Porcelain (Part 27)

The train ride to Boston passed in much the same manner as the six weeks at the house had, with Ambrose taking whatever opportunity he could to torment Claudia.  The boy, cruel but clever enough, had realized that he did not need to touch Claudia to get her to tears.  Instead, he would just maneuver himself into her line of sight whenever he could, and then mock her, usually by pulling his arm out of his sleeve and then trying to pick things up with the empty cuff or poking himself where his arm used to be.  Although Wyatt saw great strength in the girl when dealing with adult condescendence and mistreatment, the actions of children around her own age had a very great effect on her, although she always refused to speak with him about it.   In the final weeks at the house, Wyatt had foreseen that the coming trip was going to present such opportunities for abuse and torment toward Claudia and had managed to change his ticket to a separate compartment for himself and the girl.  Such arrangements did minimize the chances that Ambrose had to torment her; however, the boy took full advantage of what he did get and by the time the train pulled into Boston, Claudia had not not spoken in five hours.  Her face had remained pressed up against the window for that entire time, her fist curled in a ball as she wet herself, refusing to walk out and down the corridor to the restroom, where she knew the boy would be waiting.

As the whistle of the locomotive shrilled to announce the train’s arrival, Wyatt stepped out of the compartment after handing Claudia another dress to change into.  Standing outside the door, he glared at Ambrose, who stood near his parent’s compartment playing with a tin whistle.  The smirk on the boy’s face had Wyatt clenching up his own fists, trying to resist the impulse to walk over and box the youngster’s ears.  Isaac and Lydia emerged moments later and walked past him without a word.  Wyatt collected Claudia up several minutes later, hoping that his son’s family had gone far enough ahead to be lost in the crowd, a wish that fortunately came true.  That left Wyatt and the girl once again standing together outside a busy station looking for a hansom.

boston 1883 courtesy geographicus.com

boston 1883 courtesy geographicus.com

Having come in on the New York & New England Railroad, the final transfer of their long journey to the coast, they emerged directly into the heart of the wharf district in Boston.  The sharp smell of the salty air was mixed with the pungent odors from the wet docks and the decaying fish that pooled along the edges.  The noise was startling and overwhelming, both to Wyatt and the young girl, and they both simply stood on the edge of Atlantic Avenue for fifteen minutes, wide-eyed and slightly slack-jawed.  The water traffic along the wharf was varied, with fishing boats, tugs and small sailboats competing with cargo ships that seemed to move in slow-motion compared to the other boats.  Slightly farther off in the distance were several large passenger ships, moored at the foreign docks and awaiting the crowds that would soon temporarily move in for their voyage across the ocean.  Behind them, toward the land side, all kinds of large buildings rose up, with the Old Colony Depot, the Post Office and the United States Hotel being most prominent.  Denver might have seemed like a large town to Wyatt, but he had to admit that this was beyond anything else he had seen in his life.  Claudia, initially just as shocked as her great-uncle, recovered more quickly and was well into asking questions before Wyatt shook himself and began to pay attention to her.  As they walked toward the U.S. Hotel, which Wyatt had arranged on his own after finding out about Isaac’s plans for their one and a half days in Boston, he had to admit that he was enjoying the experience despite its strangeness.  Having been on the move for much of his life, he thought that maybe he had been content for too long with his settled-down home in Denver, and that this trip was going to revive some of his spirit.  As they walked into the hotel Claudia had looked up at him with a one word question.

united states hotel boston 1883 courtesy goodoldboston.com

united states hotel boston 1883 courtesy goodoldboston.com


Patting her hand, he happily replied, “Not here dear, he is most definitely not staying here.”

commercial and fleet boston

commercial and fleet boston


boarding house boston

boarding house boston

The next day, their only full one in Boston, Wyatt was determined to go out and walk the town with Claudia, and they had set off directly after breakfast.  Although he was pleased to be away from Isaac’s family, at least until they were aboard the ship, some malicious part of him wanted to see where his son had managed to put his own family up for their stay.  Knowing the address, but of course not the town, it took them two hours  of walking to find it, a dilapidated and leaning building on the corner of Commercial and Fleet Streets.  At first glance Wyatt could not determine which part of the structure was most likely to fall in first, although it all seemed to be leaning away from the water.  Shaking his head, the two of them kept on walking and were able to see many of the nearby sights, including Faneuil Hall and the famous Common and Public Garden.  When they returned to the U.S. Hotel that night, both of them worn out and hungry, they took advantage of the restaurant and ate well, with Claudia finishing up with two bowls of chocolate ice cream.  Before they retired for the night, Wyatt asked the girl to sit down on his bed.

“You know that tomorrow we are going to be sailing away, across the ocean, on a ship.  I won’t bother to promise you that this trip isn’t going to be rough.  Although we have our own compartment on the ship also, it is small and we certainly cannot stay in it for all of the six days we will be aboard.  Besides, I want you to see the ship and have what fun you can.  I am certain that Ambrose will be up to his usual games.  You do understand me Claudia?”

The girl just nodded her head.

“So, let’s just promise each other this.  We stick together okay? And I will keep that boy off of you as much as I can.”

In response, Claudia just took his hand and squeezed it.  At about that same moment, her mother, one arm wrapped around the portrait of her daughter, shuddered and let out one last breath.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 26)

And so went most of the next six weeks of Claudia’s time in Wyatt’s house.  Torment, outbursts and silence.  Isaac, his wife and son spent virtually no time with Claudia other than at meals, and the whispered conversations they had in the hallways were certainly pointed in her direction.  It had not been apparent to Wyatt initially; however, he soon grew to understand that Isaac himself considered Claudia to be a burden, both to his family and his future plans.  The discussion they had in front of the fireplace two weeks after her arrival was typical.

“I ask you again father, what provision have you made for this girl?  What about her care and room and board once we are away from this place and the two of you are living under my roof?”
“I have provided you and your family with a home for some time and you seem to be rather ungrateful for that consideration and kindness.”

Isaac wrinkled up his nose.  “That is hardly the point as I have done my fair share around here to earn my keep.”

“Fair share of eating for sure, and using my firewood and other provisions.  Certainly not your fair share of providing for your family.”

“I’ve done my part,” Isaac replied lazily, “but that’s in the past and we need to talk about the future.  What about that girl?”

Wyatt took a long look at his son and let the pipe smoke escape out his nose in a billowy wreath of contemplation.  The expectant look in Isaac’s eyes, one that demanded only the answer he was looking for, made the older man grimace in disgust.  Finally he snorted and replied.

“She’ll be provided for, don’t you worry your pitiless heartstrings about it.  I have money enough to provide for her room and board, and I’ll take care of her myself.  You can go about showing her no more attention or consideration that you have up to this point.”

“That you will do, but it’s not what I am concerned about.  What about when you die, and you certainly will, you’re an old man and have no business taking on a child.  What about then?  Whatever money you have won’t be enough to see me through the trails of raising her up the rest of the way.   Children are expensive.”

“Yes, they certainly are,” Wyatt replied ironically, a tone that was lost on his son.  “If I do go, and there is no saying I will before she’s grown up, then you damn well better believe I expect you to finish the job and see her into the adult world properly.”

“You expect too much father, much too much.”  With that, Isaac pushed himself out of his chair and walked from the room trailed by a wary look from Wyatt.

writing slate

writing slate


During those weeks leading up to the departure for their voyage, Claudia continued in her somber way, although she did at least begin to speak with her great-uncle, asking him questions about books he would read her and listening to his stories from his gold-mining days.  As the two of them spent most of their time together, either taking walks or sitting by the small stove in Wyatt’s room, he soon came to understand that Claudia was much more intelligent than she appeared.  She had a definite knack for assessing the world around her and was poignantly aware of the feelings that Isaac and his family shared toward  her.  As she had put it, they did not want her around, a truth that Wyatt reluctantly affirmed, not seeing the sense in disputing something the girl clearly understood quite well.  She also could talk much better than Wyatt expected from a three-year old and could make a decent effort at writing the letters A and B.  They were practicing that, sitting on Wyatt’s bed with a battered double-sided writing slate between them, when Isaac stopped outside the room on the night before they were to leave for Boston.

“Be ready at ten.”

“Yes, I know.  We’ve already packed.”

“More teaching of nonsense to that girl I see.  She’s too young to understand letters.”

“She does well enough,” Wyatt replied, lifting the slate up to show Claudia’s erratically drawn letters.

“Unrecognizable.  I know your answer but I must ask you again.  Have you considered my request that we drop her off at the Orphan’s Home tomorrow instead of dragging her across the ocean with us?”

denver orphans home courtesy denver library

denver orphans home courtesy denver library

A cold look from Wyatt was the only reply.

Taking out his watch and then snapping it forcefully closed, Isaac turned with a curt “Very well then,” and walked toward the kitchen, where his wife stood by the table with glowering eyes.  She started to speak to him as he approached; however, Isaac held up his hand and motioned her to silence.  Grabbing her arm, they both walked off toward their bedroom.

The next morning was warm for the season, and with winter having set in earlier than usual, the change was a welcome way to begin their journey.  Two hansoms and a larger cart for luggage had been arranged and there was much activity as drivers assisted with loading while sloshing through the melting snow with their stovepipe boots on.

stovepipe boots courtesy espinoza boots

stovepipe boots courtesy espinoza boots

Wyatt had arranged for his place to be sold once he was gone and the man who would be handling that for him was also there, with some last minute papers needing a signature.  Lydia had a firm hold of Ambrose, refusing to allow him out into the muddy roadway, where Claudia was walking around stomping into mud puddles and smiling to herself.  Her unusual activity and cheerful manner were odd enough to cause both Wyatt and Isaac to pause and watch, Isaac in consternation and Wyatt with a large grin on his face.  Turning to sign the papers, he muttered, “good to see that girl smiling,” just as Isaac announced they better all get aboard the hansoms or they were going to miss the train.  Wyatt lifted Claudia up, ignoring the mud-spattered dress and wet shoes she wore, and then climbed up beside her, patting her knee and chuckling.

“We’re going to be okay girl,” he stated as they pulled away.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 24)

Shaking herself out of that reverie ten minutes later, she rose and went to look in on Olivia, who lay asleep in bed.  Leaning on the door frame, Harriet reached out her hand, mimicking touching her daughter’s face, something that she did not want to actually do as it might awaken her.  She was fairly certain that asleep was the best place for Olivia.  Turning away, she approached the doctor.

“Could you assist me in getting a telegram sent?”

“Well, of course, however, perhaps you should do it yourself.  Get out of the house for awhile.  I can look after her.”

“I, well, I have not done much of sending telegrams in my day.  I’m a bit behind the times.  It would probably be better if you went.”

Doctor Warren reached out and touched Harriet’s shoulder.  “It really is not that hard.  Just go down to the office and tell them what you want to do.  They will help you.  And you really do need to get out for a bit.”

With a small smile she turned away, grabbing a shawl to wrap around her shoulders before stepping out with a quick word back at the doctor.

“Thank you.”


leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

As she walked the road toward Oregon Street, Harriet took time to enjoy both being out of the house and also the sights and sounds of the town.  Knowing that she would be unwilling to commit her daughter to any kind of a care facility, she understood that once the doctor left, her life would be bound to caring for Olivia.  It would certainly be awhile before she had time or opportunity to stroll along and admire Hiawatha again.  Arriving at the telegraph office forty minutes later, the clerk helped her send a short message to Wyatt informing him that Claudia would arrive in five days.  On the way back she stopped by the small park across from Leaders Dry Goods, sitting on the small bench and watching the pigeons scramble around after some loose horse feed that had been spilled on the ground.  As the sky started to darken with rain clouds, she sighed deeply and walked back home, arriving to find the doctor packing up his medical bag.  As he departed ten minutes later he promised to stop by daily for awhile and check on Olivia.

The next morning Harriet found Claudia sitting next to her mother in bed.  Olivia had been reading a children’s book to her, but closed it when she appeared in the doorway.

“Where is my picture, mother?”

There was an edge to Olivia’s voice although she appeared calm enough, running her hand through Claudia’s hair as she spoke.

“Yes, well, I have it. I will bring it to you.”

When she returned and presented the portrait of Claudia to her, Olivia looked at it for several minutes before turning to look at her daughter who still sat beside her.

“This will be all that remains of you my dear, all that I will have to remember you by.  This is what I will keep.”

With that, Olivia closed her eyes and began to hum softly, before drifting off to sleep, still clutching the portrait.

Over the course of that day and the next, as Harriet took care of the business of packing things up for Claudia, it became apparent that Olivia had no further interest in her real-life daughter.  She ignored all of Claudia’s attempts to speak with her, or interact in any way, spending time instead reading books to the portrait and carrying it around on the few occasions she did get out of bed.  Her discussions with Harriet during this time were curt, at least until she walked past as the last of Claudia’s clothing was being packed in a large leather packer trunk that had been purchased the day before by the doctor and brought over to the house.

“I hoped to get one thing before you finished up.”

“What is that Olivia?”

“The dress, her dress, the one you made.  I want to keep it here with me.”

“Maybe you should ask Claudia if she cares that you keep it?”

As Olivia glanced down at the portrait she held, Harriet cut back in.

“You need to talk to that girl Olivia.  The real one.  The one in that other room over there who you have been ignoring these past few days.  She leaves tomorrow and you need to say good-bye to her.”

“I won’t ever have to say good-bye mother.  I have her here with me always.  Now I want that dress please, just to help remember her.”

They locked eyes for several moments and then Harriet gave in, remarking to herself that the dress had little use left in it anyway.  She had made it big so it would last for awhile but now it just barely fit the young girl.  Although she worried that possessing it might remove Olivia even farther from reality, she also saw little point in arguing about it.

“Thank you.  I am returning to my room.”

“You do understand that she leaves tomorrow, early, and she won’t be coming back.

Met with only silence and her daughter’s back as a reply, Harriet finished up and then went to spend the remainder of the day with Claudia.  She also slept next to the girl that night, spending over half of the time awake, holding Claudia’s small body next to her and silently crying.  There was no doubt that she would miss her granddaughter, as they had grown very close over the three years she had been alive, especially as Olivia’s condition worsened.  Harriet also felt great sorrow for her own daughter, who she knew was unable to cope with Claudia’s leaving and would probably never truly understand, or admit, that the girl was forever removed from their lives.  So much loss and sorrow had washed across her life during the decades she had been alive, and yet there always seemed to be just a little bit more to bear.  First Olivia had disappeared into the fog of her present condition and now Claudia would fade off into a distant land.  This was for the best though, for her granddaughter anyway, and maybe this would be the last great heartache of her life.

As the sun came up, Harriet drew upon her inner strength and showed no more than surface emotion as she readied Claudia and saw her to the front door at nine a.m., where the doctor waited.  He had agreed to ensure that the girl made it safely onto the train and then to her stop in Colorado, even agreeing to purchase his own ticket.  He arrived just as Harriet and Claudia stepped out onto the porch.

Reaching down, he took the young girl’s hand.  “You look lovely today Claudia.  Are you ready for our trip?”

The girl just nodded and stared back at him, the look on her face similar to the one she had shown to the camera in the portrait.

“Thank you again doctor.  Please ensure she is safely to Wyatt for me.  I am certain he will meet you at the station.  He is a reliable man.”

“I’m sure he will.  Did Olivia?” and he finished with a downward glance at Claudia.

“She refused to open her eyes, so I left her in bed with her delusions.”

“Very well.  Then we must go.”

A final hug, as strong as she felt her granddaughter could bear, was given by Harriet and then she stood up to watch them leave, tears in her eyes, but frozen there, refusing to fall.

She whispered softly to herself.  “Good-bye.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 23)

Upon receiving them, Harriet stood for several minutes with the closed folders in her hand as Mr. Holmes’ assistant stood on the porch, a look of worry on his face.  He was used to people immediately opening the photos when they were delivered, eager to look upon the portraits and, at least for the most part, remark upon the skill exhibited in their execution.  Harriet’s reaction, a long, quiet pause with a troubled look of reflection on her face, was atypical enough to give him some worry that the old woman may be as unstable as her daughter.  The display put on by Olivia the previous day, and the aggressive action needed to get her under control, had been a new experience for him and not one that he cared to be involved with again.  To his relief, Harriet’s eyes cleared and she carefully opened the folders, giving all the usual, and in his eyes anyway, proper reactions.  He departed with a tip of his hat and Harriet walked back into the house still looking at the photo of her granddaughter.

Olivia remained asleep in her room with the doctor sitting in a chair outside the door, dozing off from a long night of keeping vigil over his patient.  She had awoken several times since he sedated her at the portrait session, seemingly becoming more and more able to fight her way out of the stupor brought on by the drugs he administered.  He had already informed Harriet early that morning that if Doctor Fitzsimmons were not already scheduled to arrive later in the day he may have needed to take more drastic action with Olivia.  It had already been necessary for him to physically hold her in bed on several occasions and he had only managed to get her back to sleep about twenty minutes ago.  Harriet sat down quietly, not wanting to disturb him, and pulled Claudia onto her lap to show her the portrait.

The young girl smiled and poked at it, although her grandmother quickly pulled it out if her reach, not wanting the clarity of the image to be marred by Claudia’s rather dirty fingers.  After a few minutes the young girl’s babbled talking awoke the doctor, who smiled and waved when Harriet turned the photo around for him to look at.  A sharp knock at the door got him up out of his seat with a whispered “I do hope this is who we have been waiting for.”  Several seconds later Doctor Fitzsimmons, a tall thin man with an elegantly trimmed silver beard,  walked into the sitting room.  Putting her granddaughter down and carefully tucking the two photos into a drawer by her chair, Harriet rose to greet him.

“Thank you so much for coming doctor.  I’m sure it has been a long journey.  Would you like some tea?”

Removing his jacket and hat, he replied while reaching into his medical bag.  “That would be fine ma’am.  I will, however, go to see the patient immediately.  Doctor?”

The two men walked into Olivia’s bedroom without another word, and although she was thanked when the tea was delivered, Harriet considered Doctor Fitzsimmons to be a rather gruff and unlikeable medical man.  She liked him even less when he emerged back into the sitting room.

“She’s in poor condition madam, more mentally than physically, although I would say that I believe she will stay fairly docile for what remains of her life.  It would be important to manage her interactions with people as she should not be placed into any kind of a stressful situation.  Those are likely to elect another of her outbursts.  You may want to consider placing her into a facility for the mentally deranged.  And the girl, this girl,” and he pointed toward Claudia who sat on the floor with her doll, “the situation with her must be settled very soon.  Doctor Warren tells me she is to be sent away?”

Harriet took several deep breaths before answering, her inclination to bluster fading away as she did so.  Finally, she folded her hands together and replied.

“Before we go on, tell me just what exactly is wrong with her doctor.”

“As I said, she is mentally unstable and deteriorating physically, likely as a result of that mental condition, and will be a fair amount to deal with until she passes.  It is probably too much for someone of your age.”

Harriet took another deep breath.  “Again doctor, tell me what is actually wrong with her.  I can ascertain her current condition well enough on my own, and having you tell me of it hardly helps me understand her illness.”

“Madam, this is a medical matter and Doctor Warren called me in to review this case, which I have done.  He has improperly medicated her obviously; however, given his general lack of experience in these matters he did well enough.  His general assessment, that her mind has broken with reality, seems correct and I have given him guidance in her further care if you do choose to keep her in this home.  Although again, I would suggest that she be removed to a more appropriate facility.”

“Perhaps you misunderstand me.  How did she become ill?”

Now it was the doctor’s turn to take a deep breath.  “These are medical matters as I said, and I have consulted with Doctor Warren on them.  He will be able to care for her.”


“Listen madam, you ask far too many questions.  It if satisfies your curiosity then I will tell you that she likely is suffering some kind of neurotic condition associated with her pregnancy or the birth of the child.  Doctor Warren advised me that you had related some disturbing tales involving the delivery and her condition during it.  That break may well have hidden itself for years, with recent events or some unknown other condition finally causing this decline that has become so obvious recently.   Also, he tells me you are a homeopath?”

“I am.”

“Then I shall hope that none of your concoctions, whatever they may have been, aided in her deterioration.  You will do well to watch yourself.”

Harriet had not seriously considered punching anyone in quite a long time, and she found herself enjoying the thought in this moment.  Once the doctor left, giving her a curt nod before stepping out the door, she sat back down slowly while considering what had been implied by his last statement.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 22)

Harriet walked down to the studio the next day, waiting patiently with Claudia while a newlywed couple had their portrait taken.  Once that was finished the shop’s owner, Albert Holmes, sat down to speak with Harriet.  More than willing to travel down to her house, he also suggested that it might be a good idea if he brought along one of his canvas backdrops, as these kind of staged photos were popular at the time.  As Harriet looked though his selection, Claudia seemed especially taken by one that displayed a forest setting with a lake and some blurry industrial buildings in the background.

“I guess that one will do Mr. Holmes.  She rather seems to like it and the portrait will be of her after all.”

“It will just be the one then, of the girl?”

“Yes.  Please stick to that arrangement.  My daughter, her mother of course, will be there and may well ask that you take others; however, I do not have the money for it.  Just the one portrait and the two prints we spoke of.”

“Very well.  I have a nice prop I can bring along with that canvas, one that will add to the picture.”

Taking their leave, Harriet went for a walk down Oregon Street before returning home with Claudia.  Receiving the news that the photographer would arrive tomorrow afternoon brightened up Olivia’s mood, which seemed to be slipping back into the darker regions it had occupied prior to her outburst on the porch.  As a precaution, Harriet did not allow Olivia to play marbles in the backyard with her daughter, an activity she had permitted over the last several days while keeping a close eye out from the kitchen.  On this evening, she insisted that the girl remain indoors and help her with baking pies, one for Doctor Warren and another for the photographer.  Harriet still believed in these social graces which seemed to be starting to slip away from society as everyone became busier and busier with their daily lives.   As they finished up, Olivia walked into the kitchen and announced that she was going to bed, stating a need to get up early and prepare herself to be photographed.  Nodding good night to her daughter, Harriet made a mental note that she needed to have the doctor present tomorrow afternoon, just in case things did not go well when Olivia figured out it would only be Claudia getting her portrait taken.  Several minutes later a knock on the door announced the delivery of a telegram, one that informed her that Doctor Fitzsimmons would be arriving in two days.  Tucking it away in her dress, Harriet cleaned up the kitchen and placed the pies on the window sill to cool before tucking Claudia in and heading to bed herself.

The next morning, Olivia was indeed up early, although still not before her mother, and took a considerable amount of time preparing herself for her anticipated portrait.   The last time that she had occasion to purchase any kind of formal wear had been in 1874 for the last Merchant’s Ball that had been held in Hiawatha.  Although not a store owner herself, she had been invited to attend by John Coe, who was a friend of Tom Drummond.  She had accepted of course, more in the hope of running into Tom than anything else, and spent far more than she should have on a dress and all of its accompanying paraphernalia.  That left her now, in 1883, with an out of fashion dress that also fit poorly due to the weight she had lost during her recent instability.  Still, she put in on faithfully, and emerged into the sitting room well in advance of noon.

“Well, you certainly look nice.”  As she said this, Harriet felt a combination of sorrow and pride rise up inside of her.  Olivia looked radiant despite her weight loss, a flashback to previous times, with her hair brushed to a shine, pulled up high on the sides and hanging in a series of ringlets down her neck.  Her skin was glowing and complimented the gentle peach hue of the dress, which had the full back stylish in the previous decade, a bustle holding the many overskirts in place and which was going to make for a long day for Olivia.

“You intend to stand all day then?  You certainly will not be sitting down with that affair on, although it does compliment you well.”

“I am going to take a stunning portrait mother, me and my daughter.   I am prepared to stand as long as it takes to await that.  Where is she?”

“I sent her out back to play.  We have several hours before Mr. Holmes arrives and she was getting rather bored.”

“She must come in!  I have to clean her up and get her ready.”

“You will hardly be doing anything of the sort my dear.  I think you had better just stand there and remain looking pretty.  I will see to Claudia.”

By the time that the photographer arrived, Harriet had both ensured her granddaughter was ready and also managed to get a message to Doctor Warren, asking him to stop by after lunch.  He had done so and remained after a whispered conversation with Harriet.  Mr. Holmes and his assistant had proceeded directly to setting up their gear and the canvas backdrop in the sitting room, accompanied by Olivia’s protests.

“What is this thing you are hanging up?  We are hardly by a lake nor do I wish my portrait to be taken in front of such a thing.  This will be a proper portrait of my daughter and I, here in our home.”

“Miss, I really need you to get back and there won’t,”

Harriet cut in before anything more could be said.

“Move away Olivia, this backdrop is just for the photo of Claudia.  She picked it out herself down at the studio and I think it will look very nice.”

“But mother, what is the point?  We are here, in our home, why have it be a photo in a forest?”  Olivia’s voice was rather loud by now and Doctor Warren had taken a few steps into the sitting room.

“It is just the thing these days.  You do want it to be modern, don’t you?”

“Well, yes I suppose.  But our picture together will be proper.  It must be.”

Her mother gave no reply to that, turning instead to watch the photographer’s assistant as he placed their prop, an actual branch from a tree, into location in front of the canvas.  With that, all seemed in order, and Harriet motioned for Claudia to come over from where she was watching by the doorway.

She was in the dress which her grandmother had made for her, and which had already been altered to account for her missing arm.  After an admonition from both Mr. Holmes and his assistant that she must stand still once they had her in place, the young girl walked up to the canvas and then turned around.  Without being told, she reached out and placed her hand on the branch, which stuck up from the very foreground of the scene.  Her grip, though on the edge of the prop, seemed tight, with her fingernails appearing slightly white from the pressure.  Claudia stood straight and tall, looking directly into the camera with eyes that showed a depth of understanding uncommon at her age, touched with just a shadow of fear.  The plate was exposed and the image sealed, a well-taken portrait with a sharp foreground and a slightly out of focus back, shadowy buildings and a mirrored lake lighting up the top.

Olivia did have to be sedated once it was clear that her picture was not to be taken, and she was put to bed and tended to by the doctor once again.  The cabinet cards, carefully tucked into a think folder, were delivered the next day, several hours in advance of Doctor Fitzsimmons arrival.

Young child Hiawatha, Kansas

Young child Hiawatha, Kansas

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 21)

Harriet leaned back against the wall and stayed silent while conflicting thoughts ran through her head.  Doctor Warren, and certainly his colleague also, were clearly from the new breed of medical men, ones that eschewed the practices of homeopathy she had been raised on and practiced throughout her life.  It was also true that there was no time for consultation with Doctor Martin, as he was no more modern than she and only communicated via letter.

“Can you contact him doctor?  I am not much of one for the telegraph and prefer to write letters, which I know will take too long in this case.”

“Very well.  I will send a message to him tomorrow.  For now, do not mention today’s incident or the details of what has been going on as you had related to me earlier.  Let’s just try to keep her calm and resting.”

Harriet nodded her assent and they returned to the room, where Claudia had managed to put her mother to sleep and was now sitting quietly in the chair by the bed.  The doctor left for town several hours later, convinced that his patient was going to remain relatively docile for the immediate future.

By the next morning it was apparent that Olivia had indeed experienced some kind of a breakdown, one that left her understanding that her daughter was going to leave her but unclear as to the specific reasons.  Over the course of several hours of talk, filled with vague references and partial truths, Harriet had managed to convince her daughter that she was generally sick and unable to care for Claudia any longer.  She had been extremely nervous as this truth took shape in Olivia’s mind, bracing herself for another attack and wishing the doctor was near at hand.  No anger or rage had shown itself though, and her daughter passed from realization into despondency and fits of tears.  Claudia was in and out of the room during this time, understanding that something different was wrong with her mother, but still preoccupied with smaller things as young children tend to be.  Occasionally she would bring a toy into the room and sit on the floor, playing with it while her mother and grandmother talked.  Whenever the tears came to Olivia, she would begin  singing again, her soft voice echoing in a strange harmony with her mother’s sorrow.

Doctor Warren returned later that day to check on Olivia’s condition and to inform Harriet that his colleague had been contacted and would be making his way down to Hiawatha within the next several weeks.  When he pointed out that this was being done as a special favor to him, Harriet understood that meant it was going to be particularly expensive.  She did, however, realize that in this case it was perhaps necessary for modern medicine to intervene and that the expense was worth it if the doctor could determine the root of her daughter’s problems.

Olivia’s condition remained stable in the days that followed, and all previous intentions to harm Claudia or get her to react in any particular way, seemed to have vanished.  She interacted gently with the young girl, showing more affection and love than had ever been previously present.  Harriet had small moments of hope; however, these were always tempered both by her own memories and by Doctor Warren’s warning that Olivia’s tranquil state may only be temporary.   In general, she remained unconvinced that her daughter’s recent behavior reflected any actual change in her underlying condition.  It was five days later, as Harriet sat with her daughter in her room, both of them having a cup of tea and remarking upon innocuous details, that Olivia posed the question.

“I know that my Claudia must leave me soon, and I am so going to miss her.  I know your decision to send her away cannot be undone due to my poor health; however, I will always want her by my side.  Do you think we could all go to the photography studio and have a portrait done of her before she leaves?”

Harriet considered this request carefully before responding.  Her practice over the course of Olivia’s mental and physical deterioration had been both to allow her out in public as little as possible and to not let Claudia to go anywhere with her mother.  This appeal to have the portrait done would violate both of these rules, which had served her well in mitigating the damage Olivia could do to herself, Claudia or the family’s reputation.  In her daughter’s current state it was, however, a reasonable request and one that she had entertained herself.  If nothing else, she would have a photo of her dear Claudia to treasure once she departed, and if it served Olivia’s needs also, then the idea had that much more merit.

“Well, mother, can we?”

Harriet decided that she still did not trust Olivia enough to allow all of her request.

“Perhaps we could instead have a photographer come here to the house.  It would be so much more comfortable for you and easier as well.  I’m sure they can work just as well in our sitting room as in their studio.”

Her daughter’s face lit up.  “Perhaps we could have several taken even.  I would love to have a photo of her and I together.”

“Yes, we will see.  Now, I must go look in on Claudia and you need to rest daughter.  The doctor will be here in about an hour to check on you again.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 20)

Olivia slowly stood up, setting down her cup of tea on the porch railing and taking two steps forward.  “Just what does that mean mother?”

Harriet took several deep breaths before continuing, gathering what strength she had left.  “It means that I cannot stand much more of raising that girl, and no more of protecting her from you.  She is being sent away to live with my brother Wyatt and she is to leave with as much haste as I can arrange.”

The scream that emanated from Olivia was high-pitched at first, a howl, which then descended in tone to a deep growl as she strode across the porch.  Olivia’s arms failed toward her mother, fingernails tearing grooves in Harriet’s face and fabric away from the shoulder of her dress.  As she reached back to deliver a slap across her mother’s face, Harriet summoned everything she had left and stood up forcefully from the chair, grabbing her daughter’s arms and then pushing her onto the wooden boards of the porch.  She had her pinned face-down and was trying to find something to hold onto that would give her better leverage when she saw the doctor striding toward the house.  She shouted to him.

“The trouble has come doctor, hurry, as I cannot hold her down much longer!”  Olivia was bucking underneath her, fighting frantically to get up and continue her attack.  The doctor was on the porch two minutes later and knelt down next to Olivia.

“You must settle down now.  Stop trying to get up as you are going hurt your mother.  Stay still!”

Olivia’s answer to that was to grab his right calf, slipping her hand up inside his pants and digging in her nails.  As she did so, she managed to wiggle out from underneath her mother, who collapsed on the side of the porch, blood running down her face and arms.  The doctor proved to be of fairly tough stock, as he hardly reacted to the tearing at his legs, instead reaching down and removing her arm forcefully, then grabbing the other and pinning both behind her back.

“I do not want to hurt you miss; however, you must stop all this flailing around.  Do you hear me?”

Another scream came from Olivia and she continued to struggle to escape.

“Miss, I, what’s her name again?”

“Olivia,” her mother replied faintly.  Beyond the doctor, she could see Claudia watching with terrified eyes from the other side of the bush at the bottom of the porch stairs.

“Olivia, my name is Doctor Warren, do you hear me?”

The only reply was another scream, after which the doctor used his strength and leverage to maneuver Olivia to her feet and then pushed her into the house, dodging the backward kicking of her legs.  Several minutes later, after more screams and one sound that must have been a slap, the sound of the struggle ceased.

When Olivia awoke later that night, the doctor still remained at her side.  Harriet had only asked that he come over to deal with what she expected was going to be a difficult moment; however, he had insisted on remaining after seeing the severity of Olivia’s response.   Although she knew she could hardly afford his services, Harriet was relieved to have him in the house.  After tending to the wounds on her face and arms, he had insisted that she lay down and Harriet had gratefully taken a peaceful nap with Claudia.  They awoke shortly before Olivia did and were also standing in the room as the doctor greeted her revival.

“Hello Olivia, how do you feel?”

After brushing a sluggish hand across her face, Olivia replied with a groan.

“Olivia, do you know where you are?”

She had appeared to go back to sleep and the doctor shook her shoulder while repeating her name.  Finally Olivia opened her eyes again.

“I’m here, in my house,” she said faintly.

“Good.  How are you feeling?”

“Tired.  Why am I in bed?  What day is it?”

Harriet started to reply to that, however, the doctor waved her to silence and continued with Olivia.

“Let me just check your pulse okay?  I am going to grab your wrist here for a moment.”  As he spoke he looked over and gave Harriet a look that cautioned her to remain silent.  Claudia walked over to the other side of the bed and began rubbing her mother’s back, softly singing her favorite lullaby.  The doctor released Olivia’s wrist and then bent down to look into her eyes, after which he straightened back up and beckoned to Harriet.

“You stay here and watch after your mother while I step out and talk to your grandmother okay?”

Claudia answered with a small nod and continued singing.

Once they were out in the hall with the door slightly opened, so that an eye could be kept on Olivia, the doctor answered Harriet’s questioning eyes.

“I am not certain that she remembers what happened and I do not think it is wise to remind her.  It may well be that she has experienced some kind of break with reality, something I thought might be a possibility due to the severity and aggressive nature of her actions on the porch.  I do not have much practice with situations such as this and you will need to telegraph to a colleague of mine, Doctor Fitzsimmons in Virginia, and ask that he come out and examine her.”

“Will she be okay?  Will she stay like she is right now, or is that still just effects of the sedative?”

“She is still under the effects of the drug, although that will wear off soon enough.  I shall remain here until she is completely lucid and see how she behaves then.  If necessary, I can administer more to keep her under control; however, I would urge you again to contact Doctor Fitzsimmons as I do not know the longer term effects of these drugs I am using.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 19)

Although she had been eagerly watching the post for days, Olivia’s mother knew that much of this was futile in the days following the sending of her letter.  The mail just did not travel that fast.  During that time little changed, including Olivia’s constant attempts to elicit pained reactions out of Claudia whenever she could manage to get past her mother’s guard.  Fortunately, there were few successful attempts, as Harriet fought her own weariness valiantly, managing to stay awake until Olivia was asleep and rising to meet the day even earlier than was typical.  It was with pleasant surprise that she found Wyatt’s return letter in a small packet of mail handed to her on September twelfth.  Taking Claudia’s hand, she walked slowly down the street and over onto Delaware, sitting on a bench with her granddaughter to read the note from her brother.

August 29, 1883


I have received your letter and must say that it shocked me, both to hear from you after such a long time and also to have you request such a favor of me.  Surely we have not been close these many years, and I find it difficult to reconcile our estrangement and your request.   I do, however, grant that you have need of a specific remedy for the situation with your granddaughter and have arranged for her to travel here to Colorado at your earliest convenience.  For that, I have sent to you, via Western Union, the funds necessary to purchase travel for her by train to Denver.  I must tell you that I, along with the family of my son Isaac, are soon bound for Germany and are unlikely to return.  This trip is to be a permanent move for them, and certainly my last voyage.  As it seems you care greatly for this girl, I fear that the separation may be difficult for you, and more than you expected when you sent your letter to me.  That is the fact of it though, and so you must accept it if I am to aid you and meet your request.  Please send to me the girl’s arrival date here and I will meet her at the train.  I do hope that all is, and remains, well with you.

Your Brother, 


Putting the letter down in her lap, Harriet reached over and pulled Claudia close so that the girl would not see the tears running down her face.  Her brother was correct in saying that she had not expected her granddaughter to be taken so far away.  She also realized that once she departed for Denver there was almost no chance of her ever seeing the girl again.  Wyatt had reacted with more maturity than she had expected, and she gave him credit for that, although she still felt the letter carried a tone of harshness that was unnecessary given the nature of her request.  It was, however, the solution she had asked for, and the only one she had come up with that would allow Claudia to get away from her mother before any substantial harm was visited upon the girl.  It was the thing which must be done.  She did worry about what might become of her granddaughter so far away from her protection; however, she had little to fault Wyatt on in regard to his general demeanor and character.  They may not have gotten along well but her brother had always been reliable, generally honest and much less prone to violence than most men of his time.  Harriet believed that a person’s character changed little over time and hoped this was true of her brother.  She would need to trust to these facts and her belief in Wyatt.  Wiping her face dry with the sleeve of her dress, Harriet took Claudia’s hand and they began walking back together.  As they made their way down Ninth Street, she paused by the home of the new town doctor.  Realizing that this was the only medical resource she had immediately available, Harriet walked up and knocked on the door.  Once inside, she had a long discussion with him while Claudia played in the backyard.  As they left, her granddaughter asked who that man had been and Harriet replied softly, “Someone we are going to need in a very short while.”

As they approached from the west, Harriet could see that Olivia was sitting out on the porch and watching them as they walked up the road.  There was palpable tension, even at a distance, and the old woman shooed Claudia around the back of the house before climbing the stairs to talk to her daughter.  Olivia scoffed loudly as the girl skipped away and turned a fairly unkind face toward her mother.

“Did you enjoy your walk with my daughter?”

“Of course I did.  She is a sweet child.”  Harriet sat down in the other chair, arranging her dress neatly to the side.

“Perhaps I should take her out for another walk after dinner.”

“You will most certainly not.  That girl is going nowhere with you.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“Then treat her like she is, that would be a pleasant change.”

“I hardly,”

Harriet cut her daughter off with a raised hand.  “I’m tired of arguing this with you Olivia.  We have the same discussion every day and I’m tired.  You are not a fit mother, that is a certain fact, whether you see it or not.”

“She is mine and I can treat her as I like.”

“As I said, I am done with this argument and arguing with you in general.  I have made arrangements for Claudia.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 18)

August 9, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

I do hope that this letter finds you well.  I know that we have become estranged over these many years and I fear that this may resolve you to hesitate in considering my request.  I must, however, beg a boon in regard to my recently born granddaughter Claudia.  You will have scarce recollection of my own daughter Olivia; however, she managed to become pregnant several years ago at the rather advanced age of fifty-one.  Perhaps not surprising given my own age when I had her; however, it was most unexpected and rather unfortunate, being the product of a small dalliance I must admit to having a hand in.  For that I may well not forgive myself soon.  The scoundrel absconded at once of course, and I have been raising this child much on my own due to some irregularities with Olivia.  The details will not serve her well; just know that I now fear for the very life of Claudia and have no way to protect her anymore.  I know you are well along in years, just as I am, and may well not welcome the idea.  I still must ask, in fact insist, that you allow me to send the girl to you.  She is well-mannered and causes little trouble, although I must let you know that she was born with only one arm.  I have not seen this affect her in any way and she seems barely aware of it herself.  It may well play larger when she is around other children on a more regular basis, although I feel she will make her way through any challenges that the world puts in her way.  She has proven resolute in the face of her mother’s deterioration and I am certain she will remain so when she lives with you.  Please hurry your response in regard to this request as I must get Claudia safely away as soon as possible. 

With Warm Regards, Your Sister, 


It was into the last week of August by the time that Wyatt received this and Isaac was deep into the plans he was making to depart before the end of the year.  Realizing that a discussion about adding another member to their traveling party was going to need to take place before any further details were finalized, Wyatt folded the letter up and leaned back with his eyes closed.

He was conflicted, both in regard to his obligation to assist his sister, and in his ability to take on such a responsibility as was being asked of him.  He had long ago cast aside any deep sentiments he may have had in regard to familial attachments; however he also still felt a lingering affection for his sister.  Perhaps it was simply that she had been the one to see him off that day, regardless if that was out of obligation or not.  He also understood that he was well advanced in years and may well not be around long enough to raise Claudia properly, or to protect her from Isaac if that became necessary.  Was it right to bring any child willingly into this household that he now had, one that contained a rather unpredictable creature such as his son?  Was the danger here worse than what his sister believed Claudia faced from her mother?  After several long moments, Wyatt stood and walked into the small study where his son was bent over reading ship schedules at his desk.  Sitting down, he waited until Isaac looked up.

“What is it?”

“Have you found a ship for us?”

“There are several, however, it looks as though we will need to leave from Boston aboard a Cunard ship.  I had thought we would be leaving from New York.”

“It hardly makes a difference does it?  I’m sure it will work out just fine from Boston.”

Isaac had stood up and was pulling at his hair as he answered.  “Yes, perhaps it will, although my plans were for New York.”

Wyatt remained silent as his son fought through this change in his head.  He had long ago noticed that any deviation from a previously developed plan gave Isaac serious internal issues, sometimes causing him to become melancholy for several days following a reversal or change.  He may not look at all like his mother, however, much of her temperament seemed to have been passed along and Wyatt had learned to stay silent during these struggles.  Finally Isaac sat back down.

“Our best bet looks to be the Marathon which sails on November thirteenth.  We can get a ticket for us all at seventy dollars.”

“Steerage I take it?”

“Of course father.  We have no money for first class, especially as you know my funds are reserved for purchasing an estate in Germany.”

“Yes, so you have said.  What is the price to add another to the ticket?”

Isaac stood up again.  “We are adding no one else.  Our plans are made and we will leave with you, Ambrose, Lydia and myself, no one else.”

“I have a letter from my sister,” Wyatt began, however, Isaac cut him off.

“We will not be dragging along any remnants of your family, sister or not, I do not care.  Tell her to seek her own adventures, by herself and on her own accounts.”

It took more than an hour for Wyatt to prevail, as he explained the details of the situation with Claudia, his obligation to help and the fact that he would look after the young girl himself.  He then repeated his own insistence that she be allowed to go over and over until Isaac finally agreed in exasperation.

“Not one more change father.  We leave via train on the ninth of November and that girl will be here or she will be left behind.  You will arrange all of those extra details yourself and don’t ask me for funds to assist you either.  This is totally your own affair.”

Wyatt bowed his head slightly in agreement and watched his son storm out of the room.  Allowing a troubled but satisfied smile to cross his face, he then stood up and began to compose a reply to his sister, which he sent the next day along with a Western Union money transfer to pay for bringing Claudia out to Colorado.  As he walked back toward home, Wyatt wondered again about his ability to raise and protect Claudia; however he also knew that there was now no going back from his decision and he would need to meet his new obligation as well as he could.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 17)

Wyatt Coburn had left town that spring morning with absolutely no intention of ever coming back.  He had said whatever needed to be said so that his father would consent to his leaving, and that had ended up being that he would return within three years.  The family business depended upon his return, or so his father insisted, especially as Wyatt’s younger brother Michael clearly had no intention of staying around much longer.  His brother’s fascination with Indians had been the thing that planted the seed of Wyatt’s lie, as their father had seemed to acquiesce to Michael’s claim that adventure was what he needed to experience.  No promise had been demanded of the younger son, however, as he lacked any semblance of business acumen.  Wyatt had much of it though and had displayed it early in life, a talent which he realized much too late was going to threaten to hold him back form his own desires for adventure.   It had already done so for too many years, as he was approaching forty years old before he finally realized he just had to get away.  He may come from a family that had proven to be extremely long-lived, however, he still felt that his life was slipping away, caught in the dreary cycle of the logging trade.   So, he had promised to come back and had begun saying good-bye to people who only thought he was leaving for a few years.  On that final morning in Maine he had sensed that his sister, the sole family representative to see him off, had known about his plan.  She had, however, said nothing and merely stated that she hoped his travels went well, a farewell delivered with little actual affection.

From that moment he had felt free and happy for several years as he traveled widely, rarely staying in one place for more than six months.  Over those years Wyatt had managed to take part in several historic events, the first being his inclusion in the first large wagon train that left Independence, Missouri for California in 1841.  That group later split into two parties and Wyatt followed Captain John Bartleson to Oregon where he later worked briefly as a reporter for the Oregon Spectator, the first published newspaper on the west coast.  Wyatt also had been among the first one hundred prospectors to arrive in the  South Platte River area and take part in what would later be called the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.

It was there, during the summer of 1858, while camped along the river in a small tent, that he had gotten a Cherokee woman pregnant.  This would produce his only offspring, a son named Isaac, who would stay with him throughout the many twists his life took, including after he abandoned the boy’s mother in 1862.  The gold rush had made him wealthy and he wandered around with his money, intermittently returning to Denver City until he was broke again in 1867, finally settling down in the new territorial capital just as it shortened its name to simply Denver.

He had raised his son by himself, never having another woman permanently in his life after departing the depleted fields of the gold rush.  Wyatt believed he had managed the boy, who was far more of a trouble-maker than his father had been, as well as could be expected given the other demands on his time and attention.  Things about his son’s behavior and manner bothered him more as the boy neared his sixteenth birthday, with the usual boyhood talents for cruelty and destruction not gently easing away as they did in other young men.  At times Wyatt truly feared what might happen if his son was left to swing loose into the world, and that had prompted his attempt to keep Isaac as close as possible at a time when other men’s sons were venturing out into the world on their own.  At night, as he would sit outside his front door and smoke his pipe, he realized the irony inherent in his attempt to keep the young man from exploring the world.  Despite that, Wyatt still believed the best interests of others were served by keeping the young man close.  He could not, of course, stop the other urges of his son, and in 1880 Isaac married Lydia Potter and later in the year they had a fair-haired son whom they named Ambrose.  After the birth of his son, Isaac had become more and more insistent in his demands that he and his new family needed to strike out for other parts, and two years later Wyatt had exhausted all possibilities for keeping his son in Denver.  He had managed to wrangle himself into their plans though, claiming that his advanced age of eighty-eight meant he needed to have his family near him to provide care in the event that his health took a turn for the worse.  He was pleased with himself after finally convincing Isaac to take him along, a feeling that was cut short when he learned his son’s intended destination was Germany.  Apparently believing that the United States had offered all it could to him during the five years of his youth spent traveling with his father, Isaac was determined to go to Europe and seek his fortune and adventure.  Wyatt had an internal feeling that the long journey might in fact kill him at his old age, however he felt duty-bound to oversee and control his erratic son for as long as he was able.  It was the day after resolving himself to this, with his son’s family en route to Elite Studios in Denver for a final photograph in the United States, that his sister’s letter reached him.

family denver co elite studios 329 16th street

family denver co elite studios 329 16th street

…to be continued