Celia is studying Marco’s techniques for magic when Hector appears in her rooms. He berates her for trying to learn the man in the grey suit’s methods and tells her that she’s beyond what she can learn from books. When she asks him to bother someone else, he replies that he finds the man in the grey suit boring and that Chandresh is too addled. Celia is surprised to learn that he speaks to Chandresh and puts together that he was the person who told Chandresh that the man in the grey suit would be at the circus the night Herr Thiessen died. They have a vicious argument that ends in Celia calling him a coward and saying that she hates him.
Marco summons the man in the grey suit to his flat to ask him about whether either he or Celia must die for the game to end. The man in the grey suit confirms and reminds Marco that he told him the challenge would be harder for him if her continues to love Celia. Marco asks the man in the grey suit why he bound him to such a challenge. The man in the grey suit tells him that he did it because he thought it would be better than the life he would have lived otherwise. Marco closes the door in his face.
Charming but Deadly
The narrator assumes the second person point of view to describe a performance of two snake charmers. Two white cobras raise up from a basket in time with a flute that one of the performers plays. They circle one another and transform from white to black. It is unclear which of the snakes strikes the other first.
Poppet brings Widget with her to seek out Celia’s council on the train between Massachusetts and New York. She tells Celia she had a premonition of the circus in flames and that Bailey is part of the circus’s future. Poppet worries that the circus is in danger because Bailey never showed up. Celia asks Poppet to try to see the vision again and Poppet does so, though it is painful. Poppet tells her that in addition to the fire, she sees Celia and a man in a bowler hat. Because Celia knows that Marco is in London, she believes that Poppet has mistaken the timing of her vision. Despite Poppet’s urgency that they must do something, Celia suggests they talk more later. Before they leave, Widget asks Celia if the circus is a game. She confirms that it is and lets Widget read her to get a better idea of what it means. When he does, he sees more than just the challenge and he tells Celia he’s sorry for what she’s been through. Widget agrees with Celia that he and Poppet should wait to see what happens. Celia begins to work on a charm to fireproof the circus.
Bailey and the rêveurs travel to New York City by train. Victor, the rêveur who bought Bailey the suit, gives him a red scrapbook filled with Herr Thiessen’s writings. He also is gifted a red scarf recently knitted by one of the rêveurs. Bailey pores over the book until they reach the city. The group goes to meet up with the rêveur who reported the circus’s location because the circus is in a field not far his home. He tells them that it’s closed for the night because of inclement weather. Without another word, Bailey runs to meet up with the circus.
Isobel is waiting at Marco’s door when he arrives home on October 31, 1902. Though he does not let her in, they speak. Isobel tells Marco that she left the circus with Celia’s blessing and that she’s sorry for what happened with the tempering charm. Isobel admits she realized that she, herself, had no future with him when she read Celia’s cards in Prague. Isobel begins to talk about the importance of timing. Marco is confused as she explains that timing is hard to read. Isobel says Marco had a chance to be with Celia, but the timing wasn’t right. She blows a handful of ash in his face and Marco disappears.
The cobras in the chapter “Charming but Deadly” symbolize the two sides of the challenge. More specifically, they represent Marco and Celia being first held captive then being forced into action by the two performers putting on the show. These performers are stand-ins for Hector and the man in the grey suit. Through the performance, the cobras change from white to black, illustrating the way that the challenge has transformed them. Moreover, when the traditional symbolism of white meaning innocence or purity is applied to this transformation, it shows the way that the challenge has rendered them no longer innocent.
Hector evades the blame for causing Herr Thiessen’s death in “Visitations,” which speaks to his lack of personal accountability and the way he minimizes the damaged he has caused to the people around him. The conversation that reveals to Celia that Hector indirectly caused Herr Thiessen’s death brings the dramatic irony of her ignorance to a close and permanently fractures her relationship with her father. While he doesn’t outright deny that he played a role in Herr Thiessen’s death, Hector tries to minimize the event by telling Celia that there are other clockmakers in the world. This refusal to acknowledge the blood on his hands causes Celia to boil over and banish him. Celia’s proclamation him that she hates Hector confirms the man in the grey suit’s prediction during his confrontation with Hector in “Retrospect.” Ultimately, Hector is unmoved by his daughter’s rage and pain, proving that he has learned nothing from his actions.
“Pursuit” revisits the theme of the importance of community through the way the rêveurs take Bailey under their wing. Continuing Bailey’s story as he makes his way from his farm to meet up with the circus, this chapter further details just how quickly the rêveurs rally around each other, the hallmark of a found family. These relative strangers show him kindness and acceptance, dubbing him a rêveur and accepting him as part of their group without hesitation. The kindness that each of the rêveurs shows Bailey is contrasts strikingly to the rejection and lack of support he experiences with his father and his sister. The scrapbook of Herr Thiessen’s writings and the knitted red scarf Bailey receives as gifts emblemize his induction into the community of the rêveurs as these items are precious, handmade things that are more befitting a friend or family than a new acquaintance.
Marco and Celia’s lives parallel each other once again when they both confront their respective teachers in “Visitations.” When the man in the grey suit confirms that either Marco or Celia must die to end the challenge, Marco’s response is one of desperation and rage. The father-son dynamic between Marco and the man in the grey suit makes the admission all the more painful for Marco who realizes the only parental figure he’s ever known has been gambling with his life from the start. While the man in the grey suit reveals that he viewed taking Marco from the orphanage as a form of saving him, it is ironic he did not anticipate the pain his decision might create. In contrast to Hector’s callousness toward Celia’s anger and pain, the man in the grey suit does feel remorse when he moves to knock on Marco’s closed door. However, that he fails to comfort Marco at this critical moment reveals that Hector is not the only one who has failed to learn from his mistakes.
The nature of time plays a key role in both “Precognition” and “Old Ghosts” as Poppet and Isobel grapple with the imprecise nature of predicting the future. In a moment of ominous foreshadowing, Celia dismisses Poppet’s distress over her visions not coming true as an inability to accurately predict when her visions will happen. The scene is full of dramatic irony as Celia, Poppet, and Widget are unaware that Bailey is chasing the circus at that very moment, bringing Poppet’s prediction closer to fruition. Isobel echoes Celia’s sentiment about timing when she confronts Marco in London to explain she wasted years pining for Marco because she couldn’t accurately predict the timing of events with her tarot. When Isobel blows powder into Marco’s face, it illustrates the idea that passively waiting for life to happen is a mistake and action is required to influence events.