Porcelain (Part 47)

Claudia shook her head.

“I mean it.  You and I need to go.  We need to get the doctor.”

Claudia shook her head again.  “Too long.  I go with Unc before.  Long walk.”

“I know how far it is.  I walk it everyday and we will be fine.  I will carry you if I must but we need to go now.”

She shook her head again.  “I stay.  She’s sick.” She pointed toward the bedroom.

“That’s why we need the doctor.  And you can’t take care of her anyway.  You are too little.  Now let’s go.”  As he spoke Isaac put on a light coat and grabbed the key for entrance to the factory.  “Come along.”

It took a little bit more convincing but eventually Claudia came willingly and seemed to have largely forgotten her worries as she ran along in front of Isaac.  He carried her twice but only for about twenty minutes total, and he felt more tired than she seemed by the time they arrived near the town.  Taking the side road, away from the house of the town doctor, he led them up to the porcelain factory.

It loomed before them in the deepening twilight, smoke from the ever-burning furnace leaking into the soft blue sky.  The windows were few and they mostly reflected the darkness, waving shadows and occasional flashes of the moon the only interruptions.  Isaac walked toward the entrance but Claudia stopped.

“Doctor’s house?”

“No.  I have to check in at work.  I missed coming today and need to check on some things.  Come along.”

She did, stopping once they were inside to look around at all of the shelves full of various porcelain pieces.  She reached out to take one down but Isaac stopped her, telling her to follow him deeper into the building.  He entered the furnace room, holding the door for her, and then closed it slowly behind them.  It took four minutes to strangle Claudia, her resistance minimized by the fact that he had pushed her to the ground with her one arm pinned underneath her body.  By the time it was done the adrenaline was coursing through his body once again, the elusive rush from early that same morning returning in full force.  After he calmed down enough, it was a simple matter to load her body into the furnace, although the intensity of the heat did leave a slight burn on Isaac’s face.  As he watched from the thick glass window of the furnace door, her clothes flared, her skin lit like candle tallow, flickering and resisting the fiery force, and then it was washed over in a rush of flame.  He stayed there, peering in, until every last trace of her had vanished.

The next morning, almost delirious with exhaustion especially after the long trek back to the property and the lighting on fire of the cabin, Isaac was back in town to fetch the doctor.  Two days after that, Lydia was feeling much better and Isaac had answered all of the relevant questions from an inquisitive but generally non-energetic police force.  They had seemed to believe that the misadventures of foreigners were little of their concern, although they did press Wyatt on how he received the scratches on his face.  He put that off to Lydia’s flailing around as he tried to put the fire out on her dress.  The question Wyatt had expected to be the hardest, in regard to the whereabouts of Claudia and Wyatt whom everyone in town knew lived on the property, had been easily explained.  They had left last week, homesick for the states.  Isaac had not thought it something worth talking about at work or in town, where he was generally thought of as a quiet type anyway.  That seemed to satisfy the authorities and Isaac breathed an internal sign of great relief.  On the sixth day following Claudia’s murder Isaac got up to finally return to work.  They had insisted he take several days off to recover from the ordeal with his wife.  He wrote the letter as he drank some tea.

April 7, 1884

Harriet,

I write with sad tidings from Lippelsdorf.  Wyatt and Claudia perished several days ago in a fire here on the property.  They were asleep when it started, no one seems to be able to say exactly how, and never made it out of their cabin.  None of us here at the other house, which is some distance away, even knew it was on fire until it was much too late.  I gave them both a proper burial here on the property where we have a cemetery in a nice, quiet place.  I am sure that they will rest peacefully.  I am moving on from here with my family, the sorrow being too great for me to remain.  I know this news will be hard for you to bear and you will remain in my thoughts.

With sympathy,

Issac

When Harriet received that letter on May 9th, just six days before her scheduled departure to visit Wyatt and Claudia in Germany, it shook her to the very core.  It took her the remainder of that day to do just two things.  Burn all of her remaining clothing that was not black and to walk into town to purchase two large frames, behind which she mounted one item each.  Olivia and Claudia would be together forever in that frame, their carefully cleaned and ironed infant dresses staring down at Harriet from the place on the wall where she mounted them.  That was all that she really had left.

 

Claudia's dress

Claudia’s dress

 

Olivia's dress

Olivia’s dress

Isaac, returning home from work on that sixth day after Claudia’s murder, presented his wife with a special present, items she had been eager to acquire for quite some time.

Porcelain coffee mugs.

The End

Porcelain (Part 46)

Lydia was in very bad condition.  Once Isaac had managed to get her off the floor, he had carried her carefully to their bed, laying her down with hands still clutching the money.  She seemed determined to keep hold of it but eventually the pain took over and all of her attention was focused on suffering.  Placing the bills into a bucket, Issac had poured water over them before returning to care for his wife.  It took him over three hours to get all of her clothing off, as he was forced to carefully cut around many places where the dress had burned into her skin.  Once this was completed he could see that about twenty percent of her body was covered with significant burns and another twenty percent in smaller, less serious patches of damage.  Lydia was in and out of consciousness during this time, delirious and raving when awake, twitchy and moaning when not.  Isaac understood that he lacked the knowledge to properly care for his wife’s injuries and that she was in serious danger of dying if he did not get her treatment as quickly as possible.  Going for the doctor was of course the obvious thing to do, but then what was that going to bring down upon him?  He knew he was in a dilemma.

The doctor would of course want to know how such serious burns had occurred, and the only obvious thing Issac could think of was that either the house or the cabin needed to be set on fire.  He did not really feel like the house was a good option, especially since that would mean losing all of their possessions.  The cabin was definitely better.  The story could easily be that Lydia had been trapped inside and that he had bravely rescued her.  But there was also now likely to be police involvement and someone, either the doctor or a detective, was going to end up talking to Claudia.  What would the girl say had happened?  Whatever it was, there was little chance that any of it could be made to match up to any story that made sense about his wife’s injuries.  And that of course meant that Claudia simply could not be there.  He considered that carefully for a long time, that one simple and unavoidable idea.  It meant that he needed to act again, and the thought made him scared but also excited.  He was already missing the rush of the moment he had felt when he had killed his father.  It was going to take another murder to clear this mess up.  His actions after that were driven by that simple fact.

Cleaning up the wounds as well as he could, efforts that only seemed to put his wife in more pain, he then left her in the bed and returned to the kitchen area.  He had made no effort to speak to Claudia during the time he had been caring for Lydia, and it now took him several minutes to find her.  She was curled up next to the pantry door, asleep and with a half-eaten piece of bread lying next to her on the floor.  He woke her  with a shake.

“Get up Claudia.  All is better.”  A howl came from the bedroom and he gave the girl a rueful grin.  “Well, maybe not all better, but you and I don’t need to worry about that right now.  Let’s get something to eat.  I can see that you must have been hungry.”

Claudia got up slowly and followed him to the kitchen table.  As she watched he prepared two sandwiches and filled a jug with water.

“Grab a couple of those glasses and follow me.”

They walked outside and across the property, sitting down under an oak tree about one hundred feet from the house.  Claudia was quiet but was constantly looking at Isaac, her eyes full of questions.  He was content to let them stay there, trapped in those youthful eyes, especially since he was not sure he had any answers that were going to make any sense to the girl anyway.  Finally she spoke.

“Unc really gone? Dead?”  Her eyes were teared up but she was holding it together, so he answered her.

“Yes.  He’s dead.  I’m sorry.”

“How?”

“Sometimes people just die.  He was pretty old you know.”

“Why?”

“It’s the same answer as the other Claudia.  He was just old.”

“Why did I leave cabin?”

“We didn’t want you to see his body.”

She stared back at him and then continued eating her sandwich.  The morning was passing quickly, at least for Isaac, and he was surprised to see the sun so high in the sky.  At least that would make the waiting less, which was good because he knew what had to be done and was plenty nervous about it.  The rush was great but thinking about it still made his stomach sour.  He needed to keep himself busy.

“Well, I’m done.  You stay here until you finish that and then you can walk back over to the house.  I’ve got work to do.”

Isaac began splitting wood as soon as he got back to the house, the thunking and banging sounds drowning out his wife’s cries.  He worked at it longer than he ever had before, hours and hours of splitting wood, his muscles aching and sore, his body wet with sweat.   He checked on Lydia whenever his back locked up badly enough that he could not swing the axe, tending to her as well as he could, and then returning as quickly as he could to his labor.  During this time he also finished burning the mattress, cleaning up the area where the fire had been with a rake.  Claudia did walk over when she was done but refused to enter the house, instead choosing to sit by the side door and watch, trancelike, as Isaac swung the axe.  Eventually it was time to eat again and Isaac fed them both at the kitchen table, more sandwiches but this time with some fruit and cheese.  Once that was done, and with another check on Lydia, Isaac spoke to Claudia.

“I hope you are rested girl.  We need to walk into town this evening.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 45)

Cleaning  up took awhile, especially getting the blood off the old floorboards of the cabin where it had started to stain the wood.  She scrubbed long enough to get the color to change to a deep brown, a process that took over an hour, after which Lydia was covered in sweat and laboring for breath.  Standing up to look at her work, which was lit by the warm glow from two lanterns she had placed on the floor, she realized that no amount of work was going to make it any better.  At least the mark was mostly under the bed, and maybe no one would notice if they did come out looking for Wyatt.  Or maybe just a little bit of time would soften the staining enough to make it less noticeable.  The rest of the work had gone easily enough, although burning the mattress proved harder than expected, with the flame constantly sputtering out before it could catch properly.  Lydia finally grabbed some brush that had been collected for kindling, placing it into a large pile and letting it get well lit.  She then slowly pulled the mattress over that fire, raising it above the flames with a few large logs that she rolled underneath.  As it caught and the linen cover of the mattress flamed over, Lydia screamed.  The edges of the bills, which Wyatt had carefully placed within his mattress for safekeeping, were catching fire rapidly.  Isaac emerged quickly from the main house, just in time to see his wife leap onto the top of the burning mattress, wildly jumping around in an effort to put the flames out.

“What are you doing?” he yelled, running toward her as tiny flames started to peek out from the bottom edges of her dress.  “What is this madness?”

“The money, the money, the money!” That was all Lydia would say as she danced around, losing her battle to extinguish the mattress.  By the time that Isaac reached her she had a line of flame running up the back of her dress.  He dove, knocking her off her feet, and they both landed in a pile about three feet away from the fire.  Lydia promptly began to struggle to get up again.

“The money Isaac!  He put it in that damn mattress and it’s burning up.”

Isaac pulled her back, rolling her over and beating out the flames.   The wind had shifted and placed them both directly in the path of the smoke from the smoldering mattress.  Lydia continued to protest; however, most of her words were swallowed by a violent fit of coughing caused by the smoke.  When she recovered she stood up, the edges of what remained of the bottom of her dress sparkling with dying embers.  Isaac could tell that she was contemplating another attempt and he held firmly onto her left arm.

“It’s gone.  We should have thought of that I guess.”  He was blinking hard, trying to clear the soot from her eyes.

Lydia took a deep breath, bent over and then drove her elbow into Isaac’s side, which caused him to lose his grip.  Before he could recover, she was back on top of the mattress, tearing away at what remained of the  cover.  As she uncovered bills that had not yet burned, or which had at least not burned completely, she began stuffing them rapidly down inside of her dress.  Isaac tried several more times to pull her off but she fought back, clawing at his face and kicking at him, blows aimed at sensitive parts of his body.  Her dress caught on fire twice more, but each time she put it out herself before going back to ripping into the mattress.  Finally, exhausted and coughing from the smoke, Isaac gave up, sinking down onto his knees to watch.  As he did so, Claudia emerged from the house, rubbing her nose and crying.  With a final look over at Lydia, Isaac got up and walked over to the girl.

“Come on Claudia.  There is no need for you to be out here.”  He offered out his hand, and when she did not take it he grabbed her’s and started moving toward the house.  The girl was staring wide-eyed at the fire and the shadowy figure atop it.  “Come along now girl.”

They walked into the house together and Isaac guided Claudia to a chair in the kitchen.  Thirsty and with a mouth dried by embers and smoke, he had gulped down two glasses of water before he realized that Claudia remained wide-eyed, her attention now turned instead to him.  Seeing real fear in her eyes, Isaac strode into the bedroom and picked up his wife’s hand mirror off the vanity.  His appearance was indeed shocking.  Eyes ringed by soot, hair a tousled mess and three rather deep gouges under his left eye that ran all the way to his chin.  The blood from those wounds had run over his jawline and down his neck, which was also coated in fine black ash.  No wonder Claudia was frightened by his appearance.  Going to the wash basin, Isaac cleaned himself up for several minutes, a quick check in the mirror on the way out to the kitchen revealing mixed results.  As he stepped through the bedroom doorway and back into the kitchen, Lydia burst through the door.   Her appearance was much worse, frightening even to Isaac, and Claudia bolted out of the chair, running across the room and hiding behind a cabinet in a far corner.

Hair smoking and partially burned off the left side of her head, Lydia was wild-eyed and breathing heavily.  Almost the entire bottom of her dress had burned away, the waist line still smoldering from small embers.  The front of the garment was also partially burned away, although she had both hands clasped to her chest, clutching loose scraps of money, several of which fluttered out onto the floor.  There were significant burns, red and orange patches ringed by edges of rough black skin, damage that she was just beginning to actually feel as she stumbled and fell to the floor.  As she did so the screams began, low at first but then building to wails of agony, her voice scratchy and hoarse.  Not sure exactly what to do, Isaac approached her slowly as she writhed on the floor.

“Please dear, stop moving, stop moving so I can see what you have done.  I can’t, I don’t really know, I mean, I need to look at you for a minute.  Please stop moving.”

The wailing continued and Lydia was crying, beckoning him with her burned arms.  He approached and could hear his name being repeated over and over.  When he leaned in, she said only one thing.

“I couldn’t save it all.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 44)

Lydia was sitting up in bed when he returned, an anxious look on her face.  The only light in the room was a low, sputtering candle which gave an eerie glow to her eyes.  Isaac was calm now but that eeriness gave him a start and he took several deep breaths before speaking.

“My part is done.  Now go and get the girl.”

Lydia got up quickly, already dressed beneath the covers in a grey house dress, and strode quickly across to the cabin.  Isaac heard Claudia let out a short scream as Lydia abruptly woke her up.  In the cabin it was still very dark.

“Get up now, quickly girl.  We need to get  you out of this place.”

Claudia had screamed just the once but was now hyperventilating out of fear.  Lydia was not someone she really trusted or had ever expected to awaken her in the middle of the night.

“I said get up girl.  Stop crying and come with me.”

Claudia continued to sit in her bed, silent tears falling as she fought to regain control of her breathing.  Lydia would not wait any longer, grabbing the young girl’s arm and hauling her out of the bed before throwing a blanket around her shoulders.  With that, and another admonition to stop with the tears, she dragged her toward the cabin door.  Claudia, who did stop crying as she attempted fiercely to resist, pulled backward and grabbed onto the table as they passed it.  She also called out for Wyatt.

“He won’t answer you.  He’s gone.  Gone!”

That set Claudia to crying again and she lost her grip, banging her chin against a chair as Lydia hauled her up and out the door.  By the time they were back in the main house her knees were also dirty and bruised from falling several times as she was dragged along behind the older woman.  Isaac took over once they were in the kitchen.

“Sit down Claudia.  It’s okay, it will be okay.”

Lydia leaned back against the wall, content to let Isaac provide whatever signs of kindness might need to be shown at this moment.

“Here, drink a little of this water, and let me wipe that blood off of your chin.”

Claudia was still sobbing and turned her head away from the offered glass.  Isaac reached up and grabbed her chin, which elicited a yelp, but he maintained a tight grip, forcing her to look at him.

“Drink this water.  It will make you feel better.”

She resisted a little bit but then opened her mouth and Isaac tipped the glass, holding it there until it was empty.   She sputtered on the last of it, spitting a little bit out.

“Yucky.”

“Don’t worry, it will help you feel better.”  Isaac knelt down next to the chair she was sitting in.  He tried once again to wipe the blood off of the girl’s chin but she turned her head away.  He sighed and continued.  “Now listen Claudia.  We had to come and get you because a terrible thing has happened.  I’m sorry but your Uncle Wyatt is not with us anymore.”

Claudia was calmer now.  She blinked and responded.

“Unc not here?”

“Not anymore.  He’s passed on.”

“Where Unc go?  Walk?”

“No, that’s not what I mean.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake Isaac, this girl is too stupid for your silly attempts to soften the news.”  Lydia had come over and looked down harshly at Claudia.  “He’s dead.  Dead and gone forever.”

Claudia howled, a low tone that seemed too deep for her age, then she broke out into hysterical tears and curled up on the floor.  Her sobbing continued on until the effects of the large shot of vodka that Isaac had added to the glass of water took over and she fell asleep. Isaac rose up slowly, a slightly distasteful look on his face.

“You get her into bed.  I will go now and finish up over at the cabin.”

Lydia scoffed.  “She can stay there on the floor.”

He hesitated, just long enough for Lydia to understand that he was contemplating picking Claudia up and putting her somewhere more comfortable.  She gave him a scornful look, followed by a command to get over to the cabin, which he did without another look back.

They had planned this part out in detail and he set straight to work.  Initially Lydia had thought they could just board the cabin up, figuring that would keep Claudia out and that was all that mattered.  Isaac had managed to get her to understand that, although they could easily keep a young girl out this way, you never could tell when an inquisitive police officer might come looking for details on Wyatt.  He did have a sister after all, one whom had been communicating with him.  He won that argument.  They would bury Wyatt, clean up the bloody floor, replace the bed and then Isaac would write to notify Harriet.  By the time that old woman managed to get any kind of an official inquiry lodged it would be too late.  They just had to hope that no one suggested digging up the body, but that seemed like a far-fetched possibility.  Wyatt had been an old man after all, and they had just buried him like it seemed everyone else who ever lived on the property had done.  That is what they planned to say anyway, and if it came up, well, they were not from the area.  How were they supposed to know what the proper procedure was when someone died of natural causes?  In all likelihood it would all be just fine in the end.

It was a long and difficult trip back to the cemetery in the dark, the way lit only by the lantern he carried, and dragging his father’s body behind him in a sack.  The ground also proved harder than expected and Isaac was completely worn out by the time the burial was complete.  He was supposed to do the rest of the clean-up also but he was just too tired.  Besides, he really did not want Lydia get away with not helping in some way with the cover-up.  He returned to the house and dropped heavily into his favorite chair.

“All done then?”  Lydia inquired from the kitchen.

“Does she still sleep?”

“Now yes.  She was up a few times but I told her to go back to sleep.  I asked you though, if you were done?”

“I’m done, you’re not.  You go over and finish.  I am too tired for more of this today.”

Lydia came out of the kitchen, again with a scornful look, but this time it had no effect on Isaac.  Rolling her eyes, and reminding him to keep a close eye on Claudia, she stormed out of the house.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 43)

Once his boots were back on, Isaac walked out the side door, stopping when he reached the wood bin. Then he went back inside, emerging five minutes later in different clothes, shabbier ones, what Lydia called his tramp clothes. He paused again by the wood bin, picking the axe up this time and then walking over to the cabin. Despite the fact that he had realized months ago, on that night when Lydia had steamed open the letter and they had resolved to not send that or any other of his father’s correspondence to Harriet, that this moment would come, it still made him pause. It had been one thing to think about it; How hard would it be? Would he really be able to do it when the moment came? What was the best way? What would happen afterward? Those thoughts had kept him up on a few odd nights and had distracted him several times at work. It had also been an entirely different thing to whisper about it in bed with Lydia, usually after one of their generally unsatisfying sexual encounters. She seemed mostly concerned about where his father kept whatever money he was hiding, bracing up Isaac for the ultimate moment (as she called it, usually with a smirk), and asking what in the damn hell they were going to do with that troublesome little girl afterwards. That question had never really been answered and now, as Isaac stood on the porch step with the axe held in one sweaty hand, he also was not sure that Lydia had braced him up well enough. His stomach was sour and he had a slight tremble in his jaw. There was, however, no way that he could go back and face his wife’s derision. Taking a deep breath, and wiping his hands once again against his dirty pants, he stepped up onto the porch and listened at the door.

It seemed completely quiet inside and Issac gingerly reached down and pushed the lever, unlatching the door, which swung in with a slight creak. The sound seemed loud in the silence of the night but no reaction came from either of the cabin’s occupants. He waited several long minutes as his eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the cabin and then he slowly made his way across the main room to the doorway of his father’s bedroom. Here he had to pause once again to wipe his hands, and then he set his jaw firmly, grinding his teeth together to keep them from chattering. There was no door on the room, only the doorway, which seemed somehow darker than all of the other darkness that surrounded it, some kind of pit that he was about to step through and into. He did so, feeling his stomach flip once again, and then three steps later he was standing over his father’s bed. The darkness of course made it difficult to perceive the actual person lying there, but he knew the general arrangement of the room, and the bed, and knew that his father always slept on his back. Then Isaac just waited, willing his eyes to adjust better, while at the same time silently praying that no sound, no urge to urinate and no special sense woke his father up. A sharp but low scratching sound came suddenly from the main room, probably a mouse, and he heard a cat, likely that unnamed thing his son had brought home, meowing somewhere outside the cabin. His heart rate, which had been fast and loud up to this point, started to slow down and a small sense of calm began to creep out and cover up Isaac’s nervous state. He could do this. Finally he could see just a little better, enough to see the edges of his father’s face, the red blanket spilled off the end of the bed, the opaqueness of Wyatt’s fingernails where his hands were resting on his chest. And then he did it, fast and without any hesitation.

He swung that axe with all of his might and anger, driving the blade right down and through his father’s face. The swish of the weapon passing his ear was exhilarating and the loud crunch of it bashing though skull and skin brought a malevolent, lopsided grin to Isaac’s face. His father grunted as he died and that was it, although the sound of the axe slamming into the bed frame did wake Claudia up. She called out from the small nook where she slept, and then Issac heard the rustle of her moving around on her mattress. What to do if Claudia woke up had never been part of the planning, as Lydia believed the girl would not be disturbed as long as Isaac kept the noise to a minimum. Who could have guessed that the axe would go completely through his father’s skull? Isaac briefly thought about what to do if she did walk into the room, then was startled by a sharp bang from the porch. It sounded like a animal had knocked something over, the scamper of small feet audible for several seconds afterward. That seemed to reassure Claudia, who called out one more time and then went silent. Gingerly he pried the axe out and then waited for thirty minutes, listening to the blood drip onto the floor while trying to calm the shakes that were running through his body. He then rose silently, his nerves almost completely settled, and walked back out of the cabin to get Lydia. There was other work to be done.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 42)

Harriet had continued to properly mourn her daughter, leaving all comforts aside and dedicating herself to what little work needed to be done around the house. She kept all of the Christmas decorations packed away and turned down a polite invitation from Doctor Warren to join him for a holiday dinner. There seemed to be no need for fun or joy, as Harriet also felt that she was mourning the loss of Claudia along with that of Olivia. She was not a woman given to bouts of depression or sadness; however, she did feel a great loneliness and a sense that there truly was something missing from her life. Even though the last years with Olivia had been extremely difficult, and despite the cold facts of her death, she still missed the company and the sense of having something to do.

It was on a Saturday in February that Harriet realized just how troubled she was, and how much she needed to find something to do. Waking up that morning with a slightly more cheerful attitude than usual, she had slipped on the grey dress she had kept for some future day, not intending to end her period of mourning, just trying it on to see how it felt. Looking into the mirror, past her many wrinkles and weathered skin, Harriet saw only the figure of a woman who looked out of place in any color other than black. The dress seemed too bright, too cheerful, out of place and inappropriate. Stripping it off, she returned to wearing black but settled in for a cup of tea on the porch with a realistic outlook. She needed to get herself into a better frame of mind.

She started as soon as the tea was drained from the cup. Walking back into the sitting room, where Claudia’s repaired dress still lay upon a small side table, Harriet folded it up carefully and placed it into her chest, tucking it into the same cloth bag as Olivia’s dress, and tying it back up with the purple string. Then she settled down to write a letter to her brother.

February 23, 1884
My Dear Wyatt,
I have heard nothing from you since my last letter and hope that all is well with you and Claudia. I worry much, which you should know, so I find your lack of writing to be extremely inconsiderate. I asked you simply to tell me a little news about Claudia and that you both were well. You could at least have sent me a telegram if you were too busy to write.
Spare yourself any further immediate worry over this as I have resolved to travel myself to see you and Claudia. I still mourn Olivia; however, have come to realize that I must find a new sense of purpose and something to do. I will travel to Germany as soon as it can be arranged and although I fear slightly for my health given my age, believe that my usual fortitude will win out. I am hopeful that your town of Lippelsdorf is small enough that a polite inquiry about the new people from the United States will be enough to locate you. It would be helpful of course, if you receive this in time, if you could arrange to check for my arrival in whatever location it is that persons usually arrive there.
I do hope that all is well and look forward to seeing you soon.
With Warm Regards, Your Sister,
Harriett

P.S. I add this on Monday after a frustrating day in town spent trying to get information on travel. It appears that my first possible crossing would be May 15 so I will be somewhat delayed in reaching you and Claudia. Perhaps this will be for the better as I can gather my strength and get the house closed up. Best – H

Once the letter was sealed and posted on Tuesday, February twenty-sixth, Harriet made good on her goal of trying to regain as much of her strength and vitality as she could. She returned to taking long walks around Hiawatha, and people would greet her with the cheery sort of wave that one gives a person they have not seen in awhile. The older people believed that Harriet must be starting to come out of her period of mourning and several unannounced pies and tarts appeared on her porch one Sunday, a way of welcoming her back to the community. She appreciated these gestures although she was not herself too sure just how close she was to the end of her mourning. She still felt that not enough time had passed and she also had the lingering example set by her own mother hanging over her every day. But she needed to get ready for her trip, so she kept up the walks and started to make arrangements for closing up her house. She was not completely sure how long she would be gone and had not booked a return ticket from Germany. She also realized that it was just possible that the trip would kill her, so she made sure that all of her own personal affairs were in order. By the end of March she was feeling much better, stronger than she had in quite some time, and her mindset was brighter. She was giving serious consideration to taking off the black.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 41)

Several days later Christmas came and went with little fanfare, especially at the main house.  Isaac was as frugal as ever and did not allow money to be spent on what he considered to be wasted celebration.  Wyatt did cut down a small tree and place it in the cabin for Claudia.  He also made sure she had a few simple gifts to open, but overall it was a day little different from any other they had spent in Lippelsdorf.  Claudia was sitting next to Wyatt on the porch the next day when Issac passed by with an armful of wood.

“Did you post my letter to my sister?”

“I’ve hardly had time yet father,” Isaac replied in a weary voice, “as I have had many chores around the house.  I am plenty busy despite the work holiday.”

“Well then, return it to me as I think I can manage a walk into town tomorrow and will post it myself.”

“Never mind that father, I said I will take care of it and I will.  Stop worrying about it.”

Wyatt watched his son complete the trip to the side door where he unceremoniously dumped the wood onto the ground and then hurried into the house.

“Lydia sure has that son of mine jumping for her,” Wyatt muttered under his breath, receiving an inquisitive look in reply from Claudia.  “Never you mind girl, just go back to your playing.”

Wyatt wrote several letters after that, about one a month through March, always giving them to Isaac to post as his son had stated he had a special arrangement with the post master to get the letters quickly to the states.  Something about making sure they ended up on the fastest ships.  Wyatt had liked the sound of that arrangement and had praised Isaac for getting it in place.  He would inquire sometimes, about whether any replies had arrived for him at the station, and Issac would respond that he always checked but nothing had been received.  Tension grew between them over this, mostly from Isaac’s side, as he seemingly became more and more irritated by his father’s questions, and shorter and more blunt in his replies.  Eventually, Wyatt would start asking and Isaac would just cut him off with an upraised hand.  He had considered going to the station himself several times; however, the last walk to town had been long and difficult for both he and Claudia.   By the end of March however, he was very worried about the lack of any reply and his patience with trying to get information from Isaac had been exhausted.  He understood the distance involved but he had waited long enough.  As soon as he saw his son walk into the main house that night he had promptly walked over and entered without knocking.  He caught Isaac and Lydia is an argument which they abruptly ended as he stepped through the door.  They looked flustered but Wyatt hardly noticed as he had come seeking different information.

“What is his name Isaac?  What is the name of this post master in town?”

Isaac glanced over at his wife before replying.  “Why are you asking?”

“Because I am going into town myself tomorrow and getting some information from the man.  I have posted four letters to Harriet since Christmas and have not heard one spare word back from her yet.  Maybe he can figure out why his magic delivery trick doesn’t work both ways.  Or help in getting it to work.  Or tell me something about why it should be taking so long.  I need to wire Harriet also, just to make sure she is well.”

“Really father, take it easy.  It is a long walk for an old man like you and it would be a waste of your time anyway.  I’ve told you that I check for you and I’m sure nothing has been received.”  Isaac settled down into a wooden chair and started taking off his brown work boots.  “You do realize that we live in Germany?  This is a long way from the states and mail takes time.”

“Not this long.  Her last letter arrived here barely five weeks after she wrote it so there should have been word by now.  Give me that name boy.”

“You really must be patient.” It was Lydia who had spoken and it took Wyatt by surprise.

“Well, yes, I mean, well, it has been long enough.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin Isaac’s special arrangement or make any kind of a scene. I just need to know what might be taking so long.”

An unusual silence followed, one that remained as Isaac and Lydia seemed to share looks of some kind of understanding.  Finally Isaac leaned back in his chair and stretched his feet out toward the fire before speaking.

“You’re going in the morning, then? Tomorrow?”

“Yes, that is what I said.  Now what is his name?”

“Very well.  Alois Weber, ask for him at the front.”

“Thank you.  Good night son.”

Wyatt strode back out and across to the cabin, while inside the main house the strange silence remained.   Isaac stared up at the ceiling while Lydia stared intently at her husband as she leaned up against the kitchen door frame.  Ambrose came in, seemed to sense that something was amiss, and proceeded on through to his own room.  A cat, which the boy had found in the woods and adopted, but so far not named, jumped up to sit on Isaac’s lap.  Finally he spoke.

“I know.”

“You should, it obviously cannot go on past tomorrow.  And that means tonight.”

“Yes, I said that I know.”

And the silence returned and continued as the clock on the wall slowly marked off the minutes.  The cabin was always dark by ten o’clock each night, and when it was ten thirty Lydia walked over to blow out the lamp on the table.  She then retired to the bedroom and Isaac pulled his work boots back on.

 

…to be continued

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?”

“What?”

“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, 

Wyatt

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