By Hans Christian Andersen
You should have known Auntie ! She was
charming ! that is to say, she was not at
all charming in the usual sense of the word,
but she was sweet and nice, and funny in her
own way, just the thing to talk about, when
some one is to be talked about and made
merry over. She was fit
to be put in a play, and that simply and
solely because she lived for the play-house
and all that goes on in it. She was so very
respectable, but Agent Fab, whom Auntie
called Flab, called her theatre-mad.
'The theatre is my schoolroom,' said she, '
my fountain of knowledge ; from it I have
freshened up my Bible history ; " Moses," "
Joseph and his brethren," these are operas !
From the theatre I have my general history,
geography and knowledge of mankind ! From
the French plays I know the life of Paris
naughty, but highly interesting ! How I have
wept over " The Riquebourg Family " ; to
think that the husband should drink himself
to death, so that his wife should get her
young sweetheart ! Yes, how many tears I
have shed in the fifty years I have been a "
regular ticket holder ".'
Auntie knew every piece, every bit of
scenery, every person who came on, or had
ever come on. She really lived only in the
nine theatrical months. The summer-time,
without a play, was a time which made her
old, whilst a play-night which lasted till
past midnight was a lengthening of life. She
did not say like other people, ' Now spring
is coming, the stork has arrived ! ' or '
There is mention in the papers of the first
strawberry '. On the contrary, she announced
the coming of autumn : ' Have you seen that
the theatre seats are being taken ; now the
performances will begin ! '
She reckoned the worth of a house and its
situation by how near it lay to the theatre.
It was a grief to her to leave the little
lane behind the theatre and remove to the
bigger street a little farther off, and
there live in a house where she had no
' At home my window has to be my theatre
-box ! one can't sit and think only of
oneself ; one must see people. But now I
live as if I had removed right out into the
country. If I wish to see people, I must go
out into my kitchen and climb on to the sink
; only there have I opposite neighbours. Now,
when I lived in my lane, I could see right
into the flax -dealer's, and then I had only
three steps to the theatre ; now I have
three thousand lifeguard's steps.'
Auntie might be ill, but however bad she was,
she never neglected the theatre. One evening
her doctor ordered her to have poultices on
her feet ; she did as he directed, but drove
to the theatre, and sat there with her feet
in poultices. If she had died there, it
would have delighted
her. Thorwaldsen died in the theatre, and
she called that ' a happy death '.
She certainly could not imagine a heavenly
kingdom without a theatre. It certainly had
not been promised to us, but it was to be
supposed that the many celebrated actors and
actresses, who had gone before, must have a
continued sphere of activity.
Auntie had her electric wire from the
theatre to her room ; the telegram came
every Sunday to coffee. Her electric wire
was Mr. Sivertson of the stage-machinery
department, the man who gave the signals for
the scenery and curtains to go up and down,
in and out.
From him she got in advance a short and
pithy review of the pieces. Shakespeare's 'Tempest
, he called ' wretched stuff ! there is so
much to set up, and then it begins with
water up to the first side-scene ! ' that is
to say, the rolling waves went so far
forward. On the other hand, if one and the
same room-decoration remained through all
five acts, he said that it was a sensible
and well-written, restful piece, which
played itself without setting up.
In earlier times, as Auntie called the times
some thirty and odd years ago, she and the
above-named Mr. Sivertson were younger ; he
was already in the ' machinery ', and, as
she called him, her ' benefactor '. At that
time, it was the custom at the evening
performance, in the great and
only theatre of the town, to admit
spectators to the flies ; every
stage-carpenter had one or two places to
dispose of. It was often chock-full, and
that with very select company ; it was said
that the wives both of generals and aldermen
had been there ; it was so interesting to
look down behind the scenes, and know how
the performers stood and moved when the
curtain was down. Auntie had been there many
times, both at tragedies and ballets, for
the pieces with the greatest number of
performers were the most interesting from
One sat pretty much in the dark up there,
and most of the people brought supper with
them. Once three apples and a slice of bread
and butter, with sausage on it, fell right
down into Ugolino's prison, where he was
just about to die of hunger. At that there
was a general laugh.
The sausage was one of the important reasons
why the directors ordered the public to be
excluded from the flies.
' But I was there thirty -seven times,' said
Auntie, ' and I shall never forget it, Mr.
It was just the very last night that the
flies were open to the public that they
played 'The Judgement of Solomon '. Auntie
remembered it so well. She had, through her
benefactor, Mr. Sivertson, procured a ticket
for Agent Fab, although he did not deserve
it, as he was always making fun of the
theatre, and teasing her about it ; but
still she had got him a place up there. He
wanted to see the theatrethings upside-down
; these were his own words and just like him,
And he saw ' The Judgement of Solomon ',
from above, and fell asleep ; one would
really have thought that he had just come
from a big dinner with many toasts. He slept
and was locked in, sat and slept through the
dark night in the theatre, and when he awoke
he told a story ; but Auntie did not believe
him. The play was finished, all the lamps
and candles were out, all the people were
out, upstairs and downstairs ; but then
began the real play, the after-piece the
best of all, the agent said. Life came into
the properties ! it was not ' The Judgement
of Solomon' that was played ; no, it was '
The Judgement Day at the Theatre '. And all
this Agent Fab had the impudence to try to
make Auntie believe ; that was her thanks
for getting him admission to the flies.
What the agent told was, no doubt, comical
enough to hear but malice and mockery lay at
the bottom of it.
' It was dark up there,' said the agent, '
but then the demon-show began, the great
spectacle, ' The Judgement Day at the
Theatre.' Check-takers stood at the doors,
and every spectator had to show a
certificate as to his character, to settle
whether he was to enter with hands free or
fettered, with muzzle or without.
Gentlefolks who came too late, when the
performance had already begun, as well as
young men who were given to wasting their
time, were tethered
outside, and got felt-soles under their feet,
to go in with at the beginning of the next
act, besides being muzzled ; and then began
' The Judgement Bay at the Theatre '.
' Mere spite, which Our Lord knows nothing
of,' said Auntie.
The scene-painter, if he wished to get into
Heaven, had to go up a stair which he had
painted himself, but which no man could walk
up. That was only a sin against perspective,
however. All the plants and buildings, which
the stage-carpenter had with great trouble
placed in countries
to which they did not belong, the poor man
had to move to their right places, and that
before cock-crow, if he wished to get into
Heaven. Mr. Fab had better see that he
himself got in there ; and what he now told
about the actors, both in comedy and tragedy,
in song and in dance, was the worst of all.
He did not deserve to get into the flies ;
Auntie would not repeat his words. He had
said that the whole account was written down,
and would be printed after he was dead and
gone not before ; he did not want to be
Auntie had only once been in anguish and
terror in her temple of happiness, the
theatre. It was one winter's day, one of the
days when we have two hours' daylight and
that only grey. It was cold and snowy, but
Auntie must go to the theatre. They were
playing ' Herman von Unna,' besides a little
opera and a great ballet, a prologue and an
epilogue ; it would last right into the
night. Auntie must go there ; her lodger had
lent her a pair of sledgingboots with fur
both outside and inside ; they came high up
on the legs.
She came into the theatre, and into her box
; the boots were warm, so she kept them on.
All at once a cry of Tire' was raised. Smoke
came from one of the wings, smoke came from
the flies ; there was a frightful commotion
; people rushed out ; Auntie was the last in
the box ' the second tier to the left the
decorations look best from there,' she said,
-' they are placed always to look
most beautiful from the royal side ' Auntie
wished to get out, but those in front of
her, had thoughtlessly slammed the door in
their terror. There sat Auntie ; she could
not get out, nor in either, that is to say
into the next box, the partition was too
high. She shouted, no one heard ; she
looked down into the tier underneath, it was
empty, it was low, and it was near. Auntie,
in her fear, felt herself so young and
active ; she would jump down ; she got one
leg over the balustrade and the other off
the bench. There she sat astride,
beautifully draped with her flowered skirt,
with one long leg dangling out, a leg with a
monster sledging- boot. That was a sight to
see ! and when it was seen, Auntie was also
heard, and saved from burning, for the
theatre was not burnt after all.
That was the most memorable evening of her
life, she said, and she was glad that she
had not been able to see herself ; for then
she would have died of shame.
Her benefactor, Mr. Sivertson, came
constantly to her every Sunday, but it was a
long time from Sunday to Sunday. Latterly,
therefore, in the middle of the week she had
a little child for ' the leavings ', that is
to say, to enjoy what had been left over
from dinner-time. This was a little child
from the ballet, who was in need of food.
The little one appeared on the stage both as
a page and a fairy ; her hardest part was
that of hind-legs for the lion in ' The
Enchanted Whistle ', but she grew to be fore
-legs in the lion. She only got a shilling
for this, whereas for the backlegs she got
two ; but there she had to go about stooping,
and missed the fresh air. It was very
interesting to know all this, Auntie thought.
She had deserved to live as long as the
theatre lasted, but she was not able to do
that ; she did not die there either, but
respectably and quietly in her own bed. Her
last words were full of meaning ; she asked,
' What are they playing to-morrow ? '
She left behind her about five hundred
rix-dollars : we infer that from the
interest, which is twenty rix-dollars.
Auntie had assigned these as a legacy for a
worthy old maid without relatives ; they
should be applied yearly to pay for a seat
in the second tier, left side, and on
Saturdays, for then they gave the best
pieces. There was only one condition for the
person who profited by the legacy ; every
Saturday in the theatre, she must think of
Auntie, who lay in her grave.
That was Auntie's religion.