An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eighty

R.M.S. Lusitania hit by torpedoes off Kinsale, Ireland, photograph of 1915 drawing, Library of Congress

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Seventy-Nine

Emma Dumpke Daschel, June 1915

The handwriting.

It has been several months since Hedda left New York, but Emmy thinks of her often. Often during horrible nightmares.

She hopes Hedda is safe, but her departure spared Emmy from any further association with the tragedy in San Antonio. Emmy’s Brooklyn neighbors know little of her past aside from the fact that she was trained to be a proficient nurse.

June 21, 1915

Dear, dear Emmy,

I trust this letter finds you both contented and well.

Our good-byes said on the pier were presumed to be the final time we would speak to one another, but I remain distressed with the circumstances of my departure. While no one here is aware of the events in San Antonio, I cannot help but feel sullied. Like Hester Prynne, branded with a scarlet letter.

I crossed briefly into Germany but quickly recognized my sympathies no longer lie there. The sinking of the Lusitania only confirmed those sentiments. Kaiser Wilhelm states that all aboard were forewarned of the dangers of sailing in his declared war zone, encompassing all the waters surrounding Great Britain. But only fifteen minutes after his submarine fired, more than a thousand innocent civilians perished.

I left Germany shortly after the sinking and sought refuge in a beautiful ancient walled city in the Netherlands, s’Hertogenbosch. Yes, it was the home of the painter known for those demented nightmarish canvases, possibly more horrid even than this disastrous war. But I found the setting bucolic… until I was no longer one of only a few refugees hiding out from the world’s realities.

Belgian refugees, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress

The Second Battle of Ypres changed everything. The Netherlands were overwhelmed by another wave of refugees from Flanders. There were old farmers, women, children. There were soldiers – Belgian, British, French, Canadian, Algerian, Australian – who wandered into this neutral country by accident or some perhaps on purpose. And there were German deserters as well, men who stripped all insignia from their uniforms to try to blend in with those in retreat from so many different lands. 

In addition to visible wounds, civilians and soldiers brought tales of a new horror unleashed by the Kaiser. Shells blanketed the trenches of the Entente Powers with a greenish, yellow haze, a deadly new gas that felled thousands upon thousands of men indiscriminately.

I treated all, regardless of their nationality. There seemed no end to the rivers of refugees in need. I was exhausted by the time the flow finally ebbed.

The Kaiser’s Germany is not a home I will ever again claim. The United States is my home, Emmy. I want to return. No matter the consequences.

I feel unafraid in this neutral land. Setting sail for home appears far more dangerous. The Kaiser’s “safe” zone for ships flying under the flags of neutral countries only stretches thirty miles along the coast of The Netherlands. Rotterdam is regarded is the only advisable, or least dangerous, port from which to embark.

If I end up on a ship that meets the same fate as the Lusitania, I wanted you to know my plans. To know that, if my ship sinks at sea, I have perished and you will be spared from ever having to hear of the mess I left behind me in San Antonio again. But, please remember the codicil to my will.

I pray I will arrive at Ellis Island on July 18. I sail under the Dutch flag aboard the “Nieuw Amsterdam.”

I anticipate no ticker-tape parade heralding my arrival. In fact, I do not expect you to greet me dockside. But, Emmy, I do hope you will consent to see me again. I value our friendship more than anything left in my life.

                                                All my love,

                                                                        Hedda

Both tears of sorrow and waves of outrage wash over Emmy as she reads Hedda’s letter.

And she senses the strange irony that Hedda is crossing the ocean aboard the same ship that brought the Koehlers back from Germany less than a year ago.

Footnotes

The Author failed to discover any facts related to Hedda’s escape to Europe aside from her return aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam on July 18, 1915. This speculative accounting for her whereabouts is based on current events occurring in Europe at the time.

Continue to Chapter Eighty-One

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