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

A Fraud in Figlandia: Part 5


Part 5

Wilhelm opened the window of his rented room to permit the cooler night air inside. He lifted his eyes to the moon, a sliver hanging in the sky like a smile, blessing this new beginning. But his mind was pulled, down it seemed, to thoughts of his own beginnings. It was the day of course. Such a long day. And the families. Pinky and his wife, Eula Mae. Jordy, their boy. Nightfall brought images of another woman. Of her and the boys. His wife. His sons. His memories.

Memories. A night warmer than this. London. He had completed his studies of the Classics at Oxford but tarried in the metropolis, not ready to return home. His mother had passed away from cancer two months prior but had secured a promise from him on her death-bed that he would finish his degree. He had inherited his title a year earlier when his father died, unexpectedly, from heart trouble. Upon his mother’s death, her brother informed Wilhelm that all his father’s family money was gone. Depleted through the centuries. Her brother had loaned money to Wilhelm’s parents for years. But now that would end. Nothing of value left save for a title in a noble family traced back to the Renaissance, an ancient house and some used-up land. That was all. His uncle wanted him to sell the house and land and hand-over the proceeds.  A commission as an officer had been arranged; the military being the only appropriate career choice for someone of his station. He lingered in London.

Grace. He had prayed for God’s grace in church. And then she appeared; a surprising answer to his prayers. It was 1890. On a night warmer than this one. Grace Marie Stone, a cousin of the United States Republican President Chester Alan Arthur on his mother’s side. On the Grand Tour. They met by chance at a party. Her widowed mother was seeking to marry her to a titled European. His salvation. Her mother’s coup d’état.  He moved with haste. Grace married Count Wilhelm Baltazar Szeligas at his family home outside Kraków on the banks of the Vistula River. They traveled, accompanied by her mother, to Vienna, and then the happy couple left her there to sight-see while they continued by train to İstanbul for their honeymoon proper, a wedding present from his uncle after Will signed over title to the family home and land.

Manhattan. His new home. Though his mother-in-law wished that the couple would live with her at Gramercy Place, Grace insisted on having their own home. Her mother’s money purchased the house on East 28th Street near her uncle’s; the former President residing at 123 Lexington Avenue. A second wedding ceremony was conducted in the Church of the Heavenly Rest at 5th Avenue and 45th Street, solemnizing their vows the Episcopalian-way before hometown friends and family.

A quiet life.  Socializing in homes with family and a small circle of friends; old-moneyed Republicans. Son Alan arrived before their first anniversary. Roman was born fourteen months later.

Useless. He remembered how the feeling crept around him; choking all self-respect from him. Grace did not see; did not look at him that way. Still, he needed success. He read in the newspapers of the spectacular triumphs of the financiers who ruled the island on the Hudson. Then, an opportunity while on holiday at Saratoga. A coal mine investment. The men from Albany said the return would be substantial. He persuaded his mother-in-law to hand him control of her finances. A modest sum for those gilded days, but substantial most assuredly. The sum would be anything but modest after his success, one that he would make certain the papers reported. Triumph. Social standing in his own right. Glory.

The telegram arrived nine days before Roman’s first birthday. The deal failed. So sorry. Maybe another opportunity in the future. He left for Albany on the next train. Surely a mistake. No. The Albany men shrugged. They had money to lose. He did not. For he had not invested some of his mother-in-law’s money. He invested it all. Lost it all. What could he do? What was there to do? But as his head swirled with thoughts of disgrace, ruin, and poverty, only one thing truly pierced his heart. Definitely disappointment, certainly sadness, perhaps anger, and possibly fear in those green eyes. Those beautiful green eyes in the face of the woman he had married for convenience and grown to love deeply. His wife.

He spoke not a word of the failure. A family party for little Roman was a happy affair. The next day Grace found the letter. He was gone. Gone to reclaim the fortune, Wilhelm declared. He knew not how or where, but he would. He even told himself the lie and found a way to believe it. But the truth was clear. With every mile he put between them. He was running. Running away.

But in the running, he found his talent. The con. The scam. Money was made. But never enough to replace what was lost. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Too much time missed with two growing boys. Too many responsibilities unfulfilled. Perhaps this time there would be enough. Enough to return home. Enough to beg for that grace from her.