“I have spent a good deal of time since last night wondering whether I should tell you anything about my life,” said Eisengrim, after dinner that evening, “and I think I shall, on the condition that you regard it as a secret among ourselves. After all, the audience doesn’t have to know the subtext, does it? Your film isn’t Shakespeare, where everything is revealed; it is Ibsen, where much is implied.”
How quickly he learns, I thought. And how well he knows the power of pretending something is secret which he has every intention of revealing. I turned up my mental, wholly psychological historian’s hearing-aid, determined to miss nothing, and to get at least the skeleton of it on paper before I went to sleep.
“Begin with going to hell,” said Ingestree. “You’ve given us a date: August 30, 1918. You told us you knew Ramsay when you were a boy, so I suppose you must be a Canadian. If I were going to hell, I don’t think I’d start from Canada. What happened?”
“I went to the village fair. Our village, which was called Deptford, had a proud local reputation for its fair. Schoolchildren were admitted free. That helped to swell the attendance, and the Fair Board liked to run up the biggest possible annual figure. You wouldn’t imagine there was anything wrong in what I did, but judged by the lights of my home it was sin. We were an unusually religious household, and my father mistrusted the fair. He had promised me that he might, if I could repeat the whole of Psalm 79 without an error, at suppertime, take me to the fair in the evening, to see the animals. This task of memorizing was part of a great undertaking that he had set his heart on: I was to get the whole of the Book of Psalms by heart. He assured me that it would be a bulwark and a stay to me through the whole of my life. He wasn’t rushing the job; I was supposed to learn ten verses each day, but as I was working for a treat, he thought I might run to the thirteen verses of Psalm 79 to get to the fair. But the treat was conditional; if I stumbled, the promise about the fair was off.”
“It sounds very much like rural Sweden, when I was a boy,” said Kinghovn. “How do the children of such people grow up?”
“Ah, but you mustn’t misunderstand. My father wasn’t a tyrant; he truly wanted to protect me against evil.”
“A fatal desire in a parent,” said Lind, who was known throughout the world—to film-goers at least—as an expert on evil.
“There was a special reason. My mother was an unusual person. If you want to know the best about her, you must apply to Ramsay. I don’t suppose I can tell you my own story without giving you something of the other side of her nature. She was supposed to have some very bad instincts, and our family suffered for it. She had to be kept under confinement. My father, with what I suppose must be described as compassion, wanted to make sure I wouldn’t follow in her ways. So, from the age of eight, I was set to work to acquire the bulwark and the stay of the Psalms, and in a year and a half—something like that—I had gnawed my way through them up to Psalm 79.”
“How old were you?” said Ingestree.
“Getting on for ten. I wanted fiercely to go to the fair, so I set to work on the Psalm. Do you know the Psalms? I have never been able to make head or tail of a lot of them, but others strike with a terrible truth on your heart, if you meet them at the right time. I plugged on till I came to We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. Yes! Yes there we were The Dempsters, a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to the whole village of Deptford. And particularly to the children of Deptford, with whom I had to go to school. School was to begin on the day after Labour Day, less than a week from the day when I sat puzzling over Psalm 79. Tell me, Lind, you know so much about evil, and have explored it in your films, Liesl tells me, like a man with an ordnance map in his hand; have you ever explored the evil of children?”
“Even I have never dared to do that,” said Lind, with the tragic grin which was the nearest he ever came to a laugh.
“If you ever decide to do so, call me in as a special adviser. It’s a primal evil, a pure malignance. They really enjoy giving pain. This is described by sentimentalists as innocence. I was tormented by the children of our village from the earliest days I can remember. My mother had done something I never found out what it was—that made most of the village hate her, and the children knew that, so it was all right to hate me and torture me. They said my mother was a hoor—that was the local pronunciation of whore—and they tormented me with a virtuosity they never showed in anything else they did. When I cried, somebody might say, ‘Aw, let the kid alone; he can’t help it his mother’s a hoor.’ I suppose the philosopher-kings who struggled up to that level have since become the rulers of the place. But I soon determined not to cry.
“Not that I became hard. I simply accepted the wretchedness of my station. Not that I hated them—not then; I learned to hate them later in life. At that time I simply assumed that children must be as they were. I was a misfit in the world, and didn’t know why.
“Onward I went with Psalm 79. O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low. But as soon as I put my nose into the schoolyard they would remember former iniquities against me. God’s tender mercies had never reached the Deptford school-yard. And I was unquestionably brought very low, for all that desolation would begin again next Tuesday.
“Having got that far with me, Satan had me well on the path to hell. I knew where some money was kept; it was small change for the baker and the milkman when they called; under my mother’s very nose—she was sitting in a chair, staring into space, tied by a rope to a ringbolt my father had set in the wall I pinched fifteen cents; I held it up so that she could see it, so that she would think I was going to pay one of the delivery-men. Then I ran off to the fair, and my heart was full of terrible joy. I was wicked, but O what a delirious release it was.
“I pieced out the enjoyment of the fair like a gourmet savouring a feast. Begin at the bottom, with what was least amusing. That would be the Women’s Institute display of bottled pickles, embalmed fruit, doilies, home-cooking, and “fancy-work”. Then the animals, the huge draught-horses, the cows with enormous udders, the prize bull (though I did not go very near to him, for some of my schoolmates were lingering there, to snigger and work themselves up into a horny stew, gaping at his enormous testicles), the pigs so unwontedly clean, and the foolish poultry, White Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, and Mrs. Forrester’s gorgeous Cochin Chinas, and in a corner a man from the Department of Agriculture giving an educational display of egg-candling.
“Pleasure now began to be really intense. I looked with awe and some fear at the display from the nearby Indian Reservation. Men with wrinkled, tobacco-coloured faces sat behind a stand, not really offering slim walking-canes, with ornate whittled handles into which patterns of colour had been worked; their women, as silent and unmoving as they, displayed all sorts of fancy boxes made of sweet-grass, ornamented with beads and dyed porcupine quill. But these goods, which had some merit as craftwork, were not so gorgeous in my eyes as the trash offered by a booth which was not of local origin, in which a man sold whirligigs of gaudy celluloid, kewpie dolls with tinsel skirts riding high over their gross stomachs, alarm-clocks with two bells for determined sleepers, and beautiful red or blue pony-whips. I yearned toward those whips, but they cost a whole quarter apiece, and were thus out of my reach.
“But I was not cut off from all the carnal pleasures of the fair. After a great deal of deliberation I spent five of my ill-gotten cents on a large paper comet of pink candy floss, a delicacy I had never seen before. It had little substance, and made my mouth sticky and dry, but it was a luxury, and my life had known nothing of luxuries.
“Then, after a full ten minutes of deliberation, I laid out another five cents on a ride on the merry-go-round. I chose my mount with care, a splendid dapple-grey with flaring nostrils, ramping wonderfully up and down on his brass pole; he seemed to me like the horse in Job that saith among the trumpets. Ha, ha; for a hundred and eighty seconds I rode him in ecstasy, and dismounted only when I was chased away by the man who took care of such things and was on the lookout for enchanted riders like myself.
“But even this was only leading up to what I knew to be the crown of the fair. That was Wanless’s World of Wonders, the one pleasure which my father would certainly never have permitted me. Shows of all kinds were utterly evil in his sight, and this was a show that turned my bowels to water, even from the outside.
“The tent seemed vast to me, and on a scaffold on its outside were big painted pictures of the wonders within. A Fat Woman, immense and pink, beside whom even the biggest pigs in the agricultural tents were starvelings. A man who ate fire. A Strong Man, who would wrestle with anybody who dared to try it. A Human Marvel, half man and half woman. A Missing link, in itself worth more than the price of admission, because it was powerfully educational, illustrating what Man had been before he decided to settle in such places as Deptford. On a raised platform outside the tent a man in fine clothes was shouting to the crowd about everything that was to be seen; it was before the days of microphones, and he roared hoarsely through a megaphone. Beside him stood the Fire Eater, holding a flaming torch in front of his mouth. ‘See Molza, the man who can always be sure of a hot meal,’ bellowed the man in the fine clothes, and a few Deptfordians laughed shyly. ‘See Professor Spencer, born without arms, but he can write a finer hand with his feet than any of your schoolteachers. And within the tent the greatest physiological marvel of the age, Andro, the Italian nobleman so evenly divided between the sexes that you may see him shave the whiskers off the one side of his face, while the other displays the peachy smoothness of a lovely woman. A human miracle, attested to by doctors and men of science at Yale, Harvard, and Columbia. Any local doctor wishing to examine this greatest of marvels may make an appointment to do so, in the presence of myself, after the show tonight.’
“But I was not very attentive to the man in the fine clothes, because my eyes were all for another figure on the platform, who was doing wonders with decks of cards; he whirled them out from his hands in what appeared to be ribbons, and then drew them—magically it seemed to me—back into his hands again. He spread them in fans. He made them loop-the-loop from one hand to another. The man in the fine clothes introduced him as Willard the Wizard, positively the greatest artist in sleight-of-hand in the world today, briefly on loan from the Palace Theater in New York.
“Willard was a tall man, and looked even taller because he wore what was then called a garter-snake suit, which had wriggling lines of light and dark fabric running perpendicularly through it. He was crowned by a pearl-grey hard hat—what we called a Derby, and known in Deptford only as part of the Sunday dress of doctors and other grandees. He was the most elegant thing I had ever seen in my life, and his thin, unsmiling face spoke to me of breathtaking secrets. I could not take my eyes off him, nor did I try to still my ravening desire to know those secrets. I too was a conjuror, you see; I had continued, on the sly, to practise the few elementary sleights and passes I had learned from Ramsay, before my father put a stop to it. I longed with my whole soul to know what Willard knew. As the hart pants after the water brooks, even so my blasphemous soul panted after the Wizard. And the unbelievable thing was that, of the fifteen or twenty people gathered in front of the platform, he seemed to look most often at me, and once I could swear I saw him wink “I paid my five cents—a special price for schoolchildren until six o’clock—and entered in the full splendour of Wanless’s World of Wonders. It is impossible for me to describe the impression it made on me then, because I came to know it so well later on. It was just a fair-sized tent, capable of holding ten or twelve exhibits and the spectators. It was of that discouraged whitey-grey colour that such tents used to be before somebody had the good idea of colouring canvas brown. A few strings of lights hung between the three main poles, but they were not on, because it was assumed that we could see well enough by the light that leaked in from outdoors. The exhibits were on stands the height of a table; indeed, they were like collapsible tables, and each exhibit had his own necessities. Professor Spencer had the blackboard on which he wrote so elegantly with his feet; Molza had his jet of flaming gas, and a rack to hold the swords he swallowed; it was really, I suppose, very tacky and ordinary. But I was under the spell of Willard, and I didn’t, at that time, take much heed of anything else, not even of the clamorous Fat Woman, who seemed never to be wholly quiet, even when the other exhibits were having their turn.
“The loud-voiced man had followed us inside, and bellowed about each wonder as we toured round the circle. Even to such an innocent as I, it was plain that the wonders were shown in an ascending order of importance, beginning with the Knife Thrower and Molza, and working upward through Zovene the Midget Juggler and Sonny the Strong Man to Professor Spencer and Zitta the Serpent Woman. She seemed to mark a divide, and after her came Rango the Missing Link, then the Fat Woman, called Happy Hannah, then Willard, and finally Andro the Half-Man Half-Woman.
“Even though my eyes constantly wandered toward Willard, who seemed now and then to meet them with a dark and enchantingly wizard-like gaze, I was too prudent to ignore the lesser attractions. After all, I had invested five ill-gotten cents in this adventure, and I was in no position to throw money away. But we came to Willard at last, and the loud-voiced man did not need to introduce him, because even before Happy Hannah had finished her noisy harangue and had begun to sell pictures of herself, he threw away his cigarette, sprang to his feet, and began to pluck coins out of the air. He snatched them from everywhere—from the backs of his knees, from his elbows, from above his head—and threw them into a metal basin on his little tripod table. You could hear them clink as they fell, and as the number increased the sound from the basin changed. Then, without speaking a word, he seized the basin and hurled its contents into the crowd. People ducked and shielded their faces. But the basin was empty. Willard laughed a mocking laugh. Oh, very Mephistophelian. It sounded like a trumpet call to me, because I had never heard anybody laugh like that before. He was laughing at us, for having been deceived. What power! What glorious command over lesser humanity. Silly people often say that they are enraptured by something which has merely pleased them, but I was truly enraptured. I was utterly unaware of myself, whirled into a new sort of comprehension of life by what I saw.
“You must understand that I had never seen a conjuror before. I knew what conjuring was, and I could do some tricks. But I had never seen anybody else do sleight-of-hand except Ramsay here, who made very heavy weather of getting one poor coin from one of his great red hands to the other, and if he had not explained that the pass was supposed to be invisible you would never have known it was a trick at all. Please don’t be hurt, Ramsay. You are a dear fellow and rather a famous writer in your own line, but as a conjuror you were abject. But Willard! For me the Book of Revelation came alive: here was an angel come down from heaven, having great power, and the earth was lightened with his glory; if only I could be like him, surely there would be no more sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, and all former things—my dark home, my mad, disgraceful mother, the torment of school—would pass away.”
“So you ran away with the show,” said Kinghovn, who had no tact.
“Ramsay tells me they say in Deptford that I ran away with the show,” said Eisengrim, smiling what I would myself have called a Mephistophelian smile, beneath which he looked like any other man whose story has been interrupted by somebody who doesn’t understand the form and art of stories. “I don’t think Deptford would ever comprehend that it was not a matter of choice. But if you have understood what I have said about the way Deptford regarded me, you will realize that I had no choice. I did not run away with the show; the show ran away with me.”
“Because you were so utterly entranced by Willard?” said Ingestree.
“No. I think our friend means something more than that,” said Lind. “These possessions of the soul are very powerful, but there must have been something else. I smell it. The Bible obsession must somehow have supported the obsession with the conjuror. Not even the great revelation wipes out a childhood’s indoctrination; the two must have come together in some way.”
“You are right,” said Eisengrim. “And I begin to see why people call you a great artist. Your education and sophistication haven’t gobbled up your understanding of the realities of life. Let me go on.
“Willard’s show had to be short, because there were ten exhibits in the tent, and a full show was not supposed to run over forty-five minutes. As one of the best attractions he was allowed something like five minutes, and after the trick with the coins he did some splendid things with ribbons, pulling them out of his mouth and throwing them into the bowl, from which he produced them neatly braided. Then he did some very flashy things with cards, causing any card chosen by a member of the audience to pop out of a pack that was stuck in a wineglass as far away from himself as his platform allowed. He finished by eating a spool of thread and a packet of needles, and then producing the thread from his mouth, with all the needles threaded on it at intervals of six inches. During the Oohs and Aahs, he nonchalantly produced the wooden spool from his ear and threw it into the audience—threw it so that I caught it. I remember being amazed that it wasn’t even wet, which shows how very green I was.
“I didn’t want to see Andro, whose neatly compartmentalized sexuality meant nothing to me. As the crowd moved on to hear the loud-mouthed man bellow about the medical miracle called hermaphroditism—only one in four hundred million births, ladies and gentlemen, only six thoroughly proven hermaphrodites in the whole long history of mankind, and one of them stands before you in Deptford today! — I hung around Willard’s table. He leapt down from it and lighted another cigarette. Even the way he did that was magical, for he flicked the pack toward his mouth, and the cigarette leaped between his lips, waiting for the match he was striking with the thumbnail of his other hand. There I was, near enough to the Wizard to touch him. But it was he who touched me. He reached toward my left ear and produced a quarter from it, and flicked it toward me. I snatched it out of the air, and handed it back to him. ‘No, it’s for you, kid,’ he said. His voice was low and hoarse, and not in keeping with the rest of his elegant presentation, but I didn’t care. A quarter for me! I had never known such riches in my life. My infrequent stealings had never, before this day, aspired beyond a nickel. The man was not only a Wizard; he was princely.
“I was inspired. Inspired by you, Ramsay, you may be surprised to hear. You remember your trick in which you pretended to eat money, though one could always see it in your hand as you took it away from your mouth? I did that. I popped the quarter into my mouth, chewed it up, showed Willard that it was gone, and that I had nothing in my hands. I could do a little magic, too, and I was eager to claim some kinship with this god.
“He did not smile. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Come with me, kid. I got sumpn to show ya,’ and steered me toward a back entry of the tent which I had not noticed.
“We walked perhaps halfway around the fairground, which was not really very far, and we kept behind tents and buildings. I would have been proud to be seen by the crowd with such a hero, but we met very few people, and they were busy with their own affairs in the agricultural tents, so I do not suppose anybody noticed us. We came to the back of the barn where the horses were stabled when they were not being shown; it was one of the two or three permanent buildings of the fair. Behind it was a lean—to with a wall which did not quite reach to the roof, nor fully to the ground. It was the men’s urinal, old, dilapidated, and smelly. Willard peeped in, found it empty, and pushed me in ahead of him. I had never been in such a place before, because it was part of my training that one never ‘went’ anywhere except at home, and all arrangements had to be made to accommodate this rule. It was a queer place, as I remember it; just a tin trough nailed to the wall, sloping slightly downward so that it drained into a hole in the ground. A pile of earth was ready to fill in the hole, once the fair was over.
“At the end of this shanty was a door which hung partly open, and it was through this that Willard guided me. We were in an earth closet, as old as Deptford fair, I should judge, for a heavy, sweetish, old smell hung over it. Hornets buzzed under the sloping roof. The two holes in the seat were covered by rounds of wood, with crude handles. I think I would know them if I saw them now.
“Willard took a clean white handkerchief out of his pocket, twisted it quickly into a roll, and forced it between my teeth. No: I should not say ‘forced’. I thought this was the beginning of some splendid illusion, and opened my mouth willingly. Then he whirled me round, lifted me up on the seat in a kneeling position, pulled down my pants and sodomized me.
“Quickly said: an eternity in the doing. I struggled and resisted: he struck me such a blow over the ear that I slackened my grip with the pain, and he had gained an entry. It was rough: it was painful, and I suppose it was soon over. But as I say, it seemed an eternity, for it was a kind of feeling I had never guessed at.
“I am anxious you should not misunderstand me. I was no Greek lad, discovering the supposed pleasures of pederastic love in a society that knew it and condoned it. I was a boy not yet quite ten years old, who did not know what sex was in any form. I thought I was being killed, and in a shameful way.
“The innocence of children is very widely misunderstood. Few of them—I suppose only children brought up in wealthy families that desire and can contrive a conspiracy of ignorance —are unknowing about sex. No child brought up so near the country as I was, and among schoolchildren whose ages might reach as high as fifteen or sixteen, can be utterly ignorant of sex. It had touched me, but not intimately. For one thing, I had heard the whole of the Bible read through several times by my father; he had a plan of readings which, pursued morning and evening, worked through the whole of the book in a year. I had heard the sound as an infant, and as a little child, long before I could understand anything of the sense. So I knew about men going in unto women, and people raising up seed of their loins, and I knew that my father’s voice took on a special tone of shame and detestation when he read about Lot and his daughters, though I had never followed what it was they did in that cave, and thought their sin was to make their father drunk. I knew these things because I had heard them, but they had no reality for me.
“As for my mother, who was called hoor by my schoolmates, I knew only that hoors—my father used the local pronunciation, and I don’t think he knew any other—were always turning up in the Bible, and always in a bad sense which meant nothing to me as a reality. Ezekiel, sixteen, was a riot of whoredoms and abominations, and I shivered to think how terrible they must be: but I did not know what they were, even in the plainest sense of the words. I only knew that there was something filthy and disgraceful that pertained to my mother, and that we all, my father and I, were spattered by her shame, or abomination, or whatever it might be.
“I was aware that there was some difference between boys and girls, but I didn’t know, or want to know, what it was, because I connected it somehow with the shame of my mother. You couldn’t be a hoor unless you were a woman, and they had something special that made it possible. What I had, as a male, I had most strictly been warned against as an evil and shameful part of my body. ‘Don’t you ever monkey with yourself, down there,’ was the full extent of the sexual instruction I had from my father. I knew that the boys who were gloating over the bull’s testicles were doing something dirty, and my training was such that I was both disgusted and terrified by their sly nastiness. But I didn’t know why, and it never would have occurred to me to relate the bull’s showy apparatus with those things I possessed, in so slight a degree, and which I wasn’t to monkey with. So you can see that without being utterly ignorant, I was innocent, in my way. If I had not been innocent, how could I have lived my life, and even have felt some meagre joy, from time to time?
“Sometimes I felt that joy when I was with you, Ramsay, because you were kind to me, and kindness was a great rarity in my life. You were the only person in my childhood who had treated me as if I were a human creature. I don’t say, who loved me, you notice. My father loved me, but his love was a greater burden, almost, than hate might have been. But you treated me as a fellow-being, because I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you to do anything else. You never ran with the crowd.
“The rape itself was horrible, because it was painful physically, but worse because it was an outrage on another part of my body which I had been told to fear and be ashamed of. Liesl tells me that Freud has had a great deal to say about the importance of the functions of excretion in deciding and moulding character. I don’t know anything about that; don’t want to know it, because all that sort of thinking lies outside what I really understand. I have my own notions about psychology, and they have served me well. But this rape—it was something filthy going in where I knew only that filthy things should come out, as secretly as could be managed. In our house there was no word for excretion, only two or three prim locutions, and the word used in the schoolyard seemed to me a horrifying indecency. Its very popular nowadays in literature, I’m told by Liesl. She reads a great deal. I don’t know how writers can put it down, though there was a time when I used it often enough in my daily speech. But as I have grown older I have returned to that early primness. We don’t get over some things. But what Willard did to me was, in a sense I could understand, a reversal of the order of nature, and I was terrified that it would kill me.
“It didn’t, of course. But that, and Willard’s heavy breathing, and the flood of filthy language that he whispered as a kind of ecstatic accompaniment to what he was doing, were more horrible to me than anything I have met with since.
“When it was over he pulled my head around so that he could see my face and said, ‘You O.K., kid?’ I can remember the tone now. He had no idea at all of what I was, or what I might feel. He was obviously happy, and the Mephistophelian smile hid given place to an expression that was almost boyish. ‘Go on now,’ he said. ‘Pull up your pants and beat it. And if you blat to anybody, by the living Jesus I’ll cut your nuts off with a rusty knife.’
“Then I fainted, but for how long, or what I looked like when I did it, I of course can’t tell you. Perhaps I was out for a few minutes, because when I became aware again Willard was looking anxious, and patting my cheeks lightly. He had taken the gag out of my mouth. I was crying, but making no noise. I had learned very early in life not to make a noise when I cried. I was still crumpled up on the horrible seat, and now its stench was too much for me and I vomited. Willard sprang back, anxious for his fine trousers and the high polish on his shoes. But he dared not leave me. Of course I had no idea how frightened he was. He felt he could trust in my shame and his threats up to a point, but I might be one of those terrible children who go beyond the point set for them by adults. He tried to placate me.
“ ‘Hey,’ he whispered, ‘you’re a pretty smart kid. Where’d you learn that trick with the quarter, eh? Come on now, show it to me again. I never seen a better trick than that, even at the Palace, New York. You’re the kid that eats money; that’s who you are. A real show-business kid. Now look, I’ll give you this, if you’ll eat it.’ He offered me a silver dollar. But I turned my face away, and sobbed, without sound.
“ ‘Aw now, look, it wasn’t as bad as that,’ he said. ‘Just some fun between us two. Just playing paw and maw, eh? You want to grow up to be smart, don’t you? You want to have fun? Take it from me, kid, you can’t start too young. The day’ll come, you’ll thank me. Yes, sir, you’ll thank me. Now look here. I show you I’ve got nothing in my hands, see? Now watch.’ He spread his fingers one by one, and magically quarters appeared between them until he held four quarters in each hand. ‘Magic money, see? All for you; two whole dollars if you’ll shut up and get the hell outa here, and never say anything to anybody.’
“I fainted again, and this time when I came round Willard was looking deeply worried. ‘What you need is rest,’ he said. ‘Rest, and time to think about all that money. I’ve gotta get back for the next show, but you stay here, and don’t let anybody in. Nobody, see? I’ll come back as soon as I can and I’ll bring you something. Something nice. But don’t let anybody in, don’t holler, and keep quiet like a mouse.’
“He went, and I heard him pause for a moment outside the door. Then I was alone, and I sobbed myself to sleep.
“I did not wake until he came back, I suppose an hour later. He brought me a hot dog, and urged me to eat it. I took one bite— it was my first hot dog—and vomited again. Willard was now very worried indeed. He swore fiercely, but not at me. All he said to me was, ‘My God you’re a crazy kid. Stay here. Now stay here, I tell ya. I’ll come back as soon as I can.’
“That was not very soon. Perhaps two hours. But when he came he had an air of desperation about him, which I picked up at once. Terrible things had happened, and terrible remedies must be found. He had brought a large blanket, and he wrapped me in it, so that not even my head was showing, and lugged me bodily—I was not very heavy—out of the privy; I felt myself dumped into what I suppose was the back of a buggy or a carry-all, or something, and other wraps were thrown over me. Off I went, bumping along in the back of the cart, and it was some time later that I felt myself lifted out again, carried over rough ground, and humped painfully up onto what seemed to be a platform. Then another painful business of being lugged over a floor, some sounds of objects being moved, and at last the blanket was taken off. I was in a dark place, and only vaguely conscious that some distance away a door, like the door of a shed, was open, and I could see the light of dusk through it.
“Willard lost no time. ‘Get in here,’ he commanded, and pushed me into a place that was entirely dark, and confined. I had to climb upward, boosted by him, until I came to what seemed to me a shelf, or seat, and on this he pushed me. ‘Now you’ll be all right,’ he said, in a voice that carried no confidence at all that I would be all right. It was a desperate voice. ‘Here’s something for you to eat.’ A box was pushed in beside me. Then a door below me was closed, and snapped from the outside, and I was in utter darkness.
“After a while I felt around me. Irregular walls, seeming to be curved everywhere; there was even a small dome over my head. A smell, not clean, but not as disgusting as the privy at the fair. A little fresh air from a point above my head. I fell asleep again.
“When I woke, it was because I heard the whistle of a train, and a train-like thundering near by. But I was not moving. I was wretchedly hungry, and in the darkness I explored Willard’s box. Something lumpy and sticky inside it, which I tried to eat, and then greedily ate it all. Sleep again. Terrible fatigue all through my body, and the worst pain of all in my bottom. But I could not move very much in any direction, and I had to sit on my misery. At last, a space of time that seemed like a geological age later, I felt movement. Banging and thumping which went on for some time. A sound of voices. The sound of another whistle, and then trundling, lumbering movement, which increased to a good speed. For the first time in my life I was on a train, but of course I didn’t know that.
“And that, my friends, is the first instalment of my subtext to the memoirs of Robert-Houdin, whose childhood, you recall, was such an idyll of family love and care, and whose introduction to magic was so charmingly brought about. Enough, I think, for one evening. Good-night.”