The Gilded Age, a Time Travel

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Authors: Lisa Mason
collect
outstanding payments or commence foreclosure, rousting the rascals out and
repossessing the property. Two parcels are empty lots out on the city’s
periphery in a place called the Western Addition. Of the two others, one is a
commercial building on Stockton Street in the heart, Father warned, of
Chinatown. The other is a shack in the red-light district of Sausalito, a
little port north of San Francisco across the bay. Daniel grimaces when he thinks
about this business of collection and foreclosure. By God, is he cut out for
it? Hobnobbing was one thing. Strong-arming recalcitrant debtors quite another.
He would much rather play with his Zoetrope.
    As
he ponders these dark controversies, he suddenly realizes someone is standing
behind him. Alarm heats his blood. Damn Jack London with his talk of
revolution. For a moment he fancies the golden-brown women have conspired
against him, their fingers of thorn reaching for him, grasping, seeking revenge
for all the wrongs done them by man.
    Daniel
turns around. A lovely little bird stands right beside him in a sky-blue summer
dress set with snippets of lace. She is petite, with an astonishingly tiny
waist. An ivory-colored veil is drawn over her face from a dainty hat perched
upon her fair curls. Her topskirts swirl in the sea breeze, very much like the
wings of some tropical bird. Yes, a little blue canary! She presses her
fingertips in ivory lace mitts to her throat and moans.
    “Please,
miss, may I be of assistance?” Daniel says. Of course he is a man of nice
sensibilities, quite sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of the weaker
sex. Miss Cameron was barbaric in her shoddy treatment of him.
    “Oh,
thank you, sir,” the veiled bird says in a quavering voice. “The ferry makes me
ill. I’m sorry.”
    “No
cause for apology, miss. There, there, now.” Daniel takes her elbow, places his
hand on her tiny waist, and caresses the small of her back. He braces her as
the Chrysapolis pulls into the Port of San Francisco.
    The
steamboat slams into the dock with a mighty thump ! The veiled birdstaggers
toward him, wraps her arms around his chest, and clings to him like a child.
    “Ooh,”
she moans louder, leaning against him.
    He
can feel her corset, the stays, her heaving breast. An image of her satiny skin
beneath the layers of fabric and whalebone rises up in his mind’s eye, making
his breath catch. Come now, sir, this will not do. Still, it’s been hellishly
too long since he’s shared carnal knowledge with a lady. He tightens his grip.
She’s so frail! Perhaps he can persuade her to dine with him?
    The
crew of the Chrysapolis scampers about, tying up the steamboat fore and
aft. A plank is lowered, and the passengers descend. Miss Cameron and her
dreadful mousy friend trip regally down the plank, lifting their skirts only
just high enough to find their footing, but not high enough to let anyone
glimpse their ankles. Daniel snorts. He’s seen whores pose nude, splayed and
shameless, in the studios of his artist friends in Paris and London. Truly, do
these ladies believe men are not acquainted with every detail of their anatomy
beneath the silks and cashmere? Yet Daniel finds himself peering at the elegant
Miss Cameron, craning his neck for a glimpse of her ankle. What sort of shoes
does she wear? What color are her stockings?
    “Ooh,
sir,” moans his veiled bird louder still, clinging to his waist pathetically.
“Will you help me down the plank, and then I’ll trouble you no more?”
    “Heaven’s,
miss, it’s no trouble at all,” he says, gesturing at a strapping young porter
to take his bags and trunk. “You must tell me your name. Would you care to dine
with me?”
    She
shakes her head in weak assent, clutching her throat wordlessly.
    “Do
you live in San Francisco, then?” Daniel persists. “Have you an address where I
may call upon you?”
    “May
I take your card?” she whispers in reply.
    Well,
of course. Why should she impart personal

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