UHCL The Signal
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University of Houston-Clear Lake
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Houston, TX 77058
The Count and all those in the tent turned toward the booming, female voice. Mrs. Rippe remained seated in the first row. She gave him a pointed stare. “The town should be called Figlandia.” All eyes turned to judge Wilhelm’s reaction.
“I think that is a grand name, proposed by a grand lady, for what will be a grand town!” he concurred. A cheer went up from some of the younger men and boys.
Mrs. Rippe rose majestically from her seat, and Mr. Foote scrambled to rise, too. She strode to the table, the crowd parting like the Red Sea before her. She leaned over and perused the town plat before turning to Wilhelm, who held his breath. “I’ll take the three best adjoining lots in town – the ones across from the park. I’ll build a fine home and live out my golden years there. My nephew can run the sugar business for me from now on. I’ll hold a ball in your honor when the house is complete. Speak to my attorney about the paperwork.” With that, she turned and swept from the tent. Wilhelm blew a ragged breath from his lungs.
Mr. Foote pressed a business card into his hand. “Come by my office in the morning, and we’ll conduct our business, Count … uh, Wilhelm,” he concluded.
“It’s Zielinski. Count Zielinski. But please, feel free to call me Wilhelm. I have a feeling we will see each other often.” Foote nodded and rushed to assist Mrs. Rippe into the fringed surrey parked behind the tent. Wilhelm felt Eula Mae’s presence once again at his elbow. “Who was that woman?” he asked her.
“That’s Mrs. Rippe,” Pinky interjected, stopping next to his wife.
“No, I know her name. I meant who is she?” Wilhelm asked.
“Her husband had a cotton and sugar plantation down on Chocolate Bayou,” Wilhelm’s dear interpreter provided.
“About 20 miles south a here,” Pinky added.
“That’s not important, Pinky,” Eula Mae said. “Mrs. Rippe got out of cotton after her husband died in the War. Just grows sugar cane. At first she tried paying some of her former slaves to continue working.”
“But they mostly drifted off when the Klan got goin’ ’round here,” Pinky explained, lowering his voice.
“Then she turned to convict labor, leasing them from the state,” Eula Mae continued.
“This county used to be the richest in Texas before the War, and her husband wuz one of the richest men here ’bouts,” Pinky reported. “She’s the only one ’round here who was rich before the War and never got poor afterwards.”
“Which war was that?” Wilhelm asked Eula Mae.
“The War of Yankee Aggression!” Pinky spat.
“The War Between the States,” Eula Mae clarified. “You’ve heard of our Civil War over in Europe?”
“Sure he has. I’m tellin’ ya, Eula Mae, they ain’t backward over thar,” Pinky responded before Wilhelm answered.
“That was a number of years ago,” Wilhelm observed. “She’s still in mourning for her husband?”
“Yep. Bin a little over thirty year since it ended. We coulda whupped ‘em, too, if Davis had ordered an attack on Washington when he had the chance,” Pinky declared.
“She’s just like Queen Victoria, mourning for her lost love,” Eula Mae said, ignoring her husband’s comment. “Mr. Foote’s tried to marry her for years. She’s always said she was too busy running the plantation to have time for that. Maybe now she will. Wouldn’t that be romantic?”
“A widow’s got no bizness havin’ a romance. It’s just not proper,” Pinky said, setting his jaw.
“Oh, Pinky, you wouldn’t want me to grieve forever if you passed on.”
“Well, why wouldn’t ya?”
“Cuz I might want to marry again.”
“Who you gonna marry?”
“I don’t know. But I might want to, that’s all.”
“Well, see here, Eula Mae, I’m not even cold in muh grave, and you’re already plannin’ your wedding. Someone better not have been carryin’ on with you already,” he said, scanning the room for evidence of the identity of his wife’s lover.
“Oh, stop it, Pinky. I’m just talkin’ theoretical.”
“Theo? Who’s this Theo?!”
“Well, I’ll leave you lovebirds to work this out,” Wilhelm interjected. As entertaining as the Van Horns were, the excited buzz behind him indicated that deals were ready to be sealed.
“There ain’t no one named Theo,” Eula Mae protested to Pinky as Wilhelm turned away.
“Sure thar is. Ain’t thar a Theo who lives down in Angleton?” Pinky glared.
Wilhelm chuckled before giving full attention to a man who wanted to open a general store in Figlandia. Then everyone was buying, clamoring for his attention. A woman mentioned growing lemons and how wild grapes flourished on her farm as evidence of promised success with figs. Orders for groves of fig trees multiplied.
“Excuse me, sir. Are we gonna have an opera house like the one that opened last year down in Galveston?” Jordy Van Horn ventured.
“Yes, of course we shall,” Wilhelm responded. “We must have culture.”
“Muh boy like things like that,” Pinky explained; his spat with Eula Mae over imagined infidelities now resolved. “Jordy never has cared for ranchin’ life. He wants to be a doctor. Guess now he kin be one. We’ll sell the ranch to a German fella that’s come by askin’ about it for farmin’. I’d like to open me a hardware store in town. We kin live upstairs to start and then build a separate house once things take off. Whadya say, Eula Mae?”
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to live in a town! No more ranch chores. I can have a flower garden! This will be so much fun!” she squealed. Wilhelm smiled – her excitement contagious.
Various men mentioned opening a lumber store, a hotel, and a blacksmith shop. One man felt certain a carpentry business would thrive. Another planned on moving his wagon-making enterprise from his barn into the town. Clamor for a newspaper began.
“What about the folks who’ve given up around here and gone down to Mexico? They’ll be sorry they didn’t stick around for the boom that’s sure to happen,” one man declared. Everyone laughed and agreed.