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