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surgical pocket-book, however complicated it might be,
could not embarrass us. Lastly, I had a very sufficient
knowledge of mineralogy, precious stones, antiquities, and
curiosities ; but I had at my command every possible re-
source for acquiring these studies, as one of my dearest
and best friends, Aristide le Carpentier, a learned anti-
quary, and uncle of the talented composer of the same
name, had, and still has, a cabinet of antique curiosities,
which makes the keepers of the imperial museums fierce
with envy. My son and I spent many long days in learn-
ing here names and dates, of which we afterwards made a
learned display. Le Carpentier taught me many things,
and, among others, he described various signs by which
to recognise old coins when the die is worn off. Thus, a
Trajan, a Tiberius, or a Marcus Aurelius became as fami-
liar to me as a five-franc piece.

Owing to my old trade, I could open a watch with ease,
and do it with one hand, so as to be able to read the
maker's name without the public suspecting it: then I
shut up the watch again and the trick was ready ; my son
managed the rest of the business.

But that power of memory which my son possessed in
an eminent degree certainly did us the greatest service.
When we went to private houses, he needed only a very
rapid inspection, in order to know all the objects in a
room, as well as the various ornaments worn by the spec-
tators, such as ch&telaines, pins, eye-glasses, fans, brooches,
rings, bouquets, &c. He thus could describe these objects
with the greatest ease, when I pointed them out to him by
our secret communication. Here is an instance :



272 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT HOUDIN.

One evening, at a house in the Chausse'e d'Antin, and at
the end of a performance which had been as successful as
it was loudly applauded, I remembered that, while passing
through the next room to the one we were now in, I had
begged my son to cast a glance at a library and remember
the titles of some of the books, as well as the order they
were arranged in. No one had noticed this rapid exami-
nation.

"To end the second sight experiment, sir," I said to
the master of the house, " I will prove to you that my son
can read through a wall. Will you lend me a book ?"

I was naturally conducted to the library in question,
which I pretended now to see for the first time, and I laid
my finger on a book.

"Emile," I said to my son, " What is the name of this
work?"

"It is Buffon," he replied, quickly.

"And the one by its side?" an incredulous spectator
hastened to ask.

" On the right or left?" my son asked.

" On the right," the speaker said, having a good reason
for choosing this book, for the lettering was very small.

" The Travels of Anacharsis the Younger," the boy
replied. "But," he added, "had you asked the name of
the book on the left, sir, I should have said Lamartine's
Poetry. A little to the right of this row , I see Cre'bil-
lon's works; below, two volumes of Fleury's Memoirs;"
and my son thus named a dozen books before he stopped.

The spectators had not said a word during this descrip-
tion, as they felt so amazed ; but when the experiment
had ended, all complimented us by clapping their hands.



A THEATRICAL AGENT. 273



CHAPTER XV.

Seductions of a Theatrical Agent How to gain One Hundred Thou-
sand Francs I start for Brussels A lucky Two-Sou Piece Mise-
ries of professional Travelling The Park Theatre Tyranny of a
Porter Full House Small Receipts Deceptions Return to Paris.

HAD it not been for my constant toil and the inconveni-
ences attached to it, I should have been quite happy and
satisfied with the daily profit my performances brought me
in. But one fine day the demon of seduction presented
himself before me in the obsequious form of a theatrical
agent.

"Monsieur Robert-Houdin," he said, with a smile on
his lips, as if we were old friends, " I am commissioned by

M. X , manager of the royal theatres of Brussels, to

offer you an engagement for the summer season."

My first answer was a refusal, which I based on excel-
lent reasons. As I was very successful, it would not be
prudent to break the vein, while I saw no occasion to go a
long distance in search of advantages I could secure at
home. This reasoning would have settled any one but a
theatrical agent ; but nothing, it is well known, can shake
off the grip of these skillful crimps.

" Permit me, Monsieur Robert-Houdin, not to be quite
of your opinion. I allow, of course, that with your talents
you are always secure of good receipts, but you should
bear in mind that the dog-days are approaching, and your

S



274 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.

room is stifling in summer. This consideration might in-
duce the Parisian public to defer till autumn the pleasure
of witnessing your performances, while, by going to Brus-
sels, where the theatres are large and airy, you would
have no reason to fear such a result. Come," the pleni-
potentiary continued, in a most candid tone, " I must tell
you, without wishing to natter you the least in the world,
that everybody is talking about you in Belgium ; I may
add, even, that the manager has been urged to make you
offers by a great number of his subscribers."

This flattering insinuation began to shake my decision,
and I offered in my defence reasons whose weakness only
attested to my indecision. My clever touter noticed this,
and thinking the moment arrived to strike his great blow,
said:

" Do you know, sir, the probable proceeds of my offer ?"

"No, sir."

" Well, make an estimate."

" It is impossible."

"Then, approximate."

" I must decline ; for I understand nothing of such cal-
culations."

" Well, then, I understand them, and am rarely mista-
ken," said the agent, stroking his chin, " and I tell you it
is an affair to you" (here my seducer stopped, as if to
make a most accurate calculation) "an affair of one
hundred thousand france."

" One hundred thousand francs !" I exclaimed, dazzled
at such a prospect, "you cannot mean it."

" It is precisely because I mean it that I tell you, and
repeat it again : you will clear one hundred thousand
francs by your trip. Add to this, the advantage of having
seen a splendid country, and being received with all the



A SEDUCTIVE OFFER. 275

.attention due to an artist of your merit. You will then
return to your impatient spectators, whose curiosity,
heightened by their long privation, will produce you re-
ceipts far more brilliant than any you might have ex-
pected by remaining in Paris."

Being little conversant at that period with theatrical
matters, and having no reason to doubt the honesty of my
eloquent " humbugger," I easily believed his fine promises.
The chink of one hundred thousand francs still ringing in
my ears fascinated me ; and I gave way unconsciously to
the same mode of reasoning the inkstand inventor had em-
ployed.

"And, really," I said to myself, "supposing, for in-
stance, that " And, leaping from supposition to sup-
position, my calculations exceeded those of the agent.
But, in order to be reasonable, I concluded, like my friend
the inventor, in this way : " Well, to prevent any misun-
derstanding, suppose we say only fifty thousand francs
surely nobody can accuse me with exaggeration."

Though dazzled by this brilliant calculation, I strove to
conceal my desire of accepting the offer.

" It is all very well," I said, in my turn, after the style
of a perfect man of business, "but what are the con-
ditions?"

" Oh, most simple !" the crafty fellow said; "the same
as are made with all distinguished artists. Monsieur

X will pay all the expenses, but to cover those, he

will deduct three hundred francs from the gross receipts,
exclusive of the claim of the poor, and the rest will be
fairly divided between him and yourself."

" Still, I should like to know how much the sum to be
divided will amount to?"

"How is it possible to say ?" the agent exclaimed, with



276 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.

an aspect of the greatest sincerity. " With such success
as awaits you, it will be enormous."

In spite of my pressing, the agent always entrenched
himself in his exclamations, and the impossibility of mak-
ing such an estimate. Tired of the struggle, I at length
formed my decision.

" I will go to Brussels," I said, in a resolute tone.

The theatrical agent immediately drew from his pocket
a printed form, which he had brought in case of our com-
ing to terms, and we had only to add the stipulations to it.

"Tell me, sir," the manager's representative said, in a
conscientious tone, " will you have any objection to a for-
feit of six thousand francs ? As the engagement is recip-
rocal, you must find this but fair."

I only saw in the agent's request a very natural desire
to defend his employer's interests ; and I drew this con-
clusion from it : if the agreement was advantageous for
the manager, it must be equally so for me, as we were to
share the receipts. I consented to the clause, and affixed
my signature. The agent could not repress his satisfac-
tion, but he cleverly ascribed it to the interest he felt in me.

" I congratulate you sincerely on the engagement you
have just made," he said, as he offered me his hand;
" you will soon be able to tell me of the results you will
draw from it. By the way," he added, in a friendly tone,
after a pause, " will you now permit me to give you a
piece of advice?"

"Certainly, sir certainly.'

" I would recommend you, then, to take a collection of
showy bills and posters with you to Belgium. They do
not know how to get them up in Brussels, and they will
produce a prodigious effect. It would be also as well to
have a handsome lithograph, representing your stage ; it



THE AGENT TRIUMPHS. 277

can be put up in the various picture-shops, and you will
obtain increased publicity."

These counsels, and the familiar, almost protecting, tone
in which they were given, appeared to me strange ; and I
could not refrain from expressing my surprise to the man
of business.

" What need of all these precautions ? I fancied I un-
derstood you that "

" Good gracious me ! all professionals are alike," the
giver of advice interrupted me ; " absorbed in their art,
they understand nothing of business. But tell me, Mon-
sieur Robert-Houdin, would you feel annoyed at netting
one hundred and fifty thousand francs, instead of the one
hundred thousand I promised you?"

"On my word, no," I said, with a smile; "and I con-
fess that, far from feeling vexed, I should be very pleased
at it."

" Well, then, the more you make yourself known, the
more you will add to the amount I stated."

" But I thought that notoriety was generally the busi-
ness of managers."

" Certainly, ordinary publicity, but not extraordinary.
You must see that is unlikely, as it will be all for your
advantage."

Though little conversant with business, as the agent had
just remarked, I saw that his arguments were not always
in accordance with logic. However, I consented to the
posters and the lithograph, in consideration of the pro-
mised results.'

" That is right," the agent said, his familiarity sensibly
increasing since the signature of the contract that ia
right: that is what I call managing things properly."

And my man left me, after complimenting me once
more on the arrangement I had made.



278 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.

When left to myself, I indulged at my ease in day-
dreams about the magnificent result promised me, and this
anticipated joy was probably all I tasted from the moment
of signing this engagement to its termination. The first
unpleasantness it occasioned me was a slight discussion
with my cashier, that is to say, my wife, who, in consider-
ation of her employment, had a deliberative voice in all
theatrical matters. I could not certainly have found an
employee of greater probity, or a more devoted clerk, but
I am bound to say that this clerk, probably through her
intimate connexion with her employer, sometimes ventured
to contradict him. Thus I feared when I described to
that functionary the brilliant perspective of my agree-
ment.

Although I finished my statement with this harmonious
phrase, on every word of which I laid a heavy stress, in
order to give it more value, " and we shall return to France
with one hundred thousand francs clear profit," my
wife, or rather my cashier, coolly said to me :

" Well, in your place, I should not have made such a
bargain."

"But why not?" I said, piqued by this unexpected op-
position.

" Why ? because nothing guarantees you the promised
profits, while you are perfectly certain as to your ex-
penses."

Wishing to cut short a discussion from which I did not
see my way out with honor :

" Women are all alike," I said, employing the phrase of
the theatrical agent; "understanding nothing of business,
they oppose one out of obstinacy. But," I added, tossing
my head, " we shall soon see which of us is in the right."

I confess that in this instance I allowed myself too



;OUB DEPARTURE. 279

easily to be led astray by flattering illusions ; but I must
add, that it was for the last time ; for, thenceforth, I was
so skeptical as regarded calculations, that my modest ex-
pectations always remained below the reality.

The period for starting soon arrived, and we made our
preparations with incredible activity, for I desired to lose
as little time as possible between the closing of my per-
formances at Paris and their commencement in Brussels.

The Great Northern line not being open at that period,
I was obliged to content myself with a post-chaise. Con-
sequently, I hired from a builder of public conveyances,
for two hundred francs a month, a diligence which had
formerly been used in the environs of Paris ; it was com-
posed of a coupe* and a vast rotonde, over which was an
impe'riale for the luggage. On the 25th of May, the day
fixed for our departure, my carriage was loaded with an
immense number of chests, containing my apparatus, and
after we had taken our places, the postillion's whip cracked,
and we started.

We took with us on this trip, besides my two boys who
performed with me, a manager, a workman, also acting as
servant, and my wife's mother, who came partly for
pleasure, and partly to help her daughter in her theatrical
details. Galloping through Paris, we soon left the Fau-
bourg and the Barrire St. Denis behind us. The weather
was splendid a perfect spring evening; my wife and I,
with the children, were comfortably established in the
coupe*, and as it was Madame Robert-Houdin's first jour-
ney, she was so delighted with it, that I believe, if I had
then offered her the calculation of my presumed profits,
she would probably have herself augmented it. For my
own part, I was plunged in a delicious reverie. I recalled
my journey with Torrini, and while giving a thought of



280 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.

regret to that excellent friend, I compared his carriage with
my brilliant equipage, his modest claims on fortune with
the magnificent prospects promised me; and I could not
help yielding to a feeling of noble pride when I remem-
bered I owed this position solely to my labor and to my
energy. Then, finding myself freed from the annoyance
of any theatrical administration, and my inventive ideas
abandoned, I experienced an undefinable comfort, and
were it not for the fear of making a pun, I would add, at
this moment I was really transported.

What would I have given to see myself thus bowling
along in my own carriage ! I fancied that the very
passers-by regarded us with a certain degree of satisfac-
tion; and in this infantile illusion I smiled upon them
most benignantly.

At some distance from the barrier we stopped.

" Will you please to get out and have your carriage
weighed? Here is the office."

"Before proceeding to weigh," the receiver of the toll
said, approaching me, " I warn you that I shall summons
you for carrying a heavier weight than the law allows."

I could not appeal to my ignorance of this, for no one
ought to be ignorant of the law ; I therefore submitted
philosophically enough to the threatened summons, and we
soon recommenced our journey, laughing heartily at the
incident. The shades of night began to cover the country
when we reached the environs of Senlis. An old beggar,
seeing us approaching, held out his hat ; I understood this
expressive gesture, and had the satisfaction of doing a
clever trick and a good action at the same time ; for I
threw out a penny, which fell in his hat.

I had hardly executed this adroit manoeuvre, when cries
of " Stop ! stop !" reached my ear; and at the same time



A NARROW ESCAPE. 281

I saw the old man running panting after the carriage, and
shouting. The postillion at length stopped the horses, and
he was just in time a few paces further on, and our
heavy carriage would have been upset. The worthy beggar
had perceived that one of our wheels was on the point of
losing its tire, and as the old man in his haste had lost his
coin, and was beginning to look for it, I spared him this
trouble by giving him a five-franc piece.

How true it is that an act of kindness is never lost : to
a simple penny we owed our escape from an accident, the
consequences of which would have been incalculable. A
neighboring cartwright soon came up and told us it was
necessary to have the two wheels of the carriage repaired ;
and he gave us the following explanation of the accident
that had occurred :

The diligence had been standing for a long time in a
damp coach-house, and the felloes had swollen. The heat
produced by our rapid locomotion had dried them, and
they had caught fire under the tire. The operation lasted
four hours, and cost me forty francs ; this was, perhaps,
twenty more than it was worth, but what could I do but
pay, as I should have lost precious time by appealing to
the law ?

I was beginning to understand that travelling impres-
sions in a diligence are not at all of a nature to enrich a
traveller; but the reflection came too late, and I could
only continue my journey. I, therefore, did so, not very
gaily, perhaps, but at any rate with a degree of careless
resignation.

I will pass over the details of a thousand petty miseries
we had to undergo, like so many pin-pricks echeloned on
our passage to prepare us for more bitter deceptions. We
at length reached Quidvrain, the frontier town of Belgium,



282 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.

where we were to give up our horses and put our car-
riage on the railway running to Brussels; beforehand,
however, we had to endure the formalities of the custom-
house.

I hoped, as the theatrical agent had informed me, to
pass all my traps summarily, by declaring the nature of
my apparatus, and hence I went to the office and made
my declaration.

" There is only one way of passing your luggage, sir,"
a clerk said to me, very politely. (Belgian officials are
generally very gentle and civil at least, I always found
them so.)

"Then," I replied, in the same tone, "will you have
the kindness, sir, to tell me the way, that I may profit by
it as speedily as possible ?"

" You must unpack your instruments, put an ad valorem
duty on them, which the comptroller will verify, and pay
25 per cent, on the amount, after which you can start as
soon as you please."

" But, sir, that is not possible," I said, greatly annoyed
at this contretemps.

" And why not ?"

" Because my instruments are not merchandise."

I then explained to my clerk that I was going to Brus-
sels to give some performances, after which I intended to
return to France with the same luggage. According to
the information the official gave me, it seems I had neg-
lected to fulfil a simple formality, through the want of
which the office at Quie'vrain would not let me go on with-
out payment. To pass my instruments duty free, I ought
to have applied to the Belgian Minister, who would wil-
lingly have granted me the permission. I could certainly
do so still, but I could not receive an answer under a week,



THE DIRECTOR OF THE CUSTOMS. 283

and that was just three days after the period fixed for my
commencing at Brussels.

Hence I found myself between the horns of a dilemma.
I must either, after paying a heavy duty, lose precious
time in packing, valuing and unpacking my instruments,
or forfeit six thousand francs to my manager while await-
ing a ministerial reply. Although I made all sorts of sup-
plications to the different custom officials, I could only
obtain this answer, dictated bv their inflexible orders, " We
can do nothing."

I was in despair; in vain, conforming to the maxim,
" It is better to address the king than his officials," I
pursued the director himself with my entreaties ; he would
not hear a word. He was a stout, good-looking man, of some
fifty years of age, dressed in an enormous paletot, much
resembling in cut the one I have described as my jcostume
when learning my sleight-of-hand tricks at Tours.

We were both standing at the door of the custom-house,
near the high road, where my chests had been deposited.
Wearied with listening to my eternal remonstrances, the
director began talking to me about indifferent matters ;
but I always led the conversation back to the same
subject.

"You are a prestidigitator, then ?" my stout Belgian
said to me, laying a stress on this word, to prove to me
that he knew the pompous title by which the juggler is
distinguished.

" Yes, sir, that is my profession."

" Ah, ah ! very good ; I know several celebrities in that
art. I have even witnessed their performances with a
great deal of pleasure."

While my amateur was thus talking, an idea occurred
to me, which I immediately put in execution, for I trusted



284 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.

the result of it would powerfully aid in favoring my en-
treaties.

"What are your most striking tricks?" the stout man
added, in the tone of a perfect connoisseur.

" I really cannot describe them to you, it would be too
difficult. There is one which can only be appreciated
when seen; but I can easily give you a specimen."

"I should much like it, if you would," the official said,
not sorry thus to console himself for the trouble I had
caused him. My son, at this moment, was playing some
distance off on the high road, and kicking a pebble about.

"Emile!" I cried, hailing him, "can you tell us what
this gentleman has in his pocket?"

" Certainly !" the boy replied, without leaving off his
game; "he has a blue-striped handkerchief."

" Oh, oh !" the stout gentleman said, with an air of
astonishment. Then he recovered, and putting his hands
in both pockets to conceal their contents,

" That's all very good !" he added, with an air of doubt ;
" but chance may have aided that discovery."

After a slight pause, during which he seemed conside-
rably bothered, he continued !

" Can he tell me, though, what is under the handker-
chief?"

" The gentleman asks what is under the handkerchief ?"
I shouted to my son.

" There is, he replied, in the same loud voice, " a green
morocco spectacle case, without the spectacles."

"That's really curious very curious !" said the man
of the paletot. "But," he added, shrugging his shoul-
ders, " I should much like him to mention the article under
the spectacle case."

And my incredulous friend shoved his hands in his



A FRIEND IN NEED. 285

pockets. I drew a good omen from this last exclamation,
and so, desirous to ensure my success, I took my precau-
tions that my son should answer correctly, and I trans-
mitted him the question just asked me.

Emile, who had not left off his game for a moment,
exclaimed, as if anxious to get rid of us, " It is a piece
of sugar which the gentleman saved from his cup of
coffee."

" Ah ! that is too fine !" the director exclaimed, in a
tone of admiration; "the lad is a sorcerer."

My second-sight performance was at an end ; still I saw
with pleasure that it produced a lively impression on the
director of the customs, who, after some moments' reflec-
tion, himself returned to the subject we had left.

" Come, sir," he remarked, " I will infringe my regula-
tions for your sake. We will not open your chests ; I will
rely on your statement of their contents and value, and
you will pay the duty according to the tariff. When you
have reached Brussels, and have obtained the ministerial
authority to introduce your instruments duty free, I will
return you the money you have paid."

I thanked my new protector, and, a few hours later, per-
sonnel and luggage had reached the station at Brussels.

Before leaving Quie'vrain for ever, I will give my reader



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