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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."

I nodded—

"Grock, the Rivel brothers, Baggesen, and the rest. You're quite right."

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, sir...?"

"Certainly."

"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 they go.

"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 trousers.

"—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."

I muttered:

"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 gone!"

"Good Lord!"

"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 greater.

"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, but—"

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.

 
 
 

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