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Stephen Leacock was born in Swanmore, Hampshire, England, in 1869. His family emigrated to Canada in 1876 and settled on a farm north of Toronto. Educated at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, Leacock pursued graduate studies in economics at the University of Chicago, where he studied under Thorstein Veblen.
Even before he completed his doctorate, Leacock accepted a position as sessional lecturer in political science and economics at McGill University. When he received his Ph.D. in 1903, he was appointed to the position of lecturer. From 1908 until his retirement in 1936, he chaired the Department of Political Science and Economics.
Leacock’s most profitable book was his textbook, Elements of Political Science, which was translated into seventeen languages. The author of nineteen books and countless articles on economics, history, and political science, Leacock turned to the writing of humour as his beloved avocation. His first collection of comic stories, Literary Lapses, appeared in 1910, and from that time until his death he published a volume of humour almost every year.
Leacock also wrote popular biographies of his two favourite writers, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. At the time of his death, he left four completed chapters of what was to have been his autobiography. These were published posthumously under the title The Boy I Left Behind Me.
Stephen Leacock died in Toronto, Ontario, in 1944.
From the eBook edition.
“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 hall. “He — had — it — up — his — sleeve.”
“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. clang, clang) — Presto!”
There was a general buzz of stupefaction till the Quick Man was heard to whisper. “He — must — have — had — another — lot — up — his — sleeve.”
Again everybody nodded and whispered. “The — rings — were — up — his — sleeve.”
The brow of the conjurer was clouded with a gathering frown.
“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. “He — has — a — lot — of — hens — up — his — sleeve.”
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 effort.
“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 bum 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.