Chapter 17 Summary
August is away, likely abusing Rosie. Meanwhile, Jacob and Marlena sit in her dressing tent while she tells him everything about her past. Marlena met August when she was seventeen years old; her parents had been routinely inviting bachelors to the house to woo their daughter. When a middle-aged banker began making repeat visits, Marlena realized that her parents had chosen this man to be her husband. In town, Marlena saw the Benzini Brothers posters, and she began to think that a life in the circus would be a romantic, although terrifying, escape. Two days later, her family went the circus, and Marlena met August while she was standing in front of the horses in the menagerie. August was “charming and relentless,” so Marlena agreed to marry him. Marlena starts to cry. Jacob tells her that he wants to see her again. Marlena reminds him that she is married, and Jacob kisses her on the forehead and leaves.
On his way from the tent, Jacob hears stories about how August has made Rosie pay for drinking the lemonade. He hit her with the bull hook over and over again until Earl dragged him out of the menagerie. Rosie was found lying on her side and shaking. When Jacob gets back to the ring stock car, he, Walter, and Camel all agree about their hatred for August. Walter leaves the car and returns with two bottles of whiskey; a friend owed him a favor, and Walter thinks that all three men can use a little forgetting. Walter gives one of the bottles to Jacob, and Jacob decides to use it to do some making up to Rosie even though Camel thinks Jacob is using it to get the attentions of a woman. Walter then passes the other bottle to Jacob and tells him to say sorry to Rosie on his behalf.
When Jacob gets to the menagerie, he sees Greg putting ointment on the elephant. While they chat, Jacob realizes that Rosie understands Greg, who is speaking Polish to her. Jacob then speaks to Rosie in Polish, and she understands each of his commands. With this new knowledge, Jacob begins training August in Polish, and they work on Rosie’s act. August’s mood becomes delightful, but Jacob still remembers what he is capable of doing.
In Meadville, August decides that Rosie should make her debut. Uncle Al is thrilled that now the circus will be saved from financial ruin. August is also happy, and he buys both Marlena and Jacob gifts: a diamond choker and a gold pocket watch, respectively. Marlena has a present for Rosie—a pink sequined headpiece that matches Marlena’s costume. Marlena has spent weeks sewing the headpiece. The big top is packed, and Rosie and Marlena’s clever routine is hailed by a shower of coins from the audience. Uncle Al looks like he might be crying happily.