The Photograph

Who is that woman in the photo? Is it…no, it couldn’t be. I held it up beside me and my husband gasped. ” She looks just like you. ”  I clutched the old photograph that someone had bothered to keep, and closed the lid to the trunk in my grandparents living room, it had been packed away for years and now the movers had the place all cleaned out, and I handed the realtor a key, my mother was selling it and moving to a condominium.

I was holding on to the treasure trove of goodies in the trunk, a beautiful rocker and a vintage birdcage that my finches would be happy to see, lots of room and a swing, But what I could not understand is the woman in the picture, her eyes were piercing, and I would imagine them to be blue, she was fair with dark hair and it was probably long and pushed up on top of head and under the hat. A few strands  draped across her lovely cheek.

The ladies face showed a quiet, pensive demeanor. She was neither frowning or smiling in the studio photograph. It was dated Queensland 1884, with no name of the shop or the lady. Her dress was black, was she in mourning? She clutched something in her hand that looked like a prayer book, but she was wearing drop earrings and a lovely necklace, so maybe it was a formal dress for some occasion.

I handed my mother the picture as we drove away. You could hear her gasp in the back seat. ” Becca, do you know who this is?  It is my mother’s great, great aunt  Rosemary Rebecca. ” ” It has to be. ” We all said it together, she looks just like me. As we stopped off for lunch the three of us had lots of questions, but not many answers. There was nothing ever said about her. No one even mentioned her name. She was like an an outcast.

But someone had mentioned her to my mother, and it was her grandmother, that is why she had named me after her, she liked the stories and the name, though she never believed the stories. And had never seen the photograph until now, she doubted there was even such a person, she thought they were stories great grandma had made up to get her to go to sleep after she tired of her usual books. But there she was a moment of time captured from 1884, and she was beautiful. So why did no one speak of her? Even my mother’s parents balked at the name.

Yet, someone cared enough about her to pack away this photograph and so much so that it had a scent lavender left in the handkerchief? We hurried through lunch to get home and unpack the trunk, in hopes of more treasures. Our curiosity was piqued, we all loved a good mystery.

We couldn’t believe my ancestor, who looked like me was some scandalous woman or perhaps mentally afflicted or locked away having lost her sanity, surely she had not murdered a lover. I asked my mother about the stories as we started to unpack the trunk, we all sat in the floor and listened and sorted other photographs and letters. I was hoping there was one from her. And sure enough there would at the bottom, sticky, melted and patsy but legible. Shreds that were restored.

Mother could not remember all the stories, but apparently she traveled, and was an artist. She was born in San Francisco and left with a man from Australia, and never returned home. That is what the family was angered about. So angry that they never spoke of her. There was a letter to her father, who had so strongly approved that he tried to lock her in her room, and chased the man away.

Even eloping, she tried to explain her heartbreak in many letters, she had a wonder life, a little girl, she hand named Callie, because she had loved California, the bay and the vineyards, but she also loved Matthew, who had arrived to play in a concert. He was leaving within the week and they shared a love of so many things it was so natural for them, to fall in love with each other. She was twenty, after all, but they would not hear of it.

Rosemary, as she was called, packed her bags, still locked in her room, the boat was sailing tomorrow and she stuffed her ticket in a purse and waited for Matthew, midnight came and went but it was almost three when a hand covered her mouth so she would not scream and by candlelight she looked at her true love pinned a note to a pillow and made her way down a trellis of roses and thorns, her hands were cut and bleeding but she didn’t make a sound.

She was excited to board a ship, the sea sprayed her face, both happy and sad as she saw the Golden Gate bridge for the last time. She and Matthew were married that night. He took her to Paris, and she took up art and did very well. While he played with symphonies, she opened an art school for ladies. Matthew also taught piano and violin.

Matthew’s parents had been with an uncle on a trip when he stumbled into a gold rush in 1857. Later, they built a plantation but like the south the workers were slaves, though they treated well, Rosemary praised her mother in law, Lilah,for her cooking and manners, and how well she was loved by everyone. She had taught her sons music, and Matthew had excelled and been classically trained in London.

Though Rosemary explained profusely in her letters, all her parents knew was that it had been a penal colony, and for years they told people she was kidnapped and later poisoned. And that was a shame, that a family was so worried about scandal and bringing to the name that they ignored a beautiful daughter, but not grandma.

Apparently, she carefully glued back together the torn letters from the wastebasket, her mother had been ordered not to read them. Failing to get a reply from her parents, she had reached out to a niece, who also never read them but an eight year old had and she would tell my mother the stories she read as a child or what she could remember for one day she had been caught reading one. That was the end of them. But she had wrapped this picture and her letters and hidden them in the trunk for us to find one day. She must have forgotten to tell us.

Who is the woman in the picture, she is my mother’s great, great aunt, who was an artist, writer and photographer. She is a 21 year old newlywed in photograph. It hangs in her art gallery with over two hundred of her painting and those of many students, who also went on to work in fashion design and as illustrators. She only had one little girl who also painted and wrote poetry. She had lived in Queensland for sixteen years and was preparing to move to Paris when she was taken ill and passed away at the tender age of 37.

That was the one piece of information her family had they had twisted as well. They never knew that she had suffered a miscarriage, They only knew of an accusation that she was poison by a maid, who had been so distraught by the accusations that she had attempted suicide but was stopped in time. There was another investigation and the cause was listed as exhaustion and food poisoning, and other complications. Apparently, it was something she’d eaten out.

Her short life had been both happy and sad, It was sad that she had such a family to reject her, and beautiful and joyful in love and in her work and how she helped others, her husband’s family fortune went to the continuation of her museu, and she is sling in her self portrait entitle Rebecca Rosemary, there is also a family portrait. We packed our bags for summer vacation. Queensland, here we come, Angela, Steven and Becca, to pay her a visit and donate the photograph. After we make a copy.

Rebecca Jones

This picture is dated Queensland 1884. I have it on a Pinterest board, I don’t think anyone knows who she is. The museum is fictional, though it was penal colony at one time, and there was a gold rush and sugar plantations, the artist and poisoning story is loosely based on an Italian artist, Elisabetta Sirani.

Update: I actually found another Pinterest board. This is Elizabeth Plane. Cooktown, Queensland Description: She is wearing a dress buttoned up the front with a fitted waistline, long sleeves and a high neckline and jewelry including a brooch, pendant and earrings. Elizabeth, who was 23 at the time, arrived in Queensland on a ship called the Cheybassa in 1881.

#ShortStoryPromptLinkParty 7 - Who is that woman in the photo? Is it...

4 thoughts on “The Photograph”

  1. Young love. Some families are so strict and uncaring with secrets they want kept hidden. Thanks for linking up at the #ShortStoryPromptLinkParty 7! Shared ♥


  2. 𝔅𝔢𝔞𝔲𝔱𝔦𝔣𝔲𝔩 𝔰𝔱𝔬𝔯𝔶! Captured my attention quickly, absolutely loved it.. nearly sounded like a novel Rebecca. Sounded so familiar in so many ways, like my life a bit. Thank you for sharing


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