texas governor's mansion

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Four

Above, Texas Governor’s Mansion

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Three

Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, January 1911

Fannie Campbell gazes up at her husband as they stand on the steps of what has been their home for the last four years. “Thomas, I know you dread the next few hours, but concentrate on last night. The people you worked so hard to serve could not possibly have voiced more grateful tributes. You achieved so much, despite the constant interference from corrupt big businessmen. When we entered the hall, the roar of the crowd was deafening. I barely could hear the band playing ‘The Campbells Are Coming.’”

“I hoped to accomplish so much more before the liquor industry seized control of this mansion.”

“But, Thomas, you did. Don’t let that vanishing senators’ caper cast a pall over everything else. The barber, the printer and that carpenter who so proudly ushered us through hundreds of their fellow toilers to the platform last night—they are the people for whom you fought. Just when I thought every single one had come forward to shake our hands and introduce us to their wives and their children with their freshly scrubbed faces, more swarmed the platform. I don’t think I ever have met so many people in one night, not even during your first inauguration.”

“Fannie, you and Sammie looked radiant. You were so patient and gracious to stand for so long and talk to so many. That handsome clock they gave me, they said it never has to be wound. Its ticking will serve as a continual reminder of my friends in labor. You know, Fannie, we may have lost a battle, but my resolve, and the efforts of our allies in the legislature, will continue. I’ll see Governor Colquitt does not get one appointment confirmed until there’s a vote on the liquor bill calling for a statewide referendum.”

“I detest the incoming Governor. Must I adhere to custom, Thomas? Marching on his arm in that never-ending procession snaking through the packed hall, pretending to be charmed by his company. And then, suffering through that first dance with him will be more than I can bear.”

“I’ll be right behind you the whole time, Fannie. If I can stand by and watch him be sworn in, when he has yet to resign his post as Railroad Commissioner in order to thwart my right to appoint a new one. And if I can manage to shake the clammy hands of the sneering beer barons who greased Colquitt’s way into office with unconscionable wads of cash and who plotted the senators’ flight, I’m sure you, my pillar of strength, will somehow summon the power to stomach this unpleasant evening. 

“As I plan to be polite, my introduction of him at noon will be the briefest speech of my career.”  

~   ~  ~

Former Governor Campbell pulls out his pocket watch. Half past nine o’clock. He feels his forced smile fading and yearns to escape from the receiving line. Being in this Senate chamber, where not one bill was passed last week, nauseates him. The overabundance of lush ferns and potted palms brought in for the ball make even a hall this immense claustrophobic. Every handshake reminds him of the wets’ shameful shenanigans. Yet, the line shows no sign of waning. There are at least 500 people here. 

Standing on his left, Mrs. Colquitt is all atwitter, gaily chatting away with a vaguely familiar middle-aged woman wearing an expensive looking deep blue gown. Please, please do not make him hear Mrs. Colquitt’s grating, high-pitched, artificial giggle again. There it goes.  He winces.

Even worse, though, is the recognition of the jovial man who left his place in the receiving line to escort the woman in blue. Otto Wahrmund. Does that mean the other despicable Otto will not be far behind? The pair’s contributions bought Wahrmund the absurd title of Colonel in this corrupt, new administration. 

“Former Governor Campbell! I hear you are heading back to the dry sanctuary of Palestine,” booms Colonel Wahrmund, his face flushed from an afternoon of celebrating.

“Yes, I plan to resume my law practice.”

“Well, we will certainly miss sparring with you here in Austin. That was quite a speech you gave this afternoon at the inauguration of Governor Colquitt. All of two sentences, was it? It was so nice you wished the cooperation of the legislature for the new Governor. We feared you still might be pulling the strings of the drys.”

With the conversation testing the bounds of his capacity for civility, Thomas ends it by turning to clasp the hand of Sophie Wahrmund. “Missus Wahrmund, you look lovely tonight. And, are these two young beauties your daughters?”

“I almost forgot,” the Colonel interrupts. “Otto Koehler was unable to attend tonight, but he requested that I pass this on to you.” The Colonel presses an envelope into the former governor’s hand.

Thomas shoves it into his pocket. 

Mrs. Wahrmund smiles with pride, “Only one. May I present to you Miss Ottie Wahrmund and Miss Eleanor Stevens? I am sure Eleanor’s father, John Stevens, already has passed through the line tonight.”

“A pleasure, ladies.”

~  ~  ~

“Fannie, you held up splendidly.” The clock strikes one as the former governor loosens his black bowtie. “Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but compare your dignity and grace with the crass ways of the woman on my left.”

“I am exhausted, Thomas. By the end of that silly grand march, I felt as though I’d walked from Austin to Palestine. At least if I had, we’d be home now. I fear the halls of this hotel will be horribly noisy tonight when the inebriated friends of Governor Colquitt finally stagger out of the ball. My toes must have been stepped on a hundred times!”

“I know we had some sincere well-wishers there tonight, Fannie, but greeting the gloating wets made it impossible to take any comfort in their numbers.” The envelope. Thomas reaches into his pocket to retrieve it and smooths it out. He opens it carefully, as though the task were dangerous. He scans the brief note and then crumples it, hurling it toward the wastepaper basket. The wad of paper hits the wall and falls to the floor.

“Thomas, whatever does it say?”

“The audacity of that German brewmeister!” He retrieves the paper and smooths out the new wrinkles. “The thoughtful note reads, ‘We sure john-l-sullivaned you this time. Your friends at San Antonio Brewing Company.’”

“Oh, Thomas. They truly are a despicable lot.”

“I am going to save this, Fannie. One day, maybe as soon as this summer, I’ll be able to pull it out and laugh at their insolence. Otto Koehler will do anything to skirt the law. He opens clubs in dry areas, not to make money. Oh, no. He operates clubs in dry towns simply on the ‘principle’ of the matter. In his godless twisted thinking, prohibition is morally wrong. He’s willing to lose money on these illegal clubs to prove he can flout the law with impunity. We tried cracking down on them, but there are more clubs than the Attorney General has men. I ran out of time and the budget to prosecute them. And it’s pointless to arrest the man behind the bar. I want to get the man at the top.” 

Thomas shakes his head and stares at the paper in his quaking hand. “I am saving this because Otto Koehler is wrong. That was not a knock-out. He only won this first round of the big fight. Prohibition is still in the ring. We’ll see who gets john-l-sullivaned.”

Footnotes

The eve and the evening of the ball took place as described, and Governor Campbell did not wax eloquent in turning over the mansion. Apologies extended to all the other children of the Campbells the Author is ignoring; she is trying to exert some form of population control in these pages.

The imaginary note resurfaces. The Author stumbled across “john-l-sullivaned” in a newspaper editorial and had to insert it.

You might be wondering why the Author dragged Governor Campbell in as a narrator, but you will discover his presence completely justified by the time the book circles back to 1917.

Continue to Chapter Five

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