Porcelain (Part 25)

The trip itself, which should have been full of wonder and awe for the young girl, at least that was what the doctor had been expecting, passed instead in almost complete silence.  Although she would occasionally indicate that she was thirsty or needed to relieve herself, she asked no questions about the wonders of the large locomotive, spent no minutes wandering the cars of the train to admire the rich collection of persons aboard, and spent little time wide-eyed at the windows as the scenery flashed by their compartment.  Quiet and somber, Claudia sat with her hands in her lap, singing songs under her breath or staring at the floor.  When she slept, she did so curled up in her seat, drifting off without even a quiet goodnight to the doctor.  After exhausting what limited repertoire that he had for eliciting responses from children, and consulting quietly with himself in his head on how to get Claudia into better spirits, all to no avail, he turned to reading newspapers and smoking his pipe.  As the train pulled up in Denver, and the doctor assembled the young girl’s limited belonging and the packer trunk, he caught her looking at him with intensely curious eyes.

“What is it Claudia?”

Instead of responding, she pointed to his medical bag which was stashed underneath his seat.

“That?  I always bring it with me dear.  You never know when someone is going to need a doctor.”


“No?  People need doctor’s all the time.”

“No.  Why you didn’t help her?”

Unable to give any answer that he felt would mean anything, he instead just shook his head and replied, “Let’s get you off this train.”

Although she returned to silence as they walked, she kept her eyes turned toward the doctor, a look that provided enough guilt for the doctor to remember the moment for the rest of his life.  Emerging out onto the station platform, he shaded his eyes from the sun and looked around.  Having been briefed only generally on what to look for, a tall man and he says he will be wearing a brown bowler is all Harriet had been able to provide, the doctor expected there to be several minutes of searching.  Instead, a tall man man with long sandy hair and a tan, weather-worn face approached them immediately with his hand out.

“Doctor Warren, I take it?”

“Indeed.  You are Wyatt Coburn then, good to find you so quickly!”

The two men quickly shook hands and then Wyatt knelt down to Claudia’s eye level.

“Hello Claudia.  I suppose that your grandmother has told you about me.  I’m your great-uncle Wyatt.  Did you enjoy the trip?”

denver map courtesy davidrumsey.com

denver map courtesy davidrumsey.com

Claudia’s silence caused him to glance up at the doctor who said, “Same way with me all the way out.  Hardly a word spoken.  I think she’s having a pretty hard time with what happened to her mother.  That and leaving Harriet, quite a bit of shock for such a young girl.”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Standing up, he continued, “Well, thank you doctor for seeing her out here safely.  I hope your return trip is safe.”

Reaching out he grabbed Claudia’s hand and they walked away.  After about fifteen steps though, she pulled away and ran back, grabbing the doctor’s leg in a tight hug.  After a long moment, during which he stood there, slightly embarrassed and entirely unsure how to react, she let go, ran back to Wyatt and never looked back after that.

hansom cab courtesy getty images

hansom cab courtesy getty images


As they walked along, her great-uncle pointed out some of the sights along the platform as they waited for a hansom to bring them back to Wyatt’s house.  Having come in at the Denver and Rio Grande Depot near 19th and Wazee St., a busy place at almost every time of the day, there was a considerable crowd of people looking for transportation and the wait stretched out past thirty minutes.  Finally, with her great-uncle agitated by the delay and mutterings curses under his breath, Claudia was helped up onto the seat and they took off toward her new, although temporary home.  The transient nature of her current situation was made apparent as soon as they arrived at Wyatt’s house, after he had paid the driver through the trap-door in the roof without a thank-you or a good-day to you being offered in either direction.  As they stepped through the entry, Isaac appeared out of the study.

“So this then is your little burden from your sister.  She hardly looks sturdy enough to survive our journey but I will leave that up to your attention and worry.  Don’t bother settling her in too much as there won’t be time for feeling at home.  We leave in only six weeks.”

“Yes, I suppose we do,” Wyatt replied to the empty space where his son had stood, Isaac having turned on his heels immediately and retuned to the study.  “Come along Claudia.”

Dinner was called a short time later, Wyatt going to get the young girl who had remained sitting on the small bed he had purchased from a second-hand store for her use.  Her truck remained unpacked on the floor and the only concession she had made to having arrived was the removal of her bonnet.  Offering his hand, which the girl took, Wyatt escorted her to the table where she took her seat next to Isaac’s son Ambrose.  Lydia Coburn was at her insincere and ungracious worst right from the beginning.

“What a beautiful little girl you have brought us Wyatt.  It’s a good thing that Isaac was able to find that old chair in the shed or she would be sitting on the floor for her supper.  How are you dear?”

Met with only a stare as a reply Lydia muttered, “charming, a mute,” before stroking her son’s head and saying, “You be sure to play nice with this little girl Ambrose.”

Wyatt remained standing behind Claudia’s chair as the meal was served and then went reluctantly to his place at the head of the table as Isaac also took his seat.  As usual the meal was filled with silence, although this one was interrupted several times by Ambrose poking at the empty spot where Claudia’s arm was missing in her dress and laughing in his high-pitched manner.  As the boy received only half-hearted admonitions from his parents to stop, and with the young girl not eating and in silent tears, Wyatt finally slammed his hand down on the coarse wood table loud enough to make Ambrose squeak in startled response.

“Enough boy!  Leave her along and eat your meal.  There will be no more of this tormenting you so enjoy!”

“It’s going to be a tough run for that girl if all it takes to get her to tears is a few pokes,” Isaac replied before they all returned to silence and then finished the meal overshadowed by tension.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 24)

Shaking herself out of that reverie ten minutes later, she rose and went to look in on Olivia, who lay asleep in bed.  Leaning on the door frame, Harriet reached out her hand, mimicking touching her daughter’s face, something that she did not want to actually do as it might awaken her.  She was fairly certain that asleep was the best place for Olivia.  Turning away, she approached the doctor.

“Could you assist me in getting a telegram sent?”

“Well, of course, however, perhaps you should do it yourself.  Get out of the house for awhile.  I can look after her.”

“I, well, I have not done much of sending telegrams in my day.  I’m a bit behind the times.  It would probably be better if you went.”

Doctor Warren reached out and touched Harriet’s shoulder.  “It really is not that hard.  Just go down to the office and tell them what you want to do.  They will help you.  And you really do need to get out for a bit.”

With a small smile she turned away, grabbing a shawl to wrap around her shoulders before stepping out with a quick word back at the doctor.

“Thank you.”


leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

As she walked the road toward Oregon Street, Harriet took time to enjoy both being out of the house and also the sights and sounds of the town.  Knowing that she would be unwilling to commit her daughter to any kind of a care facility, she understood that once the doctor left, her life would be bound to caring for Olivia.  It would certainly be awhile before she had time or opportunity to stroll along and admire Hiawatha again.  Arriving at the telegraph office forty minutes later, the clerk helped her send a short message to Wyatt informing him that Claudia would arrive in five days.  On the way back she stopped by the small park across from Leaders Dry Goods, sitting on the small bench and watching the pigeons scramble around after some loose horse feed that had been spilled on the ground.  As the sky started to darken with rain clouds, she sighed deeply and walked back home, arriving to find the doctor packing up his medical bag.  As he departed ten minutes later he promised to stop by daily for awhile and check on Olivia.

The next morning Harriet found Claudia sitting next to her mother in bed.  Olivia had been reading a children’s book to her, but closed it when she appeared in the doorway.

“Where is my picture, mother?”

There was an edge to Olivia’s voice although she appeared calm enough, running her hand through Claudia’s hair as she spoke.

“Yes, well, I have it. I will bring it to you.”

When she returned and presented the portrait of Claudia to her, Olivia looked at it for several minutes before turning to look at her daughter who still sat beside her.

“This will be all that remains of you my dear, all that I will have to remember you by.  This is what I will keep.”

With that, Olivia closed her eyes and began to hum softly, before drifting off to sleep, still clutching the portrait.

Over the course of that day and the next, as Harriet took care of the business of packing things up for Claudia, it became apparent that Olivia had no further interest in her real-life daughter.  She ignored all of Claudia’s attempts to speak with her, or interact in any way, spending time instead reading books to the portrait and carrying it around on the few occasions she did get out of bed.  Her discussions with Harriet during this time were curt, at least until she walked past as the last of Claudia’s clothing was being packed in a large leather packer trunk that had been purchased the day before by the doctor and brought over to the house.

“I hoped to get one thing before you finished up.”

“What is that Olivia?”

“The dress, her dress, the one you made.  I want to keep it here with me.”

“Maybe you should ask Claudia if she cares that you keep it?”

As Olivia glanced down at the portrait she held, Harriet cut back in.

“You need to talk to that girl Olivia.  The real one.  The one in that other room over there who you have been ignoring these past few days.  She leaves tomorrow and you need to say good-bye to her.”

“I won’t ever have to say good-bye mother.  I have her here with me always.  Now I want that dress please, just to help remember her.”

They locked eyes for several moments and then Harriet gave in, remarking to herself that the dress had little use left in it anyway.  She had made it big so it would last for awhile but now it just barely fit the young girl.  Although she worried that possessing it might remove Olivia even farther from reality, she also saw little point in arguing about it.

“Thank you.  I am returning to my room.”

“You do understand that she leaves tomorrow, early, and she won’t be coming back.

Met with only silence and her daughter’s back as a reply, Harriet finished up and then went to spend the remainder of the day with Claudia.  She also slept next to the girl that night, spending over half of the time awake, holding Claudia’s small body next to her and silently crying.  There was no doubt that she would miss her granddaughter, as they had grown very close over the three years she had been alive, especially as Olivia’s condition worsened.  Harriet also felt great sorrow for her own daughter, who she knew was unable to cope with Claudia’s leaving and would probably never truly understand, or admit, that the girl was forever removed from their lives.  So much loss and sorrow had washed across her life during the decades she had been alive, and yet there always seemed to be just a little bit more to bear.  First Olivia had disappeared into the fog of her present condition and now Claudia would fade off into a distant land.  This was for the best though, for her granddaughter anyway, and maybe this would be the last great heartache of her life.

As the sun came up, Harriet drew upon her inner strength and showed no more than surface emotion as she readied Claudia and saw her to the front door at nine a.m., where the doctor waited.  He had agreed to ensure that the girl made it safely onto the train and then to her stop in Colorado, even agreeing to purchase his own ticket.  He arrived just as Harriet and Claudia stepped out onto the porch.

Reaching down, he took the young girl’s hand.  “You look lovely today Claudia.  Are you ready for our trip?”

The girl just nodded and stared back at him, the look on her face similar to the one she had shown to the camera in the portrait.

“Thank you again doctor.  Please ensure she is safely to Wyatt for me.  I am certain he will meet you at the station.  He is a reliable man.”

“I’m sure he will.  Did Olivia?” and he finished with a downward glance at Claudia.

“She refused to open her eyes, so I left her in bed with her delusions.”

“Very well.  Then we must go.”

A final hug, as strong as she felt her granddaughter could bear, was given by Harriet and then she stood up to watch them leave, tears in her eyes, but frozen there, refusing to fall.

She whispered softly to herself.  “Good-bye.”

…to be continued