By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 5, 1936.
“Do you know anything,” asked Jimmie Frise, “about magic?”
“You mean black magic?” I inquired.
“I mean ordinary magic for kids,” said Jim. “Parlor magic. Tricks.”
“At one time,” I replied, “I was going to be a magician. I think that was when I was about fifteen.”
“Do you remember any tricks?” asked Jim.
“No, I gave up the magic idea,” I confessed, “after a few tries. I’m one of those people who wants to make the coin really disappear. If I flip the coin up my sleeve, I am the first to see through it.”
“There’s a kids’ party at my house,” said Jim, “and I was thinking I could put on some magic for them.”
“Between the two of us,” I suggested, “we could pull some magic.”
“Let’s get a book of magic,” said Jim, “and practice up some tricks. I think it would be swell if we could work out a little program of magic. We could not only do parties at our own homes, but we could render a nice favor to our friends, going about putting on children’s shows like that.”
We got a book of magic and it was wonderful the simple tricks we learned in no time. The card tricks and coin tricks are mostly done by quickness of the hand deceiving the eye, and neither Jim nor I were very good at that. Our eyes were too quick, and our hands not quick enough. However, we practiced these hand tricks patiently, and even though we couldn’t fool each other, we felt that we would at least fool children; especially small children.
It was, however, in the tricks of magic requiring devices that we discovered the most interesting field. For example, by fastening things to long pieces of elastic, we could make them vanish like lightning. Under our coats, we could fasten a handkerchief or a flower or a ball, the elastic holding it hidden. By a quick, careless swing of the hand, we could pull the object into view, in the hand. Then, with a kind of mumbo-jumbo and a wave of the hand, we simply let go of the object and it vanished past our elbow out of sight, so fast nobody would see it. After showing our empty hands, we made the casual, quick snatch and produced it again, apparently from the air.
So we had a very nice time, sitting around with all doors shut, practicing with cards and coins and elastics, and investigating the interesting realm of magic. We spent about $3.65 on all kinds of magic balls, vanishing cups, trick match boxes, and inside-out silk handkerchiefs that you could turn from red to blue by a simple movement of the hand. We developed these mechanical tricks to a high state of perfection, and the children’s party drew rapidly nigh.
“Jim,” I assured him, “we’ll be a knock-out.”
For a Grand Finale
“Kids are so hard to fool, nowadays,” said he. “They know it all. Even The little ones all have the oh yeah complex.”
“We’re short,” I suggested, “one big grand slam trick to wind our program up. We’ve got a nice lot of little ones that we can run through like seasoned veterans. But we ought to have a grand finale sort of act.”
“The nearer I get to the party,” said Jim, “the less confident I feel. Kids aren’t like they used to be. Once upon a time, adults used to be kept busy keeping things from the children. Nowadays, the children are busy keeping things from the adults.”
“My dear Jimmie,” I laughed, “we’ll roll them in the aisles with our act. We’re perfect. I assure you. That vanishing watch trick of yours will have them absolutely mystified. And as for my trick with the three red balls under the cup, I venture to say I could go on the stage with it.”
“I wish we had a rabbit act or something,” said Jim. “Or one of those sword acts where I put you in a box and stick a sword through it, only to find you vanished when the box is opened.”
“I prefer a rabbit act,” I agreed. “Maybe an act, with six rabbits. Like that one in the book where the six rabbits come out of the plug hat.”
“We could do that easily enough,” said Jim. “All we need is a table with a hole in the top and about fifteen feet of stove pipe.”
“I’m with you,” I exclaimed. “The grand finale. We get a cheap table and cut a hole the size of a stove pipe in the top. We run the stove pipe down along the floor into the kitchen. I feed the rabbits in the pipe and then shove the long wire with the piece of fox fur on the end of it, to chase them through to you.”
“I set the plug hat with the loose top,” said Jim, “on the table, covering the hole where the pipe emerges. The loose top falls aside, and as I make the magic passes, you start the rabbits coming. The wire chases them through, and out they come from the hat, like bullets out of a gun.”
“I can picture it, Jim,” I exulted.
“The only thing,” said Jim, “is the stove pipe. How could we conceal it from the kids? They’ll be all over the house before the show starts. They’ll see the stove pipe along the floor of the hall.”
“I tell you what,” I exclaimed. “Let’s use a cloth tube instead of stove pipe. We could sew up a long tube of cotton, and brace it with barrel hoops. Just a few minutes before this final act, while you are entertaining them, I’ll slip out to the hall and string out the cloth tube. Very quiet, see?”
“How would you scare the rabbits through?” asked Jim.
“If we made it big enough,” I cried, “I could come through the tube, chasing the rabbits ahead of me, and last of all, up through the table would come my head, wearing the hat.”
“Great,” agreed Jim. “Unique. Different. A real creation. The true magician is the one who invents or improves upon tricks.”
With little time to spare, Jim and I bought twenty-two feet of cotton sheeting and sewed it up, in secret, into a tube. From the grocer on the corner we got enough wooden hoops off old barrels to set them every four feet inside the cloth tube, tacking them in place. So that, closed up like a concertina, it was easy for me to handle alone.
We got an old pine table and cut a hole in its top just the size of a plug hat which we had given us by the widow of an Orangeman, and we so tapered the end of the cloth tube that it could be quickly fastened into the hole in the table, from beneath, with a wire ring. We practiced stringing the cloth tube silently and skillfully along the back hall from the living room doorway where Jim and I were to stage our magic performance.
“For fear of discovery,” explained Jim, “we’ll keep the rabbits in a box out in the yard, and we’ll hide the cloth tube on the shelf in the clothes closet. It will be only a matter of a minute for you to slip out, set up the cloth tube from my table to the kitchen, pick the rabbits from the box in the yard and pop them into the tube. Then you chase them through to me.”
“Perfect,” I said. “Letter perfect.”
The night of the party Jim and I donned our tuxedos for the occasion to give the correct magic tone. We were both on hand before six o’clock to arrange all our effects. And at six, the children began to arrive. Both boys and girls, all old friends of the neighborhood, who, after a few moments of remembering their parental warnings, and getting over the strangeness of seeing one another in their Sunday clothes, promptly let loose; and the familiar din of a children’s party filled the house,
The first item on the program was the party supper, which took a good three-quarters of an hour. Then there was a miniature movie, which, it seems, all the children had seen before several times. Then there were games for about twenty minutes, which ended up with two little girls crying because they didn’t get all the prizes, and two little boys staging a fight in the hall. And at last, came the great event of the evening, the Magic Hour, by Messrs. Frise and Clark. I must say, Jimmie and I were both trembling with excitement.
All the children were ranged on chairs and stools and benches in the living room, well back from the entrance from the hall; and in this entrance, Jimmie and I set our table.
“Now, children,” said Jim, the lights being dimmed, and soft music being located on the radio, “we are about to show you a few tricks of legerdemain which my assistant and I have learned in our travels in many parts of the world.”
“Birdseye Center,” said a boy’s voice.
Jim and I stood face to face behind the table, and began manipulating the red celluloid balls, Jim’s vanishing miraculously from between his outspread fingers while mine miraculously appeared. It was pretty well done, except that mine slipped a few times and I had to pick them up, as they rattled lightly on the floor.
“Let Pinkie Do It”
“Whhhooop,” comes a raspberry from the audience.
“Let Pinkie do it,” called a girl’s voice. “He can do it good.”
And Pinkie; a freckled little boy of about seven with red hair, came up and took the balls from me and manipulated them like lightning.
“Heh, heh, heh,” Jimmie and I applauded, to show him it was time for him to go back and sit down. But he kept on doing tricks with the red balls, making them vanish in his hands, plucking them out of his ears and from the back of my neck, until the house almost came down, and finally I had to give the little brat a pinch and hiss to him to go and sit down. Whose show was it, anyway?
We then did the colored handkerchief, and loud raspberries and cat calls greeted this performance; Jim hastily started picking the magic watch off his pant leg, where the watch is caught by a small pin projecting from it. But only loud jeers met all these efforts, while several of the boys crowded forward and seized the appurtenances of our art off the table and began doing the tricks we had been intending to do, only doing them better, if I must say it.
So Jim and I stood back, while the various boys put on the show.
“You see,” explained Jim, “one of the commonest Christmas and birthday presents during the past five years has been magic sets. All the big stores have departments now for selling magic and the salesmen are magicians who teach the kids the tricks.”
“Ah,” I told him, “but we’ve got one trick in the bag, thank heaven. Wait till they see the rabbits coming shooting out of that plug hat.”
In due time, the little boys had exhibited all our tricks, simultaneously, a sort of seven or eight-ring circus. They broke most of the things, snatching them from one another, and at last they wore everything out, and Jimmie stepped forward, calling for order.
“Now, children,” he laughed, “you have all had a good time, as we intended, performing these tricks which we provided you. But there is some magic you are not so familiar with. I grant these little common tricks are all very nice. But my assistant and I have prepared a little surprise for you.”
As Jim began this speech, I quietly slipped out through the dining room and into the hall. Lifted the concertina cloth tube down and loosened its hoops, and strung it along the hallway. Concealed behind the curtain draped over Jim’s table, I crawled in and fastened the tapered end of the cloth tube with a wire ring into the hole in the table.
With this to hold the tube firm, I backed up the hall, lifting the hoop-supported tube into shape and backed into the kitchen. There Jimmie and I had arranged some hooks in the wall to hold the other end of the tube taut, thus keeping the tunnel gaping open right through.
“This is a very mysterious trick,” I could hear Jim saying in a hushed voice. I place this hat, empty, as you all see, on the table like this. Now, in a few minutes, I shall make a mystic series of passes over this hat, and if I have the mystic rite right, out of that hat will come a rabbit. Maybe two rabbits. Maybe three. It all depends on how quiet you are as I begin the incantations.”
I slipped out the back door, where we had left the box with the six white rabbits we had rented from the bird store.
A strange sight met my eyes in the darkness. Around the wooden crate were grouped a regular pack of dogs. Jimmie’s Gordon setter, Gyp, was playing hostess.
She had apparently invited all the dogs in the neighborhood to the party, to smell the box full of rabbits.
There were spaniels and wire-haired terriers, Bostons and Pekes, a Chow, a young Newfoundland and sundry mutts, all sitting in a group around the rabbit box, some of them anxiously rising to sniff at the cracks.
“Hyah,” I snarled at them, but Gyp bounded happily to meet me, “Get away out of that, you …”
The box was heavy, but I lugged it to the back door. The whole party of dogs followed, anxiously and noisily jumping at the box, and ganging one another, with yips and growls. I managed to get the door open with only Gyp and one other dog getting past with me. Inside, I laid the box down until I had shooed Gyp and her friend out.
Carefully opening the box, I lifted the rabbits out two by two and set them inside the cotton tube a couple of feet.
Just as I stooped to enter the tube and chase the bunnies through, the back kitchen door burst open with the plunging of the dogs and in they came, yipping and snarling, a mob. I turned to meet them, but they were over and under and around me and into the tube.
All hushed, in the dim-lighted living room, the incantations were being recited by Jimmie, waving his wand.
There was a scuffle, a series of muffled yips and snarls.
Out of the plug hat popped a rabbit.
The hat was shot rolling.
One, two three, out from the hole in the table popped a sort of sausage string of rabbits, so fast they could hardly be seen, said Jim.
The dogs, trapped in the narrowed end of the cloth tube, writhed and fought furiously in the confusion. The ring came loose from the table. From under the table writhed a monstrous shape, a giant twisting serpent of ghostly white in the dimness.
The children rose in a screaming body and fled and leaped and clutched, while the bagful of dog twisted and snarled and writhed with a dreadful sound all over the living room, bumping, banging, while the little darlings leaped on chairs and screeched into the halls and up the stairs.
Jimmie and I dragged the tube out to the kitchen and then accompanied the dogs into the yard, where we remained for some time, until the last parent had called and taken her child away.
“Magic,” sighed Jimmie, “is great stuff.”
“Especially,” I explained, “If you have a magician working for you.”
Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on December 4, 1943, under the title “Hocus Pocus” (with the artwork at the end).
An Orangeman is a member of the Orange Order in Canada. Orangeman played a major role in politics for a very long time, but declined after World War 2 as a result of more secularization and less association to Britain in society.
A concertina is a small bellows based musical instrument that was losing favour at the time, being replaced by accordions in popularity.
At a time when men wore suits all of the time, wearing a tuxedo would be considered “dressing up”. Greg and Jim could have owned them for attending fancy evening parties. Also note that the children were wearing their “Sunday clothes”, meaning that it was expected that they would also dress up for a party, in this case wearing their nice clothes they would wear to church.
Legerdemain is a phase meaning “sleight of hand” when doing tricks.
Since Jim’s dog Rusty is a recurring character in so many stories, it is a bit unusual that this one has Gyp, the Gordon Setter.