Ruby’s Letters – Infamous Prologue

Thank you all so much for making release day for RUBY’S LETTERS such a wonderful experience! I love my readers–I love talking to them–so I want to give a small gift in return for all you’ve done.

Below is the original prologue from RUBY’S LETTERS. It’s long–nine manuscript pages–and many didn’t think it would work in the beginning of the story, so it was cut.

And that broke my heart.

The prologue gives you a chance to see what Hilary and Ruby were like in life. It starts on the day they met–a day neither woman could possibly forget. Hilary and Ruby are, of course, fictional characters, but the events that happen in the prologue are not.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed researching it!

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May 17, 1884
No, this cannot be!
Hilary Smith ran down the narrow stairway of her Brooklyn Heights brownstone, unable to contemplate what she had just seen from her master bedroom window. Though strong and agile despite her age, she grew winded by the time she made it out onto the street. She hurried along with the crowd until she came to the guardrail that spanned the East River.
This sight always took her breath away.
The East River Bridge. So magnificent. Barely a year old, it had captured Hilary’s heart from the moment the first iron probe had been imbedded into the bedrock below. In a way, she felt the bridge was hers. She’d watched it from birth, marveled at its growth into the grand Gothic structure that connected Brooklyn to lower Manhattan.
     “Mother, did you see?”
     Hilary spun around. All three of her daughters rushed toward her. Similar only in looks, all were lovely in their spring dresses and golden hair styled in long swirls. Their blue eyes danced as they watched the spectacle before them.
     “Sara! Rebecca! Mary!” she scolded, in order of birth. “Why are you out here instead of getting ready for this evening’s dinner party?”
     “Mother, how can you even ask such a silly question?” Sara asked.
     Instead of berating her and reminding her daughter of her manners, Hilary turned back toward the bridge. Sara was right. It was indeed a silly question.
Everyone watched in awe as dozens of large gray elephants, bejeweled and draped with banners, marched across the bridge. The leader’s banner read Jumbo. The bright flashes and snaps of the press taking pictures mixed in with the oo’s and ahh’s of the crowd.
     “What on earth?” Hilary whispered.
     “P.T. Barnum.”
     Turning toward the soft, cheerful voice, she faced a woman only slightly younger than her own fifty-six years. She was no one really, a mere lower class woman wearing a dingy white blouse, half hidden under her crocheted, pastel-pink shawl. Her light brown hair, streaked with gray, appeared hastily twisted into a bun atop her head. Yet her maple-brown eyes sparkled with knowledge and life.  The woman’s scent perfumed the gentle breeze with the soft bouquet of lilacs. She was tiny and slight, looking as if a stronger breeze might take her away.
     Hilary sneered, her brow raised. “P.T. Barnum is marching elephants across the East River Bridge?”
     Her tone did not ward off the tiny woman. “Yes. Twenty-one to be exact.”
     “And how do you know this, Miss…?”
     “Ruby Van Leer.” Her smile brightened as she nodded her greeting to Sara, Rebecca and Mary before turning her eyes once again to Hilary. “I know many things, Mrs. Smith.”
     Her brow furrowed. She didn’t remember ever meeting this woman. “How do you know my name?”
     The tiny woman simply shrugged. “I know of you and your lovely daughters. I’m so sorry about your husband’s passing.”
     Hilary waved away the woman’s condolences. “Spare me your sympathies. Answer me about the elephants.”
“Mr. Barnum is marching the elephants across the bridge to prove it is safe after that dreadful tragedy barely a week after its opening.”
Hilary would always remember the day the bridge opened. She was one of the first to pay a penny to walk across into Manhattan. It had been like finally meeting an old friend.
But six says later, the bridge’s name would be blemished out of sheer stupidity.  
     “What tragedy? The twelve people trampled to death because some fool shouted the bridge was in danger of collapse?” Hilary sniffed in derision. Ignorant peasants. “If any of them had bothered to watch and learn about the bridge, they’d know it is bound to stand for hundreds of years.”
“But mother, that was so sad!” Rebecca cried. Sarah and Mary stood beside her, tears filling their eyes. 
With a snort, Hilary turned her attention back to the marching elephants. “This is nothing but a publicity stunt to show the circus is in town. Barnum is famous for them.”
     “Perhaps,” the woman interjected. “But what’s the harm if it gives people peace of mind?”
     Hilary did not tolerate contradiction, especially by those with less class, less breeding. “Perhaps people shouldn’t be such imbeciles. It’s obvious the bridge is sound. There are those who will believe anything.”
     The dreamy look in this woman’s eyes turned Hilary’s stomach. She hated dreamers. Dreams were meant for gullible idiots.
“Some things are worth believing, even if there is nothing scientific to back them up. Don’t you think?” Ruby said.
     “You mean like God?” Rebecca asked, her eyes rounded in awe of this woman.
     “Yes.” The woman’s persistent smile brightened. “That’s a wonderful example. Another is love.”
     All three of Hilary’s daughters joined the conversation now. “I wish I could fall in love,” said Mary.
     “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Sara replied.
     With another disgusted snort, Hilary spun away.
     Ruby turned to the three young women hoping her smile reassured them. All three were of age, but had yet to find any suitors. She wondered if they knew it was because of their parents, especially their mother that no man had come to call. Perhaps she could help them with that.
Just looking at Hilary Smith made one think of steel. Gray hair, pulled back into a tight chignon, cold gray eyes that made a shiver run up the spine of even the strongest of men. Her tall, able frame stood ramrod straight. In contrast to her austerity, she smelled of the finest musk oil. Intelligent and well-read, she considered herself more astute than most.
And she probably was.
Hilary was, sadly, a lost cause, but her daughters needn’t continue to suffer for her.
     As the women watched the last of the elephants march across the bridge to a whirlwind of applause, Hilary returned her attention to her daughters. “Away! Back to the house with all of you.” She placed a hand on Ruby’s shoulder and pushed her aside.
At the older woman’s touch, Ruby’s blood ran cold.
March 13, 1888
    
     Hilary stared at the frozen world outside her window. Snow drifts lined her street. People tried to steady themselves on the icy sidewalks, hoping to make it to work.
 The days leading up to the unexpected blizzard were mild and many had looked forward to an early spring. But on Monday the steady rain had turned into a heavy snow. By Tuesday the city was paralyzed. Telephone and telegraph lines snapped, not that Hilary cared. No one called her anymore.

The seven-foot drifts did not mesmerize Hilary or the sounds of carriages that had been eerily silent the last few days. No, it was memories that held her attention. Staring out her bedroom window at the East River Bridge—commonly known as the Brooklyn Bridge now–its cables looking like strings of ice, she remembered the day almost

four years ago when the elephants crossed its impressive width. The day she met that woman. The day that started the disintegration of the only joy she’d ever had in her life.

     Turning away from her gloomy thoughts, she headed down to the garden floor. With hesitation, she opened the door. Someone had shoveled a path. It annoyed her no one shoveled out her parlor floor entrance. She stepped out onto her newly shoveled porch, surprised to see her carrier had delivered the New York Sun.
Blizzard Was King the paper read. Hundreds dead, a near famine for those who didn’t have proper stores of food, and coal was scarce. Even though Hilary was never in any real danger from the unexpected storm, she was still glad to be rid of it.
Some coffee and a bit of food might quiet her foul mood. Her maid refused to live-in, as did the other servants. Hilary had argued and threatened to fire them all, but of course they knew it was an empty threat. No one else would work for her. So, Hilary had been stuck in the brownstone all alone during the horrendous storm because none of them could make it to work.
She found her way to the kitchen only to have her anger return full force at the sight of the large fireplace that occupied the room. It was old and ugly, obsolete now that she had a gas stove.
She had hired a mason to brick it up, complaining about the draft it created. The job should have taken only a day (she certainly hovered over him enough to make sure he didn’t dawdle) but because of the blizzard, here it was three days later and the work was still not complete. Brick, two rows deep, started from the floor to halfway up the opening of the fireplace. Mason tools and supplies still littered her kitchen floor.
Slapping the morning post onto the counter, she pulled out her cast-iron frying pan and began to prepare breakfast. Anger simmered like a well-cooked stew when she realized she couldn’t have milk in her coffee. The milkman hadn’t been able to deliver, nor had the baker. No hot buttered roll this morning either.
Heavy knocking at her door had her banging the frying pan onto the counter. Her teeth set on edge, she moved stiffly toward the entranceway.
The white she saw when she opened the door had nothing to do with the snow-covered street, but the white-hot rage that fogged her vision caused by the woman on her doorstep.
“Hello, Mrs. Smith. May I come in?” Ruby Van Leer asked. Her long wool cape and hat had seen better days. Her ever-present smile was gone, replaced with a serious stare. The sweet smell of lilacs, something Hilary learned to hate over the last four years, engulfed her like a determined glove.
“You have some nerve coming to my home,” Hilary spat out.
“I have been in contact with your daughter. Please, I need to speak with you.”
A vein in her temple threatened to burst as the woman pushed past her, without invitation, removed her cloak and hung it on the hook by the door, then walked toward the kitchen.
Overwhelming fury had her slamming the door before following the woman down the hall to the back of the house.

     Hilary had no idea they’d both be dead by lunchtime.

****

I hope you enjoyed this “little something extra” to RUBY’S LETTERS. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time, eat healthy and happy writing!

~Maggie

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This entry was posted in Brooklyn Heights, ghost hunting, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, maggie, Maggie Van Well, romance, romance writer, Ruby's Letters, Ruby's Letters prologue, suspense. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ruby’s Letters – Infamous Prologue

  1. Laurel says:

    Wow. I am so sorry to see what I missed. Maybe it would put off some readers of contemporary romances, but this would have added a lot to the story. However, you did a good job of bringing the key points back in to the main story.

    Like

  2. Now you see why it broke my heart to remove it, Laurel! Thank you so much for commenting 🙂

    Like

  3. Samantha says:

    Thanks for letting us read this!

    Like

  4. You're welcome, Samantha! I loved this prologue so much, I couldn't NOT share it!

    Like

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