"How is that?"
"Can you do it?" asked the sleight-of-hand performer, as he rolled a little red ball between his finger and thumb, pitched it up, caught it as it came down, half closed his hand and blew into it, opened his hand and the ball had disappeared.
He picked up another ball, tossed it up, caught it in his mouth, dropped it into his hand, and it mysteriously disappeared.
The juggler was seated on the ground with a piece of blue cloth spread out before him, on which were three cups, and five little red wax balls nearly as large as cranberries.
He continued to toss the wax balls about until they had all disappeared. We watched him closely, but could not discover where they had gone. He then arose, took a small portion of my coat sleeve between his thumb and finger, began rubbing them together, and by and by, one of the balls appeared between his digits. He picked at a small boy's ear and got another of the balls. He blew his nose and another dropped upon the cloth. He slapped the top of his head and one dropped out of his mouth, and he took the fifth from a boy's hair.
He then changed his method. He placed the cups' mouths down upon the cloth, and under one of them put the five little balls. When he placed the cup we watched carefully; there were no balls under it. When he raised it up, behold, there were the five little balls.
He removed the cups from one place to another, and asked us to guess which cup the balls were under, but we were always wrong.
There was a large company of us, ranging from children of three to old men and women of seventy-five, and from Chinese schoolboys to a bishop of the church, but none of us could discover how he did it.
Later, however, I learned how the trick was performed. As he raised the cup with his thumb and forefinger, he inserted two other fingers under, gathered up all the balls between them and placed them under the cup as he put it down. While in making the balls disappear, he concealed them either in his mouth or between his fingers.
The Chinese have a saying:
In selecting his balls from north to south, The magician cannot leave his mouth; And in rolling his balls, you understand, He must have them hidden in his hand.
Of quite a different character are the jugglers with plates and bowls. Not only children, but many of a larger growth delight to watch these. Our only way of learning about them was to call them into our court as the Chinese call them to theirs, and that is what we did.
The performer first put a plate on the top of a trident and set it whirling. In this whirling condition he put the trident on his forehead where he balanced it, the trident whirling with the plate as though boring into his skull.
He next took a bamboo pole six feet long, with a nail in the end on which he set the plate whirling. The plate, of course, had a small indentation to keep it in its place on the nail. He raised the plate in the air and inserted into the first pole another of equal length, then another and still another, which put the plate whirling in the air thirty feet high.
Thus whirling he balanced it on his hand, on his arm, on his thumb, on his forehead, and finally in his mouth, after which he tossed the plate up, threw the pole aside and caught it as it came down. The old manager standing by received the pole, but as he saw the plate tossed up, he fell flat upon the earth, screaming lest the plate be broken.
This same performer set a bowl whirling on the end of a chop-stick. Then tossing the bowl up he caught it inverted on the chop-stick, and made it whirl as rapidly as possible. In this condition he tossed it up ten, then fifteen, then twenty or more feet into the air catching it on the chop-stick as it came down.
He then changed the process. He tossed the bowl a foot high, and struck it with the other chop-stick one, two, three, four or five times before it came down, and this he did so rapidly and regularly as to make it sound almost like music. There is a record of one of the ancient poets who was able to play a tune with his bowl and chop-sticks after having finished his meal. He may have done it in this way.
This trick seemed a very difficult performance. It excited the children, and some of the older persons clapped their hands and exclaimed, "Very good, very good." But when he tossed it only a foot high and let go the chop-stick, making it change ends, and catching the bowl, they were ready for a general applause. In striking the bowl and thus manipulating his chop-sticks, his hands moved almost as rapidly as those of an expert pianist.
"Can you toss the knives?" piped up one of the children who had seen a juggler perform this difficult feat.
The man picked up two large knives about a foot long and began tossing them with one hand. While this was going on a third knife was handed him and he kept them going with both hands. At times he threw them under his leg or behind his back, and at other times pitched them up twenty feet high, whirling them as rapidly as possible and catching them by the handles as they came down.
While doing this he passed one of the knives to the attendant who gave him a bowl, and he kept the bowl and two knives going. Then he gave the attendant another knife and received a ball, and the knife, the ball and the bowl together, the ball and bowl at times moving as though the former were glued to the bottom of the latter.
These were not all the tricks he could perform but they were all he would perform in addition to his bear show for twelve cents -- for this was the man with the bear -- so the children allowed him to go.
Some weeks later they called in a different bear show. This bear was larger and a better performer, but his tricks were about the same.
The juggler in addition to doing all we have already described performed also the following tricks.
He first put one end of an iron rod fifteen inches long in his mouth. On this he placed a small revolving frame three by six inches. He set a bowl whirling on the end of a bamboo splint fifteen inches long, the other end of which he rested on one side of the frame, balancing the whole in his mouth.
While the bowl continued whirling, he took the frame off the rod, stuck the bamboo in a hole in the frame an inch from the end, resting the other end of the frame on the rod, brought the bowl over so as to obtain a centre of gravity and thus balanced it.
He took two small tridents a foot or more in length, put the end of the handle of one in his mouth, set the bowl whirling on the end of the handle of the other, rested the middle prong of one on the middle prong of the other and let it whirl with the bowl. Afterwards he set the prong of the whirling trident on the edge of the other and let it whirl.
He took two long curved boar's teeth which were fastened on the ends of two sticks, one a foot long, the other six inches. The one he held in his mouth, the other having a hole diagonally through the stick, he inserted a chop-stick making an angle of seventy degrees. He set the bowl whirling on the end of the chop-stick, rested one tooth on the other, in the indentation and they whirled like a brace and bit.
Finally he took a spiral wire having a straight point on each end. This he called a dead dragon. He set the bowl whirling on one end, placing the other on the small frame already referred to. As the spiral wire began to turn as though boring, he called it a living dragon. These feats of balancing excited much wonder and merriment on the part of the children.
The juggler then took an iron trident with a handle four and a half feet long and an inch and a half thick, and, pitching it up into the air, caught it on his right arm as it came down. He allowed it to roll down his right arm, across his back, and along his left arm, and as he turned his body he kept the trident rolling around crossing his back and breast and giving it a new impetus with each arm. The trident had on it two cymbal-shaped iron plates which kept up a constant rattling.
This showman had with him three boy acrobats whose skill he proceeded to show.
"Pitch the balls," he said.
The largest of the three boys fastened a cushioned band, on which was a leather cup, around his head, the cup being on his forehead just between his eyes.
He took two wooden balls, two and a half inches in diameter, tossed them in the air twenty feet high, catching them in the cup as they came down. The shape of the cup was such as to hold the balls by suction when they fell. He never once missed. This is the most dangerous looking of all the tricks I have seen jugglers perform.
"Shooting stars," said the showman.
The boy tossed aside his cup and balls and took a string six feet long, on the two ends of which were fastened wooden balls two and a half inches in diameter. He set the balls whirling in opposite directions until they moved so rapidly as to stretch the string, which he then held in the middle with finger and thumb and by a simple motion of the hand kept the balls whirling.
He was an expert, and changed the swinging of the balls in as many different ways as an expert club-swinger could his clubs.
"Boy acrobats," called out the manager, as the manipulator of the "shooting stars" bowed himself out amid the applause of the children.
The two smaller boys threw off their coats, hitched up their trousers -- always a part of the performance whether necessary or not -- and began the high kick, high jump, handspring, somersault, wagon wheel, ending with hand- spring, and bending backwards until their heads touched the ground.
One of them stood on two benches a foot high, put a handkerchief on the ground, and bending backwards, picked it up with his teeth.
The two boys then clasped each other around the waist, as in the illustration, and each threw the other back over his head a dozen times or more.
Exit the bear show with the boy acrobats, enter the old woman juggler with her husband who beats the gong.
This was one of the most interesting performances I have ever seen in China, perhaps because so unexpected.
The old woman had small, bound feet. She lay flat on her back, stuck up her feet, and her husband put a crock a foot in diameter and a foot and a half deep upon them. She set it rolling on her feet until it whirled like a cylinder. She tossed it up in such a way as to have it light bottom side up on her "lillies," in which position she kept it whirling. Tossing it once more it came down on the side, and again tossing it she caught it right side up on her small feet, keeping it whirling all the time.
 Small feet of the Chinese woman.
My surprise was so great that I gave the old woman ten cents for performing this single trick.
The tricks of sleight-of-hand performers are well-nigh without number. Some of them are easily understood, -- surprising, however, to children -- and often interesting to grown people, while others are very clever and not so easily understood.
Instead of the hat from which innumerable small packages are taken, the Chinese magician had two hollow cylinders, which exactly fit into each other, that he took out of a box and placed upon a cylindrical chest, and from these two cylinders -- each of which he repeatedly showed us as being without top or bottom and empty -- he took a dinner of a dozen courses.
He called upon the baker to bring bread, the grocer to bring vegetables, and after each call he took out of the cylinders the thing called for. He finally called the wine shop to bring wine, and removing both cylinders, he exposed to the surprised children a large crock of wine.
As he brought out dish after dish, the children looked in open-mouthed wonder, and asked papa, mama or nurse, where he got them all, for they evidently were not in the cylinders. But papa saw him all the time manipulating the crock in the cylinder which he did not show, and he knew that all these things were taken from and then returned to this crock, while instead of being full of wine, he had only a cup of wine in a false lid which exactly fitted the mouth of the crock, and made it seem full.
When he had put away his crock and cylinders, he produced what seemed to be two empty cups.
He presented them to us to show that they were empty, then putting them mouth to mouth, and placing them on the ground, he left them a moment, when with a "presto change," and a wave of the hand, he removed the top cup and revealed to the astonished children and some of the children of a larger growth, a cup full of water with two or three little fish or frogs therein.
On inquiry I was told that he had the under cup covered with a thin film of water-colored material, and that as he removed the top cup he removed also the film which left the fish or frogs exposed to view.
This same juggler performed many tricks of producing great dishes of water from under his garments, the mere enumeration of which, might prove to be tiresome.
I was walking along the street one day near the mouth of Filial Piety Lane where a large company of men and children were watching a juggler, and from the trick I thought it worth while to invite him in for the amusement of the children. He promised to come about four o clock, which he did.
He first proceeded to eat a hat full of yellow paper, after which, with a gag and a little puff, he pulled from his mouth a tube of paper of the same color five or six yards long.
This was very skillfully performed and for a long time I was not able to understand how he did it. But after awhile I discovered that with the last mouthful of paper he put in a small roll, the centre of which he started by puffing, and this he pulled out in a long tube. He did it with so many groanings and with such pain in the region of the stomach, that attention was directed either to his stomach or the roll, and taken away from his mouth.
"I shall eat these needles," said he, as he held up half a dozen needles, "and then eat this thread, after which I shall reproduce them."
He did so. He grated his teeth together causing a sound much like that of breaking needles. He pretended to swallow them, working his tongue back and forth in his tightly closed mouth, after which he drew forth the thread on which all the needles were strung.
He had a number of small white bone needles which he stuck into his nose and pulled out of his eyes, or which he pushed up under his upper lip and took out of his eyes or vice versa. How he performed the above trick I was not able to discover. He seemed to put them through the tear duct, but whether he did or not I cannot say. How he got them from his mouth to his eyes unless he had punctured a passage beneath the skin, is still to me a mystery.
His last trick was to swallow a sword fifteen inches long. The sword was straight with a round point and dull edges. There was no deception about this. He was an old man and his front, upper teeth were badly worn away by the constant rasping of the not over-smooth sword. He simply put it in his mouth, threw back his head and stuck it down his throat to his stomach.