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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alfred Hedenstierna (Sigurd) (1852–1906)

Aunt Louise’s Mirror

From “Stories and Sketches”

THE STRÖMBOM couple lived happy and contented; not so happy and contented, to be sure, as during the time of their engagement, for they had discovered that he smoked one hundred and fifty crowns’ worth of cigars during the year, and that she had an old aunt who needed a monthly allowance of ten crowns. Nevertheless, she did not feel the least desire to throttle him when he lay snoring in bed a long while after she had arisen, and he had never felt an inner necessity for throwing the poker after her when she left the room with the remark that the new curtains were full of smoke again. And so it seems to me that, as things go in this world, the marriage could be called a happy one. Their income sufficed for furniture stuffed with straw. In short, they were simple people, who had their fill of food thrice a day, but not of a delicacy to tempt them to overeating.

They had two children, who were not more unkempt than other children of the same age. But if visitors came, papa would receive them at the door of the drawing-room, mama would capture the children, and for a quarter of an hour one would hear from afar the splashing of water, the crisp noise of bitten thread—the scissors being momentarily mislaid—sharp taps on childish cheeks, and little cries, “Oh, how cross you are, mama!” And then the little Strömboms would come in with moist hair and a penetrating odor of cheap soap. But God had not so ordered it that this happy condition of the family should last, for, in His mercy, He sent Aunt Louise on a visit to the Strömboms.

Aunt Louise was a gruff, tough old woman of seventy, and the only chance of her leaving the world rested on the hope that her nose and chin, which had gradually been approaching each other for many years, would finally grow together and so stop her breathing. As yet, however, half an inch was lacking.

For seven weeks she sweetened the life of the Strömbom family, and then decided to make them a handsome present before her departure. And so toward the end of the seventh week she went to a large auction sale, and there she bought an elegant mirror, that had originally cost four hundred and fifty crowns, for forty-seven crowns and sixty öre, and had it brought to the Strömboms’ house. On the next day she departed.

Until now the family had had only one maid of all work. Mrs. Strömbom attended to the children herself; that is to say, she permitted them to develop a healthy independence, interfering only when they had swallowed too many pins, come to grief by rolling heavy articles of furniture over each other, stuck knives or scissors into their eyes, or instituted ink wells in the carpet. But on the day on which Aunt Louise’s mirror arrived, mama saw her little Charles stand before it and measure it. She took him by the arm, called him her dear naughty boy, and declared to papa Strömbom that she would have to have a nurse. It would not cost much to have one, and would, at all events, come cheaper than if the children broke Aunt Louise’s mirror. The nurse came, but a few days thereafter Mrs. Strömbom was attacked by a fearful headache, tore open her dress, threw herself on the sofa, and seemed in danger of instant dissolution. By patient and tender solicitude, her husband finally elicited the information that the seat of her suffering lay in the old carpet of the drawing-room, so completely at variance with the splendid mirror, which should reflect only the delicate pattern of a Brussels carpet. Strömbom sighed, took two hundred and seventy-five crowns from the children’s bank-books, and soon an imitation Brussels carpet honored the presence of the mirror.

“Heavenly, my dear friend!” said Mrs. Mealymouth on the following day to Natalie Strömbom. “Your little drawing-room is charming, positively elegant. It would be quite exquisite if you had one of those modern chandeliers with glass prisms that would reflect their many-colored lights in the mirror.”

A week later, just such a chandelier—bought on credit—adorned the Strömboms’ drawing-room.

Strömbom himself had a sense for the beautiful. He had studied esthetics once, and every time he entered his drawing-room he frowned and sighed.

“What is wrong with you?” asked his spouse; “you sigh like a cow with indigestion.”

“My dear, do you not see how entirely out of place our old furniture is with Aunt Louise’s mirror and the carpet?”

And so the old sofa—on which Natalie, before her marriage, had enjoyed the dreams and enthusiasms of her virginal youth; on which her father had sat drinking his beer the day before he died; on which Strömbom had proposed to her—this venerable old sofa, with its accompanying chairs, was now sent away. Money was borrowed at a high rate of interest, and a set of mahogany furniture bought. In consequence, the Strömboms starved themselves. Only he was permitted now and then to take a meal at a restaurant, for fear that his digestive organs might become atrophied through disuse. But Aunt Louise’s mirror had the satisfaction of reflecting surroundings worthy of its own splendor.

Need I relate how new loans were made in order to make the other rooms harmonize with the drawing-room? Need I relate how they lied and borrowed in order to be able to entertain liberally? For what is the use of the most elegant house if no one comes to see it?

And so every one believed that Strömbom had grown rich. The assessor of taxes doubled Strömbom’s rating. The clergyman came and asked for twenty-five crowns for the establishment of schools of domestic science for the growing daughters of the cannibals. The cook asked for higher wages on account of the many dinners that were given. The rich and childless Uncle John wrote, “Since I have noticed with great pleasure that you have worked yourself up to so excellent a position, and that your home is now one of the most elegant in the city, I have changed my will, and have left my money as a pension fund for deserving female servants.”

And so Strömbom went into bankruptcy, and all the splendors were sold at auction, Aunt Louise’s mirror bringing seventy-five crowns.

Strömbom went to the young clergyman who had bought the mirror, and said, “My dear sir, have a care of that mirror. It brings ill luck.”

The young clergyman turned up his eyes, closed them, then folded his hands, and said, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”

There was a great gossiping-party at Aunt Louise’s when the letter came announcing Strömbom’s bankruptcy. She clasped her hands in horror, and exclaimed, “There, you see what happens when people do not know how to manage! And all their relatives tried to help them! I myself gave them a magnificent mirror.”