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

A Fraud in Figlandia: Part 3


Part 3

Wilhelm rose to his full height.  He felt the reverent gaze of the crowd fixed on his face. “Those who join in this vision will be part of the loveliest community to grace God’s world since Eden existed. Our new town will have space set aside for a park with a gazebo where concerts will be played and picnics held. The finest school for our children. As many different churches as are needed so that we all may worship the Lord in the manner we feel best led. Shops selling all the things we need, plus fine things brought in from all over the world. And,” he paused, “we are endeavoring to obtain electric street lights for the safety and enjoyment of our town at night. Those folks in Galveston will have nothing on us!”

“That’s right!” a man hollered from Wilhelm’s right. The Count pointed at the man and nodded.

“Tired of some folk down on the Island thinkin’ they’re better than the rest of us,” a woman to his left commented, resulting in nods from the crowd.

“I have here with me today, folks, the plat for our lovely town,” Wilhelm continued. You may come up after I have concluded, in a moment, and view the vision for our future. My investors are so committed to this being a place of beauty, that two fig trees, donated by the Golden America Land Development Company, will be planted on each town lot. One will be planted in the front of each home or business, and one will be planted in the back of the lot. We have a nursery in St. Louis standing by, even as I speak, to ship by rail, to this very spot, healthy fig trees ready to bear fruit, of a variety specially chosen by an expert nurseryman to be ideally suited for the growing conditions in this area. October is the perfect month to plant these trees in our fertile, alluvial loam. We must move quickly to establish this venture before others hear of our intent or come to the same conclusions on their own and sweep the opportunity out from under our very feet,”  he gave a sweeping gesture with his arm.

“No!” a man, sitting by the center aisle, protested.

Wilhelm nodded and frowned. “Immigrants flood our ports looking for new opportunities, and while we wish them well, we don’t want them to take away what rightly belongs to us. And I do include myself in us, because I have traveled many places, ladies and gentlemen, and have concluded that this is an ideal place to settle and raise a family of my own.”

Swoony sighs from a number of females in the tent drifted to Wilhelm’s ears. He smiled and continued, “There are land speculators from northern cities, as well as even some from down in Galveston, who would love nothing more than to steal an opportunity like this from under our noses. I invite you all to join me now in the Promised Land of tomorrow.” He unfurled a roll of paper on the table, weighting one end with his bowler hat, which was a perfect match to the color of his trousers, and securing the other end with a cup holding a number of fountain pens. A stack of contracts sat on the end of the table by the cup. He turned to face the crowd. “I have here the plat of our town, for your viewing, along with contracts for purchase of town plots, surrounding acreage, and groves of fig trees at specially discounted prices for the elect gathered here today. My investors have so much faith in this vision – in all of you,” he added with a tender smile for select rapturous faces, “that they are prepared to forgo profit on the front end to reap a more eternal reward. If you, too, have faith – join us! Come on down!” He raised his hand in invitation to the yearning crowd. “Come down front and see the vision.” He lifted both arms, along with his eyes, toward the tent ceiling as if seeing the heavens opening for the return of Jesus, Obviously overcome with the emotion of the moment, he squinched his eyes shut and waited, breath held, listening.

Then, a sound more beautiful than an angelic chorus met his ears – applause and the sound of people rising from their chairs. Wilhelm exhaled as hands grabbed him. He lowered his arms and opened his eyes. He was hugged by many. Hands fought to shake his. Some of the older women felt emboldened to kiss him on the cheeks. Thanks and praise heaped upon him. Eyes viewed the plat. Fingers pointed at the plan. Excited voices discussed the intended amenities. Then, the moment of truth arrived.

An earnest-looking farmer asked him about cost. Several men over-heard and turned his way. He informed them of the prices per acre and lot and of the cost of fig trees. Have I set the prices too high? They seem to be balking? Sweat formed on his upper lip, and he wondered how he could wipe it away without appearing nervous. Couples talked in whispers. Some put down contracts they had been holding and stepped back from the table. Then, Eula Mae raised her head from studying the plat and called to him, “What will the town be called?”

Bless her. A chance to captivate them once more. But a name. How could I not have considered that? What to say? What to say?

“How ’bouts Fig Town?” a man called.

“Or Fig City,” his wife countered.

“I like Fig Land,” Pinky says.

“Or we could name it after you, Mr…. I mean Count, uh…,” Eula Mae trailed off. “I’m sorry, I can’t quite remember how to pronounce your last name. Maybe just Wilhelm. That has a nice, solid sound to it,” she concluded with a smile.

He was about to open his mouth to decline the honor when he heard a throat clear behind him and shout, “Figlandia!”