On the stage stands a chair with a cane back. This back is lined with a piece of stuff of the same material and color as that of the curtain or screen at the back of the stage.
Hanging on the back of the chair is a bag the mouth of which is held open by a ring of tempered wire that does not bend readily, and lying over the back of the chair is an open newspaper. From the "flies," or the ceiling, hangs a nest of four boxes, the outer one being about 12 × 14 × 20 inches. In the smallest or innermost box is a small, white rabbit. Around its neck is tied one end of a ribbon, six or seven inches long, and on the other end is a snap-hook, such as is used on the end of a watch-chain. In closing the boxes, care is taken always to keep this ribbon hanging outside, so that when the largest box is reached at least two inches of ribbon will remain outside. Fastened to the front side of the box, over which the ribbon hangs, is a small hook. This side is kept away from the audience. Finally, the boxes have small holes bored in many places, so as to give the rabbit air. These preliminaries are, of course, arranged before the curtain goes up, and the audience knows nothing of them.
When the performer comes on the stage, he begins by asking for a watch, and as he steps down among his audience to borrow one, he stops before some gentleman and, excusing himself, takes from under the man's coat a rabbit, exactly like, in size and color, the one in the box. This rabbit the performer has concealed under the front of his waistcoat. As he steps up to the man from whom he is to take it, he seizes the lapel of the man's coat with his left hand and, stooping slightly, takes the hidden rabbit with his right hand, thrusts it under the man's coat for an instant and withdraws it almost immediately, holding the rabbit high in the air. Then he borrows the watch, and returns to the stage. When the stage is reached, the rabbit is placed on the seat of the chair. Turning toward the audience, the performer comments on the watch:
"I see our watch is a second-hand affair. Most watches to-day are made that way." Here he looks at the watch. "I've seen better—now don't misunderstand me—I've seen better tricks done with watches than with any other small article. Now watch this." He throws the watch in the air once or twice, and finally makes a motion of throwing, but retains it in his hand, holding it there by clasping the ring between the thumb and fore-finger, and as he stands with his right side to the audience, and only the back of the hand is seen, they imagine it has disappeared. Afterward he slips the watch into his vest pocket.
"Now for the rabbit," he says. Picking it up by its ears, he remarks: "Plucky little creature! It never complains, no matter how much you hurt its feelings. An American, I should say from its pluck. No Welsh rabbit about that." Standing at one side of the chair, the rabbit in his left hand, he opens the newspaper over the back of the chair, and laying the rabbit on it draws the front of the paper toward the left hand so as to cover the rabbit, and as he reaches down as if to take up the overhanging part of the sheet at the back of the chair, the rabbit is dropped into the bag. See Fig. 164. The paper is gathered up in the shape of a bundle, so as to appear as if it held the rabbit, the ends are twisted, and the parcel laid carefully on the seat of the chair. "Now for the crucial moment," exclaims the magician. Picking up the bundle he moves it three times toward the box, and then suddenly smashing the ends together throws it on the floor. The box is lowered, and, while the eyes of the audience are fixed on it, the performer takes the watch from his pocket, and as the box nears the table he reaches out, as if to steady it, and hangs the watch on the hook that is on the front side of the box, which is turned toward the back of the stage. The boxes are opened and piled one on top of the other, and when the last one is reached the watch is taken from where it hangs and hung on the end of the dangling ribbon. See Fig. 165. The last box is opened, and as the rabbit is taken out the ribbon is twisted once or twice around its neck. The squirming creature is then carried down to the owner of the borrowed watch, who identifies his property.
When this trick is exhibited on the stage the performer generally ends it in a very striking way. When he returns to the stage he places the rabbit on a large table at the back of which is an open bag or box. Picking up a pistol, he stands behind the table, his right side turned in the direction of the audience. Catching hold of the rabbit, he tosses it twice in the air, and the third time makes a motion as if to throw it, and at the same moment discharges the pistol. The audience are startled by the report, and before they recover from the shock the rabbit has been thrown into the bag at the back of the table. The rabbit has, apparently, disappeared in midair, and the performer walks toward the footlights bowing his acknowledgments of the applause he is sure to receive. The trick is not yet quite done. Suddenly stopping, the performer smiles and points at a man in the audience, some one seated near the stage. "Ah! sir," he says, "you are trying to play a trick on me, I see. You have something hidden under your coat." Hurrying toward the man on whom all eyes are now turned, the performer pulls open the innocent man's coat as if searching for something. Abandoning the breast, however, after a moment, the performer runs his right arm down the neck of the coat. This gives him the opportunity to get close to the man, and as his (the performer's) body is thus concealed he takes with his left hand a rabbit from a large pocket in the tail of his coat, and thrusts it up the back of the man's coat as far as possible. "Will you help me, sir?" the performer asks some one seated near; and as the audience look at the new assistant, the performer reaches down the back of the first man's coat and pulls out the rabbit. It is not very polite to the rabbit, but as for the performer—well, the audience applaud and shout with laughter. Of course, the performer apologizes to the man who has been somewhat roughly handled.
There is another popular form of the Nest of Boxes, which to an audience seems almost identical with the one just described, but is entirely different in its manipulation.
A large box hangs from a support of some kind from the moment the curtain goes up. When the performer reaches the trick in his program, he goes down among the audience holding in his right hand, by one end, a little stick, the wand of the conjurer, and asks for the loan of four or five finger-rings from some ladies. As they are offered he extends the wand with the request that the rings be slipped on it, "so that I do not handle them." When he has borrowed the required number he returns to the stage, and on his way, grasping the other end of the wand with his left hand, he tilts the borrowed rings into it and allows a number of brass rings, which have been concealed in his right hand, to take their place on the stick. These rings he drops on a plate from the stick. The plate lies on the stage near the footlights, and directly under it is a hole. See Fig. 166. The performer immediately picks up the plate with his left hand, and as he stoops to do this he drops the borrowed rings into the hole in the stage, where they are received by one of his assistants, who hurries off to place them in the little box in which they are finally found
Picking up an old-fashioned horse-pistol,—which he informs the audience was originally a Colt's,—the performer drops one of the rings into the barrel and rams it down. He pretends to find the next ring too large and batters it with a hammer, to the delight of every one in the audience except the owners of the rings. "There, that will go in now," he says, and rams it down. So he continues, until all the rings are in the pistol. Pointing at the box that is hanging in full sight, he remarks, "This is one of my aims in life. Let us hope it will succeed," and bang! goes the pistol. As the barrel of this particular pistol is disconnected from the hammer and the trigger, merely a cap explodes, but that answers every purpose.
While the attention of the audience was directed to the performer during the loading of the rings into the pistol, a small table was run on the stage from the wings. In the top of this table is an opening of a size to admit a small box, which rests on a shelf under the table top. When in position, the top of this box comes flush with the top of the table. When the performer takes down the box at which he fired the pistol, he places it on this table, unlocks it, for effect, and takes from it a second box. So he goes on, taking one box from another until he has three or four stacked up. Finally he reaches a box that is bottomless. This he places over the opening in the table top, unlocks the box, and reaching down takes up the box that is in the opening and walks toward the footlights, box in hand. He unlocks this and finds still another box which, when opened, reveals the borrowed rings, each attached to a small nosegay. He carries these to the owners, who identify their property.
Returning to his stage, the performer picks up a champagne-bottle, with the remark: "As some slight return for your kindness in lending me your rings, I am going to ask you to have a glass of wine with me. What shall it be? Anything you please. My bottle here will supply all kinds." Just then he pretends to hear a call from the audience. "What is that? One of the rings has not been returned? Too bad, too bad! But I'll see about it after I have satisfied the thirst of our friends here. Now then, what shall it be? Wine, brandy, whisky, Old Crow, forty-rod, Jersey lightning, instant death? What you like." Holding a tiny wine-glass, filled with water, in one hand and the bottle in the other, he asks the first person he comes to what he will have. Pretending to hear a call for water, he says, "Water? Certainly, sir; pure Adam's ale," as he goes through the motions of filling the glass, but covering the mouth of the bottle with his fingers so that nothing comes out. "The real article, is it not?" and he throws what is left on the floor. He passes rapidly from one to another and gives each one, serving, perhaps, half a dozen, some sweetened whisky—the same to all, no matter what is asked for, but calling out the name of a different liquor each time. He serves only a sip at a time, for it is only the neck of the bottle, which is plugged at the bottom, that contains the liquor. When through with this farce, the performer returns to the stage and, calling for a hammer and a tray, breaks the bottle, and behold! inside is a wriggling little guinea-pig with a ribbon round its neck, to which is attached the missing ring and a tiny bouquet.
For a simple trick nothing is more effective than this one. To prepare the bottle, the bottom is first removed. This may be done by tapping it gently with a hammer or it may be cut off by a glass-worker. In the first case, which is the better, a false bottom of wood or tin is used; in the second, the bottle is cemented together with a little shellac varnish, colored with lampblack. Here and there a hole is drilled in the sides of the bottle to give air to the pig. While the bottom is off, a plug is fitted tightly inside the bottle near the neck, and melted paraffin is poured over it to prevent any leak. It is in the space between this plug and the mouth of the bottle that the liquor is held. In the lower part of the bottle the guinea-pig, with the ring attached to it, is placed by the performer's assistant, who closes the bottle and hands it to the performer.
In a later method of preparing the bottle much time, trouble and expense are saved. The upper part of the bottle, including the neck and about a quarter of the body, is of copper. Inside, a little below the neck, is a solid bottom, and to this is soldered the metal cover of a fruit-preserving glass jar (the kind known as a "Mason Jar"). Through this cover, leading to the outside of the metal bottle, where it ends in a hole, is a metal tube, to afford air to the guinea-pig. Into this cover, the jar itself, which is painted black inside, is screwed. It fits well up into the metal body and completes its form. With a wine label on the outside, its appearance is most deceptive. The pig is put into the jar before it is screwed in place. In exhibiting the trick the jar is broken with a hammer. To replace it is less than half the cost of a champagne bottle, and is no trouble.