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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1875

"Where are the dogs?" Sammy asked, staring up at her.

Fanny Osbourne stood at the boat's rail, holding an umbrella against the August drizzle. Her feet were planted apart, and each of her boys leaned against a leg. Around them, a forest of masts creaked in the dark harbor. She searched the distance for the shape of a city. Here and there smudges of light promised Antwerp was waiting, just beyond the pier.

"We'll see the dogs tomorrow," she told him.

"Are they sleeping now?" the boy asked.

"Yes, they're surely sleeping."

Lanterns illuminated the other passengers, whose weary faces reflected her own fatigue. After a ten-day Atlantic crossing, she and the children had transferred to this paddleboat for the tail end of their journey, across the English Channel to Antwerp. Now they huddled on deck among the others—mostly American and English businessmen—waiting for some sign that they could disembark.

Fanny had begun spinning stories about the famous cart-pulling dogs of Antwerp soon after they boarded the ship in New York. As her sons' patience waned during the long trip, the dogs' feats became increasingly more fantastic. They swam out to sea to rescue the drowning, dug through the mud to unearth gold, gripped trousers in their teeth and pulled old men out of burning buildings. When they weren't busy delivering milk around town, the dogs carried children through the cobblestone streets, calling upon bakers who handed out sugar-dusted cakes and apple fritters. Now, moored a few yards away from the great port city, Fanny hoped that the dogcart was not a thing of the past in Antwerp these days.

"Eleven o'clock," said Mr. Hendricks, the baby-faced surgeon from New York who stood nearby, eyeing his pocket watch. "I suspect we won't be getting off this boat tonight." They watched a cluster of customs officials exchange heated Flemish with the captain of their channel steamer.

"Do you understand what's happening?" Fanny asked.

"The Belgians are refusing to inspect anyone's trunks until tomorrow."

"That's impossible! There aren't enough beds on this little boat for all of us."

The surgeon shrugged. "What can one do? I am philosophical about these things."

"And I am not," she muttered. "The children are exhausted."

"Shall I try to secure sleeping cabins for you?" Mr. Hendricks asked, his pretty features wreathed in concern.

The doctor had been kind to Fanny from the moment she'd met him at dinner the first evening of the voyage. "Why, art!" she responded when he asked what had prompted her journey. "Culture. Isn't that the reason Americans travel to Europe?" The man had stared intently at her across the table, as if deciding whether she was mad or heroic for bringing her three children abroad for an entire year.

"My daughter and I will study figure drawing and painting," she'd explained. "I want her to have classical training with the best."

"Ah," he said knowingly, "you, too, then, are a voluntary exile. I come for the same reason—the best of everything Europe has to offer. This year it's Paris in the autumn, then Italy for the winter."

She had watched him maneuver a forkful of peas into his mouth and wondered when he had time to work. He was a bachelor and quite rich, judging from his itinerary and impeccable clothes. His soft black ringlets framed an unlined forehead, round pink cheeks, and the lips of a putto. She had glanced at Sammy next to her, pushing his peas onto a spoon with his left thumb. "Watch how Mr. Hendricks does it," she whispered in the boy's ear.

"I can see you have mettle, Mrs. Osbourne," the surgeon said. "Do you have any French?"

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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