A card is chosen and torn in halves. One half is given into the custody of the audience, and the other placed in a cleft stick or crayon-holder, and burnt over a candle. The ashes are put into a piece of paper, which is rolled up and made to vanish by sleight of hand, the method used being one which ought, by this time, to be familiar to the performer. A letter here arrives addressed to the performer, brought in by an attendant at the door by which the audience has entered. The performer asks one of the audience to open it for him, as he cannot stop in the middle of a trick. Inside the envelope, which is sealed, is found another, and, inside that, another; and so on until a fifth or sixth is reached. Inside the innermost of all that half of the card which was only an instant before burnt before the eyes of the audience is found, as is proved by fitting it to the portion in the custody of a spectator.
This trick is thus managed: The cleft stick, which is an ordinary piece of firewood rounded and smoothed a little, has a cleft at each end. A metal crayon-holder, with double ends, also serves the purpose admirably. In one end, the performer has fixed the half of a card, which must be one of the pack from which the card is to be chosen, doubled up tolerably small. This end he conceals in his hand, and then has the half of the card which is to burnt doubled up and placed in the cleft in the other, retaining the stick in his hand all the time. On turning round to his attendant (who must know his part, and have rehearsed it once or twice) for a candle, he reverses the ends of the stick, and, removing the piece of card just placed in it, gives it to his attendant whilst in the act of taking the candle. If the attendant is not very proficient, the performer may go to the side and stretch the hand containing the abstracted piece of card behind the screen or curtain, and so effect the transfer. The attendant should stand with one hand open and the candlestick in the other (of course, out of sight). The performer will call out for the candle, but, receiving no answer, will go quickly to the side, where he will obtain it. The stick, with fictitious card in it, he must have in the other hand, which must be outstretched all the time, and never for an instant removed from the view of the audience. If this is not done, no suspicion will be attached to the fact of his going to the side. The instant the attendant receives the piece of card, he must slip it inside the small envelope, which will be arranged, in order with the others, beforehand (the outside one being already addressed, as a matter of course), and either take it round to the front himself or deliver it to the servant who is to take it into the room. Too much rapidity cannot be exercised in executing this portion of the trick. When once the letter is delivered, the performer has nothing more to do in the way of exerting his skill, but has merely to do a little talking, and eventually have the letter opened. Indeed, in this trick there is but little sleight of hand to be exhibited; but a bungler would nevertheless make an egregious muddle of it. It requires great neatness of execution. For instance, in turning round for the purpose of reversing the position of the stick in the hands, great care must be taken that no movement of the elbows is visible. The movement made must be confined to the arm below the elbow, or even to the wrists only. This movement of the wrists must be practised, as it is a highly essential one and has to be brought into use frequently. If any of the audience see the arms moving, they know, or surmise, that something is going on, even though they cannot divine what it is.
Although not absolutely necessary, it is as well always to force a card for this trick. The card can then be doubled up with the pips outwards if the prepared end of the cleft stick contains a portion of a similar card. For frequent performances of this trick and The Missing Link, it will be advisable to have what I have previously described as (but condemned the open use of) "forcing packs," viz., packs the cards of which are all of one denomination and suite, as it will not do to tear up cards from ordinary packs. They are easily obtainable at conjuring repositories or card manufacturers.
This trick is also exceedingly effective when a borrowed letter or other document is used instead of a card. In large public audiences, a bank note or other paper of value may be borrowed. It is easy to have a piece of a note of the "Bank of Elegance" in the concealed cleft, in imitation of a bank note. On important occasions the performer should always have three or four sticks prepared with various coloured papers, so as to be ready for any emergency. The preparation is trifling, and the sticks not used will do for another time.
It is quite immaterial which way it is done, but sometimes I tell the person to whom I give the stick and candle not to burn the paper, but to "put it in the candle." When I notice that it is in a fair way to be burned I look in another direction, as if not noticing what is going on, and am horrified on turning round to find the paper destroyed. This answers best when the material burnt is a borrowed paper.
Most conjurors perform this trick with the aid of a square wooden ladle, which possesses a movable flap similar to that of the "card box," and worked by twisting the handle round. This flap releases a fictitious paper, whilst it covers up the borrowed one. The excuse given for using this ladle is that the performer does not want the audience to suppose, as they would do if he handled it, that he changes the paper. This excuse is poor and weak, as it puts the idea of fictitious substitutions (the heart and soul of stage conjuring) into the heads of people who would otherwise never have dreamed of such a thing.
The arrangement of the premises very often makes the employment of the envelopes one within the other impracticable. As a substitute method, I here give one of my own, which, whilst it is not as amusing as the first one, is far more wonderful and inexplicable to the company.
Subsequently to borrowing a piece of paper or bank note from one of the company, the performer shows round a piece of glass tube, say four inches in length, having both ends hermetically sealed by being melted up. This piece of tube is folded in a piece of paper, and given into the custody of one of the company. The trick is gone through, as above described, except that the burnt paper is found restored inside the tube, which, of course, has to be broken before the contents can be recovered by their owner. This, on the face of it, is, of course, an utter impossibility; but it is thus accomplished. Glass - blowers, and those who have studied practical chemistry, know that to construct such a glass receptacle as that above described, all that is necessary is a piece of tube and a spirit lamp. The tube is held in the flame by the hands, and, as the glass melts it is drawn asunder, the result being that the two new ends thus formed collapse, and, cooling, take the form of points. Behind the scenes the assistant is provided with a piece of tube, eight or ten inches in length, one end of which has already been melted up. So soon as he receives the piece of paper from the performer he folds it up small, and pushes it down the tube as far as it will go. Then he melts this tube some three inches up, which will be far enough removed from the paper to keep it from being burned, and by this means the paper has become hermetically sealed inside a glass receptacle. If the assistant has had the necessary practice, the operation should not take long. When it is concluded, the assistant brings the glass on, and, under pretence of fetching away the candle, which the performer has placed upon the table, leaves it upon the shelf. The empty tube is upon the table, and the performer, in fetching it, takes with him, secretly, the one with the paper inside. This is very easily concealed in the hand if one end be pressed against the root of the thumb, the other end being pressed by the middle finger. The empty tube is shown, as also a piece of paper, in which it is ostensibly wrapped, the one with the paper inside being substituted. This substitution is effected by having the one tube concealed in the left hand, the empty tube being apparently transferred to it, but really palmed, as above directed. The right hand at once seizes the paper, and covers the tube in the left hand with it, and the wrapping-up is immediately proceeded with, as no further exposure may be permitted. If the performer prefers it, the assistant may wrap the prepared tube in paper, similar to that used by the performer, who then conceals the parcel under his vest. In this case, the empty tube is wrapped up by one of the company, the performer giving the parcel the necessary resemblance to the other (each should have twisted ends), and the exchange may be made subsequently. After the parcel has been opened, for the purpose of showing the tube with the paper inside, the performer must not approach it until the owner of the paper has broken it open with a hammer (the use of the wand for this purpose has less appearance of premeditation about it), and identified his property. I do not recommend the use of a card for this trick, as therein the spectators might find some explanation of its wonderful character. By employing a piece of a letter belonging to one of them, complete mystification is secured.
The restored card may be reproduced from a candle, by way of variety. The performer has on his table two or more candles; on no account brought on purposely for the trick. It will not matter in the least how long they have been burning, so that a good portion of them be remaining. As though struck with a sudden inspiration, the performer suggests, in his happiest manner, that the destroyed article be found inside one of the candles. The company not objecting (spectators, anticipating amusement from them, never object to the conjuror's suggestions in these cases), the owner of the paper or chooser of the card is requested to say which candle shall be employed. One being pointed out, and extinguished, it is taken out of the candlestick and put upon the table, where the performer proceeds to cut it in two with a knife, affecting great pains in making the portions exactly equal. He now asks which half he shall take, and, when the person asked says, "the right" (or left) half, he must inquire, "Which right [or left]; mine or yours?" The chosen half is again cut in two, and one of the portions chosen, that portion being again divided. The pieces remaining will be an inch or so long, and one is selected of these. This the performer gives to the person most interested amongst the spectators, on a plate, along with a knife, and, when it is cut open, the paper or card is found inside.
The way this is done is simplicity itself. The candles are all ordinary ones, so it really does not matter to the performer which is chosen, although he will do well to exhibit anxiety on the point, by way of effect. Neither does it matter to him which portion of the cut-up candle is eventually chosen, he having previously given off the piece of paper or card to the assistant, who has placed it in a small piece of candle, which the performer has safely secured under his vest whilst he is cutting up the chosen candle. When the last stage of the cutting is finished, the prepared piece is got down and exchanged in the usual manner for the innocent piece. It is then brought forward on the plate, and the remainder follows, as a matter of course.