This short story is by Stephen Leacock, a popular American novelist who produced most of his work around 1910 ad 1930. The story is about an audience member ruining a conjurer’s act and the reaction of the conjurer to that disruption.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said the conjurer, “having
shown you that the cloth is absolutely empty, I will
proceed to take from it a bowl of goldfish. Presto!”
All around the hall people were saying, “Oh, how wonderful!
How does he do it?”
But the Quick Man on the front seat said in a big whisper
to the people near him, “He-had-it-up-his-sleeve.”
Then the people nodded brightly at the Quick Man and
said, “Oh, of course”; and everybody whispered round the
“My next trick,” said the conjurer, “is the famous
Hindostanee rings. You will notice that the rings are
apparently separate; at a blow they all join (clang,
There was a general buzz of stupefaction till the Quick
Man was heard to whisper, “He-must-have-had-another-lot-
Again everybody nodded and whispered, “The-rings-were-
The brow of the conjurer was clouded with a gathering
“I will now,” he continued, “show you a most amusing
trick by which I am enabled to take any number of eggs
from a hat. Will some gentleman kindly lend me his hat?
Ah, thank you–Presto!”
He extracted seventeen eggs, and for thirty-five seconds
the audience began to think that he was wonderful. Then
the Quick Man whispered along the front bench, “He-has-a-
hen-up-his-sleeve,” and all the people whispered it on.
The egg trick was ruined.
It went on like that all through. It transpired from the
whispers of the Quick Man that the conjurer must have
concealed up his sleeve, in addition to the rings, hens,
and fish, several packs of cards, a loaf of bread, a
doll’s cradle, a live guinea-pig, a fifty-cent piece,
and a rocking-chair.
The reputation of the conjurer was rapidly sinking below
zero. At the close of the evening he rallied for a final
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I will present to you,
in conclusion, the famous Japanese trick recently invented
by the natives of Tipperary. Will you, sir,” he continued
turning toward the Quick Man, “will you kindly hand me
your gold watch?”
It was passed to him.
“Have I your permission to put it into this mortar and
pound it to pieces?” he asked savagely.
The Quick Man nodded and smiled.
The conjurer threw the watch into the mortar and grasped
a sledge hammer from the table. There was a sound of
violent smashing, “He’s-slipped-it-up-his-sleeve,”
whispered the Quick Man.
“Now, sir,” continued the conjurer, “will you allow me
to take your handkerchief and punch holes in it? Thank
you. You see, ladies and gentlemen, there is no deception;
the holes are visible to the eye.”
The face of the Quick Man beamed. This time the real
mystery of the thing fascinated him.
“And now, sir, will you kindly pass me your silk hat and
allow me to dance on it? Thank you.”
The conjurer made a few rapid passes with his feet and
exhibited the hat crushed beyond recognition.
“And will you now, sir, take off your celluloid collar
and permit me to burn it in the candle? Thank you, sir.
And will you allow me to smash your spectacles for you
with my hammer? Thank you.”
By this time the features of the Quick Man were assuming
a puzzled expression. “This thing beats me,” he whispered,
“I don’t see through it a bit.”
There was a great hush upon the audience. Then the conjurer
drew himself up to his full height and, with a withering
look at the Quick Man, he concluded:
“Ladies and gentlemen, you will observe that I have, with
this gentleman’s permission, broken his watch, burnt his
collar, smashed his spectacles, and danced on his hat.
If he will give me the further permission to paint green
stripes on his overcoat, or to tie his suspenders in a
knot, I shall be delighted to entertain you. If not, the
performance is at an end.”
And amid a glorious burst of music from the orchestra
the curtain fell, and the audience dispersed, convinced
that there are some tricks, at any rate, that are not
done up the conjurer’s sleeve.
(Contributed by Makarand)