In chambers, Violet confronted her accusers. They consisted of Lorelei, a trembling Ossip, and the lauded “braintrust” that had come to represent law and order on the circus grounds. Everyone except Lorelei appeared uncertain and nervous.
Chambers was in the kitchen of the mess hall. It was crowded and piled high with dirty pots and pans. Lorelei and the braintrust arranged themselves in the narrow galley, with Violet seated against the wall at the end. They had provided her with a chair.
Ossip spoke first.
“Miss Violet,” he attempted a half cocked smile but it withdrew from his face almost immediately.
Ossip knew Violet quite well. She was a few years older than him and was already a veteran member of the circus when he had first arrived five and a half years ago. She was an essential part of the dancing corps. Ossip had always known her to be kind, witful, and a fairly dedicated performer. She was perhaps given to a fit now and again but more often she was regarded as an absolute peach by everybody. Especially compared with some of the other dancing girls who could really rub the trouble in.
So it troubled Ossip now, here in Chambers, that she was sitting all alone at the end of the galley, ostensibly friendless in the face of such wild conjecture on the part of Lorelei. Ossip didn’t really think that Violet had tried to undermine the circus, even if she did appear to have some kind of special relationship with Goren. Then again, he couldn’t think of anyone else who even seemed friendly with Goren. Ossip had to trust Lorelei’s assessment. After all, the doctor seemed so far ahead of him on so many other topics.
Ossip’s guts twisted unexpectedly. In reflecting on his history with Violet at the circus, he suddenly recalled that he used to have a crush on her. It had been when he first joined. He remembered the time when he was 14 and she had asked him if he wouldn’t run an errand for her in town? He remembered her silver blouse that day, how he had stopped breathing momentarily. Eventually, he had grown out of it and moved on to some of the other girls so this memory hadn’t been top of mind. But now, facing her down in this accusatory fashion, he again stopped breathing momentarily.
It’s just that everybody loves her, Ossip thought and the idea surprised him. Everyone here’s got a thing for Miss Violet. How had he never really reflected on this before? Practically every other lever boy and circus performer he knew had a secret smile they kept just for her. Ossip shifted uncomfortably. Why were they ganging up on her like this? How had all of this come about? Ossip wondered if, somehow, he had actually been born only yesterday and all these charming memories were nothing more than a storybook someone had read to him. Was this charming dancer girl a traitor requiring punishment or was he sitting on the wrong side of the kitchen? He wasn’t sure which version of reality was real.
Ossip coughed and started again. He was sweating. “Miss Violet. You are hereby accused of participating in anti-circus activities at the behest of Goren Hargus alongside his evil lackey and compromiser of facts, Ungulen, man of goat blood, who is still at large.”
A tense moment passed. To everyone’s surprise, Violet burst out laughing. It made Ossip’s entire nervous system cringe in confusion. He wanted to laugh with her but felt Lorelei’s taut physique close at hand. Ossip was scared for her.
“Compromiser of facts?” Violet chirped back. “Ungulen? Ossip, what are you talking about? He’s your friend, isn’t he? Mr. Ungulen? He’s all our friend’s.”
Ossip attempted to swallow the hard lump that was gathering in his throat. Ungulen had been good to him. Ungulen who had found him at the docks so many years ago when he was a lost little urchin. Ungulen who had handed him the flyer that day in the rain. Come by, laddy! See if you don’t like the crash and fancy of that old circus life!
Ossip retreated into an impossible stagger of wits. Lorelei gracefully uncrossed his legs.
“I believe what Mr. Balichenko is trying to say, Miss Smythe, is that you owe the circus a great sacrifice and debt. To prove once and for all that you are not in collaboration with those who would seek to undermine the free operation of this institution.”
Ossip and the braintrust began nodding. This was a hopeful turn.
“Yes,” said Samdi. “Violet can prove herself. She’s not one of them.” The braintrust nodded more forcefully. This was sounding correct.
Violet was not convinced. “I live and work here. I’d call that sacrifice aplenty. And anyway, who’s brilliant idea was it to start calling what we do here ‘ an institution ?'”
“Hold your tongue,” anger flashed in Lorelei’s eyes, effectively silencing everyone “Or I will hold it for you.”
A rat stirred in the kitchen. There was a metallic sound that set everyone’s teeth further on edge.
“Here is what we need from you, Miss Smythe. We would like to create a children’s parade.”
All members of the braintrust looked at each other. A what? Violet too was utterly thrown.
“You,” Lorelei continued. He was smiling now. He leaned towards Violet in a friendly way that made her skin crawl, “You are uniquely qualified to produce such a thing. Given Drutherstone’s abandonment of his own organization, Ungulen’s being at large, Goren Hargus’s many many crimes…”
“What about Marrionetta?” Violet cut in. “She knows how to put a show together quite well. In fact, I’d say she knows this circus better than anybody.”
Violet looked at Lorelei meaningfully. The braintrust seemed abashed and Violet couldn’t understand why. She hadn’t seen the other day the way they’d mocked nasty old Marrionetta’s head on a leash. Privately, Ossip wondered if Marrionetta’s head wasn’t still hidden under one of the pots here in the kitchen. However, the next part of the conversation swept this thought from his mind.
Lorelei gritted his teeth rather loudly and continued. “Your work with the elephants has been exemplary. You will help us start fresh. You will organize the children’s parade. This will help restore the coffers, demonstrate the circus’s break from the old, dark ways, and renew morale among the staff. So we will be seeking to elicit maximum attendance. Children, that is. Dreaming damned or living, it makes no difference.”
Violet was exasperated. “I’m hardly qualified to make a parade that I don’t know the first thing about! And we can’t control who sees the shows! That’s up to…Goren somehow. Or Drutherstone. I don’t know how the tickets work.”
“Organize the parade,” Lorelei menaced, “Or there will be no more need for elephants.”
Violet leveled a firm gaze at Lorelei. The threat towards her silly old elephants gripped her. Finally, she was seeing how deeply things had gone wrong by his hand.
“But…” Ossip started to say and Lorelei placed a soothing hand on the back of his neck.
“It’s alright, Ossip. Miss Smythe will make the right decision.”