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Professor Branestawm's Looking-Glass

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The glass looked into the Inventory, and quite peculiar. Its frame was thicker than you would expect (if you were a person given to expectation), even for the better class of mirror. Professor Branestawm had explained to Mrs. Flittersnoop how the looking-glass worked just after he built it. “The – er – point of principle is the production of a – um – vibratory albedo. It is trivial to engineer a surface that – er – reflects what is in front of it. How much more – ah – instructive to create one that reflects what isn’t.” 


But Mrs. Flittersnoop’s head had started to go round and round as it always did when the Professor embarked on an explanation, and he had quickly been distracted by new projects: a plan to build municipal gas-works out of pie-crusts; a steam-powered trapeze; and an invaluable system of handicap for the sport of tadpole-racing. The looking-glass hung forgotten on the Inventory wall. All Mrs. Flittersnoop ever saw it reflect was fog.


Until the day she jostled the mirror while plying her feather-duster, and watched another room heave out of its depths.


The room in Professor Branestawm’s mirror looked a lot like the Inventory. Its surfaces bowed beneath the burden of curious contraptions. Mrs. Flittersnoop’s joints winced in sympathy at the thought of the elbow-grease that would be needed to keep the room’s contents spick and span. But the Inventory didn’t contain a cow, thank you very much. Mrs. Flittersnoop would have handed in her notice, if the Professor’s fancy had ever strayed in that direction.


Apart from the pensive cow, the reflected room was empty when Mrs. Flittersnoop first saw it. But she often walked past the looking-glass in the course of her daily round. As she did so, she noticed that people came and went in the mirrored chamber. Their aspect and dress suggested to Mrs. Flittersnoop that the room she was somehow seeing was in Foreign Parts. Not all the gentlemen boasted ties, and the ladies, bold as you please, wore trouser-suits.


Mrs. Flittersnoop tucked the comings and goings of the reflected people between her scrubbing rota and her laundry-lists and mopping up after the odd unscheduled explosion. Although she could not hear what the mirror-folk were saying, she picked up a good deal from how they behaved. A very upright gentleman, who was even balder than the Professor but carried himself more like Colonel Dedshott, seemed to be in charge. He visited the room only seldom. Mrs. Flittersnoop nursed a shrewd suspicion that the rather dashing young man in the leather jacket was carrying a torch for the tall blonde lady who rarely smiled. Mrs. Flittersnoop had seen the way he watched her when she was not looking. Such is the consequence of mirrors.


The two people whom Mrs. Flittersnoop saw most often in the looking-glass were the old man she privately called “the other Professor” and the girl who ministered to the needs of the room itself. Mrs. Flittersnoop knew for sure that the old man was a Professor. She had watched him building the machines, and could tell from the expressions of people who talked to him that they could feel their heads starting to go round and round in a most familiar fashion. But there was something wrong with this other Professor, which made her reluctant to look at him for long. Mrs. Flittersnoop would be the last to say that she knew anything about medicine; she had Dr. Mumpzanmeazle for all her ailments and complaints. But she knew a broken invention when she saw one.


The girl, by contrast, was not broken. Unlike the other people in the mirror, who looked very big to Mrs. Flittersnoop – they certainly ate up all their greens, in Foreign Parts – she was small and slight. The girl had dark skin, and short, curly hair, and a tender regard for the disposition of things. It did a body a power of good to see that, even in Foreign Parts, there were such as appreciated that a proper domestic routine is not a humdrum length of string, but an intricate cat’s cradle, sustained only by the tension of clever hands.


Mrs. Flittersnoop enjoyed her glimpses of this other Inventory. (Well, usually she did. There was a period when the Professor insisted that she change to a cheaper brand of feather-duster. No Branestawm invention was going to stand for that. The chamber in the looking-glass began to display a different and more sinister appearance; dust-covers draped its surfaces like palls. Mrs. Flittersnoop once glimpsed someone who looked like the familiar girl during this period, but a cap subjugated this woman’s curls, and she picked her way through the musty room like a stranger. Mrs. Flittersnoop was much relieved when the Professor’s economy drive came to an end, and normal service was resumed in the mirror.) Mrs. Flittersnoop wondered, though, how the mirror-folk would react, if they knew the sort of unintended consequences that Science regularly had on Mrs. Flittersnoop’s side of the glass. Roller-skating insects, if you please! Mrs. Flittersnoop was sure it would make them weep, if they found out about it. But, of course, they never would.


(Such is the inconsequence of mirrors.)