An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Ninety-Six

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Ninety-Five

Hedda Burgemeister, May 1918

Not one knock on her door. And this is the fourth morning for the advertisement to run in the newspaper.

Her neighbors treat her nicely, as always. Well, several might be a little more reserved than before. Yet Hedda finds herself lonely, particularly in the evenings. The rooms in her once-cozy cottage loom large and shadowy when she sits down to read.

There must be numerous kind women who would find the second bedroom comfortable. Women who would welcome free lodging. The street is tidy and well regarded.

Of course, anyone reading the newspaper is familiar with her last name. But she was found innocent. It was self-defense. No one should fear her.

Five-three-two. The address itself is notorious. So many people are superstitious and fear ghosts. But, if Otto were haunting her house, she would be the one to sense his menacing presence.

At first, even she half-expected his ghost to harass her every time she rolled over in bed. But the past month or two, her nightmares have subsided. No more fear of the gallows. And Otto is gone.

Knock, knock. Knock, knock.

This must be a woman answering her advertisement. She opens the door without checking to see who is there. A man. Not a neighbor. He is neatly attired with his hat in his hand.

“Good morning, Miss Burgemeister. I hope I didn’t startle you. Perhaps you remember me?”

She does. Those piercing deep blue eyes.

“I’m James Turley. From the trial,” he adds.

“Yes, of course, Mister Turley.” She is not about to open her screen door.

“I came about the advertisement.”

“There must be some misunderstanding, Mister Turley. You hardly fit the description of a live-in housekeeper.”

He reddens. “No, no. I suppose not. But I’m here for my neighbor, Missus Honeycutt. If the position is still open, I think she might be perfect.”

“Is Missus Honeycutt with you now?” asks Hedda, peering out to look for his carriage. Instead, a fine chestnut horse is tied up by her gate. She glances at Mr. Turley’s feet. Pointed tooled leather boots. The type a cowboy might wear.

“No, I didn’t want to get her hopes up if you already had found someone. She’s a widow. Maybe in her early sixties. A Methodist, she is. She lives with her daughter and her son-in-law. But they have five children and another on the way. The house is bursting at the seams. Missus Honeycutt confided the first five already are more than she cares to cope with on a daily basis.”

Hedda is uneasy in his presence. He knows everything about her. Why is he here?

“Keeping your house tidy would be a piece of cake for Missus Honeycutt, it would. And, as for cake, she bakes the most delicious orange sponge cake. So light, it would float right up off the plate if not for the pecans on top weighing it down. And she never forgets to send one of her grandchildren to deliver slices for my son, Vernon, and me. Vernon’s grown. Twenty-five already. He works as a chauffeur.”

A grown son. But no wife? Mr. Turley must be at least fifty. Tan and lean, he must not make his living in an office. The hat in his hand. A well-worn Stetson. The kind a cowboy might wear.

“Missus Honeycutt even works magic with day-old bread. Turns it into an irresistible apricot charlotte. And, from the look of that tree, you’re going to need someone to help you put up a passel of preserves in a week or two. She’s just the person.”

He does seem genuinely nice. Maybe she should meet this Mrs. Honeycutt.

“The room is still available. Please find out if she’s interested and ask her to stop by.”

“I’ll head home now. If it suits you, I’ll bring her back this very afternoon in my carriage.”

So, he plans to return with her.

“That is kind of you, Mister Turley. I’ll be here all day.”

~     ~     ~

“Missus Honeycutt,” asks Hedda, “whatever is that racket outside?”

“Just James,” says Mrs. Honeycutt. “Don’t mind him. He sees something out of kilter and has to make it right. I saw him out front of his house this morning when I took the fig preserves to my daughter. And, oh, was she tickled pink. With all those mischievous monkeys scrambling every which way, she has no time to put up any preserves of her own.

“I hope you don’t mind, Hedda. I gave Mister Turley a jar as well. Then he insisted on hitching up his carriage so Lorena would not have to give me a ride back. Said he needed to head into town to pick up some new chaps anyway.

“He spied that shutter off your living room with hinges in need of tightening. And he noticed that low-hanging tree limb was scraping shingles off your roof. And he wants to peer down your chimney for birds’ nests, even though it certainly is no season for a fire with all this heat and humidity. Well, James just can’t help himself but to fix things.”

“Well, Missus Honeycutt, it’s hot out there. You best take Mister Turley a glass of this fresh lemonade. And, if he doesn’t need to hurry, we certainly have far more tongue and potatoes than we will be able to eat. Please invite him to join us for lunch. And I doubt he would refuse a slice of your sponge cake for dessert.”

Footnotes

The Author struggled mightily to try to envision how the former juror, James Turley, and Hedda became better acquainted after the trial. An actual advertisement she placed in the San Antonio Express in May of 1918 provided the Author with a tool. Aside from the help wanted ad, Mrs. Honeycutt and the rest of the chapter are invented.

Current interpreters of this story tend to insinuate Hedda employed her feminine wiles to win over her all-male jury, and this juror in particular. This seems unfair, as all juries were all-male at the time. Plus, reporters describing her attire in court kept mentioning she would wear hats with dotted veils pulled down over her face. This meant Hedda was not making eye contact with, much less making eyes at, any members of the jury.

Continue to Chapter Ninety-Seven ~ The End.

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