The Prestige - chapter 1
It began on a train, heading north through England, although soon I discovered that the story had really begun more than a hundred years earlier.
I was going to clarify a report of an incident at a religious sect. On my lap lay the large envelope, I had received from my father that morning, still unopened, because when Dad phoned to tell me about it, my mind had been elsewhere. My girlfriend was leaving me.
I opened Dad’s envelope. A large-format paperback book slipped out, with a note inside and a used envelope folded in half.
The note said, “Dear Andy, Here is the book I told you about. I think it was sent by the same woman who rang me. She asked me if I knew where you were. I’m enclosing the envelope the book arrived in. The postmark is a bit blurred, but maybe you can make it out. Your mother would love to know when you are coming to stay with us again. How about next weekend? With love, Dad.”
At last, I remembered some of my father’s phone call. He told me the book had arrived, and that the woman who had sent it appeared to be a distant relative, because she had been talking about my family.
Here, though, was the book. It was called Secret Methods of Magic, and the author was one Alfred Borden. It was one of instructional books of card tricks, illusions involving silk scarves, and so on. The only aspect of it that interested me at first glance was that although it was a recently published paperback, the text itself looked like a reproduction of a much older edition: the typography, the illustrations, the chapter headings and the writing style all suggested this.
I couldn’t see why I should be interested in such a book. Only the author’s name was familiar: Borden was the surname I had been born with, although when I was adopted as a small child my name was changed. My name now, my full and legal name, is Andrew Westley, and although I have always known that I was adopted I grew up thinking of Duncan and Jillian Westley as Dad and Mum, loved them as parents, and behaved as their son. All this is still true. I feel nothing for my natural parents. I’m not curious about them, and have no wish to trace them now that I am an adult.
There is, though, one matter concerning my background that is almost obsessive.
I am almost certain, that I was born one of a pair of identical twins, and that my brother and I were separated at the time of adoption. I have no idea why this was done, nor where my brother might be, but I have always assumed that he was adopted at the same time as me. I only started to suspect his existence when I was thirteen. By chance, I came across a passage in a book, an adventure story, that described the way in which many pairs of twins are linked by an inexplicable, psychic contact. Even living in different countries, such twins will share feelings of pain, surprise, happiness, depression, one twin sending to the other, and vice versa. Reading this was one of those moments in life when suddenly a lot of things become clear.
All my life, as long as I can remember, I have had the feeling that someone else is sharing my life. As a child, I thought little of it and assumed everyone else had the same feelings. As I grew older, and I realized none of my friends was going through the same thing, it became a mystery. Reading the book therefore came as a great relief as it explained everything. I had a twin somewhere.
The feeling of link is generally vague. It is a sense of somebody caring for you. More direct “messages” come only occasionally. Once or twice when I have been drunk, for example, I have felt my brother’s anxiety growing in me, a fear that I might come to some harm. On one of these occasions, when I was leaving a party late at night and was going to drive myself home, the flash of concern that reached me was so powerful that I drove home inexplicably sober that night.
Sometimes I have also sensed my brother in pain, or frightened, or threatened in some way, and have been able to “send” feelings of calm, or sympathy, or reassurance towards him. It is a psychic mechanism I can use without understanding it. No one has ever explained it, even though it is common and well documented.
There is in my case, however, an extra mystery.
As far as records are concerned, I never had a brother of any kind. I have some memories of my life before adoption, although I was only three when that happened, and I can’t remember my brother at all. Dad and Mum knew nothing about it.
As an adoptee, you have certain legal rights. The most important of these is protection from your natural parents: they cannot contact you by any legal means. Another right is that when you reach adulthood you are able to ask about some of the circumstances of your adoption. You can find out the names of your natural parents and the address of the court of law where the adoption was made, and therefore where important records can be examined.
I followed all this up soon after my eighteenth birthday, anxious to find out what I could about my brother. I discovered that I had been put up for adoption by my father, whose name was Clive Alexander Borden. My mother’s name was Diana Ruth Borden (nee Ellington), but she had died soon after I was born. I assumed that the adoption happened because of her death, but in fact, I was not adopted for more than two years after she died, during which period my father brought me up by himself. My own original name was Nicholas Julius Borden. There was nothing about any other child.
Even so, my psychic contacts with my twin remained through all this, and have continued ever since.
The book had been published in the USA. The cover painting depicted a stage magician pointing his hands expressively towards a wooden cabinet, from which a young lady was emerging. She was wearing a dazzling smile and a costume, which for that time looked saucy.
Under the author’s name was printed: “Edited and annotated by Lord Colderdale.”
At the bottom of the cover, was the notice: “The Famous Oath-Protected Book of Secrets”.
A longer and much more descriptive recommendation was on the back cover:
Originally published as a strictly limited edition in 1905 in London, this book was sold only to professional magicians who swore an oath of secrecy about its contents. First edition copies are now very rare.
Made publicly available for the first time, this new edition is completely unabridged and contains all the original illustrations, as well as the notes provided by Britain’s Earl of Colderdale, a famous contemporary amateur of magic.
The author is Alfred Borden, inventor of the legendary illusion The New Transported Man. Borden, whose stage name was Le Professeur de la Magie, was in the first decade of this century the leading stage illusionist. Encouraged in his early years by John Henry Anderson, and as a protege of Nevil Maskelyne’s, Borden was a contemporary of Houdini, David Devant, Chung Ling Soo and Buatier de Kolta. He was based in London, England, but frequently toured the United States and Europe.
This book with its broad understanding of magical methods will give both laymen and professionals startling insights into the mind of one of the greatest magicians who ever lived.
It was amusing to discover that one of my ancestors had been a magician, but I had no special interest in the subject. The illusions you sometimes see on television are impressive, but I have never felt curious about how the effects are achieved. Someone once said that the trouble with magic was that the more a magician protects his secrets, the more banal they turn out to be.
Alfred Borden’s book contained a long section on card tricks, and another described tricks with cigarettes and coins. Explanatory drawings and instructions accompanied each one. At the back of the book was a chapter about stage illusions, with many illustrations of cabinets with hidden compartments, boxes with false bottoms, tables with lifting devices concealed behind curtains, and other apparatus. I glanced through some of these pages.
The first half of the book was not illustrated, but consisted of a long account of the author’s life and outlook on magic. It began with the following words:
I write in the year 1901.
My name, my real name, is Alfred Borden. The story of my life is the story of the secrets by which I have lived my life. They are described in this narrative for the first and last time.
I was born in 1856 on the eighth day of the month of May, in the coastal town of Hastings. I was a healthy, vigorous child. My father was a tradesman, a master wheelwright and cooper. Our house –
I wondered what relation Alfred Borden would be to me. If he wasn’t a cousin or an uncle, then he would be my great – or great-great-grandfather. If he was born in 1856, he was in his middle forties when he wrote the book; he was therefore not my father’s father, but of an earlier generation.
The Introduction was written in much the same style as the main text. The book was based on Borden’s private notebook, not intended for publication. Colderdale had considerably expanded and clarified the narrative, and added the descriptions of most of the tricks. There was no extra biographical information about Borden, but presumably I would find some if I read the whole book.
I couldn’t see how the book was going to tell me anything about my brother. He remained my only interest in my natural family.
At this point, my mobile phone began beeping. It was Sonja, the secretary of my editor, Len Wickham.
“Andy, there’s been a change of plan about the car,” she said. “Eric Lambert had to take it in for a repair to the brakes, so it’s in a garage.”
She gave me the address. This car in Sheffield, an old Ford, prevented me from driving up in my own car. Len wouldn’t allow the expenses if a company car was available.
“Did Uncle say anything else?” I said.
“This story’s still on?”
“Has anything else come in from the agencies?”
“We’ve had a faxed confirmation from California. Franklin is still a prisoner.”
We hung up. Then I spoke to my father. I told him I was on my way to Sheffield, would be driving from there into the Peak District and if it was OK with them (of course it would be) I could come and stay the night. My father sounded pleased. He and Jillian still lived in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and now I was working in London my trips to see them were infrequent.
After we had hung up, I put the book in my case and stared through the train window at the passing countryside. I had to concentrate on the incident I was going to investigate. I worked for the Chronicle as a journalist. The true state of affairs was that Dad was himself a newspaperman, and had formerly worked for the Manchester Evening Post, a sister paper to the Chronicle. It was a matter of pride to him that I had obtained the job, even though I have always suspected him of pulling strings for me.
Len Wickham, my supervising editor, had assigned me to any story that involved witches, levitation, spontaneous combustion, crop circles, and other unusual subjects. In most cases, I had already discovered, once you went into these things properly there was generally not much to say about them, and very few of the stories I wrote were ever printed.
There was an extra twist this time. With some pleasure, Wickham informed me that someone from the sect had phoned to ask if the Chronicle was planning to cover the story, and if so had asked for me in person. They had seen some of my earlier articles, thought I showed the right degree of honest skepticism, and could therefore write a proper article.
A Californian religious sect called the Rapturous Church of Christ Jesus had established a community in a large country house in a Derbyshire village. One of the women members had died of natural causes a few days earlier. Her doctor was present, as was her daughter. As she lay on the point of death, a man had entered the room. He stood beside the bed and made soothing gestures with his hands. The woman died soon after, and the man immediately left the room without speaking to the other two. He was not seen afterwards. He had been recognized by the woman’s daughter, and by two members of the sect who had come into the room while he was there, as the man who had founded the sect. This was Father Patrick Franklin, and the sect had grown up around him because of his claimed ability to bilocate.
The incident was newsworthy for two reasons. It was the first of Franklin’s bilocations witnessed by non-members of the sect. And the other reason was that Franklin’s location on that day could be firmly established: he was in prison in California, and as Sonja had just confirmed to me on the phone he was still there.