Porcelain (Part 18)

August 9, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

I do hope that this letter finds you well.  I know that we have become estranged over these many years and I fear that this may resolve you to hesitate in considering my request.  I must, however, beg a boon in regard to my recently born granddaughter Claudia.  You will have scarce recollection of my own daughter Olivia; however, she managed to become pregnant several years ago at the rather advanced age of fifty-one.  Perhaps not surprising given my own age when I had her; however, it was most unexpected and rather unfortunate, being the product of a small dalliance I must admit to having a hand in.  For that I may well not forgive myself soon.  The scoundrel absconded at once of course, and I have been raising this child much on my own due to some irregularities with Olivia.  The details will not serve her well; just know that I now fear for the very life of Claudia and have no way to protect her anymore.  I know you are well along in years, just as I am, and may well not welcome the idea.  I still must ask, in fact insist, that you allow me to send the girl to you.  She is well-mannered and causes little trouble, although I must let you know that she was born with only one arm.  I have not seen this affect her in any way and she seems barely aware of it herself.  It may well play larger when she is around other children on a more regular basis, although I feel she will make her way through any challenges that the world puts in her way.  She has proven resolute in the face of her mother’s deterioration and I am certain she will remain so when she lives with you.  Please hurry your response in regard to this request as I must get Claudia safely away as soon as possible. 

With Warm Regards, Your Sister, 


It was into the last week of August by the time that Wyatt received this and Isaac was deep into the plans he was making to depart before the end of the year.  Realizing that a discussion about adding another member to their traveling party was going to need to take place before any further details were finalized, Wyatt folded the letter up and leaned back with his eyes closed.

He was conflicted, both in regard to his obligation to assist his sister, and in his ability to take on such a responsibility as was being asked of him.  He had long ago cast aside any deep sentiments he may have had in regard to familial attachments; however he also still felt a lingering affection for his sister.  Perhaps it was simply that she had been the one to see him off that day, regardless if that was out of obligation or not.  He also understood that he was well advanced in years and may well not be around long enough to raise Claudia properly, or to protect her from Isaac if that became necessary.  Was it right to bring any child willingly into this household that he now had, one that contained a rather unpredictable creature such as his son?  Was the danger here worse than what his sister believed Claudia faced from her mother?  After several long moments, Wyatt stood and walked into the small study where his son was bent over reading ship schedules at his desk.  Sitting down, he waited until Isaac looked up.

“What is it?”

“Have you found a ship for us?”

“There are several, however, it looks as though we will need to leave from Boston aboard a Cunard ship.  I had thought we would be leaving from New York.”

“It hardly makes a difference does it?  I’m sure it will work out just fine from Boston.”

Isaac had stood up and was pulling at his hair as he answered.  “Yes, perhaps it will, although my plans were for New York.”

Wyatt remained silent as his son fought through this change in his head.  He had long ago noticed that any deviation from a previously developed plan gave Isaac serious internal issues, sometimes causing him to become melancholy for several days following a reversal or change.  He may not look at all like his mother, however, much of her temperament seemed to have been passed along and Wyatt had learned to stay silent during these struggles.  Finally Isaac sat back down.

“Our best bet looks to be the Marathon which sails on November thirteenth.  We can get a ticket for us all at seventy dollars.”

“Steerage I take it?”

“Of course father.  We have no money for first class, especially as you know my funds are reserved for purchasing an estate in Germany.”

“Yes, so you have said.  What is the price to add another to the ticket?”

Isaac stood up again.  “We are adding no one else.  Our plans are made and we will leave with you, Ambrose, Lydia and myself, no one else.”

“I have a letter from my sister,” Wyatt began, however, Isaac cut him off.

“We will not be dragging along any remnants of your family, sister or not, I do not care.  Tell her to seek her own adventures, by herself and on her own accounts.”

It took more than an hour for Wyatt to prevail, as he explained the details of the situation with Claudia, his obligation to help and the fact that he would look after the young girl himself.  He then repeated his own insistence that she be allowed to go over and over until Isaac finally agreed in exasperation.

“Not one more change father.  We leave via train on the ninth of November and that girl will be here or she will be left behind.  You will arrange all of those extra details yourself and don’t ask me for funds to assist you either.  This is totally your own affair.”

Wyatt bowed his head slightly in agreement and watched his son storm out of the room.  Allowing a troubled but satisfied smile to cross his face, he then stood up and began to compose a reply to his sister, which he sent the next day along with a Western Union money transfer to pay for bringing Claudia out to Colorado.  As he walked back toward home, Wyatt wondered again about his ability to raise and protect Claudia; however he also knew that there was now no going back from his decision and he would need to meet his new obligation as well as he could.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 17)

Wyatt Coburn had left town that spring morning with absolutely no intention of ever coming back.  He had said whatever needed to be said so that his father would consent to his leaving, and that had ended up being that he would return within three years.  The family business depended upon his return, or so his father insisted, especially as Wyatt’s younger brother Michael clearly had no intention of staying around much longer.  His brother’s fascination with Indians had been the thing that planted the seed of Wyatt’s lie, as their father had seemed to acquiesce to Michael’s claim that adventure was what he needed to experience.  No promise had been demanded of the younger son, however, as he lacked any semblance of business acumen.  Wyatt had much of it though and had displayed it early in life, a talent which he realized much too late was going to threaten to hold him back form his own desires for adventure.   It had already done so for too many years, as he was approaching forty years old before he finally realized he just had to get away.  He may come from a family that had proven to be extremely long-lived, however, he still felt that his life was slipping away, caught in the dreary cycle of the logging trade.   So, he had promised to come back and had begun saying good-bye to people who only thought he was leaving for a few years.  On that final morning in Maine he had sensed that his sister, the sole family representative to see him off, had known about his plan.  She had, however, said nothing and merely stated that she hoped his travels went well, a farewell delivered with little actual affection.

From that moment he had felt free and happy for several years as he traveled widely, rarely staying in one place for more than six months.  Over those years Wyatt had managed to take part in several historic events, the first being his inclusion in the first large wagon train that left Independence, Missouri for California in 1841.  That group later split into two parties and Wyatt followed Captain John Bartleson to Oregon where he later worked briefly as a reporter for the Oregon Spectator, the first published newspaper on the west coast.  Wyatt also had been among the first one hundred prospectors to arrive in the  South Platte River area and take part in what would later be called the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.

It was there, during the summer of 1858, while camped along the river in a small tent, that he had gotten a Cherokee woman pregnant.  This would produce his only offspring, a son named Isaac, who would stay with him throughout the many twists his life took, including after he abandoned the boy’s mother in 1862.  The gold rush had made him wealthy and he wandered around with his money, intermittently returning to Denver City until he was broke again in 1867, finally settling down in the new territorial capital just as it shortened its name to simply Denver.

He had raised his son by himself, never having another woman permanently in his life after departing the depleted fields of the gold rush.  Wyatt believed he had managed the boy, who was far more of a trouble-maker than his father had been, as well as could be expected given the other demands on his time and attention.  Things about his son’s behavior and manner bothered him more as the boy neared his sixteenth birthday, with the usual boyhood talents for cruelty and destruction not gently easing away as they did in other young men.  At times Wyatt truly feared what might happen if his son was left to swing loose into the world, and that had prompted his attempt to keep Isaac as close as possible at a time when other men’s sons were venturing out into the world on their own.  At night, as he would sit outside his front door and smoke his pipe, he realized the irony inherent in his attempt to keep the young man from exploring the world.  Despite that, Wyatt still believed the best interests of others were served by keeping the young man close.  He could not, of course, stop the other urges of his son, and in 1880 Isaac married Lydia Potter and later in the year they had a fair-haired son whom they named Ambrose.  After the birth of his son, Isaac had become more and more insistent in his demands that he and his new family needed to strike out for other parts, and two years later Wyatt had exhausted all possibilities for keeping his son in Denver.  He had managed to wrangle himself into their plans though, claiming that his advanced age of eighty-eight meant he needed to have his family near him to provide care in the event that his health took a turn for the worse.  He was pleased with himself after finally convincing Isaac to take him along, a feeling that was cut short when he learned his son’s intended destination was Germany.  Apparently believing that the United States had offered all it could to him during the five years of his youth spent traveling with his father, Isaac was determined to go to Europe and seek his fortune and adventure.  Wyatt had an internal feeling that the long journey might in fact kill him at his old age, however he felt duty-bound to oversee and control his erratic son for as long as he was able.  It was the day after resolving himself to this, with his son’s family en route to Elite Studios in Denver for a final photograph in the United States, that his sister’s letter reached him.

family denver co elite studios 329 16th street

family denver co elite studios 329 16th street

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 16)

“Well, are you ready to try this or not?”

Her daughter glared back at her, although the look was shrouded in several layers of desperation.   They held each other’s gaze for long moments and then Olivia motioned for the cup.  Taking a small sip she held it in her mouth briefly before swallowing.

“Sour milk?”

“Buttermilk. I thought it would suit you given your recent,”

“Yes, I know.  Lemons and all that.  It’s fine but I really don’t like milk at all.”

“Just sip it, I’m sure it will make you feel better.”

toy top courtesy rubylane.com

toy top courtesy rubylane.com

Olivia was back to moaning, more softly but just as consistently, although she was taking small sips from the cup.  After going out to give Claudia a spinning top to play with, the old woman returned to her daughter’s room and sat on the bed, holding her hand and occasionally reminding her to keep drinking.  When she was finally done, the moaning had stopped and after a few additional minutes Olivia drifted off to sleep.  Carrying much hope, her mother left and returned to the sitting room to check on Claudia.

Nothing at all happened for several days as Olivia stayed in bed, feverish several times although not severe enough to warrant any medicinal intervention from her mother.  Doctor Martin had cautioned in his letter that while the therapy may take several days to be effective, once it was, the results were likely to be dramatic.  Part of this prediction came true, although not exactly as Olivia’s mother had hoped.  Three days after receiving the sepia treatment, her daughter strode forcefully out into the kitchen and slapped Claudia hard across the face.

Screaming in pain, the young girl hurled herself into the apron of her grandmother, who had already dropped a bowl of green beans in shock.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m done with this nonsense mother!  That girl is going to cry, and she’s going to cry every damn day until I’m convinced she won’t turn out to be the town idiot!”

Claudia was clutching frantically at her ears, altering from the left side to the right with her one hand.  Olivia’s mother reached down and covered them for her and she felt her granddaughter twisting up the apron in her fist as she fought to get as close as possible for protection.

“You will stop talking right now!  Get out of here and leave her alone!”

“You can keep her safe for right now mother, but I will get her, tomorrow and the next day and the one after that!  I will make her act normally!”

“There is nothing wrong with her Olivia!  You’re the one with the defect, it’s just one that you are afraid to admit!”

Once her daughter had stormed back into her bedroom, the old woman collapsed on the kitchen floor, exhausted from the confrontation and the accumulation of weariness that had built up inside of her during the time of these recent struggles.  Claudia, tears still falling and with a large welt on her left cheek, kneeled anxiously over her grandmother, tapping at her shoulder in an attempt to rouse her up.  This simple act finally cut through, and Olivia’s mother pushed herself up onto her knees and then wrapped both arms around the little girl.  As she did so, she quickly and efficiently processed the facts; the sepia cure had not worked properly, perhaps because of her substitution, her own daughter was a danger at least to Claudia and possibly to others, and her granddaughter must be removed to safety very quickly.  It was with that final admission to herself, that she could not protect Claudia any longer, that she reluctantly realized she was going to need to contact her remaining brother.

It had been quite some time since she had seen him, and although time may have taken the sharp points off the contentious relationship they had always had, she still dreaded asking him to assist her.  The occasional letters they had exchanged over the decades since parting for the last time had been perfunctory at best, a stilted attempt at maintaining contact.  That day of their last good-bye, standing outside a stagecoach on a chilly spring morning of a kind so common in Maine, had not been intended to be the final time they saw each other.  Wyatt had been headed west, out to seek more adventure and opportunity, leaving with reassurances that he would be back in a few years.  She had accompanied him as a manner of courtesy and obedience, directed by her father to say fare-thee-wells for the family as he could not do so himself.  Growing up, they had not gotten along well as brother and sister, she thinking that he was difficult and prone to trouble in a way that she later learned to describe as pernicious.  Who knows what he specifically thought of her, other than his usual comments on her matronly manner and prissy habits.  She felt that she only acted that way toward him, however, had later come to accept that she did posses some of those attributes although they hardly exhibited themselves as starkly as Wyatt seemed to believe.  In her head she could still hear his often repeated taunt from childhood, “Don’t bring your fun to Harriet, she’ll just want to bury it.”  She also thought it a distinct possibility that he would be happy to take up saying it again if given the chance.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 15)

She knew that she did not have time to wait for another long-distance consultation with Dr. Martin via letter.  Instead, she needed to determine for herself if she could use Olivia’s new passion for sour drinks against her in a way that would allow the administration of the sepia treatment.  She felt that the milk used in the solution was certainly to make the cuttlefish ink digestible by the human body.  Also, the several dilutions that were required would allow the coloring of the ink to be lost, a useful sensory trick as few people were likely to consume any kind of a black or grey liquid.  What however, was the purpose of the sugar?  As the eldest in her family she possessed the few written records of her own mother’s homeopathic remedies; however, as sepia had never been used, it contained no useful information for that kind of treatment.  It did mention several uses of sugar as an agent to mask taste and never made note of any detrimental effects on the remedies themselves.  If it was used in this case, just to add sweetness, would removing it and replacing it with vinegar cause any adverse reaction with the ink?  That was an unanswerable query; however, she decided that the risk needed to be taken if there was any hope for Olivia to recover back to her former self.    Resolutely, she determined to watch for the very first opportunity to attempt it.

1880s doll

1880s doll

Several days went by and no moment offered itself, the time spent playing with Claudia as much as her energy allowed.  In an atypical moment of reckless spending she had purchased a very fine doll for her granddaughter, one that Claudia seemed to adore and spent long hours play-acting with for her grandmother’s benefit.  That at least only consumed her attention.  The young girl also had just discovered marbles, and although it hurt her to do so, she played often with Claudia in the dirt beside the back door.  It was just after one of these games, as she walked back into the kitchen dusting off her dress, that the moment unexpectedly came.

Olivia was sitting in a chair she had moved near to the cooking stove, bent over at the waist and with her head in her hands.  She was moaning softly.

“What is it daughter?”  The question was met with only more moaning, although Olivia now sat up and clutched at her stomach.  “What is wrong with you?”

“My belly, it hurts so badly,” her daughter replied before returning to a low chorus of moans.

“Are you going to be sick?”

“I don’t know, how can I know? I haven’t yet.  It just hurts, clenching and turning.”

It had to be now.  “Perhaps some milk will help, it will sooth your stomach.”

“You know I don’t like milk.”

“Well, you may not, however it can help you in this case.”

“I won’t drink it, I’ll just stay sick instead.”

Tapping her lip, Olivia’s mother thought the moment would come soon enough, and she needed some time anyway.  “Come on then, if you’re going to be miserable, you can at least do it in your own room.  No need for Claudia to see you in such a state.”  Her daughter offered faint but consistent resistance as she was guided along to her bedroom and spat in her mother’s face when she pushed her down onto the bed.  Wiping it away, the old woman turned and swiftly shut the door.

Claudia had come in by the time she was back in the kitchen, and with no time to find the young girl a diversion, she set about making the solution with her grand-daughter as a spectator.  Claudia could speak well enough to ask what she was doing.

“I’m making medicine my dear, very important medicine,” she replied as she took the first small portion of the dried ink, added it to some milk and shook it up in a jar.


“For your mother.” The old woman continued on as she answered, adding small amounts of ink to just a little bit more milk, shaking each iteration as she went along.  She had a few doubts in the early going, as the solution stayed an unpleasant grey, however as she neared the end of the ink supply, it had turned back to almost completely white.  Adding just a little more milk, and with her granddaughter now silently watching with fascinated wide blue eyes, she finished and realized that this part at least had been successful.   The timing of the rest would now be critical and she went to check on Olivia.

Finding her curled up in bed and still moaning, she softly suggested the milk again and received the same reply as had been previously given.  Knowing that she needed to stretch the limits of what might be considered decent behavior, Olivia’s mother reached down, claiming to just be feeling, and pushed in on her daughter’s stomach.  This elicited a sharp yelp, followed by a hard slap on her arm.  Exiting the room without a word,  the old woman retuned to the kitchen, said a silent prayer of hope, and stirred some vinegar into her ink and milk solution.   Five minutes later, and with her granddaughter still silently watching from the same chair her mother had been sitting in not long before, she poured it into a cup and walked back to Olivia’s bedroom.

…to be continued