Friday, January 29, 2016

If I Were You - Part 3 - A Body-Thief in the Morning

One paragraph break later and we're with Hermann Schmidt as he starts his day, getting dressed with boots "polished into black mirrors; his stock had been starched into armor plate; his waistcoat had been brushed until it resembled newly shed blood."  I'm not entirely sure how brushing fabric brightens its color or how an overcoat looks like a bleeding wound, but I've never worked in the circus.

Thus dressed, the ringmaster goes forth, earning respectful bows from everyone he passes "from razorback to high traps," respect he returns with "lofty nods which held a certain amount of doubt, as though he was not quite sure they existed."  I'm not quite sure how exhibiting signs of suffering from hallucinations or delusions helps you look grand and impressive, but again, I've never worked in the circus.

It's actually unclear where Schmidt's success comes from - one paragraph notes that with his great stature, no one can look at him and not feel confident in his ability to run the circus, while the next has Schmidt reflecting that of course he's competent and important because he comes from a long line of ringmasters and knows the circus "from bale ring to stakes."  Maybe there's more to life than experiencing it from an above-average altitude, or maybe one's attitude is influenced by outside forces.  Or maybe such musings are wasted on a story involving a magical midget.

Schmidt sits down for his breakfast steak, the most important steak of the day, but is interrupted when Mrs. Johnson takes the opposite seat at his table, forcing him to stifle a shudder.  See, Schmidt is not only the circus' ringmaster, he's also a bit of a performer himself, and like the worst of circus folk is scamming people.  He's engaged to the old crone as part of some scheme, but keeps finding excuses to postpone their wedding - for example, he laments that the circus is running at a loss, and vows "I promise I shall never marry you until I can prove my full worth."  Then he goes to write up the circus' finances, where he makes "the art of the show's slip artists seem pale," and since Wikipedia and Wiktionary don't know what a "slip artist" is, I'm guessing he's cooking the books and embezzling money. 

At least our "hero" won't be stealing the body of an innocent victim, eh?  Instead the story will be the more familiar scenario of bad guys versus assholes who are presented as heroes.

It's not enough that Schmidt is stringing an old hag along, he's also two-timing her.  He's interrupted in his financial flimflamery by a knock at the door, and in comes a beautiful blonde (what a surprise, Hubbard) named Betty.  She's flustered and desperate, he's smiling but not with any positive emotions, and they talk for a good three pages.

The gist of it is this - Betty, a high-wire girl, is trying to back out of Schmidt's "wild plan" for her to divorce her husband Gordon the lion tamer, marry Schmidt, and run off and be rich and famous and whatever.  She and Gordon went through some tough spots after he lost all his money, turned to drink, and grew so abusive he drove Betty into Schmidt's arms.  But now the couple have patched things up, and Betty has become a star act, so she refuses to betray her husband again.  Schmidt pulls the ol' "I picked you both out of the mud and taught you everything you know" card and threatens to fire Betty and her husband, which would surely cause him to drink and beat her again until they were both dead.

"But he loves me, Hermann! What's past is past! It's useless to think of running away with you and divorcing him. Crazy!"

"And yet if you don't," said Hermann, smiling, "you'll very much wish you had."

The strain of holding out so long against his will at last broke her own. She began to weep quietly and forlornly, and when at last he cupped her face in his hands and said, "Of course you'll go with me, won't you?" she could only nod a weary assent.

Huh, this is the same guy who was forced to hire the Professor after the old bat gave him the evil eye?  ...Also, it's kind of odd that nobody in the circus is reacting to the Professor's death except Tom and Maizie.  There's no talk of an oppressive cloud suddenly lifting, everyone's spirits being higher, a possible obstacle to Schmidt's schemes being removed, or any of that.  It's like the story wouldn't be any different if Tom had just found those evil spellbooks at a yard sale one day.

Anyway, Betty eventually leaves, and Schmidt steps out of his wagon once more, "An aloof demigod, secure in his realm, proud of his abilities and cunning," etc.  But as he does so, he's watched by Little Tom Little, who can barely breathe in his excitement.

The little fella cracks a little whip to get Schmidt's attention, the ringmaster looks down and is affronted by the very presence of the other man, their eyes meet, and... it's exactly as underwhelming as it was last chapter.  To a watching razorback - yes, that's the focal point the narration is working from - Little Tom is apparently muttering to himself while Schmidt stares, until the ringmaster's face goes blank.  Then Schmidt seems to recover, looks down and takes a "delighted inventory of his dress," while Little Tom Little suddenly looks horrified.  And then Schmidt strides off, while Tom makes as if to follow before noticing the watching pig and slinking into the shadows.

Underwhelming and weird.  If I suddenly found myself in a body a fraction the size of the one I'm used to, I'd probably scream a bit.  Heck, if I suddenly found myself in a body several times the size of the one I'm used to, I'd probably scream some too, even if I planned it.  But if these two made a fuss about their body swap the story wouldn't unfold in just the right way, I reckon.

Back to Part 2 

No comments:

Post a Comment