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

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