Porcelain (Part 23)

Upon receiving them, Harriet stood for several minutes with the closed folders in her hand as Mr. Holmes’ assistant stood on the porch, a look of worry on his face.  He was used to people immediately opening the photos when they were delivered, eager to look upon the portraits and, at least for the most part, remark upon the skill exhibited in their execution.  Harriet’s reaction, a long, quiet pause with a troubled look of reflection on her face, was atypical enough to give him some worry that the old woman may be as unstable as her daughter.  The display put on by Olivia the previous day, and the aggressive action needed to get her under control, had been a new experience for him and not one that he cared to be involved with again.  To his relief, Harriet’s eyes cleared and she carefully opened the folders, giving all the usual, and in his eyes anyway, proper reactions.  He departed with a tip of his hat and Harriet walked back into the house still looking at the photo of her granddaughter.

Olivia remained asleep in her room with the doctor sitting in a chair outside the door, dozing off from a long night of keeping vigil over his patient.  She had awoken several times since he sedated her at the portrait session, seemingly becoming more and more able to fight her way out of the stupor brought on by the drugs he administered.  He had already informed Harriet early that morning that if Doctor Fitzsimmons were not already scheduled to arrive later in the day he may have needed to take more drastic action with Olivia.  It had already been necessary for him to physically hold her in bed on several occasions and he had only managed to get her back to sleep about twenty minutes ago.  Harriet sat down quietly, not wanting to disturb him, and pulled Claudia onto her lap to show her the portrait.

The young girl smiled and poked at it, although her grandmother quickly pulled it out if her reach, not wanting the clarity of the image to be marred by Claudia’s rather dirty fingers.  After a few minutes the young girl’s babbled talking awoke the doctor, who smiled and waved when Harriet turned the photo around for him to look at.  A sharp knock at the door got him up out of his seat with a whispered “I do hope this is who we have been waiting for.”  Several seconds later Doctor Fitzsimmons, a tall thin man with an elegantly trimmed silver beard,  walked into the sitting room.  Putting her granddaughter down and carefully tucking the two photos into a drawer by her chair, Harriet rose to greet him.

“Thank you so much for coming doctor.  I’m sure it has been a long journey.  Would you like some tea?”

Removing his jacket and hat, he replied while reaching into his medical bag.  “That would be fine ma’am.  I will, however, go to see the patient immediately.  Doctor?”

The two men walked into Olivia’s bedroom without another word, and although she was thanked when the tea was delivered, Harriet considered Doctor Fitzsimmons to be a rather gruff and unlikeable medical man.  She liked him even less when he emerged back into the sitting room.

“She’s in poor condition madam, more mentally than physically, although I would say that I believe she will stay fairly docile for what remains of her life.  It would be important to manage her interactions with people as she should not be placed into any kind of a stressful situation.  Those are likely to elect another of her outbursts.  You may want to consider placing her into a facility for the mentally deranged.  And the girl, this girl,” and he pointed toward Claudia who sat on the floor with her doll, “the situation with her must be settled very soon.  Doctor Warren tells me she is to be sent away?”

Harriet took several deep breaths before answering, her inclination to bluster fading away as she did so.  Finally, she folded her hands together and replied.

“Before we go on, tell me just what exactly is wrong with her doctor.”

“As I said, she is mentally unstable and deteriorating physically, likely as a result of that mental condition, and will be a fair amount to deal with until she passes.  It is probably too much for someone of your age.”

Harriet took another deep breath.  “Again doctor, tell me what is actually wrong with her.  I can ascertain her current condition well enough on my own, and having you tell me of it hardly helps me understand her illness.”

“Madam, this is a medical matter and Doctor Warren called me in to review this case, which I have done.  He has improperly medicated her obviously; however, given his general lack of experience in these matters he did well enough.  His general assessment, that her mind has broken with reality, seems correct and I have given him guidance in her further care if you do choose to keep her in this home.  Although again, I would suggest that she be removed to a more appropriate facility.”

“Perhaps you misunderstand me.  How did she become ill?”

Now it was the doctor’s turn to take a deep breath.  “These are medical matters as I said, and I have consulted with Doctor Warren on them.  He will be able to care for her.”


“Listen madam, you ask far too many questions.  It if satisfies your curiosity then I will tell you that she likely is suffering some kind of neurotic condition associated with her pregnancy or the birth of the child.  Doctor Warren advised me that you had related some disturbing tales involving the delivery and her condition during it.  That break may well have hidden itself for years, with recent events or some unknown other condition finally causing this decline that has become so obvious recently.   Also, he tells me you are a homeopath?”

“I am.”

“Then I shall hope that none of your concoctions, whatever they may have been, aided in her deterioration.  You will do well to watch yourself.”

Harriet had not seriously considered punching anyone in quite a long time, and she found herself enjoying the thought in this moment.  Once the doctor left, giving her a curt nod before stepping out the door, she sat back down slowly while considering what had been implied by his last statement.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 22)

Harriet walked down to the studio the next day, waiting patiently with Claudia while a newlywed couple had their portrait taken.  Once that was finished the shop’s owner, Albert Holmes, sat down to speak with Harriet.  More than willing to travel down to her house, he also suggested that it might be a good idea if he brought along one of his canvas backdrops, as these kind of staged photos were popular at the time.  As Harriet looked though his selection, Claudia seemed especially taken by one that displayed a forest setting with a lake and some blurry industrial buildings in the background.

“I guess that one will do Mr. Holmes.  She rather seems to like it and the portrait will be of her after all.”

“It will just be the one then, of the girl?”

“Yes.  Please stick to that arrangement.  My daughter, her mother of course, will be there and may well ask that you take others; however, I do not have the money for it.  Just the one portrait and the two prints we spoke of.”

“Very well.  I have a nice prop I can bring along with that canvas, one that will add to the picture.”

Taking their leave, Harriet went for a walk down Oregon Street before returning home with Claudia.  Receiving the news that the photographer would arrive tomorrow afternoon brightened up Olivia’s mood, which seemed to be slipping back into the darker regions it had occupied prior to her outburst on the porch.  As a precaution, Harriet did not allow Olivia to play marbles in the backyard with her daughter, an activity she had permitted over the last several days while keeping a close eye out from the kitchen.  On this evening, she insisted that the girl remain indoors and help her with baking pies, one for Doctor Warren and another for the photographer.  Harriet still believed in these social graces which seemed to be starting to slip away from society as everyone became busier and busier with their daily lives.   As they finished up, Olivia walked into the kitchen and announced that she was going to bed, stating a need to get up early and prepare herself to be photographed.  Nodding good night to her daughter, Harriet made a mental note that she needed to have the doctor present tomorrow afternoon, just in case things did not go well when Olivia figured out it would only be Claudia getting her portrait taken.  Several minutes later a knock on the door announced the delivery of a telegram, one that informed her that Doctor Fitzsimmons would be arriving in two days.  Tucking it away in her dress, Harriet cleaned up the kitchen and placed the pies on the window sill to cool before tucking Claudia in and heading to bed herself.

The next morning, Olivia was indeed up early, although still not before her mother, and took a considerable amount of time preparing herself for her anticipated portrait.   The last time that she had occasion to purchase any kind of formal wear had been in 1874 for the last Merchant’s Ball that had been held in Hiawatha.  Although not a store owner herself, she had been invited to attend by John Coe, who was a friend of Tom Drummond.  She had accepted of course, more in the hope of running into Tom than anything else, and spent far more than she should have on a dress and all of its accompanying paraphernalia.  That left her now, in 1883, with an out of fashion dress that also fit poorly due to the weight she had lost during her recent instability.  Still, she put in on faithfully, and emerged into the sitting room well in advance of noon.

“Well, you certainly look nice.”  As she said this, Harriet felt a combination of sorrow and pride rise up inside of her.  Olivia looked radiant despite her weight loss, a flashback to previous times, with her hair brushed to a shine, pulled up high on the sides and hanging in a series of ringlets down her neck.  Her skin was glowing and complimented the gentle peach hue of the dress, which had the full back stylish in the previous decade, a bustle holding the many overskirts in place and which was going to make for a long day for Olivia.

“You intend to stand all day then?  You certainly will not be sitting down with that affair on, although it does compliment you well.”

“I am going to take a stunning portrait mother, me and my daughter.   I am prepared to stand as long as it takes to await that.  Where is she?”

“I sent her out back to play.  We have several hours before Mr. Holmes arrives and she was getting rather bored.”

“She must come in!  I have to clean her up and get her ready.”

“You will hardly be doing anything of the sort my dear.  I think you had better just stand there and remain looking pretty.  I will see to Claudia.”

By the time that the photographer arrived, Harriet had both ensured her granddaughter was ready and also managed to get a message to Doctor Warren, asking him to stop by after lunch.  He had done so and remained after a whispered conversation with Harriet.  Mr. Holmes and his assistant had proceeded directly to setting up their gear and the canvas backdrop in the sitting room, accompanied by Olivia’s protests.

“What is this thing you are hanging up?  We are hardly by a lake nor do I wish my portrait to be taken in front of such a thing.  This will be a proper portrait of my daughter and I, here in our home.”

“Miss, I really need you to get back and there won’t,”

Harriet cut in before anything more could be said.

“Move away Olivia, this backdrop is just for the photo of Claudia.  She picked it out herself down at the studio and I think it will look very nice.”

“But mother, what is the point?  We are here, in our home, why have it be a photo in a forest?”  Olivia’s voice was rather loud by now and Doctor Warren had taken a few steps into the sitting room.

“It is just the thing these days.  You do want it to be modern, don’t you?”

“Well, yes I suppose.  But our picture together will be proper.  It must be.”

Her mother gave no reply to that, turning instead to watch the photographer’s assistant as he placed their prop, an actual branch from a tree, into location in front of the canvas.  With that, all seemed in order, and Harriet motioned for Claudia to come over from where she was watching by the doorway.

She was in the dress which her grandmother had made for her, and which had already been altered to account for her missing arm.  After an admonition from both Mr. Holmes and his assistant that she must stand still once they had her in place, the young girl walked up to the canvas and then turned around.  Without being told, she reached out and placed her hand on the branch, which stuck up from the very foreground of the scene.  Her grip, though on the edge of the prop, seemed tight, with her fingernails appearing slightly white from the pressure.  Claudia stood straight and tall, looking directly into the camera with eyes that showed a depth of understanding uncommon at her age, touched with just a shadow of fear.  The plate was exposed and the image sealed, a well-taken portrait with a sharp foreground and a slightly out of focus back, shadowy buildings and a mirrored lake lighting up the top.

Olivia did have to be sedated once it was clear that her picture was not to be taken, and she was put to bed and tended to by the doctor once again.  The cabinet cards, carefully tucked into a think folder, were delivered the next day, several hours in advance of Doctor Fitzsimmons arrival.

Young child Hiawatha, Kansas

Young child Hiawatha, Kansas

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 21)

Harriet leaned back against the wall and stayed silent while conflicting thoughts ran through her head.  Doctor Warren, and certainly his colleague also, were clearly from the new breed of medical men, ones that eschewed the practices of homeopathy she had been raised on and practiced throughout her life.  It was also true that there was no time for consultation with Doctor Martin, as he was no more modern than she and only communicated via letter.

“Can you contact him doctor?  I am not much of one for the telegraph and prefer to write letters, which I know will take too long in this case.”

“Very well.  I will send a message to him tomorrow.  For now, do not mention today’s incident or the details of what has been going on as you had related to me earlier.  Let’s just try to keep her calm and resting.”

Harriet nodded her assent and they returned to the room, where Claudia had managed to put her mother to sleep and was now sitting quietly in the chair by the bed.  The doctor left for town several hours later, convinced that his patient was going to remain relatively docile for the immediate future.

By the next morning it was apparent that Olivia had indeed experienced some kind of a breakdown, one that left her understanding that her daughter was going to leave her but unclear as to the specific reasons.  Over the course of several hours of talk, filled with vague references and partial truths, Harriet had managed to convince her daughter that she was generally sick and unable to care for Claudia any longer.  She had been extremely nervous as this truth took shape in Olivia’s mind, bracing herself for another attack and wishing the doctor was near at hand.  No anger or rage had shown itself though, and her daughter passed from realization into despondency and fits of tears.  Claudia was in and out of the room during this time, understanding that something different was wrong with her mother, but still preoccupied with smaller things as young children tend to be.  Occasionally she would bring a toy into the room and sit on the floor, playing with it while her mother and grandmother talked.  Whenever the tears came to Olivia, she would begin  singing again, her soft voice echoing in a strange harmony with her mother’s sorrow.

Doctor Warren returned later that day to check on Olivia’s condition and to inform Harriet that his colleague had been contacted and would be making his way down to Hiawatha within the next several weeks.  When he pointed out that this was being done as a special favor to him, Harriet understood that meant it was going to be particularly expensive.  She did, however, realize that in this case it was perhaps necessary for modern medicine to intervene and that the expense was worth it if the doctor could determine the root of her daughter’s problems.

Olivia’s condition remained stable in the days that followed, and all previous intentions to harm Claudia or get her to react in any particular way, seemed to have vanished.  She interacted gently with the young girl, showing more affection and love than had ever been previously present.  Harriet had small moments of hope; however, these were always tempered both by her own memories and by Doctor Warren’s warning that Olivia’s tranquil state may only be temporary.   In general, she remained unconvinced that her daughter’s recent behavior reflected any actual change in her underlying condition.  It was five days later, as Harriet sat with her daughter in her room, both of them having a cup of tea and remarking upon innocuous details, that Olivia posed the question.

“I know that my Claudia must leave me soon, and I am so going to miss her.  I know your decision to send her away cannot be undone due to my poor health; however, I will always want her by my side.  Do you think we could all go to the photography studio and have a portrait done of her before she leaves?”

Harriet considered this request carefully before responding.  Her practice over the course of Olivia’s mental and physical deterioration had been both to allow her out in public as little as possible and to not let Claudia to go anywhere with her mother.  This appeal to have the portrait done would violate both of these rules, which had served her well in mitigating the damage Olivia could do to herself, Claudia or the family’s reputation.  In her daughter’s current state it was, however, a reasonable request and one that she had entertained herself.  If nothing else, she would have a photo of her dear Claudia to treasure once she departed, and if it served Olivia’s needs also, then the idea had that much more merit.

“Well, mother, can we?”

Harriet decided that she still did not trust Olivia enough to allow all of her request.

“Perhaps we could instead have a photographer come here to the house.  It would be so much more comfortable for you and easier as well.  I’m sure they can work just as well in our sitting room as in their studio.”

Her daughter’s face lit up.  “Perhaps we could have several taken even.  I would love to have a photo of her and I together.”

“Yes, we will see.  Now, I must go look in on Claudia and you need to rest daughter.  The doctor will be here in about an hour to check on you again.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 20)

Olivia slowly stood up, setting down her cup of tea on the porch railing and taking two steps forward.  “Just what does that mean mother?”

Harriet took several deep breaths before continuing, gathering what strength she had left.  “It means that I cannot stand much more of raising that girl, and no more of protecting her from you.  She is being sent away to live with my brother Wyatt and she is to leave with as much haste as I can arrange.”

The scream that emanated from Olivia was high-pitched at first, a howl, which then descended in tone to a deep growl as she strode across the porch.  Olivia’s arms failed toward her mother, fingernails tearing grooves in Harriet’s face and fabric away from the shoulder of her dress.  As she reached back to deliver a slap across her mother’s face, Harriet summoned everything she had left and stood up forcefully from the chair, grabbing her daughter’s arms and then pushing her onto the wooden boards of the porch.  She had her pinned face-down and was trying to find something to hold onto that would give her better leverage when she saw the doctor striding toward the house.  She shouted to him.

“The trouble has come doctor, hurry, as I cannot hold her down much longer!”  Olivia was bucking underneath her, fighting frantically to get up and continue her attack.  The doctor was on the porch two minutes later and knelt down next to Olivia.

“You must settle down now.  Stop trying to get up as you are going hurt your mother.  Stay still!”

Olivia’s answer to that was to grab his right calf, slipping her hand up inside his pants and digging in her nails.  As she did so, she managed to wiggle out from underneath her mother, who collapsed on the side of the porch, blood running down her face and arms.  The doctor proved to be of fairly tough stock, as he hardly reacted to the tearing at his legs, instead reaching down and removing her arm forcefully, then grabbing the other and pinning both behind her back.

“I do not want to hurt you miss; however, you must stop all this flailing around.  Do you hear me?”

Another scream came from Olivia and she continued to struggle to escape.

“Miss, I, what’s her name again?”

“Olivia,” her mother replied faintly.  Beyond the doctor, she could see Claudia watching with terrified eyes from the other side of the bush at the bottom of the porch stairs.

“Olivia, my name is Doctor Warren, do you hear me?”

The only reply was another scream, after which the doctor used his strength and leverage to maneuver Olivia to her feet and then pushed her into the house, dodging the backward kicking of her legs.  Several minutes later, after more screams and one sound that must have been a slap, the sound of the struggle ceased.

When Olivia awoke later that night, the doctor still remained at her side.  Harriet had only asked that he come over to deal with what she expected was going to be a difficult moment; however, he had insisted on remaining after seeing the severity of Olivia’s response.   Although she knew she could hardly afford his services, Harriet was relieved to have him in the house.  After tending to the wounds on her face and arms, he had insisted that she lay down and Harriet had gratefully taken a peaceful nap with Claudia.  They awoke shortly before Olivia did and were also standing in the room as the doctor greeted her revival.

“Hello Olivia, how do you feel?”

After brushing a sluggish hand across her face, Olivia replied with a groan.

“Olivia, do you know where you are?”

She had appeared to go back to sleep and the doctor shook her shoulder while repeating her name.  Finally Olivia opened her eyes again.

“I’m here, in my house,” she said faintly.

“Good.  How are you feeling?”

“Tired.  Why am I in bed?  What day is it?”

Harriet started to reply to that, however, the doctor waved her to silence and continued with Olivia.

“Let me just check your pulse okay?  I am going to grab your wrist here for a moment.”  As he spoke he looked over and gave Harriet a look that cautioned her to remain silent.  Claudia walked over to the other side of the bed and began rubbing her mother’s back, softly singing her favorite lullaby.  The doctor released Olivia’s wrist and then bent down to look into her eyes, after which he straightened back up and beckoned to Harriet.

“You stay here and watch after your mother while I step out and talk to your grandmother okay?”

Claudia answered with a small nod and continued singing.

Once they were out in the hall with the door slightly opened, so that an eye could be kept on Olivia, the doctor answered Harriet’s questioning eyes.

“I am not certain that she remembers what happened and I do not think it is wise to remind her.  It may well be that she has experienced some kind of break with reality, something I thought might be a possibility due to the severity and aggressive nature of her actions on the porch.  I do not have much practice with situations such as this and you will need to telegraph to a colleague of mine, Doctor Fitzsimmons in Virginia, and ask that he come out and examine her.”

“Will she be okay?  Will she stay like she is right now, or is that still just effects of the sedative?”

“She is still under the effects of the drug, although that will wear off soon enough.  I shall remain here until she is completely lucid and see how she behaves then.  If necessary, I can administer more to keep her under control; however, I would urge you again to contact Doctor Fitzsimmons as I do not know the longer term effects of these drugs I am using.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 19)

Although she had been eagerly watching the post for days, Olivia’s mother knew that much of this was futile in the days following the sending of her letter.  The mail just did not travel that fast.  During that time little changed, including Olivia’s constant attempts to elicit pained reactions out of Claudia whenever she could manage to get past her mother’s guard.  Fortunately, there were few successful attempts, as Harriet fought her own weariness valiantly, managing to stay awake until Olivia was asleep and rising to meet the day even earlier than was typical.  It was with pleasant surprise that she found Wyatt’s return letter in a small packet of mail handed to her on September twelfth.  Taking Claudia’s hand, she walked slowly down the street and over onto Delaware, sitting on a bench with her granddaughter to read the note from her brother.

August 29, 1883


I have received your letter and must say that it shocked me, both to hear from you after such a long time and also to have you request such a favor of me.  Surely we have not been close these many years, and I find it difficult to reconcile our estrangement and your request.   I do, however, grant that you have need of a specific remedy for the situation with your granddaughter and have arranged for her to travel here to Colorado at your earliest convenience.  For that, I have sent to you, via Western Union, the funds necessary to purchase travel for her by train to Denver.  I must tell you that I, along with the family of my son Isaac, are soon bound for Germany and are unlikely to return.  This trip is to be a permanent move for them, and certainly my last voyage.  As it seems you care greatly for this girl, I fear that the separation may be difficult for you, and more than you expected when you sent your letter to me.  That is the fact of it though, and so you must accept it if I am to aid you and meet your request.  Please send to me the girl’s arrival date here and I will meet her at the train.  I do hope that all is, and remains, well with you.

Your Brother, 


Putting the letter down in her lap, Harriet reached over and pulled Claudia close so that the girl would not see the tears running down her face.  Her brother was correct in saying that she had not expected her granddaughter to be taken so far away.  She also realized that once she departed for Denver there was almost no chance of her ever seeing the girl again.  Wyatt had reacted with more maturity than she had expected, and she gave him credit for that, although she still felt the letter carried a tone of harshness that was unnecessary given the nature of her request.  It was, however, the solution she had asked for, and the only one she had come up with that would allow Claudia to get away from her mother before any substantial harm was visited upon the girl.  It was the thing which must be done.  She did worry about what might become of her granddaughter so far away from her protection; however, she had little to fault Wyatt on in regard to his general demeanor and character.  They may not have gotten along well but her brother had always been reliable, generally honest and much less prone to violence than most men of his time.  Harriet believed that a person’s character changed little over time and hoped this was true of her brother.  She would need to trust to these facts and her belief in Wyatt.  Wiping her face dry with the sleeve of her dress, Harriet took Claudia’s hand and they began walking back together.  As they made their way down Ninth Street, she paused by the home of the new town doctor.  Realizing that this was the only medical resource she had immediately available, Harriet walked up and knocked on the door.  Once inside, she had a long discussion with him while Claudia played in the backyard.  As they left, her granddaughter asked who that man had been and Harriet replied softly, “Someone we are going to need in a very short while.”

As they approached from the west, Harriet could see that Olivia was sitting out on the porch and watching them as they walked up the road.  There was palpable tension, even at a distance, and the old woman shooed Claudia around the back of the house before climbing the stairs to talk to her daughter.  Olivia scoffed loudly as the girl skipped away and turned a fairly unkind face toward her mother.

“Did you enjoy your walk with my daughter?”

“Of course I did.  She is a sweet child.”  Harriet sat down in the other chair, arranging her dress neatly to the side.

“Perhaps I should take her out for another walk after dinner.”

“You will most certainly not.  That girl is going nowhere with you.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“Then treat her like she is, that would be a pleasant change.”

“I hardly,”

Harriet cut her daughter off with a raised hand.  “I’m tired of arguing this with you Olivia.  We have the same discussion every day and I’m tired.  You are not a fit mother, that is a certain fact, whether you see it or not.”

“She is mine and I can treat her as I like.”

“As I said, I am done with this argument and arguing with you in general.  I have made arrangements for Claudia.”

…to be continued