World Fame by C. E. Soya
Translated by R. H. Bathgate
There were only two of us in the tram, my neighbour and I; and we
were bored—at least, I was. Nor did the district we were
passing through invite cheerfulness—it was one of those depressing,
unromantic suburbs that breed dreamers and escapists.
My neighbour was very ordinary—to judge from his appearance. He
was of medium height, medium weight, medium intelligence, and
middle-aged. He was rather like myself—and I took him to be
psychologically completely uninteresting.
I changed my view when unexpectedly he exclaimed:
"Now I know how to become world-famous."
It gave me a shock. Not because he spoke to me without being
introduced—I am not Swedish. Nor because he seemed a little mad—so
do many of my acquaintances. No, the shock came from—
No. On second thoughts, I would rather not say why. There are too
many people who don't like me for me to dare to expose what lies
nearly in the depths of my soul.
I pulled myself together a little after the shock, and then I said:
"Well, that's very nice. How exactly do you propose to do it?"
"I shall perform a circus turn," he answered. "The really big
circus acts are all world-famous."
"Grock, the Rivel brothers, Baggesen, and the rest. You're quite
My fellow passenger continued—
"It will be a conjuring trick," he said. "I have just been sitting
and thinking the whole thing out in detail, and if you would like to,
"But you mustn't—you must not—use it!"
"Oh, no. I never steal conjuring tricks."
"Well, you see, first the two assistants come in with the props.
They should be wearing livery. I've been thinking a great deal about
whether it should be red or green livery, but I am inclined to think
now that it should be green. Red is a little banal. A bright shade of
dark green with gold braid on."
"Very smart!" I interjected—mainly to show that I was following.
"The props," he continued—in a matter-of-fact voice, "the props
consist of a table, an aquarium, a dozen goldfish and a dozen
tadpoles. The goldfish and the tadpoles are in the aquarium. The
aquarium must be made of plastic, so that it won't break. I shall
probably have to get it made in America.
"When the assistants come in they carry the table between them,
with the aquarium on the table; and the fish and the tadpoles, as I
said, play about in the aquarium.
"The assistants put the table down in the middle of the ring—then
"I don't know if I said that there should also be water in the
aquarium, but you understood that, perhaps?"
I nodded. I HAD understood that.
"Then I enter.
"I am not really quite sure, you know, whether I should be in
evening dress or just a plain suit. I think I'll choose a suit,
though— perhaps a little better than this one—"
He looked down at the many creases in his waistcoat and his
"—But nothing elegant or expensive or arty. I think it will
produce the greatest effect if my dress is in contrast with my fame
and...my colossal income—"
We stopped at a tram-stop, and my neighbour was silent for a
moment. Perhaps he was afraid to initiate the conductor into the
secrets of his world-famous act. A workman got on by the driver on the
front platform, and we set off again.
"I bow," went on my fellow-passenger. "Not low, but not
ungraciously, either. And then! Then the orchestra stops playing. You
understand: nearly the whole act will take place without music—then
the audience will know that this is REALLY something.
"I stick my hand down in the water, catch a tadpole, a little
innocent tadpole, and throw it up in the air. Up towards the big top.
And then it disappears."
"Disappears?" I exclaimed. With perfectly genuine astonishment.
"Yes. Vanishes. Invisible. On its way up in the air, suddenly it's
not there any more. Then I take a goldfish, up in the air with it—and
it's gone. Can you see the people staring?"
"Yes," I said. "They will certainly stare. I know something about
the public's reactions from my own line of business, and they will all
open their mouths to see better, I assure you."
"Another tadpole. Another goldfish. Another tadpole. Another
goldfish. And so on, and so on—until they have all disappeared under
the big top."
"Is it mass hypnosis you use—?"
But he went on—without answering my question—
"Now it is the aquarium's turn. I get hold of it with both hands,
life it up, throw it high in the air—
"And it's gone!"
"The aquarium as well?"
"The aquarium as well."
"But how on earth?"
"Finally I take the table. Up in the air with it. It disappears,
fades away. While the audience sits and stares, suddenly—phtt—it's
"Then I bow. Graciously, but not too low. And make my exit."
"You make your exit!"
"Yes. Out to the stables. The orchestra starts playing, a good
rousing tune: Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes' or something. It would do no
harm if they play for quite a time, it doesn't matter if people become
impatient or...or annoyed, it will only make the final reaction even
"The two assistants come in again during the last few bars,
carrying between them, a big oval bath-tub. They set the bath-tub down
exactly the same spot as the vanished table.
"When the bath is in place, they fill it with water. I think a
hose- pipe from the stables would be best; buckets take too long. Then
they go off, the music stops, and I come on and bow—graciously, but
not too low. The ringmaster comes forward. He explains in four
languages— all at once—that now the audience is going to see the
greatest sensation the circus world has ever known. What actually
happens is the private secret of the great world-famous artist, no one
else has yet discovered it, no one knows yet if it is an ingenious
piece of deception or a miracle. The ringmaster goes off. I shall wait
a little—wait until the whole arena is deathly quiet. Then I step
forward quite informally up to the bath-tub, look up, up towards the
big top, clap my hands lightly, and a tadpole falls down into the
bath. The audience is still quiet—they don't know if they saw aright.
Another clap—a goldfish flashes down and plops into the water. And I
go on clapping like this until all the tadpoles and goldfish are
swimming around in the basin.
"Then I clap twice—the aquarium comes rushing down from up above;
three times—the table. I bow. Can you hear the applause?"
"I can. It'll be colossal."
"Don't you think that should make me world-famous?"
"Certainly. No doubt about it. It's enough to put Chaplin in the
shade. But how exactly will you do it?"
"Well," he said, rather doubtfully. "That is what I have been
sitting and thinking about. I haven't got it quite straight yet,
His face lightened—
"—but when I do, then I'll be world-famous."
I got another shock which took my breath away. That was exactly—
Ah, no—I don't think I had better let on about that either.
I tumbled off at the next stop. Exactly two stops too soon, with
the result that I had to trudge a good way...through one of those
depressing, unromantic suburbs which breed dreamers and escapists. But
the man's tale had left me confused and distrait...as people are said
to become when they meet their own ghost.