Magic Trick: Cotton

Take a piece of any colour, 12in. to 15in. long, and see that one of the audience is provided with a very sharp penknife. Double the cotton once, and have the bend cut quite through. Double again and have it cut, and repeat the operation until it is nothing but pieces, each barely a third of an inch long. Rub the pieces together in the fingers, and, after a short time, quietly draw out the cotton again as it was in the first instance. That is what you must ostensibly do: now for how to do it. First of all, have concealed between your finger and thumb a piece of cotton about the length above mentioned. This you must roll up small, and deliberately hold between your finger and thumb, or, better still, if the fingers be sufficiently large, between the tips of any two fingers, as they are more naturally kept together. Nobody will notice it if the hand is engaged in negligently holding the lappel of your coat, the wand, &c. I need hardly mention that the concealed piece must be of the same colour as that operated upon, as the production of a white in place of a black piece would scarcely be satisfactory. To ensure the success of this preliminary, some considerable manœuvring has often to be gone through, and no small amount of tact exhibited. Where you are showing the trick for the first time, you can of course ask for any coloured cotton you please (always choose black when you have a choice), but it is such a fascinating trick that you will be called upon to perform it over and over again in the same house, or before the same people—which is quite as bad—and you will find that all kinds of ingenious devices will be brought to bear upon you. As a commencement, always carry in the corners of your waistcoat pockets two black and two white pieces, ready for emergencies. Each pocket will contain two pieces of the same colour, but differing in thickness, one in each corner. It is useless to carry other colours on the mere chance, as you are sure to be unprovided with the exact one required at the moment. When coloured cotton is produced, you must, by some means or other, get at the reel from which the cotton is taken. If driven right into a corner, you must go so far as to ask someone (always let it be the master or mistress of the house) to secretly obtain a piece for you; but this you will have to resort to on rare occasions only. Make all sorts of excuses so as to cause a delay, even going so far as to postpone the performance of the trick, but not before you have seen what colour you are likely to be favoured with. Your wits must do the rest. The reader must remember that I have taken extreme cases, and such as but rarely occur; but still they do occur, and if I did not warn the beginner of pitfalls ahead, he would not think much of my teaching. In the ordinary way, he will be able to ask for any colour he pleases, which will of course be similar to that with which he is provided. We will suppose that everything has progressed favourably. Take the cotton to be cut between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, by the extreme ends, and, doubling it, let one hand hold the loop to be cut, the fingers of the other hand holding the ends. As soon as the knife has passed through the cotton, give it a "twitch," and bring the ends, of which there will now be four, quickly together, as if you had performed some very intricate manœuvre. Of course, you have really done nothing at all, the movement being only a deceptive one to lead the spectators to believe that the secret of the trick consists in the way in which you twist or double the cotton. Have this in mind all through the trick, and keep up the deception. Continue to double the cotton, taking the greatest care that the ends all come neatly together, and that all the loops are cut through. Do everything with the greatest deliberation (except the delusive "twitch"), for there is no occasion for any hurry. When the cotton is cut so small that it will not double any more, commence to knead in the fingers, and gradually work the fragments behind the concealed piece, which must be brought to the front. This you will do without once removing the hands from the full view of the audience—in fact, under their very eyes. When you feel quite sure that everything is snug and secure, commence to unravel the whole piece, which will pass for the resuscitated original.

People who have seen the trick performed before will sometimes suggest that the piece of cotton should be measured before being cut up. Allow this to be done with all the grace in the world (when you find that you cannot do otherwise), but, before operating upon it, roll it up in the fingers, either absently, whilst engaging the audience in conversation, or for the purpose of seeing if it is of the proper dimensions, and exchange it, unperceived, for the concealed piece, which will be cut up instead. Although it is not advisable to have the cotton measured first, yet, when it is done, it invariably adds lustre to the feat. The pieces must never be carelessly thrown away, but secreted in a pocket on the first opportunity that presents itself, and afterwards burnt.

Rings can be made use of in many tricks, both in the drawing-room and on the stage. The following will be found very neat and effective: Procure a metal imitation of a wedding-ring, and have it cut neatly through. Pass this ring under a single thread of your handkerchief near one of the corners. Borrow a lady's ring, which palm, under pretence of putting it in the handkerchief. (The best method for palming a ring is to hold it between two fingers at the roots.) This you will appear to have done if you give the false ring (under cover of the handkerchief) to be held by someone who is not the owner of the borrowed article. It is immaterial whether the genuine ring has a fancy head or not, as the back of it will usually be about the width of a wedding-ring. Take the wand in the hand, and, unperceived, slip the ring in your palm over it until it reaches the middle, still covered by the hand. Now ask two persons to hold the wand, one at either end, and lay the handkerchief containing the false ring (still held from the outside by the original holder) over it. If you now remove your hand, you will leave the ring on the wand still concealed by the handkerchief (Fig. 22). Take hold of the end of th handkerchief which hangs down below the wand, and instruct the person holding the false ring to leave go when you count "three." As soon as you are obeyed, draw the handkerchief smartly across the wand. This will cause the ring to spin round, and assist materially in inducing the audience to believe that it was actually conjured from the handkerchief on to the wand whilst the latter article was being held at either end by two people. A slight jerk will detach the false ring from the handkerchief, which you can send round to be examined. A hint I can give the learner is, never to ask a lady to lend you her wedding-ring or keeper. Many ladies are exceedingly superstitious, and feel embarrassed when asked, from not liking to refuse, and yet being unwilling to take their rings from their fingers. Always borrow a ring the back of which nearly, if not quite, matches your false article in substance.

Fig. 22.

Procure a metal ring, similar to the one used in the last trick, of very soft brass, and, when you have cut it through, sharpen up the two ends to points with a file, or any other way you please. Borrow a lady's ring, and exchange it, as in last trick, putting the false one in a handkerchief, which have tied with tape or string in such a manner that the ring is contained in a bag. If the borrowed ring is narrow all round, you may make use of your nest of boxes, if it has not been previously utilised in some other trick; it being a golden rule among conjurors never to use the same apparatus twice during the same evening. An apple (a potato, small loaf, &c., will do as well) can be used instead with effect, if a goodly slit be made in it, and the ring pushed in while you are taking it from your bag or from behind the screen. Show the apple round, boldly saying that everyone can see that there is no preparation about it, at the same time taking care that no one has time to decide either one way or the other from the rapidity with which you pass it about. Place it in a prominent position, and then take the handkerchief containing the false ring by the bag, allowing the ends to fall over and conceal your hands. Quickly unbend the ring, and, working one of the pointed ends through the handkerchief, draw it out, and rub the place of exit between your fingers, so as to obliterate all traces of it. All this you must do very quickly, and, dropping the handkerchief on the floor, say, "Without untying the string, I have abstracted the ring, which I now pass into that apple." Here make a pass. Take a knife in the hand holding the false ring (unless you have been clever enough to get rid of that article), and, showing the audience that the other hand is quite empty, proceed to cut open the apple slowly. When the knife touches the ring, allow it to "clink" upon it as much as possible, and call attention to the fact, as it is a great feature in the trick. Do not cut the apple completely through, but, taking it forward (on a plate is the best way), allow the owner of the ring to take it out with her own hand. Of course, the audience must not be allowed to handle the apple, and so discover the old slit. This trick should not be performed with the preceding one, but on another evening. The principal effect of the trick is the apparent abstraction of the borrowed ring from its confinement in the handkerchief in an incomprehensible manner, and you must, therefore, allow the audience to see that the ring undoubtedly is tied up securely in the first instance.

Another trick with a ring is performed by aid of the wand only. Borrow a good stout ring, a signet for example, and, holding it near the roots of the fingers of the right hand, pretend to pass it over the wand, but, in reality, let it slide along on the outside of it, and still keep it in the hand. The deception is assisted if the ring be first carelessly placed upon the wand, and taken off again, two or three times. Say to one of the audience, "Will you be so kind as to hold one end of the wand with either hand?" and, in stretching the wand out towards him, allow the left hand momentarily to pass close under the right, and let the ring fall into it—of course, unperceived. If you look at your hands whilst doing this, you are a lost man. You must look the addressee boldly in the face, and thereby divert attention to him—not that there is the slightest excuse for exposing the ring during its passage from one hand to the other. When the wand is firmly held at both ends, say something about the futility of strength in certain cases, and eventually show the ring in the left hand, and remove the right from the wand to show that it is empty. If relinquished at this stage, the trick is very incomplete, as the audience usually divine, or affect to divine, that the ring never was put upon the wand at all. It is a peculiarity of this trick that this remark is almost invariably made, so the conjuror must be prepared with something still more "staggering." Return the ring to its owner, and call attention to the fact that you have not cut it in any way (not that anyone will ever think that you would do so, but you must assume that this idea is prevailing in the minds of the audience), and secretly take from your pocket, or wherever it may be concealed, a thick metal (or gold) ring, which keep in the left hand. Borrow the ring again, and slide it over the wand with precisely the same movement which you used in the first instance, when you did not put the ring on. This time you must appear to be very clumsy, and let the two hands come together so that everyone can see the action clearly, and snatch the left hand away sharply as if it contained the ring. You will doubtless see a number of heads lean towards each other, and hear a good deal of loud whispering, in which the words "left hand" will be conspicuous. Take no notice of this beyond looking as confused as possible, and the audience will think they have bowled you out at last. The strange part of it is that, in a trick of this kind, a spectator who fancies, rightly or wrongly, that he has discovered something, never attributes the fact to your want of skill, but to his own remarkable powers of perception. The effect of the ruse will be heightened if you allow a tiny portion of the false ring to catch the eye of one or more of the audience; or resort to any other artifice to induce them to believe that you really have the borrowed ring in the left hand, and have allowed the fact to transpire through carelessness. Now say that, the ring being securely on the wand, you mean to take it off as before, and give the two ends of the wand to be held. You will then appear to notice the incredulous looks and remarks of the audience for the first time, and stoutly deny that the ring is in the left hand, which, however, you decline to open. Allow the audience to argue the point with you, and, when one has said that he saw you take the ring in the left hand, and others have made a similar statement, pretend to give in, and say that you must admit that you are discovered; but, at the same time, you feel it incumbent on you to do something to retrieve your character. You will, therefore, pass the ring, now in the left hand, invisibly on to the wand. Make a pass with the left hand, and draw the right smartly away from the wand, causing the ring on it to spin round. The effect may be imagined. At the instant the right hand leaves the wand, the left should place the false ring (supposing one is used) in the pocket, as all manner of questions will be asked afterwards. The trick can be varied in many ways, by confusing the spectators. Peripatetic conjurors make a good deal of money by means of this trick, by betting that the ring is either on or off the wand. Manner has a great deal to do with the success of it.

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