An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Fifteen

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Fourteen

Emma Dumpke, December 1911

My dearest Hedda,

I just finished reading “The Judgment” by Mrs. Mary King. While not fine literature, the tale is compelling because it’s true. A virtuous young woman is virtually sold to a worldly man by her selfish mother, who loves luxury above all else. The brutal, unfaithful man demands she produce an heir. 

Alas! Poor Mr. K will have no heir of his own. But he and Mrs. K generously raise the children of others as though their own. Hettie is the child of one of Mrs. K’s sisters, and Otto and Charles are the sons of Mr. K’s twin brother Karl, now deceased.

Would you decide I’m no longer worthy of friendship if I stoop to read “Luisa of Tuscany?” I fear I cannot resist the gossipy allure of the autobiography of Madame Toselli. I understand König Friedrich August of Saxony pretends the book by his first wife does not exist. 

Sometimes I am frustrated by the lack of diversity in San Antonio’s Carnegie Library. The depressing Charles Dickens is by far the most popular author. The library has thirty copies of “David Copperfield,” and they are all in constant circulation.

I have tried to converse with Mr. K about books, but he does not share our passion. He claims he spends his days reading too many numbers to enjoy reading words in his spare time. He teases me about my frequent visits to the Carnegie Library. He says Carnegie’s gifts do us no favor. Mr. K. believes libraries are nothing but cemeteries filled with dead words written by dead men who would best be forgotten. Mr. K says a gentleman need only peruse the daily newspaper to keep abreast of important affairs of today.

Even in San Antonio, newspapers currently are filled with the story of the trial of the showgirl who shot William Stokes, so I am sure the New York papers are revealing every sordid detail. Mr. K says her only crime is she was not a good enough shot to have killed the fool. Only an idiot would proclaim love to a woman other than his wife in writing. Is Stokes’ Ansonia Hotel the glamorous one where Florenz Ziegfeld and Anna Held live? 

Mr. K gave me a pair of tickets to see the “Last Day of Pompeii” at the International Fair before it closed, and I invited a young nurse who recently moved into the boarding house to accompany me. Neither of us had ever witnessed such a spectacle. The scenery covered four acres of the fairgrounds, and there were 300 people in the cast. Chanting priests carried a golden bull to the altar in a realistic Temple of Isis when Mount Vesuvius erupted in fiery grandeur. Fortunately, it did not rain that night – Mr. K says the fair normally is an extremely dependable rainmaker – so the pyrotechnical display was breathtaking. 

I hope your toes are not in danger of freezing off. The wind whipping around those skyscraping buildings always seemed particularly bitter to me. Of course, if you were here, you would hardly ever need a coat. I never knew December could be such a beautiful month. Winter arrives in small spurts lasting only a day, and then we bask in balmy spring-like weather for the next ten days.

The mild climate is fortunate for the Mexicans living here. I am enclosing a page of winning photographs from a contest “The Express” conducted so you can see how picturesque their huts, or “jacales,” are. I prefer Mr. Goldbeck’s and Mr. Loring’s to the one selected as first place. Tourists ride in carriages to view the quaint dwellings, but Mr. K dismisses both the people and their abodes as “cockroaches.”

I told Mr. K of your suggestion that he purchase Red Cross seals for all the brewing company’s correspondence. He said he would do so in my honor, but that he also has a surprise gift for me as a reward for the good care I provide his wife. 

Suddenly Christmas looks brighter. Mr. K is such a kind and considerate gentleman. 

Whatever could the present be?

Please write soon.




The Author probably should have mentioned this earlier, but, prior to a later re-reading of some of the court testimony, the Author had no idea when, where or how the two nurses became acquainted. So, in her imagination, she invented shared school days and time in New York to establish their friendship. Hedda claimed in court she left New York for her health, but she was able to find her first employment in San Antonio within a week despite not knowing a soul. She said she met Emmy through a Dr. Hertzberg in Fisher’s Drug Store in San Antonio, possibly in 1910.

The Author has no way to ascertain whether the friends were readers, but it seems logical for pre-television educated women to be so—and perhaps tempting for single women reading about romance to slip into dangerous liaisons.

Please remember the blatant prejudices surfacing within these pages were prevalent in the 19-teens and well beyond.

Continue to Chapter Sixteen

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