Porcelain (Part 37)

Back in Hiawatha, it had in fact been a rather long journey over to the graveyard from Harriet’s house on Shawnee.  By the time they arrived, John Davis’ nose was bright red from the cold, Jimmy had pulled a blanket over his head, under which he was silently sipping whiskey, and Harriet had lost most of the feeling in her fingers.  The ceremony itself was brief and respectful, the usual words being said, and then Henry McClinton had walked over to assist in lowering the casket into the hole.  As they began, Harriet stopped them, kneeling down and placing her right hand on the top, soft words of farewell being said as mist rose from the warm earth of the grave.  Once that was done, she stood up and began the walk back, the hard set of her face deterring any offers of a ride from John.

Once home, it was a simple process.  Harriet selected a plain grey dress and a more formal cream colored one, packing them away for the time, if it ever came, when she chose to emerge from mourning for her daughter.  These days the proper social etiquette as it applied to children seemed to have been left up to the individual parents, but Harriet was unsure if she would ever again feel it proper to dress in anything but black.  The remainder of her clothing was placed into a large pile on the kitchen floor and she began the process of dyeing all of it as deep and dark of a black as she could achieve.  After setting up her wash basin and placing the clothing in it to soak, she packed all of Olivia’s belongings into a large trunk and then hung a black veil over the one image she had of her daughter.  It was a simple drawing, done years ago by an artistic man who had briefly lived in Hiawatha, setting up a small shop a few doors down from Leaders.  It was a flattering sketch, one that seemed to capture energy that had faded from Olivia even back then.  Knowing that the doctor would stop by later, driven by social custom and perhaps friendship, she wrote out a list of the things she would need weekly from the store in town, as she was certainly not going to be ready for any regular community interaction for some time to come.  Tucking a small amount of money into an envelope, along with the list, she placed them both on the small table by the door.

Harriet passed the remainder of the day with her dyeing process, her hands and forearms becoming a dull grey from the laborious process of moving and stirring the garments.  As she sat down to eat that evening, Harriet was struck by how white her fingernails had remained, standing out starkly against her oddly colored fingers.

They continued to distract her the next morning, both as she sat on the porch, repairing Claudia’s torn dress, and later while composing a letter to her brother.

November 15, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

So it has come to pass – Olivia died on the twelfth of this month, just a few days ago and I buried her on the fourteenth.  I see no reason to pass this sad news onto Claudia, who hopefully can keep some faint memory of her mother in a happy way.  Perhaps one day she will ask and I shall leave it to your judgement on what to tell her at that moment.  It is about Claudia that I write to you.

I know you have likely traveled already and perhaps are already overseas; I have only your one reference to Germany as a guide to where you may be going and I hope that your travels, if you have already begun them, go well.   How is my granddaughter taking to her new home?  Has she had any difficulty adapting to life in a different county?  What has she learned about?  Has she grown?  

I realize that our distance apart is great and that news travels slowly.  I would, however, greatly like to hear about Claudia when you have time to write me back.  I will hold this letter until you send word of where I may post it to, as you had stated you would in your last telegram to me.  Please write back soon, 

With Warm Regards From Your Sister,


She placed that letter in the drawer of her nightstand, hopeful that Wyatt would be good on his word to forward his address information, and then retuned to the process of dyeing her clothes.  The doctor, who had shown up dutifully the day before and taken the envelope without a word, retuned to the house in the afternoon with the supplies he had purchased.  Offering her the envelope back, Harriet responded with an upraised hand and a soft, “for next time,” before dismissing him with a nod of her head.  He left, an offended look on his face, and Harriet leaned back in her chair.  Mindful of the traditions she had been raised with, she was determined to remain as apart and distanced for society and societal interactions as it was possible to do.  The doctor, and anyone else, would just have to understand that.

It was much later, December tenth, when a messenger finally appeared at her door with a telegram from her brother.  Reading the message quickly, Harriet asked the man to wait while she retrieved the letter, addressing it before handing it to him with a request that it be forwarded overseas.  After glancing at what was written on the envelope, the messenger had delivered a short lecture to Harriet on the many complications inherent in getting a piece of mail delivered to such a faraway location.  He summed it up briefly as, “I doubt this will ever arrive ma’am.”  Harriet, unwilling to engage in any kind of longer discussion with the man, had simply handed him five dollars and stated, “just see that it is done.”

Porcelain (Part 36)

“Damn this place!  What have I done so wrong to anyone here to be treated like this?”  Isaac walked on past Wyatt, raising up his hands repeatedly toward the sky as he lamented whatever it was that had set him off.  Wyatt followed him with his eyes, wondering when it was going to come, which it did eleven minutes later.  Having finally circled in toward his father, Isaac stood over him, blocking out the sun which had felt rather good on Wyatt’s face.

“I’ll be needing money father.  Get your satchel.”

Wyatt peering upward at Isaac, who’s face was pinched from the strain of having to ask for assistance, abrupt and rude as that request may have been.

“What is it?  What has happened?”

“Father, I need money, so go and get your satchel.”

“I said I would follow your direction, but that most certainly does not extend to you producing orders in regard to what I may do with my money.  Now, what has happened?”

Isaac threw his hands up in apparent exasperation and stalked off, muttering to himself.  Wyatt returned to enjoying the sun on his face but was interrupted five minutes later by the return of his son.

“Very well, I shall tell you, but I will not have any of your condescension about what happened, or what I should have done differently if only I was as smart as you.  You understand me?”

Wyatt just crossed his arms in reply.

“Apparently, my last payment was not received or recorded,” Isaac continued, “which I find impossible to believe as I sent it through just as I had the others, which were all received in good order.  It has certainly been long enough for the funds to have made their way here.  So, I cannot get access to my estate unless I produce that money.”

Wyatt remained with his arms crossed.

“And I don’t have it.  As you are well aware, I have been channeling what money I did have toward this move, which has left me little.  I thought this was all worked out so we could come over and I would assume ownership of my estate as I had planned.”

More silence and crossed arms from Wyatt brought the blood rushing to Isaac’s face.

“So I need money father,” he shouted, “so go and get your damn satchel!”

Wyatt moved then, pulling the battered black case out from between two large trunks, and setting it down as his feet.

“How much then?”

The amount Isaac stated was large enough that Wyatt suspected his son may not have made several of the payments for which he was responsible in regard to the purchase of the estate.  He also knew that giving up such a large amount was going to severely deplete the small amount of money he still had in reserve.  Reluctantly, he counted out the funds to Isaac, who turned and stormed off after a very perfunctory thank-you.  An hour later, with the sun just starting to slip behind the tops of the western tree line, all seemed to be in order as Isaac stepped out from the small business where he had been finalizing his purchase.  There was a satisfied smile on his face as he strode across the roadway to a livery company, emerging from there ten minutes later.   Once all the belongings were loaded up again Isaac walked over to the business office and returned with Lydia and Ambrose.  As he helped them up into the smaller of the two wagons Wyatt overhead Lydia expressing how proud she was of her husband, after which Isaac shot him a withering and warning look.  Clearly, Lydia had somehow been kept ignorant of the fact that Isaac had not properly paid for their estate, and just as clearly Wyatt was not supposed to mention that or his loan to his son.  An interesting tool to have at his disposal was what Wyatt thought of that arrangement, keeping quiet as he lifted Claudia into the other wagon.


middle german house courtesy wikipedia.org

middle german house courtesy wikipedia.org


The estate which Isaac had chosen turned out to be rather nice Wyatt thought as they approached, secluded but not in a haunting or isolating kind of a way.  Tucked around a curve in the rutted trail they had traveled in on, the front of the estate was framed by two towering oak trees that spread their heavy limbs over the path that was cleared into the property.  It was evident that this area had formerly been very well tended, although it was now overgrown with wildflowers and tall, thin grass.  The edges of the path were lined with cornflower and chamomile which had been somewhat overtaken by weeds.  In the distance, about one half mile down the path, stood both the larger, main house and the cabin.  The house was two stories tall, with a thatched roof and exterior framing, several entrances being visible in the middle of the structure along with a low, white-washed brick wall.  The cabin was made of logs and seemed fairly new, and although it was much smaller than the house, Wyatt felt it would be sufficient for he and Claudia to live in.  After everything was unloaded and the unpacking had begun, Wyatt was surprised, and silently pleased, to hear Isaac announce that he intended to start seeking work the following morning.  Perhaps his repayment was going to come sooner than expected, although Wyatt figured it was more about his son’s wounded pride and desire to be rid of the debt.  Wyatt did not plan on making any immediate fuss about who may or may not be the master of the estate, although he was pleased to have a trump card in reserve.  He also knew that Isaac would consider it a priority to be able to claim himself as such without any worry about what his father might say.  Early the next morning, even before Wyatt was up to smoke his pipe, Isaac strode off into the darkness, headed toward town.  Later that afternoon, as Wyatt and Claudia sat silently in the  house, waiting on Lydia to serve dinner, Isaac rush into the main living area with a smile and a shout.

“It’s done!  It took me all day, and much walking, but I have secured a position in the town.  I knew I could do it!”  Isaac picked Ambrose up and twirled him around several times before setting the boy back in his seat.  After giving her husband a hug and a small kiss on the cheek, Lydia asked the question.

“Where at Isaac?  Where will you be working?”

“You’ll never guess.  Would you like to try?”

Wrinkling her nose, Lydia replied. “I hardly think so.  I know nothing of this place, so how am I supposed to guess?”

Wyatt smiled at the sarcasm in her voice, but it did not seem to deter Isaac, who continued to beam as he answered her question.

“I will be working at Wagner, Apel & Laube,” he stated proudly while taking a deep breath before finishing with, “a local Porzellanmanufaktur!”

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 35)

They walked along together for about ten minutes before ducking into a worn-down wooden building with a faded sign out front advertising rooms for rent.  Surprisingly, this did not turn out to be the lodging house that Isaac had chosen to rest at for the night, and they continued on for fifteen more minutes, admiring the scenery along the way.  Then Wyatt spotted what he was certain was the correct place.  One story tall and made of broken and crumbling brick, the irregularly shaped building peeked out from behind a thick wall of beech and poplar trees.  Run-down and hidden, Wyatt thought to himself, a perfect place from his son’s point of view.  After entering and being informed that the, “American family that just arrived,” had not secured an additional room for anyone else in their traveling group, Wyatt paid for his own room and he and Claudia retired for the night.

Waking early the next morning and slipping out to take a walk and smoke his pipe, he ran into Isaac sitting under one of the large trees that surrounded the building.  Starting to veer away from his son to avoid further confrontation, the younger man instead looked up and waved his father over.  Once Wyatt was within a few feet of the tree Isaac abruptly stood up.

The two men stared at each other for long minutes, ones that were quiet except for the cooing of some rock pigeons that were clustered together on the rooftop of a nearby storage shed.  Ultimately nothing was said between them and Wyatt stepped off to resume smoking his pipe.  By that evening though, they had managed to start talking again.  Wyatt, admitting that he knew little of the geography of Europe, had inquired about how long they still had to travel.

“About six hundred kilometers.”

Wyatt gave his best attempt at converting that to a distance that made sense to him.

“Maybe three hundred miles?”

Isaac only shook his head.

“Well, tell me then.  I have no talent for figuring those kind of things out.”

“Three seventy.”

“Hmmm, a long way then for sure.  What are our travel arrangements?”

Isaac took his time responding, finally putting down the newspaper he was reading and looking at this father.

“So, you do wish to continue on with us then?”

Wyatt only blinked back in response.

“If you do, then you will be following my guidance going forward.  And I mean that completely.  You will do as I say or you and that miserable girl can stay here and find you own way about, or back across the ocean, whatever you choose.”

Realizing that he was now being offered a dare of his own, certainly as a well-thought out plan from the scheming mind of Lydia, Wyatt also knew that he was just as unlikely to call the bluff as his son had been.

“Very well, I understand that we have perhaps taken too many pains to aggravate each other.  Claudia and I shall follow along with you and I will follow your guidance.  Leave the girl alone though.  She has done little to you and yet still knows you despise her.  Leave her in peace.”

Rising up, Isaac replied in a mocking manner.  “I do despise her father.  We leave tomorrow by carriage; Lydia, Ambrose and I.  Our, and your, possessions will follow in the wagon, as will you and the girl.   Eight a.m. father, and not a second later.”

“Yes, very well.”

As the horses stepped off the next morning Wyatt struck up a conversation with the driver of the large wagon after getting Claudia tucked in as comfortably as possible among the chests and cases that accompanied them.  Finding out their route did little to aid him in determining where, or even in what direction they might be going, and the driver’s English was poor enough to limit attempts at trying to figure out more.  Place names such as Neuhaus am Rennweg, Probstzella and Creunitz meant nothing to Wyatt and he felt lost during most of the journey, doing his best to keep track of of their direction of travel.  When they finally pulled into Lippelsdorf, he figured that they had traveled mostly South and perhaps a little to the east during their lengthy, but rather enjoyable, twelve day journey.  Traveling in the much heavier wagon, they had fallen well behind Isaac and his family within the first few hours, and the remainder of the time passed slowly although the scenery was enough to keep Wyatt and Claudia’s attention.  The driver also proved to know many good places to rest and eat on their route, and although not much else was said between them, he and Wyatt struck up a silent friendship along the way.  After helping them unload the wagon the driver gave Wyatt a short, friendly hug and then jumped up into the driver’s seat to immediately start the return journey.  Sitting down on one of the cases, Wyatt took some time look around as Claudia ran in circles around the large pile of belongings.

The town was obviously small but neatly kept, with well-manicured bushes surrounding the few homes he could see from his position on the side of the road.  There were several people walking about, one pushing a wheelbarrow and a small family working together in a garden area of their property.  A tall man, dressed in a wrinkled black suit walked right past Wyatt, and although he stared at the collection of luggage and Claudia, did not offer a greeting.  The most striking scene though was the vast forest that rose up around the town, seeming to wrap it in a blanket of pine trees.  Although Wyatt had seen the rise of these metamorphic-rock mountains as they passed along the narrow road bringing them into Lippelsdorf, it was another thing entirely to see the tall peaks from inside the embrace of the surrounding forest.  Wyatt would have been content to sit and admire them for much more time; however, the piercing voice of his son cut into his reverie.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 34)

Wyatt stood there for a moment, taking in the strange look on the boy’s face.  Ambrose had indeed been cowering at first, trying to fit his frail frame into an even smaller place than it usually occupied.  As the seconds passed he had, however, slowly unfolded himself and now stood up straight with the stick held in front of his chest like a toy rifle.  He was not looking at Wyatt, which was certainly what might be expected in this situation.  He instead seemed to be looking at Claudia in the way people look at common animals in the zoo.  Interested, but in a disinterested way, looking at something they have seen before but wondering if it is going to do anything unusual.  That was what Wyatt thought the look was all about anyway until he stepped over, closer to Ambrose, and caught the actual look in his eyes.  That was not the disinterested look he had expected.  It was instead a menacing one, which seemed to be seeking a way to do some mischief to the girl even with an adult in the room.  Abruptly Wyatt reached out and shook the boy’s shoulder.

“What are you doing in here Ambrose?  Just what are you up to?”

As a response he received only a sharp howl, followed by Ambrose bolting out of the room, and perhaps not so accidentally poking Wyatt in the ribs with his stick on the way past.  The sound awoke Claudia, who rolled over to look toward the door, and also Isaac, who shouted from the other room.

“What is going on out here?”

Wyatt paused to reassure Claudia before stepping out to confront his son.  The ensuing discussion was loud and heated, although in the end Wyatt had to restrain himself from delivering his full suspicions to Isaac, who he knew would just laugh them off.  Instead, he made his point about the inappropriateness of Ambrose being in Claudia’s room while she slept, and the fact that he thought he was up to some mischief, and left it at that.  Four hours later they all stood on the edge of the pier at the St. Katharine dock by the River Thames, a look of considerable consternation on Isaac’s face.

st katharine dock courtesy british-history.ac.uk

st katharine dock courtesy british-history.ac.uk

“Just what is the meaning of this father?  I asked you find us passage, and by that I meant passenger-style.  Not this!”

Wyatt did not bother to respond, enjoying the moment and his son’s anger.  Gazing up at the ship he finally replied.

“You said that we needed to leave today and I arranged it.  You certainly know that arrangements on such short notice are not easy, and I did have to keep your frugal nature in mind after all, even after your outburst the other day.  So, this is what we have and I’m sure it will be fine.  We aren’t going that far after all.”

Isaac took a few steps over so that he could lean in and hiss in his father’s ear.

“I will not have my wife and child traveling in this way.  This is too much, too far, you have mistaken my intent.”

Wyatt glanced over at Lydia, once again in her traveling clothes, and was fortunate enough to watch her eye.  She was certainly furious.

“Well, we have the tickets and I cannot return them.  And you need to get to Germany, so I guess you can take it or leave it.”  Wyatt knew it was a rather bold move on his part, basically a dare offered to his son, and if Isaac refused to board he was not so sure what he was going to do.

The captain of the cargo ship, a rather poorly kept one at that, strode over to the bow rail and shouted down.

“If you people are planning to board, you best do so now.  We cast off in five minutes!”  With that he turned, pitching the stump end of his cigar into the water.

Wyatt took Claudia’s hand and stepped toward the ship.  He heard Lydia whisper “No,” to Isaac but them heard his son’s small family following behind them.  Once aboard, Lydia did her best to project some false air of prominence, trying to remain aloof from what she obviously considered transport beneath her station in life, such as it was.  Wyatt and Claudia enjoyed themselves on the short journey, getting a tour of the engine room from a greasy mechanic named Murray and visiting the captain for several minutes on the bridge.  They did not see Isaac or Ambrose until they were stepping off the ship onto the picturesque dock in Hamburg, Germany.  His son’s family had apparently departed from the ship with extreme haste once it had docked.

hamburg port

hamburg port

The port area was bustling of course, mostly with persons leaving to emigrate to the United States, and there seemed to be much more traffic coming onto the long pier than there was leaving it.  Claudia ran ahead of Wyatt all the way to the very beginning of the dock, suddenly much less inhibited than she ever had been before.  He had to almost run himself to keep up and finally caught up to her near the small clock tower that stood on the main thoroughfare past the port.  Sitting down, he purchased an apple from a passing vendor pushing a cart, and then cut it up with his pocketknife to share with her.  They had finished it and were watching the passing crowds when Isaac and his family finally arrived.

“Nice place here.  I like the clean air.”  Wyatt had offered the comment as a gesture of peace, but received only a glare in return.  Hailing a passing wagon, Isaac conversed briefly in German with the driver and then, at least from what little Wyatt understood, received directions to a nearby lodging house.  With a hard look back at his father he then strode off with his wife and son in tow. Claudia stood up to start following them but Wyatt grabbed her arm and shook his head.

“They leaving us.”

“No girl, they aren’t going far.  Don’t worry, we can catch up.  It will be the most miserable looking hotel in the area, so it won’t be hard to find.  But maybe I deserve it this time.”  He finished with a wink at the girl, who laughed slightly and then sat back down.  After buying and finishing another apple Wyatt finally got up to follow after his son.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 33)

Harriet had waited after that final breath, just looking at her daughter’s face.  She held Claudia’s torn dress in one hand and her fingers played with the ripped cloth as her heart, which had been hammering away for the past several minutes, slowed back down to its normal rhythm.  Finally she stepped away into the hallway, stopping in her own room to place the dress upon her bed before walking over to the doctor’s house.  She may have told him to stay away when he departed earlier that day; however, there now was nothing more to argue about in regard to Olivia’s care.  She also knew that in modern times such as the ones she now lived in, a doctor’s confirmation of a person’s death, at least in a town setting such as Hiawatha, was almost a requirement.  That, and she was going to need assistance again, as much as she was reluctant to admit it.  Closing her eyes briefly before doing so, she knocked on the doctor’s door.  As persons in that profession seem able to, he had sensed the situation without asking as soon as he opened the door, grabbing his medical bag and then Harriet’s arm as they walked back toward her house.  After confirming the death, he turned toward Harriet.

“Not exactly unexpected but rather abrupt.”  His eyes asked an unspoken question.

“Yes, well, I think we all know that she was in rapid decline.  It surely did not seem abrupt to me.  I feel as though she has been sick for ages.”

The doctor did not reply, continuing to look down at Olivia’s body on the bed.  Slowly his eyes wandered toward the nightstand, where the tea cup sat slightly off the edge, awkwardly balanced and threatening to fall.  Several seconds later Harriet stepped over and picked it up.

“I’ll just clean up in here then before I take care of her body.  Can you arrange a carriage for me doctor?  And ask Hank to send a casket over with them?”

“I don’t suppose you will let me send the undertaker then?  They can embalm,”

Harriet held up her hand.  “Let’s not talk of that foolishness.  I will wash her and dress her, just as my family always has, and then I will walk with her body down to the cemetery.  Now, can you arrange the other?”

“Very well.  I have to go out and see John Davis today, his wife is ill.  I’m sure he will spare the time to drive a carriage over.  I’ll have him stop at the general store for the casket.  What time?”

Harriet shook her head.  “Not today.  It’s late and anyway that wouldn’t matter.  I have to sit with her tonight of course.  Tomorrow morning at ten a.m. will be fine.”

Doctor Warren paused before leaving, looking down once again at Olivia’s body.  “Very abrupt,” he commented slowly, before turning and walking out.

It took the rest of the day for Harriet to clean and prepare her daughter for the grave.  As she had seen her own mother do, and had  done herself more times than she wished, she began by undressing Olivia and washing her body thoroughly with a sponge and warm water.  Standing up to go prepare a light oil infusion with juniper, she also took the clothing Olivia had been wearing out of the room with her.  Returning after giving the body time to dry, she rubbed the oil lightly over it and then carefully dressed her daughter in a dark blue, high-collared dress with long sleeves and lace cuffs.  Crossing the arms over the stomach, she slipped sprigs of rosemary into the sleeves before tucking Claudia’s picture behind the left arm.  With that work done, Harriet set the tea kettle on the stove and made a light lunch for herself before returning to sit with Olivia’s body.  She stayed that way, through the evening and night, falling asleep in the chair sometime after one a.m. and being awoken by the light of the morning.  With a slight flutter of her heart she looked over at the bed, seeing that all remained as it had been the night before.  Her daughter truly was dead.

Preparing herself for the walk to the cemetery, Harriet put on her mourning dress and veil, along with a pair of boots suitable for the walk and the weather.  Although little snow had fallen and the streets remained clear, the air was cold and regular shoes were not going to provide enough protection.  Donning a coat, and grabbing a cup of tea, she went to sit on the porch to await the carriage, which pulled up a few minutes before ten o’clock.


county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

John Davis had driven a simple affair for the mission today, a county-style wagon with a covered driver’s seat and plenty of room for the pine casket that sat in the back.  He had another man with him, one that Harriet did not know, but the extra muscle would be useful today.

“Good morning ma’am.  Are you set then?  And don’t you have someone to go with you?  A relative or friend?”

Harriet rose and straightened out her dress and coat.  “No, no I do not.  I shall be walking by myself, but thank you.”

John glanced back at his carriage and gestured toward it with his thumb.  “You’re welcome to sit up on top with me.  Jimmy can sit in the back.”

“I will walk, as my family has always done on days like this.”

Shrugging, John looked up at the sky.  “Cold enough, but at least it’s sunny out.  I stopped by and spoke to Henry McClinton.  He says the ground was fairly easy to dig, so he’s ready for us anytime.  Is she, well, I mean, may we go in then?”

“Yes, yes you may.”

Harriet remained standing while John and Jimmy hauled down the casket and then went in to bring the body out, affirming with a slight nod their adherence to her other requests that the body leave feet first and out the back door.  As they passed by her she motioned them to stop, rearranging the dress on Olivia’s body and then securing the picture behind her folded hands.  After they had affixed the lid and placed the casket back in the carriage, Harriet walked down and stood behind it, head bowed and hands clasped over her heart.  As she nodded up at John she overhead, but ignored Jimmy’s mumbled comment.

“It’s gonna be one damn long ride over to that cemetery.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 32)

liverpool dock courtesy cumberlandscarrow.com

liverpool dock courtesy cumberlandscarrow.com


He and the young girl passed the remainder of the voyage on the deck and were among the first passengers to disembark in Liverpool.  The day was overcast and gray, smoke and other debris filtering down through the air as they stepped out onto the dock row.  The long storage buildings dominated their line of sight, with a tall smokestack looming up in the distance.  Wyatt mentioned to Claudia that he thought the air smelled like rotten cabbage, but the young girl just shook her head and replied, “Dirt.”

They waited together, pushed up against the side of a building by the rush of passengers and dockers.  About forty-five minutes later Isaac and his family finally made their way down the gangplank, Lydia once again dressed in the blue hobble-skirt.  Wyatt waited for them to make their way through the thickest part of the crowd before approaching with Claudia in tow.

“We will need to find some accommodations for the night, for all of us.  Then we can finalize a plan to get to London,” Isaac announced without preamble, and much more graciously than Wyatt expected.  Suppressing his own desire to be in charge he nodded and replied.

“I will get us a cab then and hold it out by the street.  You follow along as you wish.”   He and Claudia stepped off briskly, reaching the edge of the row in five minutes and securing their ride in much less time than had been needed in their past experiences together.  By the time that Isaac and his family emerged twenty minutes later, the impatient driver had already needed to be bribed twice by Wyatt to wait.  Several stops and starts later, they had found a hotel that met Isaac’s frugal requirements, and they all quickly turned in without supper,  too exhausted to argue about anything.

grand hotel london courtesy fineartamerica.com

grand hotel london courtesy fineartamerica.com


The next day plans were made for train transport to London, and by  their third evening abroad they were ensconced at the Grand Hotel in London, occupying a family suite on an upper floor.  This was a luxury which Wyatt insisted on paying for, unable to face another night in a place selected by his son, and not wanting to start any kind of an argument.  His son had accepted with a muttered comment about wasting money, but at least they would be safe and comfortable until they left to cross into Germany.  During the days that they waited to arrange passage, Isaac spent most of his time at the telegraph office, attempting to arrange the final purchase of the land he had come over to Europe to establish his family upon.   Although he initially had his mind set on owning a piece of the island at Malchow, Isaac had later turned his attention to the small town of Lippelsdorf.  He had heard that a small estate was available there, right on the edge of the Thuringian Forest.  It came with both a main house and a smaller cabin that he planned to use to house his father and the girl.  All of the long distance planning had gone well, at least as far as he could tell, but he still worried that things would go awry before he arrived to secure his property and future.  He had sent money ahead, a down payment, on land he had never seen and was anxious to know that his investment was secure.  The replies that he was getting at the telegraph office were vague and noncommittal, a fact that drove him into a frenzy of worry and fear, and he stormed back into the hotel room on their third evening at the Grand.

“Have you secured the boat then?  When do we leave?”

Peering up from the newspaper he was reading, Wyatt replied, “What has you so agitated?”

“I asked about the arrangements!  When do we leave?”

“I haven’t quite finished looking into it yet, and I don’t see the need to hurry.  Or at least you shouldn’t see any need for it, as none of this is costing you a penny.”

“You are one to talk about money, but you should be saving it, not throwing it away on this place.  How much can you have left?  Not much I suspect, and there won’t be a penny to raise that girl up with. Now, when do we leave?”

Claudia had emerged from the bedroom and stood leaning up against the side of the doorway, taking in the argument.

“As I said, I have not yet finished looking into it.  You told me quite plainly to find the cheapest passage and I’ve been going to every place I can find to try to meet your wishes.  It takes some time.”

“Well we haven’t any more time left.  Take the money I gave you and go purchase the cheapest tickets you have found.  We leave tomorrow.”

Wrinkling his nose up slightly, Wyatt pulled his paper back up.  “Yes, well, I’ll go in the morning.  They’re closed after all, its evening.”

He made good on his promise, getting up early and heading out by himself as Claudia had not yet awoken.  He returned forty-five minutes later, opening the door quietly in case all were still asleep in the room, as they had been when he left.  As it opened,  he caught a flicker of movement in the dim light coming through the sheer curtains, a shadowy figure that seemed to disappear as he stepped into the room.  Putting the tickets he had purchased down on the table, Wyatt slowly took off his black overcoat and hat. He then quietly stepped toward his bedroom, as that was where the apparition had seemed to be headed.  As he entered he saw two things; Claudia still asleep and curled up on the small extra bed, and Ambrose, cowering against the near wall with the stick, from his hoop-and-stick game, tightly clenched in a small hand.

hoop and stick

hoop and stick


…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 31)

“Come on Claudia, let’s take a walk.”  As he spoke, he shook her gently from her sleep.  “It’s about time we checked this place out.”

As they stepped out of the cabin, she looked up at him and spoke.

“Go to see Isaac?”

“No dear, we are just going to take a walk.  I will go see him myself later.”  He dreaded the thought of that meeting, as he had realized during the course of the previous three days that he had been most completely in the wrong and was going to need to apologize to his son.  Not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because he knew that he needed Isaac’s cooperation to care for Claudia.  He may be able to get them their own compartment on a ship, or take care of a few small necessities for the girl, but securing a place to stay, and maintaining it, was likely going to be out of reach financially for him in Europe.  Making the peace with his son was the only real option he had.

They walked for over an hour before heading to the dining area for breakfast.  There were a few passengers who seemed to recognize Wyatt from the boarding incident, small banter and pointing fingers following them as they made their way to sit down at a table.  Glancing backward, he offered a small salute to those people, an action which promptly made them return their attention to their plates.  Afterward, they headed back onto the deck and spent the next few hours leaning on the rail, Claudia staring at the ocean as Wyatt told her more gold-mining tales.

That day and the next passed in similar fashion, with the two of them spending most of their time out of the cabin, exploring the ship or watching the water.  Wyatt even managed to get Claudia to take part in some of the games arranged by the crew for the children onboard and she seemed to enjoy both the playing and the interactions.  The other youngsters seemed to take her missing arm as a matter of little concern, adapting themselves to whatever she was able to do rather than making her feel out of place.  They did not see Isaac or any member of his family, even at meals when most of the second-class passengers were in the dining area.  That suited Wyatt, although he knew that eventually he was going to have to brace himself and go talk to his son.  He procrastinated as long as possible, but in the mid-morning of the sixth day at sea, with their docking in Liverpool just five hours away, he asked a steward for his son’s cabin number.  After a short walk over, he took a deep breath and  knocked.  When Isaac answered the door, he stood there with his hand still on the knob, barring entry and looking coldly at his father.  Wyatt returned the look, trying to soften the anger that was boiling up inside as he was kept waiting.  Finally, Lydia, out of sight behind the door, spoke.

“Let him in Isaac.  It’s your father, I presume.”

With a final cold look the arm dropped, allowing Wyatt to step into the room.

“Right on time then, father.”

“Hmmm, what’s that?”

“Right on time, I said.  I figured that your stubborn pride was going to keep you away until you absolutely had to come over here and beg for my forgiveness.  And here we are, about to dock and have you and that wretched girl spilled out into Liverpool.  I’m sure you’ve realized that you have little choice but to get back into my good graces.”

Sitting in a chair, knitting by the light of a small lamp, Lydia smirked slightly before turning her head away from Wyatt’s view.  Taking a breath, deeper than the one he had braced himself with before knocking, Wyatt replied.

“Yes, well, here I am indeed.  I hope that you understand that my actions the other day, my words toward your wife and you, were delivered out of frustration, and not intended to insult either of you.  I hope that you will accept this as my apology to you both.”

Silence between them followed, the gentle clicking of Lydia’s knitting needles sounding out of time with the ticking of the wall clock.  She continued to look at the floor, a small, sarcastic smile on her face, while Isaac slowly sat down on a stool.  Keeping his back straight and head turned up slightly, pompous and resentful, he seemed content to let the uncomfortable tension linger in the air.  Wyatt realized that this was just as difficult as he had expected it to be.  Finally, with a sarcastic smile of his own, Isaac spoke.

“And the boy?”

“Ambrose?  What of him?”

“His apology.  You must apologize to him also, he was there when you degraded our family so hatefully.  You surely owe him also.”

Now Lydia could hardly contain herself, a triumphant grin on her face, although she did mange to avoid making eye contact with Wyatt, who looked at her with a certainty that this last stipulation was her idea.  Turning his head toward the bed, he saw the pale-skinned boy sitting in the corner, wrapped up in a blanket, beady eyes peering over the top.

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am father.  You owe us all an apology and so far you have only offered it to me and my wife.  Do you not think that my son was just as humiliated as we were?”

“I hardly,” but Wyatt caught himself before finishing with his own assessment of the boy’s ability to comprehend much of anything.  Turning his bottom lip inward, he bit down hard, a small amount of blood trickling into his mouth.  He had, however, managed to suppress his anger.  After several more moments of composing himself he turned toward Ambrose.

“I do apologize to you also boy, and hope you will accept it.”

With that, he turned and left the room, slamming his hand into a bulkhead several steps after exiting the cabin.  He had done it for Claudia, and that was enough to satisfy him.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 30)

The next morning, a sunny November the thirteenth, Wyatt and Claudia got up early and were at the dock well before Isaac and his family showed up.  As they approached the wharf where their ship, Marathon, was docked, they walked hand-in-hand with Claudia pointing at each new curiosity they passed.  Wyatt had started to explain to her exactly what she was seeing but soon realized that the young girl was far too distracted to listen.  When they finally saw Marathon, they both stopped to admire the ship as it received the hurried rush of departure day loading and final touches.

cunard ship marthon in east boston harbor

cunard ship marthon in east boston harbor


Wyatt had looked up some information on the vessel prior to leaving Denver; however, those facts proved to be no match for the experience of actually seeing her in the water.  First launched in 1860, the Marathon was over two thousand four hundred gross tons and three hundred and thirty-six feet in length, with an iron hull and room for nine hundred and twenty passengers, most of them in third-class berths. Painted mostly a dark red, the brilliant white deck rails and superstructure stood out starkly as the sun struck them from the east.  It was a fine looking ship.

Sitting down on a bench near the entry to the wharf, Wyatt and Claudia watched the traffic, both people and boats, until Isaac and his family alighted from a hansom cab twenty minutes later.

Lydia was dressed in her very best, a blue velvet hobble-skirt clinging to her body and her face shielded from the sun by a  straw hat tied under her chin with a white ribbon.  Wyatt shared a private joke with himself as he envisioned his son trying to strap his wife into a corset  tightly enough to get her into the dress, some version of Isaac’s foot planted in her back continuing to dance around in his head.

“Is something funny father?” Isaac asked this as he stepped out into the street to pick up his son’s jacket, which had fallen from the boy’s grasp as he exited the cab.  He and Ambrose were dressed much more modestly than his wife.

Realizing that his own wry amusement was showing through, Wyatt removed his smile and replied, “No, nothing at all, just happy to be starting our trip.”

As they made their way toward the line to board for the second-class section of the ship, Claudia stayed firmly by Wyatt’s side, ensuring that her great-uncle was always between her and Ambrose.  The boy occasionally would poke his head around, trying to get into her line of sight; however, for once Isaac seemed determined to keep the boy at bay and retained a tight grip on his collar.  The jostling and maneuvering of the other passengers in the line kept them all in continual motion and Wyatt was fairly tired and irritated by the time they arrived at the front.  Turning over his tickets to the porter, he heard a woman several places behind them mention that perhaps the “woman up there in the blue hobble” was in the wrong line.  Turning back toward the voice with a sneer, he shouted, “No, she’s in the correct damn line, just over-dressed, that’s all!”

As he turned back, he realized that his outburst had made a profound impact on his son and daughter-in-law, one red-faced in embarrassment and the other seething in anger.  With a shrug, he grabbed Claudia’s hand and pulled her forward, past the porter and onto the gangplank to board the ship.  They had taken only five steps when Wyatt felt a tug at his sleeve and turned, expecting to face bluster and indignation from Isaac.  Instead, his son threw a punch that cracked across Wyatt’s jaw and sprawled the older man over the edge of the raised gangplank rail.  Claudia let out a shriek as Isaac followed up with two more punches to his father’s stomach before a tall man, who was boarding after Lydia, push forward and pulled him off.   Leaning on the plank rail for support, Wyatt straightened himself up as the line to board started to back up behind them.

“You’ve done it father, your last and worst, you’ve finally done it!  I won’t have you insulting my wife like she is some common street woman!”  As he spoke, Isaac continued to struggle to escape the hold of the tall man.  Wyatt took one step forward but then stopped and replied while holding his hand against his rapidly swelling jaw.

“Not me.  It’s you that have finally done it, boy.  Your wife is common, just as common as they come, that’s plain enough to see!”  His entire body was shaking in anger and he fought to control it.  “I’m done with you all!”

Isaac, equally shaky and furious, spat in his father’s direction as the older man turned and walked into the ship with Claudia running to catch up.  When the tall man finally released him, Lydia came forward and took her husband’s arm, guiding him into the ship with her head held high.

Despite Wyatt’s previous determination to ensure that Claudia had some fun on the voyage, they did end up spending the first three days in their small cabin, with the ship’s medical staff checking in on Wyatt twice daily and bringing meals for them both.  Although his bruised jaw was healing well, his humor was not, and all of Claudia’s attempts to cheer him up were unsuccessful.  He spent most of his time sitting in the one chair in the room, a straight-backed and uncomfortable affair, staring at the wall and smoking his pipe. Claudia amused herself as best as she could, drawing on the slate they had brought along and singing songs to her dolls.  When he awoke on November sixteenth, Wyatt realized that his mood had finally improved.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 29)

Harriet stood there for a few long moments, a series of memories from her daughter’s life flashing by in her mind.  As they did, she kept her hand on the doctor’s arm, as he seemed torn between going to help her and turning away in embarrassment.  She knew that despite the uncomfortable nature of the situation, she was going to need his assistance with Olivia.  Taking a deep breath, and dismissing the memories, she stepped forward and grabbed the quilt to wrap around her daughter.  Once she had it situated in a way that provided some modesty to the situation, the doctor came over to assist her.  Working together, and against the dead-weight of Olivia, who seemed oblivious to the struggle, they managed to get her into the bed and covered completely back up.  Falling with a sigh into a chair, Harriet wiped the sweat from her forehead before speaking.

“Thank you doctor.  I think I’ve got it from here.”

“Yes, well I will check up on her just for a minute.  Just to make sure that she didn’t injure herself.”  He started toward the bed but Harriet raised her hand to stop him.

“Really doctor, it won’t matter, doesn’t matter anymore.  Leave her to me as she is.”

“Ma’am, I know you are tired from all of this.  Go lay down and I will check on her.  A little rest will do you well.”

“You’ve been good to her, you really have.  And me.  All of us. You truly have done your best to help and I appreciate it.  But we both know that there is nothing that can be done for her, nothing of substance anyway.  She is as she will be, and there cannot be much of life left for her.”

The doctor had started shaking his head half-way through Harriet’s comments and continued as he replied. “You are over-tired and despondent.  There is no reason to despair here.  She is ill, that is certainly true, but good medicine can assist and I am here to provide it. We owe,”

Harriet interrupted him, her voice starting to harden.  “You owe her nothing.  You have provided well for her and I release you from your service to her.”

“I cannot just walk away from this.  I have an obligation to provide my best care.”

“Doctor, I release you and bid you farewell.  You need to learn to understand when you are wasting your time.  Such a lesson will serve you well through your medical career.  Some living things cannot be saved.”  Harriet’s eyes, more a metallic steel now than their usual soft grey, met his, and they silently considered each other for several moments.  Finally he dropped his eyes and replied.

“My time is never wasted on trying to preserve the life of any person.  I do see here that you no longer want me to look after her and I will go, for now anyway.”  As he turned and picked his medical bag back up, Harriet briefly closed her eyes, steeling herself to dismiss him.  As he walked out of the room she called after him, her voice filled with a bitterness that reflected her own distaste for having to say it.

“Stay gone.”

The room closed in on her after that, the dreariness of a day that had turned from sunny to overcast adding to the somber feeling she felt in her heart.  It was just her and Olivia, her daughter, whom not so many years ago had been such a vibrant young woman, one full of enough adventurous spirit to strike out from the east coast toward the unknown territory of Kansas.  Harriet’s other cares and worries slipped into the background as she concentrated on being right there, next to and with her daughter, who had faded back into sleep.  She rose and went to sit on the bed, stroking Olivia’s hair, feeling her face and breathing in the slightly musty odor that emanated from her skin.  Her finger traced the ridge of her daughter’s nose, a sharp edge that had always given Olivia a slightly hawkish look.  She remembered when she would tweak it when her daughter was a little girl, calling her bird-beak in a way that would send Olivia into a playful pout.  Carefully she turned her daughter’s face, so she could see all of it, the way the wisps of her hair hung down and tickled her cheeks, the slight downturn of her lips, the mole next to her left eye.  It was so peaceful as she saw it now, soft and relaxed in repose.  She could feel her daughter’s ribcage against her own side as Olivia’s shallow breaths continued without seeming to notice her mother’s attention.  Leaning over, she kissed her daughter on the forehead, a kiss she held for almost an entire minute before rising and walking to the kitchen.

Once there, Harriet set about her mission without any delay or hesitation.  Taking out her remaining supply of dried belladonna, she began crushing it in her mortar, her strong but thin hands working the plant over and over again, until it became a fine powder.  Finally satisfied that is was soluble, she poured it into a tea cup and then added warm water and several teaspoons of sugar.  As she stirred this solution, she watched out the window as a large crow bobbed up and down on the top branches of a Inkwood tree.  Setting down the spoon, she walked back toward the bedroom, where she set the cup down on the nightstand.  Pulling the portrait from under the covers, she tucked it in her daughter’s arms after slowly pulling Claudia’s torn dress out of her hand.  Waking Olivia up with a sharp shake of her shoulder, she coaxed her into a partial sitting position before placing the cup to her lips.  Taking it without question or even a glance at her mother, Olivia drank it down quickly, choking slightly as the last of it crossed her lips.  Laying back down, she pulled the portrait of Claudia close into her chest with a small smile on her face.  A short time later, with her mother watching her from the doorway, she trembled briefly and took one last troubled breath.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 28)

The time since Claudia’s departure had passed slowly and less than gracefully, both for Harriet and Olivia.  Although her daughter’s condition did continue to deteriorate, Harriet remained adamant that she stay at home.  Doctor Warren had argued, vigorously at first, and then in a way that seemed determined to satisfy his professional conscience.  He did continue to provide what help he could, although that of course fell short of bathing Olivia and cleaning her up when she refused to get out of bed to relieve herself.  Those tasks fell to Harriet and she performed them as well as she could, given her age and remaining strength.  Olivia’s lack of grace during this time was about more than her physical needs, as her mistreatment and abuse of her mother escalated sharply once Claudia was gone.  As Harriet had described it to the doctor, her daughter was always either asleep, delusional or frothing at the mouth with rage and obscenities.  Olivia was most quiet when she was lost in that fantasy world she had constructed, carrying around her daughter’s portrait and dress.  She would talk to these objects constantly, or set them up somewhere and play a game of marbles or jacks.  Never once, among all of that illusion, did Olivia ever ask about Claudia or how she was actually doing.

The weather had turned cold by the fourth week after Claudia left, and several wood stove’s were going all of the time to fight off the unseasonable chill.  She had been up late, sitting near the cooking stove and sipping tea when a piercing scream from Olivia cut through her reverie.  Reaching her daughter’s bedroom door, she found her thrashing about in bed, the double quilt she usually covered up with hastily strewn off to the side.  Wanting to avoid Olivia’s flailing arms, she stopped several feet short of the bed.

“What is it?  What is wrong?”

“The cold is coming for me, it comes for me again!  Bring me to the fire to warm my bones!”

These words brought Harriet abruptly back to that scene in the bedroom following Claudia’s birth, those similar strange visions that had accompanied her high fever.

“Please stop throwing yourself around like this.  I cannot help you unless you stop.”

“You cannot help me mother, not now, not ever!  It’s the cold that comes for me and I need the fire to warm my bones.  Find me the god-damn fire!”  Olivia finished with a howl while reaching upward with her arms toward the ceiling and beginning to bang her head backward into the headboard.  Seeing her opportunity, Harriet dove onto her daughter, attempting to grab her head while Olivia bucked in rage underneath her.  Ultimately, her strength failed, and Olivia was able to cast her off the side of the bed, where her head slammed into the nightstand and she was knocked unconscious.

When she came to, the house was quiet but getting cold and her daughter was asleep, curled up with Claudia’s portrait and dress.  Easing herself into the chair, Harriet felt the gash in her temple and then attempted to stretch out her limbs.  Finding herself relatively intact, she walked slowly to the kitchen and tended to herself as best as she could.  When the doctor asked her the next day what had happened, she merely shrugged and waved off his attempts to look at the dressing she had placed over the wound.

Following that event, Olivia’s moments of wakefulness decreased significantly.  Her mother, relieved of some of the strain of constant care by this change, was able to tend to a few details that had been neglected.  One of these was to send a telegram to Wyatt, inquiring about her granddaughter’s welfare.  The reply she received, which reflected the better parts of the situation in Denver, cheered her up significantly.   It had been the right thing to do, the correct decision, to send Claudia to her brother.  Certainly there would have been nothing good that could have come from having such a young child endure the continued downward descent of her own mother.

The final day of that descent was signaled in a way that Harriet understood could mean the end was very near.  Just after midnight she was awakened by a sharp, high-pitched whistle, one that seemed close-by, just outside the house.  Instantly wide awake, her heart beating rapidly in her chest, she held her breath and waited.  The whistle sounded again and this time she rose, grabbing her blanket around her and sitting down in the rocking chair.  She whispered quietly to herself.

“Not again, not the third time.  Not again.”  She knew that three strange sounds in the night, if they came closely together, foretold the death of someone.  This signal had announced the death of four other people close to her, and each time it had been a similar whistle.

When it did sound the third time,  Harriet shuddered, her teeth briefly chattering as she fought the realization that this may well be the last day of her daughter’s life.  When she had stopped trembling, she went to check on Olivia, who remained alive and asleep in her bed.  Too much on edge to sleep, Harriet waited in the sitting room for the sun to come up while keeping an uneasy eye on her daughter’s bedroom door.  It was past ten a.m. before she gave up her vigil, after once more checking on her daughter, and went to sit on the porch.  Nibbling on cold toast, she passed the remainder of the morning in an effort to convince herself that this one time the omen was going to be wrong.  As Doctor Warren strode up toward the house she rose to greet him.

“You look worried, and worn out ma’am,” he stated, jumping past the usual formalities.

“I am.  It has been a long evening.”  Her voice was barely a whisper and the doctor had to lean in to hear.

“Olivia then?  Another episode?  Is she ranting again?”

Harriet shook her head.

“What then?  Are you ill?”

A long moment passed, one in which she considered telling him about the whistle and what it meant, or could mean, but she knew it would have no effect on him.  He was not someone prone to believing in such things.

“Just a long night.  Sometimes I cannot sleep well, you know.”

“Yes, well, it will not do to have you getting ill.  Come inside and rest and I will look in on her.”

As they walked into the house a sound from Olivia’s room was followed by a cry, one that sounded more like a child than a grown woman.  The doctor pushed Harriet into a chair.

“Please, I’m sure she is just getting herself wound up again.  Sit here and I will go see.”

Harriet reluctantly complied and her weary eyes followed the doctor.  He was one step into the room when he stopped short with an exclamation.

“What the devil is this?”

Quickly getting up, Harriet was at the door several seconds later, to find her daughter sitting on the floor.  Olivia was naked, except for the small dress, which she had somehow managed to get over her head, with one arm also burst through where the armhole used to be.  The portrait was held against her chest.  As Harriet entered the room, her daughter looked at her, eyes younger than her years and an innocent but hurt tone to her voice.

“Mommy, my dress doesn’t fit.”