Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ashley Sterne Oh My Aunt

Fresh from Trove newspaper archive of the National Library of Australia comes one of Ashley Sterne's Aunt Louisa burlesques, republished in Table Talk magazine (Melbourne, Victoria), on November 17th 1921.

Unfortunately, the magazine was not fully flat when the archive scan was made, and a swath about eight letters wide was omitted at the left margin.  For the most part, it was relatively easy to fill in the gaps with plausible words.  But one particularly important word was missing, the word that specified what caused Aunt Louisa to swallow the thermometer bulb.  I took it upon myself to interpolate that it was eleven sneezes (and not coughs or hiccups) that were to blame.  I bear full responsibility for any diminution of comic effect caused by my interpolation.

Oh, My Aunt

In the morning two days before Aunt Louisa was due to take her departure, she called to me from the sitting room, whither she had retired after making but a meagre breakfast off of two poached eggs, two kidneys, a cold mackerel, and half a melon.

"Reginald, have you got a thermometer?"

"Yes, Aunt," I said and forthwith went into the hall and unhooked from the wall a much-prized combined thermometer and barometer, about the size of a banjo, which I had won some time back at our local fruit and vegetable show with an exhibit of six sweet potatoes bought for threepence at the Covent Garden Market the day before.

"And how do you suppose, Reginald, I am going to place that thing under my tongue?" she snapped.  "I meant a clinical thermometer."

I hadn't got one.  The nearest approach I possessed to a clinical thermometer was a clinometer, field, Mark V, a relic of my Army days.  I asked her if she'd like that, and she got as cross as a hot cross bun.  She looked rather like one, too.

Soon it transpired that she was quite far from well.  I was scarcely surprised.  I didn't exactly feel like four aces in one hand myself.  Nor would you, gentle (and, I trust, concerned reader, if you had spent three hours in the most sweltering part of the previous day trying to find your way out of the maze at the Crystal Palace supporting on your arm a fat, peevish aunt firmly obsessed with the unjust idea that you were playing "here we go round the mulberry bush" with her on purpose.

When I asked Aunt Louisa (who had never before seen a glass structure larger than a cucumber frame) how the Crystal Palace impressed her, she only said that she was sorry for the poor woman who had to clean the windows.

However I am not one to bear a grudge, and when Aunt Louisa complained of that tired feeling, I said very genuinely that I was sorry.  If she were taken seriously ill it was obvious that she couldn't return home on the following Friday, and so, when I said that I was sorry, you can take from me that I meant it.

Aunt Louisa having at length concluded the catalogue of her symptoms, I knew that the only thing to do was to call in the doctor.

He at once proceeded to take Aunt Louisa's temperature.  It was a little unfortunate, perhaps, that she should have chosen the moment when the thermometer was in her mouth to sneeze eleven times straight off the mark but luckily the doctor had brought a spare thermometer with him.  Also, he didn't seem to think that the bulb of the first one, which Aunt Louisa had swallowed, would entail any very serious consequences.  Rather did he think it would tend to relieve the sinking feeling.

But after he had felt her pulse, her tongue, and made her say "Ah" ninety-nine times, and tapped her beneath the knee to make her kick – she kicked fine; she nearly dropped a goal with the cat, which was a fascinated spectator of the proceedings – after he had done all this, I say, he ordered Aunt Louisa off to bed at once, and as soon as she had retired, I asked him, "What is it, doctor?  Is it anything – anything that will prevent her travelling home next Friday?"

"I am very puzzled," he replied.  "I can't quite make the case out.  She's certainly got a fever of some sort, but whether it's typhoid or hay I can't tell until I've looked it up in a book.  Tell me, has she been near any hay recently?"

I reflected a moment.  "No," I said at last, "not hay.  But a couple of days ago she drank an iced lemon-squash through a straw.  For goodness' sake try to make it hay fever."

"I'll do my best," he replied.

And he did.  Two days later Aunt Louisa presented me with my freedom by returning home.

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