I had seen the Magic Shop from afar several times; I had passed
it once or twice, a shop window of alluring little objects, magic
balls, magic hens, wonderful cones, ventriloquist dolls, the
material of the basket trick, packs of cards that looked all right,
and all that sort of thing, but never had I thought of going in
until one day, almost without warning, Gip hauled me by my finger
right up to the window, and so conducted himself that there was
nothing for it but to take him in. I had not thought the place was
there, to tell the truth — a modest-sized frontage in Regent
Street, between the picture shop and the place where the chicks run
about just out of patent incubators, but there it was sure enough.
I had fancied it was down nearer the Circus, or round the corner in
Oxford Street, or even in Holborn; always over the way and a little
inaccessible it had been, with something of the mirage in its
position; but here it was now quite indisputably, and the fat end
of Gip’s pointing finger made a noise upon the glass.
“If I was rich,” said Gip, dabbing a finger at the
Disappearing Egg, “I’d buy myself that. And
that” — which was The Crying Baby, Very Human — and
that,” which was a mystery, and called, so a neat card
asserted, “Buy One and Astonish Your Friends.”
“Anything,” said Gip, “will disappear under
one of those cones. I have read about it in a book.
“And there, dadda, is the Vanishing Halfpenny — , only
they’ve put it this way up so’s we can’t see how
Gip, dear boy, inherits his mother’s breeding, and he did
not propose to enter the shop or worry in any way; only, you know,
quite unconsciously he lugged my finger doorward, and he made his
“That,” he said, and pointed to the Magic
“If you had that?” I said; at which promising
inquiry he looked up with a sudden radiance.
“I could show it to Jessie,” he said, thoughtful as
ever of others.
“It’s less than a hundred days to your birthday,
Gibbles,” I said, and laid my hand on the door-handle.
Gip made no answer, but his grip tightened on my finger, and so
we came into the shop.
It was no common shop this; it was a magic shop, and all the
prancing precedence Gip would have taken in the matter of mere toys
was wanting. He left the burthen of the conversation to me.
It was a little, narrow shop, not very well lit, and the
door-bell pinged again with a plaintive note as we closed it behind
us. For a moment or so we were alone and could glance about us.
There was a tiger in papier-mache on the glass case that covered
the low counter — a grave, kind-eyed tiger that waggled his
head in a methodical manner; there were several crystal spheres, a
china hand holding magic cards, a stock of magic fish-bowls in
various sizes, and an immodest magic hat that shamelessly displayed
its springs. On the floor were magic mirrors; one to draw you out
long and thin, one to swell your head and vanish your legs, and one
to make you short and fat like a draught; and while we were
laughing at these the shopman, as I suppose, came in.
At any rate, there he was behind the counter — a curious,
sallow, dark man, with one ear larger than the other and a chin
like the toe-cap of a boot.
“What can we have the pleasure?” he said, spreading
his long, magic fingers on the glass case; and so with a start we
were aware of him.
“I want,” I said, “to buy my little boy a few
“Legerdemain?” he asked. “Mechanical?
“Anything amusing?” said I.
“Um!” said the shopman, and scratched his head for a
moment as if thinking. Then, quite distinctly, he drew from his
head a glass ball. “Something in this way?” he said,
and held it out.
The action was unexpected. I had seen the trick done at
entertainments endless times before — it’s part of the
common stock of conjurers — but I had not expected it
“That’s good,” I said, with a laugh.
“Isn’t it?” said the shopman.
Gip stretched out his disengaged hand to take this object and
found merely a blank palm.
“It’s in your pocket,” said the shopman, and
there it was!
“How much will that be?” I asked.
“We make no charge for glass balls,” said the
shopman politely. “We get them,” — he picked one
out of his elbow as he spoke — “free.” He produced
another from the back of his neck, and laid it beside its
predecessor on the counter. Gip regarded his glass ball sagely,
then directed a look of inquiry at the two on the counter, and
finally brought his round-eyed scrutiny to the shopman, who
“You may have those too,” said the shopman,
“and, if you don’t mind, one from my mouth.
Gip counselled me mutely for a moment, and then in a profound
silence put away the four balls, resumed my reassuring finger, and
nerved himself for the next event.
“We get all our smaller tricks in that way,” the
I laughed in the manner of one who subscribes to a jest.
“Instead of going to the wholesale shop,” I said.
“Of course, it’s cheaper.”
“In a way,” the shopman said. “Though we pay
in the end. But not so heavily — as people suppose. . . . Our
larger tricks, and our daily provisions and all the other things we
want, we get out of that hat. . . And you know, sir, if
you’ll excuse my saying it, there isn’t a wholesale
shop, not for Genuine Magic goods, sir. I don’t know if you
noticed our inscription — the Genuine Magic shop.” He
drew a business-card from his cheek and handed it to me.
“Genuine,” he said, with his finger on the word, and
added, “There is absolutely no deception, sir.”
He seemed to be carrying out the joke pretty thoroughly, I
He turned to Gip with a smile of remarkable affability.
“You, you know, are the Right Sort of Boy.”
I was surprised at his knowing that, because, in the interests
of discipline, we keep it rather a secret even at home; but Gip
received it in unflinching silence, keeping a steadfast eye on
“It’s only the Right Sort of Boy gets through that
And, as if by way of illustration, there came a rattling at the
door, and a squeaking little voice could be faintly heard.
“Nyar! I warn‘a go in there, dadda, I warn‘a go
in there. Ny-a-a-ah!” and then the accents of a down-trodden
parent, urging consolations and propitiations. “It’s
locked, Edward,” he said.
“But it isn’t,” said I.
“It is, sir,” said the shopman,
“always — for that sort of child,” and as he spoke
we had a glimpse of the other youngster, a little, white face,
pallid from sweet-eating and over-sapid food, and distorted by evil
passions, a ruthless little egotist, pawing at the enchanted pane.
“It’s no good, sir,” said the shopman, as I
moved, with my natural helpfulness, doorward, and presently the
spoilt child was carried off howling.
“How do you manage that?” I said, breathing a little
“Magic!” said the shopman, with a careless wave of
the hand, and behold! sparks of coloured fire flew out of his
fingers and vanished into the shadows of the shop.
“You were saying,” he said, addressing himself to
Gip, “before you came in, that you would like one of our
‘Buy One and Astonish your Friends’ boxes?”
Gip, after a gallant effort, said “Yes.”
“It’s in your pocket.”
And leaning over the counter — he really had an
extraordinarily long body — this amazing person produced the
article in the customary conjurer’s manner.
“Paper,” he said, and took a sheet out of the empty hat
with the springs; “string,” and behold his mouth was a
string-box, from which he drew an unending thread, which when he
had tied his parcel he bit off — and, it seemed to me,
swallowed the ball of string. And then he lit a candle at the nose
of one of the ventriloquist’s dummies, stuck one of his
fingers (which had become sealing-wax red) into the flame, and so
sealed the parcel. “Then there was the Disappearing
Egg,” he remarked, and produced one from within my
coat-breast and packed it, and also The Crying Baby, Very Human. I
handed each parcel to Gip as it was ready, and he clasped them to
He said very little, but his eyes were eloquent; the clutch of
his arms was eloquent. He was the playground of unspeakable
emotions. These, you know, were real Magics. Then, with a start, I
discovered something moving about in my hat — something soft
and jumpy. I whipped it off, and a ruffled pigeon — no doubt a
confederate — dropped out and ran on the counter, and went, I
fancy, into a cardboard box behind the papier-mache tiger.
“Tut, tut!” said the shopman, dexterously relieving
me of my headdress; “careless bird, and — as I
live — nesting!”
He shook my hat, and shook out into his extended hand two or
three eggs, a large marble, a watch, about half-a-dozen of the
inevitable glass balls, and then crumpled, crinkled paper, more and
more and more, talking all the time of the way in which people
neglect to brush their hats inside as well as out, politely, of
course, but with a certain personal application. “All sorts
of things accumulate, sir. . . . Not you, of course, in particular.
. . . Nearly every customer. . . . Astonishing what they carry
about with them. . . .” The crumpled paper rose and billowed
on the counter more and more and more, until he was nearly hidden
from us, until he was altogether hidden, and still his voice went
on and on. “We none of us know what the fair semblance of a
human being may conceal, sir. Are we all then no better than
brushed exteriors, whited sepulchres — ”
His voice stopped — exactly like when you hit a
neighbour’s gramophone with a well-aimed brick, the same
instant silence, and the rustle of the paper stopped, and
everything was still. . . .
“Have you done with my hat?” I said, after an
There was no answer.
I stared at Gip, and Gip stared at me, and there were our
distortions in the magic mirrors, looking very rum, and grave, and
quiet. . . .
“I think we’ll go now,” I said. “Will
you tell me how much all this comes to? . . . .
“I say,” I said, on a rather louder note, “I
want the bill; and my hat, please.”
It might have been a sniff from behind the paper pile. . . .
“Let’s look behind the counter, Gip,” I said.
“He’s making fun of us.”
I led Gip round the head-wagging tiger, and what do you think
there was behind the counter? No one at all! Only my hat on the
floor, and a common conjurer’s lop-eared white rabbit lost in
meditation, and looking as stupid and crumpled as only a
conjurer’s rabbit can do. I resumed my hat, and the rabbit
lolloped a lollop or so out of my way.
“Dadda!” said Gip, in a guilty whisper.
“What is it, Gip?” said I.
“I do like this shop, dadda.”
“So should I,” I said to myself, “if the
counter wouldn’t suddenly extend itself to shut one off from
the door.” But I didn’t call Gip’s attention to
that. “Pussy!” he said, with a hand out to the rabbit
as it came lolloping past us; “Pussy, do Gip a magic!”
and his eyes followed it as it squeezed through a door I had
certainly not remarked a moment before. Then this door opened
wider, and the man with one ear larger than the other appeared
again. He was smiling still, but his eye met mine with something
between amusement and defiance. “You’d like to see our
show-room, sir,” he said, with an innocent suavity. Gip
tugged my finger forward. I glanced at the counter and met the
shopman’s eye again. I was beginning to think the magic just
a little too genuine. “We haven’t very much
time,” I said. But somehow we were inside the show-room
before I could finish that.
“All goods of the same quality,” said the shopman,
rubbing his flexible hands together, “and that is the Best.
Nothing in the place that isn’t genuine Magic, and warranted
thoroughly rum. Excuse me, sir!”
I felt him pull at something that clung to my coat-sleeve, and
then I saw he held a little, wriggling red demon by the
tail — the little creature bit and fought and tried to get at
his hand — and in a moment he tossed it carelessly behind a
counter. No doubt the thing was only an image of twisted
indiarubber, but for the moment — ! And his gesture was exactly
that of a man who handles some petty biting bit of vermin. I
glanced at Gip, but Gip was looking at a magic rocking-horse. I was
glad he hadn’t seen the thing. “I say,” I said,
in an undertone, and indicating Gip and the red demon with my eyes,
“you haven’t many things like that about, have
“None of ours! Probably brought it with you,” said
the shopman — also in an undertone, and with a more dazzling
smile than ever. “Astonishing what people will carry about
with them unawares!” And then to Gip, “Do you see
anything you fancy here?”
There were many things that Gip fancied there.
He turned to this astonishing tradesman with mingled confidence
and respect. “Is that a Magic Sword?” he said.
“A Magic Toy Sword. It neither bends, breaks, nor cuts the
fingers. It renders the bearer invincible in battle against any one
under eighteen. Half-a-crown to seven and sixpence, according to
size. These panoplies on cards are for juvenile knights-errant and
very useful — shield of safety, sandals of swiftness, helmet
“Oh, daddy!” gasped Gip.
I tried to find out what they cost, but the shopman did not heed
me. He had got Gip now; he had got him away from my finger; he had
embarked upon the exposition of all his confounded stock, and
nothing was going to stop him. Presently I saw with a qualm of
distrust and something very like jealousy that Gip had hold of this
person’s finger as usually he has hold of mine. No doubt the
fellow was interesting, I thought, and had an interestingly faked
lot of stuff, really good faked stuff, still —
I wandered after them, saying very little, but keeping an eye on
this prestidigital fellow. After all, Gip was enjoying it. And no
doubt when the time came to go we should be able to go quite
It was a long, rambling place, that show-room, a gallery broken
up by stands and stalls and pillars, with archways leading off to
other departments, in which the queerest-looking assistants loafed
and stared at one, and with perplexing mirrors and curtains. So
perplexing, indeed, were these that I was presently unable to make
out the door by which we had come.
The shopman showed Gip magic trains that ran without steam or
clockwork, just as you set the signals, and then some very, very
valuable boxes of soldiers that all came alive directly you took
off the lid and said — . I myself haven’t a very quick
ear and it was a tongue-twisting sound, but Gip — he has his
mother’s ear — got it in no time. “Bravo!”
said the shopman, putting the men back into the box unceremoniously
and handing it to Gip. “Now,” said the shopman, and in
a moment Gip had made them all alive again.
“You’ll take that box?” asked the shopman.
“We’ll take that box,” said I, “unless
you charge its full value. In which case it would need a Trust
Magnate — ”
“Dear heart! No!” and the shopman swept the little
men back again, shut the lid, waved the box in the air, and there
it was, in brown paper, tied up and — WITH GIP’S FULL
NAME AND ADDRESS ON THE PAPER!
The shopman laughed at my amazement.
“This is the genuine magic,” he said. “The
“It’s a little too genuine for my taste,” I
After that he fell to showing Gip tricks, odd tricks, and still
odder the way they were done. He explained them, he turned them
inside out, and there was the dear little chap nodding his busy bit
of a head in the sagest manner.
I did not attend as well as I might. “Hey, presto!”
said the Magic Shopman, and then would come the clear, small
“Hey, presto!” of the boy. But I was distracted by
other things. It was being borne in upon me just how tremendously
rum this place was; it was, so to speak, inundated by a sense of
rumness. There was something a little rum about the fixtures even,
about the ceiling, about the floor, about the casually distributed
chairs. I had a queer feeling that whenever I wasn’t looking
at them straight they went askew, and moved about, and played a
noiseless puss-in-the-corner behind my back. And the cornice had a
serpentine design with masks — masks altogether too expressive
for proper plaster.
Then abruptly my attention was caught by one of the odd-looking
assistants. He was some way off and evidently unaware of my
presence — I saw a sort of three-quarter length of him over a
pile of toys and through an arch — and, you know, he was
leaning against a pillar in an idle sort of way doing the most
horrid things with his features! The particular horrid thing he did
was with his nose. He did it just as though he was idle and wanted
to amuse himself. First of all it was a short, blobby nose, and
then suddenly he shot it out like a telescope, and then out it flew
and became thinner and thinner until it was like a long, red,
flexible whip. Like a thing in a nightmare it was! He flourished it
about and flung it forth as a fly-fisher flings his line.
My instant thought was that Gip mustn’t see him. I turned
about, and there was Gip quite preoccupied with the shopman, and
thinking no evil. They were whispering together and looking at me.
Gip was standing on a little stool, and the shopman was holding a
sort of big drum in his hand.
“Hide and seek, dadda!” cried Gip.
And before I could do anything to prevent it, the shopman had
clapped the big drum over him. I saw what was up directly.
“Take that off,” I cried, “this instant!
You’ll frighten the boy. Take it off!”
The shopman with the unequal ears did so without a word, and
held the big cylinder towards me to show its emptiness. And the
little stool was vacant! In that instant my boy had utterly
disappeared? . . .
You know, perhaps, that sinister something that comes like a
hand out of the unseen and grips your heart about. You know it
takes your common self away and leaves you tense and deliberate,
neither slow nor hasty, neither angry nor afraid. So it was with
I came up to this grinning shopman and kicked his stool
“Stop this folly!” I said. “Where is my
“You see,” he said, still displaying the
drum’s interior, “there is no
deception — ”
I put out my hand to grip him, and he eluded me by a dexterous
movement. I snatched again, and he turned from me and pushed open a
door to escape. “Stop!” I said, and he laughed,
receding. I leapt after him — into utter darkness.
“Lor’ bless my ’eart! I didn’t see you
I was in Regent Street, and I had collided with a decent-looking
working man; and a yard away, perhaps, and looking a little
perplexed with himself, was Gip. There was some sort of apology,
and then Gip had turned and come to me with a bright little smile,
as though for a moment he had missed me.
And he was carrying four parcels in his arm!
He secured immediate possession of my finger.
For the second I was rather at a loss. I stared round to see the
door of the magic shop, and, behold, it was not there! There was no
door, no shop, nothing, only the common pilaster between the shop
where they sell pictures and the window with the chicks! . . .
I did the only thing possible in that mental tumult; I walked
straight to the kerbstone and held up my umbrella for a cab.
“‘Ansoms,” said Gip, in a note of culminating
I helped him in, recalled my address with an effort, and got in
also. Something unusual proclaimed itself in my tail-coat pocket,
and I felt and discovered a glass ball. With a petulant expression
I flung it into the street.
Gip said nothing.
For a space neither of us spoke.
“Dada!” said Gip, at last, “that was a proper
I came round with that to the problem of just how the whole
thing had seemed to him. He looked completely undamaged — so
far, good; he was neither scared nor unhinged, he was simply
tremendously satisfied with the afternoon’s entertainment,
and there in his arms were the four parcels.
Confound it! what could be in them?
“Um!” I said. “Little boys can’t go to
shops like that every day.”
He received this with his usual stoicism, and for a moment I was
sorry I was his father and not his mother, and so couldn’t
suddenly there, coram publico, in our hansom, kiss him. After all,
I thought, the thing wasn’t so very bad.
But it was only when we opened the parcels that I really began
to be reassured. Three of them contained boxes of soldiers, quite
ordinary lead soldiers, but of so good a quality as to make Gip
altogether forget that originally these parcels had been Magic
Tricks of the only genuine sort, and the fourth contained a kitten,
a little living white kitten, in excellent health and appetite and
I saw this unpacking with a sort of provisional relief. I hung
about in the nursery for quite an unconscionable time. . . .
That happened six months ago. And now I am beginning to believe
it is all right. The kitten had only the magic natural to all
kittens, and the soldiers seem as steady a company as any colonel
could desire. And Gip — ?
The intelligent parent will understand that I have to go
cautiously with Gip.
But I went so far as this one day. I said, “How would you
like your soldiers to come alive, Gip, and march about by
“Mine do,” said Gip. “I just have to say a
word I know before I open the lid.”
“Then they march about alone?”
“Oh, quite, dadda. I shouldn’t like them if they
didn’t do that.”
I displayed no unbecoming surprise, and since then I have taken
occasion to drop in upon him once or twice, unannounced, when the
soldiers were about, but so far I have never discovered them
performing in anything like a magical manner.
It’s so difficult to tell.
There’s also a question of finance. I have an incurable
habit of paying bills. I have been up and down Regent Street
several times, looking for that shop. I am inclined to think,
indeed, that in that matter honour is satisfied, and that, since
Gip’s name and address are known to them, I may very well
leave it to these people, whoever they may be, to send in their
bill in their own time.