Above, San Pedro Park, from Gregg Eckhardt’s edwardsaquifer.net
Hedda Burgemeister, October 1912
Mr. Koehler steps forward to help Hedda with her wrap. “You have no idea how grateful Missus Koehler and I are that you were able to substitute for Miss Dumpke today. Missus Koehler kept you here longer than anticipated. You must allow me to drive you to meet the streetcar.”
“I was happy to be of assistance, Mister Koehler. Thank you, though, there is no need for me to inconvenience you. The stop is close, and I enjoy walking.”
“I insist,” Mr. Koehler says. “I’ll get the carriage.”
Waiting on the front veranda, Hedda watches him cover the short distance to the carriage house. However did her friend Emma allow herself to become entangled in such a complicated affair? What attracted her to him? He is not handsome; yet Hedda feels her cheeks grow flush in anticipation of riding next to a man of such prominence.
Mr. Koehler opens the gate and assists her into the carriage. As he climbs up, he gestures toward the impressive wrought-iron and brick fence surrounding the mansion’s extensive grounds.
“When I first built this house, I erected no fence. People boldly strode right across the lawn and snipped my roses by the dozen. One morning, a newspaper editorial caught my attention. The editor ranted and raved about invasive fences disturbing the appearance of neighborhoods around town. And I thought, brilliant!
“So I got Carl von Seutter, my architect, to design this fence. I realize that, in part, I did so because no arrogant editor is going to dictate to me what I can do with my own property. But it is handsome, no?”
He leaves no opportunity to respond. “I think a man against fences is a man with nothing worth protecting. That, or he’s a thief who wants his work made easy. No one steals my roses now, and Señor Rodriguez’s goats can no longer treat my garden as though it were open range. The cook was amazed to discover our chickens lay twice as many eggs as we once believed. Egg-poachers’ intrusions are thwarted.”
Mr. Koehler clicks his tongue to direct his horse to head toward San Pedro Park. Neither horse nor driver seem in a particular hurry.
Hedda simply needs to nod her head periodically to hold up her end of the conversation. Apart from the initial arrangements for her to stay in the house, Mr. Koehler had addressed her formally and sparingly. She thought him reserved. Maybe somewhat stuffy.
Pointing at a neighbor’s house, “You know, everyone acts as though Atlee Ayres were the only architect in town, but I will take a good German like von Seutter any day. A man’d be a fool to hire a man who lets a monkey run amok in his house.”
“Singy, they call it. His sons found him in a market in Singapore earlier this year. Spoiled-rotten, the creature has his own bed and bath and more than a half-dozen fancy coats.”
Hedda giggles at the picture he paints of the Ayres’ domestic life. “I’d love to meet such a monkey.”
Mr. Koehler glances at her sideways, chuckling, “Then you probably like Oso as well?”
“Oso? Who, or perhaps what, is Oso?”
“Ah, so you have yet to encounter him?” They arrive at the streetcar stop, but Mr. Koehler clucks to the horse to continue around the park. “Then we must introduce you.”
As the carriage turns onto North Flores Street, Hedda sees a large circle, six-deep, of squealing, laughing, clapping children. She spies the attraction. The children surround an enormous black bear standing six-feet high on his hind legs, executing a rather awkward and clumsy dance.
“The owner, a man named Edwards, found the bear as a baby, abandoned near his mine in the mountains outside of Monterrey. His children unimaginatively christened him Oso, the Spanish word for bear. They taught him tricks and claim him to be far gentler than most dogs. When forced to flee the violence in Mexico earlier this year, even Missus. Edwards refused to leave unless Oso came with them.”
Delighted, Hedda would love to alight from the carriage and join the children, but Mr. Koehler instead circles back. As he pulls the carriage up to the stop, the streetcar operator jerks the bell-pull, clanging the last warning for passengers to board.
Hedda prepares to bolt out of the carriage, but he grasps her arm. “No, you might fall. I’ve made you miss your ride. I must drive you all the way home.” She finds herself nodding demurely, lamely accepting.
“I hope you don’t find this too impertinent, but your first name is Emma, is it not?”
“Yes, but no one has called me that since my mother died. I was five. Her name was Emma, and I think my father couldn’t bear to be reminded continually of her loss every time he called my name. Everyone calls me Hedda.”
“Hedda. I prefer that as well. I need no additional Emmas in my life.”
His displeasure with her friend’s abrupt resignation yesterday is obvious. Emmy’s recent awkward avoidance of him should have eliminated any element of surprise. Mrs. Koehler did not appear bothered at all today by the loss of her regular nurse.
Mr. Koehler takes an indirect route through downtown, heading eastward toward the Alamo. The pungent aroma of chili simmering over open fires permeates the air as they approach the plaza filled with rows of tables and chairs set up in front of the post office for rustic al fresco dining.
Mr. Koehler snorts his disapproval, “They need to outlaw this riffraff plying trusting tourists with their poisonous concoction—food not even native Mexicans could possibly stomach.”
“Poisonous might be too strong a label, Mister Koehler. I’ve sampled it on several occasions and find the intermingling of the spicy flavors invigorating.”
“And you a nurse! Surely you know these people have no place on the plaza with pure water to wash their hands or to wash whatever the things are they throw in the pot. Their ingredients surely spoil well before they boil.”
“I know, and that knowledge keeps me from patronizing them more frequently. But the aroma is tantalizing. It beckons me despite more practical considerations. And, I never once have experienced the slightest side effect, only satisfaction and a desire for more. A young Mexican girl who irons for a lady I assist told me of a wonderful sounding dish her grandmother makes. Her family is from Xico in the state of Veracruz—a place of witches she said. Her Grossmutter devotes days to preparing a magical blend to celebrate the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She described a rich mélange of nuts, raisins, cinnamon, chocolate and those deep-red dried chiles that match the weathered faces of the ancient-looking women who spread them out on their shawls to sell near the Market House.”
“Disgusting! Ruining good chocolate with hot peppers? Even one of the Brothers Grimms’ witches wouldn’t concoct such a foul stew.”
“Ah, but even the smallest dip into this totally foreign culture is an exotic adventure for me. I inquired about the sauce—mole she called it—at the Original Mexican Restaurant on Losoya Street, but Missus Farnsworth said the cook who normally prepares it was visiting relatives in Mexico. Hopefully, she has not absconded with the recipe; for I long to sample it.”
“Das sind mir spanische Dörfer,” he offers with a wink.
Hedda laughs at his use of an Old World adage in this New World setting where Spanish should not be the language considered foreign. “We Germans can be rather dull sometimes, insisting that everything be done the way Germans have always done it.”
“You are mistaken, Fraulein.” He turns and peers into her eyes. “Germans are fascinating creatures.” She feels her face ablaze.
The suitability of fences was the subject of debate in the newspapers; Carl von Seutter was the architect for the Koehler home; and there were neighborhood complaints about the Rodriguez herd of goats. The Author is clueless as to the date of the erection of a fence at the Koehler home, but she has no problem envisioning Otto Koehler unwilling to kowtow to anyone telling him what to do.
Guessing whether Koehler was a fan of Atlee B. Ayres, but the Ayres, without a doubt, pampered Singy in their house. The story of the Edwards’ pet, Oso, is true as well.
Apologies to Hedda’s parents. The Author has no knowledge of their actual history or who gave Emma Burgemeister her nickname. But she is grateful for whoever did because three Emmas definitely would have been confusing for you, the reader, to follow. And for Otto.
The chili queens and The Original Mexican Restaurant were popular downtown, but, to the Author’s knowledge, there is no record of Hedda or Otto’s dislike or affinity for the dishes they served.
Sorry, but are not flirtations often sappy?