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

“Ambrose?”

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 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

Sister,

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, 

Wyatt 

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, 

Harriet

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