Together We Stand – Episode 06

“Those smell fresh,” Tanni said, puzzled.

“Fresh?” Henry stifled a cough and stared around at the shelves and containers looming out of the shadows of the picture wagon around him. Whatever this place might be, it certainly couldn’t be mistaken for a dwelling.

“It’s the chemicals for developing photographs,” Tanni explained. “Some of those cupboards look as if they’ve been mended.”

She reached for a small box perched on the nearest shelf.

“I’m sure that wasn’t here before.” She followed Henry back out into the light, holding the box in her hand.

“The fumes are horrible,” she said with sympathy. “You get used to it, but I’m sure it caused some of Mr Samuel’s ill health.” She met his eyes. “Didn’t you know he worked as a photographer?”

Henry shook his head.

“I had no idea.” He looked back at the wagon. “Do you mean that he was a photographer in the Crimean War?”

“Yes,” Tanni replied. “Well, a journalist, at least. He was one of the first journalists to report and take photographs in a war. He must have been very brave.

“He was shot at least twice, and Mam once told me he still had a bullet lodged in his back that was too dangerous to remove.

“He wouldn’t show me many of the photographs of the soldiers, but he did let me see the ones he took when he was being nursed by Miss Nightingale at the hospital in Scutari.”

“Well, I never.” Henry stared up at the battered, bullet-ridden form of the picture wagon, a deep sadness coming over him.

He shivered slightly, asking himself if he’d have had the courage to take off in such a ramshackle vehicle into the midst of battle, half a world away.

Uncle Samuel must have seen some things in his time, and how Henry wished he’d been there to hear them.

He looked back to find Tanni taking a small rectangular object out of the box and holding it in her hand.

“My goodness,” she breathed, as if confronted by the largest diamond that ever shone on a queen’s necklace.

She carefully released a small catch, allowing bellows to expand, with a lens at one end.

“It’s a Kodak folding camera,” she said in awe. “The kind that takes film rather than plates. He must have ordered it from America. And there are rolls of film, too.

“I cannot accept this, Mr Gillingham.” She met his eyes. “I’d love to be able to use it, but there’s no room at home to keep any of this.”

Besides, it would all be sold within the month to pay for necessities, Henry understood, as he watched her fold up the camera and place it back in the box, along with the film.

Miss Phillips didn’t strike him as a young woman who would watch her family go without while she held on to something that might only benefit herself, and the hunger he had seen in her eyes told him that she could not bear to see it sold off bit by bit to strangers who might not value the picture wagon for its history.

“You don’t need to take it home. I shall be here for a while longer. There’s no hurry,” he said.

“I won’t change my mind. You could use it yourself.”

“I feel Uncle Samuel wished it to be used by someone who had a passion for his work.” He cleared his throat. “There is something else, Miss Phillips.”

He hesitated.

“I think Uncle Samuel intended this as a way for you to earn a living from his equipment. He also left funds for the suffrage movement in Llandudno, to enable them to set up a temperance tearoom and meeting house.

“One of the provisions is that one of the rooms should be a photographic studio. The rent has been paid for a year.

“Perhaps you would like to speak to them before you make up your mind, Miss Phillips?” he suggested. “My sister is meeting them at this very moment. She’ll be pleased to go with you to arrange the terms.”

Tanni looked down at the box in her hands. He was right. This might be her only chance to escape the life set out in front of her when Dad died.

He’d wanted her to stay at school and train to be a teacher or a nurse, but with so many mouths to feed, she’d been lucky to get the job in the bakery so quickly.

It was impossible. She didn’t know enough, and she had no spare time to gain tuition or teach herself.

Besides, setting up a photographic studio took more than the equipment in the picture wagon. From what she had seen, there needed to be painted backdrops, ornaments, props and even costumes.

She looked at Henry Gillingham, who was watching her earnestly.

“Yes, thank you. I would like to speak to them,” she agreed.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.