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Act III


_Room partly darkened, a table with a lamp on it, and an empty
chair. From room next door faint and occasional sounds of the
tossing or talking of the invalid._

_Enter_ DOCTOR GRIMTHORPE _with a rather careworn air, and a
medicine bottle in his hand. He puts it on the table, and sits down
in the chair as if keeping a vigil._

_Enter_ CONJURER, _carrying his bag, and cloaked for departure. As he
crosses the room the_ DOCTOR _rises and calls after him._

DOCTOR. Forgive me, but may I detain you for one moment? I suppose you
are aware that--[_he hesitates_] that there have been rather grave
developments in the case of illness which happened after your
performance. I would not say, of course, because of your performance.

CONJURER. Thank you.

DOCTOR. [_Slightly encouraged, but speaking very carefully._]
Nevertheless, mental excitement is necessarily an element of importance
in physiological troubles, and your triumphs this evening were really so
extraordinary that I cannot pretend to dismiss them from my patient's
case. He is at present in a state somewhat analogous to delirium, but in
which he can still partially ask and answer questions. The question he
continually asks is how you managed to do your last trick.

CONJURER. Ah! My last trick!

DOCTOR. Now I was wondering whether we could make any arrangement which
would be fair to you in the matter. Would it be possible for you to give
me in confidence the means of satisfying this--this fixed idea he seems
to have got. [_He hesitates again, and picks his words more slowly._]
This special condition of semi-delirious disputation is a rare one, and
connected in my experience with rather unfortunate cases.

CONJURER. [_Looking at him steadily._] Do you mean he is going mad?

DOCTOR. [_Rather taken aback for the first time._] Really, you ask me an
unfair question. I could not explain the fine shades of these things to
a layman. And even if--if what you suggest were so, I should have to
regard it as a professional secret.

CONJURER. [_Still looking at him._] And don't you think you ask me a
rather unfair question, Dr. Grimthorpe? If yours is a professional
secret, is not mine a professional secret too? If you may hide truth
from the world, why may not I? You don't tell your tricks. I don't tell
my tricks.

DOCTOR. [_With some heat._] Ours are not tricks.

CONJURER. [_Reflectively._] Ah, no one can be sure of that till the
tricks are told.

DOCTOR. But the public can see a doctor's cures as plain as....

CONJURER. Yes. As plain as they saw the red lamp over his door this
evening.

DOCTOR. [_After a pause._] Your secret, of course, would be strictly
kept by every one involved.

CONJURER. Oh, of course. People in delirium always keep secrets
strictly.

DOCTOR. No one sees the patient but his sister and myself.

CONJURER. [_Starts slightly._] Yes, his sister. Is she very anxious?

DOCTOR. [_In a lower voice._] What would you suppose?

[CONJURER _throws himself into the chair, his cloak slipping back
from his evening dress. He ruminates for a short space and then
speaks._

CONJURER. Doctor, there are about a thousand reasons why I should not
tell you how I really did that trick. But one will suffice, because it
is the most practical of all.

DOCTOR. Well? And why shouldn't you tell me?

CONJURER. Because you wouldn't believe me if I did.

[_A silence, the_ DOCTOR _looking at him curiously._

[_Enter the_ DUKE _with papers in his hand. His usual gaiety of
manner has a rather forced air, owing to the fact that by some
vague sick-room associations he walks as if on tip-toe and begins
to speak in a sort of loud or shrill whisper. This he fortunately
forgets and falls into his more natural voice._

DUKE. [_To_ CONJURER.] So very kind of you to have waited, Professor. I
expect Dr. Grimthorpe has explained the little difficulty we are in
much better than I could. Nothing like the medical mind for a scientific
statement. [_Hazily._] Look at Ibsen.

[_Silence._

DOCTOR. Of course the Professor feels considerable reluctance in the
matter. He points out that his secrets are an essential part of his
profession.

DUKE. Of course, of course. Tricks of the trade, eh? Very proper, of
course. Quite a case of _noblesse oblige_ [_Silence._] But I dare say we
shall be able to find a way out of the matter. [_He turns to the_
CONJURER.] Now, my dear sir, I hope you will not be offended if I say
that this ought to be a business matter. We are asking you for a piece
of your professional work and knowledge, and if I may have the pleasure
of writing you a cheque....

CONJURER. I thank your Grace, I have already received my cheque from
your secretary. You will find it on the counterfoil just after the
cheque you so kindly gave to the Society for the Suppression of
Conjuring.

DUKE. Now I don't want you to take it in that way. I want you to take
it in a broader way. Free, you know. [_With an expansive gesture._]
Modern and all that! Wonderful man, Bernard Shaw!

[_Silence._

DOCTOR. [_With a slight cough, resuming._] If you feel any delicacy the
payment need not be made merely to you. I quite respect your feelings in
the matter.

DUKE. [_Approvingly._] Quite so, quite so. Haven't you got a Cause or
something? Everybody has a cause now, you know. Conjurers' widows or
something of that kind.

CONJURER. [_With restraint._] No; I have no widows.

DUKE. Then something like a pension or annuity for any widows you
may--er--procure. [_Gaily opening his cheque-book and talking slang to
show there is no ill-feeling._] Come, let me call it a couple of thou.

[_The_ CONJURER _takes the cheque and looks at it in a grave and
doubtful way. As he does so the_ RECTOR _comes slowly into the
room._

CONJURER. You would really be willing to pay a sum like this to know
the way I did that trick?

DUKE. I would willingly pay much more.

DOCTOR. I think I explained to you that the case is serious.

CONJURER. [_More and more thoughtful._] You would pay much more....
[_Suddenly._] But suppose I tell you the secret and you find there's
nothing in it?

DOCTOR. You mean that it's really quite simple? Why, I should say that
that would be the best thing that could possibly happen. A little
healthy laughter is the best possible thing for convalescence.

CONJURER. [_Still looking gloomily at the cheque._] I do not think you
will laugh.

DUKE. [_Reasoning genially._] But as you say it is something quite
simple.

CONJURER. It is the simplest thing there is in the world. That is why
you will not laugh.

DOCTOR. [_Almost nervously._] Why, what do you mean? What shall we do?

CONJURER. [_Gravely._] You will disbelieve it.

DOCTOR. And why?

CONJURER. Because it is so simple. [_He springs suddenly to his feet,
the cheque still in his hand._] You ask me how I really did the last
trick. I will tell you how I did the last trick. I did it by magic.

[_The_ DUKE _and_ DOCTOR _stare at him motionless; but the_ REV.
SMITH _starts and takes a step nearer the table. The_ CONJURER
_pulls his cloak round his shoulders. This gesture, as of
departure, brings the_ DOCTOR _to his feet._

DOCTOR. [_Astonished and angry._] Do you really mean that you take the
cheque and then tell us it was only magic?

CONJURER. [_Pulling the cheque to pieces._] I tear the cheque, and I
tell you it was only magic.

DOCTOR. [_With violent sincerity._] But hang it all, there's no such
thing.

CONJURER. Yes there is. I wish to God I did not know that there is.

DUKE. [_Rising also._] Why, really, magic....

CONJURER. [_Contemptuously._] Yes, your Grace, one of those larger laws
you were telling us about.

[_He buttons his cloak up at his throat and takes up his bag. As he
does so the_ REV. SMITH _steps between him and the door and stops
him for a moment._

SMITH. [_In a low voice._] One moment, sir.

CONJURER. What do you want?

SMITH. I want to apologize to you. I mean on behalf of the company. I
think it was wrong to offer you money. I think it was more wrong to
mystify you with medical language and call the thing delirium. I have
more respect for conjurer's patter than for doctor's patter. They are
both meant to stupify; but yours only to stupify for a moment. Now I put
it to you in plain words and on plain human Christian grounds. Here is a
poor boy who may be going mad. Suppose you had a son in such a position,
would you not expect people to tell you the whole truth if it could help
you?

CONJURER. Yes. And I have told you the whole truth. Go and find out if
it helps you.

[_Turns again to go, but more irresolutely._

SMITH. You know quite well it will not help us.

CONJURER. Why not?

SMITH. You know quite well why not. You are an honest man; and you have
said it yourself. Because he would not believe it.

CONJURER. [_With a sort of fury._] Well, does anybody believe it? Do you
believe it?

SMITH. [_With great restraint._] Your question is quite fair. Come, let
us sit down and talk about it. Let me take your cloak.

CONJURER. I will take off my cloak when you take off your coat.

SMITH. [_Smiling._] Why? Do you want me to fight?

CONJURER. [_Violently._] I want you to be martyred. I want you to _bear_
witness to your own creed. I say these things are supernatural. I say
this was done by a spirit. The Doctor does not believe me. He is an
agnostic; and he knows everything. The Duke does not believe me; he
cannot believe anything so plain as a miracle. But what the devil are
you for, if you don't believe in a miracle? What does your coat mean, if
it doesn't mean that there is such a thing as the supernatural? What
does your cursed collar mean if it doesn't mean that there is such a
thing as a spirit? [_Exasperated._] Why the devil do you dress up like
that if you don't believe in it? [_With violence._] Or perhaps you don't
believe in devils?

SMITH. I believe.... [_After a pause._] I wish I could believe.

CONJURER. Yes. I wish I could disbelieve.

[_Enter_ PATRICIA _pale and in the slight négligée of the amateur
nurse._

PATRICIA. May I speak to the Conjurer?

SMITH. [_Hastening forward._] You want the Doctor?

PATRICIA. No, the Conjurer.

DOCTOR. Are there any developments?

PATRICIA. I only want to speak to the Conjurer.

[_They all withdraw, either at the garden or the other doors._
PATRICIA _walks up to_ CONJURER.

PATRICIA. You must tell me how you did the trick. You will. I know you
will. O, I know my poor brother was rude to you. He's rude to everybody!
[_Breaks down._] But he's such a little, little boy!

CONJURER. I suppose you know there are things men never tell to women.
They are too horrible.

PATRICIA. Yes. And there are things women never tell to men. They also
are too horrible. I am here to hear them all.

CONJURER. Do you really mean I may say anything I like? However dark it
is? However dreadful it is? However damnable it is?

PATRICIA. I have gone through too much to be terrified now. Tell me the
very worst.

CONJURER. I will tell you the very worst. I fell in love with you when I
first saw you.

[_Sits down and crosses his legs._

PATRICIA. [_Drawing back._] You told me I looked like a child and....

CONJURER. I told a lie.

PATRICIA. O; this is terrible.

CONJURER. I was in love, I took an opportunity. You believed quite
simply that I was a magician? but I....

PATRICIA. It is terrible. It is terrible. I never believed you were a
magician.

CONJURER. [_Astounded._] Never believed I was a magician...!

PATRICIA. I always knew you were a man.

CONJURER. [_Doing whatever passionate things people do on the stage._] I
am a man. And you are a woman. And all the elves have gone to elfland,
and all the devils to hell. And you and I will walk out of this great
vulgar house and be married.... Every one is crazy in this house
to-night, I think. What am I saying? As if _you_ could marry _me_! O my
God!

PATRICIA. This is the first time you have failed in courage.

CONJURER. What do you mean?

PATRICIA. I mean to draw your attention to the fact that you have
recently made an offer, I accept it.

CONJURER. Oh, it's nonsense, it's nonsense. How can a man marry an
archangel, let alone a lady. My mother was a lady and she married a
dying fiddler who tramped the roads; and the mixture plays the cat and
banjo with my body and soul. I can see my mother now cooking food in
dirtier and dirtier lodgings, darning socks with weaker and weaker eyes
when she might have worn pearls by consenting to be a rational person.

PATRICIA. And she might have grown pearls, by consenting to be an
oyster.

CONJURER. [_Seriously._] There was little pleasure in her life.

PATRICIA. There is little, a very little, in everybody's. The question
is, what kind? We can't turn life into a pleasure. But we can choose
such pleasures as are worthy of us and our immortal souls. Your mother
chose and I have chosen.

CONJURER. [_Staring._] Immortal souls!... And I suppose if I knelt down
to worship you, you and every one else would laugh.

PATRICIA. [_With a smile of perversity._] Well, I think this is a more
comfortable way. [_She sits down suddenly beside him in a sort of
domestic way and goes on talking._] Yes. I'll do everything your mother
did, not so well, of course; I'll darn that conjurer's hat--does one
darn hats?--and cook the Conjurer's dinner. By the way, what is a
Conjurer's dinner? There's always the goldfish, of course....

CONJURER. [_With a groan._] Carrots.

PATRICIA. And, of course, now I come to think of it, you can always take
rabbits out of the hat. Why, what a cheap life it must be! How do you
cook rabbits? The Duke is always talking about poached rabbits. Really,
we shall be as happy as is good for us. We'll have confidence in each
other at least, and no secrets. I insist on knowing all the tricks.

CONJURER. I don't think I know whether I'm on my head or my heels.

PATRICIA. And now, as we're going to be so confidential and comfortable,
you'll just tell me the real, practical, tricky little way you did that
last trick.

CONJURER. [_Rising, rigid with horror._] How I did that trick? I did it
by devils. [_Turning furiously on_ PATRICIA.] You could believe in
fairies. Can't you believe in devils?

PATRICIA. [_Seriously._] No, I can't believe in devils.

CONJURER. Well, this room is full of them.

PATRICIA. What does it all mean?

CONJURER. It only means that I have done what many men have done; but
few, I think, have thriven by. [_He sits down and talks thoughtfully._]
I told you I had mixed with many queer sets of people. Among others, I
mixed with those who pretend, truly and falsely, to do our tricks by the
aid of spirits. I dabbled a little in table-rapping and table-turning.
But I soon had reason to give it up.

PATRICIA. Why did you give it up?

CONJURER. It began by giving me headaches. And I found that every
morning after a Spiritualist _séance_ I had a queer feeling of lowness
and degradation, of having been soiled; much like the feeling, I
suppose, that people have the morning after they have been drunk. But I
happen to have what people call a strong head; and I have never been
really drunk.

PATRICIA. I am glad of that.

CONJURER. It hasn't been for want of trying. But it wasn't long before
the spirits with whom I had been playing at table-turning, did what I
think they generally do at the end of all such table-turning.

PATRICIA. What did they do?

CONJURER. They turned the tables. They turned the tables upon me. I
don't wonder at your believing in fairies. As long as these things were
my servants they seemed to me like fairies. When they tried to be my
masters.... I found they were not fairies. I found the spirits with whom
I at least had come in contact were evil ... awfully, unnaturally evil.

PATRICIA. Did they say so?

CONJURER. Don't talk of what they said. I was a loose fellow, but I had
not fallen so low as such things. I resisted them; and after a pretty
bad time, psychologically speaking, I cut the connexion. But they were
always tempting me to use the supernatural power I had got from them.
It was not very great, but it was enough to move things about, to alter
lights, and so on. I don't know whether you realize that it's rather a
strain on a man to drink bad coffee at a coffee-stall when he knows he
has just enough magic in him to make a bottle of champagne walk out of
an empty shop.

PATRICIA. I think you behaved very well.

CONJURER. [_Bitterly._] And when I fell at last it was for nothing half
so clean and Christian as champagne. In black blind pride and anger and
all kinds of heathenry, because of the impudence of a schoolboy, I
called on the fiends and they obeyed.

PATRICIA. [_Touches his arm._] Poor fellow!

CONJURER. Your goodness is the only goodness that never goes wrong.

PATRICIA. And what _are_ we to do with Morris? I--I believe you now, my
dear. But he--he will never believe.

CONJURER. There is no bigot like the atheist. I must think.

[_Walks towards the garden windows. The other men reappear to
arrest his movement._

DOCTOR. Where are you going?

CONJURER. I am going to ask the God whose enemies I have served if I am
still worthy to save a child.

[_Exit into garden. He paces up and down exactly as_ MORRIS _has
done. As he does so_, PATRICIA _slowly goes out; and a long silence
follows, during which the remaining men stir and stamp very
restlessly. The darkness increases. It is long before anyone
speaks._

DOCTOR. [_Abruptly._] Remarkable man that Conjurer. Clever man. Curious
man. Very curious man. A kind of man, you know.... Lord bless us! What's
that?

DUKE. What's what, eh? What's what?

DOCTOR. I swear I heard a footstep.

_Enter_ HASTINGS _with papers._

DUKE. Why, Hastings--Hastings--we thought you were a ghost. You must
be--er--looking white or something.

HASTINGS. I have brought back the answer of the Anti-Vegetarians ... I
mean the Vegetarians.

[_Drops one or two papers._

DUKE. Why, Hastings, you _are_ looking white.

HASTINGS. I ask your Grace's pardon. I had a slight shock on entering
the room.

DOCTOR. A shock? What shock?

HASTINGS. It is the first time, I think, that your Grace's work has been
disturbed by any private feelings of mine. I shall not trouble your
Grace with them. It will not occur again.

[_Exit_ HASTINGS.

DUKE. What an extraordinary fellow. I wonder if....

[_Suddenly stops speaking._

DOCTOR. [_After a long silence, in a low voice to_ SMITH.] How do you
feel?

SMITH. I feel I must have a window shut or I must have it open, and I
don't know which it is.

[_Another long silence._

SMITH. [_Crying out suddenly in the dark._] In God's name, go!

DOCTOR. [_Jumping up rather in a tremble._] Really, sir, I am not used
to being spoken to....

SMITH. It was not you whom I told to go.

DOCTOR. No. [_Pause._] But I think I will go. This room is simply
horrible.

[_He marches towards the door._

DUKE. [_Jumping up and bustling about, altering cards, papers, etc., on
tables._] Room horrible? Room horrible? No, no, no. [_Begins to run
quicker round the room, flapping his hands like fins._] Only a little
crowded. A little crowded. And I don't seem to know all the people. We
can't like everybody. These large at-homes....

[_Tumbles on to a chair._

CONJURER. [_Reappearing at the garden doors._] Go back to hell from
which I called you. It is the last order I shall give.

DOCTOR. [_Rising rather shakily._] And what are you going to do?

CONJURER. I am going to tell that poor little lad a lie. I have found
in the garden what he did not find in the garden. I have managed to
think of a natural explanation of that trick.

DOCTOR. [_Warmly moved._] I think you are something like a great man.
Can I take your explanation to him now?

CONJURER. [_Grimly._] No thank you. I will take it myself.

[_Exit into the other room._

DUKE. [_Uneasily._] We all felt devilish queer just now. Wonderful
things there are in the world. [_After a pause._] I suppose it's all
electricity.

[_Silence as usual._

SMITH. I think there has been more than electricity in all this.

_Enter_ PATRICIA, _still pale, but radiant._

PATRICIA. Oh, Morris is ever so much better! The Conjurer has told him
such a good story of how the trick was done.

_Enter_ CONJURER.

DUKE. Professor, we owe you a thousand thanks!

DOCTOR. Really, you have doubled your claim to originality!

SMITH. It is much more marvellous to explain a miracle than to work a
miracle. What was your explanation, by the way?

CONJURER. I shall not tell you.

SMITH. [_Starting._] Indeed? Why not?

CONJURER. Because God and the demons and that Immortal Mystery that you
deny has been in this room to-night. Because you know it has been here.
Because you have felt it here. Because you know the spirits as well as I
do and fear them as much as I do.

SMITH. Well?

CONJURER. Because all this would not avail. If I told you the lie I told
Morris Carleon about how I did that trick....

SMITH. Well?

CONJURER. YOU would believe it as he believed it. You cannot think
[_pointing to the lamp_] how that trick could be done naturally. I alone
found out how it could be done--after I had done it by magic. But if I
tell you a natural way of doing it....

SMITH. Well?...

CONJURER. Half an hour after I have left this house you will be all
saying how it was done.

[CONJURER _buttons up his cloak and advances to_ PATRICIA.

CONJURER. Good-bye.

PATRICIA. I shall not say good-bye.

PATRICIA. Yes. That fairy tale has really and truly come to an end.
[_Looks at him a little in the old mystical manner._] It is very hard
for a fairy tale to come to an end. If you leave it alone it lingers
everlastingly. Our fairy tale has come to an end in the only way a fairy
tale can come to an end. The only way a fairy tale can leave off being a
fairy tale.

CONJURER. I don't understand you.

PATRICIA. It has come true.


CURTAIN


Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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