Several illusionists wait to demonstrate their skills to Chandresh to secure a job at the circus. A single woman is amongst them. Marco is immediately intrigued by her. When she takes the stage Chandresh dismissively says that they’re not looking for assistants. When Celia says that she is an illusionist, he is still dubious and debates with Mme. Padva debate about whether it’s appropriate for female illusionist to perform. Celia explains that she has never performed as a professional illusionist but when she reveals that her father is Prospero the Enchanter, Chandresh is intrigued. Celia's performance includes transforming her jacket into a raven and Marco’s notebook into a dove before returning both to their original forms. Celia’s performance delights Chandresh who hires her on the spot.
Chandresh sends Marco home because he’s pale. Isobel is sitting by the fire in Marco’s flat working on a charm made of hair that she conceals in her pocket when he arrives. Marco tells her that he found out that his opponent is Prospero the Enchanter’s daughter and that he is worried she will beat him in the challenge. Because Celia will be working at the Night Circus, Isobel reasons that it must be involved in the challenge. Marco realizes that it’s why the man in the grey suit sent him to work for Chandresh. Marco is distracted as they continue to talk and Isobel pulls two tarot cards: the Lovers and the Tower. Isobel offers to work at the circus to act as a spy for him as he must stay in London. Marco agrees to convince Chandresh to hire her. Marco unconsciously strokes where the ring had once been when he tells Isobel Celia’s name.
Fire and Light
The narrator shifts once again to the second person point of view in the circus’s courtyard. Venders move through the crowd of circusgoers, selling refreshments as a contortionist performs on a nearby platform. A juggler captures the attention of numerous spectators as he deftly maneuvers monochromatic balls. Everything in the courtyard is illuminated by the light of the circus’s central bonfire. The bonfire sits in a cauldron that looks as though it’s melting at the edges. The flames are white.
Bailey frequently argues with his father about his future. His father wants him to take over the family farm, but Bailey’s grandmother demands that he go to Harvard. Averse to the monotony of the farm, Bailey would rather go to college. When he visits his grandmother, she tells him that she doesn’t really care about whether he goes to Harvard or not. Rather, she wants him to pursue his dreams, whatever they may be. Bailey spends a lot of time in his oak tree, reading and contemplating his future. He wonders why only girls seem to get whisked away from their mundane lives in fairy tales and wishes that he will be taken away on an adventure. He stores a keepsake box in the tree, in which he keeps many treasures including notes about the circus and the red-haired girl’s glove. One morning when he returns to the tree to read, he sees the circus in the distance.
When the novel returns to Bailey in “Hidden Things,” it disrupts the timing of the previous few sections as his narrative is set in 1902 while “Auditory” and “Stratagem” both take place in 1886. This nearly twenty-year time difference plays an incredibly important role in the narrative makeup of the novel. Because the narrative is non-linear, it allows the novel to cast Bailey in a similar light that it does Celia and Marco, showing how they are all at the cusp of a major change in their lives in the shadow of the circus. This also allows for Bailey’s story to feel intertwined with theirs even though he is separated by decades, all while allowing the mechanisms that involve Bailey in the circus to remain a mystery. It is unknown what has happened between when Celia stands on the stage at the nearly empty theater and when Bailey sits in the oak tree pining for the red-haired girl, increasing the suspense about what has happened in between.
The immediate attraction Marco feels for Celia foreshadows the connection they share because they are bound to the challenge. While Celia is entirely unaware that Marco is her competitor, Marco realizes that Celia is his opponent when he watches her illusionist demonstration in front of Chandresh, establishing dramatic irony about whether Celia will uncover the truth. Marco is shaken by Celia’s performance in part because he realizes how dangerous his opponent is, but his reaction also reveals a deep attraction. Marco is always meticulous and coordinated, but when he encounters Celia, he fumbles, forgets things, and even drops a pen. Marco’s first encounter with Celia is also immediately juxtaposed with his return to Isobel in his apartment, providing a contrast of the two relationships. That Marco’s feelings for Celia may develop into love is further foreshadowed when Isobel draws The Lovers and The Tower from her tarot deck. It is ironic that Isobel, who defines herself by the tarot, refuses to accept what the cards are revealing about Marco’s feelings for Celia. Instead, she further intertwines herself into Marco’s life by deciding to join the circus as his spy, further foreshadowing the development of a love triangle between Marco, Celia, and Isobel.
Bailey’s conflict with his father over his future centers the theme of the struggle for autonomy. While on the surface Bailey thinks his struggle is between whether to relent to his father’s wishes or his grandmother’s, his gloomy outlook and preoccupation with the Night Circus reveal his discontent runs deeper. There is an absurdity to the immense pressure Bailey feels to figure out his future when he is still a teenager that parallels the lack of autonomy both Celia and Marco have in regard to the circus. The scene where Bailey’s grandmother tells him that he must follow his dreams, no matter the stakes or how absurd they might seem, serves as a wake up call and a turning point for Bailey. Although Bailey has not yet come to grips with who he wants to be and what he wants to do, his grandmother’s impassioned speech encourages his forward momentum toward making his own choices.