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