G. K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton.

Magic : a fantastic comedy online

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Why, you've no idea how businesslike I am. We
have to be, you know. [Vaguely.] I know you're a
bit of a Socialist; but I assure you there's a good
deal to do — stake in the country, and all that. Look
at remembering faces now ! The King never forgets
faces. [Waves the programmes about.] I never forget


faces. [Catches sight of the Conjueee and genially
draws him into the diseiission.] Why, the Professor
here who performs before the King [puts down the
programmes] — you see it on the caravans, you know
— performs before the King almost every night, I
suppose . . .

CoNjuEEB. [Smiling.] I sometimes let his Majesty
have an evening off. And turn my attention, of
course, to the very highest nobility. But naturally
I have performed before every sovereign potentate,
white and black. There never was a conjurer who

Ddkk. That's right, that's right ! And you'll say
mth me that, the great business for a King is
remembering p^Jple ?

GoNJUEER. I should say it was remembering which
people to remember.

Duke. Well, well, now . . . [Looks rovrnd raiher
wildly for something.] Being really businesslike . . .
Hastings. Shall I take the programmes for your
Grace ?

Duke. [Picking them up.] No, no, I shan't forget.
Is there anything else ?

Hastings. I have to go down the village about the
wire to Stratford. The only other thing at all
urgent is the Militant Vegetarians.

Duke. Ah! The Militant Vegetarians! You've
heard of them, I'm sure. Won't obey the law [to
the Conjuebe] so long as the Government serves out


Conjurer. Let them be comforted. There are a
good many people who don't get much meat.

Duke. "Well, well, I'm bound to say they're very
enthusiastic. "Advanced, too — oh, certainly advanced.
Like Joan of Arc.

\Short silence, in which the Conjubeb stares
at him.

Conjurer. Was Joan of Arc a Vegetarian ?

Duke. Oh, well, it's a very high ideal, after all.
The Sacredness of Life, you know — the Sacredness
of Lif tf. [Shakes his head.] But they carry it too far.
They killed a policeman down in Kent.

Conjurer. Killed a policeman ? How Vegetarian !
Well, I suppose it was, so long as they didn't eat

Hastings. They are asking only for small sub-
Bcriptions. Indeed, they prefer to collect a large
number of half-crowns, to prove the popularity of
their movement. But I should advise . . .

Duke. Oh, give them three shillings, then.

Hastings. If I might suggest . . .

Duke. Hang it all ! We gave the Anti-Vegetarians
three shillings. It seems only fair.

Hastings. If I might suggest anything, I think
your Grace will be wise not to subscribe in this case.
The Anti-Vegetarians have already used their funds
to form gangs ostensibly to protect their own
meetings. And if the Vegetarians use theirs to
break up the meetings — ^well, it will look rather
funny that we have paid roughs on both sides. It


will be rather difficult to explain when it comeB before
the magistrate.

Duke. But I shall be the magistrate. [ConJtrEEB
stares at Mm again.] That's the system, my dear
Hastings, that's the advantage of the system. Not a
logical system — no Rousseau in it — but see how well
t works ! I shall be the very best magistrate that
could be on the Bench. The others would be biassed,
you know. Old Sir Lawrence is a Vegetarian him-
self ; and might be hard on the Anti- Vegetarian
roughs. Colonel Orashaw would be sure to be hard
on the Vegetarian roughs. But if I've paid both of
'em, of course I shan't be hard on either of 'em — and
there you have it. Just perfect impartiality.

Hastings. [Restrainedly.] Shall I take the pro-
grammes, your Grace ?

Duke. [Seartily.] No, no; I won't forget 'em.
[Mxit Hastings.] Well, Professor, what's the news in
the conjuring *orld?

Conjurer. I fear there is never any news in the
conjuring world.

Duke. Don't you have a newspaper or something ?

Everybody has a newspaper now, you know. The

er — Daily Sword-Swallower or that sort of thing ?

OoNJURER. No, I have been a journalist myself;
but I think journalism and conjuring will always be

Duke. Incompatible — Oh, but that's where I differ
— ^that's where I take larger views ! Larger laws as
old Buffle said. Nothing's incompatible, you know


except husband and wife and so on ; you must talk to
Morris about that. It's wonderful the way incom-
patibility has gone forward in the States.

OoNJUREB. I only mean that the two trades rest on
opposite principles. The whole point of being a conjurer
is that you won't explain a thing that has happened.

Duke. Well, and the journalist ?

Conjurer. Well, the whole point of being a
journalist is that you do explain a thing that hasn't

Duke. But you'll want somewhere to discuss the
new tricks.

Conjurer. There are no new tricks. And if there
were we shouldn't want 'em discussed.

Duke. I'm afraid you're not really advanced. Are
you interested in modern progress ?

Conjurer. Yes. We are interested in all tricks
done by illusion.

Duke. Well, well, I must go and see how Morris
is. Pleasure of seeing you later.

[Exit Duke, leaving the progranvmes.

Conjurer. Why are nice men such asses ? [Turns to
arrange the tahle.'\ That seems all right. The pack of
cards that is a pack of cards. And the pack of cards
that isn't a pack of cards. The hat that looks like a
gentleman's hat. But which, in reality, is no gentle-
man's hat. Only my hat ; and I am not a gentleman.
I am only a conjurer, and this is only a conjurer's
hat. I could not take off this hat to a lady. I can
take rabbits out of it, £;oldfish out of it, snakes out of


it. Only I muBtn't take my own head out of it. I
suppose I'm a lower animal than a rabbit or a snake.
Anyhow they can get out of the conjurer's hat ; and
I can't. I am a conjurer and nothing else but a
conjurer. Unless I could show I was something
else, and that would be worse.

[Se begins to dash the cards rather irregularly
about the table. Enter Patricia.

Patbicia. [Coldly."] I beg your pardon. I came to
get some programmes. My uncle wants them.

[She walks swiftly across and takes up the

CoNJUEBR. [SfiU dashing cards about the fahle.] Miss
Garleon, might I speak to you a moment? [He
puis his hands in his pockets, stares at the table; and
his face asswmes a sardomc expression.'] The question
is purely practical.

Patricia. [PoMsing at the door.] I can hardly
imagine what the question can be.

Conjurer. I am the question.

Patricia. And what have I to do with that ?

OoNJDREE. You have everything to do with it. I
am the question : you . . .

Patricia. [Angrily.] Well, what am I?

Conjurer. Tou are the answer.

Patricia. The answer to what ?

Conjurer. [Coming round to the front of the table
amd sitting against ii.] The answer to me. Tou think
I'm a liar because I walked about the fields with you
and said I could make stones disappear. Well, so I


can. I'm a conjurer. In mere point of fact, it wasn't
a lie. But if it had been a lie I should have told it just
the same. I would have told twenty such lies. You
may or may not know why.

Patricia. I know nothing about such lies.

[She puts her hand on the handle of the door,

but the Conjurer, who is sitting on the

table and staring at his boots, does not

notice the action, and goes on as in a sincere


Conjurer. I don't know whether you have any

notion of what it means to a man like me to talk to

a lady like you, even on false pretences. I am an

adventurer. I am a blackguard, if one can earn the

title by being in all the blackguard societies of the

world. I have thought everything out by myself,

when I was a guttersnipe in Fleet Street, or, lower

still, a journalist in Fleet Street. Before I met you

I never guessed that rich people ever thought at all.

Well, that is all I have to say. We had some good

conversations, didn't we ? I am a liar. But I told

you a great deal of the truth.

[He tv/ms and resumes the arrangement ofths
t'ATRiGiA. \Thinking.'\ Yes, you did tell me a great
deal of the truth. You told me hundreds and
thousands of truths. But you never told me the
truth that one wants to know.
CoKJUBEB. And what is that ?
Patbicia. ITwming back into the room.'] You never


told me the truth about yourself. You never told me
you were only the conjurer.

CoNJUEBE. I did not tell you that because I do not
even know it. I do not know whether I am only the
conjurer . . ,

Pateicia. "What do you mean ?

CoNJUEEB. Sometimes I am afraid I am something
worse than the conjurer.

Patricia. [Seriously.] I cannot think of anything
worse than a conjurer who does not call himself a

CoNJUEEB. {jSrloomiiy.] There is something worse.
[Railying himself.'] But that is not what I want to
say. Do you really find that very unpardonable ?
Come, let me put you a case. Never mind about
whether it is our case. A man spends his time
incessantly in going about in third-class carriages to
fifth-rate lodgings. He has to make up new tricks,
new patter, new nonsense, sometimes every night of
his life. Mostly he has to do it in the beastly black
cities of the Midlands and the North, where he can't
get out into the country. Now and again he does it
at some gentleman's country-house, where he can get
out into the country. Well, you know that actors
and orators and all sorts of people like to rehearse
their effects in the open air if they can. [Smilesi] You
know that story of the great statesman who was heard
by his own gardener saying, as he paced the garden,
" Had I, Mr. Speaker, received the smallest intima-
tion that I could be called upon to speak this


evening . . ." [Pateicia controls a smile, and he goes
on with overwhelming enthitsiasm.] "Well, conjurers
are just the same. It takes some time to prepare an
impromptu. A man like that walks about the woods
and fields doing all his tricks beforehand, and talking
all sorts of gibberish because he thinks he is alone.
One evening this man found he was not alone. He
found a very beautiful child was watching him.

Patricia. A child ?

Conjurer. Yes. That was his first impression.
He is an intimate friend of mine. I have known him
all my life. He tells me he has since discovered she
is not a child. She does not fulfil the definition.

Patricia. What is the definition of a child ?

Conjurer. Somebody you can play with.

Patricia. [Abruptly.] Why did you wear that
cloak with the hood up ?

CoNJUBEE. [Smiling.'] I think it escaped your notice
that it was raining.

Patricia. [Smiling faintly,] And what did this
friend of yours do ?

CoNJUBEE. You have already told me what he did.
He destroyed a fairy tale, for he created a fairy tale
that he was bound to destroy. [Stvinging round
suddenly on the iaSZe.J But do you blame a man
very much. Miss Carleon, if he enjoyed the only
fairy tale he had had in his life ? Suppose he said
the silly circles he was drawing for practice were
really magic circles ? Suppose he said the bosh he
was talking was the language of the elves ? Remem-


ber, he has read fairy tales as much as you have.
Fairy tales are the only democratic institutions. All
the classes have heard all the fairy tales. Do you
blame him very much if he, too, tried to have a
holiday in fairyland ?

Patricia. [Singly.] I blame him less than I did.
But I still say there can be nothing worse than falsf?
magic. And, after all, it was he who brought the
false magic.

Conjurer. [Rising from his seat.] Yes. It was
she who brought the real magic.

[Enter Morris, in evening-dress. He walks
straight up to the conjuring-tdble ; and
picks up one article after another, putting
each down with a comment.

MoBBis. I know that one. I know that. I know
that. Let's see, that's the false bottom, I think.
That works with a wire. I know that ; it goes up
the sleeve. That's the false bottom again. That's
the substituted pack of cards — that . . .

Patricia. Really, Morris, you mustn't talk as if
you knew everything.

OoNJURER. Oh, I don't mind anyone knowing
everything, Miss Oarleon. There is something that
is much more important than knowing how a thing is

Morris. And what's that ?

Conjurer. Knowing how to do it.

Morris. [Becoming nasal again in anger.] That's so.



eh ? Being the high-toned conjurer because you
can't any longer take all the sidewalk as a faity.

Patkicia. [Gro&ing the room and speaking seriously
to her hrother."] Really, Morris, you are very rude.
And it's quite ridiculous to be rude. This gentleman
was only practising some tricks by himself in the
garden. [JTiiA a certain digniff/.'] If there was any
mistake, it was mine. Gome, shake hands, or whatever
men do when they apologize. Don't be eUly. He
won't turn you into a bowl of goldfish.

Morris. [EeltKtantly.] "Well, I guess that's so.
[Offering his ha/nd.l Shake. [They shake hands."] And
you won't turn me into a bowl of goldfish anyhow.
Professor. I understand that when you do produce
a bowl of goldfish, they are generally slips of carrot.
That is so, Professor ?

Conjurer. [Sharply.] Yes. [Produces a bowl o_f
goldfish from his tail pockets and holds it under the
other's nose.] Judge for yourself.

Morris. [In monstrous excitement.] Very good !
Very good ! But I know how that's done — I know
how that's done. You have an india-rubber cap,
you know, or cover . . .

CoiTJUiiEK. Yes.

[Goes back gloomily to his table and sits on it,
picking up a pack of cards and hala/ndng
it in his hand.

Morris. Ah, most mysteries are tolerably plain if
you know the apparatus. [Enter Doctor amd Smith,
talking with grave faces, but growing silent as they


reach the group.] I guess I wish we had all the old
apparatus of all the old Friests and Prophets since
the beginning of the world. I guess most of the old
miracles and that were a matter of just panel and

CoNJUBEB. I don't quite understand you. What
old apparatus do you want so much ?

MoKBis. [Breaking out with aU the frenzy of the
young free-thinker.^ Well, sir, I just want that old
apparatus that turned rods into snakes. I want
those smart appliances, sir, that brought water out of
a rock when old man Moses chose to hit it. I guess
it's a pity we've lost the machinery. I would like to
have those old conjurers here that called themselves
Patriarchs and Prophets in your precious Bible . . .

Patricia. Morris, you mustn't talk like that.

Morris. Well, I don't believe in religion . . .

Doctor. \Agidei\ Hush, hush. Nobody but women
believe in religion.

Patricia. \Humorouslyi\ I think this is a fitting
opportunity to show you another ancient conjuring

Doctor. Which one is that ?

Patricia. The Vanishing Lady ! \Exit Patricia.

Smith. There is one part of their old apparatus I
regret especially being lost.

Morris. [Still excited.] Yes !

Smith. The apparatus for writing the Book of Job.

Morris. Well, well, they didn't know everything
in those old times,

ACT II M A Cr I C 41

Shith. Ko, and in those old times they knew they
didn't. [Dreamily.] Where shall wisdom be found,
and what is the place of understanding ?

CoNJUEBE. Somewhere in America, I believe.

Smith. [Still dreamily!] Man knoweth not the price
thereof ; neither is it found in the land of the living.
The deep sayeth it is not in me, the sea sayeth it is
not with me. Death and destruction say we have
heard tell of it. God understandeth the way thereof
and He knoweth the place thereof. For He looketh
to the ends of the earth and seeth under the whole
Heaven. But to man He hath said : Behold the fear
of the Lord that is wisdom, and to depart from evil
is understanding. [Tvms sitddenly to the Doctor.]
How's that for Agnosticism, Dr. Grimthorpe ? What
a pity that apparatus is lost.

MoEEis. Well, you may just smile how you choose,
I reckon. But I say the conjurer here could Jje the
biggest man in the big blessed centuries if he could
just show us how the Holy old tricks were done.
We must say this for old man Moses, that he was in
advance of his time. When he did the old tricks they
were new tricks. He got the pull on the public. He
could do his tricks before grown men, great bearded
fighting men who could win battles and sing Psalms.
But this modern conjuring is all behind the times.
That's why they only do it with schoolboys. There
isn't a trick on that table I don't know. The whole
trade's as dead as mutton ; and not half so satisfying.
Why he [pointing to the Conjueee] brought out a


bowl of goldfish just now — an old trick that anybody
could do.

Conjurer. Oh, I quite agree. The apparatus is
perfectly simple. By the way, let me have a look at
those goldfish of yours, will you ?

Morris. [Angrily.J I'm not a paid play-actor come
here to conjure. I'm not here to do stale tricks ; I'm
here to see through 'em. I say it's an old trick
and . . .

Conjurer. True. But as you said, we never show
it except to schoolboys.

Morris. And may I ask you, Professor Hocus
Pocus, or whatever your name is, whom you are
calling a schoolboy ?

Conjurer. I beg your pardon. Your sister will
tell you I am sometimes mistaken about children.

Morris. I forbid you to appeal to my sister.

Conjurer. That is exactly what a schoolboy would

Morris. [With abrupt and danger ov,s calm,'\ I am
not a schoolboy, Professor. I am a quiet business
man. But I tell you in the country I come from,
the hand of a quiet business man goes to his hip
pocket at an insult like that.

Conjurer. [Fiercely i\ Let it go to his pocket ! I
ihought the hand of a quiet business man more often
went to someone else's pocket.

Morris. You . . .

[Puts his hamd to his hip. TheTioasaR putt
his hamd on his shoulder.


DocTOB. Gentlemen, I think you are both for-
getting yourselveB.

CoNJnR:E!B. Perhaps. [His tone sinks suddenly to
weariness.'] I ask pardon for what I said. It was
certainly in excess of the young gentleman's deseHs.
[Sighs.] I sometimes rather wish I could forget

Morris. [Sidlenly, after apa/use.] Well, the enter-
tainment's coming on; and you English don't like
a scene. I reckon I'll have to bury the blamed old
hatchet too.

Doctor. [With a certain dignity, his social type
shining through his profession^ Mr. Carleon, you
will forgive an old man, who knew your father well»
if he doubts whether you are doing yourself justice
in treating yourself as an American Indian, merely
because you have lived in America. In my old
friend Huxley's time we of the middle classes dis-
believed in reason and all sorts of things. But we
did believe in good manners. It is a pity if the
aristocracy can't. I don't like to hear you say you
are a savage and have buried a tomahawk. I would
rather hear you say, as your Irish ancestors would
have said, that you have sheathed your sword with
the dignity proper to a gentleman.

Morris. Very well. I've sheathed my sword with
the dignity proper to a gentleman.

CoNJUEER. And I have sheathed my sword with the
dignity proper to a conjurer.

Morris. How ''/les the conjurer sheath a sword ?


CoNJURBK. Swallows it.

Doctor. Then we all agree there shall be no quarrel.

Smith. May I say a word ? I have a great dislike
of a quarrel, for a reason quite beyond my duty to
my cloth.

MoERis. And what is that ?

Smith. I object to a quarrel because it always
interrupts an argument. May I bring you back for
a moment to the argument ? You were saying that
these modern conjuring tricks are simply the old
miracles when they havo once been found out. But
surely another view is possible. When we speak of
things being sham, we generally mean that they are
imitations of things that are genuine. Take that
Reynolds over there of the Duke's great-grand-
father. [Points to a picture on the waU.'\ If I were to
say it was a copy . . .

Morris. Wal, the Duke's real amiable; but I
reckon you'd find what you call the interruption of an

SuiTH. Well, suppose I did say so, you wouldn't
take it as meaning that Sir Joshua Reynolds never
lived. Why should sham miracles prove to us that
real Saints and Prophets never lived. There may
be sham magic and real magic also.

[The CoHJUBER raises his head and listens vjith
a strange a/ir of intentness.

Smith. There may be turnip ghosts precisely
because there are real ghosts. There may be
theatrical fairies precisely because there are real


fairies. You do not abolish the Bank of England
by pointing to a forged bank-note.

MoKRis. I hope the Professor enjoys being called
a forged bank-note.

CoNJUKSR. Almost as much as being called the
Prospectus of some American Companies.

Doctor. Gentlemen ! Gentlemen !

OoNJUBKR. I am sorry.

Morris. Wal, let's have the argument first, then
I guess we can have the quarrel afterwards. I'll
clean this house of some encumbrances. See here,
Mr. Smith, I'm not putting an3rthing on your real
miracle notion. I say, and Science says, that there's
a cause for everything. Science will find out that
cause, and sooner or later your old miracle wiU look
mighty mean. Sooner or later Science will botanize
a bit on your turnip ghosts ; and make you look
turnips yourselves for having taken any, I say . . .

DocTOB. [In a low voice to Smith,] I don't like this
peaceful argument of yours. The boy is getting
much too ezcit«d.

Morris. Tou say old man Eeynolds lived; and
Science don't say no. [Sis turns eaodtedly to the pictut-e.']
But I guess he's dead now ; and you'll no more raise
your Saints and Prophets from the dead than you'll
raise the Duke's great-grandfather to dance on that

[The pictiire begins to sway slightly to and fro
on the wall.

Doctor. Why, the picture is moving!


Morris. \Turning furiously cm the Con juker.] You
were in the room before us. Do you reckon that
will take us in ? You can do all that with wires.

OoNJiTEEE. [Motionless and without looking up from
he table.] Yes, I could do all that with wires.

Morris. And you reckoned I shouldn't know,
[Laughs with a high eromng laugh.] That's how the
derned dirty Spiritualists do all their tricks. They
say they can make the furniture move of itself. If
it does move they move it ; and we mean to know
how. \A chair falls over with a slight crash.

\M.onnis almost staggers and momenta/rily fights
for breath and words.

Morris. You . . . why . . . that . . . everyone
knows that ... a sliding plank. It can be done with
a sliding plank.

CoNJURBR. [Without looking up.] Yes. It can be
done with a sliding plank.

[^The Doctor draws nearer to Morris, who
faces about, addressing him passionately.
Morris. You were right on the spot, Doc, when
you talked about that red lamp of yours. That red
lamp is the light of science that will put out all the
lanterns of your turnip ghosts. It's a consuming fire,
Doctor, but it is the red light of the morning. [Points
at it in excdted enthusiasm.] Your priests can no more
stop that light from shining or change its colour and
its radiance than Joshua could stop the sun and moon.
[Laughs savagely.] Why, a real fairy in an elfin cloak


strayed too near the lamp an hour or two ago ; and it
turned him into a common society clown with a white

\_The la/mp at the end of the garden turns blue.
They all look at it in sHenoe.

MoEEis. [Splitting the silence on a high unnatural
«ofe.] Wait a bit ! Wait a bit ! I've got you ! I'll
have you ! . . . [He strides wildiy up and down the room,
biting his finger.'] You put a wire . . . no, that can't
be it . . .

DocTOK. [Speaking to him soothingly.] Well, well,
just at this moment we need not inquire . . .

MoREis. [Turning on him furiously.] You call
yourself a man of science, and you dare to tell me not
to inquire I

Smith. We only mean that for the moment you
might let it alone.

MoREis. [Violently.] No, Priest, I will not let it
alone. [Pacing the room again.] Could it be done
with mirrors? [Se clasps his brow.] You have a
mirror . . . [Suddenly, wiih a shouti] I've got it!
I've got it! Mixture of lights! Why not? If
you throw a green light on a red light. . . .

[Svdd&n silence.

Smith. [Qvnetly to the Dootoe.] You don't get blue.

DocTOE. [Stepping across to the Conjueee.] If you
have done this trick, for God's sake undo it. '

[After a silence, the Ught turns red again.

MoBEis. [Dashing suddenly to the glass doors and

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Online LibraryG. K. (Gilbert Keith) ChestertonMagic : a fantastic comedy → online text (page 2 of 4)