Porcelain (Part 40)

That confrontation set in place a new paradigm, one in which Wyatt and Claudia stayed out of the main house almost entirely, Wyatt going to collect their afternoon and evening meals from Lydia at the side door.  At first he had refused to return to the shared table out of anger for Claudia’s treatment, but then it had simply turned into a matter of mutual agreement and convenience.  Everyone was just happier with as little interaction between the two family groups as possible, and Lydia seemed to delight in presenting the meal plates to Wyatt like he was some kind of wayward beggar.  Isaac did still keep contact with his father, sitting with him occasionally to smoke a pipe, or asking him for assistance on work around the property.   There was underlying tension though, as Isaac tried to assert his authority as master of the estate without directly invoking it again as he had tried at the dinner table.  Wyatt figured that he did not want to risk another opportunity for his father to make any more noise about who may have a vested interest in the estate, and that suited him just fine.  Wyatt even continued to contribute small amounts of money to specific needs around the property, as he had promised to do originally.  The rest of the month of December thus passed in relative calm, with both sides of the family staying largely apart.   It was just a few days before Christmas when Isaac returned from work with a letter for his father.

“I stopped by the post station today during our mid-day break, just to get some information, and they told me this letter was being held there.  They apparently did not have any information on where my estate was, although how that could be possible I do not know.  Incompetence I suppose.  The man there seemed to be a dullard.  Anyway, here it is.  From your sister it appears.”

After reading it, Wyatt composed a reply, handing it to Isaac that night as they smoked outside the cabin.  After saying good night, Isaac returned to the house, where Lydia sat quietly in front of the fireplace.  She turned as he entered.

“What is that you have in your hand?”

“A letter, that is all dear.  My father has written back to his sister.  Would you like some more tea?”

“Have you read it?”


“The letter.  Did you read it?”

“Why would I do that Lydia?  It’s to his sister, and little of my concern.  Probably all about that damn girl anyway.”

“Hmmm, yes.  Still, give it here.  If you won’t read it, I will.”

“Drop this nonsense.  He’s already sealed it anyway.  Do you want the tea?”

“You are dense as always husband.”  Lydia stood up and walked over to Isaac, a demanding look in her eye.  “Now, give it to me.”

With a shrug he complied, going to sit down in the chair she had just vacated.  After steaming open the letter, Lydia returned, standing over him.

“Now I will read this to you and you will see why I was so insistent.”

Isaac sighed and closed his eyes.

Lydia cleared her throat and began.

December 22, 1883

Dear Sister, 

We have arrived, and as I told you in my telegram, are residing here in Lippelsdorf.  You should be able to post letters to me here, and I will have to assume they shall arrive, although the time it takes for such mail to travel to me, or from me to you, could well be great indeed.  My deep sympathy for the passing of Olivia.  It must be a great sadness for you, and I am certain you will be in mourning for quite some time.  I know that you must  recall the lengthy mourning period mother served when Hannah passed away when we were young.  I do hope that your daughter suffered little toward the end.

As for Claudia and I, well it has been a mixed experience.  I will write you later with the details of our travels; however, tonight I shall only tell you a few things.  First of all, know that Claudia is well and under my close care.  Her and I get along well and I have gained a great affection for her.  She has learned several letters and talks rather well for a girl her age, at least in my estimation.  And she loves horses.  She has indeed grown and some of the clothes you sent with her may not fit her for much longer.  I suppose I shall have to figure out just how to have others made for her around here.  My son’s wife will surely be no help in that, as she is as surly and ill-tempered as ever, and has quite a distaste for Claudia.  Quite frankly, our young girl has been poorly treated by Isaac and his family, a fact I concealed from you in my last letter to spare you any worry.  Now though, I have reconsidered that position, and believe it best if you do know the true situation.  I also have some worry over their boy Ambrose, who appears to have a malevolent streak in him, one which someday could put Claudia in danger.  

All of this will, I know, cause you concern, but know that I am here, healthy and doing well, and shall protect her as I said I would.  I will send more later, and hope all is well with you.

Your Brother, 


Lydia lowered her arms after finishing.  “We certainly cannot send this letter to her.”

“No, no we cannot,”  Isaac replied, a dark look on his face.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 39)

For a moment he paused, wondering if he should go back inside and ask Lydia if she knew the whereabouts of the boy.  That, however, seemed unlikely to elicit anything more than a furious reaction as to why he though he could inquire about the location of her son.  Instead, Wyatt started to wander down the path that had been partially beaten-down into the bramble and wildflowers behind the main house.  It meandered a bit, around a copse of young elm trees, skirting the edge of a shallow gully and splitting in two around a large rock that poked out of the ground near a thicket of blackberry bushes.  Just as he stepped around the north side of that rock, Wyatt spotted Claudia and Ambrose, both of them kneeling down next to what looked like a grave marker.  There did not seem to be any immediate danger to the girl, so Wyatt paused, slowly sinking down so that the wildflowers screened him from their view, curious as to just what they might be doing.  After the confrontation in the hotel room with the young boy and the stick, Wyatt had carried an uneasiness with him about any unsupervised time that Ambrose and Claudia might spend together.  The boy’s previous tormenting of the girl had been cruel, but not something which caused Wyatt to have concern for her safety.  The hotel incident had been different, seeming to carry with it a hint of real danger and evil intent.  Claudia had not been effected by that incident at all of course, and although she remained wary of Ambrose from their prior interactions, had tried to engage him in play activities a few times since they arrived at the estate.  Today the scene appeared to be innocent enough, Claudia playing with something Wyatt could not see on the ground while Ambrose looked on.  Claudia laughed a few times as he watched, and when he rose up to walk over and talk to them, Wyatt did so with a feeling of relative ease about the situation.

That changed abruptly as he got close enough to see the ground around the two children.  Ambrose was simply kneeling there, clean and with an amused look on his face, at least up until the moment he turned and saw Wyatt walking toward them.  At that point his face had blanched for just a second, to be replaced quickly by a smirking grin.  Claudia, however, was very dirty, her dress spotted by dirt, mud and grime covering her arm up past her elbow.  Strewn around among the two children were the various bones of what appeared to be a dog.  After a sharp command to stop what they were doing, Wyatt quickly looked around the area where the children were sitting.  It was clearly some kind of a graveyard, likely one that had been used by the families occupying the estate in the past.  The graves were haphazardly arranged around a slightly depressed area of the land that was dominated by two large trees, an oak and an elm.  At first glance Wyatt counted fifteen mounds, a few of them marked with makeshift crosses and one with a small, etched stone marker.  Three of the graves appeared very small, either children or pets, and he briefly offered up thanks that it was the latter of these which Claudia had dug up.  The girl, who had been oblivious to his approach until his command to stop, now stared at him with the wounded look of a child interrupted at play.

“Get over her Claudia, now,” Wyatt commanded while reaching his hand out for her.  She remained kneeling though, reaching back down toward another bone that was sticking out of the earth.  This animal had not been buried very deeply, and Wyatt figured that one of it’s bones may well have been sticking out of the earth when the children arrived.  Perhaps that had been what prompted her to start digging.  That, or the influence of Ambrose, who still had the smirk on his face.  He returned his attention to Claudia, grabbing her arm and hauling her up.

“I said to stop it girl.  Now, get over there by that tree.”  He pointed and she went, starting to cry now as she realized she had angered him.  After Claudia had taken several steps, Wyatt turned and looked at Ambrose.

“You get back to the house boy.  Or somewhere else, not here.  You shouldn’t be this far away from your mother.  And stay away from Claudia from now on.  I mean it.  I’ll be watching, so stay away.”

The boy stood there for a moment, a look of contemplation on his face, and then he took off running back in the direction of the house.

After spending a few minutes trying to talk to Claudia , all of it seemingly useless as she continued to cry over his words, he took her hand and they walked back to the cabin together.

That night, Lydia started right in as they began to eat.

“Isaac, you may want to know that your father’s young charge is apparently a grave robber.”

Isaac stopped with his food halfway to his mouth, a dubious look on his face.  “What makes you say that?”

“Well, she spent the day digging up bodies in some old cemetery on  this property.  Playing with the bones and everything.”

“You cannot be serious.  Father?”

Wyatt had remained silent as she spoke, wondering just how outlandish the tale was going to get.  Claudia had stopped eating, realizing that she was being talked about.  He patted her hand and encouraged her to go back to her meal before he responded.

“Hardly the truth.  Perhaps madam,  you should ask an adult who was actually there instead of listening to the garbled tales of a three year old boy.”

“He knows what he saw.”

“He certainly does, and I wouldn’t put him as the angel in this story.  He’s the one who wanted the grave dug up.  Just because he managed to get Claudia to do the digging doesn’t mean he is free from blame.”

“He did no such thing.  He never should have been running around with that vile little girl!”

Claudia had stopped eating again and Wyatt had heard enough.

“We will be taking our meal with us tonight.  As for the truth Isaac, just so you know, there was a grave dug up, just one, and it was a dog.  Both of these children were there, and I am quite certain both were involved.  I will deal with the girl.  You should tend to the issues with your boy.”  With that, Wyatt grabbed his and Claudia’s plates, piling up a few extra rolls on his, and then helping her down from the small chair she sat in.  As he did so Isaac stood up.

“You will not be leaving with our plates father.  Eat here or leave them.”

“I think not son.  We will not sit here while Claudia is attacked like she is invisible, and for something in which your son shares the blame.”

“My house father, my rules.  Stay or leave the food.”

“Not your house, boy.”  Wyatt stopped and looked directly back at Issac.  “And we are leaving,” he finished tersely.

Isaac’s face had turned bright red but he said nothing, and as they left Wyatt heard Lydia scoff.

“Whatever was that old fool talking about?”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 38)

Issac’s cheerful announcement had lightened up the mood during the course of dinner that evening and for the first time in quite awhile Wyatt felt no palpable tension as he ate.  When he awoke the next morning his son was already gone and Wyatt enjoyed his pipe in silence until Claudia peeked her head out the door.  She was silent but he knew that she must be hungry, so he prepared them a small meal and then announced that they were going back into town.

“Horses?” Claudia asked, a small smile on  her face.  She had been quite taken with the ones that had pulled their wagon from Hamburg and her fascination seemed to have survived their departure.

“No, not today.  We are going to have to walk.  It will be a bit of a long journey but I will carry you if you get tired.  It will be a little adventure for us, we can explore the land around here.”

Claudia seemed content with that explanation and they set off thirty minutes later, Wyatt having packed some fruit and a loaf of bread into a bag along with a flask of water.  The walk was indeed long but they found diversions along the way, Claudia chasing after animals such as hares, marmots and even one badger that was inexplicably out wandering the edge of the forest during the daytime.  Wyatt called her back off of that chase, fearful that the animal would decide to stop running and instead attack the small girl.  For his part, Wyatt spent his time trying to identify all of the various trees they walked past and had to admit to himself that there were a good number that he knew nothing about.  The oaks were impressive though, strong and broad, all of them seeing to be extremely old and gnarled, broken limbs strewn about the ground beneath them.  He did have to carry Claudia several times, but she was still small enough that this caused him little inconvenience.  By the time they reached town both of them were hungry again.  After eating their lunch leaning against the fenceposts of a small farm, Wyatt managed to get a message sent back to his sister from the telegraph office.  That conversation had been difficult, mostly pointing and small German words, although the operator did seem to know how to send a telegram in English.  At least Wyatt hoped that was the language it arrived in, as Harriet would likely not be amused by one sent in German.  He did not recall her as having much of a sense of humor.


Wagner & Apel Porzellan as it looks today

Wagner & Apel Porzellan as it looks today – courtesy wikipedia

Exhausted by the time they had returned to the estate, Wyatt listened without comment as Isaac regaled everyone with the details of his day at the porcelain factory.  The company apparently was fairly new, having only begun to produce products in 1877, and had recently taken on a new partner in Mr. Laube.  Isaac was quite taken by Bernhard Wagner, who he described as the genius behind the operation and a tall and imposing gentleman.  Whatever he had done, it was working, as Issac also noted the large number of items being produced and the notoriety the small company had achieved in just its few short years of operation.  The mention of porcelain products managed to get Lydia’s attention, who had been absent-mindedly nodding up to that point.

“Just what do they make Isaac?  Have you seen their porcelain?”

“Of course my dear, of course.  As I said, I was right there as they were arranging them for the kiln.  And what an oven that is! I cannot imagine the temperatures they achieve in that factory, although I am sure I will find out soon.  Their smokestack is tall, very tall, it rises up over the factory itself, you should see it sometime.  Quite impressive.”

“But the products husband, what do they make?”

“Oh yes, well I saw many mugs, several different kinds, and pipe bowls, egg cups, a few small figurines, of children I think.”

“Well, I shall be expecting a new set of mugs then, we can certainly use them around here, especially as some of our crockery was broken.”

“Yes, I know, you already told me what you found in those chests.”

“Just get it replaced for me Isaac.  I am sure that your new employer can accommodate some small items for their employees.”

“I will see what I can do.”

That had ended the meal, and although there was tension again, it had not been directed at Wyatt or Claudia, and they got up and left quietly for their cabin.  After singing her to sleep, Wyatt climbed into his own bed, admitting as he did so that every muscle in his body was quite sore.  The next morning he felt no better and Claudia was gone.

It had not been apparent at first, as the usual routine, established in just a few short days, was for Wyatt to smoke his pipe and await Claudia’s head peeking out the door.  The morning had worn on though, the tree-filtered sun just starting to crest over the pine tops when Wyatt put his pipe down and walked back into the cabin.  Not finding her in bed had given him a small surprise, and he quickly determined she was not tucked away into any of the few corners and crannies in the cabin.  At that point he had assumed she was at the main house, although for what reason, or on what strange initiative, he could not begin to guess.  Walking in to find Lydia unpacking another large chest, he tried to be as pleasant as possible.

“Good morning.  Where is Claudia?”

Lydia took her time, pulling out some of Ambrose’s clothes and setting them on the table, picking up her tea to sip at it before answering.

“Why would I know such a thing?  That girl is your responsibility.”

“Yes.  Well, I haven’t seen her this morning and she is not in our house.  So I though she might be over here.”

“For what possible purpose?”

“Well, I wondered the same myself, but still this is the only other place she could be.  So you haven’t seen her?”

“I most certainly have not.  If I had, I would have sent her away back to you, you can be certain of that.”  Lydia placed her teacup back down and turned her back on Wyatt, who walked out the door and surveyed the land around the house.  He found it inconceivable that Claudia would have taken off by herself.  The girl had achieved a small amount of independence, and had shed some of her societal reservation, on the trip, but taking off into the woods or elsewhere seemed a large step up from that.  A strange and foreboding thought glimmered in his mind for a second, something he could not quite chase down.  His next thought was to ask himself if Isaac had taken her somewhere.  But why would he do that, especially given his own disliking of the girl?  And where would be take her?  Then Ambrose flashed through Wyatt’s mind and he thought he might be on to something.


…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 37)

Back in Hiawatha, it had in fact been a rather long journey over to the graveyard from Harriet’s house on Shawnee.  By the time they arrived, John Davis’ nose was bright red from the cold, Jimmy had pulled a blanket over his head, under which he was silently sipping whiskey, and Harriet had lost most of the feeling in her fingers.  The ceremony itself was brief and respectful, the usual words being said, and then Henry McClinton had walked over to assist in lowering the casket into the hole.  As they began, Harriet stopped them, kneeling down and placing her right hand on the top, soft words of farewell being said as mist rose from the warm earth of the grave.  Once that was done, she stood up and began the walk back, the hard set of her face deterring any offers of a ride from John.

Once home, it was a simple process.  Harriet selected a plain grey dress and a more formal cream colored one, packing them away for the time, if it ever came, when she chose to emerge from mourning for her daughter.  These days the proper social etiquette as it applied to children seemed to have been left up to the individual parents, but Harriet was unsure if she would ever again feel it proper to dress in anything but black.  The remainder of her clothing was placed into a large pile on the kitchen floor and she began the process of dyeing all of it as deep and dark of a black as she could achieve.  After setting up her wash basin and placing the clothing in it to soak, she packed all of Olivia’s belongings into a large trunk and then hung a black veil over the one image she had of her daughter.  It was a simple drawing, done years ago by an artistic man who had briefly lived in Hiawatha, setting up a small shop a few doors down from Leaders.  It was a flattering sketch, one that seemed to capture energy that had faded from Olivia even back then.  Knowing that the doctor would stop by later, driven by social custom and perhaps friendship, she wrote out a list of the things she would need weekly from the store in town, as she was certainly not going to be ready for any regular community interaction for some time to come.  Tucking a small amount of money into an envelope, along with the list, she placed them both on the small table by the door.

Harriet passed the remainder of the day with her dyeing process, her hands and forearms becoming a dull grey from the laborious process of moving and stirring the garments.  As she sat down to eat that evening, Harriet was struck by how white her fingernails had remained, standing out starkly against her oddly colored fingers.

They continued to distract her the next morning, both as she sat on the porch, repairing Claudia’s torn dress, and later while composing a letter to her brother.

November 15, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

So it has come to pass – Olivia died on the twelfth of this month, just a few days ago and I buried her on the fourteenth.  I see no reason to pass this sad news onto Claudia, who hopefully can keep some faint memory of her mother in a happy way.  Perhaps one day she will ask and I shall leave it to your judgement on what to tell her at that moment.  It is about Claudia that I write to you.

I know you have likely traveled already and perhaps are already overseas; I have only your one reference to Germany as a guide to where you may be going and I hope that your travels, if you have already begun them, go well.   How is my granddaughter taking to her new home?  Has she had any difficulty adapting to life in a different county?  What has she learned about?  Has she grown?  

I realize that our distance apart is great and that news travels slowly.  I would, however, greatly like to hear about Claudia when you have time to write me back.  I will hold this letter until you send word of where I may post it to, as you had stated you would in your last telegram to me.  Please write back soon, 

With Warm Regards From Your Sister,


She placed that letter in the drawer of her nightstand, hopeful that Wyatt would be good on his word to forward his address information, and then retuned to the process of dyeing her clothes.  The doctor, who had shown up dutifully the day before and taken the envelope without a word, retuned to the house in the afternoon with the supplies he had purchased.  Offering her the envelope back, Harriet responded with an upraised hand and a soft, “for next time,” before dismissing him with a nod of her head.  He left, an offended look on his face, and Harriet leaned back in her chair.  Mindful of the traditions she had been raised with, she was determined to remain as apart and distanced for society and societal interactions as it was possible to do.  The doctor, and anyone else, would just have to understand that.

It was much later, December tenth, when a messenger finally appeared at her door with a telegram from her brother.  Reading the message quickly, Harriet asked the man to wait while she retrieved the letter, addressing it before handing it to him with a request that it be forwarded overseas.  After glancing at what was written on the envelope, the messenger had delivered a short lecture to Harriet on the many complications inherent in getting a piece of mail delivered to such a faraway location.  He summed it up briefly as, “I doubt this will ever arrive ma’am.”  Harriet, unwilling to engage in any kind of longer discussion with the man, had simply handed him five dollars and stated, “just see that it is done.”