toepperweins

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Forty-Two

Above, Plinky Toepperwein uses a mirror to shoot at a target held in husband Adolph’s hand. Otto M. Jones, Library of Congress

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Forty-One

Hedda Burgemeister, January 1913

Tap, tap, tap.

Hedda forces herself to abandon a most pleasant dream. A dream in which the tap-tap-tapping does not belong. She does not move. Listening.

Not a sound. Why is she now wide awake? She rolls to her other side to attempt to submerge herself back into that dream. 

Tap, tap, tap. Again. Perhaps at the glass in the front door?

The room is pitch black. The cuckoo Otto gave her calls out a half-hour, providing no clue as to the actual hour of the night.

Tap, rap, rap. Bolder, more insistent this time. 

Terrified, she reaches for her robe and tiptoes toward the front door. She turns back to the kitchen, arming herself with the iron skillet from the cookstove.

As she edges toward the door, the door handle jiggles. 

Knock, knock, knock. Forceful now. 

Skillet raised, Hedda peers through the lace. In the dim light, she sees a man in a brimmed cap. Should she scream for help or pretend no one is home? The cap turns toward the street. Otto’s face shimmers in the pale moonlight.

She drops the skillet hard on the floor and flings open the door. “Otto, Otto, you frightened me out of my wits!”

“I apologize, sweet Hedda.” He closes the door, shutting out the cold and possible prying eyes and turns on the light. “I tried so not to startle you, but calling out to you might have aroused your neighbors.”  

“Whatever are you doing here at… what time of night is it? Are you alright?”

“Yes, yes. It’s half past four in the morning. And I am hunting.”

That explains his hat, but… “Hunting?” 

“I left word at work and told everyone at home I would rise early in search of quail. Of course, I’ve no desire at all to hunt, particularly in this cold weather. I only want to snuggle up beside you. Our time together is always far too brief.”

Hedda agrees with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Although Otto comes calling almost every weekday around half past four in the afternoon, he must depart soon after. She plants kisses all over his face, trying to warm it up after his cold carriage ride. 

“I much prefer these kisses than to have been greeted by that skillet.”

She laughs. “I truly was frightened. Thank goodness I looked before swinging.”

“I worry about you living here alone. That is why I have brought you a present.” He pulls a revolver out of his pocket and places it in her hand.

“Otto, I need no gun. The only time I’ve been frightened since I have lived in this house is tonight. By you.” She discards the handgun on the table. 

“My feet are freezing. Come, the woodstove in my room hasn’t died yet.”

~     ~     ~

They have been in bed for hours. A luxurious amount of time to nestle together under the mound of quilts. Relaxing. Talking about whatever comes to mind. This must be what marriage is like. Blissful contentment. 

“You know, I never have much liked hunting. Instead of being out there in the brush worrying about business, I would rather remain at work and eliminate those worries. Now that I have you, hunting seems even a greater waste. I want to devote every spare moment to you.”

No happiness could be greater than hers.

“Some men regard hunting as a serious pursuit. They strike out the first day of the season intent on killing anything and everything with feathers. They fire until their fingers burn and their arms ache. The guns produce such a racket a man can’t think. The best hunting tends to coincide with the worst weather. Pre-dawn waiting for deer to amble by is the worst. Out there alone in the brush on a cold, starless night. It’s sensory deprivation. 

“Now this, this is the most pleasant hunt I have ever experienced.”

He pulls her closer. “I do hold out great admiration, however, for Adolph Toepperwein. He may be a shooting fool, but he’s a great one. Far from a fancy showman like Buffalo Bill, Ad is simply amazingly accurate.

“‘Crazy.’ That is what Albert Steves called him when Ad ordered 50,000 little blocks of wood from Albert’s lumber company. Then for ten days straight at the International Fairgrounds, three men alternated throwing up the wood blocks for him to shoot beginning at nine o’clock in the morning. They didn’t quit until five o’clock. When Ad finished shooting all 50,000 blocks, they started pitching the used blocks for him. He hit more than 70,000 blocks. Only missed his targets nine times. Ad would’ve kept shooting at the remaining splinters on the tenth day, but there wasn’t a round of .22 ammunition left in the county.”

Hedda has little interest in Ad’s skills but loves listening to Otto’s chatter. “Mmmm-Mmmm” is all it takes to hold up her end.

“Which brings me back to the revolver. You must always keep it loaded someplace where you can grab it in case of an emergency. I was thinking you needed the security of a companion. Another woman to share the house. But then we couldn’t be like this. That’s why I brought you the gun. A roommate to protect you but never interfere with our privacy. Promise me you’ll keep it handy?”

“I don’t want it. But, if that’s what you wish, I promise.”

“Do you know how to use it? Maybe you should take a lesson or two from Plinky.”

“Lessons aren’t necessary. My father worried, like you. When I was young, he often had to attend lectures at night. I’d stay with the cooks at the school where he taught. They didn’t watch me very closely, so I’d sometimes slip away in the evening to romp with the boarders. While the boys recklessly swung their pillows to deliver powerful hits to the head, I used my head instead. I became adept at ducking and delivering a well-placed blow just above the ankles, the type of blow that would catapult my victim off the bed onto the floor. They never learned to guard against this tactic.”

Otto smiles. “So trained in warfare by rowdy schoolboys? I better watch my step.”

“The toppling would bring on raucous laughter, which would roust an angry professor. I’d dive under a bed. The head-to-bed count would match; so the professors never thought to look for an extra body in the room. I’d escape notice and the scoldings. The dormitory’s unofficial code of honor dictated tattling was forbidden, even to spare oneself physical punishment.

“Later, when the headmaster deemed me of an age too distracting to his charges to remain safely under the care of the cooks at school, those days ended. My father resorted to latching me securely in our rooms in town when he had to leave at night. 

“He fretted about it. So he purchased a gun, took me out to the countryside and taught me how to shoot it. I’m no Annie Oakley, but I’m proficient enough to strike a target as large as a man. But who is Plinky?”

plinky toepperwein
Plinky Toepperwein, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress

“Ad’s wife. Why, that plucky Plinky might be even a better shot than Ad. She’d never shot a gun when he spied her making bullets in the Winchester factory. I haven’t a clue how he decided she was the one for him. It certainly was not due to her striking beauty. But before he’d brought his new bride back to Texas, she was shooting things right out of his mouth. Sticks, twigs, crayons, anything. How could a man stand there calmly and trust anyone, let alone a woman and most particularly his wife, to shoot something out of his mouth? Maybe Albert’s right; Ad’s nothing but a fool. Although I’d entrust you with my life, I certainly wouldn’t tempt fate by serving as your human target stand.”

“Only ein Dummkopf would do so. My marksmanship isn’t in Plinky’s league. But rest assured I could protect myself if needed. This neighborhood’s so calm and quiet; I’ve no fear for my safety. I’ll keep the gun though, Otto, if it helps you sleep soundly.”

“It will. But I am suddenly famished. Right now, all I can think of is food.”

“Let me go to the kitchen and make something for us.”

“No, no. Stay in bed, Liebchen.” Otto pulls on his pants. 

Otto foraging for food in her kitchen and waiting on her in bed? She smiles, enjoying the warmth of the covers.

Otto returns in a snap with a substantial basket. “Frauke, the cook, prepared this for the hunt. She packs enough food for an army when I go hunting.” He spreads the cloth on the bed and begins pulling out the contents. Sausages, cheeses, breads, hardboiled eggs, dried fruits, a whole pie and a bottle of Riesling. 

He removes his trousers and crawls back under the covers with her. “What a great spot for a picnic. If only every hunt were so perfect.”

“What happens when you return with nary a bird?”

“Monks in a Cellar,” Joseph Haier, 1873, Wikimedia Commons

“Oh, I’ll have birds. I gave Andy the day off and told him to take a friend hunting. All I asked is that he deliver a couple of birds to Frauke on his way back home. She’ll assume they were mine.” 

Otto pulls the cork from the wine bottle and pours two glasses.

“To those wise Benedictine monks who protected these precious German grapes through the centuries and perfected this fine wine.”

And then, after sipping, “To the spoils of the hunt!”

Footnotes

Does anyone ever know what type of relationship a couple has behind closed doors? This mid-night encounter is invented, but surely there was a period when the romantic relationship between Hedda and Otto seemed perfect to them both.

Gleaned by word of mouth from Tom Shelton, a senior curator in the Special Collections Department of the University of Texas at San Antonio Library, Hedda was known for her collection of numerous cuckoo clocks.

The Author’s Mister, who possesses no love of hunting, once described his pre-dawn experience in a deer blind as “sensory deprivation.” The Author arbitrarily assigned that distaste for that South Texas passion to Otto Koehler. The shooting prowess of Plinky (1882-1945) and Adolph Toepperwein (1869-1962) is legendary and was often lauded in newspapers.

As noted earlier, Hedda was not an only child. The Author created the story of her father and his school to provide her with some sort of pre-1900 past without launching into a major prequel.

Oh, and did Otto really present Hedda with a revolver? At the time of the shooting, two guns were found in her house. During the trial, Hedda said Mr. Pandolfo gave her one on a hunting trip and taught her how to fire it. Samuel C. Pandolfo was the director of an insurance company and would have been connected to Otto Koehler at least marginally because of his purchase of property from Hot Wells Development Company in September of 1913. Also, Otto was a believer in purchasing numerous personal property and life insurances. The newspapers record nothing of the origin of the second gun.

Continue to Chapter Forty-Three

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