Hedda Burgemeister, January 1918
“I thought the worst was behind me. But this. This is the worst. The interminable waiting. It can’t be a positive sign.”
“Your case is complex,” says Mr. Campbell. “There were hours and hours of testimony, and not all witnesses were in agreement. The jury didn’t even begin their deliberations until after six thirty last evening, and they are permitted to eat and sleep. It’s but eleven o’clock now. Try to calm yourself. It could be hours before they return.”
“We’ll make arrangements,” says Mr. Watson, “to have lunch brought in for us.”
“I can’t possibly eat.”
Mr. Chambers enters the waiting room. “The word’s just been brought down from the jury room. They’ve reached their verdict.”
Hedda fights back a wave of nausea.
“We have a few minutes,” says Mr. Chambers, eyeing Hedda. “Judge Anderson’s ill, so the court’s summoning Judge Minor to preside.”
“Wish we had a substitute judge earlier in the week,” says Mr. Watson.
“Missus Bremer,” says Mr. Campbell, “would you be so kind as to help Miss Burgemeister freshen up a bit. Some cold water on her face might help.”
“Of course,” says Lucile.
“Try not to be long,” says Mr. Campbell. “We cannot keep the Judge waiting.”
~ ~ ~
There is a rap on the door of the ladies’ room. “Miss Burgemeister. Missus Bremer,” calls Mr. Chambers. “You need to hurry. The Judge is seated and already has pulled out his pocket watch once.”
“Coming,” says Lucile, once more lowering a veil over Hedda’s eyes. She gives Hedda one tight hug before they walk out the door.
The courtroom is packed. Hedda sees no individual faces, only a blur of colors.
The jurors file into their box, but Hedda stares straight ahead.
“In Cause Number 26,591,” reads the Clerk, “To the Honorable W.S. Anderson, Judge of the Thirty-Seventh District Court: State versus Hedda Burgemeister.”
“We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty.”
“Gentleman,” asks Judge Minor, “is that your verdict?”
“It is,” respond the jurors.
“It is so ordered. Very well, Mister Foreman.”
Friends, mostly neighbors, swarm around her. Hugging her, they shout out jubilant congratulations.
“The jurors,” she says. “The jurors, I must thank them.”
Her friends allow her some space. She pulls her veil back over her hat, no longer afraid. She looks each juror in the eye, thanks him and shakes each one’s hand.
The juror who watched her so intently throughout the trial circles around to clasp her hand a second time. “Miss Burgemeister. I’m so very happy you are free. May you live out the rest of your days in peace.”
Mr. Chambers rescues her from his enthusiastic two-handed grasp of her hand. “Mister Bremer has brought his carriage up to the side door. Mister Campbell’s attempting to fend off the newspapermen as best as he can.”
As they turn toward the back of the courtroom she spies a massive clump of feathers fluttering above the heads of everyone else and bobbing out the doorway. A hat that ostentatious? It must be her. The rouged-up tart from Santa Rosa Street.
Now, the Hedda she was three years ago seems so young and foolish. Unrecognizable to her. She was swept off her feet so easily with a compliment and the gift of a feather. The woman Hedda is today would never, ever consider wearing an ostrich-plumed hat.
First thing when she gets home. Those ridiculous presents from Otto are going into the trash bin.
No. She will bind them into an enormous feather duster and sweep out every single cobweb from every room in the house. Then, she will light a blazing fire in the fireplace and place the plumes, one by one, atop the logs. She will stay by the fire until every downy bit is reduced to ashes.
The not-guilty verdict was delivered as written, but the Author has no idea what words the juror, Mr. Turley, spoke when thanked by Hedda.