Not to be Reproduced, 1937 by René Magritte
"New mirrors for old! New mirrors for old!"
Amelia had almost learned to ignore the patter of the pedlars in the street outside the town house, but this cry captured her attention.
There was never this much clamor at her home in the country, and wished she could return. But it was not to be. The estate had been let, its contents sold to pay her father's debts. Her mother had brought her to town with minimal staff and furnishings, determined to marry Amelia off.
"We must keep up appearances until you find a good match, or your father's business improves," Mother had explained.
Amelia was not sure which event was less likely. She was certain, though, that it was most difficult to keep up appearances without a maid, or even a decent mirror. She set down the gown she was turning, and picked up the mirror from her makeshift dressing table. One corner of the glass had lost its shine completely. It had cracked through the middle, and no longer fit the faded frame. Mother had said the mirror was an antique, but Amelia knew better. If it had any value, it would have been sold, too.
This mirror certainly had not aided her appearance at the Earl's ball last week. A discreet friend had helped Amelia remove the smudge from her chin, after Amelia had noticed much smirking behind fans. The smirking turned to full-blown laughter, though, when a spirited rondo with the Earl's son had shaken loose her coiffure. The young man had been mortified, and retired with one of her hair pins stuck in his cravat.
"New mirrors for old!"
It sounded too good to be true, but she might as well see what the man had to offer.
The peddlar was surrounded by giggling serving girls. Amelia stood in her doorway, clutching the dingy mirror tightly, until they had completed their business with the pedlar. Once the last pair had decided they needed to return to their posts, she approached.
"Ah, Mademoiselle! A lady of quality," the peddlar purred.
Amelia bowed politely. At least she still had her good manners.
"What have you to exchange? Ah, yes, very old, very good." The pedlar beckoned, leading her to the back of the cart. "For you, I have something special. I acquired it many years ago, and have not been able to part with it. But I think you might appreciate its value."
Amelia began to protest. She hadn't any money to spend. But before she could say a word, he put a finger to his lips.
"Shh. Just look." He lifted a velvet drape. "It is . . . enchanted."
Amelia stepped up to look in the large mirror, and saw someone else.
"What sort of deception is this?" She turned to the pedlar, indignant. In the corner of her eye, she noticed that the image in the mirror had also turned. She looked back. The back of the dress, with a button undone, looked familiar. The other girl's hair was the same color as her own. Slowly Amelia reached up to touch her hair, and saw her own hand reaching up in the mirror.
"No deception, Mademoiselle. It is a miracle! This is the only mirror in the world that will show you the back of your own lovely head."
Amelia studied the reflection. First she attended to the button. Then she secured a stray lock of hair. Slowly she smiled. This mirror could be useful. Valuable. The key to her social success.
"This is, indeed, a marvel," she said to the pedlar. "Only enchantment could explain it."
The peddlar nodded. "Oui, it must be yours."
Could he possibly mean to give it to her in exchange for Mother's castoff mirror? Amelia felt giddy. Never would she suffer such a disaster at another ball! Then she remembered the smudge.
"But first, tell me, what must I do to induce the mirror to show my face?"
"Simply turn around, Mademoiselle."
She did so.
"It shows your lovely face quite perfectly," he purred.
She turned back to the mirror, and saw only the back of her head. "But," she turned full circle again. "But I cannot see my face when I look the other way."
The pedlar shrugged, and reached for the mirror. "It is enchanted, recall? Magical items can be eccentric. Shall I wrap it for you?"
"Eccentric? It is defective! I'll thank you for my old mirror." She retrieved the antique and strode purposefully back into her house.
"Which is why I have not been able to part with it," the pedlar murmured. Lifting his hat, he checked the cowlick on the back of his own head. He made a futile attempt to smooth it, sighed, and pushed his cart on to the next street.