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Follow Your Heart
By Rosanne Bittner
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Rosanne Bittner
All right reserved.
Late April, 1873
"The Union Pacific could go bankrupt if we don't do this, Jude."
Jude Kingman eyed his father closely, very aware that the mishandling of railroad stocks and shady investments by greedy investors were the real reasons for the railroad's money troubles. The man now sitting behind the huge oak desk in the Chicago offices of Kingman Investments was no less guilty than the rest of the opportunists covertly making their fortunes off the general public, while openly crying bankruptcy.
Jude walked over to a window and stared out at the heavy traffic in the street below. Two men whose buggy wheels had accidentally locked together were arguing and shaking their fists at each other. "We both know the real reason behind these money woes," he said, turning to face his father again.
"Don't tell me you're thinking we should play the role of martyrs here," Jude's brother chided.
Jude shifted his gaze to his younger sibling. He and Mark were Yale educated, both in charge of various factions of the Kingman empire; but Mark looked so much more like their father -- in his short, stocky build, chin line and smile, in his light brown hair and pale gray eyes that turned a deeper, cold blue-gray color when it came to business dealings, like right now. Anyone who didn't know them would not believe he and Mark were brothers. They were so different in looks and personality.
Smile to their faces, shake their hands, stab them in the back whenever necessary. That was Mark's motto. In that respect he and their father were most alike. Jude's disagreement with such an attitude often spawned arguments among them over business dealings. "I'm not suggesting any such thing," Jude answered Mark. "I'm just asking why we should force innocent people to pay for the grievous errors and greediness of the men who invested in the railroad and then pocketed money that rightfully belonged to the government and the railroad."
"You yourself are benefiting from some of that greed, big brother," Mark reminded him smugly.
"You and I might not have made the decisions, but we're living very nicely off some of that money, and I intend to help Dad protect his interests in this. I'm sure you want the same."
Jude frowned. Mark always had a way of making it look as if he was the only son who was interested in their father's welfare. He turned his attention to his father. "Some of those people worked their land for years before the railroads even reached them. Now we're going to turn around and tell them they have to get out?"
"Or pay a big price," Mark answered first. "It's not our fault they fell for the underhanded dealings of disreputable land agents."
Compelled to direct his attention to his brother again, Jude forced self-control. "Well, that's just like you, Mark, isn't it? Far be it from you to consider a person's feelings if it might cost you an expensive cigar or caviar for breakfast." "That's enough," their father ordered. He scowled at Jude. "The point is, son, that we can find people back in NewYork and Boston and even overseas who would be happy to buy up that land at premium prices, especially now that it's been worked and there are towns sprouting up all along the railroad. Don't forget that those first settlers went out there with dreams of getting rich off the railroad, so they are no less guilty of greed than we are."
"They were promised they could buy that land at rock-bottom prices," Jude protested.
"No money ever changed hands, so they aren't out anything. We have every right to take back the land and sell it. And think of what we can use that money for -- branching lines north and south of the main route, as well as getting the railroad back in the black. This whole land situation has been a mess, and everybody knows it. This will likely end up in court. Why not get rid of some of those people right now, before it gets that far? They don't have a chance anyway, let alone the money to fight us. Our family business has a lot to lose if the U.P. goes under."
Jude raised his eyebrows and smirked. "I suspect we've already gained much more than we will ever lose," he answered. He moved to sit down in a large leather chair next to Mark.
Jefferson sighed. "Those people were too ignorant and poor to put up decent money and get properly signed and registered deeds in the first place. Those farmers are now nothing more than squatters, Jude, and you have to face that fact. Why does this bother you so much?"
Jude sighed. "Because we aren't dealing with other ruthless businessmen," he answered, "men who would walk all over us to get what they wanted. These are simple farmers, most of them immigrants, who thought they were doing the right thing -- people who came to America with dreams of a better life and who worked hard to make that happen."
Excerpted from Follow Your Heart by Rosanne Bittner Copyright © 2005 by Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission.
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