They were posing for the family portrait. The silhouetted shadow of the conservatory roof fell above and to the left of them. With his shock of dark hair and brown moustache, Ernest was dressed in his best black suit and matching waistcoat, with a white rounded-neck shirt. He was standing behind the wooden seat while his wife, Alice, wore her best black dress and the silver locket left to her by her late papa. She was still grieving and had a pained expression on her face. She wished her papa could have lived to have met baby Grace. She was the first girl born to the family for ten years. He had died just days before she was born; such a tragedy.
Alice sat demurely in front of her husband and held baby Grace affectionately in her arms. Grace wore a beautiful lace and delicately embroidered cream dress that had been passed down from her Victorian cousin. William stood on the seat next to his mother in his very best outfit and smartest shiny shoes. How quickly children’s feet grow, thought Alice; William’s shoes were so expensive and more than they could afford if truth be told. They loathed admitting to their relatives how difficult they were finding managing their finances since Ernest had to retire from his work as a factory foreman. His health had declined over the few months after the pneumonia he contracted left him weak. He tired quickly and needed to rest in the middle of the day. Nevertheless, he remained in good spirits and rarely let his exhaustion be known.
Huh! I’d really rather not have my photo taken, Ernest thought. I feel so uncomfortable. It’s such a formality, and I do have better things to do. I’d much prefer to be participating in a game of charades in the parlour. Entertaining guests is far more enjoyable and less of a bore, in my opinion. One is expected to be smart and tidy at all times. What do I have to do to please the family?
Stand still, son; the photographer is trying to take our photo – let’s not waste his time. William! For goodness’ sake, stop fidgeting. I know it isn’t easy to have to stand still for so long, but you must try to make an effort. Now, be a good boy for Papa and look at the camera. No, please don’t pull such a peculiar face. Look at your new sister; she’s not pulling silly faces, is she? She’s being so good despite the fact she’s been passed around the family. Aunt Maud and Aunt Mabel both said she was an absolute charm, and your Grandmama really dotes on her, too. Yes, of course, they love you too, William. Now, please keep still; I’ve already told you twice. The photographer looked up and smiled at the boy, although he tried his best to hide his impatience.
Oh, I do hate wearing ties, Ernest thought. I tied the knot too tightly – it’s most uncomfortable. It feels as if it’s choking me. I do wish I’d worn a different one. He went to fiddle with his tie in an attempt to loosen it slightly but then realised he wasn’t showing a very good example to his son, William. William glanced up at his father and looked very fed up and bored. Ernest recognised that the boy would much rather be playing with his new brightly-coloured spinning top in the nursery. He was only three years old. However, he still expected his son to be on his best behaviour; but he felt quite sorry for him and gently put his hand on William’s shoulder to comfort him a little. He wasn’t such a strict father underneath his stern exterior.
Alice felt tired and longed for the photographer to hurry so that she could retire to the drawing room to relax for a while. She was having difficulty sleeping since the recent loss of her father. As she thought about her papa, the tears welled up in her eyes, and she attempted to choke them back for fear of spoiling the family portrait. It was traditional to have a new portrait taken with each new child’s birth. Ernest and Alice would have liked to have had more than just the two children. They’d thought, perhaps, when Grace had grown a little, but finances were such that they knew they wouldn’t be able to afford any more realistically.
William let out a bored sigh, and Ernest looked down at him. William!! For goodness’ sake, will you please take your finger out of your nose; what will the family say when they see you doing that in our photograph? You will spoil it, and they will think you a very naughty boy, Ernest declared sharply. William pulled a cross face at being on the receiving end of his father’s obvious displeasure. William, if I have to tell you one more time to behave properly, you will be sent to bed without any luncheon, and you will stay there for the duration of the afternoon. The boy’s face became even more sullen. Baby Grace had begun to whimper, and Alice looked tired and strained.
This is so tiresome, Ernest thought, thoroughly fed up with the whole affair. If he were honest, he’d rather have been able to retire to his bedchamber for his late morning rest. If only I could change into my nightshirt instead of this most irritating outfit. Thoroughly fed up and irritated, he frowned and glanced upward as if pleading to the Lord to end this entire business.
Suddenly, just at that moment – ‘Click. Clunk,’ went the photographer’s box-brownie camera! Snap!