Wickford Tales

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Toward morning he spoke, hoarsely and haltingly. “Nita, darling, I can’t make it. It is a stone wall and I can’t get over it.”

“Oh, my darling!” Mother put her head on his hand, and we didn’t look. But after a while a terrible noise crackled in his throat, and one gasping groan.… The nurses came and put us out and said it was over and that Father was dead. The doctor gave us all something to make us sleep.

When we woke, Father was gone—to the undertaker’s, they told us—and Mother was white as a sheet and my aunt had come from Boston. There was much to be done and we were very busy. We all had black clothes and big black veils on our black hats. Every time Mother looked at us, she cried. We were sights! She cried all the time, as we did.

The day before the funeral, there was a lull. We just sat and looked at one another, all funny with swollen eyes, and David in his first wing collar and a black suit and tie. Mother began to cry more than ever, and sobbed, “If we had only had our pictures taken as your father wanted us to! Now we look so terrible, and my life is over.”

“Let’s do it right now.”

“What are you talking of?”

“I mean what I say. We can never wear our beautiful clothes again—and we promised Papa.”

Someone—I think David—telephoned the photographer, who came within the hour. We got dressed up, sobbing and putting cold water on our eyes so they wouldn’t look swollen, and had the picture taken just as he had wanted us to. And it was a comfort and made him seem nearer, and we all promised that we would always live as he would have wished.

It was a secret and a bond, and in the awful days that followed, when we had to give up the house in town and sell almost everything, and Mother was so lonely and frightened, that picture—which came out perfectly and everyone looked really better than he or she could—was a symbol that we were united and could rise to emergencies.

Everyone who saw the picture said, “How lucky you had it taken and didn’t wait. Didn’t your father love it? It natters you all—you look really starry-eyed.”