Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Candidate for Shelving?

By D. Nathan Hilliard

Marshall’s arm disappeared almost up to his shoulder into the dark rectangular hole in the old wall.

“Marshall, be careful.” Melanie hovered beside him, “You could have put on some gloves or something, you know. What if there is a rat in there? You should have made a bigger hole so you could see better.”

“I don’t want to remove any more boards than I have to. I imagine this old house appreciates us keeping the damage we inflict in this project to a minimum.”

“Then just leave it alone.”

“No, I can’t. There is something in this wall resting on top of that electrical outlet down there. That’s not safe. You wouldn’t want our new home to burn down around our ears after we just bought it, would you?”

“It’s probably been in there almost a century now. It seems to me if there were any danger of that, it would have already happened.”

Melanie watched him manage a long suffering eye-roll while straining to reach deeper into the hole, and wondered if they taught that at his engineering school. Having met his hopelessly sexist electrical engineering professor once, she could imagine the course now. “Wife Indulgence 101: How to put up with inane suggestions from the female while trying get something done.” But if Marshall actually harbored such thoughts, he diplomatically kept them to himself. Instead, he wedged himself tighter up against the hole and gritted with effort.

“I . . . can . . . juuussssst . . . Got it!”

“What is it?”

“Oh, I see how it is. Now that my arm didn’t get bitten off by a giant wall rat, you’re pure curiosity.”

“Oaf!” she chuckled, “Just pull it up here and let’s see what all the fuss is about. I bet you’re the proud new owner of an old board.”

“I don’t think so. Just give me a minute. It’s a pretty snug fit between these two wall studs, whatever it is, and I’m having to work it up. But I think it’s a painting or something.”

“A painting IN the wall?”

“We’ll know shortly. You might want to take a step back and give me some room. You’re worse than a cat, you know that?”


She primly stepped back, and watched him slowly work whatever lay in the wall back and forth. More of his arm emerged, the sleeve of his sweater covered in cobwebs and dead bug husks. She couldn’t imagine how he could stick his arm down there like that, and grimaced as he changed stance and put his other hand down into the hole as well. Then with a flourish, he pulled a flat oval object out of the hole.


It appeared to be some kind of framed picture, but dust and cobwebs shrouded it. Now completely overcome with curiosity, Melanie didn’t even object as he started brushing the dirt and cobwebs off onto the carpet. She followed him over to the where he lay the thing on the dining room table, and tried to peer over his shoulder without success.

“Oh this is so cool!” he enthused like a kid at Christmas.

Now she tried looking around him. Still no luck.

“What is it? Let me see.”

“It’s an old daguerreotype.”

“A what?”

“A daguerreotype. An old style of photograph they made back in the 1800’s. It looks like three children in a window-seat. One is sleeping and two are reading books. See?”

Melanie finally settled for ducking under his arm and worming her way in to see for herself. She refrained from giving him an elbow to the ribs, despite the look of amusement on his face. She’d get her revenge later. Right now she scrutinized their find.

It was indeed an old picture. Three children occupied a window seat that looked remarkably like the one in the parlor. A dark haired girl in a white night gown lay on the cushioned window seat with her head on a small pillow. She appeared somewhere between eight and twelve. An older girl sat at her feet, dressed in formal Victorian attire and reading a book. Another girl, not quite as old but dressed the same, sat on the floor near the sleeping girls head and also read a book. It had that carefully staged air so common of photographs from that era, with flowers even arranged near the head of the sleeping girl, and Melanie wondered how they got the kids to sit still in such uncomfortable attire for so long. Something about the old photo bothered her, but she couldn’t put a finger on it.

“Marshall, could that be the window in our parlor?”

He held it up to the light, squinting through the grimy glass of the picture frame.

“I do believe you are right, dear. The window itself is different, but the molding looks the same. So does the carving on the window seat. This is quite a find. We can clean it up and hang it in parlor, right near where the photographer must have stood. That would be the perfect touch for an old historic house like this.” He gazed at the photo with obvious delight, “I wonder who those girls were.”

“I don’t know. I’m wondering how the picture ended up in the wall.”


End of Chapter One

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