I call this trick by a simple name, because extreme simplicity is its prevailing feature from beginning to end. The last few tricks described have all had apparatus, to some extent, as a component part; this one is all sleight of hand. In "Drawing-room Magic" (p. 65), I gave directions for untying a knot by word of command, and noted at the time that an enlargement of the trick would be given in "Grand Magic." We have now arrived at the enlargement. In the minor trick, the knot is tied in a peculiar fashion by the performer himself; now the knots are to be tied by various members of the audience, and it is this which gives the trick such a marvellous appearance.
The performer advances, and begs the loan of several handkerchiefs. He takes two of those proffered, and, advancing towards one of the audience, presents just four inches (on no account more) of one end of each handkerchief, one being crossed over the other, with the request to have them tied together in a knot. The reason for crossing one end over is to induce the tyer to make either a "granny" or a reef knot, which are the knots easiest to undo—that is, after the conjuror's method. Fig. 42 shows a "granny" knot. The general appearance of a reef knot is somewhat the same, so it does not require a separate sketch, and the mode of proceeding will be in both cases similar. For convenience of description, I have depicted a dark-coloured and a white handkerchief, and the performer will do well to take this hint, and always, where possible, borrow handkerchiefs varying in colour or texture, in order that the sinuosities in the knots may be easily followed by the eye. As the performer wants a knot that is tied neither too loosely nor too tightly, he must keep his eye upon it whilst it is being tied. If it is loosely done, he must say, "Don't be afraid of tying it up tight, sir [or madam]; pull as hard as you like." In the event of a too literal acceptance of his words, he should take the handkerchiefs at once. Even when the knot is tied as hard as a stone, the performer takes it in the hands, and, with the remark, "Oh! this is not half tight enough yet," pretends to pull it up with all his force. What he really does is to take the small end of one handkerchief in one hand, and the body of the same hankerchief on the other side of the knot in the other. By pulling at these hard, and, where they do not give easily by wriggling them as well, the end of the handkerchief will be pulled out quite straight, as in Fig. 43. It will there be seen that the white handkerchief has been manipulated upon, and that the dark handkerchief is now really only tied round it. In some cases, the greatest difficulty arises through some malicious person tying an extremely hard knot. If the performer pulls too hard, he will, in all probability, rend the handkerchief without making things much better. In this case, he must endeavour, whilst borrowing another handkerchief, for the continuation of the trick, and under concealment of the same, to loosen the knot a little in the ordinary way, and then he can straighten the end openly later on, as though trying if all the knots were secure. It is not often that the amateur will, at the outset of his career, find much difficulty of this kind, for his audiences will not be of the antagonistic class. Suppose everything has gone favourably, the performer then takes another handkerchief, and has that tied on also, of course to a disengaged corner, and so goes on with four, five, or six, each knot being operated upon as soon as it is tied. If he notices that anyone is tying a reef knot, he should at once audibly remark upon it, as the public has a great idea that a reef knot is the most difficult to untie, whereas it is really the easiest of all. When anyone goes in for a multiplicity of twists, one end being wound round the other several times, let the performer rest easily in his shoes, for he has only to pull that end round which the other one is coiled, and five or six coils will make no difference; at the same time, he must appeal to the audience whether it is fair, &c., for effect. When the required number of handkerchiefs have been tied together, and all the knots have been operated upon secundum artem, the performer retires to the stage, and, taking a chair or low table (the chair for preference), proceeds to place the handkerchiefs in a pile upon it after the following manner: Knot No. 1 is held between the tips of the finger and thumb in such a manner that the main body of the straight end lies along the palm of the hand. The loose portion of the handkerchief is then opened out by the left hand and covered over the knot, which is placed, at the same time, upon the chair; whilst, under cover of the handkerchief, the little finger of the right hand is drawn up by a contraction of the hand as closely to the knot as possible, and there grasps firmly the main body of the straight end. By straightening out the hand again, the end will be pulled right out, and the handkerchiefs parted. All this must be done quickly. If the end, as it often will, requires two pulls to draw it clear, it is best to lift up the handkerchief, and exhibit the knot again, to show there is "no deception," or on any other plea, before giving the second pull. Proceed after the same manner with all the knots, each one being covered with a separate handkerchief, taking great care that none of them slip off the chair during the operation, or it will be shown that the knots are already undone. The handkerchiefs should either be trailed on the floor or hung over the back of the chair, where they will not become confused or get under the performer's feet, and so receive an undesired tug. For the purpose of diverting the attention of the audience during this operation, the performer should make some jocular remark concerning each knot. He should say something about having at length come to the "knotty point," and then describe each knot, whether correctly or incorrectly will not much matter. One, he must say, is the reef knot, another the Gordian knot, and another a weaver's knot. The last made will generally be a true lover's knot, about which the performer may remark, before small audiences, that it was a knotty (naughty) person who tied it. The performer has only to wave his wand over the heap, or to blow upon it, and then lift off the handkerchiefs one by one. The beginner will do well to try only three knots as a commencement, and to have them tied by ladies, who, as before explained, are always the best to fly to in risky cases. Whilst the knots are being tied, hang the handkerchiefs already joined over one arm, where they will be out of the way of danger, and in the way of assisting the performer by concealing any covert proceedings on his part in untying obstinate knots. The knot depicted at Fig. 44 I have christened the bête noire knot, and such the performer will find it whenever it is tied for him. If he does not put the ends of the handkerchiefs crossed into the hands of the person whom he requests to tie a knot, he will find the bête noire appear with marvellous rapidity. When it or any other difficult knot appears, the only thing to be done is to untie it covertly, and do it up again after the matter described in "Drawing-room Magic." This may seem a very cool direction to give, but is the only one appropriate to the occasion, and the performer must make the best of a bad job. I have often untied a knot whilst mounting the steps of the stage, and had everything done up again by the time I reached the chair. The performer must practise by tying for himself the most intricate knots imaginable; or, if he learns with a companion, let the two tie knots for each other. Silk handkerchiefs are, as a rule, the best; they slip easily and do not tear readily, which latter quality is not the lesser advantage: it makes one very uncomfortable to have to return a handkerchief with one end hanging by a thread. This trick is one of the few which it is impossible to purchase. Let every conjuror be careful in his performance of it, and only give it "by request," or on special occasions, for it is worth half a dozen apparatus tricks put together.
Although very good indeed, the following method, in which one handkerchief only is used, is not so effective as when several are employed. The performer takes a large handkerchief, and ties a single knot in it, near the centre. He does not pull this knot tight, but leaves a loop large enough to receive his hand, or, at least, several fingers. Holding this loop in one hand, and presenting the two ends, side by side, with the other, he has another knot tied upon the first one. Whilst passing to another person, one end is pulled out straight, of course whilst ostensibly tightening the knot, and another knot is then tied; the end before straightened is again pulled at, and another knot tied, and so on until the handkerchief is all knots. The performer takes a pull at the straight end to ensure its running easily, and also pulls it through as far as it will come without actually untying. He then covers the bunch of knots with the loose centre of the handkerchief, and gives the whole to be held in the hands of a spectator. As the trying of many knots will have caused the centre of the handkerchief to become tightened up, it will be necessary for the left hand to take some time in opening it nicely. The time thus gained is just sufficient to enable the right hand to work out the straight end through the many folds, the movement being naturally screened by the open portion of the handkerchief in the left hand. Ask the person to whom the bundle is given to hold, to feel that the knots are still there. He will feel the hardened folds, and will mistake them for the knots. Always borrow a handkerchief for this trick, or the audience will infallibly think that the knotted handkerchief is rapidly exchanged for another. If anyone starts tying a bête noire, you can stop him at once by saying that there will be no room for anyone else to tie a knot. This method is much easier than its forerunner, but, as before stated, it is not half so effective.