Prologue – Sneak Peak

I’ve been buckling down hard on Picture of the Past, hence the reason I missed last week’s post AND yesterday’s post. And since my brain is still too full of forts and Platte rivers, and buffalo chips to come up with anything interesting, below is a 500 word excerpt of what I’m working on – specifically, the prologue for my book.

September 1857
New York City

“Exactly what are you saying?” Mark Johnson stared at his banker, who pulled at the collar around his thick neck and dropped his eyes to the stained pine floor. The dark walls in the room seemed to close around him. Why didn’t they have more candles in here?
“What Mr. Hill is saying,” The man’s shifty-eyed assistant, Mr. Rosemont stood. “is the foolish speculations you put into the railroads earlier this summer have imploded following the failure of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company’s bank, and you no longer have any viable stocks.”
Mark slumped back into the horsehair armchair, inhaling the dull, woodsy scent of thousands of cigars. The aroma wafted into his nose and filtered to his brain, folding itself around any thoughts as Mr. Hill took up the explanation. Only a few words penetrated the fog in his mind.
“Reduce expenditure…too many debts…consider selling…”
“Mr. Johnson,” Rosemont’s stern voice pulled Mark out of his mental confusion. “Have you heard a word Mr. Hill is saying? Your future hinges on your next steps.”
Mark ran a hand over his face. Sometimes he thought Mr. Hill had hired Rosemont just so he could handle the confrontations. He forced himself upright, fixing his eyes on Mr. Hill as the portly man tugged at his collar again.
“I apologize. I’m afraid I am not…” Mark trailed off, the words turning to acid in his mouth as he saw Rosemont wrinkle his nose in evident disdain.
The assistant huffed, narrowing his eyes. “Mr. Johnson, in summary, due to the extravagant lifestyle your family leads, as well as the loans you took to increase your investments, you have exceeded your income exponentially. You have two options left. You may either sell your belongings to pay your debts immediately or retrench.”
“Retrench?” It came out as a question, though it sounded more like an exclamation in his head. What would Brianna do if he brought such a notion home? He had just promised Paul a phaeton for his seventeenth birthday. Elizabeth was getting a complete wardrobe change for her coming out in six months, and Anne had only recently moved out of the nursery. The only person who wouldn’t be drastically affected was little Susannah. His stomach swirled along with his head and he dug his nails into the armchair’s rough fabric.
“Cut back on your expenses. Reduce your servants. Don’t spend any more money than necessary until you make back your deficit.” Mr. Hill had finally found his voice, and was frowning even before he finished.
Mark realized he was slowly shaking his head from side to side. He stopped himself, but raised his chin. “I couldn’t do that to my family. To Brianna and Elizabeth especially. Why, the shame alone—”
“Would you prefer being turned out onto the streets?”
Mark bit back his objection at the sharp words. Edmund pursed his lips and exhaled before continuing.
“Those are your only options, Mr. Johnson. Otherwise, you will burrow further and further into debt and the situation will be unrecoverable.”
Mr. Hill nodded agreement, though his gaze communicated apology.
Mark slumped and buried his head in his hands. How on earth could he tell his family?

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