This is not the name of a trick, but of one of the most useful pieces of apparatus which a conjuror can possess. I have purposely refrained from making any mention of it before, because I wanted to make the beginner an adept at vanishing and producing with his hands before I gave him an article that would save him the trouble at the loss of a large amount of effect. When a person is able to do considerable execution with his hands alone, there need be no anxiety about giving apparatus into them. It is only with the beginner that the danger lies, for he will say, "Oh! this box does all I want—at least, quite well enough for me—so why should I take the trouble to learn to do it without?" The expert is never too anxious to use apparatus, and invariably manages with as little of it as he can.
Now, the drawer-box is an article of such peculiar handiness on so many occasions, that the temptation held out to beginners to use it frequently is too great to be resisted. It will bear a cursory examination, and yet, although crammed with any kind of article to its fullest extent, it is made to appear quite empty, by merely being shut and re-opened, and this in the midst of the audience; or the operation may, with modifications, be reversed, and the box shown first empty, and then full.
Most of us must have seen the little cigar-case which is so handy to smokers who wish to keep a good brand of cigar to themselves. The drawer-box is made on exactly the same principle as this, only, of course, in an enlarged form, and in wood.
The appended sketches (Figs. 51 and 52) show the apparatus. I give a minute description of it here, as it is only in very large towns that the article is procurable, made in the manner it should be, so the conjuror can either get a cabinet maker to make him one, or, if he be anything of a carpenter, make one for himself.
A (Fig. 51) is a lightly-made drawer, without any back end, and fits somewhat easily into F (Fig. 52), which should be made of ⅜in. stuff, and strongly put together. B is another lightly-made drawer, smaller than A, into which it fits. A has a narrow combing all round the upper surface of the front end and sides. This serves to conceal the presence of B, which in reality looks like the inside of A. To perfect this deception, the open sides of A are, as depicted in sketch, made with mortises, and the end of B being allowed to extend a little each side, and also mortised, the two dovetail one into the other, and present a most innocent appearance. The knob D is not fixed, but has a slight perpendicular play. It is connected with a piece of flat metal, which extends from the knob to the upper portion of the wood, inside the combing, where it is furnished with a catch, which can be made by turning over the end of the metal and sharpening it a little. In B there is a slight incision made at C. When B is pushed home into A, and the knob D pressed downwards, the catch fixes itself into C, and thus keeps the two drawers firmly together. The action of shifting the knob up and down is very slight indeed, a ¼in., or, at the outside, ⅓in. play being ample. When the two drawers are thus fixed, they may be shown round, and no one not in the secret will suspect that there is more than one drawer. The more care and attention that is paid in fitting the drawers nicely together, the better.
At the lower part of the back end of B will be noticed a protruding piece of wood, E. This fits closely against A when the two are closed together, but it plays an important part in the working of the box. In the body, F (Fig. 52), is cut a square hole, immediately under the point where the thumb is seen to be pressing. G is a flat spring let into the bottom of F, and fixed at the end farthest removed from the square hole. A square piece of wood, the same thickness as the bottom of the body F, and slightly smaller than the hole, is glued firmly on the free end of the spring, so that it is always in the hole. The exterior of the box should be painted or French polished, and the bottom covered with baize or cloth. The material should be glued on, the space covering the spring, and half an inch all round it, being left free. The apparatus is then ready for use, and is thus "worked": We will suppose that it is required to cause several apples to disappear. The drawer A, with B inside it, and the knob pressed firmly down, is shown in one hand, and the body F in the other. The apples are then put into A (really into B), which is then pushed into F. After the performer has pretended to extract the apples by magical means, he takes up the box with both hands, one hand grasping one end, with the thumb on the spring G (Fig. 52), and the other hand seizing the knob D, which it presses upwards, thus removing the catch from the slit C. With the thumb pressing as hard as possible on the spring, the drawer A is pulled out. The square piece of wood on the end of the spring G, being pressed inside the box, causes an obstruction to the inner drawer B through the medium of the protrusion E, and B is consequently held back in F. The drawer A, which is, after all, merely an outer shell, is shown instead, and the audience, not knowing of the existence of a double drawer, imagine that the one shown them is the one which they saw filled with apples. When the box is opened, it should be held sideways, with the top turned towards the audience, and when it contains such articles as apples, which easily shift in a very audible manner, it should be placed in this position on the table, before the contents are made to disappear. It would be stupid to pull out an empty drawer and then cause a rumbling to be heard. The audience would at once divine that the articles were kept back in the body of the box by some means.
When the box is made so large that the hand cannot grasp it in the manner shown at Fig. 52, the closed end should be furnished with a knob matching that on the drawer A. This can then be held by the fingers, and so enable the thumb to find a purchase.
A very good box is one made without the spring acted upon by the thumb. In its place is a loose metal peg, which drops in and out of the hole in the double drawer by the mere tilting of the box. This style of box is best made with both ends of the cover open, an increased appearance of innocence being thereby secured.
With such a handy article at command as the drawer-box, which will vanish or produce anything at will, it will be easily understood that the beginner is extremely likely to be tempted into using it with too great a frequency. Let him beware of this, and, at the outside, use it not more than twice in the same evening, and then only under completely differing conditions, and after the lapse of a good interval of time. In a number of the foregoing tricks the drawer-box could be used with success, I grant, but not with any very great effect. In the trick with the large die and the handkerchief, it would be handy for causing the die to vanish. It could be used in The Sun and Moon, A Bottle of Ginger Beer, and in a dozen others, but the temptation to do so must be resisted.
Popular usage has assigned the drawer-box the position of a regular "property" in a very effective trick performed with a large solid block of wood, familiarly known as the Cone. It can be made of any size, but it is as well to have it as large as possible, that is, not less than 6in. in height. When large, it is just as easy to manipulate, and is much more effective. The only desideratum is that it should go comfortably into the drawer-box. It should be well tapered from the base to the summit, which may be simply flat or fancifully turned. Over this block fits a thin shell, the facsimile of it—the die and dummy repeated, only in a different shape. The dummy shell is usually turned out of a piece of wood similar to that of which the block is made, and both are polished to match. It is essential that they be very smooth. All else that is required is a very tall paper cone, which passes very loosely over the shell, and a couple of apples, oranges, lemons, or any similar articles, both being placed on the shelf. The drawers, fastened, should be taken out of the body and stood upon it at one end of the table, and the cone, with the shell on it, at the other end. The performer next takes the paper cone and exhibits it. He then says, standing behind the table, "This cover, which is, as you see, made simply of paper, is for the purpose of covering this solid block of wood." The paper cover is passed over the cone and shell, which are grasped firmly with one hand and slid off the table on to the other hand. The shell is then grasped a little higher up, through the paper, and the solid block jerked out of it on the floor. The paper containing the shell cone is then laid flat on the table, with the closed end towards the audience, and the solid cone picked up and placed in the drawer, which is first shown briefly round. The drawer-box is closed and placed on a side table to the left, and the performer, passing behind the table, takes up one of the two articles which are upon the shelf. This he produces in any way he pleases, taking it from the wand being the most effective method (see "Sleights for General Use"). He should then say that he requires an orange, &c., for the trick, which he will ask his wand to give him. The orange, or whatever it may be, is then placed upon the table, and covered with the paper cover, with the dummy cone inside it. The performer then explains that what he is going to do is to cause the solid cone to come out of the box and pass into the paper cover. Whilst saying this, he goes behind the table and secures the second of the two articles that were on the shelf, in the right hand. He then comes round, and proceeds: "To do this, it will be first necessary for me to remove the orange from the paper, and I accomplish the feat in this manner." (He runs the wand lightly up the side of the paper, and then produces the orange out of it, the action being somewhat similar to that used in the previous production.) "Now that the cover is empty, I can pass the block of wood into it. I take it out of the box, thus" (taps box with wand), "and, see, it is on my wand. I carry it carefully to the cover and pass it thus into it." The wand is carried very gingerly, in a horizontal position, as if the block of wood were really balanced upon it.
The paper is then taken by its very apex, and lifted carefully off the dummy shell, and the drawer-box opened, as previously explained for showing it empty. The performer, after a short pause, to allow of the free circulation of universal wonderment, says, "Ah! but perhaps I did it a little too quickly, and you did not notice how it was done. I will do it in a different way. Here we have the piece of wood, which I cover with the paper; my box, empty, I shut and place here, and the orange I take in my hand, thus" (trap it), "and rub it slowly away. I command the block of wood to pass back again into the box, and the orange to appear under the paper cover." Lift the paper and dummy together, pinching them at the base, and lay them down as before directed, and then tilt out the drawer, allowing the wood to fall upon the floor. If the cone be not very large, then the dummy may be allowed to slide out of the paper cover on to the shelf, and the paper shown empty.
There is an objection to having the dummy shell made of wood, which is that it is necessarily very light, and so easily overturned. An accidental stumble against the table will sometimes effect this untoward result. Zinc and tin are heavier, but there is an objection laid against them as well: they "talk"—that is, they make a scraping noise against the real block of wood when withdrawn from it. I leave the conjuror to decide which is the lesser of the two evils. Cones standing two or three inches in height can be successfully passed through hats, after the method employed in Houdin's die trick.
Further uses for the drawer-box will appear in the course of the description of other tricks.