You ought to have known our aunt; she was charming! That
is to say, she was not charming at all as the word is usually
understood; but she was good and kind, amusing in her way, and
was just as any one ought to be whom people are to talk about
and to laugh at. She might have been put into a play, and
wholly and solely on account of the fact that she only lived
for the theatre and for what was done there. She was an
honorable matron; but Agent Fabs, whom she used to call
'Flabs,' declared that our aunt was stage-struck.
'The theatre is my school,' said she, 'the source of my
knowledge. From thence I have resuscitated Biblical history.
Now, 'Moses' and 'Joseph in Egypt'- there are operas for you!
I get my universal history from the theatre, my geography, and
my knowledge of men. Out of the French pieces I get to know
life in Paris- slippery, but exceedingly interesting. How I
have cried over 'La Famille Roquebourg'- that the man must
drink himself to death, so that she may marry the young
fellow! Yes, how many tears I have wept in the fifty years I
have subscribed to the theatre!'
Our aunt knew every acting play, every bit of scenery,
every character, every one who appeared or had appeared. She
seemed really only to live during the nine months the theatre
was open. Summertime without a summer theatre seemed to be
only a time that made her old; while, on the other hand, a
theatrical evening that lasted till midnight was a lengthening
of her life. She did not say, as other people do, 'Now we
shall have spring, the stork is here,' or, 'They've advertised
the first strawberries in the papers.' She, on the contrary,
used to announce the coming of autumn, with 'Have you heard
they're selling boxes for the theatre? now the performances
She used to value a lodging entirely according to its
proximity to the theatre. It was a real sorrow to her when she
had to leave the little lane behind the playhouse, and move
into the great street that lay a little farther off, and live
there in a house where she had no opposite neighbors.
'At home,' said she, 'my windows must be my opera-box. One
cannot sit and look into one's self till one's tired; one must
see people. But now I live just as if I'd go into the country.
If I want to see human beings, I must go into my kitchen, and
sit down on the sink, for there only I have opposite
neighbors. No; when I lived in my dear little lane, I could
look straight down into the ironmonger's shop, and had only
three hundred paces to the theatre; and now I've three
thousand paces to go, military measurement.'
Our aunt was sometimes ill, but however unwell she might
feel, she never missed the play. The doctor prescribed one day
that she should put her feet in a bran bath, and she followed
his advice; but she drove to the theatre all the same, and sat
with her feet in bran there. If she had died there, she would
have been very glad. Thorwaldsen died in the theatre, and she
called that a happy death.
She could not imagine but that in heaven there must be a
theatre too. It had not, indeed, been promised us, but we
might very well imagine it. The many distinguished actors and
actresses who had passed away must surely have a field for
Our aunt had an electric wire from the theatre to her
room. A telegram used to be dispatched to her at coffee-time,
and it used to consist of the words, 'Herr Sivertsen is at the
machinery;' for it was he who gave the signal for drawing the
curtain up and down and for changing the scenes.
From him she used to receive a short and concise
description of every piece. His opinion of Shakspeare's
'Tempest,' was, 'Mad nonsense! There's so much to put up, and
the first scene begins with 'Water to the front of the
wings.'' That is to say, the water had to come forward so far.
But when, on the other hand, the same interior scene remained
through five acts, he used to pronounce it a sensible,
well-written play, a resting play, which performed itself,
without putting up scenes.
In earlier times, by which name our aunt used to designate
thirty years ago, she and the before-mentioned Herr Sivertsen
had been younger. At that time he had already been connected
with the machinery, and was, as she said, her benefactor. It
used to be the custom in those days that in the evening
performances in the only theatre the town possessed,
spectators were admitted to the part called the 'flies,' over
the stage, and every machinist had one or two places to give
away. Often the flies were quite full of good company; it was
said that generals' wives and privy councillors' wives had
been up there. It was quite interesting to look down behind
the scenes, and to see how the people walked to and fro on the
stage when the curtain was down.
Our aunt had been there several times, as well when there
was a tragedy as when there was a ballet; for the pieces in
which there were the greatest number of characters on the
stage were the most interesting to see from the flies. One sat
pretty much in the dark up there, and most people took their
supper up with them. Once three apples and a great piece of
bread and butter and sausage fell down right into the dungeon
of Ugolino, where that unhappy man was to be starved to death;
and there was great laughter among the audience. The sausage
was one of the weightiest reasons why the worthy management
refused in future to have any spectators up in the flies.
'But I was there seven-and-thirty times,' said our aunt,
'and I shall always remember Mr. Sivertsen for that.'
On the very last evening when the flies were still open to
the public, the 'Judgment of Solomon' was performed, as our
aunt remembered very well. She had, through the influence of
her benefactor, Herr Sivertsen, procured a free admission for
the Agent Fabs, although he did not deserve it in the least,
for he was always cutting his jokes about the theatre and
teasing our aunt; but she had procured him a free admission to
the flies, for all that. He wanted to look at this
player-stuff from the other side.
'Those were his own words, and they were just like him,'
said our aunt.
He looked down from above on the 'Judgment of Solomon,'
and fell asleep over it. One would have thought that he had
come from a dinner where many toasts had been given. He went
to sleep, and was locked in. And there he sat through the dark
night in the flies, and when he woke, he told a story, but our
aunt would not believe it.
'The 'Judgment of Solomon' was over,' he said, 'and all
the people had gone away, up stairs and down stairs; but now
the real play began, the after-piece, which was the best of
all,' said the agent. 'Then life came into the affair. It was
not the 'Judgment of Solomon' that was performed; no, a real
court of judgment was held upon the stage.' And Agent Fabs had
the impudence to try and make our aunt believe all this. That
was the thanks she got for having got him a place in the
What did the agent say? Why, it was curious enough to
hear, but there was malice and satire in it.
'It looked dark enough up there,' said the agent; 'but
then the magic business began- a great performance, 'The
Judgment in the Theatre.' The box-keepers were at their posts,
and every spectator had to show his ghostly pass-book, that it
might be decided if he was to be admitted with hands loose or
bound, and with or without a muzzle. Grand people who came too
late, when the performance had begun, and young people, who
could not always watch the time, were tied up outside, and had
list slippers put on their feet, with which they were allowed
to go in before the beginning of the next act, and they had
muzzles too. And then the 'Judgment on the Stage' began.'
'All malice, and not a bit of truth in it,' said our aunt.
The painter, who wanted to get to Paradise, had to go up a
staircase which he had himself painted, but which no man could
mount. That was to expiate his sins against perspective. All
the plants and buildings, which the property-man had placed,
with infinite pains, in countries to which they did not
belong, the poor fellow was obliged to put in their right
places before cockcrow, if he wanted to get into Paradise. Let
Herr Fabs see how he would get in himself; but what he said of
the performers, tragedians and comedians, singers and dancers,
that was the most rascally of all. Mr. Fabs, indeed!- Flabs!
He did not deserve to be admitted at all, and our aunt would
not soil her lips with what he said. And he said, did Flabs,
that the whole was written down, and it should be printed when
he was dead and buried, but not before, for he would not risk
having his arms and legs broken.
Once our aunt had been in fear and trembling in her temple
of happiness, the theatre. It was on a winter day, one of
those days in which one has a couple of hours of daylight,
with a gray sky. It was terribly cold and snowy, but aunt must
go to the theatre. A little opera and a great ballet were
performed, and a prologue and an epilogue into the bargain;
and that would last till late at night. Our aunt must needs
go; so she borrowed a pair of fur boots of her lodger- boots
with fur inside and out, and which reached far up her legs.
She got to the theatre, and to her box; the boots were
warm, and she kept them on. Suddenly there was a cry of
'Fire!' Smoke was coming from one of the side scenes, and
streamed down from the flies, and there was a terrible panic.
The people came rushing out, and our aunt was the last in the
box, 'on the second tier, left-hand side, for from there the
scenery looks best,' she used to say. 'The scenes are always
arranged that they look best from the King's side.' Aunt
wanted to come out, but the people before her, in their fright
and heedlessness, slammed the door of the box; and there sat
our aunt, and couldn't get out, and couldn't get in; that is
to say, she couldn't get into the next box, for the partition
was too high for her. She called out, and no one heard her;
she looked down into the tier of boxes below her, and it was
empty, and low, and looked quite near, and aunt in her terror
felt quite young and light. She thought of jumping down, and
had got one leg over the partition, the other resting on the
bench. There she sat astride, as if on horseback, well wrapped
up in her flowered cloak with one leg hanging out- a leg in a
tremendous fur boot. That was a sight to behold; and when it
was beheld, our aunt was heard too, and was saved from
burning, for the theatre was not burned down.
That was the most memorable evening of her life, and she
was glad that she could not see herself, for she would have
died with confusion.
Her benefactor in the machinery department, Herr
Sivertsen, visited her every Sunday, but it was a long time
from Sunday to Sunday. In the latter time, therefore, she used
to have in a little child 'for the scraps;' that is to say, to
eat up the remains of the dinner. It was a child employed in
the ballet, one that certainly wanted feeding. The little one
used to appear, sometimes as an elf, sometimes as a page; the
most difficult part she had to play was the lion's hind leg in
the 'Magic Flute;' but as she grew larger she could represent
the fore-feet of the lion. She certainly only got half a
guilder for that, whereas the hind legs were paid for with a
whole guilder; but then she had to walk bent, and to do
without fresh air. 'That was all very interesting to hear,'
said our aunt.
She deserved to live as long as the theatre stood, but she
could not last so long; and she did not die in the theatre,
but respectably in her bed. Her last words were, moreover, not
without meaning. She asked,
'What will the play be to-morrow?'
At her death she left about five hundred dollars. We
presume this from the interest, which came to twenty dollars.
This our aunt had destined as a legacy for a worthy old
spinster who had no friends; it was to be devoted to a yearly
subscription for a place in the second tier, on the left side,
for the Saturday evening, 'for on that evening two pieces were
always given,' it said in the will; and the only condition
laid upon the person who enjoyed the legacy was, that she
should think, every Saturday evening, of our aunt, who was
lying in her grave.
This was our aunt's religion.