Porcelain (Part 33)

Harriet had waited after that final breath, just looking at her daughter’s face.  She held Claudia’s torn dress in one hand and her fingers played with the ripped cloth as her heart, which had been hammering away for the past several minutes, slowed back down to its normal rhythm.  Finally she stepped away into the hallway, stopping in her own room to place the dress upon her bed before walking over to the doctor’s house.  She may have told him to stay away when he departed earlier that day; however, there now was nothing more to argue about in regard to Olivia’s care.  She also knew that in modern times such as the ones she now lived in, a doctor’s confirmation of a person’s death, at least in a town setting such as Hiawatha, was almost a requirement.  That, and she was going to need assistance again, as much as she was reluctant to admit it.  Closing her eyes briefly before doing so, she knocked on the doctor’s door.  As persons in that profession seem able to, he had sensed the situation without asking as soon as he opened the door, grabbing his medical bag and then Harriet’s arm as they walked back toward her house.  After confirming the death, he turned toward Harriet.

“Not exactly unexpected but rather abrupt.”  His eyes asked an unspoken question.

“Yes, well, I think we all know that she was in rapid decline.  It surely did not seem abrupt to me.  I feel as though she has been sick for ages.”

The doctor did not reply, continuing to look down at Olivia’s body on the bed.  Slowly his eyes wandered toward the nightstand, where the tea cup sat slightly off the edge, awkwardly balanced and threatening to fall.  Several seconds later Harriet stepped over and picked it up.

“I’ll just clean up in here then before I take care of her body.  Can you arrange a carriage for me doctor?  And ask Hank to send a casket over with them?”

“I don’t suppose you will let me send the undertaker then?  They can embalm,”

Harriet held up her hand.  “Let’s not talk of that foolishness.  I will wash her and dress her, just as my family always has, and then I will walk with her body down to the cemetery.  Now, can you arrange the other?”

“Very well.  I have to go out and see John Davis today, his wife is ill.  I’m sure he will spare the time to drive a carriage over.  I’ll have him stop at the general store for the casket.  What time?”

Harriet shook her head.  “Not today.  It’s late and anyway that wouldn’t matter.  I have to sit with her tonight of course.  Tomorrow morning at ten a.m. will be fine.”

Doctor Warren paused before leaving, looking down once again at Olivia’s body.  “Very abrupt,” he commented slowly, before turning and walking out.

It took the rest of the day for Harriet to clean and prepare her daughter for the grave.  As she had seen her own mother do, and had  done herself more times than she wished, she began by undressing Olivia and washing her body thoroughly with a sponge and warm water.  Standing up to go prepare a light oil infusion with juniper, she also took the clothing Olivia had been wearing out of the room with her.  Returning after giving the body time to dry, she rubbed the oil lightly over it and then carefully dressed her daughter in a dark blue, high-collared dress with long sleeves and lace cuffs.  Crossing the arms over the stomach, she slipped sprigs of rosemary into the sleeves before tucking Claudia’s picture behind the left arm.  With that work done, Harriet set the tea kettle on the stove and made a light lunch for herself before returning to sit with Olivia’s body.  She stayed that way, through the evening and night, falling asleep in the chair sometime after one a.m. and being awoken by the light of the morning.  With a slight flutter of her heart she looked over at the bed, seeing that all remained as it had been the night before.  Her daughter truly was dead.

Preparing herself for the walk to the cemetery, Harriet put on her mourning dress and veil, along with a pair of boots suitable for the walk and the weather.  Although little snow had fallen and the streets remained clear, the air was cold and regular shoes were not going to provide enough protection.  Donning a coat, and grabbing a cup of tea, she went to sit on the porch to await the carriage, which pulled up a few minutes before ten o’clock.


county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

John Davis had driven a simple affair for the mission today, a county-style wagon with a covered driver’s seat and plenty of room for the pine casket that sat in the back.  He had another man with him, one that Harriet did not know, but the extra muscle would be useful today.

“Good morning ma’am.  Are you set then?  And don’t you have someone to go with you?  A relative or friend?”

Harriet rose and straightened out her dress and coat.  “No, no I do not.  I shall be walking by myself, but thank you.”

John glanced back at his carriage and gestured toward it with his thumb.  “You’re welcome to sit up on top with me.  Jimmy can sit in the back.”

“I will walk, as my family has always done on days like this.”

Shrugging, John looked up at the sky.  “Cold enough, but at least it’s sunny out.  I stopped by and spoke to Henry McClinton.  He says the ground was fairly easy to dig, so he’s ready for us anytime.  Is she, well, I mean, may we go in then?”

“Yes, yes you may.”

Harriet remained standing while John and Jimmy hauled down the casket and then went in to bring the body out, affirming with a slight nod their adherence to her other requests that the body leave feet first and out the back door.  As they passed by her she motioned them to stop, rearranging the dress on Olivia’s body and then securing the picture behind her folded hands.  After they had affixed the lid and placed the casket back in the carriage, Harriet walked down and stood behind it, head bowed and hands clasped over her heart.  As she nodded up at John she overhead, but ignored Jimmy’s mumbled comment.

“It’s gonna be one damn long ride over to that cemetery.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 32)

liverpool dock courtesy cumberlandscarrow.com

liverpool dock courtesy cumberlandscarrow.com


He and the young girl passed the remainder of the voyage on the deck and were among the first passengers to disembark in Liverpool.  The day was overcast and gray, smoke and other debris filtering down through the air as they stepped out onto the dock row.  The long storage buildings dominated their line of sight, with a tall smokestack looming up in the distance.  Wyatt mentioned to Claudia that he thought the air smelled like rotten cabbage, but the young girl just shook her head and replied, “Dirt.”

They waited together, pushed up against the side of a building by the rush of passengers and dockers.  About forty-five minutes later Isaac and his family finally made their way down the gangplank, Lydia once again dressed in the blue hobble-skirt.  Wyatt waited for them to make their way through the thickest part of the crowd before approaching with Claudia in tow.

“We will need to find some accommodations for the night, for all of us.  Then we can finalize a plan to get to London,” Isaac announced without preamble, and much more graciously than Wyatt expected.  Suppressing his own desire to be in charge he nodded and replied.

“I will get us a cab then and hold it out by the street.  You follow along as you wish.”   He and Claudia stepped off briskly, reaching the edge of the row in five minutes and securing their ride in much less time than had been needed in their past experiences together.  By the time that Isaac and his family emerged twenty minutes later, the impatient driver had already needed to be bribed twice by Wyatt to wait.  Several stops and starts later, they had found a hotel that met Isaac’s frugal requirements, and they all quickly turned in without supper,  too exhausted to argue about anything.

grand hotel london courtesy fineartamerica.com

grand hotel london courtesy fineartamerica.com


The next day plans were made for train transport to London, and by  their third evening abroad they were ensconced at the Grand Hotel in London, occupying a family suite on an upper floor.  This was a luxury which Wyatt insisted on paying for, unable to face another night in a place selected by his son, and not wanting to start any kind of an argument.  His son had accepted with a muttered comment about wasting money, but at least they would be safe and comfortable until they left to cross into Germany.  During the days that they waited to arrange passage, Isaac spent most of his time at the telegraph office, attempting to arrange the final purchase of the land he had come over to Europe to establish his family upon.   Although he initially had his mind set on owning a piece of the island at Malchow, Isaac had later turned his attention to the small town of Lippelsdorf.  He had heard that a small estate was available there, right on the edge of the Thuringian Forest.  It came with both a main house and a smaller cabin that he planned to use to house his father and the girl.  All of the long distance planning had gone well, at least as far as he could tell, but he still worried that things would go awry before he arrived to secure his property and future.  He had sent money ahead, a down payment, on land he had never seen and was anxious to know that his investment was secure.  The replies that he was getting at the telegraph office were vague and noncommittal, a fact that drove him into a frenzy of worry and fear, and he stormed back into the hotel room on their third evening at the Grand.

“Have you secured the boat then?  When do we leave?”

Peering up from the newspaper he was reading, Wyatt replied, “What has you so agitated?”

“I asked about the arrangements!  When do we leave?”

“I haven’t quite finished looking into it yet, and I don’t see the need to hurry.  Or at least you shouldn’t see any need for it, as none of this is costing you a penny.”

“You are one to talk about money, but you should be saving it, not throwing it away on this place.  How much can you have left?  Not much I suspect, and there won’t be a penny to raise that girl up with. Now, when do we leave?”

Claudia had emerged from the bedroom and stood leaning up against the side of the doorway, taking in the argument.

“As I said, I have not yet finished looking into it.  You told me quite plainly to find the cheapest passage and I’ve been going to every place I can find to try to meet your wishes.  It takes some time.”

“Well we haven’t any more time left.  Take the money I gave you and go purchase the cheapest tickets you have found.  We leave tomorrow.”

Wrinkling his nose up slightly, Wyatt pulled his paper back up.  “Yes, well, I’ll go in the morning.  They’re closed after all, its evening.”

He made good on his promise, getting up early and heading out by himself as Claudia had not yet awoken.  He returned forty-five minutes later, opening the door quietly in case all were still asleep in the room, as they had been when he left.  As it opened,  he caught a flicker of movement in the dim light coming through the sheer curtains, a shadowy figure that seemed to disappear as he stepped into the room.  Putting the tickets he had purchased down on the table, Wyatt slowly took off his black overcoat and hat. He then quietly stepped toward his bedroom, as that was where the apparition had seemed to be headed.  As he entered he saw two things; Claudia still asleep and curled up on the small extra bed, and Ambrose, cowering against the near wall with the stick, from his hoop-and-stick game, tightly clenched in a small hand.

hoop and stick

hoop and stick


…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 31)

“Come on Claudia, let’s take a walk.”  As he spoke, he shook her gently from her sleep.  “It’s about time we checked this place out.”

As they stepped out of the cabin, she looked up at him and spoke.

“Go to see Isaac?”

“No dear, we are just going to take a walk.  I will go see him myself later.”  He dreaded the thought of that meeting, as he had realized during the course of the previous three days that he had been most completely in the wrong and was going to need to apologize to his son.  Not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because he knew that he needed Isaac’s cooperation to care for Claudia.  He may be able to get them their own compartment on a ship, or take care of a few small necessities for the girl, but securing a place to stay, and maintaining it, was likely going to be out of reach financially for him in Europe.  Making the peace with his son was the only real option he had.

They walked for over an hour before heading to the dining area for breakfast.  There were a few passengers who seemed to recognize Wyatt from the boarding incident, small banter and pointing fingers following them as they made their way to sit down at a table.  Glancing backward, he offered a small salute to those people, an action which promptly made them return their attention to their plates.  Afterward, they headed back onto the deck and spent the next few hours leaning on the rail, Claudia staring at the ocean as Wyatt told her more gold-mining tales.

That day and the next passed in similar fashion, with the two of them spending most of their time out of the cabin, exploring the ship or watching the water.  Wyatt even managed to get Claudia to take part in some of the games arranged by the crew for the children onboard and she seemed to enjoy both the playing and the interactions.  The other youngsters seemed to take her missing arm as a matter of little concern, adapting themselves to whatever she was able to do rather than making her feel out of place.  They did not see Isaac or any member of his family, even at meals when most of the second-class passengers were in the dining area.  That suited Wyatt, although he knew that eventually he was going to have to brace himself and go talk to his son.  He procrastinated as long as possible, but in the mid-morning of the sixth day at sea, with their docking in Liverpool just five hours away, he asked a steward for his son’s cabin number.  After a short walk over, he took a deep breath and  knocked.  When Isaac answered the door, he stood there with his hand still on the knob, barring entry and looking coldly at his father.  Wyatt returned the look, trying to soften the anger that was boiling up inside as he was kept waiting.  Finally, Lydia, out of sight behind the door, spoke.

“Let him in Isaac.  It’s your father, I presume.”

With a final cold look the arm dropped, allowing Wyatt to step into the room.

“Right on time then, father.”

“Hmmm, what’s that?”

“Right on time, I said.  I figured that your stubborn pride was going to keep you away until you absolutely had to come over here and beg for my forgiveness.  And here we are, about to dock and have you and that wretched girl spilled out into Liverpool.  I’m sure you’ve realized that you have little choice but to get back into my good graces.”

Sitting in a chair, knitting by the light of a small lamp, Lydia smirked slightly before turning her head away from Wyatt’s view.  Taking a breath, deeper than the one he had braced himself with before knocking, Wyatt replied.

“Yes, well, here I am indeed.  I hope that you understand that my actions the other day, my words toward your wife and you, were delivered out of frustration, and not intended to insult either of you.  I hope that you will accept this as my apology to you both.”

Silence between them followed, the gentle clicking of Lydia’s knitting needles sounding out of time with the ticking of the wall clock.  She continued to look at the floor, a small, sarcastic smile on her face, while Isaac slowly sat down on a stool.  Keeping his back straight and head turned up slightly, pompous and resentful, he seemed content to let the uncomfortable tension linger in the air.  Wyatt realized that this was just as difficult as he had expected it to be.  Finally, with a sarcastic smile of his own, Isaac spoke.

“And the boy?”

“Ambrose?  What of him?”

“His apology.  You must apologize to him also, he was there when you degraded our family so hatefully.  You surely owe him also.”

Now Lydia could hardly contain herself, a triumphant grin on her face, although she did mange to avoid making eye contact with Wyatt, who looked at her with a certainty that this last stipulation was her idea.  Turning his head toward the bed, he saw the pale-skinned boy sitting in the corner, wrapped up in a blanket, beady eyes peering over the top.

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am father.  You owe us all an apology and so far you have only offered it to me and my wife.  Do you not think that my son was just as humiliated as we were?”

“I hardly,” but Wyatt caught himself before finishing with his own assessment of the boy’s ability to comprehend much of anything.  Turning his bottom lip inward, he bit down hard, a small amount of blood trickling into his mouth.  He had, however, managed to suppress his anger.  After several more moments of composing himself he turned toward Ambrose.

“I do apologize to you also boy, and hope you will accept it.”

With that, he turned and left the room, slamming his hand into a bulkhead several steps after exiting the cabin.  He had done it for Claudia, and that was enough to satisfy him.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 30)

The next morning, a sunny November the thirteenth, Wyatt and Claudia got up early and were at the dock well before Isaac and his family showed up.  As they approached the wharf where their ship, Marathon, was docked, they walked hand-in-hand with Claudia pointing at each new curiosity they passed.  Wyatt had started to explain to her exactly what she was seeing but soon realized that the young girl was far too distracted to listen.  When they finally saw Marathon, they both stopped to admire the ship as it received the hurried rush of departure day loading and final touches.

cunard ship marthon in east boston harbor

cunard ship marthon in east boston harbor


Wyatt had looked up some information on the vessel prior to leaving Denver; however, those facts proved to be no match for the experience of actually seeing her in the water.  First launched in 1860, the Marathon was over two thousand four hundred gross tons and three hundred and thirty-six feet in length, with an iron hull and room for nine hundred and twenty passengers, most of them in third-class berths. Painted mostly a dark red, the brilliant white deck rails and superstructure stood out starkly as the sun struck them from the east.  It was a fine looking ship.

Sitting down on a bench near the entry to the wharf, Wyatt and Claudia watched the traffic, both people and boats, until Isaac and his family alighted from a hansom cab twenty minutes later.

Lydia was dressed in her very best, a blue velvet hobble-skirt clinging to her body and her face shielded from the sun by a  straw hat tied under her chin with a white ribbon.  Wyatt shared a private joke with himself as he envisioned his son trying to strap his wife into a corset  tightly enough to get her into the dress, some version of Isaac’s foot planted in her back continuing to dance around in his head.

“Is something funny father?” Isaac asked this as he stepped out into the street to pick up his son’s jacket, which had fallen from the boy’s grasp as he exited the cab.  He and Ambrose were dressed much more modestly than his wife.

Realizing that his own wry amusement was showing through, Wyatt removed his smile and replied, “No, nothing at all, just happy to be starting our trip.”

As they made their way toward the line to board for the second-class section of the ship, Claudia stayed firmly by Wyatt’s side, ensuring that her great-uncle was always between her and Ambrose.  The boy occasionally would poke his head around, trying to get into her line of sight; however, for once Isaac seemed determined to keep the boy at bay and retained a tight grip on his collar.  The jostling and maneuvering of the other passengers in the line kept them all in continual motion and Wyatt was fairly tired and irritated by the time they arrived at the front.  Turning over his tickets to the porter, he heard a woman several places behind them mention that perhaps the “woman up there in the blue hobble” was in the wrong line.  Turning back toward the voice with a sneer, he shouted, “No, she’s in the correct damn line, just over-dressed, that’s all!”

As he turned back, he realized that his outburst had made a profound impact on his son and daughter-in-law, one red-faced in embarrassment and the other seething in anger.  With a shrug, he grabbed Claudia’s hand and pulled her forward, past the porter and onto the gangplank to board the ship.  They had taken only five steps when Wyatt felt a tug at his sleeve and turned, expecting to face bluster and indignation from Isaac.  Instead, his son threw a punch that cracked across Wyatt’s jaw and sprawled the older man over the edge of the raised gangplank rail.  Claudia let out a shriek as Isaac followed up with two more punches to his father’s stomach before a tall man, who was boarding after Lydia, push forward and pulled him off.   Leaning on the plank rail for support, Wyatt straightened himself up as the line to board started to back up behind them.

“You’ve done it father, your last and worst, you’ve finally done it!  I won’t have you insulting my wife like she is some common street woman!”  As he spoke, Isaac continued to struggle to escape the hold of the tall man.  Wyatt took one step forward but then stopped and replied while holding his hand against his rapidly swelling jaw.

“Not me.  It’s you that have finally done it, boy.  Your wife is common, just as common as they come, that’s plain enough to see!”  His entire body was shaking in anger and he fought to control it.  “I’m done with you all!”

Isaac, equally shaky and furious, spat in his father’s direction as the older man turned and walked into the ship with Claudia running to catch up.  When the tall man finally released him, Lydia came forward and took her husband’s arm, guiding him into the ship with her head held high.

Despite Wyatt’s previous determination to ensure that Claudia had some fun on the voyage, they did end up spending the first three days in their small cabin, with the ship’s medical staff checking in on Wyatt twice daily and bringing meals for them both.  Although his bruised jaw was healing well, his humor was not, and all of Claudia’s attempts to cheer him up were unsuccessful.  He spent most of his time sitting in the one chair in the room, a straight-backed and uncomfortable affair, staring at the wall and smoking his pipe. Claudia amused herself as best as she could, drawing on the slate they had brought along and singing songs to her dolls.  When he awoke on November sixteenth, Wyatt realized that his mood had finally improved.

…to be continued