companion, but somehow he was outwitted. A month later, he found himself in a city jail, with numerous unpaid bills. The jailer was chuckling at his newspaper and wandered over to poor Signor Mortiz to show him that the real Signor Mortiz had entertained John Jacob Astor at a special event for the rich man at his home, and that it said Septimus the seven-toed cat dined on filet mignon. Signor Mortiz responded by saying he was the real Signor Mortiz. The jailer asked, "But where is your cat, Sir, where is your cat?"

After entertaining the police constables with his ability to throw his voice, Signor Mortiz was finally released and following up the newspaper article, he arrived at his imposter's advertised show the following week at The Egyptian Theatre. He found himself a seat at the extreme right of the stage and was appalled by the lack of talent of this impostor, and the degradation of his good name. Rising to his feet, Signor Mortiz made his way to the small staircase at the side of the stage and made his way up. He called out the name of his cat, and Septemus immediately sprang over to his true companion and wrapped himself around his pant leg. Addressing the audience, he told them that this man was not who he pretended to be, and throwing his voice into Septemus, the cat announced the other man an impostor. At this the audience roared with laughter. Signor Mortiz swept his large cape dramatically from his shoulders and approaching the impostor who was trying to get the house management to do something about his unwanted intruder, threw his cape over the impostor and with a puff of smoke, Signor Mortiz transformed this impostor into a monkey. Giving the monkey a large sheet of paper and a piece of charcoal, the monkey scrawled, to the astonishment of the audience, the words "Applause for the Magnificent Signor Mortiz," which Signor Mortiz held up for the audience to see. The crowd responded inspiring the monkey to a flurry of awkward imitation, and Signor Mortiz took his bow, deeper, longer and with more relish than he had ever experienced before, so much so, that he wondered if he were dreaming.

{inspired by the life of Signor Blitz, the real Signor Mortiz}

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