The Venice of the West
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Part I: Alta California
 I Meet Mark Twain
 I Meet John Sargent
 A Humorist, Not a Politician
 The Venice of the West
 The Fair Marina
 A Candide Character
 A Swan Among Geese

 So Much?
 Gibralter the Egg Mule
 An American Vandal Abroad
 Daisy and Oscar
 A Chance Encounter
 Goya’s Studio
 Holy Relics


Part II: Sakrametska in Rossland
 Boundary Values
 The Unholy Family
 Boom Town
 New Dog, Old Tricks
 Commission of a Lifetime
 Bushwhacked
 Minor Moon of a Minor Planet
 Wetbellies

space
  NOVEL EXCERPTS by Patrick Fanning

 

Boundary Values

Marina dragged Twain and me from door to door, trying to find lodging of any kind. After fruitless inquiries at five hotels, all bursting at the seams, we settled into a “boarding house” at the end of a dusty street baked by the sun. The structure was wooden, with ugly black iron shutters on all the windows and even over the doors. Only two rooms were available , both small and expensive. Mr. Twain and I shared the basement compartment, a dim cave smelling of damp, but blessedly cool. I did not relish sharing a room, but I welcomed the chance to save a little money, my resources not being the equal of Mark Twain’s fortune.

He and Miss Marina were in high spirits despite our long hot search for quarters. They jostled and mocked each other like siblings of an age, although he had to be over twenty years her senior. In the last few days, she had focused her teasing attention on Mr. Twain instead of me, much to my relief. I found her company exhausting, although she had proved to be an excellent model She knew by instinct how to strike an interesting pose, relax into it, hold truly still, and return to the exact same position hours or even days later. I wondered what she would look like draped in cashmere, surrounded by ferns in some lush, bucolic setting out of a Wordsworth poem.

I stowed my belongings quickly and ran out to escape the confines of the horrible room. The street was thronged with wagons and horses and men afoot, stirring up a choking dust, even on the streets paved with cobble or macadam. I made my way down to the Embarcadero, by the river.

Shiny black carriages twinkled past with noble crests on the doors and curtains open to catch the breeze, giving me a glimpse of a silk hat, a bit of lace or braid on a sleeve. Burly drovers urged their teams forward against an almost impenetrable wall of traffic. Small boys and Chinese ducked and bobbed and weaved in and out of the traffic, darting like swallows through the smallest opening in the crowd.

Vendors sold roasted grain, parched corn, skewered meats, donuts, sorghum candies, and honey-sweetened barley water and lemonade. I had a berry turnover and a lemonade, sitting on a pile of stone blocks, in the corner between a buttress and a levee wall, where I was out of the way and had a good view of the docks. When I finished my sweets, I wiped my fingers on my trousers and took out my sketchbook. I did a quick study of the scene, in black and white only, no shading.

After an hour’s sketching, I felt relaxed and calm, having completely forgotten Twain, Marina, our mean boarding house, and our tedious search for a place to stay. I looked up and discovered that I had collected a small crowd of children watching me. I smiled briefly at them, but did not say anything or maintain eye contact. I like children as a rule, but they can ruin my concentration with their endless questions. I’ve found it best not to give them an opening.


  © Patrick Fanning, 2012
 

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