Excerpt from Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Under the Wide and Starry Sky

By Nancy Horan

Under the Wide and Starry Sky
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    496 pages.

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"I don't, but Belle knows a little."

Hendricks emitted a worried hum. "If the Old World is to work its magic you'll need to learn the language. Flemish is spoken in Belgium, but French is a close second. If you plan to travel at all, that's the better language."

"Then we all must learn it."

Having determined the fastest route to the mother's affections, the surgeon smilingly made his offer. "I would be happy to teach you a few phrases." Every afternoon for the remainder of the journey, he had conducted language lessons for her and the children in the ship's library.

Now she told Hendricks, "Don't ask about the sleeping accommodations quite yet. Give me a few moments."

Fanny glanced over at her daughter, Belle, who shared an umbrella with the nanny. She beckoned the girl, then bent down to her older boy. "Go to Miss Kate, Sammy," she said. "You, too, Hervey." She lifted the three-year-old and carried him to the governess. "Do keep in the background with the children, Kate," Fanny told the young woman, who took Harvey into her arms. "It's best the officials don't see our whole entourage. Belle, you come with me."

The girl's eyes pleaded as she ducked under her mother's umbrella. "Do I have to?"

"You needn't say a word." Looking distraught would be no challenge for Belle right now. The wind had whipped the girl's dark hair into a bird's nest. Brown crescents hung below her eyes. "We're almost there, darlin'." Fanny Osbourne grabbed her daughter's hand and pushed through a sea of shoulders to reach the circle of officials. Of the Belgians, only one—a lanky gray-headed man—had a promising aspect. He started with surprise when Fanny rested a gloved hand on his forearm. "Do you understand English, sir?" she asked him.

He nodded.

"We are ladies traveling alone."

The official, a foot taller than she, stared down at her, rubbing his forehead. Beneath the hand cupped over his brow, his eyes traveled artlessly from her mouth to her waist.

"We have come all the way from New York and have experienced nothing but chivalry from the English officers on our ship. Surely there must be some way . . ."

The Belgian shifted from foot to foot while he looked off to the side of her head.

"Sir," Fanny said, engaging his eyes. "Sir, we entrust ourselves to your courtesy."

In a matter of minutes, the plump little surgeon was trundling their luggage onto the pier. On deck, the other passengers fumed as a customs man lifted the lids of Fanny's trunks, gave the contents a perfunctory glance, and motioned for her party to move through the gate.

"Bastards!" someone shouted at the officials as Fanny and her family, along with Mr. Hendricks, followed a porter who loaded their trunks on a cart and led them toward an open horse-drawn wagon with enormous wheels.

Near the terminal, masses of people waited beneath a metal canopy. Women in head scarves sat on stuffed grain sacks clutching their earthly valuables: babies, food baskets, rosaries, satchels. One woman clasped a violin case to her chest.

"They come from all over," said the surgeon as he helped the children into the wagon. "They're running from some war or potato field. This is their last stop before America. You can be sure the pickpockets are working tonight."

Fanny shuddered. Her hand went to her breast to make certain the pouch of bills sewn into her corset was secure, and then to her skirt pocket, where she felt the smooth curve of her derringer.

"Take them to the Hôtel St. Antoine," Hendricks ordered the driver as the last trunk was hoisted into the back of the vehicle. He turned to Fanny. "When you know where you will be staying permanently, leave a forwarding address at the desk. I will write to you from Paris." He squeezed her hand, then lifted her into the wagon. "Take care of yourself, dear lady."

Excerpted from Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Copyright © 2014 by Nancy Horan. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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