And so went most of the next six weeks of Claudia’s time in Wyatt’s house. Torment, outbursts and silence. Isaac, his wife and son spent virtually no time with Claudia other than at meals, and the whispered conversations they had in the hallways were certainly pointed in her direction. It had not been apparent to Wyatt initially; however, he soon grew to understand that Isaac himself considered Claudia to be a burden, both to his family and his future plans. The discussion they had in front of the fireplace two weeks after her arrival was typical.
“I ask you again father, what provision have you made for this girl? What about her care and room and board once we are away from this place and the two of you are living under my roof?”
“I have provided you and your family with a home for some time and you seem to be rather ungrateful for that consideration and kindness.”
Isaac wrinkled up his nose. “That is hardly the point as I have done my fair share around here to earn my keep.”
“Fair share of eating for sure, and using my firewood and other provisions. Certainly not your fair share of providing for your family.”
“I’ve done my part,” Isaac replied lazily, “but that’s in the past and we need to talk about the future. What about that girl?”
Wyatt took a long look at his son and let the pipe smoke escape out his nose in a billowy wreath of contemplation. The expectant look in Isaac’s eyes, one that demanded only the answer he was looking for, made the older man grimace in disgust. Finally he snorted and replied.
“She’ll be provided for, don’t you worry your pitiless heartstrings about it. I have money enough to provide for her room and board, and I’ll take care of her myself. You can go about showing her no more attention or consideration that you have up to this point.”
“That you will do, but it’s not what I am concerned about. What about when you die, and you certainly will, you’re an old man and have no business taking on a child. What about then? Whatever money you have won’t be enough to see me through the trails of raising her up the rest of the way. Children are expensive.”
“Yes, they certainly are,” Wyatt replied ironically, a tone that was lost on his son. “If I do go, and there is no saying I will before she’s grown up, then you damn well better believe I expect you to finish the job and see her into the adult world properly.”
“You expect too much father, much too much.” With that, Isaac pushed himself out of his chair and walked from the room trailed by a wary look from Wyatt.
During those weeks leading up to the departure for their voyage, Claudia continued in her somber way, although she did at least begin to speak with her great-uncle, asking him questions about books he would read her and listening to his stories from his gold-mining days. As the two of them spent most of their time together, either taking walks or sitting by the small stove in Wyatt’s room, he soon came to understand that Claudia was much more intelligent than she appeared. She had a definite knack for assessing the world around her and was poignantly aware of the feelings that Isaac and his family shared toward her. As she had put it, they did not want her around, a truth that Wyatt reluctantly affirmed, not seeing the sense in disputing something the girl clearly understood quite well. She also could talk much better than Wyatt expected from a three-year old and could make a decent effort at writing the letters A and B. They were practicing that, sitting on Wyatt’s bed with a battered double-sided writing slate between them, when Isaac stopped outside the room on the night before they were to leave for Boston.
“Be ready at ten.”
“Yes, I know. We’ve already packed.”
“More teaching of nonsense to that girl I see. She’s too young to understand letters.”
“She does well enough,” Wyatt replied, lifting the slate up to show Claudia’s erratically drawn letters.
“Unrecognizable. I know your answer but I must ask you again. Have you considered my request that we drop her off at the Orphan’s Home tomorrow instead of dragging her across the ocean with us?”
A cold look from Wyatt was the only reply.
Taking out his watch and then snapping it forcefully closed, Isaac turned with a curt “Very well then,” and walked toward the kitchen, where his wife stood by the table with glowering eyes. She started to speak to him as he approached; however, Isaac held up his hand and motioned her to silence. Grabbing her arm, they both walked off toward their bedroom.
The next morning was warm for the season, and with winter having set in earlier than usual, the change was a welcome way to begin their journey. Two hansoms and a larger cart for luggage had been arranged and there was much activity as drivers assisted with loading while sloshing through the melting snow with their stovepipe boots on.
Wyatt had arranged for his place to be sold once he was gone and the man who would be handling that for him was also there, with some last minute papers needing a signature. Lydia had a firm hold of Ambrose, refusing to allow him out into the muddy roadway, where Claudia was walking around stomping into mud puddles and smiling to herself. Her unusual activity and cheerful manner were odd enough to cause both Wyatt and Isaac to pause and watch, Isaac in consternation and Wyatt with a large grin on his face. Turning to sign the papers, he muttered, “good to see that girl smiling,” just as Isaac announced they better all get aboard the hansoms or they were going to miss the train. Wyatt lifted Claudia up, ignoring the mud-spattered dress and wet shoes she wore, and then climbed up beside her, patting her knee and chuckling.
“We’re going to be okay girl,” he stated as they pulled away.
… to be continued