Alex lost his family when he was nine years old and has been searching for them ever since. His search leads him to America, where he is kidnapped and held for ranson. Only his wits and juggling talents help him to survive. When he meets Louisa, who resembles his younger sister, he finds himself involved in an international political mystery that could be the end of his juggling career.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Megan Emily Asad fell in love with juggling during high school, where she mastered clubs, torches, and machetes before moving to combat juggling. Now married to the greatest guy on earth, Emily combines her love of juggling with award-winning writing skills. A former frozen chosen from Minnesota, Emily and her husband reside in Floirda, and are expecting their first child.
Chapter One: The Juggler
BEFORE THERE WERE rockets, or jet planes, or even any airplanes of any sort, people used trains. That is, those who could afford such luxuries used trains. Those who could not had to rely on a horse-drawn carriage, and if they could not afford the carriage, then they simply rode the horse. And if they could not afford the horse—well, then, they used their own two feet to carry them from place to place.
That is precisely what one boy did on this warm morning in July of 1836. His name was Alex, and he could not afford a horse at all. He could not even afford his own breakfast, which is why he and his dog were so hungry. They had not eaten since the previous morning. They were wandering performers who made their money from town to town. Since they were between clusters of population at the time, there was no money to be made, and even if they made it, no bakery to spend it in.
Even so, the boy possessed an optimistic and sweet nature, and never complained about his circumstances. He was accustomed to being hungry, as his thin but wiry frame showed. Besides, he was headed for the great New York City, where he had been told that he could make his fortune by juggling on the street corners.
He smiled down at his dog. "Just another hour or so, Capi. This is the big city. Our first big gig, hey?" He shifted the heavy pack on his back and looked up at the sun. "We'll definitely be there in time for the noon bustle. If we do a good job, we'll feast tonight!"
The dog, a large cocker spaniel with perfectly white fur, perked up his long fluffy ears at the word "feast." Though not a word he heard frequently, and from the wag of his tail, he most likely knew it well enough to anticipate the tasty bones he would receive. It was obvious that Alex took good care of the dog. Capitaine's long silky fur was well groomed and clean. He even smelled like sweet fresh clover. Though a bit on the skinny side, he was by no means starving. He licked his whiskers in obvious expectation of the tasty meal that awaited him in the new city.
Alex himself was certainly a strange sight to behold. If he had been dressed normally as other boys, he still might have drawn attention to himself. As it was, his costume and the various bags and packages he wore made him even more noticeable. In the first place, he was very big and handsome for a boy his age. He was almost fourteen years old, and had powerful arms and legs because he spent his days juggling and walking miles and miles. The sunshine had given him a deep tan. His hair was a rusty brown color; at one point in his life he had been careful to keep his hair neatly trimmed. But that was before he lost his parents. He had not had a haircut in many, many months, so he kept it neatly tied back at the base of his neck in a ponytail. His bangs fell forward sometimes and covered his eyes, which were his handsomest feature. They were hazel, and today they reflected the green grass and the dusty brown road that stretched in front of him.
But it was not his beauty that attracted attention. It was his costume. Other boys wore pants that reached their ankles; Alex had trimmed his own pant legs so that they barely came below his knees, and secured the ends with brightly colored ribbons, which he also wore around his arms between the shoulder and elbow. He had a bright green hat with a shockingly orange feather that stuck out from the brim with a great deal of energy. He wore a white shirt with an embroidered collar—it was a gift from one of the people he had met during his travels—and over the shirt he wore a vest that did not reach his waist. His red socks reached his knees, and his shoes, though sturdy at one time, were now worn and had little holes in the soles. On rainy days they were miserable. He planned to replace them when he had earned enough money again. Around his waist, as if it were a belt, he wore a yellow rope in which he had tied three loops to hold his juggling clubs. The clubs themselves were painted red, yellow, and blue. They bumped gently against his leg as he walked along.
The dog would be no less decorated when they entered the city. As they reached the outskirts of the bustling metropolis, Alex spoke a single word to Capitaine, and then dug around in his backpack for several familiar items. He found a royal purple collar with the dog's name emblazoned across the fabric in gold thread. It no longer sparkled the way it did when it was new, but it was a nice touch nonetheless. He fastened a matching purple robe on the dog's back that covered him like a little jacket. On hot days, Alex was careful to remove it so that Capitaine did not overheat, but on cold mornings in the winter it served as protection. The final touches to the dog's costume were four little bands of purple fabric around the ankles that would draw attention to his feet when he danced.
When they were in full costume, Alex closed his knapsack and put a harmonica in his mouth, which was held tightly by a strange metal contraption that hung about his neck. He took several brightly colored beanbags from his side pocket and began throwing them in a cascade pattern. And so, juggling and playing a rousing tune, he and his dog made their way through the crowded city streets in a modest section of the city.
Capitaine barked in rhythm to the tune he played. Ever so often they would stop, and the dog would rise up on his hind legs and take several strange steps, dancing. Then he would go a few more lengths, barking, and stop again to dance. It did not take long for a large crowd to follow; everyone wanted to see this strange boy and his charming dog.
"Gather 'round, everyone," called the juggler in his most commanding voice, "and witness the feats and demonstrations of the smartest spaniel in the world!" He searched the streets for a location where he would not be disturbing anyone's work. He had once made the mistake before of performing in the middle of a town square without a permit, and he had come very close to being arrested. After that scare, he had revised his strategy—he would enter a town, juggle his way through with his dog dancing all the while, and then on the other side of the town he would do his performances. This was the first large city he had performed in, but he knew he would never make it to the other side this first day. A park would suffice. Besides, New York was supposed to be a treasure trove of coin-filled pockets, and Alex intended to spend as much time as necessary to empty as many pockets as possible.
He found a suitable location and plopped his heavy knapsack down on the ground. He glanced overhead; although there were trees, there were no branches to interfere with the high tosses he would make during his performance.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me have your undivided attention," he said in loud voice. "Today you have the honor, no, the privilege of meeting the world's smartest spaniel. He has traveled farther than most of you; he has met more people than any one of you; and he has had the distinguished honor of shaking paws with the President of the United States, the Queen of England, and the Pope himself. I give you… Capitaine!"
Capitaine took a bow when he heard his name, and the audience politely clapped their hands.
"I can see that you're an audience of distinctive tastes," Alex smiled, "and that you expect only the best, the most unusual, and the most original performances. People of New York City, you will not be disappointed!"
He made a tiny signal to Capitaine, who immediately began to bounce around on his hind legs. He jumped so high that he was able to turn a somersault in mid air. It was indeed something the audience had never seen before, and their polite applause became more enthusiastic.
"Now, before we start the show, I need a larger audience. I'm here to make money, and you're watching to be entertained, right?"
The crowd smiled and shrugged noncommittally.
"So. Let me do some warm-ups before we get going, hmmm? Clap and cheer like you've seen the President himself. The more people, the better my dog will perform. Here we go!"