The pretty little theatre attached to the building of theUnicorn Club had been hired for a certain January afternoon by Mr. HerbertLoringwho wished to give therein a somewhat novel performanceto which he hadinvited a small audience consisting entirely of friends and acquaintances.
Loring was a handsome fellow about thirty years oldwhohad travelled far and studied much. He had recently made a long sojourn in thefar Eastand his friends had been invited to the theatre to see some of thewonderful things he had brought from that country of wonders. As Loring was aclub-manand belonged to a family of good social standinghis circle ofacquaintances was largeand in this circle a good many unpleasant remarks hadbeen made regarding the proposed entertainment -- madeof courseby the peoplewho had not been invited to be present. Some of the gossip on the subject hadreached Loringwho did not hesitate to say that he could not talk to a crowdand that he did not care to show the curious things he had collected to peoplewho would not thoroughly appreciate them. He had been very particular in regardto his invitations.
At three o'clock on the appointed afternoon nearly
About forty people were presentwho sat talking to oneanotheror admiring the decoration of the theatre. As Loring stood upon thestage -- where he was entirely alonehis exhibition requiring no assistants --he gazed through a loophole in the curtain upon a very interesting array offaces. There were the faces of many men and women of societyof studentsofworkers in various fields of thoughtand even of idlers in all fields ofthought; but there was not one which indicated a frivolous or listlessdisposition. The owners of those faces had come to see somethingand theywished to see it.
For a quarter of an hour after the time announced for theopening of the exhibition Loring peered through the hole in the curtainandthenalthough all the people he had expected had not arrivedhe felt it wouldnot do for him to wait any longer. The audience was composed of well-bred andcourteous men and womenbut despite their polite self-restraint Loring couldsee that some of them were getting tired of waiting. Sovery reluctantlyandfeeling that further delay was impossiblehe raised the curtain and cameforward on the stage.
Briefly he announced that the exhibition would open withsome fireworks he had brought from Corea. It was plain to see that the statementthat fireworks were about to be set off on a theatre stageby an amateurhadrather startled some of the audienceand
As Loring turned his lantern on one of the clusters ofglass lensesstripsand pointsandunseen himselfcaused them to move bymeans of long cords attachedthe effects were beautiful and marvellous. Littlewheels of colored fire rapidly revolvedminiature rockets appeared to rise afew feet and to explode in the airand while all the ordinary forms offireworks were produced on a diminutive scalethere were some effects that wereentirely novel to the audience. As the light was turned successively upon oneand another of the clusters of glasssometimes it would flash along the wholeline so rapidly that all the various combinations of color and motion seemed tobe combined in oneand then for a time each particular set of fireworks wouldblazesparkleand coruscate by itselfscattering particles of colored lightas if they had been real sparks of fire.
This curious and beautiful exhibition of miniaturepyrotechnics was extremely interesting to the audiencewho gazed upward withrapt and eager attention
For twenty minutes or longer the glittering show went onand not a sign of weariness or inattention was made by any one of the assembledcompany. Then gradually the colors of the little fireworks fadedthe stars andwheels revolved more slowlythe lights in the body of the theatre weregradually raisedand the stage curtain went softly down.
Anxiouslyand a little paleHerbert Loring peeredthrough the loophole in the curtain. It was not easy to judge of the effects ofhis exhibitionand he did not know whether or not it had been a success. Therewas no applausebuton the other handthere was no signs that any oneresented the exhibition as a childish display of colored lights. It wasimpossible to look upon that audience without believing that they had beenthoroughly interested in what they had seenand that they expected to see more.
For two or three minutes Loring gazed through his loopholeand thenstill with some doubt in his heartbut with a little more color inhis checkshe prepared for the second part of his performance.
At this moment there entered the theatreat the very backof the housea young lady. She was handsome and well dressedand as she openedthe door -- Loring had employed no ushers or other assistants in this littlesocial performance -- she paused for a moment
This was Edith Starrwhoa month beforehad beenbetrothed to Herbert Loring. Edith and her mother had been invited to thisperformanceand front seats had been reserved for themfor each guest hadreceived a numbered card. But Mrs. Starr had a headacheand could not go outthat afternoonand for a time her daughter had thought that shetoomust giveup the pleasure Loring had promised herand stay with her mother. But when theelder lady dropped into a quiet sleepEdith thought thatlate as it wasshewould go by herselfand see what she could of the performance.
She was quite certain that if her presence were known toLoring he would stop whatever he was doing until she had been provided with aseat which he thought suitable for herfor he had made a point of her beingproperly seated when he gave the invitations. Thereforebeing equally desirousof not disturbing the performance and of not being herself conspicuousshe satbehind two rather large menwhere she could see the stage perfectly wellbutwhere she herself would not be likely to be seen.
In a few moments the curtain roseand Loring came forwardcarrying a smalllight tablewhich he placed near the front of the stageandfor a moment stood quietly by it. Edith noticed upon his face the expression ofuncertainty and anxiety which had not yet left it. Standing by the side of thetableand speaking very slowlybut so clearly that his words could be hearddistinctly in all parts of the roomhe
"The extraordinaryand I may say marvellousthingwhich I am about to show you" he said"is known among East Indianmagicians as the magic egg. The exhibition is a very uncommon oneand hasseldom been seen by Americans or Europeansand it was by a piece of rare goodfortune that I became possessed of the appliances necessary for this exhibition.They are indeed very few and simplebut never beforeto the best of myknowledge and beliefhave they been seen outside of India.
"I will now get the little box which contains thearticles necessary for this magical performanceand I will say that if I hadtime to tell you of the strange and amazing adventure which resulted in mypossession of this boxI am sure you would be as much interested in that as Iexpect you to be in the contents of the box. But in order that none of you maythink this is an ordinary trickexecuted by means of concealed traps or doorsI wish you to take particular notice of this tablewhich isas you seeaplainunpainted pine tablewith nothing but a flat topand four straight legsat the corners. You can see under and around itand it gives no opportunity toconceal anything." Thenstanding for a few moments as if he had somethingelse to sayhe turned and stepped toward one of the wings.
Edith was troubled as she looked at her lover during theseremarks. Her interest was greatgreaterindeedthan that of the people aboutherbut it was not a pleasant interest. As Loring stopped speakingand
Very soon Loring came forwardand stood by the table.
"Here is the box" he said"of which Ispokeand as I hold it up I think you all can see it. It is not largebeingcertainly not more than twelve inches in length and two deepbut it containssome very wonderful things. The outside of this box is covered with delicateengraving and carving which you cannot seeand these marks and lines haveIthinksome magical meaningbut I do not know what it is. I will now open thebox and show you what is inside. The first thing I take out is this littlesticknot thicker than a lead-pencilbut somewhat longeras you see. This isa magical wandand is covered with inscriptions of the same character as thoseon the outside of the box. The next thing is this little red bagwell filledas you seewhich I shall put on the tablefor I shall not yet need it.
"Now I take out a piece of cloth which is folded intoa very small compassbut as I unfold it you will perceive that it is more thana foot squareand is covered with embroidery. All those strange lines andfigures in gold and redwhich you can plainly see on the cloth as I hold it upare also characters in the same magic language as those on the box and wand. Iwill now spread the cloth on the tableand then take out the only remainingthing in the boxand this is nothing in the world but an egg -- a simpleordinary hen's eggas you all see as I hold it up. It may be a
"Now I will begin the performance." And as hestood by the back of the tableover which he had been slightly bendingandthrew his eyes over the audiencehis voice was strongerand his face had lostall its pallor. He was evidently warming up with his subject.
"I now take up this wand" he said"whichwhile I hold itgives me power to produce the phenomena which you are about tobehold. You may not all believe that there is any magic whatever about thislittle performanceand that it is all a bit of machinery; but whatever you maythink about ityou shall see what you shall see.
"Now with this wand I gently touch this egg which islying on the square of cloth. I do not believe you can see what has happened tothis eggbut I will tell you. There is a little linelike a hairentirelyaround it. Now that line has become a crack. Now you can see itI know. Itgrows wider and wider! Look! The shell of the egg is separating in the middle.The whole egg slightly moves. Do you notice that? Now you can see somethingyellow showing itself between the two parts of the shell. See! It is moving agood dealand the two halves of the shell are separating more and more. And nowout tumbles this queer little object. Do you see what it is? It is a poorweaklittle chicknot able to standbut alive -- alive! You can all perceive thatit is alive. Now you can see that it is standing on its feetfeebly enoughbutstill standing.
"Beholdit takes a few steps! You cannot doubt thatit is aliveand came out of that egg. It is beginning to walk about over thecloth. Do you notice that it is picking the embroidery? Nowlittle chickIwill give you something to eat. This little red bag contains graina magicalgrainwith which I shall feed the chicken. You must excuse my awkwardness inopening the bagas I still hold the wand; but this little stick I must notdrop. Seelittle chickthere are some grains! They look like ricebutinfactI have no idea what they are. But he knowshe knows! Look at him! See howhe picks it up! There! He has swallowed onetwothree. That will dolittlechickfor a first meal.
"The grain seems to have strengthened him alreadyfor see how lively he isand how his yellow down stands out on himso puffyand warm! You are looking for some more grainare you? Wellyou cannot have itjust yetand keep away from those pieces of eggshellwhichby the wayI willput back into the box. Nowsirtry to avoid the edge of the tableandtoquiet youI will give you a little tap on the back with my wand. Nowthenplease observe closely. The down which just now covered him has almost gone. Heis really a good deal biggerand ever so much uglier. See the littlepin-feathers sticking out over him! Some spots here and there are almost barebut he is ever so much more active. Ha! Listen to that! He is so strong that youcan hear his beak as he pecks at the table. He is actually growing bigger andbigger before our very eyes! See that funny little tailhow it begins to stickupand quills are showing at the end of his wings.
"Another tapand a few more grains. Carefulsir!Don't tear the cloth! See how rapidly he grows! He is fairly covered withfeathersred and blackwith a tip of yellow in front. You could hardly getthat fellow into an ostrich egg! Nowthenwhat do you think of him? He is bigenough for a broilerthough I don't think any one would want to take him forthat purpose. Some more grainand another tap from my wand. See! He does notmind the little stickfor he has been used to it from his very birth. Nowthenhe is what you would call a good half-grown chick. Rather more than half grownI should say. Do you notice his tail? There is no mistaking him for a pullet.The long feathers are beginning to curl over already. He must have a little moregrain. Look outsiror you will be off the table! Come back here! This tableis too small for himbut if he were on the floor you could not see him so well.
"Another tap. Now see that comb on the top of hishead; you scarcely noticed it beforeand now it is bright red. And see hisspurs beginning to show -- on good thick legstoo. There is a fine young fellowfor you! Look how he jerks his head from side to sidelike the young prince ofa poultry-yardas he well deserves to be!"
The attentive interest which had at first characterizedthe audience now changed to excited admiration and amazement. Some leanedforward with mouths wide open. Others stood up so that they could see better.Ejaculations of astonishment and wonder were heard on every sideand a morethoroughly fascinated and absorbed audience was never seen.
"Nowmy friends" Loring continued"Iwill give this handsome fowl another tap. Behold the result -- a noblefull-grown cock! Behold his spurs! They are nearly an inch long! Seethere is acomb for you! And what a magnificent tail of green and blackcontrasting sofinely with the deep red of the rest of his body! Wellsiryou are truly toobig for this table. As I cannot give you more roomI will set you up higher.Move over a littleand I will set this chair on the table. There! Upon the seat!That's rightbut don't stop. There is the backwhich is higher yet! Up withyou! Ha! Therehe nearly upset the chairbut I will hold it. See! He hasturned around. Nowthenlook at him. See his wings as he flaps them! He couldfly with such wings. Look at him! See that swelling breast! Haha! Listen! Didyou ever hear a crow like that? It fairly rings through the house. YesI knewit! There is another!"
At this point the people in the house were in a state ofwild excitement. Nearly all of them were on their feetand they were in such acondition of frantic enthusiasm that Loring was afraid some of them might make arun for the stage.
"Comesir" cried Loringnow almost shouting"that will do. You have shown us the strength of your lungs. Jump down onthe seat of the chair; now on the table. ThereI will take away the chairandyou can stand for a moment on the table and let our friends look at you; butonly for a moment. Take that tap on your back. Now do you see any difference?Perhaps you may notbut I do. YesI believe you all do. He is not the bigfellow he was a minute
"Another tap will take still more of the conceit outof him. Look at him! There are his pin-feathersand his bare spots. Don't tryto get away; I can easily tap you again. Now then. Here is a lovely little chickfluffy with yellow down. He is active enoughbut I shall quiet him. One tapand now what do you see? A poorfeeble chickenscarcely able to standwithhis down all packed close to him as if he had been out in the rain. AhlittlechickI will take the two halves of the eggshell from which you cameand putthem on each side of you. Comenow get in! I close them up. You are lost toview. There is nothing to be seen but a crack around the shell! Now it has gone!Theremy friends; as I hold it on highbehold the magic eggexactly as it waswhen I first took it out of the boxinto which I will place it againwith thecloth and the wand and the little red bagand shut it up with a snap. I willlet you take one more look at this box before I put it away behind the scenes.Are you satisfied with what I have shown you? Do you think it is really aswonderful as you supposed it would be?"
At these words the whole audience burst into riotous
"Thank you!" he criedbowing lowand wavinghis arms before him in the manner of an Eastern magician making a salaam. Fromside to side he turnedbowing and thankingand thenwith a hearty "Good-byto you; good-by to you all!" he stepped back and let down the curtain.
For some moments the audience remained in their seats asif they were expecting something moreand then they rose quietly and began todisperse. Most of them were acquainted with one anotherand there was a gooddeal of greeting and talking as they went out of the theatre.
When Loring was sure the last person had departedheturned down the lightslocked the doorand gave the key to the steward of theclub.
He walked to his home a happy man. His exhibition had beena perfect successwith not a break or a flaw in it from beginning to end.
"I feel" thought the young manas he strodealong"as if I could fly to the top of that steepleand flap and crowuntil all the world heard me."
That eveningas was his daily customHerbert Loringcalled upon Miss Starr. He found the young lady in the library.
"I came in here" she said"because I havea good deal to talk to you aboutand I do not want interruptions."
With this arrangement the young man expressed his entiresatisfactionand immediately began to inquire the cause of her absence from hisexhibition in the afternoon.
"But I was there" said Edith. "You did notsee mebut I was there. Mother had a headacheand I went by myself."
"You were there!" exclaimed Loringalmoststarting from his chair. "I don't understand. You were not in yourseat."
"No" answered Edith. "I was on the veryback row of seats. You could not see meand I did not wish you to see me."
"Edith!" exclaimed Loringrising to his feetand leaning over the library tablewhich was between them. "When did youcome? How much of the performance did you see?"
"I was late" she said. "I did not arriveuntil after the fireworksor whatever they were."
For a moment Loring was silentas if he did notunderstand the situation.
"Fireworks!" he said. "How did you knowthere had been fireworks?"
"I heard the people talking of them as they left thetheatre" she answered.
"And what did they say?" he inquired quickly.
"They seemed to like them very well" shereplied"but I do not think they were quite satisfied. From what I heardsome persons sayI inferred that they thought it was not very much of a show towhich you had invited them."
Again Loring stood in thoughtlooking down at the table.But before he could speak againEdith sprang to her feet.
"Herbert Loring" she cried"what does allthis mean? I was there during the whole of the exhibition of what you called themagic egg. I saw all those
Loring smiled. "Sit downmy dear Edith" hesaid. "You are excitedand there is not the slightest cause for it. I willexplain the whole affair to you. It is simple enough. You know that study is thegreat object of my life. I study all sorts of things; and just now I am greatlyinterested in hypnotism. The subject has become fascinating to me. I have made agreat many successful trials of my powerand the affair of this afternoon wasnothing but a trial of my powers on a more extensive scale than anything I haveyet attempted. I wanted to see if it were possible
"I kept up the glittering and dazzling show -- whichwas well worth seeingI can assure you -- until the people had been strainingtheir eyes upward for almost half an hour. And this sort of thing -- I will tellyou if you do not know it -- is one of the methods of producing hypnotic sleep.
"There was no one present who was not animpressionable subjectfor I was very careful in sending out my invitationsand when I became almost certain that my audience was thoroughly hypnotizedIstopped the show and began the real exhibitionwhich was not really for theirbenefitbut for mine.
"Of courseI was dreadfully anxious for fear I hadnot succeeded entirelyand that there might be at least some one person who hadnot succumbed to the hypnotic influencesand so I tested the matter by bringingout that table and telling them it was something it was not. If I had had anyreason for supposing that some of the audience saw the table as it really wasIhad an explanation readyand I could have retired from my position without anyone supposing that I had intended making hypnotic experiments. The rest of theexhibition would have been some things that any one could seeand as soon aspossible I would have released from their spell those
Edith Starr was still standing by the library table. Shehad not heeded Loring's advice to sit downand she was trembling with emotion.
"Herbert Loring" she said"you invited mymother and me to that exhibition. You gave us tickets for front seatswhere wewould be certain to be hypnotized if your experiment succeededand you wouldhave made us see that false showwhich faded from those people's minds as soonas they recovered from the spellfor as they went away they were talking onlyof the fireworksand not one of them mentioned a magic eggor a chickenoranything of the kind. Answer me this: did you not intend that I should come andbe put under that spell?"
Loring smiled. "Yes" he said"of course Idid. But then your case would have been different from that of the otherspectators: I should have explained the whole thing to youand I am sure wewould have had a great deal of pleasureand profit tooin discussing yourexperiences. The subject is extremely -- "
"Explain to me!" she cried. "You would nothave dared to do it! I do not know how brave you may bebut I know you wouldnot have had the courage to come here and tell me that you had taken away myreason and my judgmentas you took them away from all those peopleand thatyou had made me a mere tool of your will -- glaring and panting with excitementat the wonderful things you told me to see where nothing existed. I have nothingto say about the
"Not even me!" exclaimed Loring. "Surely Iwas real enough!"
"On that stageyes" she said. "But youthere proved you were not the Herbert Loring to whom I promised myself. He wasan unreal being. If he had existed he would not have been a man who would havebrought me to that public placeall ignorant of his intentionsto cloud myperceptionsto subject my intellect to his ownand make me believe a lie. If aman should treat me in that way once he would treat me so at other timesand inother waysif he had the chance. You have treated me in the past as to-day youtreated those people who glared at the magic egg. In the days gone by you mademe see an unreal manbut you will never do it again! Good-by."
"Edith" cried Loring"you don't -- "
But she had disappeared through a side doorand he neverspoke to her again.
Walking home through the dimly lighted streetsLoringinvoluntarily spoke aloud.
"And this" he said"is what came out ofthe magic egg!"