An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Seventy-Three

As testimony to the quality of the neighborhood referenced below, The Blue Book guide to San Antonio’s “sporting district” listed two spots on South Santa Rosa Street where weekend cockfights could be found.

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Seventy-Two

Emma Dumpke Daschel, November 1914

“Emmy, he telephoned while you were out.” Hedda is as white as a sheet.

“Hedda, what did he say?”

“He demanded that I meet him the day after tomorrow.”

“Meet him somewhere other than here? Is that not unusual?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think it’s because I’m staying here with you and he prefers to avoid me?”

“No. Oh, I don’t know. But it’s the address that frightens me. It’s on Santa Rosa. Emmy, I believe it’s a house in the red-light district.”

“The red-light district? Why not in a park? In a restaurant? In that judge’s office where we went before? Did you agree to go?”

“What else could I do?”

“And Emmy, he growled that he wants all the papers. Anything in my possession with his name on it.”

“The notes. He wants the notes?”

“Yes. He always said those were presents. Demonstrations of how much he cherished for me. He wanted me always to feel secure. To not accept employment with Doctor Herff or anyone else. Always to be here at home for him whenever he could break away from work or his wife.”

“Tear them up, Hedda. Tear up those notes and mail them to him. You don’t need his filthy money.”

“Someone must have told him I tried to cash one, Emmy. He’s furious now, but he’ll calm down soon. This is temporary. He doesn’t really want the notes back. He’ll be back in my arms before next week. Loving and attentive.”

“Hedda. This is more serious than that. You and I are going to hire a hack tomorrow morning and go see this house on Santa Rosa for ourselves.”

~     ~     ~

Advertisements in The Blue Book promoting the services of some of the welcoming ladies of South Santa Rosa Street

“Ladies, there’s some mistake,” says the driver.

Hedda shakes her head no.

“This is not,” he says, “a part of town for respectable types like you. How long will you be?”

“We don’t know,” says Emma.

“Well, I’m not driving off and leaving you here,” says the young man. “I’ll wait. You don’t have to pay me any extra, but my ma reared me up proper. I’ll be right here whenever you come back outside.”

An open sign hangs askew on the handle of the screen door. The front door is ajar, inviting entry. Inside, the dimly lit hallway leads toward a parlor. Emmy’s eyes struggle to adjust to the lack of light. Instead of a proper parlor, the room is lined with shelves of glasses and liquor. More of a saloon of sorts.

“Rooms to Let” with an arrow pointing upward is painted crudely on the wall of the stairway. Emmy grabs Hedda’s elbow to hold her back, but Hedda heads up the stairs. Hesitating, Emmy trails behind.

Like a jack-in-the-box, a hideous, wrinkled woman pops out from inside the first doorway. Startled, they gasp.

The creature’s short dyed-red hair sprouts out from her scalp in all directions. The rouge on her cheeks forms two bright large circles of differing size, and the red paint coating her lips wanders far astray from the natural outline of her prune-like mouth.

“The sign,” says Hedda, “it says you have rooms to let.”

“Not to you,” screeches the woman. “Go back to your side of town.”

Heeding her words, the two women retreat down the stairs.

A woman with blonde hair upswept then cascading in curls covering the nape of her neck blocks the view of two men seated in the parlor. Only her back and the men’s boots are visible as the woman pours whisky into their glasses.

“I’m sure,” whispers Hedda, “I’ve seen that woman before. If only she would turn around.”

Again, Hedda goes white. Emmy follows her gaze. Several hats hang on the rack in the corner, and on a chair is the most ostentatious ostrich plumed-hat Emmy has ever laid eyes upon.

She turns back to Hedda, barely catching her before she swoons to the floor. Emmy guides her outside, closing the screen door gently behind them.

The hack driver jumps down to assist Emmy ease Hedda up to the seat.

“Thank goodness you waited, young man. You were right. We have no business in a neighborhood such as this. Please remember tonight to thank your mother for your good manners.”

~     ~     ~

Hedda paces back and forth, back and forth across the parlor. She wrings her hands so tightly Emmy worries she might tear off her skin.

“Hedda, it’s obvious you can’t meet Otto at that place. A shady saloon. I am positive, a house of ill repute.”

“No. I can’t return there. Why would he want to meet me there? To drag me upstairs and dispose of me after I hand him the notes?”

“Why didn’t he ask us to meet at that judge’s office? The one where we signed the property deed.”

“Whatever I do, I must keep the notes, Emmy. They’re my only insurance policy now.”

“Should you ignore his request?”

“Emmy, I want an attorney.”

“Oh, Hedda. How will an attorney protect you?”

“I want two things. One: to ascertain that, if anything should happen to me, the notes would still be honored. And second: to draft a codicil to my will to ensure you get back the deed to this house.”

“Hedda, you’re alarming me even more now. We’ll make it through this. Please stop speaking of wills and dying.”

“I read in the newspaper only last week,” says Hedda, “about a woman who recently passed the bar examination and opened an office in the Gibbs Building. Florence Ramer is her name. A woman will understand and be discreet. And if she somehow learns the identity of the man I fear, she has had no time to be beholden to Otto for anything. I’ll call her now to secure an appointment this afternoon.”

“Since when did Texas begin letting women practice law?”

“Not long. I think Missus Ramer is but the second. And Emmy, you must go to the brewery and deliver a message.”

“No. I don’t wish to risk confronting the beast. You must telephone instead.”

“That Mister Stevens,” says Hedda, “will never put either of us through to Otto. And I can’t telephone and leave my name and address with a message to meet here instead. Otto would really fly off the handle if I did that.

“Please Emmy. Hand-deliver a message to Otto at the brewery. I’ll write to let him know that under no circumstances will I venture anywhere near that house on Santa Rosa tomorrow. If he desires to see me, he must come here tomorrow afternoon instead.”

Footnotes

The visit to the shady house in the red-light district is based on testimony, although no mention was made of an ostrich-plumed hat. Assistance from Florence Ramer, who passed the bar in 1914, was secured in the two referenced legal matters. Ah, and Emmy did indeed deliver a message for Otto Koehler to the brewery.

Continue to Chapter Seventy-Four

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