The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

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Part 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary

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It is now 1886 in London, and the circus is opening tonight. Long lines formed in anticipation of the gate’s opening at sundown. Inside, at the center of the courtyard, is an iron sculpture that at midnight will be turned into a huge cauldron of fire. As the clock prepares to mark the hour, twelve fire performers surround the cauldron. They are poised with bows and arrows; the tip of each arrow has been set afire. As the clock strikes its twelve chimes, one arrow at a time is slung into the huge metal bowl. Each arrow changes the flames to a new color. The hues range from yellow to sky blue, and the last arrow transforms the flames to a brilliant white.

The crowd is stunned by the changing colors of the fire but no more so than they have been exhilarated by the performers they have seen that night. At dawn, when the circus is scheduled to close, it is difficult to convince the patrons that it is time to go home.

The circus organizers are pleased that every activity has been produced without a flaw. There was only one unexpected event: the wild-cat tamer’s wife went into labor earlier than expected. She gives births to fraternal twins, a girl and a boy. They will be called by nicknames. The boy will be known affectionately as Widget, and the girl will be called Poppet. Both babies have brilliant red hair.

Marco misses the twins’ birthday celebration because he was busy with the cauldron's fire. He has in recent months invested himself more seriously in the circus, now that he knows that it will be through this venue that the challenge with Celia will be played out. The fire in the cauldron with its unusual colors is Marco’s first feat. He will tell no one how he managed the changing colors of the fire. Only a few people know that it is not a trick. One of those people who understand the significance of the fire is Celia. Even though she is not present when the fire is lit, she feels the magic that is used to make the fiery display, and it startles her. She has no idea who her opponent is, but she senses that the fire represents the first challenge—and it is a powerful one.

Celia is not the only one affected by the lighting of the fire. Chandresh is also present at the ceremony. He has come to study the patrons. As a theater producer, Chandresh has always watched the audience rather than the performers. It is by studying people’s reactions that he knows whether the performance is a success. Chandresh has wandered around the circus tents in the hours before the lighting of the cauldron. He is pleased by what he has seen. Everyone appears to be fully satisfied, as well as astonished, by the various acts presented in each of the many tents.

At midnight, Chandresh walks to the courtyard to watch the arrows fall into the cauldron and change the color of the flames. But as this performance progresses, Chandresh feels faint and must lean on Tara Burgess’s arm. He asks where Marco is, but Tara has no idea of Marco’s whereabouts. After the last archer releases his arrow and the flame turns white, Marco appears at Chandresh’s side and dismisses Tara, saying that Chandresh will be all right in his care.

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