Porcelain (Part 22)

Harriet walked down to the studio the next day, waiting patiently with Claudia while a newlywed couple had their portrait taken.  Once that was finished the shop’s owner, Albert Holmes, sat down to speak with Harriet.  More than willing to travel down to her house, he also suggested that it might be a good idea if he brought along one of his canvas backdrops, as these kind of staged photos were popular at the time.  As Harriet looked though his selection, Claudia seemed especially taken by one that displayed a forest setting with a lake and some blurry industrial buildings in the background.

“I guess that one will do Mr. Holmes.  She rather seems to like it and the portrait will be of her after all.”

“It will just be the one then, of the girl?”

“Yes.  Please stick to that arrangement.  My daughter, her mother of course, will be there and may well ask that you take others; however, I do not have the money for it.  Just the one portrait and the two prints we spoke of.”

“Very well.  I have a nice prop I can bring along with that canvas, one that will add to the picture.”

Taking their leave, Harriet went for a walk down Oregon Street before returning home with Claudia.  Receiving the news that the photographer would arrive tomorrow afternoon brightened up Olivia’s mood, which seemed to be slipping back into the darker regions it had occupied prior to her outburst on the porch.  As a precaution, Harriet did not allow Olivia to play marbles in the backyard with her daughter, an activity she had permitted over the last several days while keeping a close eye out from the kitchen.  On this evening, she insisted that the girl remain indoors and help her with baking pies, one for Doctor Warren and another for the photographer.  Harriet still believed in these social graces which seemed to be starting to slip away from society as everyone became busier and busier with their daily lives.   As they finished up, Olivia walked into the kitchen and announced that she was going to bed, stating a need to get up early and prepare herself to be photographed.  Nodding good night to her daughter, Harriet made a mental note that she needed to have the doctor present tomorrow afternoon, just in case things did not go well when Olivia figured out it would only be Claudia getting her portrait taken.  Several minutes later a knock on the door announced the delivery of a telegram, one that informed her that Doctor Fitzsimmons would be arriving in two days.  Tucking it away in her dress, Harriet cleaned up the kitchen and placed the pies on the window sill to cool before tucking Claudia in and heading to bed herself.

The next morning, Olivia was indeed up early, although still not before her mother, and took a considerable amount of time preparing herself for her anticipated portrait.   The last time that she had occasion to purchase any kind of formal wear had been in 1874 for the last Merchant’s Ball that had been held in Hiawatha.  Although not a store owner herself, she had been invited to attend by John Coe, who was a friend of Tom Drummond.  She had accepted of course, more in the hope of running into Tom than anything else, and spent far more than she should have on a dress and all of its accompanying paraphernalia.  That left her now, in 1883, with an out of fashion dress that also fit poorly due to the weight she had lost during her recent instability.  Still, she put in on faithfully, and emerged into the sitting room well in advance of noon.

“Well, you certainly look nice.”  As she said this, Harriet felt a combination of sorrow and pride rise up inside of her.  Olivia looked radiant despite her weight loss, a flashback to previous times, with her hair brushed to a shine, pulled up high on the sides and hanging in a series of ringlets down her neck.  Her skin was glowing and complimented the gentle peach hue of the dress, which had the full back stylish in the previous decade, a bustle holding the many overskirts in place and which was going to make for a long day for Olivia.

“You intend to stand all day then?  You certainly will not be sitting down with that affair on, although it does compliment you well.”

“I am going to take a stunning portrait mother, me and my daughter.   I am prepared to stand as long as it takes to await that.  Where is she?”

“I sent her out back to play.  We have several hours before Mr. Holmes arrives and she was getting rather bored.”

“She must come in!  I have to clean her up and get her ready.”

“You will hardly be doing anything of the sort my dear.  I think you had better just stand there and remain looking pretty.  I will see to Claudia.”

By the time that the photographer arrived, Harriet had both ensured her granddaughter was ready and also managed to get a message to Doctor Warren, asking him to stop by after lunch.  He had done so and remained after a whispered conversation with Harriet.  Mr. Holmes and his assistant had proceeded directly to setting up their gear and the canvas backdrop in the sitting room, accompanied by Olivia’s protests.

“What is this thing you are hanging up?  We are hardly by a lake nor do I wish my portrait to be taken in front of such a thing.  This will be a proper portrait of my daughter and I, here in our home.”

“Miss, I really need you to get back and there won’t,”

Harriet cut in before anything more could be said.

“Move away Olivia, this backdrop is just for the photo of Claudia.  She picked it out herself down at the studio and I think it will look very nice.”

“But mother, what is the point?  We are here, in our home, why have it be a photo in a forest?”  Olivia’s voice was rather loud by now and Doctor Warren had taken a few steps into the sitting room.

“It is just the thing these days.  You do want it to be modern, don’t you?”

“Well, yes I suppose.  But our picture together will be proper.  It must be.”

Her mother gave no reply to that, turning instead to watch the photographer’s assistant as he placed their prop, an actual branch from a tree, into location in front of the canvas.  With that, all seemed in order, and Harriet motioned for Claudia to come over from where she was watching by the doorway.

She was in the dress which her grandmother had made for her, and which had already been altered to account for her missing arm.  After an admonition from both Mr. Holmes and his assistant that she must stand still once they had her in place, the young girl walked up to the canvas and then turned around.  Without being told, she reached out and placed her hand on the branch, which stuck up from the very foreground of the scene.  Her grip, though on the edge of the prop, seemed tight, with her fingernails appearing slightly white from the pressure.  Claudia stood straight and tall, looking directly into the camera with eyes that showed a depth of understanding uncommon at her age, touched with just a shadow of fear.  The plate was exposed and the image sealed, a well-taken portrait with a sharp foreground and a slightly out of focus back, shadowy buildings and a mirrored lake lighting up the top.

Olivia did have to be sedated once it was clear that her picture was not to be taken, and she was put to bed and tended to by the doctor once again.  The cabinet cards, carefully tucked into a think folder, were delivered the next day, several hours in advance of Doctor Fitzsimmons arrival.

Young child Hiawatha, Kansas

Young child Hiawatha, Kansas

…to be continued

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