Book Awards E-MAIL US

Reginald Blisterkunst, Ph.D.
Among the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Pluto Wars

Greg Chandler
"Bee's Tree"
"Local Folk"
"Roland's Feast"
"Pond Story "

Doug Childers
"The Baptism"

Gene Cox
The Sunset Lounge

Clarke Crutchfield
"The Break-In"
"The Canceled Party"
"The Imaginary Bullet"

Jason DeBoer
"The Execution of the Sun"

Deanna Francis Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Dennis Must

Charlie Onion
"Love Among the Jellyfish"
Pluto Wars
"Feast of the Manfestation"

Chris Orlet
"Romantic Comedy"

Daniel Rosenblum
"A Full Donkey"

Deanna Frances Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Andrew L. Wilson
"Fat Cake and Double Talk"


The Daguerreian Marvel
Defran Mason


The announcement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle boasted of popularity.

A daguerreotypist of local name, the Eagle read with fanfare, Robert Navey had proceeded from landscapes and city streets, in study and pursuit, to the most awaited subject of the new minimal light exposure, the human portraiture.

On a street above Brooklyn Heights' low bluff, Navey’s off-color argent right eye balanced the periphery of his immediate parlor seating with trick reflex. He tamed his disarray of blue-black hair caught in a flying wind and cornered the attention of the house familiar, John Simonton, declaring, "The East River runs high this time in March."

Simonton, an ancient Tartan leaving middle years, dulled his thick burr for want of unaffected English, but could not dispel his pleasure. "Swelling like life these grand days of 1841—now that W. H. Harrison is President."

"Yet, cows ride the ferry from Manhattan for lack of progress," said Robert with the usual goading. "Not the list of casualties you wish to be associated with, eh, Simonton?"

"Never mind that and let's have a look at the broadsheets," said Simonton, nipping a pipe-full of tobacco in his short fingers. "Since Brooklyn is officially its own town I should like to guess the sway of its editor."

"I don't believe he shares your Whig sentiments," said Robert, tossing the paper, which Simonton wrested in his lap. "Follow me to the kitchen where coffee is steaming unwatched and there is fair morning light from the backyard."

Simonton left his pipe, taking the Eagle under his arm in a quick step behind Robert.

"I will pick the conversation, moving it at once to the well-meaning letter from fresh retention I sent you this week by hired cab."

Simonton's letters were note-taking that served his fading recall.

Robert gave him a sly look and coffee in a stout glass, which Simonton liked, as they settled at a square black marble table in the tight kitchen of red cabinets.

"Your letter as a foretoken of opportunity was unmistakable and delivered with a briskness that raised its import," said Robert with embroidery of wry sarcasm. "Referenced were you and industrialist, Henry Poston, playing whist at the Union Club in an endless confab of Tammany politics."

Predictably, a dallying New York aristocrat was trading a social peg for Simonton's ear. Simonton grunted and complained, "Henry wore down my gaming arm and sucked the last oyster, as always."

Robert spooned sugar between them and went ahead. "At which point your conspicuous dealing hand lifts a night toddy in a cheery toast to Whig victory. The mention of General Harrison, Henry's preposterous forward thinking goes running, with you, a relentless seller and raconteur, inclining to place me in your liaison of helpful services. You elaborated on the phenomenon of Daguerreian science in which I trade, prefacing with a description of our first meeting before a tableaux vivant of Psyche in the luxurious home of an Art-Union friend."

Simonton laid down the Brooklyn Daily Eagle with tapering patience, and said, "I merely endorsed our filial two-year acquaintance. My letter’s containment proceeds well beyond that."

Robert downed a swollen mouthful of coffee. "And with diminished equilibrium, drifting to a loony hypothesis, a dangling purse and Henry’s elaborately named daughter of twenty-six, Vandolynne Abigail. 'Seems she turns out a sketchy character since her mother fell to mortal ailment in prime age."

"Young woman simply lost the chestnut," said John Simonton, flatly. "She languishes at home in Gramercy Park amidst the grieving poems and essays of Mrs. Lydia Huntley Sigourney, the American Nightingale. You know that rabble; the righteously feminine 'agency of maternal culture.'"

Robert checked his fingernails for iodine stain. "Vandolynne Abigail thinks daguerreotypes portentous, says your letter. A trait so unlike Mrs. Sigourney's temperance. Therefore, Miss Poston skirts the true picture Henry misguidedly believes will clarify her mind, you then write, 'as a wood sprite defies arrest with a butterfly net.' But evoking the zeal of Harrison’s exploits, Henry puffing like a steam engine, you persisted that in the foreground realism of the modern camera obscura, even the western Redman has lost his myth. Really, Simonton."

John Simonton scraped his glass forward on the marble with a driving point. "These last few years, since the Daguerre process arrived from France, we have captured life and given it definition—as it is! There's no question about that."

Rubbing a cloth in tight circles, Robert shined the table near him in a habit of movement from burnishing copper camera plates to brazen finish. "I am sure you came off nicely for Henry without rehearsal, Simonton, but I only persuade my subjects to maintain a posture this way or that. I have taken a small advertisement to persuade business. People are most eager to see themselves."

Miffed, Simonton ragged the truth. "Especially when they can preen like the socially positioned with someone else’s fancy furniture and propping."

"Regardless," announced Robert, observing him from the one mismatched, prudent eye of the daguerreotypist. "Here we are now, loose in this muddle, and according to the post-script of your letter, Henry's son, rakish Willy, is calling a congress with us if I have no prior understandings after the noon chime. I do—to buy soap on Constable Street; a matter I overlooked to provide you with hospitality."

"Fine," huffed Simonton, sheilding insult. "I hope you return with an improved reception."


Heavy boots pounded the wood in the vestibule. An unknown voice boomed, "Hell-o!" and John Simonton was heard calling around, "Robert, are you anywhere in the house?"

Daguerreotypes, in and out of smart cases, littered the pier tables in the parlor.

Willy Poston circulated, aiming his mind with an intent likened to uncovering wildfowl in the low marshes of New Jersey.

Tall in a trim plaid jacket, he was in any telling of him, a sport, a sportsman and an occasional hunter of ruffed grouse.

"Navey's eye bears remarkable talent for landscapes," he told Simonton in favoring a particular north view of Gowanus Bay and another, perhaps lower Staten Island.

He hastened an eager inquiry at the appearance of Robert in a cheerful red morning coat offering him a handshake.

"There are only landscapes in here," Robert Navey confessed. "The faces of Brooklyn are dashed home like prizes, leaving me not a sample."

Simonton rested in a chair with a matronly well in the seat cushion, failing to establish a burn in his pipe.

"Hello, Robert," he said. "Glad to see Willy after his hair's-breadth from a ferry disaster."

Willy Poston encompassed the room. "A short swim, nonetheless," he said, using the vernacular humor of his men's clubs. "In truth, I did arrive listing, though listing is not unlike me."

Robert agreed, cat-grinning. "I'm given to a list every now and then myself."

Simonton asked for the cigars kept stored for better customers.

Amused by the condescension, Robert smirked and replied,"The box is just near you, Simonton. For you and Mister Poston, of course."

Willy Poston smooth his hand over an empty leather case, feeling the pearl inlay. "Not for me, thanks. I only smoke cigars when I'm showing off." He laughed the rummy club laugh and talked to Robert, "Informal, please."

"Okay, Willy. What do you think of this paraphernalia?"

"Fascinating. I would like to see more," said Willy Poston, turning an open case for Robert to see. "Staten Island, is it?"


"Ah-ha, down in Gravesend. I should like to have it and the one of Gowanus Bay."

"I will discount them for you," induced Robert.

Willy continued opening daguerreotype cases, moving between what he saw and what he heard of small talk until Simonton mentioned Vandolynne Abigail.

"What do you think of her?" Willy asked either man.

Robert was forthright, grounded stoically by the defunct fireplace. "My thinking was to ask you the same."

"What father says is true," said Willy. "She’s lost herself and is ill."

John Simonton shifted onto an elbow, tipping his cabochon ring into an ash-pile. "As I said, Robert."

"What was she like by contrast?" asked Robert, evenly.

Willy Poston wore dismay, and explained, "She was Vandolynne, my sister. Now she is distinctively no one, acting as if my father's moralist new wife. She behaves falsely, is a parade of contrivances and her wardrobe a cache of costumes and disguise." He brought to mind a sentiment. "My sister had adored pastels. She tried them out for years. Today, she rejects art and is a masterwork of camouflage. Where she was a free, warm wind reeling, she is closed and hidden."

"Always a new season in time," Robert offered.

"An enlightened point," agreed Willy, courteously. "One I will have to grapple with considering my fondness for her as she was. But what is there to do? She fails to cooperate with anything we ask. She will not see doctors, travel abroad for therapies or visit a minister. What is left? Hire a Spanish flamenco troupe to shock her with hard obstinate noise?"

Robert and Simonton shared a laugh as Willy intended.

"I trust Henry’s presentiments," said Simonton. "Though I was completely against a phrenologist twiddling with the girl's skull when he suggested it."

Robert differed, bluntly, "I am skeptical a simple portrait will return her to health, Willy, but agree with your noble efforts."

Willy Poston looked across the East River. "My father, Henry, thinks too much of progress. As if any device by earthly maker can recover one from the lowest grief. I, too, think not, Robert."


Four chamfered wood box cameras on long tripod legs stood about a mis-en-scene of Empire furniture and heavy drapes framed through the kitchen by an adjoining alcove.

"A foregone memory in an odd circumstance," thought Robert Navey, a disorderly chemist counting sundry cures at the kitchen table. "But a picture so faithful for sentiments confused"—he and Vandolynne Poston warming in the parlor.

March dwindling, she had turned up like the forsythia, with work, by the spark of Willy's enthusiasm and Simonton’s indulgences.

A tea thought suitable, piquant with orange and mace as in a cider, was poured from a jade pot webbed with minute cracks. When Robert questioned the recipe's brunt nose, Miss Poston’s dainty nod sufficed comment, accessory to the manner and example of Godey's Lady's Book. She bat a laggard sea-blue eye under an overbearing, bending brim hat stuck with a cloisonné.

Leaving the family intrigue, Robert plied her for no other believable reason than to keep Simonton in grace at the Union Club. At his mention daguerreotype was the fashion in New York, she supplanted the word 'photogravure.' Photogravure, she said, was the latest conceit in every class. Robert agreed there was a remedy nowadays for every condition, conspiring alone as she solicited gossip about her brother, defined as Robert's patron.

Following game consumed Willy so?

His current whim, chirping with a Gallic lilt when he rescued her from dripping ice cream at Vauxhall Gardens, precluded Willy from family commitments and the existing industry in pig iron. Sparing him was not a term of the woman's upkeep. Did Robert know her, the name Pierre? Not so unlikely for a woman who, as Miss Poston stated with mild disgust, was known in theater circles and the entourage of circus back-lots.

There was an appointment of some kind back in Manhattan. Miss Poston gathered herself with commotion, Robert being no more convincing than to put a thought in her head by selling a two-sided, gold filigree case appropriate for siblings, knotted but separated by the case divide. It belonged, as did the enigmatic Miss Poston, on a mantle in Gramercy Park, dusted occasionally but otherwise ignored.

A door thud and Robert's wistful inventory ended with the appearance of John Simonton in a gray cape matching his coloring. Raving about the first of its kind and the becoming dimple of Queen Victoria, its tribute, Simonton dug into his tobacco pouch and removed a Penny Black; a glue-set English postal stamp affixed to recent events in the lives of idlers.

"Henry gave it to me at the Amster last night before the vichyssoise arrived," bragged Simonton. "Through four courses, we nattered about the bad money days, how the Penny Black has spurred the English post, and our late evening plans for whist. Brandies were offered when who pulls up to the table but Willy in the company of Cherise Pierre—a name ringing in your ears by now."

Robert sat down to enjoy the report and prodded Simonton's embellishment. "Was she good-looking?"

"Not only," said Simonton, titillated. "She wore a marvelous hat with arcs of green-gold pheasant tails placed in the hands of a superb Broadway milliner. Hard to guess she's the daughter of a Flatfoot circus maestro who takes a firm hand with traveling menageries. Oh, I bet she's a tumbler. Willy fiddled with her knee and she cooed very perceptibly."

"Willy has to do better keeping her quiet," said Robert.

"Discretion is not like Willy. Nor was it earlier at lunchtime in Gramercy Park when he and Vandolynne Abigail had an unpleasant encounter over yellow pea soup."

Robert balanced the Penny Black on his fingertip. "How tough on Willy."

"More so for Miss Pierre, who was in our presence at the Amster from one insult to the next. She was, you see, at the crux of dispute at lunch with Willy moaning for want of her likeness in a keepsake. But Willy over-relied on a measure of play-acting and envy, making Vandolynne Abigail seethe. She forbid him from bringing that 'libertine' near the house in any form and smashed a bread plate on the table so wrathfully, the cook crossed herself in the Catholic way and hid in the basement. 'Woman may still be down there scouring for onions, for fear."

"What did Willy do?" asked Robert.

"He lavishly apologized to Vandolynne for his selfishness and planted your quick idea."

Robert glanced out of the high parlor windows, blaring white ship sails and the sunny rooftops of Manhattan in the scenery. "How quick was it?" he asked, nonchalantly.

"Thoroughly," said Simonton. "The news of Vandolynne’s submission was brought to Henry at our table dressed like a little present."

"So," said Robert, with sharp punctuation. "Willy keeps his pretty faun while I am indebted to turn sorcery with Henry's dismal daughter. I risk blemish with the entire upper register."

Simonton fidgeted in his pocket. "Where are my lucifers? Anyhow, Robert, you haven‘t a thing to reckon with but your knack for flattery."

"That is your expertise, Simonton."

"Funny you," said Simonton. "Why, even the Queen fancies her Penny Black."


On the fourth of April, William Henry Harrison died abruptly from an episode of pneumonia. The grim news was heard on every street, in doorways, and between ladies, aghast at facing windows.

Nightlong and morose with heavy drink, John Simonton and Henry Poston read passages from Horace Greeley’s Log Cabin and reveled in their hero’s western adventures, as if their own.

In Robert Navey’s Brooklyn Heights townhouse the next afternoon a highly-strung Willy marched across the parlor floor and pulled the curtains aside. Simonton swallowed a bromide and asked uncertainly from the couch. "Is she here?"

"Apparently not!" said Willy, rushing to the front door. "It's Gibbons, my father’s driver—a hateful man I played fisticuffs with as a child."

Robert tried vainly to uphold cordiality but once inside, bringing flies, Gibbons addressed Willy with a scratchy throat and the audacity of Henry's emissary. "You have caused a new predicament, Willy. Not to mention the horses were panicked by the damned ferry and nearly bolted into the river!"

Willy fumed, red-faced, "Where the hell is my sister, you insubordinate ass?"

"Little do we know," said Gibbons, rubbing a handkerchief behind his neck. "After I made three canters around Gramercy Park a deliveryman came with an addition to your pictograph collection bearing the sender, Matthew Brady. But fathom, the frontward of the parcel was instead hand-scribed to your sister very intentionally."

"The renowned Daguerreian, Brady," said Simonton, his memory for names surpassing incidentals. "What do you know?"

Willy swatted a fly from his nose and shouted, "What the hell is a pictograph?"

Robert shrugged and said, "A daguerreotype in colloquial speech, I believe, Willy. Is Brady merchandising landscapes nowadays?"

"This was no landscape," Gibbons told Robert in undertones. "The subject was of a deviant and immoral nature, sir."

"Pornography? Why, imagine Brady," said Robert, eccentrically. "I would never attach my name to it. The Eagle would refuse my advertisements."

"This is a lark, a practical joke from my huntsman's guild," insisted Willy, nervously pacing.

From behind a sheet of pipe smoke, Simonton asked, "Where was Henry to intervene, Gibbons?"

Gibbons recounted, winding the end of his well-oiled whip. "Mister Henry was in by afternoon with Rasmussen, the European gent sailing tonight for Rotterdam on the Ganymede. Miss Vandolynne was to have her final piano lesson."

Simonton looked about the room, bewilderd. "Ras—who?"

"Viktor Papandreou Rasmussen," said Willy, pestered by the name. "The only result of Rasmussen’s tutelage is Schwarenka’s convenient duet, Polish Dance. It resounds for hours without improvement and has him forever about. Aside from that, my father is now benefactor to a far-flung Danube conservatory."

"Henry hates music," said John Simonton, still confounded. "Machinery salvage from the Erie Canal, perhaps."

"It all started when Vandolynne's melodeon simply collapsed," said Willy, sniffing the perfume on his handkerchief.

Robert guided the story back. "Please continue, Gibbons."

"The household in pandemonium," explained Gibbons, "and on good instinct, Mister Henry and Rasmussen sped to St. Mark’s Bowery churchyard."

Willy slackened against the wall with his troubles and sighed, "Hmm, Mother lies there beneath an ordinary stone cross—only until our mausoleum is built, of course."

Gibbons sneered at Willy, then turned to Robert with the strained, histrionic pity of a hard drinker. "Indeed, the young lady was broken down in sobs beside her mother's grave. Mister Henry's other coachman, younger but hardly adroit as I with the landau, later told me Miss Vandolynne's public dress was the most outlandish he had ever seen—a winding sheet for a corpse, a thin blue wool wrap and Phrygian cap!"

"Lord knows what today's allegory is?" said Willy, fed-up.

"More disturbingly for poor Mister Henry, your father," said Gibbons, raising his voice to Willy, "she had taken a shears to her lovely brown hair and left it in short patches."

"Oh, my," said Simonton, fearing the worst for her sanity. "What next?"

Gibbons continued in an illustrative pantomime. "As Mister Henry and Rasmussen approached, Rasmussen pulling mysteriously on his earlobe, figure that, she gave a loud wail and fled. At once, Rasmussen was on her like a hound."

Forcing on his gloves, Willy envisioned mustering in a search. "Ready the horses, Gibbons! That moronic Rasmussen will have her running perpetually. Is it mathematics genius or piano dexterity that makes him so retchedly impulsive?"

"Do I know Henry!" said Simonton with prideful fraternity. "This Rasmussen’s way with numbers is what interests him."

Robert arched an eyebrow, exasperated, and said,"My concerns are with Miss Poston, Simonton. Shall I accompany you, Willy?"

John Simonton signaled Gibbons to refrain from argument as Willy took hold of Robert's arm.

"That won't be necessary, Robert, and sorry about this, friend. I’ll have you to the country this summer," Willy Poston promised him. "You can bring your camera and record my marksmanship."

"I look forward to it," said Robert, concealing a detest for wilderness. "I will depend on Simonton to hear about your sister's welfare. He knows a fast pigeon with the cabbys."

Simonton sounded like an uncle. "You best let Willy go, Robert."

Willy slapped on his top hat. "I'm off!"

Leaving with a flourish, Gibbons' verbal assails trailed Willy to the sidewalk. Robert watched from the parlor window for a fighting match, taking note, "Willy is in every page of the bachelor's manual."

"With the exception of plucking romance from the dime shows, he's well characterized," agreed Simonton.


The naked picture of Cherise Pierre did not take a worse or more humorous tact. A she-tiger clawed from the background with trained ferocity. The banner of the June and Company Oriental Circus hung from the animal's back.

His sense of enlarged evenings re-settled from a tight alcove with spring ale at a tavern on Constable Street, John Simonton said with foggy amazement, "Bizarre! In Miss Pierre's raw state, through this lurid antic, Willy is to see his jungle catch. With fair understanding, a nomadic little girl from foundationless circuses drawn to a big house in Gramercy Park."

Robert Navey, sore from lunging through the difficult front door, closed the daguerreotype case and appraised the bareheaded youth first framed in an incident of wonder by the glass pane in the vestibule. "One of Brady's minions has found a subversive way to push enterprise, at the least," he reasoned.

Vandolynne Abigail Poston pivoted in her white Greek-Revival chiton and Robert at once interpreted the winsome Persephone.

She breathed some mysterious fresh air, expressing a charm and animation he could not have previously mistaken in the tightly folded girl from earlier meeting.

"Criticism has had Willy biting his lower lip, bearing it, since a boy," she admitted, pausing beside Simonton's chair. "What's more, Mister Rasmussen said my shock confrontation with pornography may literally free me from the infernal reading of Tract Society pamphlets."

Simonton coughed smoke. "How cheeky. What else did Rasmussen tell you?" he asked, suspiciously.

"He is brilliant," she said, given wisdom. "In St. Mark's churchyard, he tuned his ear keenly to my woe, isolating a high clef in my mournful dirge of demise that broke tenaciously with the past. Composers of music think in such a way. His consolation, despite abysmal English, was at my heels for hours even as we strayed through Five Points with drunkards howling and slop pails sent out windows."

"Did they ship out for Rotterdam, leaving him?" asked Simonton.

Vandolynne Poston envisioned the black hull of the Ganymede, lanterns afire, sliding through the Narrows under a chromium of night clouds.

"No, Mister Simonton. We arrived at the Pearl Street docks, Mister Rasmussen picking someone's refuse from his clothing, with little but some time to spare.to claim his cabin and effects. As a gesture of farewell, he was to look starboard for my bonnet, my Phrygian cap, as I released it into the wind from the Brooklyn steam ferry like a white-lined flare, he thereby knowing my advance."

Robert pledged with a note of due and some relief, "I will raise all the lamps in my studio for you, Miss Poston."

"Kindly do, Mister Navey. You may have all the photo-gravure you like."

"How lucky for Rasmussen," said Simonton, secretly happy with his full departure. "He will miss the morbid funereal proceedings of next week."

Robert became riled, suddenly. "General Harrison is no longer the standing talk piece in Brooklyn Heights, Simonton, as the tavern-keep made clear."

John Simonton looked away dismissively. "Whiggery is never given a platform near glum Democrat foils like him,“ he said. “Anyhow, Vandolynne, my dear, you will have to write this Rasmussen."

She stated with self-assessment, "If I do I shall tell him I will never again practice the Polish Dance."



Robert Navey went to the focus of his preferred Morse camera and the clacking install of a tinny whole plate he properly treated with nitric acid and brazened. He stood back to judge with his governing eye, that colored of ore, which he took to the lens. "There we have it," he said, making some adjustment. "Now if Simonton remains lost in the word from the broadsheets he will likely nap."

Vandolynne Abigail Poston stood unmoving at the foot of a tasseled moss drape; the living statuary of a tableau vivant. A long garland of crimson ribbon rounded her shoulder and flowed across the floor.

"Do you see me?" she asked with childish glee and the frolicking spirit of a newborn colt.

Robert tugged up the high collar of his jacket and readied with ceremony. "What a regal lady," he said, straddling the tripod.

"I am in place," she assured him, firming her bustle.

Bending and pendulous behind the camera, Robert directed her with stirred blood, "Think you are the daughter of kings and valiants; think you are Winged Victory! On cue of my raised finger, hail, 'Excelsior!' This, to fasten a befitting composition."

The subject complied, sharing Robert’s inspired sense of theatre and motif and in a very short time the plate was ripped from the camera with the proud accomplishment of so many weeks and unforeseen tribulations.

Robert busied himself with seriousness, rifling through tinkling bottles of iodine and admixtures held in a tall cabinet with glass doors. Finding the hypo-sodium thiosulfate, he went to the kitchen table and from a small apparatus applied hissing mercury vapors to fuse with the plate silver. "I will remove the daguerreotype to a bath in this hypo sulfite of soda," he explained both to himself and Miss Poston, who barely understood.

Figure and form were manifest and it pleased Robert how the sulferite of silver created a nicely hewn transposition of the image. He straightened his back, which panged with an abrupt ache. "To freeze the exposure and in the last process I must wash the daguerreotype in clear water."

"What do you see?" asked his young subject, clapping her hands delightedly. "Do you see me, now?"

Robert Navey approached her deliberately, awed by the Daguerreian marvel and the strength of his master eye.

"What I see declares all promises of hope, symbols of virtue, greatness of mind, invention, and the fortunes of heaven," he proclaimed with reverie, as she looked ahead with awakened sight.

"Here," he said, lifting up the mirror to her self with fervent congratulations. "You are America!"



About the Author

Defran Mason is a former public relations exec and newspaper correspondent who likes her fiction short and witty with a twist. Other published works include "Make It A Double," a satire which appeared in the Miami Wire, and "High-Tech Goes High Touch," a cover story for Real Estate New York Magazine, amongst other dittys.


Graphic Design by D.A. Frostick 
Contents and Graphic Design Copyright 1999-2005
riverrun enterprises, inc.