The Prestige - 0-RUPERT ANGIER
21st September 1866
The Story of My Life
1. My History, my name is ROBBIE (Rupert) DAVID ANGIER and I am 9 nine years old today. I am to write in this book every day until I am old.
2. My Ancestors, I have many but Papa and Mama are the first. I have one brother: HENRY RICHARD ANGUS ST JOHN ANGIER, and he is 15 he goes to school.
3. I live in Caldlow House Caldlow Derbyshire. I have had something wrong with my throat this week.
4. The Staff, I have a Nan and there is Grierson and a maid who changes with the other maid in the afternoons, but I don’t know her name.
5. I have to show this to Papa when I have written it. The end. Signed Rupert David Angier.
22nd September 1866
The Story of My Life
1. Today the doctor came to see me again and I am all right. Got a letter today from Henry my brother who says I must call him Sir from now on because he is a prefect.
2. Papa has gone to London to sit in the House. He said that I am the head of the house until he gets back. This means Henry would call me Sir but he is not here.
3. Told this to Henry when I wrote to him.
4. Went for walk, talked to Nan, was read to by Grierson who fell asleep as usual.
I do not have to show this to Papa any more, provided I keep it up.
23rd September 1866
Throat much better. Went for drive today with Grierson, who did not say much but he told me that Henry says that when he takes over the house he will be going. Grierson will be going when Henry takes over the house, I mean.
I am waiting for Mama to come and see me, she is late tonight.
22nd December 1867
Yesterday evening there was a party for me and several boys and girls from the village, it being Christmas they are allowed here. Henry was here too but he did not want to come to the party because of the others. He missed a great treat because we had a magician at the party!
This man, who was called Mr A. Presto, did the most wonderful tricks I have ever seen. He started by making all sorts of banners and flags and umbrellas appear from nowhere, with lots of balloons and ribbons. Then he did some tricks with playing cards, making us choose cards, which he was able to guess. He was very clever. I pleaded and pleaded to be told how these tricks were done, but Mr Presto would not tell me.
This morning I had an idea, and I got Grierson to drive into Sheffield for me and buy all the magic tricks he could find, and to see if there were any books that told you how to do it. Grierson was gone nearly all day, but in the end he came back with most of what I wanted. It includes a special glass box for hiding a bird in so I can produce it by magic. Already I have learnt a trick where I can guess which card someone else has chosen and I have tried it out several times on Grierson.
1st April 1873.
Home from school. I now have sufficient privacy to write in this book.
My father, the 12th Earl of Colderdale, died three days ago, 29th March 1873. My brother Henry assumes his title, lands and property. The future of myself, my mother, and every other member of the household is now uncertain.
Papa will be buried tomorrow in the vault.
This morning I am feeling more optimistic about my prospects. I have been here in my room this morning, practising my magic. I believe I have now attained performance standard, and although I have not yet put this to full test, I have often practised new tricks on the fellows at school.
I wish, and this is my only wish in this saddest of weeks, that I could use my magic to bring Papa back to his life. A selfish wish, because it would undoubtedly help restore my own life to where it was three days ago, but also a fervently loving wish, because I loved my Papa and already I miss him, and regret his passing. He was forty-nine years old, and I believe that is too young by far to be a victim of failure of the heart.
2nd April 1873
The funeral has taken place, and my father has been laid to rest. After the ceremony in the chapel, his body was taken to the family vault, situated beneath the East Rise.
We were all there, assembled in the hall beneath the main staircase. Sir Geoffrey Fusel-Hunt, my father’s solicitor, opened the brown envelope that contained the dread document. I looked around at the others. My father’s brothers and sisters were there, with their spouses and, in some cases, their children. The men who managed the estate and who guarded the game, patrolled the moor, protected the farms and the fishery, stood in a small group to one side. In the centre of the semi-circular group, directly facing Sir Geoffrey across his desk, myself and Mama, with the servants behind us. In front of us all, standing, arms folded across his chest, central to the moment, Henry dominated the occasion.
There were no surprises. Henry inherited father’s title, lands and property. Mama is given the choice, for the remainder of her life, of occupying a principal wing of the main house or total occupation of the dower house by the gate. I am allowed to remain in the rooms I presently occupy until I finish my education or gain my majority, after which my fate will be decided by Henry. The rest of the household is to stay or be disposed of as Henry sees fit.
Tomorrow I shall try to decide how I am to live my life, and to make this decision before Henry can make it for me.
3rd April 1874
It seems appropriate to return to this diary after the space of a year. I remain at Caldlow House, partly because until I am twenty-one I am in the charge of Henry, my legal guardian, but mainly because Mama wishes me to. Henry has taken a residence in London, from where he daily attends the House.
Following Papa’s death, I allowed my practice of legerdemain to fall into neglect, but about nine months ago I returned to it. Since then I have been practising intently, and taking every opportunity to watch the performance of stage magic. Many of the illusions are already known to me, but at least once in every performance I see something that excites or baffles me. After this, the hunt for the secret is on. Grierson and I now know the various magic dealers and suppliers, where, with persistence, we eventually gain access to what I require.
Grierson, alone in our household, knows of my magical interest and ambition. When Mama speaks pessimistically of what is to become of me, I dare not tell her what I plan, but deep inside me, I feel a knot of confidence that when I leave Derbyshire I shall have a career to follow. The magic journals to which I subscribe write of the immense fees a top illusionist may now have for a single performance, not to mention the social glory that attaches to a brilliant career on the stage.
I am waiting in the wings’, however, because once I am of age my real life will begin!
31st December 1876
Idmiston Villas, London N
I have finally been able to get my boxes and cases from storage, and I spent a dismal Christmas going through my old belongings, sorting out those that I no longer want, and those I am glad to find again. This diary was one of the latter, and I have been reading through it for the last few minutes.
Too many gaps already exist. I tore out all those pages where I described my rows with Henry, and with them went the records I kept of my progress in magic.
Also I see from my last entry, more than two and a half years ago, that I was then waiting to reach the age of twenty- one, so that Henry could throw me out of the house. In fact, I did not wait that long, and took matters into my own hands.
So here I am, at the age of nineteen, living in rented lodgings in a respectable street in a London suburb, a man free of his past, and, for the next two years at least (because irrespective of where I am living Henry has to continue my allowance), free of financial worries. I have already performed my magic once in public, but was not paid for it. (The less said about that humiliating occasion the better.)
I have become, and shall remain, plain Mister Rupert Angier. I have turned my back on my past. No one in this new life of mine will ever find out the truth of my birthright.
1st January 1877
The morning post has brought with it a small parcel of books from New York for which I have been waiting for many weeks, and I have been looking through them for ideas.
I love to perform. I study the craft of using a stage, of presenting a show, of entertaining an audience with a stream of witty or droll remarks… and I dream of laughter, gasps of surprise, and a storm of applause. I know I can reach the top of my profession simply by the excellence of presentation.
My weakness is that I never understand the working of an illusion until it is explained to me. When I see a trick for the first time, I am as baffled by it as any other member of the audience. I have a poor magical imagination, and find it difficult to apply known general principles to produce a desired effect. When I see a superb performance, I am dazzled by the shown and puzzled by the unseen.
I have spent a large amount of my monthly allowance in magic shops, where I have purchased the secret or the device that has allowed me to add one trick or another to my steadily expanding repertoire. It is devilish hard to discover secrets when they cannot be purchased for cash!
I find it annoying that the older magicians protect their secrets so jealously. This afternoon I penned a letter to Prestidigitators’ Panel, a monthly journal sold by subscription only, setting out my thoughts on the widespread and absurd obsession with secrecy.
3rd February 1877
Every weekday morning, from 9.00 a.m. to midday, I patrol what has become a well-worn path between the offices of the four main theatrical agencies who specialize in magic or novelty acts and enquire politely if any commissions might be available to me.
Invariably, so far, the answer has been in the negative. I know many unemployed performers follow the same daily path as me. Naturally, I see these others as I go about my applications, and naturally, I have befriended some of them. When we have lunch at one or another tavern, I am able to stand a few drinks for them. I am popular for this, of course, but I do not fool myself that it is for any other reason. I am glad of the company, and also for the more subtle hope that through any of these hail-fellows I might one day make a contact who might find or offer me some work.
I have time enough to write letters. I have become a persistent and, I fancy, a controversial correspondent on the subject of magic. I make a point of writing to every issue of the magic journals I see, and try always to be provocative. I am partly motivated by the sincere belief that the world of magic is tasteless today, but also by a sense that my name will not become known unless I spread it about in a way that makes it remembered.
Some letters I sign with my own name; others with the name I have chosen for my professional career: Danton. The use of two names allows me a little flexibility in what I say.
16th April 1877
Henry has informed me, through his solicitors that my allowance is going to end on my twenty-first birthday. I have the continuing right to reside in Caldlow House, but only in the rooms already allocated to me.
I have until September next year seventeen months in which to break this vicious circle of failure to get work, leading to failure to become known, leading to failure to build an audience for my skills, leading to failure to find work.
13th June 1877
At last, I have been offered some work!
It is not much, some card tricks to perform at a conference of businessmen in a London hotel, and the fee is only half a guinea, but this is a red-letter day!
Ten shillings and sixpence! More than a week’s rent for these lodgings! Riches indeed!
10th October 1877
I am in love! Her name is Drusilla MacAvoy.
15th October 1877
The woman was not for me. I am planning to kill myself, and if the remainder of these pages are blank, anyone who comes across this diary will know I succeeded.
22nd December 1877
Now at last I have found the real woman in my life! I have never been so happy. Her name is Julia Fensell, she is but two months younger than I, her hair is a glowing reddish brown and it cascades about her face. She has blue eyes, a long straight nose, a chin with a tiny dimple, a mouth that seems always about to smile, and ankles whose slender shape drives me wild with love and passion! She is the most beautiful young woman I have ever seen, and she says she loves me as much as I love her.
It is impossible to believe. She drives from my mind all worries, all fears, all anger and despair and ambitions. She fills my life entirely.
31st December 1877
The year is ending, and tonight, at 11.00p.m., I am joining Julia so that we might be together as the new year begins.
Total Income for 1877: 5s 3p’.
3rd January 1878
I have been seeing Julia every day since the middle of last month. She has become my dearest, closest friend. I must write of her as objectively as possible, for my knowing her has already changed my fortune.
I first met Julia while waiting in an outer office of one of the agents in Great Portland Street. She said she was an actress; I said I was an illusionist.
Julia is the first person, apart from Grierson, to whom I have shown my tricks in private. Unlike Grierson, who always applauded anything I did, Julia was critical and appreciative in equal measure.
Sometimes, in her turn, Julia would recite for me. It amazed me that she could remember so much, but she said there were techniques that were easily learned.
Soon Julia began talking to me about presentation, a subject close to my heart. Our affair began to deepen.
Over the Christmas holiday, while the rest of London celebrated, Julia and I were alone, in my rented lodgings, teaching each other the disciplines to which we each had become attached. She came to me in the mornings, stayed with me through the short hours of daylight, then soon after nightfall I would walk her back to her own lodgings in
Kilburn. I spent the evenings and nights alone, thinking of her, of the excitement she was bringing me, of the matters of the stage to which she was introducing me.
Julia is gradually drawing out of me the true talent I think I have always possessed.
12th January 1878
“Why should we not, between us, devise a magical act of a kind no one before us has ever performed?”
This is what Julia said.
We are building a mentalist act! Julia has been teaching me her techniques of memory. I am learning the science of mnemonics, the use of memory aids.
26th January 1878
We are now ready! Imagine that I am seated on a stage, my eyes are blindfolded’. Volunteers from the audience have satisfied themselves that I cannot see out. Julia moves among the audience, taking items of their personal property and holding them for everyone, but myself, to see.
“What do I hold?” she cries.
“It is a gentleman’s wallet,” I answer.
The audience gasps.
“Now I have taken -?” says Julia.
“It is a wedding ring made of gold.”
“And it belongs to -?”
“A lady,” I declare.
(If she said, “Which belongs to -?” I should reply, with equal conviction, “A gentleman.”)
“Here I am holding?”
“A gentleman’s watch.”
And so it goes. An exchange of pre-arranged questions and answers, presented with sufficient aplomb to an audience unready for the spectacle, will clearly imply mentalist contact between the two performers.
The principle is easy, but the learning is hard. I am still new to mnemonics, and, as in all magic, practice has to make perfect.
While the practice goes on, we are able to avoid thinking about the most difficult part – obtaining an engagement.
1st February 1878
Tomorrow night we begin! We have wasted two weeks trying to obtain a firm booking from a theatre or hall, but this afternoon, Julia suggested we should take matters into our own hands.
Julia and I visited a total of six taverns within a reasonable walking distance, and selected the one which seemed the most likely. The main bar there is a large, well-lit room, with a small raised platform at one end. The tables are set out with sufficient room for Julia to move between them while speaking to members of the audience.
Julia has returned to her lodgings, and soon I will be asleep. We rehearse all day tomorrow.
3rd February 1878
Between us Julia and I have counted 2 pounds 4s 9p.
We did not fail! And we have learnt a dozen lessons about how to prepare, how to announce ourselves, how to claim attention.
Tonight we are planning to visit another tavern, where we shall try again. Already we have made changes to our act, based on Saturday night’s experience.
4th February 1878
Only 15s 9p between us, but again what we lack in financial reward we have gained in experience.
28th February 1878
As the month ends, I can record that Julia and I have so far earned a total of 11 pounds 18s 3p from our mentalist act.
On the 3rd of next month, I shall be performing a legitimate magical act at Hasker’s Music Hall in Ponders End; Danton is to appear seventh on the bill after a singing trio. Julia and I have temporarily retired from our mentalist act so as to rehearse me for this great occasion. It is a real job, in a real theatre, and it is what I have worked for over all these years.
4th March 1878
Received: 3 pounds 3s from Mr Hasker, who has said he would like to book me again in April. My trick with the coloured streamers was especially popular.
12th July 1878
I have not written in this diary for some time. Julia and I were wed on 11th May, and now live together contentedly at my lodgings. We both feel it is time for a change, even though we have been earning money regularly. I cannot yet make a living from the stage, and in just over two months, I will receive the last of my monthly allowances.
Theatrical bookings have in fact shown a recent improvement, and I have six of them between now and Christmas. I have been investing in some large-scale illusions. My workshop (this I acquired last month) is stocked with magical devices, from which I may soon put together a new and stimulating performance.
The real problem with theatrical bookings is that while they pay fairly well they provide no continuity. The reviews in the press are small and reluctant.
The idea for a new direction came to me (or I should more properly say, it came to Julia) while I was glancing through a daily newspaper. I saw a report that more evidence had emerged recently, that life, or a form of it, continued after death. Certain psychic adepts were able to make contact with newly deceased people, and communicate back from the afterworld to their grieving relatives. I read out a part of the report to Julia. She stared at me for a moment, and I could see her mind was working.
“You don’t believe that, do you?” she said at last.
“I take it seriously,” I confirmed. “After all, there are an increasing number of people who have made contact. You must not ignore what people say.”
“Rupert, you cannot be serious!” she cried.
“But these seances have been investigated by scientists with the highest academic qualifications,” I said.
“Am I hearing you properly? You, whose very profession is deception!”
At this, I began to see the argument she was making.
“You are always saying,” my beloved Julia, continued, “that the easiest people to deceive are those who are the best educated. Their intelligence blinds them to the simplicity of magic secrets!”
“So you are saying these seances are… ordinary illusions?” I said.
“What else could they be?” she said triumphantly. “This is a new enterprise, my dear. We must be part of it.”
And so, we are moving into the world of spiritism.
31st August 1878
We have attended a total of four seances, and know what is involved. The trickery is generally of a low standard. Perhaps the recipients are in such a state of distress that they are receptive to almost anything.
Julia and I have spent much time discussing how we might go about this, and we have decided that the best and only way is to think of our efforts as professional magic, performed to the highest standards. There are already too many charlatans doing the rounds in spiritism, and I have no wish to become one more of them.
This work is for me a way of making and perhaps accumulating a little money until I can support myself in a theatrical career.
We have already drafted and paid for our first advertisement in one of the London newspapers.
9th September 1878
Our advertisement has caused fourteen enquiries! As we offered our services at two guineas a time, and the advertisement cost me 3s 6p, we are already making a profit!
All this morning I have been practising a technique known as the Jacoby Rope Tie. This is a technique in which a magician is tied to a plain wooden chair with an ordinary rope, yet which still allows an escape. With a minimum of supervision from the illusionist’s assistant (Julia, in my case), any number of volunteers may tie the rope, yet still permit escape. The performer, once hidden inside a cabinet, can not only release himself enough to perform apparent miracles within the cabinet, but can afterwards return to his bonds, to be found, checked and released by the same volunteers who restrained him.
20th September 1878
We have our two guineas, the client was literally sobbing with gratitude, and contact, I modestly say, was briefly made with the dead.
Tomorrow, which also happens to be my twenty-first birthday, and the day in which my adult life begins in every way, we have to conduct a seance in Deptford, and we have much to prepare!
Our first mistake yesterday was to be punctual. Our client and her friends were waiting for us, and as we entered the house and tried to set up our equipment, they were watching us. None of this must be allowed to happen again.
We need physical assistance. Yesterday we rented a cart to convey us to the address, but the carter was unwilling to help us carry our apparatus into the house (which meant that Julia and I had to do it alone, and some of it is heavy and most of it bulky). And we must never again depend on the domestic furniture we need for some of our effects. Today we were lucky; there was a table we could use, but we cannot chance that next time!
Many of these improvements have already been arranged. I have today purchased a horse and cart! (The horse will be kept temporarily in the small yard behind my workshop until a proper stable can be rented.) And I have hired a man to drive the cart and to help us in and out with all our stuff. His name is Ernest Nugent; he is a strongly built man in his late twenties who until last year was a volunteer in Her Majesty’s Army.
Now we must travel to Deptford for our next! Deptford is one of the more inaccessible parts of London from here. Julia and I have agreed that in future we shall only accept commissions from people who live within reasonable distance of us, otherwise the work is altogether too hard, the day is too long, the financial rewards too small for what we have to do.
2nd November 1878
Julia is with child! The baby is expected next June. With all the excitement this has caused we have cancelled a few of our appointments, and tomorrow we are departing to Southampton, so as to take the news to Julia’s mother.
15th November 1878
Yesterday and the day before we conducted seances; no problems at either, and the clients were satisfied. I am growing concerned, however, at the possible effects of strain on Julia, and I am thinking that I must quickly find and hire a female assistant to work with me.
At the seance two days ago (the first since our return from Southampton), I belatedly discovered that one of the people I thought was a relative of the deceased was in fact a reporter from a newspaper. This man was on some kind of mission to expose me as a charlatan, but once we had realized his purpose, Nugent and I removed him quickly (but politely) from the house.
So another precaution has to be added to this work – I must be on my guard against active sceptics.
For indeed I am the sort of charlatan they seek to discredit. I am not what I say I am, but my deceptions are harmless and, I do believe, helpful at a time of personal loss. As for the money that changes hands, the amounts are modest, and so far, not a single client has complained to me of anything.
20th November 1878
Today Julia and I have interviewed five young women, all hopeful to replace Julia as my assistant.
None was suitable.
Julia has been feeling continually sick for two weeks, but says now that this is starting to improve. The thought of a baby son or daughter coming into our lives illumines our days.
23rd November 1878
A peculiarly unpleasant incident has occurred.
We had gone to an address near the Angel, in Islington. The client was a youngish man, grieving by the death of his wife, and now having to cope with a family of three young children. This gentleman, whose name I shall render as Mr L, was the very first of our spiritist clients who had come to us on the recommendation of another. For this reason, we had approached the appointment with particular care and tact, because by now we appreciate that if we are to prosper as spiritists then it must be by a spiral of gradually rising fees, sustained by the grateful recommendation of satisfied clients.
We were just about to begin when a latecomer arrived. I was immediately suspicious of him. None of the family seemed to know him, and his arrival caused a feeling of nervousness in the room.
I signalled to Julia, in our private unspoken code, that I suspected a newspaper reporter was present, and I saw by her expression that she had come to a similar conclusion. I was trying to decide what to do when I realized that I had seen the man before. He had been present at an earlier seance, and I remembered him because at the time his staring at me throughout my work had been most disturbing. Was his presence again a coincidence? If not a coincidence, which I suspected, what was his game? Presumably, he was there to make some move against me, but he had had his chance before and had not taken it. Why not?
My quick assessment was that on balance of probabilities I should go ahead with the seance, and so I did. Writing this now, I acknowledge that I made the wrong decision.
Without raising a hand against me, he almost ruined my performance. I was so nervous that I could hardly concentrate. Once the cabinet illusion was done with, my enemy sprang his trap. He left the table, shouldered poor Nugent aside, and snatched down one of the window blinds. A great deal of shouting followed, causing intense and uncontrollable grief for my client and his children. Nugent was struggling with the man, and Julia was trying to comfort Mr L’s children, when disaster struck.
The man, in his madness, grabbed hold of Julia by her shoulders, dragged her back, swung her around, and pushed her to the floor! She fell heavily on the uncarpeted boards, while I, in the greatest distress, stood up from the table where I had been performing and tried to reach her. The attacker was between us.
Again, Nugent grabbed him, this time restraining from behind, clasping his arms at the back.
“What shall I do with him, sir?” Nugent cried.
“Into the street with him!” I yelled. “No, wait!”
The light from the window was falling directly on his face. Behind him, I saw the sight I then most wanted to see; dearest Julia was rising once more to her feet. She signalled quickly to me that she was not hurt, and so I turned my attention on the man.
“Who are you, sir?” I questioned him. “What interest is it you have in my affairs?”
“Tell your man to release me!” he muttered. “Then I will depart.”
“You will depart when I decide!” I said. I stepped closer to him, for now I recognized him. “You are Borden, are you not? Borden!”
“That is not correct!”
“Alfred Borden, indeed! I have seen your work! What are you doing here?”
“Let me go!”
“What’s your business with me, Borden?”
He made no answer, but instead struggled violently against Nugent’s hold.
“Get rid of him!” I ordered. “Throw him into the gutter!” Nugent dragged the wretch out of the room, and returned alone a few moments later.
By this time, I had taken Julia into my arms and was holding her close, trying to reassure myself that she was indeed unharmed.
“If he has hurt you or the baby -” I whispered to her.
“I am not injured,” Julia replied. “Who was he?”
“Later, my dear,” I said softly, because I was all too aware that we were still in the chaos of the ruined seance, with an angry or humiliated client, his miserable children, his four adult relatives and friends now visibly shocked.
I said to them all with as much gravity and dignity as I could gather, “You understand I cannot continue?”
They showed their assent.
The children were led away, and Mr L and I went into private conference. He was indeed a sympathetic, intelligent man, proposing at once that we should leave all matters as they presently stood, and that we should meet again in a day or two to decide our next move. I assented gratefully, and after Nugent and I had transported our apparatus back to the cart, we set off for home.
I voiced my suspicions as we drove along in the gathering twilight.
“That was Alfred Borden,” I explained. “I know little of him other than that he is a magician, barely distinguished in the business. Since his interruption, I have been trying to recall how I know him. I think I saw him perform on the stage. But he is hardly a major figure in our field.”
I tried to understand why he had behaved like that. I could only explain his attack on me in terms of professional jealousy. What other motive could there be? We were virtual strangers to each other, and our paths had never crossed before. Yet his whole conduct was that of a man bent on a mission of revenge.
Soon enough we were here in Idmiston Villas, and I made Julia go straight to bed. I sat with her until she fell asleep.
I have twice broken off to see Julia, and she is sleeping peacefully.
24th November 1878
The worst day of my life.
27th November 1878
Julia is home from hospital. She is sleeping now.
Briefly, Julia wakened in the small hours’ of the 24th. She was bleeding heavily and tormented with pain.
I dressed at once, roused my neighbours, and begged Mrs Janson to leave her own bed and sit with Julia while I sought help. She agreed without complaint, allowing me to rush off into the night. I came across a cabman, apparently returning to his home at the end of a night of work, and I pleaded with him to help me. This he did. Within an hour, Julia was in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and the surgeons did their necessary work.
Our baby was lost; I almost lost Julia too.
She remained in the public ward for the rest of the day, and for the two days following until this morning, when I was allowed at last to collect her.
There is a single name that has now unexpectedly entered my life, and it is one I shall never forget. It is Alfred Borden’s.
31st December 1878
Total Income From Magic for 1878: 326 pounds 19s 3p. From this must be deducted expenses, including the hiring of Nugent, the purchase and stabling of the horse, purchase of costumes, and much apparatus.
12th January 1879
My first seance of the New Year, and the first in which I was assisted by Letitia Swinton. Letitia has much to learn about the magic profession, but I am hopeful she will improve. At the end of the seance I asked Nugent to hurry me back to Idmiston Villas, where I have been with Julia, telling her of my day.
A letter was waiting for me here. Mr L has decided, in the event, that he no longer requires a seance in his home, but that in careful consideration of what happened he has decided I should be paid the full fee, as agreed. His payment was enclosed.
15th January 1879
Nugent, Letitia Swinton and I conducted a seance this afternoon. Letitia is a quick learner.
Returning afterwards, I asked Nugent to let me off in the West End. I walked to the Empress Theatre, where as I had found out Borden worked, bought a ticket, and sat in the rear stalls.
Borden’s act was in the first half of the programme, and I watched intently what he did. He performed seven tricks of varying type, and, of these, three were ones whose explanation I do not know. (By tomorrow evening, I shall have them!) He is a good performer, and carried out his tricks smoothly, but for some reason he addresses the audience in an unconvincing French accent. It made me wish to insult him as a fraud!
However, I must be patient. I wish my revenge to be sweet.
On my return, Julia was uncommunicative with me, and even after I told her what I had been doing, she remained cold towards me.
O Julia! You were not like this before that day!
19th January 1879
For the last week, I have been applying myself to perfecting my magic, trying by intensive application to relaunch myself into my intended profession. To this end:
I have tidied up my workshop, thrown away a lot of junk, repaired and repainted several of the illusions, and generally made the workshop into a business-like place where I might prepare and rehearse properly.
I have started discreet enquiries for an ingenieur to work with me. I need expert assistance; of this, there is no question.
I have set myself a practice schedule, to which I adhere absolutely: two hours every morning, two hours every afternoon, one hour (if time with Julia permits) in every evening. The only breaks I allow myself are when I am actually working.
I have ordered myself and Letitia new costumes, to give the act professional polish.
Finally, I have promised myself to quit the seances as soon as I can afford to do so. Meanwhile, I am taking on as many of them for which the time can be found, because they are my only secure means of making a living. My financial responsibilities are immense. I have the lodgings to pay for, rent to find of the workshop and stable, wages to pay for Nugent and Letitia, and soon for my new ingenieur too… as well as running the household and feeding Julia and myself.
31st December 1879
Total Income from Magic for 1879: 637 pounds 12s 6p. Before expenses.
31st December 1880
Total Income from Magic for 1880: 1,142 pounds 7s 9p. Before expenses.
31st December 1881
Total Income from Magic for 1881: 4,777 pounds 10s. Before expenses.
1881 is the last year in which I shall record my earnings here. This twelvemonth has been sufficiently successful for me to purchase the house in which before we have merely rented our lodgings. Now we occupy the whole building, and we have a domestic staff of three. I may record that I am probably the most popular stage illusionist in Britain. My bookings diary for next year is already full.
2nd February 1891
Ten years ago, I put aside my diary, intending never to reopen it, but the humiliating events earlier this evening at the Sefton Theatre of Varieties in Liverpool cannot go unrecorded.
I was in the second part of my act, heading towards what is currently the climax of my performance. This is the Underwater Escape, an effect which combines physical strength, a certain amount of controlled risk, and a little magic.
The illusion begins with my being tied to a metal chair. To effect this, I invite on to the stage a committee of six volunteers; these are all genuine members of the audience, none planted, but Ernest Nugent and my ingenieur Harry Cutter keep an eye on things.
With the committee on stage I engage them in joking talk, partly to relax them, partly to misdirect the audience while Ellen Tremayne (my present assistant; it is a long time since I wrote in here) begins the Jacoby Rope Tie.
Tonight, though, I had just taken my seat in the chair when I realized that Alfred Borden was one of the committee! He was the Sixth Man! (Harry Cutter and I use codes to identify and place the on-stage volunteers. The Sixth Man is positioned furthest from me during these preparatory stages, and is given the task of holding one end of the rope.) Tonight Borden was the Sixth Man, only a few feet away from me! The audience was watching us all! The trick had already begun!
Borden played his part well, moving clumsily and with well-faked embarrassment about his small part of the stage. Cutter, apparently not realizing who he was, propelled Borden into his place. Ellen Tremayne was meanwhile roping my hands together, and tying my wrists to the arms of the chair. It is here that my preparations went wrong, because my attention was on Borden.
Amid a roll of drums, I was lifted into the air above the glass tank, and I rotated on the end of the chain as if a helpless victim of torture. In truth tonight, I was, but during a normal performance, I would by this stage have freed my wrists, and moved my hands to a position from which I could release them instantly. (My rotating on the chain is an effective cover for the necessarily quick arm movements as I release myself.) Tonight, with my arms tied immovably to the chair, I could only stare down in horror at the cold, waiting water.
Moments later, according to plan, I was plunged into it. As the water closed over my head I tried by facial expressions to signal to Cutter, but he was already engaged in lowering the concealing curtain around the tank.
In semi-darkness, half inverted in the chair, tied hand and foot, I began to drown –
Yet here I am writing this. Obviously, I escaped.
Here is a reconstruction of what must have happened on the remainder of the stage, hidden from me by the curtain.
In a normal performance, all that can be seen on the stage is the committee of six standing self-consciously around the curtain that encloses the tank. The orchestra plays lively music, partly to fill the time, partly to mask any noises I cannot suppress while making my escape. But time goes by, and soon both the committee and the audience start to feel disquiet at how much time has passed.
The orchestra too becomes distracted, and the music stops. Harry Cutter and Ellen Tremayne run anxiously on to the stage, as if in response to the emergency, and the audience makes a noise of concern. With the help of the committee, Cutter and Ellen snatch away the concealing curtain, to reveal.
The chair is still in the water! The ropes are still tied around it! But I am not there!
While the audience gasps in amazement, I dramatically appear. It is usually from the wings, but if I have time, I prefer to announce myself in the middle of the auditorium. I run to centre-stage, take my bow, and make sure that everyone notices that my clothes and hair are perfectly dry –
Tonight Borden was there to ruin it all, and, unintentionally perhaps, to save me from a watery end. Long before the illusion was due to finish, thankfully long before, and while the orchestra yet played, he left the position on the stage where Cutter had placed him, strode across to the curtains and snatched them aside!
My first awareness of this was that a shaft of bright light burst upon me. I looked up in vast and sudden hope, as the last air from my lungs bubbled up around my eyes! I felt then my prayers had been answered, that Cutter had interrupted the performance to save my life. Nothing else mattered in that second of bursting hope. What I saw, through the horrid distortions of swirling water and strengthened glass, was the scornful face of my deadliest enemy! He leaned forward, pressing his face triumphantly against the tank.
I felt unconsciousness rising in me, believed myself to be on the point of death.
Then there is a gap. My next awareness was that I was lying on a hard wooden floor, in semi-darkness, freezing cold, with faces staring down at me. Music was playing, deafening me as the water drained in gulps from my ear passages. I could feel the floor moving up and down rhythmically. I was in the wings. When I raised my head, I saw, unfocused and wandering in my sight, the brightly lit stage just a few feet away from me, where the chorus was treading the boards, while the coryphee marched to the tune from the orchestra pit. I groaned with relief, closed my eyes, and allowed my head to fall back to the floor. Cutter had dragged me to safety, somehow restored my breathing, brought the humiliating spectacle to an end.
Not long after I was carried to the green room, where my recovery properly began. It was still reasonably early in the evening, and I believed that I had plenty of time to return to the stage and attempt my illusion again, before the show ended. I was not allowed to do this. Instead, I was accompanied to the station where I took a train to London to see my family.
By an irony, my failure to keep this diary has been caused by the domestic contentment. For most of the past decade, I have been not only successful in my career but unprecedentedly happy at home.
At the beginning of 1884, Julia found herself with child again, and in due course safely delivered our son Edward. Two years later came the first of my daughters, Lydia, and last year our baby Florence was born.
Against this background, the feud with Borden has not been important. True, we have played pranks on each other over the years. Until tonight, though, Borden and I have not directly threatened each other’s lives.
Once, years ago, Borden was directly responsible for the miscarriage of my first child. Although my instinct then was one of revenge, as the months went by my anger slowly died, and I satisfied myself instead with embarrassing him at just the moment he least enjoyed it.
In his turn, he has had a few moments of unexpected revenge on me.
What happened tonight has forced our feud to a new level. He tried to kill me; it is as plain as that. He is a magician; he knows how ropes must be tied to ensure a rapid and safe release.
Now I want revenge again. I hope and pray that time will quickly pass, soothe my feelings, bring sense and sanity and calmness to me, that I do not act as tonight I feel!
4th February 1892
Last night I saw an extraordinary thing. There is a scientist called Nikola Tesla visiting London, and the extravagant claims he makes were last week the talk of the town.
So, yesterday I and several hundred others gathered at the doors of the Institution of Electrical Engineers to see the great man in action.
What I witnessed was a thrilling, alarming and mostly incomprehensible display of the powers of electricity. Mr Tesla is an associate of the inventor Thomas Edison. To modern-minded Londoners the use of electrical power for lighting is becoming a commonplace, but Tesla was able to show that it has many other uses.
I watched his sensational experiments uncritically, dazzled and impressed. Many of his effects are astonishing, and many more are deeply mysterious. When Tesla spoke, it was in the tones of an evangelist. He is indeed a prophet of what the next century will hold for us. A worldwide net of electrical generating stations, power given over to the humble as well as the mighty, instantaneous transmission of energies and matter from one part of the world to the other!
His show bore an odd resemblance to any good illusionist’s; the audience did not need to understand the means to enjoy the effects. In short, Mr Tesla described many scientific theories. While few in that audience understood more than the most basic concepts, every one of us was afforded a fascinating glimpse into the future.
I have written off to the address Tesla supplied, and requested copies of his explanatory notes.
14th April 1892
I have been busy preparing for my European Tour, which starts in the latter half of this summer, and have had little time for anything else. To complete the above entry from February, though, I eventually received Mr Tesla’s explanatory notes, but could not make head nor tail of them.
15th September 1892
They have hailed me in Vienna, Rome, Paris, Istanbul, Marseilles, Madrid, Monte Carlo… yet now that all this is behind me I crave only to see my beloved Julia once more, and Edward and Lydia, and of course my little Florence.
It would be unwise to record the extent of my earnings until all expenses have been calculated, and the agreed bonuses paid to my assistants, but I may safely say that for the first time in my life I feel I am a wealthy man.
21st September 1892
When I was looking through correspondence, I saw a short note from Dominic Brawton, one of my scouts:
Performer: Alfred Borden (Le Professeur de la Magie).
Illusion: The New Transported Man.
Effect: brilliant, not to be missed.
Adaptability: difficult, but as Borden manages it somehow, so I imagine could you.
I showed this to Julia.
Later I showed her another letter. I have been invited to take my magic show to the New World! If I agree, we would begin touring in February with a weeklong residency in Chicago! And then a tour to the dozen or so largest American cities!
The thought of it simultaneously thrills and exhausts me.
Julia said to me, “Forget Borden. You must take your show to the USA.”
And I too think I must.
14th October 1892
I have seen Borden’s new illusion, and it is good. It is devilishly good.
He begins by wheeling on to the stage a wooden cabinet, of the sort familiar to all magicians. This is tall enough to contain a man or a woman, has three solid walls, and a door at the front that opens wide enough to reveal the whole of the interior. It is mounted on castors, and these raise the entire thing high enough to show that no escape or entry would be possible through the base, without being noticed by the audience.
Borden closes the cabinet door, then moves the apparatus up to stage left.
Standing at the footlights he then delivers, in his wonderfully unconvincing French accent, a short lecture on the great dangers involved in what he is about to do.
Behind him, a remarkably pretty young woman wheels on to the stage a second cabinet, identical to the first. She opens the door, so that the audience can see that it too is empty. With a swirl of his black cape, Borden then turns and steps briskly into the cabinet.
The drummer starts a roll.
What happens next takes place in an instant. As the drum rolls louder, Borden removes his top hat, steps back into the cabinet, then tosses his hat high into the air. His assistant slams closed the door of the cabinet. In the same instant, the door of the first cabin we saw bursts open and Borden is now impossibly there! The cabinet he entered only moments before collapses, and folds emptily on to the floor of the stage. Borden looks up, catches his top hat, puts it on his head, then beaming and smiling steps forward to the footlights to take his bow!
The applause was loud, and I admit I joined it myself.
I am damned if I know how he did that!
13th November 1892
I took Cutter with me to see Borden perform his two- cabinets illusion. It happened at the Lewisham World Theatre.
As Borden produced the first of his two cabinets, I felt a thrill of anticipation. Cutter, beside me, raised his opera glasses. He was not watching the magician at all. With quick movements of the glasses, he was inspecting the rest of the stage area.
I continued to watch Borden. As far as I could tell, the trick was conducted exactly as I had observed it before.
Finally, beaming, bowing, he took his well-deserved applause. Cutter and I joined in.
In the taxicab running back to north London, I demanded of Cutter, “Well, what do you think of that!”
“Brilliant, Mr Angier!” he stated. “Quite brilliant! It is not often that one has the chance to see a completely new illusion.”
“Do you know how he did it?” I insisted.
“Yes, sir, I do,” he replied. “And so I fancy do you.”
“I’m as baffled as ever I was. How the devil could he be in two places at once? I cannot see that it is possible!”
“Sometimes you do surprise me, Mr Angier,” Cutter said. “It is a logical puzzle, solved only by the application of our own logic. What did we see before us?”
“A man who transported himself instantly from one part of the stage to the other.”
“That is what we thought we saw, what we were intended to see. What was the reality?”
“You still maintain he uses a double?” I asked him. “How else could it be effected?”
“But you saw it as I did. That was no double! We saw him clearly before and after. He was the same man! The very same! “Cutter winked at me, then turned away.
“Well? What do you say?” I asked him.
“I say what I have said, Mr Angier.”
“I pay you to explain the unexplainable, Cutter. Do not trifle with me about this! It is a matter of high professional importance!”
At this, he realized the seriousness of my mood.
“Sir,” he said steadily. “You must know of identical twins. There is your answer!”
“No!” I exclaimed.
“How else might it be done?”
“But the first cabinet was empty-”
“So it did appear,” said Cutter.
“And the second cabinet collapsed the moment he left it-”
“Very effectively too, I thought.”
I knew what he was saying; these were standard stage effects for making apparatus that is concealing someone seem empty. Several of my own illusions are based on similar deceptions. My difficulty was the same I have always suffered; when I see another’s illusion from the auditorium, I am as easily misdirected as anyone else. But identical twins! I had not thought of that!
Now I have written down this account of the evening, I think I have to agree with him. The mystery is solved.
Damn Borden! Not one man but two!
30th November 1892
Yesterday I obtained some remarkable facts about Borden.
A young reporter from the Evening Star came to interview me. His name was Mr Arthur Koenig and he turned out to be an informant as well as an interviewer!
During the course of a question-and-answer session, he asked me if I had any opinions I would wish to record about my magical contemporaries. I told him of the best of my colleagues.
“You have not mentioned Le Professeur,” said my interlocutor, when I eventually paused. “Do you not hold an opinion on his work?”
“I regret I have not been present at any of his performances,” I said.
“Then you must go to see his work!” ejaculated Mr Koenig. “His is the best show in London!”
“I have seen his act several times,” the reporter went on. “There is one trick he does-”
“I have heard of it,” I said, interrupting him. “Something to do with two cabinets.”
“That’s the one, Mr Danton! He vanishes and reappears in a moment! No one knows how he does it.”
“No one, that is, except his fellow magicians,” I corrected him. “He is using standard magical procedures.”
“Then you know how it is done?”
“Of course I know,” I said. “But naturally you will not expect me to reveal the exact method -”
Here I confess I was torn. Here was my chance to reveal the secret. I felt the lust for revenge that I normally suppressed. But sense prevailed once more. No magician gives away the secret of another.
At length I said, “There are ways and means. An illusion is not what it seems. A great deal of practice and rehearsal-” The youthful reporter practically leapt out of his seat. “Sir, you believe he uses a twin double! Every magician in London thinks the same! I thought so too when I saw it the first time.”
“Yes, that is his method.” I was relieved to discover how straightforward he was.
“Then, sir!” cried the young man. “You are wrong like all the others, sir! There is no double. This is what is so amazing!”
“He has a twin brother,” I said. “There is no other way.”
“It is not true. Alfred Borden has neither twin brother nor a double who can pass for him. I have personally investigated his life, and I know the truth. He works alone but for the female assistant seen on the stage with him, and a technical manager who builds his apparatus with him. In this, he is no different from any other in your profession. You too-”
“I do have an ingenieur,” I confirmed readily. “But tell me more. You interest me greatly. You are certain of this information?”
“Car you prove it to me?”
“As you know, sir,” Mr Koenig replied, “it is not possible to prove that which does not exist. All I can say is that for the last few weeks I have been bringing journalistic methods to the investigation, and have not found a single jot of evidence to confirm what you assume.”
At this point, he produced a thin sheaf of papers and showed them to me. They contained certain information about Mr Borden that I found instantly intriguing, and I begged the reporter to let me have them.
Koenig agreed to let me take handwritten extracts from several of his notes, and these I scribbled down on the spot at his dictation. At the end, I passed him five sovereigns.
As I finished, Mr Koenig said to me, “May I ask what you are hoping to learn from this, sir?”
“I seek only to improve my own magical art,” I answered.
“I understand.” He stood up to leave. “And when you have so improved, do you suppose you too will be able to perform Le Professeur’s illusion?”
“I assure you, Mr Koenig,” I said with cold disdain, as I showed him to the door. “I assure you that I could make his trick this very night!”
Then he was gone.
Today I have not been working, and so I have written up this account of the meeting. It is imperative that I learn the secret of Borden’s illusion. I can think of no sweeter revenge than to outshine him with his own trick, outperform him, outdo him in every way.
First, though, I must check the facts I possess about Mr Borden.
9th December 1892
I have in fact so far done nothing about Borden. The American tour has been confirmed as definite, and Cutter and I are preparing for it. I am going to travel for more than two whole months, and to be separated from Julia and the children for such a length of time is almost unthinkable.
However, I cannot miss the tour. The New World is the source and location of some of the finest magicians currently in performance, and it is a magnificent compliment to be invited to undertake this tour.
And Borden has not so far visited the USA!
17th January 1893
The last week has been a nightmare of packing and preparations, and arranging for the apparatus I need with me to be dismantled, crated, then despatched ahead of me. Nothing can be left to chance, for without my equipment I have no stage show. A lot depends on this transatlantic adventure!
But now I have a day or two of leisure in which to prepare myself mentally and relax at home for a while. The children are asleep, Julia is reading in her sitting room, and in the calm of this dark January evening, quietly in my study, I may at last record, thanks to the industrious Mr Koenig, the fruits of my enquiries about Mr Alfred Borden.
The following are facts I have personally verified.
He was born on 8th May 1856, in the Royal Sussex Hospital in Bohemia Road, Hastings. Three days after his birth, he and his mother, Betsy Mary Borden, returned to their house at 105 Manor Road, where the father worked as a carpenter. The child’s full name was Frederick Andrew Borden, and according to the official records, his was a single birth. Frederick Andrew Borden was not one of two identical twins at birth, so therefore neither can he be one today.
Next, I looked into the possibility of Frederick Borden having brothers of a close age to him, and bearing a strong family resemblance. Frederick was the sixth-born child. He had three older sisters and two older brothers, but of these one brother was eight years his senior, and the other had died at the age of two weeks.
There was a younger brother too. This was Albert Joseph Borden, seventh-born into the family, on 18th May 1858. (Albert + Frederick = Alfred?)
Again, the existence of a brother whose age was reasonably close to Frederick’s raised the possibility of a double. I dug out and examined Albert’s birth records at the hospital, but I found it difficult to ascertain much more about him. However, I decided to visit a photogenic portrait artiste called Charles Simpkins, who has his studio in Hastings High Street.
Mr Simpkins showed me a selection of his daguerreotypes. Amongst these, was a studio portrait of Frederick Borden and his younger brother. It had been taken in 1874, when Frederick was eighteen and his brother was sixteen.
The two are clearly unalike in appearance. Frederick is tall, he has noble features, and his bearing is arrogant, while Albert is much less attractive. He has a slack-jawed expression; his features are puffy, and his cheeks are round; his hair is wavier than his brother’s and apparently paler in colour; and from his position I would say he was at least four or five inches shorter than his brother.
This portrait convinced me that Koenig was right: Frederick Borden does not have a close relation he can use as a double.
It remains possible that he has scoured the streets of London to find a man sufficiently like him to pass as a double, with the aid of stage make-up, but no matter what Cutter says I have myself seen Borden’s performance. Most illusionists’ doubles are only briefly glimpsed, or they misdirect the perceptions of the audience by wearing identical costumes, so that in the few seconds in which the double is visible he seems to be the original.
Borden, after the transformation, allows himself to be seen, and to be seen clearly. He steps forward to the footlights, he bows, he smiles, he takes the hand of his female assistant, he bows again, he walks to and fro. There is no question but that the man who emerges from the second cabinet is the man who entered the first.
I still do not know how Borden works that damnable illusion, but I do at least know that he works it alone.
I am going to what is fast becoming the centre of the world of magic, and for two months I shall be meeting, and perhaps working with, some of the finest illusionists in the United States of America. There will be many there who can work out how it is done. I go to America to build my reputation, and to earn a lot of money, but I now have an extra quest.
I swear that when I return in two months I shall have Borden’s secret with me. I also swear that within a month of returning I shall be performing a superior version of the same trick on the London stage.
13th September 1893
I am not surprised to discover that nearly eight months have elapsed since last I came to this diary to record my life.
Julia and the children are gone. Cutter is gone. Much of my wealth is gone. My career has gone, through apathy.
I have lost everything.
But I have gained Olivia Svenson.
I have left Julia so that I might be with Olivia, after I met and fell in love with her during my American tour earlier this year. I met Olivia at a reception given in my honour in the fine city of Boston, Massachusetts, where she approached me and made her admiration known, in the way many women have approached me in the past. Olivia, then working as a danseuse, joined my party. When I left Boston she remained with us, and then we travelled together. More than this, within a week or two she was working on stage with me as my assistant, and has returned with me to London.
Cutter did not care for this, and we parted immediately on our return.
As, inevitably, did Julia and I. Sometimes, even now, I lie awake at night to marvel at the madness of my sacrifice. Once Julia meant the very world to me, and indeed, she helped build the world I inhabit today. My children, my three helpless and innocent children, are nothing less than victims of the same sacrifice. All I can say is that my madness is the madness of love; Olivia blinds me to every other feeling that is not passion for her.
So I cannot bring myself to write down, even in the privacy of this journal, what was said, done and suffered at that time. Much of the saying and doing was mine, while all the suffering was Julia’s.
I now support Julia in a household of her own, where to maintain appearances she lives the life of a widow. She has the children with her, she has her material needs taken care of, and she does not have to see me again if she does not want to. Indeed, if I were seen at her house the appearances would be betrayed, so I have become a dead man. I can never meet my children in their own house again, and have to make do with the occasional excursion with them.
Julia and I meet briefly on such occasions, and her sweetness of nature tortures me. But there is no going back. I have made my bed and now I lie in it. When I manage to close my mind to the family I have lost, I am a happy man. I expect no favourable judgement of myself. I know I have wronged my wife.
I have always tried never to hurt the people around me. Even in my dealings with Borden I have shrunk from causing him pain or danger, preferring to take revenge by irritating or embarrassing him. But now I find I have caused the greatest hurt of all, to the four people who meant the most to me. At the risk of humbug, I can only swear that I shall never do anything like this again.
14th September 1893
My career struggles towards a new version of stability.
I feel at last I can emerge from the hole of misery and lethargy into which I declined, and I am ready to return to the stage. I have instructed Unwin to find me bookings, and my career may resume.
To celebrate the decision, Olivia and I went this afternoon to the premises of a theatrical costumier, where she chose, and was measured for, her new stage outfit.
1st December 1893
In my appointments book I have a thirty-minute Christmas show that I am to perform for a school of orphans. Other than that, my book is empty. Since the end of September, I have earned only 18 pounds 18s.
Hesketh Unwin speaks of a whispering campaign against me. He warns me to neglect it, because the success of my tour of America is well known and it is easy to cause jealousy.
I am disturbed by this news. Is Borden behind it?
I occupy my days with practice and rehearsal. Although my skill with prestidigitation increases, sometimes, in my darker moments, I do wonder why I am continuing to rehearse at all.
At least the orphans will see a marvellous entertainment!
14th December 1893
Bookings have been made for January and February. Our spirits have risen.
20th December 1893
More bookings for January, one of them, I do declare, left vacant by a certain Professeur de la Magie! I am happy to take his guineas.
23rd December 1893
A Happy Christmas! Unwin has sent me the contract for my appearance on 19th January at the Princess Royal Theatre in Streatham. This is the booking left free by Borden. I was glancing through the contract when my gaze fell on one of the clauses toward the end. It read that my performance should be to the same general standard of excellence as the act that was being replaced.
I think I could at last perform Borden’s illusion.
I am so taken with the idea that I have been dashing around London all day, trying to find someone who will act as my double. This is the wrong time of year to be looking; all the unemployed actors are working in the numerous pantomimes and Christmas shows around the town.
I have just over three weeks in which to prepare. Tomorrow I shall start to build the cabinets!
4th January 1894
At last, I have my man! His name is Gerald William Root, an actor… and regular drunkard and brawler. Mr Root is however desperate for cash, and I have drawn from him a promise that so long as he works for me he shall only taste liquor after each performance. The cash that I am able to offer him is so generous, by his usual standards, that I believe I can purchase his reliability.
He is the same height as me, and his general stance and figure are roughly mine. He is a little stouter than I am, but either he will lose those extra folds of flesh, or I shall wear padding. It is of no concern. Although his eyes are an impure blue, while mine are the colour generally described as hazel, the difference is not noticeable, and again we can use theatrical make-up to misdirect attention.
None of the details matters. More potentially serious is the problem of his gait, which is noticeably looser than mine, with longer strides, and his feet turn slightly outwards as he walks. Olivia has taken charge of the problem, and believes she can coach him in time. As any actor knows, you convey more about a character with a walk or a bearing than any number of facial characteristics, accents or gestures. If my double walks differently from me while on the stage he will not be mistaken for me. It is as simple as that.
Root says that he understands the problem. Provided that on the night he is mistaken for me, he will have earned his money.
A fortnight remains in which to rehearse.
18th January 1894
I am nervous about tomorrow’s performance, even though Root and I have rehearsed it until we are sick of it. In perfection lies a risk; if tomorrow I perform Borden’s illusion, and improve on it, and I shall, word that I have done so will reach him within days.
I know there is yet a terrible truth that I have not faced up to. It is that Borden will instantly know the means by which I have brought off the illusion, but I still do not know his.
20th January 1894
It was a triumph! Today, the Morning Post describes me as “probably Britain’s greatest living illusionist”.
It is sweet. But it also has a sour side I had not anticipated! At the conclusion of the illusion, it is the drunkard Root who takes the ovation, who holds Olivia’s hand in his, who bows and waves and blows kisses –
And I can only wait for the darkness of the stage when the curtain descends, before I make my escape.
This will have to change. We must arrange it that I am the one who emerges from the unexpected cabinet, so the switch with Root must be made before the illusion begins. I shall have to think of a way.
21st January 1894
Yesterday’s notice in the Post has made its impact, and already today, my agent has taken three bookings for my act.
I have rewarded Root with a small cash bonus.
30th June 1895
Already the events of two years ago seem like a fading nightmare. I return to this journal merely to record that I am once again on an even keel. Olivia and I co-exist harmoniously.
I intend another discussion with Root, since the last one had little effect. In spite of the excellence of his performance he is a trouble to me, and another reason for returning to this diary is to record the fact that he and I will have to talk seriously.
7th July 1895
There is a cardinal rule in the world of magic that you do not antagonize your assistants. This is because they know many of your secrets, and they therefore have a particular power over you.
If I fire Root, I shall be at his mercy.
The problem he presents is partly his alcoholic addiction, and partly his arrogance.
He has often been drunk during my performance, a fact he does not deny. He claims he can handle it. The trouble is that there is no controlling the behaviour of a heavy drinker, and I am terrified that one evening he will be too drunk to take part.
His arrogance is a worse problem. He is convinced that I am unable to function effectively without him, and whenever he is around me, I have to suffer a constant stream of advice based on his years of experience as an actor.
Last night we had a “discussion”. He said the words I most feared to hear, that he could expose my secrets and ruin my career.
And worse. He has somehow found out about my relationship with Sheila Macpherson. I am being blackmailed, of course. I need him, and he knows it. He has power over me, and I know it.
I was forced even to offer him a raise in his performance fees, and this, of course, he promptly accepted.
24th August 1895
I learnt today that Borden is taking his magical show on a tour of Europe and the Levant, and that he will be out of England until the end of the year. Curiously, he will not be performing his own version of the two-cabinet illusion.
Hesketh Unwin informed me of this when I saw him earlier today.
25th August 1895
I finally realized that with Borden out of the country, I have no need to keep performing the switch illusion, and so without delay I have given Root the sack!
By the time, Borden returns from his tour abroad, either I shall have replaced Mr Root or I shall no longer be performing the illusion at all.
14th November 1895
Next week, when I open for a short season at the Royal County Theatre in Reading, my assistant will be a young lady I have been training for the last two weeks. Her name is Gertrude, she is blessed with a supple and beautiful body. She is the fiancee of my other new employee, a carpenter and apparatus technician named Adam Wilson. I am paying them both well, and am satisfied with their contributions so far to my act.
Adam, I must record, is an almost exact double for me in terms of physique, and I shall keep him in mind as Root’s replacement.
12th February 1896
I have tonight learned the meaning of the phrase one’s blood runs cold.
I was engaged in one of my customary tricks with playing cards in the first half of my show. In this, I ask a member of the audience to select a card and then to write his name upon it in full view of the audience. When this is done, I take the card from him and tear it up before his eyes, tossing aside the pieces. Moments later, I show a live canary in a metal cage. When my volunteer takes the cage from me it mysteriously collapses in his hand (the bird vanishes from sight), and leaves him holding the remains of the cage in which can be seen a single playing card. When he removes it, he discovers that it is the very one on which his name is inscribed. The trick ends, and the volunteer returns to his seat.
Tonight, at the conclusion of the trick, as I beamed towards the audience in anticipation of the applause, I heard the fellow say, “Here, this isn’t my card!”
I turned towards him. The fool was standing there with the remains of the cage in one hand, and the playing card in the other. He was trying to read it.
“Let me take it, sir!” I boomed theatrically, preparing to cover the mistake with a sudden production of a multitude of coloured streamers, which I keep on hand for such a case.
I tried to snatch the card from him, but he swung away from me, shouting in a triumphant voice, “Look, it’s got something else written on it!”
Finally, I snatched the card out of his hand, showered him with coloured streamers, signalled the bandmaster, and waved the audience to applaud.
In the swelling music, I stood paralysed, reading the words that had been written there.
They said, “I know the address you go to with Sheila Macpherson – Abracadabra! – Alfred Borden.”
The card was the one I had forced on the volunteer for the trick.
I simply do not know how I managed to get through the rest of the performance, but somehow I did so.
18th February 1896
Last night I travelled alone to the Empire Theatre in Cambridge where Borden was performing. As he went through the conventional illusion with a cabinet, I stood up in my seat in the auditorium and denounced him. As loudly as I could I informed the audience that an assistant was already concealed inside the cabinet. I immediately left the theatre.
Then, unexpectedly, I found I had to pay a price for what I had done. Conscience struck me as I took my long, cold and solitary train journey back to London. I bitterly regretted what I had done. The ease with which I destroyed his magic appalled me. Magic is illusion, a temporary suspension of reality for the benefit and amusement of an audience. What right had T (or he, when he took his turn) to destroy that illusion?
Once, long ago, after Julia lost our first baby, Borden wrote to me and apologized for what he had done. Foolishly, I rejected him. Now the time has come when I anxiously desire to cease the feud between us. How much longer do two grown men have to keep sniping at each other in public, to settle some score that no one but they even know about?
All through that cold journey back to Liverpool Street Station, I wondered how it might be achieved. Now, twenty- four hours later, I still think about it. I shall brace myself, write to him, call an end to it, and suggest a private meeting to beat out any remaining scores that he feels have to be settled.
20th February 1896
Today, after she had opened her letters, Olivia came to me and said, “You’re still seeing Sheila Macpherson, right?”
Later, she showed me the note she had received. It was from Borden!
27th February 1896
I have made peace with myself, with Olivia, even with Borden!
Let me simply record that I have promised Olivia I shall never see Miss Macpherson again (nor shall I), and that my love for her is undying.
And I have decided that never again, shall I conduct a feud with Alfred Borden, no matter how provoked I feel. I still expect a public revenge from him for my outburst in Cambridge, but I shall ignore him.
5th March 1896
Sooner even than I had expected, Borden tried successfully to humiliate me while I was performing a well-known but popular illusion called Trilby. (It is the one where the assistant lies on a board balanced between two chair backs, then is seen to float apparently unaided in the air when the chairs are removed.) Borden had somehow secreted himself backstage.
As I removed the second chair from beneath Gertrude’s board, the concealing backdrop lifted quickly to reveal Adam Wilson crouched behind, operating the mechanism.
I brought down the main curtains, and discontinued my act.
I shall not take revenge.
31st March 1896
Another Borden incident. So soon after the last!
17th May 1896
Another Borden incident.
This one puzzles me, for I had already established he was also performing this same evening, but somehow he got across London to the Great Western Hotel to sabotage my performance.
Again, I shall not take revenge.
13th May 1897
After many long hours of work and rehearsal, Adam and I have developed our cabinet switching routine to a standard, which I know cannot be bettered. Adam, after eighteen months working closely with me, can imitate my movements and mannerisms with accuracy. He is my double to the last detail.
Yet each time we perform it, our audiences declare themselves, by their unenthusiastic applause, to be unimpressed.
I do not know what I have to do to better the illusion.
1st June 1897
I have been hearing rumours for some time that Borden has “improved” his switch illusion, but without further information, I have taken no notice. It is years since I saw him performing it, and so yesterday evening I and Adam Wilson went to a theatre in Nottingham, where Borden has been in residence for the last week.
I disguised myself with greyed hair, cheek pads, untidy clothes, a pair of unnecessary eyeglasses, and took a seat only two rows from the front. I was just a few feet away from Borden as he performed all his tricks.
Everything is suddenly explained! Borden has substantially advanced his version of the illusion. He no longer conceals himself inside cabinets. There is no more stuff-and-nonsense with some object tossed across the stage (which I have been continuing to work with until this week). And he does not use a double.
I say with certainty: Borden does not use a double. I know everything there is to know about doubles. I can spot one as easily as I can spot a cloud in the sky. I am as sure as I can be that Borden works alone.
The audience saw an array of jars fuming with chemicals, cabinets decorated with coiling cables, glass tubes, and above all a host of gleaming electrical wires. It was a glimpse into the laboratory of a scientific fiend.
Borden strolled around the equipment, lecturing the audience on the perils of working with electrical power. At certain moments, he touched one wire against another, or to a flask of gas, and there came an alarming flash of light, or a loud bang. Sparks flew around him, and a mist of blue smoke began to float about his head.
When he was ready to perform, he indicated that a roll of drums be played from the orchestra pit. He seized two heavy wires, brought them dramatically together and made an electrical connection.
In the brilliant flash that followed, the switch took place. Before our very eyes, Borden vanished from where he was standing, and he instantly reappeared on the other side of the stage – at least twenty feet away from where he had been!
Borden stepped forward in wild applause to take his bow.
The applause continued for long afterwards, and I report that my hands were clapping as loudly as anyone’s.
Why should this fellow-magician, so gifted, so endowed with skill and professionalism, pursue a vicious feud against me?
5th March 1898
I have been working hard, with little time for the diary. Today I have no bookings, so I may make a brief entry.
Adam and I have not included our switch illusion in my act since that night in Nottingham.
Borden has interrupted my acts twice. One of the attacks I was able to joke away, but the other was for a few minutes a disaster.
I have as a result abandoned my facade of silent contempt.
I am left with two ambitions. The first is to achieve some kind of reconciliation with Julia and the children. I know I have lost her forever, but the distance she puts between us is terrible to endure. The second is minor in comparison. Now that my unilateral truce with Borden has ended, I wish to discover the secret of his illusion so that I might again outperform him.
31st July 1898
Olivia has proposed an idea!
Before describing it, I should say that in recent months the passion between Olivia and myself has noticeably cooled. We continue to cohabit peacefully, and at times we have behaved as man and wife, but overall we no longer act as if we love or care for each other. Yet we cling together.
Today after dinner, Olivia left me, taking with her a bottle of gin. I have grown used to her solitary drinking, and no longer remark on it.
A few minutes later, though, her maid, Lucy, came up and asked me if I would step downstairs for a few minutes.
I found Olivia seated at her card table, with two or three bottles and two glasses standing on it, and an empty chair opposite her. She waved me to sit down, and then poured me a drink.
“Robbie,” she said with her familiar directness. “I’m going to leave you.”
I mumbled something in reply. I have been expecting some such development for months, although I had no idea how I would cope with it.
“I’m going to leave you,” she said again, “and then I’m going to come back. Do you want to know why?”
I said that I did.
“Because there’s something you want more than you want me. I figure that if I get out there and find it for you, then I have a chance to make you want me all over again.”
I assured her I wanted her as much as ever I had, but she cut me short.
“I know what’s going on,” she declared. “You and this Alfred Borden are like two lovers who can’t get along together. Am I right?”
I tried to prevaricate, but when I saw the determination in her eyes, I quickly agreed.
“Look at this!” she said, and showed this week’s copy of The Stage. “See here.” She folded the paper in half and passed it across to me. She had circled one of the classified advertisements on the front page.
“That’s your friend Borden,” she said. “See what he says?”
An attractive young female stage assistant is required for full-time employment. She must be strong and fit, and willing to travel and to work long hours, both on and off stage. Pleasing appearance is essential, and so is a willingness to participate in exciting and demanding routines before large audiences. Please apply, with suitable references, too.
The address of Alfred Borden’s rehearsal room followed.
“He’s been advertising for an assistant for a couple of weeks. I guess I could help him out.”
“You mean you-”
“You always said I was the best assistant you ever had.”
“But you -? Going to work for him?” I shook my head sadly. “How could you do this to me, Olivia?”
“You want to find out how he does that trick, don’t you?” she said.
I sat silently before her, staring at her. If she could gain his confidence, work with him in rehearsal and on stage, move freely in his workshop, it would not be long before Borden’s secret was mine.
We soon got down to details.
The need to supply references seemed for a time to be a problem, because Olivia had worked for no one but me, but she pointed out that I was entirely capable of forging letters.
Two hours or more went quickly by while we discussed her idea, and began to lay our plans. We emptied the bottle of gin, while Olivia kept saying, “I’ll get the secret for you, Robbie. That’s what you want me to do, isn’t it?” And I said yes, but that I did not want to lose her.
I was torn between the euphoria of making a definitive strike against him, and the prospect of him taking some even greater revenge if he realized Olivia was mine. I voiced these fears. She replied, “I’ll come back to you Robbie, and I’ll bring you Borden’s secret-” We were soon drunk, playful and affectionate.
I must go to forge one or two testimonials for her. We are using the address of her maid for poste restante; she is taking her mother’s maiden name.
14th August 1898
Borden has replied (at least, an assistant called T. Elbourne replied on his behalf), suggesting an interview early next week.
I am suddenly against it, having in the last few days found a renewal of happiness with Olivia, and more unwilling than ever to see her fall into Borden’s clutches.
Olivia still wants to go through with it.
18th August 1898
Olivia has been to the interview and returned from it, and she says the job is hers.
While she was gone, I was in a torment of fears and regrets.
Olivia was gone far longer than either of us had expected, and I was seriously wondering what I should do when suddenly she arrived back. She was elated and excited.
Yes, the job is hers. Yes, Borden read the references I had written, and he accepted them as genuine. No, there was no apparent suspicion of me.
She told me about some of the apparatus she had seen in his workshop, but it was all disappointingly ordinary.
“Did he say anything at all about the switch illusion?” I queried her.
“Not a word. But he told me there were several tricks he did alone, and for which he did not need a stage assistant.”
Later, saying she was tired, she went to sleep.
27th August 1898
The end of another week, and still Olivia has no information for me. She seems unwilling to talk to me about it.
Tonight she gave me a free pass to Borden’s next series of performances. Olivia will be on stage with him.
3rd September 1898
Olivia has not returned home at all this evening. I am mystified, alarmed, and full of fears.
4th September 1898
I sent a boy to Borden’s workshop with a message for her, but he returned to say the place was bolted up with no one apparently inside.
12th September 1898
With no further sign of Olivia returning home, I took the pass she had given me and went to the box office of the Leicester Square Theatre. Here I claimed a ticket for Borden’s show. I deliberately selected a seat near the rear of the stalls, so that my presence might not be noticed from the stage.
I saw Olivia. Her appearance quickened my pulse.
Borden climaxed his show with the electrical switch illusion, performing it with a flair that plunged me further into depression. When Olivia returned to the stage to take the final bow with him, my gloom was complete. She looked beautiful, happy and excited, and it seemed to my troubled gaze that as Borden held her hand for the applause he did so with unnecessary affection.
Determined to see the thing through, I raced from the auditorium and hurried around to the Stage Door. Although I waited while the other artistes left, and until the doorman had locked the door and turned off the lights, I saw neither Borden nor Olivia departing the building.
18th September 1898
Today Olivia’s maid brought me a letter she had received from her mistress.
I read it anxiously, clinging to the hope that it might contain a clue as to what had happened, but it merely said:
Would you kindly make up packages and cases of all my belongings, and have them delivered as soon as possible to the Stage Door of the Strand Theatre.
Please be sure that everything is clearly labelled as being for myself, and I will arrange collection.
I enclose an amount to cover the costs, and that which is left over you must keep for yourself if you require a reference for your next employment, Mr Angler will of course write it for you.
I had to read this letter aloud to the poor girl, and to explain what she had to do with the five-pound note Olivia had enclosed.
4th December 1898
I am currently engaged for a season of shows at the Plaza Theatre in Richmond, by the side of the River Thames. This evening, I was relaxing in my dressing room between first and second performances, when someone knocked on the door.
It was Olivia. I let her into the room. She looked beautiful but tired, and told me she had been trying to locate me all day.
“Robbie, I have gotten you the information you want,” she said, and she held up a sealed envelope for me to see. “I brought you this, even though you must understand that I’m not going to come back to you. You have to promise me that your feud with Alfred will end immediately. If you do, I’ll let you have the envelope.”
I told her that as far as I was concerned the feud was already at an end.
“Then why do you still need his secret?”
“You surely know why,” I said.
“Only to continue the feud!”
I knew she was touching the truth, but I said, “I’m curious.”
She was in a hurry to depart, saying that already Borden would be suspicious of her long absence.
Finally, she handed over the envelope.
Holding it, I said, “Is it really the end of the mystery for me?”
“I believe it is, yes.”
She turned to go and opened the door.
“Can I ask you something else, Olivia?”
“What is it?”
“Is Borden one man, or two?”
She smiled, and maddeningly I glimpsed the smile of a woman thinking of her lover. “He is just one man, I do assure you.”
I followed her out into the corridor.
“Are you happy now?” I asked her.
“Yes, I am. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you, Robbie.”
She left me then, without an embrace or even a smile or a touch of hands. It was painful.
I returned to the dressing room, closed the door and slit the envelope at once. It contained one sheet of paper, and there was a single word.
10th July 1900
Colorado Springs, Colorado
I have found a modest but attractive hotel, suitable for my needs, and because I liked my room on sight, I have registered for a week’s stay with an option to extend it if necessary.
From the window of my room, I can see two of the three features of Colorado Springs that have brought me here.
The whole town dances with electric lights after the sun has set; the streets have tall lamps, every house has brightly illuminated windows.
The famous mountain stands beside the town: Pike’s Peak, nearly 15,000 feet in height.
Tomorrow, I shall make my first ascent of the lower slopes of Pike’s Peak, and seek out the third remarkable feature that has brought me to this town.
12th July 1900
I was too weary to write in my diary yesterday evening, but today I am alone here in the town, so I have plenty of opportunity to describe what happened.
I was awake at an early hour, took my breakfast in the hotel, and walked quickly to the central square of the town where my carriage was supposed to be waiting for me. This was something I had arranged by letter before leaving London.
In the casual American manner, my man and I quickly became great friends. His name is Randall D. Gilpin, a Colorado man born and bred. I call him Randy, and he calls me Robbie. He is short and round, with a great circling of grey whiskers about his cheerful face. His eyes are blue, and his hair, like the whiskers, is steel-grey. He wears a hat made of leather. He carries a rifle under the seat from which he drives the horses, and he told me he keeps it loaded.
The route to Nikola Tesla’s laboratory is a steady climb across the eastern face of the great mountain.
After an hour and a half, we came to a plateau, on the northeast face of the mountain, and here no trees grew at all. In the centre of this small plateau, was Tesla’s laboratory.
“You got business here, Robbie?” said Randy. “You watch how you go. It can get dangerous up here, from what folks say.”
“I know the risks,” I said. Randy told me that he had business of his own to attend to, but would return to the laboratory in the afternoon and wait for me until I appeared.
I noticed that he would not take the carriage too close to the building, and I had to walk the last four or five hundred yards by myself.
The laboratory was a square construction with sloping roofs, built with unpainted wood. In the centre of the building, rising vertically was a tall metal pole at the top of which was a large metal sphere. This was glinting in the bright morning sunshine and waving gently to and fro in the fresh breeze that was blowing along the mountainside.
On each side of the path, a number of technical instruments of obscure purpose had been set on the ground. There were many metal poles driven into the stony soil, and most of these were connected to each other with insulated wires. Close by the side of the main building was a wooden frame with a glass wall, inside which I saw several measuring dials or registers.
I heard a sudden and violent crackling sound, and from within the building there came a series of brilliant and horrific flashes: white, blue-white, pink-white, repeated rapidly.
I confess that at this moment my resolve briefly failed. My faint heart became even fainter when, within two or three more steps, I came upon a hand-painted sign mounted on the wall beside the main door. It said:
As I read this the electric discharges from within died away. I banged my fist on the door.
After a wait of a few moments, Nikola Tesla himself opened the door. His expression was the abstracted one of a busy man who has been irritatingly interrupted. It was not a good start, but I made the best of it.
“Mr Tesla?” I said. “My name is Rupert Angier. I wonder if you recall our correspondence? I have been writing to you from England.”
“I know nobody in England!” He was staring behind me, as if wondering how many more Englishmen I had brought with me. “Say your name again, good sir?”
“My name is Rupert Angier. I was present at your demonstration in London, and was greatly interested -”
“You are the magician! The one Mr Alley knows all about?”
“I am the magician,” I confirmed, although the meaning of his second question was not clear to me.
“You may enter!”
So many impressions about him at once. I noticed his face first. It was thin, intelligent and handsome, with strong Slavic cheekbones. He wore a thin moustache, and his hair was parted in the middle. He looked like a man who worked long hours and slept only when there was no alternative to exhaustion.
Tesla is equipped with an extraordinary mind. Once I had made my identity clear to him he remembered not only what we had corresponded briefly about, but that I had written to him earlier, some eight years ago, asking for a copy of his notes.
Inside the laboratory, he introduced me to his assistant, Mr Alley. This interesting man appears to fulfil many roles in Tesla’s life, from scientific assistant and collaborator, to domestic servant and companion. Mr Alley declared himself to be an admirer of my work! He had been in the audience during my show in Kansas City in 1893, and spoke briefly but knowledgeably about magic.
By all appearances, the two men work in the laboratory alone.
Tesla seemed relaxed in my company. He interrogated me about the use of electricity in Britain, how widespread it was becoming. Eventually, the focus of his questions turned to myself, my career, my interest in electricity, and to what uses I might wish to put it.
I let him direct our conversation, and for an hour or two, he told me about his conflicts with Edison, his struggles against bureaucracy and the scientific establishment, and most of all his successes. His present laboratory had been funded by the work of the last few years. He had installed the first water-powered city-sized electricity generator in the world; the generating station was at Niagara Falls, and the beneficiary city was Buffalo, it is true to say that Tesla had made his fortune at Niagara, but like many men of sudden wealth he wondered how long he could make last what he had.
As gently as I could I kept the conversation centred on money, because this is one of the few subjects where our interests genuinely meet. Nothing was discussed between us that touched directly on the reason for my visit here, but there will be plenty of time for that in the days ahead. Yesterday, we were just getting to know one another, and learning of each other’s interests.
I have said little of the dominant feature of his laboratory. During the long conversation, we were overshadowed by the bulk of his Experimental Coil. Indeed, the entire laboratory can be said to be the Coil, for there is little else there apart from recording and calibrating apparatus.
The Coil is immense. Tesla said that it had a diameter exceeding fifty feet. Constructed around a central core (the base of the tall metal pole that I had seen protruding through the roof), the Coil is wound around numerous wooden and metal battens. I could make no sense of its design. I grasped that it was capable of using or transforming huge amounts of electricity. The power for it is sent up the mountain from Colorado Springs below; Tesla has paid for this by installing the town generators himself!
“I have all the electricity I want!” he said. “As you will probably find during the evenings.”
I asked him what he meant.
“You will notice that from time to time the town lights momentarily dim. Sometimes they even go off altogether for a few seconds. It means we are at work up here! Let me show you.”
He led me out of the building and across the uneven ground outside. After a short distance, we came to a place where the side of the mountain dropped steeply away, and there, a long way below, was the whole extent of Colorado Springs.
“If you come up here one night I’ll demonstrate,” he promised. “With a pull on one lever I can plunge that whole city into the dark.”
As we headed back, he said, “You must indeed visit me one night. Night-time is the finest time in the mountains. It is a mistake to look down or around. The real interest is above us!” He gestured towards the sky. “I have never known such clarity of air, such moonlight. Nor have I ever seen such storms as occur here! I chose this site because of the frequency of storms. There is one coming at this moment, as it happens.”
I glanced around me, but the sky was blue in every direction.
“The storm will arrive after seven this evening, in fact, let us examine my coherer, from which we can determine the exact time.”
We walked back to the laboratory. As we did so, I noticed that Randy Gilpin and his carriage had arrived, and were parked well away from where we were. Randy waved to me, and I waved back.
Tesla indicated one of the instruments I had noted earlier.
“This shows that a storm is currently in the region of Central City, about eighty miles to the north of us. Watch!”
He indicated a part of the device that could be seen through a magnifying lens, and jabbed a finger at it at odd moments. After peering at it for a while, I saw what he was trying to indicate – a tiny electrical spark was bridging the visible gap between two metal studs.
“Each time it sparks it is registering a flash of lightning,” Tesla explained. “Sometimes I will note the discharge here, and more than an hour later I will hear the thunder rumbling in from far away.”
Tesla had moved to another instrument and noted down two or three readings from it. I followed him to it.
“Yes,” he said. “Mr Angier, would you be good enough to look at your clock this evening, and note the moment when you see the first flash of lightning. By my calculation it should be between 7.15 p.m. and 7.20 p.m.”
“You can predict the exact moment?” I said.
“Within about five minutes.”
“Then you could make your fortune with this alone!” I exclaimed.
He looked uninterested.
“It is peripheral,” he said. “My work is purely experimental, and my main concern is to know when a storm is going to break so that I might make the best use of it.” He glanced over to where Gilpin was waiting. “I see your carriage has returned, Mr Angier. You plan to make another visit to see me?”
“I came to Colorado Springs for one reason only,” I said. “That is so that I might put a business proposition to you.”
“The best kind of proposition, in my experience,” Tesla said gravely. “I shall expect you the day after tomorrow.”
He explained that today was going to be taken up by a trip to the railhead to collect some more equipment.
With this I departed, and soon returned with Gilpin to the town.
I must record that at exactly 7.19 p.m. there was a flash of lightning visible in the town, followed soon after by a crack of thunder. There then began a spectacular storm.
13th July 1900
Today Tesla suggested I might like to take a walk with him.
“Perhaps now is the time when we should quietly discuss business. May I beg details of what you have in mind?”
“This is what I am not entirely sure about -” I began, and paused, trying to formulate the words.
“Do you propose to invest in my researches?”
“No, sir, I do not,” I was able to say. “Let me say candidly that I am a wealthy man, Mr Tesla. I hope I might be able to assist you.”
“But not by investment, you say.”
“By purchase,” I replied. “I wish you to build me an electrical apparatus.”
“Which piece of apparatus do you require?” he said. “As you have seen my work is theoretical, experimental. None of it is for sale, and everything I am using at present is invaluable to me.”
“Before I left England,” I said, “I read a new article about your work in The Times. In the article, it was said that you had discovered on a theoretical basis that electricity might be transmitted through the air, and that you planned to demonstrate the principle in the near future. Many of your scientific colleagues have apparently said it is impossible, but you are confident of what you are doing. Would this be true?”
I stared directly into Tesla’s eyes as I asked this final question, and saw that his expression and gestures became animated and expressive.
“Yes, it is entirely true!” he cried, and at once launched into a wild and (to me) fairly incomprehensible account of what he planned.
The essence of what he said was that he had long ago established that the most efficient way of transmitting his polyphase electrical current was to boost it to high voltages and direct it along high-tension cables. Now he was able to show that if the current was boosted to an even greater voltage then it became of extremely high frequency, and no cables at all would be required. The current would be sent out, radiated, cast broadly into the aether, whereupon by a series of detectors or receivers the electricity could be captured once more and turned to use.
We had circled the large area of ground twice, and I kept my pace beside him.
Finally, I said, “Tell me this: if electrical energy may be transmitted, could physical matter also be sent from one place to another?”
The steadiness of his answer surprised me. He said, “Energy and matter are but two manifestations of the same force. Surely you realize this?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Then you already know the answer. Though I must add that I cannot see why anyone should wish to transmit matter.”
“But could you make me the apparatus that would achieve this?”
“How much mass would be involved? What weight would there be? What size object?”
“Never more than two hundred pounds,” I said. “And the size… let us say two yards in height, at most.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “What sum are you offering me?”
“What sum do you require?”
“I desperately need eight thousand dollars, Mr Angier.”
It was more than I had planned, but still it was within my means.
A few moments later, we were embracing on that windy plateau, clapping our hands against each other’s shoulders.
As we drew apart, and clasped hands in contract together, a loud peal of thunder rang out somewhere in the mountains behind us, and rolled around us, rumbling and echoing in the narrow passes.
14th July 1900
Today Tesla has quizzed me more closely about what I require of him. He is incurious about the magical effect I plan to achieve, but is concerned instead with practicalities. The size of the apparatus, the source of power for it, the weight it will need to be, the degree of portability required.
I find myself admiring his analytical mind. Portability was one aspect I had not thought about at all, but of course, this is a critical factor for a touring magician.
Tesla’s reaction to my project has finally convinced me of something that until now I have only suspected. Borden has not been to Tesla!
I am learning about my old rival. Through Olivia, he was trying to misdirect me. His illusion uses the sort of flashy effects that ordinary people think are the power of electricity, but are in fact nothing more than flashy effects.
But Tesla works slowly! I am anxious about the passage of time. Naively, I had thought that once I commissioned Tesla it would be a matter of hours before he produced the mechanism I required. I see, by the abstracted expression he bears as he mutters to himself, that I have started a process of invention that might know no practical end.
I have firm bookings in England in October and November, and must be home well before the first of them.
8th August 1900
Tesla told me on my arrival at the laboratory this morning that my apparatus was ready for demonstration, and in a state of great excitement, I readied myself to see it. When it came to it, though, the thing refused to function, and after I had watched Tesla fiddling with some of the wiring for more than three hours I returned here to the hotel.
12th August 1900
Another abortive demonstration today. I was disappointed by the outcome. Tesla seemed puzzled, claiming that his calculations could not be in error.
The failure is briefly recorded. The prototype apparatus is a smaller version of his Coil, with the wiring arranged in a different fashion. After a prolonged lecture about the principles (none of which I understood), Tesla produced a metal rod which he or Mr Alley had painted in a distinctive orange colour. He placed it on a platform, immediately beneath a kind of inverted cone of wiring; the apex of the cone focused directly on the rod.
When at Tesla’s instruction Mr Alley worked a large lever situated close by the original Coil, there was the noisy outburst of electrical discharge. Almost at once, the orange rod was surrounded by blue-white fire, which snaked around it in a most intimidating way. The noise and incandescence built up quickly, and soon it seemed as if molten particles of the rod itself were splashing to the floor.
After a few seconds Tesla waved his hands dramatically, M r Alley threw back the control lever, the electricity instantly died away, and the rod was still in place.
Tesla immediately became absorbed in the mystery. Mr Alley has recommended me to stay away from the laboratory for a few days, but I am acutely conscious of time running out.
18th August 1900
Today, after the orange-painted rod had failed to move again, Tesla picked it up and offered it to me to hold. A few seconds before it had been bathed in radiant light, with sparks flying in every direction. I took it from him, expecting my fingers to be burned by it. Instead, it was cold. This is the odd thing: it was not just cool, in the sense that it had not been heated, but actively cold, as if it had been surrounded by ice. I hefted the rod in my hand.
“Any more failures like this, Mr Angier,” Tesla said, in a friendly enough voice, “and I might be obliged to give you that as a souvenir.”
“I shall take it,” I replied. “Although I should prefer to take with me what I came here to buy.”
“Given enough time I shall move the Earth.”
“Time is what I do not have much of,” I riposted, tossing the rod to the floor. “And it is not the Earth I wish to move. Nor is it this metal stick.”
“Then name your preferred object,” Tesla said, with sarcasm. “I shall concentrate on that instead.”
“Mr Tesla,” I said, “I wish it to transmit a living body! A man!”
“So you wish me to demonstrate my failures not on an iron rod, but on a human being? Whom do you nominate for this dangerous experiment?”
“Why should it be dangerous?” I said.
“Because all experiment is risky.”
“I am the one who will be using this.”
“You wish to submit yourself! Sir, I shall require the remainder of your money before I start experimenting on you!”
“It is time for me to leave,” I said, and turned away, feeling angry. I pushed past him and Alley, and made it to the outside. There was no sign of Randy Gilpin but I strode off anyway, determined if necessary to walk the whole way down to the town.
“Mr Angier, sir!” Tesla was standing at the door to his laboratory. “Let us not exchange hasty words. I should have explained properly to you. If I had known that you wished to transmit living organisms, you would not have presented me with such a challenge. It is difficult to deal with massy, inorganic compounds. Living tissue is not of the same order of problem.”
“What are you saying, Professor?” I asked.
“If you wish me to transmit an organism, please return here tomorrow. It shall be done.”
I nodded my confirmation then continued on my way, stepping on the loose gravel of the path that descended the mountainside.
When I had walked about half a mile, my attention was caught by a flash of colour in the long grass beside the track, and I stopped to investigate. It was a short iron rod, painted orange, apparently identical to the one Tesla had been using. Thinking I might after all keep a souvenir of this extraordinary meeting with Tesla, I picked it up, and I have it with me now.
19th August 1900
Today, when I came to the laboratory, Tesla said, “I fear I am about to let you down. Much work remains, and I know how pressing is your return to Britain.”
“What has occurred?” I asked.
“I believed it would be a simple matter with life organisms. The structure is so much simpler than that of the elements. Life already contains minute amounts of electricity. I was working on the assumption that all I had to do was boost that energy. I do not know why this has not worked! The computations were exact. Come and see the evidence for yourself.”
Inside the laboratory, I noticed Mr Alley who stood with his arms folded protectively. Beside him on the bench was a small wooden cage, containing a little black cat with white whiskers and paws, presently asleep.
“I hope you will not allow this, Mr Angier!” Alley cried. “I brought my children’s cat on the firm promise that it would not be harmed. Mr Tesla insists that we submit the creature to an experiment that will undoubtedly kill it!”
He led me to the apparatus, which I immediately saw had been entirely rebuilt overnight.
“What’s going wrong?” I said to Tesla. “Yesterday you sounded so sure.”
“I have calculated and recalculated a dozen times. Alley has checked the mathematics too. It is an inexplicable dichotomy between theoretical and actual results. Such a thing has never happened to me before.”
“May I see the calculations?” I said.
“Of course you may, but if you are not a mathematician I fear they will not convey much to you.”
He and Alley produced a great book in which his computations had been carried out, and together we studied them for a long time. Tesla showed me, as best I was able to understand, the principle behind them, and the calculated results. I took the calculations for granted and concentrated on the results, and then an unexpected glimmering of sense shone through.
“You say that this determines the distance?” I said.
“That is a variable. For purposes of experimentation I have been using a value of one hundred metres, but such a distance is academic, since, as you see, nothing I try to transmit travels any distance at all.”
“And this value here?” I said, pointing at another line.
“The angle. I have been using compass points. It will direct in any of three hundred and sixty degrees from the apex of the energy vortex.”
“Do you have a setting for elevation?” I asked.
“I am not using it. Until the apparatus is fully working, I am merely aiming into the clear air to the east of the laboratory. One must be careful not to cause a rematerialization in a position already occupied by another mass! Something terrible might happen.”
Suddenly I was struck by inspiration! I dashed out of the laboratory and stared from the doorway to the east. When I returned to the laboratory, I went straight to my portmanteau and pulled out the iron rod I had found beside the path yesterday evening. I held it up for Tesla to see.
“Your experimental object, I do believe?” I said.
“Yes it is.”
I told him where I had found it, and when. He hurried across to the apparatus where its twin was lying. He held the two together, and Alley and I stood with him, marveling at their identical appearance.
“These marks, Mr Angier!” Tesla breathed in awe, lightly fingering a crisscross patch neatly etched into the metal. “I made them so that I might prove by identification that this object had been transmitted through the aether. But-”
“It has made a facsimile of itself!” Alley said.
“Where did you say you found this, sir?” Tesla demanded.
I led the two men outside and explained, pointing down the mountain. Tesla stared in silent thought.
Then he said, “I need to see the actual place! Show me!” To Alley he said, “Bring the theodolite, and some measuring tape! As soon as you can!”
And with that he set off down the path, clutching me by my upper arm, imploring me to show him the exact location of the find.
I eventually came to the place where I found the rod. It was exactly to the east of the laboratory. Tesla was evidently satisfied, and he was deep in thought as we walked back up the mountain to his laboratory.
I too had been thinking, and as soon as we were inside once more I said, “Since you are able to calibrate the device, rather than simply aim your experiments into the air to the east of us, could you not send them a shorter distance? Perhaps across the laboratory itself, or outside to the area surrounding the building?”
“We evidently think alike, Mr Angier!”
I had never seen Tesla so cheerful, and he and Alley set to work immediately. I went to sit silently at the rear of the laboratory.
After a longer period than I can describe here, Tesla finally said, “Mr Angier, I believe we are ready.”
When he inserted the experimental rod, and manipulated his lever, a most satisfactory bang signaled successful completion of the experiment. The three of us rushed outside, and sure enough, there on the grass, was the familiar orange-painted iron rod.
Back in the laboratory, we all examined the “original” piece. Stone cold it was, but undoubtedly identical to the twin that had been made of it across the emptiness of space.
“Tomorrow, sir,” Tesla said to me, “tomorrow, and with the consent of my noble assistant here, we shall try to safely transport the cat from one place to another. If that can be achieved, I take it you will be satisfied?”
“Indeed, Mr Tesla,” I said warmly. “Indeed.”
20th August 1900
And indeed it has been done. The cat has crossed the aether unharmed!
There was a small hitch, however, but Tesla promises me another demonstration tomorrow, and this time he has told me there will be no more problems.
11th October 1900
Caldlow House, Derbyshire
I did not expect to live to write these words. Following the accidental death of my elder brother Henry, I have finally come to the title and lands of my father.
I am now permanently in residence in the family home, and have abandoned my career as a stage illusionist. My daily routine is occupied with the administration of the estate.
I now sign myself,
Rupert, 14th Earl of Colderdale.
12th November 1900
I have just returned from a visit of a few days to my old house in London. My intention had been to clear out the place, and my former workshop, and sell both properties on the open market. The Caldlow estate is on the verge of bankruptcy and I am in a hurry to raise some cash for urgent repairs to both the house and some of the estate buildings. Naturally, I have been cursing myself for wasting practically all the accumulated wealth from my stage career on Tesla. On leaving Colorado, as I returned to England in haste on the news of Henry’s death, I gave him the rest of the fee. It did not occur to me then how radically my whole life was to be changed by the news.
Returning to Idmiston Villas had an unanticipated effect on me, though. I found it full of memories, of course, and these were as mixed as all such memories can be, but above all, I was reminded of my first days in London. Then I was hardly more than a boy, then I met Julia.
I finally sent a note to Julia’s address. Rather to my surprise, but to my intense pleasure, she consented to meet me, and two days ago, I spent an afternoon with her and the children at the house of one of her women friends.
Julia, at first cool and remote, was obviously much affected by my expressions of shock and emotion (Edward, sixteen now, is so tall and good-looking; Lydia and Florence are so beautiful and gentle; I could not keep my eyes off them all afternoon!) and soon she was speaking kindly and warmly to me.
I then told her my news. Even when we were married and living together I had never revealed my past to her, so what I had to say to her was a triple surprise. Firstly, I had to tell her that I had once left a family and estate of which she had never heard, secondly, that I had now returned to it, and thirdly, that I had decided to abandon my stage career.
Julia took all this calmly. A little later, she asked me if I was sure, I should abandon my career. I said I saw no alternative. She told me that although we were separated she had continued to follow my magic career with admiration, regretting only that she were no longer a part of it.
As we spoke, I felt rising in me, or more correctly sinking out of me, a despair that I had thrown away my wife, and more unforgivably my splendid children, for the sake of the American woman.
Yesterday, before leaving London, I met with Julia a second time. This time the children were not with her.
I begged her forgiveness for all the sins I had committed against her. I pleaded with her to return to me, and live with me once more as my wife.
She said no, but promised that she would consider carefully. I deserve no better.
Later in the day, I caught the overnight train to Sheffield. I thought of nothing but reconciliation with Julia.
17th November 1900
Julia has put to me a proposition about a way we could possibly be together in the future. I have to make a simple decision.
She says she will return to me, live with me once more as my wife, but only if I resume my magic career. She wishes me to leave Caldlow House and return to Idmiston Villas. She says that she and the children do not wish to move to a house in a remote and, to them, unknown part of Derbyshire.
To try to persuade me that her proposal is also for my own good, she adds four arguments.
First, she says the stage is in her blood as much as mine and she would wish to participate wholly in all my future stage activities.
At the beginning of this year, she next argues, I was at the peak of my profession, but that by default the wretched Borden is taking my laurels. Apparently, he is continuing to perform his version of the switch illusion.
Julia then reminds me that the only reliable way I know of earning money is to perform magic, and that I have a duty to go on supporting her as well as running the family estate she has never seen and had never heard of until last week.
Finally, she points out that I will not lose my inheritance by continuing to work in London and the house and everything that goes with the estate will still be waiting for me when the time comes for retirement. Urgent matters, such as repairs, can be managed from London almost as easily as from the house.
So I have returned to Derbyshire, because I need some time alone to think.
21st November 1900
I am at Idmiston Villas, and I have found here a letter from Alley, the assistant to Nikola Tesla. I now transcribe it:
September 27, 1900
Mr Angier, Sir:
I don’t expect you have heard but Nikola Tesla has left Colorado already, and is probably now in New York or New Jersey. His laboratory here has been seized by his creditors, and it is currently looking for a purchaser.
However, in some matters, Mr Tesla is a man of honor, and before our work here was completed, your equipment was as instructed shipped to your workshop.
Once the apparatus has been correctly put together (I wrote the assembly instructions myself) you will find it is in complete working order, and operates exactly to the agreed technical specification. The device is self-regulating, and should continue to work without adjustment or repair for many years. All you should do is keep it clean and brighten the electrical contact points if they become dull. (Mr Tesla enclosed a set of spares for those parts, which will, in the ordinary course, require replacement.)
I would of course be fascinated to learn what illusions you work with this extraordinary invention, because I am one of your greatest admirers.
Let me say in conclusion, Sir, that I was honored to play some part, no matter how small, in building this apparatus for you.
Yours most sincerely, Fare ham K. Alley, Dip. Eng.
As soon as I read this, I hurried around to my workshop. I enquired of my neighbours there if a large package had been delivered from the USA, but they knew nothing of it.
22nd November 1900
I showed Alley’s letter to Julia this morning, quite forgetting that I had not yet told her about my most recent trip to the USA, and what I had done there.
“So this is where all your money has gone?” she said.
“What is so special about the illusion?” she asked.
“Not the illusion itself,” I replied. “It is the means by which it is achieved.”
“Is Mr Borden something to do with this?”
“You have not forgotten Mr Borden, I see.”
“My dear, it was Alfred Borden who separated us. I have had many years to reflect, and I trace everything that went wrong back to that day when he attacked me.” She spoke in quiet rage and without any trace of self-pity. “If he had not hurt me I should not have lost our first child. Your restlessness began then. Even the dear children who followed could not compensate for the cruelty and stupidity of what Borden did that day, and that the feud between you continues is proof of the outrage you too must still feel.”
“I have never spoken to you about that,” I said. “How do you know?”
“Because I am not a fool, Rupert, and I have seen occasional remarks in the magic magazines.” I had not known she continued to subscribe to those. “You are still prime amongst my concerns,” she said. “I wonder only why you have never spoken to me of his attacks.”
“Because I am, I suppose, a little ashamed of the feud.”
“Surely he is the aggressor?”
“I have had to defend myself,” I said.
I told her about my investigations into his past, and my attempts to discover how he worked the illusion. Then I described the hopes I had for Tesla’s equipment.
Julia was the perfect audience for my enthusiasms about Tesla’s device, and for the next hour or more, we discussed all the possibilities it presented to me.
Finally, Julia said, “Why do we not begin our enquiries with the Post Office?” So it was, two hours later, that we located two immense crates addressed to me, waiting safely in the dead-letter section of the Mount Pleasant Sorting Office.
15th December 1900
The Tesla apparatus has been erected in my workshop ever since I picked it up from Mount Pleasant. I have been rehearsing.
The apparatus is in full working order, and has been ingeniously designed to work on all presently known versions of electrical supply. This means I may travel with my show, even to Europe, the USA and (Alley claims in his instructions) the Far East.
However, I cannot perform my show unless the theatre has electrical current supplied. In future, I will have to check this before I accept any new bookings.
All stage illusions are given names by their inventors, and it is by these that they become known in the profession. After some thought I have decided to call the Tesla invention In a Flash, and by this it will become known.
I also use this entry to note that as of last Monday, 10th December, Julia and the children have returned and are living with me at Idmiston Villas. They will see Caldlow House for the first time when we spend the Christmas holiday there.
31st December 1900
I write these words as the nineteenth century draws to a close. In an hour from now, I shall descend to our drawing room, where Julia and the children are waiting for me, and together we shall see in the New Year and the New Century.
Because secrecy again has a hold on me, I must say that what Hutton and I did earlier this evening had to be done.
This evening, soon after nightfall, I told Julia what I was about to do, and left her waiting in her sitting room.
I found Hutton, and we left the house and went together across the East Lawn towards the family vault. We transported the prestige materials on a handcart sometimes used by the gardeners.
Hutton and I had only storm lanterns to guide us. As the wooden portal swung open, Hutton declared his unease. I felt terrific sympathy for him.
I said, “Hutton, I don’t expect you to go through with this. You may wait for me here if you like. Or you could return to the house, and I’ll continue alone.”
“No, my Lord,” he replied in his honest way. “I have agreed to this.”
Leaving the cart by the entrance, we ventured inside. The inner door was unlocked, but it was stiff and heavy to move aside.
Hutton spoke beside me.
“Sir, should I collect the prestige materials?”
I could just make out his features in the lantern’s glow.
“Yes, I think so. Do you need me to help you?”
“If you would wait at the bottom of the steps, sir.”
He walked quickly up the flight of steps, and I knew he wanted to be done as soon as possible.
Here in this place were most of my forebears, lying in boxes and shrouds.
I was torn by my fears. I wanted to follow Hutton up to the outside air, yet I knew I had to plunge further on into the depths of the vault. I am a rational man who seeks explanations and welcomes the scientific method, yet for those few seconds Hutton was away from me I was tormented by the easy rush of the illogical.
Then at last, I heard him again on the steps, dragging the first of the large sacks containing the prestige materials. I had to put down my lantern while we got the sack through the door, and because Hutton had left his own light with the handcart, we were working in almost total darkness.
I said to him, “I’m profoundly glad you are here to help me, Hutton.”
“I realize that, my Lord. I should not have cared to do this myself alone.”
“Then let us complete it quickly.”
This time we went back to the handcart together, and dragged down the second large sack.
“We’ll leave the sacks here,” I said. “As far off the floor as possible. I’ll come down here again tomorrow, when it’s daylight. With a better torch.”
“I completely understand, sir.”
Without saying another word between us, we returned quickly to the surface, and pushed the outer door closed behind us. I shuddered.
In the cold air of the night-time garden, Hutton and I shook hands.
“Thank you for helping me, Hutton,” I said. “I had no idea that it would be like that down there.”
“Nor I, my Lord. Will you be requiring anything else from me this evening?”
“Would you and your wife care to join myself and Lady Colderdale at midnight? We plan to see in the New Year.”
“Thank you, sir. We shall be honoured to do so.”
And that was how our expedition ended. Hutton dragged the handcart away towards the garden shed, and I crossed the East Lawn then walked around the periphery of the house to the main entrance. I came directly to this room, to write my account while events were still fresh.
Now this account has been written, and it is close to midnight. It is time for me to seek out my family and household for the simple and familiar ceremony that celebrates the end of one year and, in this case, one century, then welcomes in the next.
1st January 1901
I have been back to the vault, and moved the prestige materials to a better position.
15th January 1901
Yesterday, the Tesla apparatus arrived back from Derbyshire, and with Adam Wilson’s assistance, I immediately unpacked it and erected it. According to my clock, it took under fifteen minutes. We must be able to be sure of doing it within ten minutes, when working in a theatre. Mr Alley’s sheet of instructions declares that when he and Tesla were testing its portability they were able to erect the whole thing in under twelve minutes.
Adam Wilson knows the secret of the illusion, as he must. Adam has been working for me for more than five years, and I believe I can trust him. To be as sure as reasonably possible I have offered him a confidentiality bonus of ten pounds, to be paid into an accumulating fund in his name after each successful performance. He and Gertrude are expecting their second child.
14th February 1901
I rehearsed In a Flash twice yesterday, and will do so twice again tomorrow. I dare not make it any more than that. I shall be performing it on Saturday evening at the Trocadero in Holloway Road, then at least once again in the week following. I believe that if I can perform it regularly enough, then extra rehearsals should not be necessary.
Tesla warned me that there would be aftereffects, and these are indeed profound. It is no trivial matter to use the apparatus. Each time I pass through it, I suffer.
In the first place, there is the physical pain. My body is torn apart, disassembled. In a fraction of a second, my body is converted into electrical waves. It is radiated through space. It is reassembled at its designated target.
Slam! I am broken apart! Slam! I am together again!
It is a violent shock that explodes in every part of me, in every direction. A millionth of a second of total agony! That is how it feels.
Yet I arrive in the selected place, and I am exactly as I was that millionth of a second earlier. I am whole in myself, and identical to myself, but I am in the shock of acute pain.
The first time I used the Tesla apparatus, in the basement of Caldlow House, with no warning of what I was to experience, I collapsed to the floor in the belief that I had died. It did not seem possible that my heart, my brain, could survive such an explosion of pain. I had no thoughts, no emotional reactions. It felt as if I had died, and I acted as if I had died.
As I slumped to the floor, Julia, who of course was there with me for the test, ran to my side. My first lucid memory in the post-death world is of her gentle hands reaching into my shirt to feel for a sign of life. I opened my eyes, in shock and amazement, happy beyond words to find her beside me, to feel her tenderness. Quickly I was able to stand, to reassure her that I was well, to hold her and kiss her, to be myself once more.
In truth, then, physical recovery from this brutal experience is itself speedy, but the mental consequences are formidable.
On the day of that first test in Derbyshire, I forced myself to repeat the test in the afternoon, but as a result, I was cast into the darkest gloom for much of the Christmas period. I had died twice. I had become one of the walking dead, a damned soul.
And the reminders of what I did then are the materials that later had to be put away. I could not even face that gruesome task until New Year’s Eve, as I have described.
Yesterday, here in London, in the electrical brightness and familiarity of my workshop, with the Tesla equipment reassembled, I felt I should undergo two more rehearsals. I am a performer, a professional. I must give a glamour to what I do. I must appear to be a magician who has successfully performed the impossible.
I must, by careful art, make my miracle less miraculous. I must emerge from the elemental transmitter as if I have not been slammed apart, and slammed together again.
So I have been trying to learn how to prepare for the pain, how to react to it without keeling over, how to step forward with my arms raised and with a flashing smile to bow and acknowledge applause.
17th February 1901
Last night I safely crossed the aether from the stage of the Trocadero to the royal box. The equipment worked perfectly.
I was able to disguise completely the shock of the impact on me. I can say that practice with the apparatus has meant the terrible shock is not nearly as terrible as before, and that it has been getting slightly better each time I try it. I can foresee that in a month or so I will be able to bear the effect with outward indifference.
I also note that the consequent gloom I suffer is much less than after my first attempts.
2nd March 1901
I have an unprecedented thirty-five confirmed bookings in my appointments diary, accepted for the period of the next four months. Three of these are for shows in my own stage name, and one of these is to be called The Great Danton Entertains.
I shall be roaming the country. Brighton, Exeter, Kidderminster, Portsmouth, Ayr, Folkestone, Manchester, Sheffield, Aberystwyth, York, all these and many more will greet me on my first tour, as well as the capital itself, where I have several dates.
The agent is already speaking of foreign tours, with perhaps yet another trip to the USA.
10th July 1901
I have been continually revising and rehearsing In a Flash for some months, and it is now more or less a perfected skill. All my earlier hopes for it have come true. I can pass through the aether without registering any reaction to the physical traumas I endure. The transition is smooth, and from the point of view of the audience impossible to explain.
The mental aftereffects are not a problem anymore. I suffer no agonies of depression, or self-doubt. To the contrary (and I confide this to no one, and record it in no other document than in this secret and lockable diary), the wrenching apart of my body has become a pleasure to which I am almost addicted. At first, I was disheartened by the imaginings of death, of living in an afterlife, but now I nightly experience my transmission as a rebirth, a renewal of self. In the early days I was concerned by the many times I should have to perform the trick to keep in practice, but now as soon as I have completed one performance I begin to crave the next.
Three weeks ago, during a temporary break in my round of engagements, I erected the Tesla equipment in my workshop and put myself through the process. Not to try out new performance techniques, not to perfect existing ones, but purely for the physical pleasure of the experience.
Disposal of the prestige materials produced at each show is still a problem, but after all these weeks, we have developed a few routines so that the job is done with a minimum of fuss.
3rd September 1902
A momentous revelation!
Early yesterday evening, while I was resting between shows at Daly’s Theatre in Islington, a man called at the stage door to see me. When I saw his card, I asked for him to be shown immediately to my dressing room. It was Mr Arthur Koenig, the young journalist from the Evening Star who had given me so much food for thought about Borden. I was not surprised to learn that Mr Koenig now has the position of Deputy News Editor of that paper. He entered cordially and shook my hand.
“I just saw your matinee, Mr Danton!” he said. “My hearty congratulations to you. I confess myself baffled and entertained in equal measure.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” I said, and told my dresser to pour Mr Koenig a small glass of whisky. When this was done, I asked my dresser to leave us alone together, and to return in fifteen minutes.
“Your good health, sir!” Koenig announced, raising his glass. “Or should I say, my Lord?”
I stared at him in surprise.
“How the devil do you know about that?”
“Why do you think I should not? The news of your brother’s death reached the press in the usual way, and was duly reported.”
“I’ve seen those reports,” I replied. ‘None of them mentioned me.”
“I think it might be because few in Fleet Street know you by more than your stage name. As a true admirer, I connected you to Henry Angier.”
“Nothing escapes you, does it?” I said.
“Not that kind of information, sir. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. I assume it is a secret?”
“I have always kept the two parts of my life separate. In that sense, it is a secret and I’d be glad if you would treat it as such.”
“You have my word, my Lord.”
“May I ask,” I said eventually, “to what I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“I’ve come to apologize in the matter of Mr Borden, your rival. I confess that all my elaborate theories about him were in error, while your theory, blunt and simple, was correct.”
“I don’t understand you,” I said.
“When I came to see you before, I held some theory of Mr Borden performing a greater magic than any that had existed before.”
“I remember,” I said. “You wisely convinced me of it. I was grateful to you-”
“You, however, had a plainer explanation. Borden is not one man but two, you said. Twins, you said. Identical twin brothers, each taking the place of the other as required.”
“But you proved-”
“You were right, sir! Mr Borden’s act is indeed based on twins. Alfred Borden is a name conflated from two: Albert and Frederick, twin brothers, who perform together as one.”
“That’s not true!” I said.
“But it was your own theory.”
“You swiftly disabused me. You had evidence-”
“Much of which turns out to have been falsified. I was a young reporter, not then fully practised in my profession. I have since learnt to check facts, to double-check them, then to check them once more.”
“But I went into the matter myself,” I said. “I examined the hospital records of his birth, the register of the school he attended -”
“Falsified documents, Mr Angier. The Bordens have built their lives around sustaining this illusion. Nothing about them can be trusted.”
“I investigated most carefully,” I insisted. “I knew there were two brothers with those names, but one is two years younger than the other!”
“Both coincidentally born in May, as I recall. It does not take much forgery to change a birth record from 8th May 1856 to 18th May 1858.”
“There was a photograph of the two brothers, taken together!”
“Yes, and one so easy to find! It was left as a red herring for such as you and me to stumble across. As we did.”
“But the two brothers were clearly unalike. I saw the portrait myself!”
“And so did I. Indeed, I have a copy of it in my office. The distinction between their facial characteristics is remarkable. But surely you understand the deceptive use of stage make-up.”
I was thunderstruck by the news, and stared at the floor, unable to think coherently.
“Are you sure of this?” I demanded. “Totally sure?” Koenig was nodding slowly. “For instance, have you ever seen the two brothers together?”
“This is the basis of my certainty. Just once, and then only briefly, they met in my presence.”
“Were you following them?”
“I was following one of them,” Koenig corrected me. “I followed Mr Borden from his house one evening in August. He walked alone into Regents Park. I was following at a distance of about a hundred yards. As he walked round the Inner Circle, a man approached him from the opposite direction. As they met, they paused for about three seconds and spoke together. Then they walked on as before. Now, though, Borden was carrying a small leather case. The man he had spoken to soon passed me, and as he did so I could see that he looked exactly like Borden.”
I stared at Koenig thoughtfully.
“How do you know that the man, who walked on, the one now carrying the case, was not the man who had spoken to Borden? He could simply have walked back the way he had come. And if that was so, wouldn’t it have been the Borden you had been following who passed you?”
“I know what I saw, my Lord. They were wearing different clothes, perhaps for reasons of a clever trick, but this fact made it possible for me to distinguish between them. They met, they passed on, they were identical.”
My mind was focused. I was thinking rapidly about the mechanics of mounting a theatrical magic performance. If it were true that they were twins then both brothers would have to be present in the theatre at each show. This would mean that the backstage staff would inevitably know the secret. I already knew that Borden did not box the stage, and there are always people hanging around in the wings during a show, seeing too much. If Borden’s act was based on identical twins, then surely the secret would have leaked out years ago?
Otherwise, what was the explanation? It could only be that the secrecy was maintained before and after the show. That Borden-1, so to speak, would arrive at the theatre with his apparatus and props, with Borden-2 already concealed in one of the pieces. Borden-2 would make his appearance during the performance, while Borden-1 went into hiding in the props on-stage.
It was possible, and if that was all, there was to it I might be able to accept it. But Borden must have a team working with him: an ingenieur of course, one or more assistants who appeared on stage, several carriers and shifters, an agent. If all these people were privy to his secret then their ability to keep quiet about it was remarkable.
On the other hand, and much more likely in view of human nature, if they were not to be trusted, Borden-1 and Borden-2 would have to engage in concealment.
Beyond this, there were the day-to-day realities of theatrical life. For example, on the days when there was a matinee performance, what would Borden-2 (the one concealed in the apparatus) do between shows? Would he remain hidden while his brother relaxed in the green room with the other artistes? Would he let himself out secretly, then skulk alone in the dressing room until it was time for the next show?
How did the two of them get into and out of the theatres without being spotted? Stage door managers are jealous guardians of the way. There are always alternative ways into the building, through the scenery bay or front of house, but again this suggests a need for constant secrecy and preparation, and a willingness to put up with not inconsiderable discomfort.
“I see I have given you something to think about,” Koenig said, interrupting my train of thought.
“You’re sure of your facts this time?” I said.
“Yes, sir. Upon my very word.”
I stood up, to indicate that the interview was at an end.
Koenig picked up his hat and coat, and went to the door, which I held open for him.
I said to him, as casually as I could, “You show no curiosity about how I perform my own illusion.”
“I take it that it’s magic, sir.”
“You don’t then suspect me of having an identical twin?”
“I know you have not.”
“So you investigated me,” I said. “And what about Borden? Is he wondering how I work the effect?”
Mr Koenig gave me a broad wink.
“I’m sure he and his brother would not like you to know that they burn with curiosity about you, sir.” He extended his hand, and we shook. “Once again, my congratulations. If I may say so, it has been reassuring to see you in such good health.”
He was gone before I could respond to that, but I think I know what he meant.
7th September 1902
It already seems that I shall be busily engaged from the middle of October until March or April next year. My estimated income from these performances will make me rich beyond the wildest dreams of my youth. By the end of next year I shall, in all probability, need never work again.
Which brings me to an explanation of Koenig’s parting remark.
A few months ago, when I was in the first rush of perfecting the presentation of In a Flash, I thought of a new final twist to the illusion. I arranged, by a combination of carefully positioned lights and use of make-up, that at the end of my act, after I had passed through the aether, I would look exhausted. I would seem worn by the magical transformation. I would be a man who had flirted with death, and who now showed the unmistakable traces.
This effect has .become a routine part of my act. Throughout my show, I move carefully, I turn with a slight stiffness of the waist and back, I walk with my shoulders hunched. As the final curtain falls I appear to most of the audience as if, I am not long for this world.
Apart from the effect itself, I have a long-term strategy in mind. I am planning and preparing for my own death. Next year I wish to retire from the stage for good. I want to be free of the endless touring, of the long journeys, the overnight stays in theatrical lodgings. I am sick of the need for secrecy about what I do, and I always fear another round of attacks from Borden.
Most of all, my children are growing up and I wish to be with them as they do so. Edward is soon to depart to university, and the girls will no doubt be married soon.
By this time next year, I shall be, as I say, financially independent, and with prudent investment, the Caldlow estate should be able to provide for my family for the rest of my life and theirs. The life of The Great Danton, of Rupert Angier, shall come to a cancerous end, brought on by the rigours of his career, at some point in the autumn of 1903.
Meanwhile, without publicity or announcement, the 14th Earl of Colderdale will at much the same time take up the reins of his inheritance.
Thus the explanation of Koenig’s remark about my “surprising” good health. He is a sharp man, who knows more about me than I wish he did.
I have been reflecting a great deal about his theory that there is not one Borden but two. I remain unsure.
This is because of the endless complications of living with the deception. What about everyday life? No artiste is constantly in work, however successful his or her career. There are periods of rest, both voluntary and involuntary. There are necessary delays between bookings. There are holidays, illnesses, family crises.
If Borden is not one man but two, and one of the men is always in hiding so that the other might seem to be the “only” Alfred Borden, where and how is the hiding going on? What happens in the life of the hidden man while he is hiding? How does he make contact with his brother? Do they ever meet, and if so how do they arrange not to be spotted by anyone?
How many other people know about the deception, and how can Borden be certain the secret is safe with them?
Speaking in particular of other people, what of Borden’s wife? And what of his children?
If Borden is two men, they cannot both be husband to the wife, nor both be father to the children. Which of them is husband, which the father? Borden’s wife is a woman of good background and by all accounts no fool. What does she in fact know about Borden?
Is she being kept in the dark about his true identity? Would she suspect nothing, discern no difference at all between the two men?
What about private jokes and observations, shared personal memories, matters of physical intimacy? Is it conceivable that the two men would collaborate to such an extent that even personal matters are dragged into the precautions and secrecy that surround a mere stage illusion?
The contrary is harder to believe; that Borden’s wife knows the truth of the matter and is prepared for some reason to put up with it. It is a situation full of instability.
Both of these explanations are so unlikely that I am forced to believe in a third. The Borden brothers have deliberately not told the wife the truth, and have tried to deceive her, but she has herself made the deception unimportant. In other words, she has worked out what is going on (how could she not?), but for reasons of her own has decided to agree with it.
In spite of the fact that this theory contains its own mysteries, I find it the most reasonable explanation, but even so, the whole business is unbelievable.
I would go to considerable lengths to protect my secrets, but I would not let secrecy become an obsession. Could Borden, and Borden’s supposed brother, be as obsessive as Koenig makes them out to be?
I am still in two minds about this!
In the end it does not matter, for a trick is a trick and everyone who sees it knows that a deception is being performed. But Julia suffered horribly because of the feud, and my own life came damnably close to its end because of it. I believe Borden is such a man as to make a fetish of his secrets and it was my misfortune to tangle with him.
Also my luck, as a direct consequence of the feud, to think of the illusion that is making my fortune!
30th April 1903
I have told Unwin to continue accepting bookings through to the end of the year, and for the early months of 1904. However, I shall be dead by the end of September. Probably it will occur on Saturday, 19th September.
20th May 1903
I have cancelled both my performances tonight, tomorrow’s are at risk, and as I draft these words, I am anxiously awaiting Julia’s arrival.
I am a fool, a damned, bloody fool!
Last night, my second performance was halfway through. I have recently added a new card trick to my repertoire. In this, a member of the audience is invited up to the stage. He takes a card and writes his name on the face of it. I tear off a corner of the card, and give it to the volunteer to hold. The rest of the card is placed inside a paper envelope, which is ignited. When the flames have gone out, I produce a large orange. I cut it in half and it is found to contain the signed card, and the torn-off corner still of course fits.
Last night my volunteer was what I thought must be a local man; he was tall and strong, had a florid complexion, and when he spoke I heard a Suffolk accent. He was sitting in the centre of the front row and he offered himself as soon as I called for someone to come up on stage. That should have alerted me to likely trouble. However, I began doing the trick.
How could I not have guessed it was Borden?! He even gave me a clue, because the name he wrote on the playing card was Alf Redbone, a transparent near-anagram, yet in my preoccupations, I took it to be his real name.
With the card trick completed, I shook his hand, thanked him by name, and added my applause to that of the audience as he was led by Hester, my present female assistant, towards the stalls ramp.
I did not notice that Redbone’s seat was still empty a few minutes later, as I moved towards the start of In a Flash.
I noticed his absence when it was too late; the apparatus was in operation and I had to complete the trick.
At this point in the show, nothing can be modified. Even my chosen target area is fixed; setting the coordinates is too intricate and time-consuming to be done at any time other than before a performance. The previous night I had set the apparatus for both of yesterday’s performances so that I would arrive in the highest loge at stage left, which by arrangement with the management was kept empty for both shows. The loge was at the same approximate height as the main balcony, and could be seen from almost every other part of the auditorium.
I had arranged it so that I should materialize on the very rail of the box itself, facing down into the stalls a long way below, apparently struggling to keep my balance. Everything had gone exactly to plan during the first performance, and my magical transformation brought shouts of alarm from the audience, followed by thunderous applause as I swung down to the stage on the rope thrown up to me by Hester.
To arrive on the rail of the loge facing down to the audience, I have to stand inside the Tesla apparatus with my back towards the loge. The audience cannot know it, of course, but the position in which I arrange my body is exactly recreated at the instant of arrival. From my place inside the apparatus I could not therefore see where I was about to arrive.
With Borden somewhere around, a terrible certainty struck me that he was about to sabotage me yet again! What if he was lurking inside the loge, and gave me a shove as I arrived on the ledge? I felt the electrical tension mounting ineluctably around me. I could not prevent myself turning anxiously around to look up at the box. I could just make it out through the deadly blue-white electrical sparks. All seemed well; there was nothing there to block my arrival, and although I couldn’t see into the box itself, where the seats are placed, it did not look as if anyone was there.
Borden’s intent was much more sinister, and a moment later, I found out what it was. In the very instant that I turned to look up at the loge, two things happened simultaneously.
The first was that the transmission of my body actually began.
The second was that electrical power to the apparatus cut out, disconnecting the current instantly. The blue fires vanished, the electrical field died.
I remained on the stage, standing within the wooden cage of the apparatus in full view of the audience. I was staring over my shoulder at the loge.
The transmission had been interrupted! But it had begun before it was stopped, and now I could see an image of myself on the rail; there was my ghost, my double, momentarily frozen in the stance I had adopted when I turned to look, half twisted, half crouching, looking away and up. It was a thin, insubstantial copy of myself, a partial prestige. Even as I looked, this image of myself straightened in alarm, threw out his arms, and collapsed backwards and out of sight into the loge itself!
Appalled at what I had seen I stepped forward out of the coils of the Tesla cage. On cue, the spotlight came on, illuminating the whole loge to pick out my intended materialization. The people in the audience looked up at the loge, already half anticipating the trick. They started to applaud, but the noise faded away to nothing. There was nothing to see.
I stood alone on the stage. My illusion was ruined.
“Curtain!” I yelled into the wings. “Bring down the curtain!”
At last, the technician heard me and the curtain came down, separating me from the audience. Hester appeared at a run.
“What happened?” she cried.
“That man who came up from the audience! Where is he?”
“I don’t know! I thought he went back to his seat.”
“He got backstage somehow! You are supposed to make sure these people leave the stage!”
I pushed her aside angrily and lifted up the fabric of the curtain. At a crouch, I stepped beneath it and went forward to the footlights. The house lights were now on, and the audience was moving into the aisles and slowly up to the exits. The people were obviously puzzled, but they were paying no more attention to the stage.
I looked up at the box. The spotlight had been turned off, and I could see nothing.
A woman screamed once, then again. She was somewhere in the building behind the loges.
I walked quickly into the wings and met Wilson as he was hurrying to the stage to find me. I instructed him to dismantle and crate up the apparatus as quickly as possible. I dashed past him and gained access to the stairs to the balcony and loges. Members of the audience were walking down, and as I started up the stairs, weaving between them.
Every step I took was harder to complete. My breath was rattling in my throat, and I could feel my heart pounding as if I had just run a mile uphill. I have always kept myself fit, and physical exercise has never been much of a strain for me, but suddenly I felt as if I were weak and overweight. By the time, I was at the top of only the first short flight of steps I could go no further. I rested for a few seconds, then launched myself up the next flight of steps.
I had taken no more than two steps when I had a terrifying cough. My heart was hammering, blood was thumping rhythmically in my ears, sweat was bursting from me. I was unable to stay upright, and I slumped forward across the stone steps, while the last few of the theatregoers went past, their boots only inches from my head.
Wilson eventually found me. He raised me into his arms, and held me like a child while I struggled to regain my breath.
At long last my heart and breathing steadied, and a great chill descended on me.
Finally, I managed to say, “Did you see what happened?”
“Alfred Borden must have got backstage, sir.”
“Not that! I mean what happened when the power failed?”
“I was operating the switching board, Mr Angier. As usual.”
Wilson’s place during In a Flash is at the back of the stage, invisible to the audience because he is concealed by the backcloth of the screening box. Although he is in touch at every moment with what I am doing, he cannot actually see me for most of the illusion.
I described the ghostly prestige of myself that I had briefly seen. Wilson seemed puzzled, but immediately offered to run up to the loge itself. He did so, while I lay helplessly and uncomfortably on the cold bare steps. When he returned a minute or two later Wilson told me he had seen nothing there.
He said the seats in the top loge had been scattered across the carpeted floor, but otherwise there was nothing unusual about it. I had to accept what he said; I have learned that Wilson is a sharp and reliable assistant.
He got me back down the stairs and on the stage again. By this time, I had recovered sufficiently that I could stand unsupported.
I had to put the matter out of my mind. Of much, more pressing concern was the fact that I had suddenly become physically incapacitated. Every move was a strain, and the cough felt explosively coiled in my chest, ready to burst out again at any moment.
Wilson hired a cab and returned me safely to my hotel, and at once sent a message to Julia. A doctor was summoned, and when he arrived, he examined me and declared he could find nothing amiss. I had great trouble falling asleep, but I did so in the end.
I awoke this morning feeling stronger and walked downstairs unaided. Wilson was waiting for me in the hotel foyer, with the news that Julia would be arriving at noon. Meanwhile, he declared that I looked unwell, but I insisted I had started to recover. After breakfast, though, I realized I had little strength in me.
Reluctantly, I have cancelled both of tonight’s performances, and while Wilson has been at the theatre, I have penned this account of what happened.
22nd May 1903
At Julia’s urging, and on Wilson’s advice, I have cancelled the remainder of the Lowestoft booking.
Deep in my heart, there is a secret fear. In short, it is that my ill health might mean I shall never again be able to perform. After Borden’s attack on me, I have become a semi-invalid.
I have been examined by three doctors. All of them pronounce me well and showing no obvious symptoms of illness. I complain about my breathing, so they listen to my chest and prescribe fresh air. I tell them my heart races when I walk up a flight of stairs, and they listen to my heart and they tell me to be careful about what I eat, and to take things easier. I say that I tire easily, and they advise me to rest.
I weighed myself, with an astonishing result. I have lost nearly thirty pounds in weight! I have weighed more or less exactly one hundred and sixty-eight pounds, for most of my adult years. This morning I found that I weigh just over one hundred and thirty-nine pounds!
In the mirror, I look the same as ever. I look tired, indeed, but I do not look like someone who cannot climb a short flight of stairs without gasping for breath halfway up.
There is no normal or logical reason for this; it must have been caused by the incomplete Tesla transmission. The electrical information was only partially sent. Borden’s interruption prevented full reassembly.
Once again, his intervention has taken me to the edge of death!
On walking, I was seized by an idea, whose consequences I am still thinking through.
In the confidentiality of these pages let me disclose that whenever I have used the Tesla apparatus, whether it be in performance or rehearsal, I have always made sure to hide two or three gold coins in my pocket. Why I should do so must be self-evident; my recent acquisition of a financial fortune is not solely attributable to performance fees!
Tesla, I should in all conscience report, warned me against such an act. He is a highly moral man, and he lectured me long on the subject of forgery. He said he also had scientific reasons, that the apparatus was calibrated for my known body-weight (with certain margins of safety), and that the presence about my person of small but massy objects, such as gold coins, could make the projection inaccurate over longer distances. However, I have never had any of the problems of inaccuracy of which Tesla warned, perhaps because the distances I travel are so short.
This afternoon I searched for the three coins I had been carrying in my pocket on Tuesday evening. As soon as I held them, I felt certain they weighed less than they did before, and when I weighed them, I discovered they were indeed lighter.
I calculate that they too have lost about seventeen per cent of their mass. They look the same, but they have lost some of their weight.
18th July 1903
The Great Danton is dead. The death of the illusionist Rupert Angier came as a result of injuries sustained when a trick went wrong during a performance at the Pavilion Theatre in Lowestoft. He died at his home in Highgate, London, and leaves a widow and three children.
The 14th Earl of Colderdale remains alive. He has had the mixed pleasure of reading his own obituary in The Times, a privilege not granted to many.
Angier’s affairs are now in the hands of a firm of lawyers. He is of course really dead, and his body was really placed inside the coffin. This I saw as Angier’s last illusion: providing his own corpse for burial. Julia is officially his widow, and his children are orphans. They were all present at Highgate Cemetery for his funeral, a ceremony was kept strictly to his immediate family. The press stayed away at the personal request of the widow, and no fans or admirers were seen on the day.
On that same day, I was myself travelling back anonymously to Derbyshire with Adam Wilson and his family. He and Gertrude have agreed to remain with me as paid companions. I am able to reward them well.
Julia and the children arrived back here three days later. For the time being she is the widow Angier, but as we fade from people’s recollections she will quietly become, as is her right, Lady Colderdale.
After the disagreeable shock of what happened to me in Lowestoft, I have settled down to what has become my new existence. I am not in decline, and my condition remains stable. I have little physical energy or strength, but I do not seem likely to drop dead suddenly. The doctor here repeats what I was told in London: good food, exercise and a positive outlook will cure me eventually.
I asked Wilson to erect the Tesla apparatus in the basement, telling him that from time to time I shall be rehearsing In a Flash in preparation for my return to the stage. Its real use is, of course, otherwise.
15th December 1903
Adam Wilson came to my reading room at half past ten this morning, and informed me a visitor was waiting downstairs to see me. It was Arthur Koenig!
I asked Adam to bring him up.
Koenig was in a serious mood. After we had greeted each other, I sat him down in one of the easy chairs facing my desk. The first thing he said was to assure me that his visit was unconnected with his job on the newspaper.
“I’m here as an emissary, my Lord,” he said. “I’m acting in my private capacity for a third party who knows of my interest in the world of magic, and who has asked me to approach your wife.”
“Approach Julia?” I said, in genuine surprise. “Why should you have anything to say to her?”
Koenig was looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“Your wife, my Lord, is the widow of Rupert Angier. It is in that guise that I have been commissioned to approach her. But I thought, bearing in mind what has happened in the past, it would be wisest to come to you first.”
“What’s going on, Koenig?”
He had brought with him a small leather case, and he now picked this up and laid it on his lap.
“The… third party for whom I’m acting has come across a notebook, a private memoir, in which it is felt your wife would have an interest. In particular, it is hoped that Lady Colderdale, that is, Mrs Angier, might wish to purchase it. This, er, third party is not aware that you, my Lord, are still alive, and so I find myself not only betraying the person who is sending me on this task, but also the person to whom I should be speaking. But I really felt, under the circumstances-”
“Whose notebook is it?”
“Do you have it with you?”
“Of course I do.”
Koenig reached down into the case, and produced a cloth-bound notebook of the sort that comes equipped with a lockable clasp. He handed it to me so that I might examine it, but because it was locked, I could not see what was inside. When I looked back at Koenig, he was holding the key. “My… client requires five hundred pounds, sir.”
“Is it genuine?”
“But is it worth five hundred pounds?”
“I suspect you will think it worth rather more. It is written in Borden’s own hand, and deals directly with the secrets of his magic. The concealment of life as twins is alluded to. I found it a most interesting read, and I can guarantee you will too.”
I turned the book in my hand, wondering about it.
“Who is your client, Koenig? Who wants the money?” He looked uneasy, clearly not practised in this sort of thing.
“My Lord, I suspect you have not heard the main news I am bringing. Are you aware that Borden has recently died?” No doubt, my startled expression gave him the answer he required. “To be precise, I believe one of the two brothers is dead.”
“You sound unsure,” I said. “Why?”
“Because there’s no conclusive proof. You and I both know how obsessively the Bordens concealed their lives, so it’s no surprise that the survivor would do the same when the other dies. The trail has been hard to follow.”
“Then how do you know about it at all? Oh, I see this third party who has commissioned you.”
“And there is circumstantial evidence.”
“Such as?” I prompted.
“The famous illusion is no longer included in Le Professeur’s act.”
“There could be many reasons for that,” I observed. “I’ve been to his show several times, and he does not always include that trick.”
“Indeed not. But it would most likely be because both brothers are required to perform it.”
“I think you should tell me the name of your client, Koenig.”
“My Lord, I believe you once knew an American woman by the name of Olive Wenscombe?”
I remembered that Olivia had taken her mother’s maiden name when she approached Borden.
“For reasons you surely appreciate,” I said, “I never speak of Miss Svenson.”
“Yes, yes. And I apologize for mentioning her. However, she is deeply bound up in the matter of the notebook. I understand that Miss Wenscombe, or Svenson, as you knew her, was in your employ some years ago, but she deserted to the Borden camp. For a while, she worked as Borden’s stage assistant, but not for long. You lost contact with her, I think, around this time.”
I confirmed that that was so.
“It turns out,” Koenig continued, “that the Borden twins own a secret hideout in North London. To be precise it is a suite of rooms in a well-to-do part of Hornsey, and it is here that one of the brothers lived incognito while the other enjoyed the comforts of home in St Johns Wood. They alternated regularly. After her… leave, Miss Wenscombe was installed in the Hornsey flat, and has been living there ever since. And will go on doing so if the court proceedings against her fail.”
I was having trouble taking in all this information at once. Koenig went on, “She has been served with notice to quit for non-payment of rent, and has to leave the flat next week. As a foreign national with no permanent residence, she would then be faced with deportation. It was for these reasons that she approached me, knowing my interest in Mr Borden. She thought I might be able to help her.”
“You’ll be interested to learn that Miss Wenscombe was not aware that there were two brothers, and to this day refuses to believe that she was deceived.”
“I asked her myself once,” I said, remembering the grim interview with her in the theatre in Richmond. “She said then that Borden was just one man. She knew my suspicions. But I can hardly believe that now.”
“The Borden brother who died was taken ill while in the Hornsey flat. It sounds as if he had a heart attack. Miss Wenscombe summoned Borden’s doctor, and after the body had been taken away, the police came round. When she told them who the dead man was, they left to make further enquiries, but never returned. She later contacted the doctor, to discover that he was not available. His assistant told her that Mr Borden had been taken ill, but had recovered quickly and had just been discharged from hospital! As Miss Wenscombe had been with him when he died, she could not believe it! She went to the police again, but to her amazement, they too confirmed it.
“I heard all this from Miss Wenscombe herself. Now, from what she told me, she has no idea that Borden was maintaining a second household. As far as she was concerned, Borden was with her most days and nights, and she always knew where he was at other times. So then, Borden died suddenly, and she was shocked and upset as anyone in her position would be, but she had no reason to believe there was going to be anything unusual about it! And he certainly died, according to her. She says she was with the body for more than an hour before the doctor arrived, and it had gone cold by then. The doctor examined the body enough to confirm death, and said that he would sign a death certificate on his return to his surgery. Yet now she is faced not only with denials from everyone involved, but also with the incontrovertible fact that Alfred Borden appears on the public stage, performing his magic, and is obviously not dead.”
“If she thinks that Borden was only one man, how on earth does she account for that?” I exclaimed.
“I asked her, of course. As you know, she is no stranger to the world of illusions. She told me that after much thought she came to the sorrowful conclusion that Borden had used magical techniques to fake his death, for instance swallowing some kind of medication, and that it was all an elaborate charade to enable him to walk out on her.”
“Did you tell her that the Bordens were twins?”
“Yes. She scoffed at the idea, and assured me that if a woman lives with a man for five years she knows everything there is to know about him. She absolutely rejected the notion that there might have been two of them.”
“So this notebook has suddenly appeared, to solve all her problems,” I said.
Koenig stared at me thoughtfully, then said, “Not all of them, but her most immediate ones. My Lord, I think that as a gesture of my good faith, I should let you examine the notebook without promise of payment.”
He passed the key across to me, and sat back in his chair while I opened the lock.
The notebook was written in a tiny hand, neatly inscribed in regular and even lines, but not at first glance legible. My magician’s instinct was telling me to be on my guard against Borden’s trickery. All those years of feuding had revealed the extent of his willingness to hurt or harm me. I had turned through about half the thickness of the notebook, when I paused. I stared at it, deep in thought.
It was more than possible that this was Borden’s most elaborate attack on me yet. Koenig’s story about Olivia, the death of Borden in her flat, the conveniently revealed existence of a notebook containing Borden’s most valuable professional secrets, all these could be fabricated.
I had only Koenig’s word to go on. What would the notebook actually contain, if it were another trick? An intricate maze of deceits, which would manipulate me into some, misguided response? Could there be something here that would, through the person of Olivia Svenson, threaten my one remaining area of stability, namely my miraculously restored marriage to Julia?
It seemed to me that I was putting myself in hazard, even to hold the notebook.
Koenig’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Dare I presume, my Lord, that I can guess what is going through your mind?”
“No, you may not so presume,” I said.
“You are doubting me,” Koenig persisted. “You think that Borden has paid me, or pressed me in some way, to bring this to you. Is that so?” I made no answer, still holding the notebook half open, with my eyes staring down at it.
“There are ways you could investigate what I am telling you,” Koenig went on. “A court action against Miss Wenscombe by the landlord of the apartment in Hornsey was heard at Hampstead Assizes a month ago. You could examine the court records for yourself. There are almoner’s records at the Whittington Hospital, where an unidentified victim of a heart attack, with age and physical appearance matching that of Borden, was brought in on the day Miss Wenscombe says he died. There is also a record that that corpse was removed by a local doctor on the same day.”
“Koenig, you sent me on a trail of false evidence ten years ago,” I said.
“I did indeed. I have never ceased to regret it, and have already told you that my dedication to your cause is the result of that error. I give you my word that the notebook is genuine, that the circumstances of it coming into my possession are as I have described, and that furthermore the surviving Borden brother is desperate to regain it.”
“How has it escaped him?” I said.
“Miss Wenscombe realized its potential value, perhaps as something that might be published as a book. When her need for money became urgent, she thought it might be more valuable to you or, as she understood recent events, to your widow. Naturally, she kept the notebook hidden. Borden himself cannot approach her for it, but it surely is not a coincidence that ten days ago her flat was forcibly entered and the place ransacked. Nothing was taken. This notebook, which she had secreted elsewhere, remained in her possession.”
I opened the notebook where my finger had come to rest. It was as if Borden had forced the page on me.
The rest of the sentence said: “This is the real reason Angier will never solve the whole mystery, unless I myself give him the answer.”
“She wants five hundred pounds, you say?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“She shall have it.”
19th December 1903
Koenig’s visit exhausted me, and soon after he left (with six hundred pounds, the surplus was partly for his trouble to date, and partly for his silence and absence henceforth) I took to my bed where I remained until the evening. I wrote up my account of it then, but the next day and the day after I was too weak to attempt more than a little eating and a lot of sleeping.
Yesterday I was able at last to read some of Borden’s notebook. As Koenig had predicted, I found it an interesting read.
I have been showing extracts to Julia, who finds it equally interesting. She reacts more against his self-satisfied tone than I do, and urges me not to burn up any of my precious energy by getting angry with him again.
What is most fascinating to me is that at last I have proof that Alfred Borden was the product of a conspiracy between twins. Nowhere they admit it, but the notebook is clearly the work of two hands.
They address each other in the first person singular. I found this confusing at first, as perhaps was intended, but when I pointed it out to Julia she observed that the notebook was apparently not intended to be read by anyone else.
It suggests that they call each other “me” by habit, and this in turn implies they have done it for most of their lives. Reading between the lines of the notebook, as I must, I realize that every event or happening in their lives has been one collective experience. It is as if they spent their lives from childhood preparing for the illusion where one would secretly take the place of the other. It fooled me, and fooled most of the audiences who saw them in performance, but surely, in the end it is Borden who is the fool.
Two lives made into one means a halving of those lives. While one lives in the world, the other hides, literally non-existent, a lurking spirit, a prestige.
26th March 1904
I have been seriously ill. The symptoms have been horrific: persistent nausea and vomiting, paralysis of my right leg, an ulcerated mouth, and an almost uncontainable pain from my lower back. Needless to say, I have been confined in a hospital in Sheffield for much of the time.
Now, though, a minor miracle has occurred and I find myself apparently on the mend. The ulcers have cleared up leaving no trace, I am getting some feeling and therefore movement in my leg and the general sense of pain and illness is receding. I have been at home for the last week, and although I have been bedridden, my spirits have risen a little more every day.
Today I am out of bed. I am in the best of spirits, and I am re-reading Borden’s notebook. These last two facts are not unconnected.
6th April 1904
I have read Borden’s notes a total of three times, and have annotated and cross-referenced them in detail. Julia is about to prepare a fair copy of my edited and greatly expanded text.
Although the remission from my ailments continues, and for the last few days I have continued to feel better, I must face up to the fact that overall my health is declining. I therefore confess that in these terminal months of my life I am intending to take a last revenge on my enemy. He it was who caused this condition, he it is who must pay. Acquisition of his notebook has given me a way. I am planning to arrange for it to be published.
While I was reading Borden’s notebook it frequently occurred to me that it deserved to be published for the benefit of his fellow magicians. It contains much sensible comment on the art and technique of magic.
I see it as my last act to arrange publication on his behalf, and when I have completed my annotated edition, I shall see to it.
If he survives me, which is likely, he will discover that my revenge is subtle and many-layered.
For a start, Borden will be appalled to discover, as he soon will, that what he sees as his greatest professional secrets have been published without his permission. His humiliation will be the deeper when he realizes that I was responsible. He will be baffled when he works out that somehow I was able to do this from beyond the grave.
In short, I have improved his text by making it less obscure, by expanding on many of the interesting general topics, which he merely mentions, by illustrating his absorbing theory of agreement with numerous examples, by describing the methods of many of the great illusionists. I have added detailed descriptions of every trick I know him to have invented, as well as those others I know him to be capable of performing, and in each case have seemed to explain each one without actually revealing the central secret.
Above all, I have heightened the mystery surrounding the illusion he calls The New Transported Man, but have given nothing away. The fact that the Bordens were identical twins is not even hinted at. The secret that obsessed these two men’s lives remains a secret.
The surviving Borden will therefore realize that I had the last word, that the feud is over and that I triumphed. While invading his privacy I showed I could respect it. From this, I hope he will learn that the enmity he fostered between us was destructive, that while we sniped at each other we were wasting the talents in us both. We should have been friends.
I will leave him this so that he may reflect on it for the remainder of his life.
And there is one extra revenge, by omission; he will never discover the secret of Tesla’s apparatus.
18th May 1904
With the work complete, we have submitted the manuscript to a publisher.
2nd July 1904
I have agreed a publishing deal with Messrs Goodwin and Andrewson, of Old Bailey, London EC.
They will publish Borden’s book before the end of this year, in an edition of seventy-five copies, at a price of three guineas each. They promise abundant illustration and intensive advertisement by personal letter to their regular clientele.
4th July 1904
Over the last four weeks, my remission has ended, and the earlier illness has returned in force. First came the ulceration of mouth and throat. Three weeks ago I became blind in one eye; the other followed a day or two later. For the last week, I have been unable to keep down solid food, but Julia brings me a mild broth three times a day and that is keeping me alive. I am in such pain that I cannot raise my head from the pillow. The doctor calls twice daily, but says that I am too weak to be transferred to hospital. My symptoms are so distressing that I am unable describe them in detail, but the doctor explains that for some reason all my body’s natural immunity to infection has been damaged.
5th July 1904
I had an uncomfortable night, and as dawn broke this morning, I believed that I had reached my last day on this earth. It is, however, now approaching midnight and I am still alive.
I started to cough early this evening, and the doctor came directly to see me. He suggested bathing with cool towels, and they have helped make me more comfortable. I am unable to move any part of my body.
6th July 1904
At a quarter to three this morning my life was brought to its end by a sudden seizure of the heart, following a spasm of coughing and consequent internal bleeding.
My dying was painful, messy and profoundly distressing to Julia and my children, as well as to myself.
Death uniquely surrounds my life!
Once, in harmless deception, I pretended to die so that Julia might live without scandal as a widow. Every use of the Tesla apparatus later brought death to my experience, several times a week. When Rupert Angier was laid falsely to rest, I was alive to bear witness to it.
I have cheated death many times. Death has therefore acquired a sense of unreality for me. It has come to be a commonplace event that by some paradox, it seems, I can always survive.
Now I have seen myself on my deathbed, dying of multiple cancers, and afterwards, after that dreadful and painful death, I am here to report it in my diary. Wednesday, 6th July 1904: the day I died.
No man should be so miserable as to have to see what I have seen.
I have borrowed a technique from Borden, so that I am I as well as myself. I who write this am not the same as the I who died. We became two beings that night in Lowestoft, when Borden caused the malfunctioning of the Tesla apparatus. We went our separate ways. We have been together again since I returned to Caldlow House at the end of March, just as my temporary remission from the cancers began.
While I yet lived, I maintained the illusion that I was one. One of me lay dying, while the other of me recorded my final concerns. All entries in this journal since 26th March have been written by me.
We are each the prestige of the other.
My dead prestige lies downstairs in his open casket, and will be placed in the family vault in two days’ time. I, his living prestige, continue onward.
I am the Right Honourable Rupert David Angier, 14th Earl of Colderdale, husband to Julia, father to Edward, Lydia and Florence, Lord of Caldlow House in the County of Derbyshire, England.
I shall narrate my story tomorrow. The events of the day have left me, like everyone else in the household, too unhappy for anything but sadness.
7th My 1904
The remainder of my life begins on this day. What hopes can be entertained by one such as I! The following is my story.