Together We Stand – Episode 22

The photographs had turned out even better than she had expected. Tanni gazed proudly around at the studio. It was neat and tidy, with its backdrops and costumes all waiting and ready for the opening of the tearooms the next morning.

She stretched her aching back and yawned. She was tired from head to foot from all the cleaning and the preparing.

All she wanted to do was roll into bed, but Edith had promised to pose for her pirate’s photograph after the preparations for the tearooms had been completed, and she had several chores to do for Mam when she got home.

“Good, you’re still here.”

She looked up as Gwendolyn arrived with a young couple holding a small child and a baby who could not have been more than a few weeks old.

“I know you aren’t open yet, but Mr Jones and his wife would like to make use of your services, if you are willing.”

“We will pay an additional amount,” the man offered anxiously.

“If you could please take it tonight,” his wife added. “My husband has been called away early, and will be at sea for many months. He would like to be able to see us while he is away.”

Tanni blinked. Panic ran through her. She’d relaxed, knowing that she didn’t have to face paying customers for at least another couple of days.

Shaking herself, she steadied her nerves. This was not a question of pride: this was a young couple who clearly had no wish to be parted.

She looked at their strained faces. They were her own age, neatly dressed, clearly not destitute, but not rich enough to be able to choose when and how they could work, and behind their eyes she could see the unspoken grief that they might never see each other again.

“Yes, of course.” She smiled, ushering them towards her little stage.

She did not even glance towards the rows of clothing hanging along one wall. Costumes would be the last thing on their mind, as would any dramatic scenery.

Luckily she had not yet changed the backdrop ready for Edith’s pirate picture. Madeleine’s loving painting of a garden from her childhood was quiet and peaceful and perfect for the occasion.

“Thank you,” Gwendolyn said as they moved two chairs together. “I know this will mean so much to them.”

“You can collect the printed photograph tomorrow,” Tanni told the couple once she had finished.

“Or we can send it on to you, if you have an address,” Gwendolyn added, and the two smiled.

“Thank you,” the young woman whispered, holding out her hand, then unexpectedly planting a kiss on Tanni’s cheek, her eyes filled with tears. “We will never forget this.”

“It was a pleasure,” Tanni replied.

She could only pray that the photograph would be as successful as her trial ones. She found Mr Jones holding out his hand, his eyes resting earnestly on her face

“Thank you,” he said, clasping his hands around hers and shaking them.

He turned to Gwendolyn.

“Should I pay . . .?”

“Of course.” Gwendolyn smiled. “As I said, the photographic studio isn’t quite set up yet, but I can arrange the payment in the tearooms.” She glanced at Tanni. “And I believe there will be no extra charge.”

“No, of course not,” Tanni said.

The young man followed Gwendolyn into the tearooms, holding his little daughter by the hand. Tanni could hear him exclaiming about the beauty of the place, and the hard work they must have done.

“Thank you,” Mrs Jones said again, rocking the baby, who was beginning to stir. “The photograph means so much to all of us, and when we heard about the studio, we had to try.” She adjusted the shawl around her son. “So it must have been you who inherited the picture wagon.”

Tanni blinked.

“Yes. Did you know Mr Samuel, then?”

“A little. My grandfather used to talk about Mr Samuel. He knew him when he was in the Crimea. I think he knew your father, too, Miss Phillips.

“The picture wagon has many secrets. Some of them Mr Samuel understood, some of them he did not. He would never have given it to you if he had known everything.”

“What kind of thing?”

But already Mr Jones was returning with Gwendolyn.

Mrs Jones pushed a card hastily into Tanni’s pocket.

“This is where you can find me. If you have any trouble, let me know. It might not be much, but I’ll do all I can to help you.”

“Thank you,” Tanni said, a thousand questions on her lips. But the young woman turned away as her husband arrived at her side.

Tanni followed them into the tearooms, chairs and tables standing silent, all ready for tomorrow’s opening, with the last of the helpers wearily wiping down surfaces and checking the tablecloths were spotless and neat.

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.