UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

A Fraud in Figlandia: Part 2


Part 2

“Mr. Morgan never goes anywhere without his pets,” Eula Mae informed Wilhelm, appearing at his side.

“But whar’s your buzzard?” Pinky asked the man, joining the group and reaching down to give the goose a pat on the head.

“B -buzzard?” Wilhelm asked, glancing at Eula Mae.

“It’s like a vulture. Don’t know if you have those in Europe,” she replied.

“Sure they do, Eula Mae. They ain’t backward,” Pinky countered. “He’s got a fine, white buzzard that’s uze’ally with him,” he continued, jerking his thumb in Mr. Morgan’s direction. “Whar is he today?” he asked the old man.

“He’s feelin’ a little poorly. Bin off his feed. Left him at home with a dead possum to see if that’ll perk him up.”

“Well, I’m sorry I missed meeting him. Perhaps another time,” Wilhelm said.

“This here’s Mr. Morgan, the founder of the newly incorporated town of Alvin, ’bout ten mile south a here. First incorporation in Brazoria County,” Pinky reported. “Morgan, here, over-sees a water tank and cattle pens for the Santa Fe by their tracks comin’ up from Galveston near Mustang Bayou. Got enough people down there to start a town. Named it after Morgan, here.” Mr. Morgan grinned, revealing only one tooth dangling from his upper gum-line.

“I’m a bit confused,” Wilhelm said, turning to Eula Mae, who was fast becoming his interpreter. “I thought the town was called Alvin.”

“Yes, well, you see, we found out there was already a town called Morgan in Texas, so everyone chose his first name, Alvin. This here’s Alvin Morgan.” Eula Mae explained. Mr. Morgan grinned again.

“Well, what an honor. I had no idea a dignitary would be gracing us with his presence today,” Wilhelm offered, returning Mr. Morgan’s grin, but with decidedly more teeth in view. “Shall we begin?” He turned to face the crowd and called in a raised voice, “If everyone will please take a seat, we’ll begin.”

The crowd lumbered around until everyone found a seat and quieted, turning expectant faces to Wilhelm, who stood by a table at the front of the tent. He opened his mouth to speak, but paused when he saw a new figure enter from the rear. The assemblage turned in unison to follow Wilhelm’s gaze. An elderly woman, dressed in black and trailed by a slender man perhaps a decade her junior, stopped just inside the tent. A reverent murmur floated throughout the crowd. The Count strode down the center aisle and offered his hand in greeting to the woman. She responded with a “Hmmf,” appraising him from two, watery-gray eyes with large bags of flesh drooping underneath. Wilhelm thought she bore a striking resemblance to a bull frog and cleared his throat to keep from chuckling.

“May I introduce Mrs. Bingham Armstrong Rippe, and I am Sweeny Foote, her attorney,” the soft-spoken, balding man by her elbow declared. He offered a limp, clammy hand for Wilhelm to shake.

“Well, let’s get on with it. I’ve traveled almost twenty miles to hear this.” Mrs. Rippe swept to the front of the tent where two men leapt from their seats, making way for her and Mr. Foote.

Wilhelm returned to the front table and noticed Eula Mae smiling encouragement to him from the third row. “Good afternoon,” he began. “If I failed to greet any of you personally, I apologize. I am Count Wilhelm Zielinski of the Golden America Land Development Company. I and my fellow investors from throughout Europe have purchased 3,200 acres around this site, situated by the railroad tracks, a short distance from Galveston, the fashion and financial capital of the Southwest.” He stared at the sea of expectant faces waiting for him to tell them something they did not already know. He cleared his throat and continued, avoiding eye contact with Mrs. Rippe, whom he was certain had remained unimpressed. “We have formed our company with the intention of developing a town and the surrounding environs in this lush area, well suited for crops, with close proximity to transportation,” he gave a sweeping gesture to the railroad tracks behind him, “and with a nearby populace to partake of the fruits of our labor. And by that, ladies and gentleman, I do mean fruits. We are developing a 273-acre town planned around the production of figs.”

“Figs?” Mr. Morgan questioned from two rows back.

“That’s right, Mr. Morgan!” He pointed at the old man, who beamed as if he had given a correct answer in school. “You heard me right. Figs, I say.” Wilhelm slapped the table for emphasis. “Figs! These fruits are easy to grow on lovely trees that provide ornamental value to our community as well as a source of income. Figs can be eaten fresh. They can be dried. You can bake with them. And they can be canned,” he said, running through the list of benefits. “My investors will be opening a canning plant right here in this new town, providing jobs for those who need one, and providing a buyer for the fruits grown by those of you with enough vision to join us. The demand for wholesome fruit has never been higher. You have access to good food here, but in the cities of the north,” he paused, lowering his voice, “they never see fruit.”

“That’s right!” Eula Mae confirmed.

“Yes, ma’am,” Wilhelm agreed. “Why, your boy is strong and healthy from the good food you feed him. But…” he slapped the table again and stepped around to half-sit on the front edge, leaning forward. The crowd leaned toward him, and he produced a troubled frown before reporting, “…there are little, immigrant children working in factories all day long who come home to nothing but broth and bread. Imagine the delight on their little faces, if a can of delicious, wholesome figs awaited them.”

“Dear Jesus! We have to help them!” a woman wailed from the back row.

“Amen, sister! Amen! God doesn’t bless us and then expect us to not share with others.”