Burning Bright

Free Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Book: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tracy Chevalier
crowded around her, trying to ignore the grumblings of those whose view they were now blocking. There was a fair bit of jostling, but eventually everyone could see, until the next lot of people stood in front of them and the crowd had to rearrange itself.
    â€œWhat we waiting for?” Jem said to Maggie.
    Maggie snorted. “Fancy standing in a crowd not even knowin’ what you’re there for. Dorset boy!”
    Jem flushed. “Forget it, then,” he muttered.
    â€œNo, tell us,” Maisie insisted. “ I want to know.”
    â€œMr. Astley has a parade on the first day of the season,” Maggie explained, “to give people a taste of the show. Sometimes he has fireworks, even in the daytime—though they’ll be better tonight.”
    â€œYou hear that, Ma?” Maisie said. “We can see fireworks tonight!”
    â€œ If you go.” Maggie threw Anne Kellaway a look.
    â€œWe an’t going tonight, and we an’t staying for the parade now,” Anne Kellaway asserted. “Come, Jem, Maisie, we’re leaving.” She began to push at the people in front of her. Fortunately for Jem and Maisie, no one wanted to move and give up a place, and Anne Kellaway found herself trapped in the dense crowd. She had never had so many people around her before. It was one thing to stand in the window and watch London pass beneath her, safe at her perch. Now she had every sort of person pressing into her—men, women, children, people with smelly clothes, smelly breath, matted hair, harsh voices. A large man next to her was eating a meat pie, and the flakes of pastry were dropping down his front as well as into the hair of the woman standing in front of him. Nei-ther seemed to notice or care as much as Anne Kellaway did. She was tempted to reach over and brush the flakes away.
    As the music drew closer, two figures on horseback appeared. The crowd shifted and pushed, and Anne Kellaway felt panic welling up like bile. For a moment she was so desperate to get away that she actually put a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of her. He turned briefly and shrugged it off.
    Thomas Kellaway took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm. “There now, Anne, steady, girl,” he said, as if he were talking to one of the horses they’d left behind with Sam in Dorsetshire. She missed their horses. Anne Kellaway closed her eyes, resisting the temptation to pull her hand away from her husband. She took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes again, the riders had drawn close. The horse nearest them was an old white charger, who walked sedately under its burden. The rider was Philip Astley.
    â€œIt’s been a long winter, has it not, my friends?” he shouted. “You’ve had nothing to entertain you all these months since October. Have you been waiting for this day? Well, wait no more—Lent is over, Easter has come, and Astley’s show has begun! Come and see The Siege of Bangalore , a sketch at once tragical, comical, and oriental! Feast your eyes on the splendid operatic ballet La Fête de l’Amour ! Wonder at the talents of the Manage Horse, who can fetch, carry, climb a ladder, and even make a cup of tea!”
    As he passed the Kellaways, his eyes fell on Anne Kellaway and he actually stopped in order to raise his hat to her. “Everyone is welcome to Astley’s Royal Saloon and New Amphitheatre—especially you, madam!”
    The people around Anne Kellaway turned to stare at her. The man with the pie dropped his mouth open so that she could see the meat and gravy mashed up in there. Sick from this sight and from the attention of so many, especially Philip Astley, she closed her eyes again.
    Philip Astley saw her turn pale and shut her eyes. Pulling a flask from his coat, he signaled to one of the circus boys who ran alongside him to take it to her. He could not stop his horse any longer to see if she took a swig of brandy,

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