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?”
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.
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