Matthew G. Ballantine III was not a man to show any emotions, except for one, anger. And when a man as powerful as he gets angry, people had better get out of his way. At least, that’s the way Ballantine saw himself. In reality, it was petulance alternating between anger that was his emotional forte. Ballantine was a driven man and the engine that drove him was a childish and petulant anger when things didn’t go his way. His anger was at his perceived failure in the eyes of his family for always being third-rate… “Third in name, third in business,” they would say, behind his back. Unlike the dynastic builders of his immediate forefathers, this Ballantine had a chip on his shoulder and an obvious inability to be a captain of industry.
His paternal grandfather and his father had both excelled in business and the fruits of their labours was the GB&SB railway. Even the name of the business, General Ballantine & Senator Ballantine, told a story. Matthew’s grand-daddy had been a General in Sam Houston’s army during the Texas Revolution and had made a name for himself in his 80th year by founding the GB&HG railway between Texas and California. Nobody in Ballantine’s dynasty could remember who HG was, but there was rumour of underhand dealings, Henry Ballantine was after all a wily old Scotsman who always seemed to get his own way. His son, the said Senator Ballantine, was no less wily and managed a seat in the US Senate, albeit for a brief period. It was oft said that Senator Arthur Ballantine was happier in the company of females and didn’t care how old they were. Arthur’s dark deeds were cited when it was reported in a Washington newspaper that “Senator Ballantine made a speedy exit from the Senate, chased, by Senator McLawrie.” It was not reported that McLawrie had a seventeen-year old daughter and that Arthur Ballantine’s exit was made all the speedier by McLawrie blasting away at Ballantine with a scattergun.
While all this had taken place Ballantine I and II had still managed to build an empire. Ballantine III had achieved exactly the opposite and managed to fritter away a fortune. Yet he still lived as a man of means, which meant the debts were mounting up. But he was a Ballantine and as such he was wily. With a business plan that had one simple rule, rob Peter to pay Paul, Ballantine took up acquiring small businesses and stripping their assets to turn a quick profit. Acquiring is a somewhat loose term and many a poor businessman reported to the authorities that they had been swindled. Evidence had never been forthcoming in any of the complaints filed, mainly due to threats against life, limb and family. Ballantine ruined many of the finest names in Texas, by fair means or foul, simply to get his hands on the assets to turn a quick buck.
So successful was he at this, he soon rose to prominence in society, not as a paragon of virtue but as a man to be avoided at all costs. So much so, when the time came for Ballantine to make a marriage his family would be proud of, he had to look overseas for love as no family in the south, let alone Texas, would contemplate any type of proposal for their daughters.
Ballantine and his agents scoured Europe, mainly in the east, where families were only too eager to sell-off unwanted daughters. The price was low and in their own right these girls were beauties. Ballantine had settled on one girl, a raven-haired beauty called Magda. But only then did he find that beauty was a side issue. Magda’s family had fallen on hard times and the once prosperous, even noble family, needed money and Magda’s aging parents had one other asset, apart from their beautiful daughter. They owned land in America. And this prized possession was, unknow to the family, their greatest asset, because this land was in Texas, right in the middle of the booming Texas oil fields. This was their outstanding asset and they would not sell it. But they were prepared to sell their daughter and Ballantine was prepared to pay good money for Magda’s hand and control of the oil under that land. And if Magda was not compliant when they were married, then she would have an unfortunate accident. Magda Asparov’s family were not the only ones who had fallen on hard times and Ballantine’s needs were greater than the Asparovs.
The price was met, money was transferred by a Swiss bank, and Ballantine had made his way back to the US without even seeing the girl in person, only having seen a photograph.
Now, months later, she was on her way to him and would be arriving in New York within days. Matthew Ballantine III could not wait and was getting more and more excited as the weeks, became days. But Ballantine had not been idle in the weeks he had waited. He had the land in Texas surveyed, assessed and even a small drilling had taken place. His suspicions had been correct, the land was worth millions of dollars and the Asparovs had no idea. Magda’s parents simply wanted the land to go to their daughter and young son, Peter. They had a notion that farming was the way forward and Ballantine had even encouraged that belief through his agent, who was paid handsomely to keep the truth of the land’s real worth from the Asparovs. Ballantine loved the intrigue of it all.
And then it was time to go to New York and collect his prize. Because that was what Magda was, to Ballantine, a prize, a possession, something not to love and cherish, but to have, to own, to dominate and to do with as he so desired. Like some feudal warlord in old England, Ballantine felt the need to control all that he possessed, all the more so because his new asset held the key to his future wealth. He would of course nurture and look after Magda, but what he would not do is pander to her every whim. He, Matthew Ballantine III, would control this new family dynasty, not Magda Asparov.
The streets of New York and society in particular had heard little else than the awful stories filtering through from official channels. No one was certain of fact or fiction as such many believed the more lurid details rather than the mundane fact that so many had lost their lives. News of the tragedy at sea, of the sinking of the great liner that carried Magda to him, did not reach Ballantine until he arrived at New York. It was only as he arrived at the dock at the appointed time for the arrival of the great liner that he discovered the days old news that the ship was lost, with many of the passengers and crew dead and gone.
Ballantine was less concerned about his intended’s wellbeing than working out how he would recover his costs and still gain control of the Texas oil field, if indeed Magda had perished. Practical as ever, Ballantine took rooms in one of New York’s finest hotels and awaited developments, whiling the time away gambling, drinking and entertaining a certain type of lady.
Others, only days earlier, had been less stoical and altogether more strident in their mourning. British grief seemed to be aloof, their feelings well hidden, while people from a Mediterranean background were much more inclined to wear their heart on their sleeve. That’s not to say those of eastern European descent and therefore less hot-blooded, like the British, were calm and above histrionics. When news of the disaster hit Ukraine, one family who lived a bleak existence in Kiev were moved beyond grief. The Asparov family were distraught at the loss of their beloved daughter.
And yet, they did not officially know that Magda had perished. There was confusion all round and information from the White Star agents was at first contradictory. Their grief may have turned to hope had they known that when Magda arrived in Southampton, England, ready to start the final part of her journey on the magnificent Titanic, the first thing she did was to visit the offices of the White Star line and have the ship’s manifest changed to reflect her new status. Thus, Magda Asparov became Mrs. Magdalene Ballantine despite the fact no marriage had taken place. Magda had therefore, by her own hand, sealed her fate forever. There would be no going back now.
Copyright Tom Kane © 2018
The Brittle Sea (The Brittle Saga Trilogy Book 1)
The Titanic disaster is the catalyst that sparks a bloody feud between two families in early 20th century America.
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