I could not really blame Ping for not guessing that I am a girl.
From the day I was born my Indian ma dressed me like a boy.
She put me in little buckskin leggings, shirt and moccasins. She taught me how to ride a horse and shoot a bow & arrow and how to hunt & skin a critter. She trained me to use boy-endings for words rather than girl-endings when I spoke Lakota and she would give me a stinging slap if I forgot.
Not that I spoke Lakota with anybody apart from my ma. For she had lit out from her tribe before I was born and taken up with a fur trader. She traded him in for a railroad detective named Pinkerton a while later, and thus was I born. But soon it was just me & her again, out in the wild frontier. I was fine with that and I was fine with dressing as a boy.
You might say, ‘Why did your ma dress you as a boy?’
I reckon she thought if anything happened to her I would be safer as a boy, knowing how to hunt and ride and suchlike.
And sure enough, something did happen to her.
She got herself massacred on a wagon train travelling west when I was 10 yrs old.
I was out gathering buffalo chips and thus I survived. After that, a preacher & his wife adopted me. They thought I was a boy at first & were mighty surprised to discover I was a girl, you bet. But they let me keep on dressing like a boy, probably for the same reason as my Indian ma.
Unfortunately, they got massacred, too. That was on my 12th birthday, just under a year ago.
I fled to Virginia City to escape the desperados who kilt them & to avenge their deaths. I stayed on in Virginia in order to learn to be a Private Eye so I could one day join my long-lost pa, that railroad detective I mentioned earlier. That was the first time in my life I wore white girls’ clothing, as a means of Disguise. I hated the thin calico dresses with their itchy lace collars & cuffs. I hated the tight, tippy-tappy, fiddly buttoned boots. Most of all, I hated the pinching corsets and puffy hoop skirts I wore while pretending to be a widow woman.
After that, I vowed not to dress like a gal unless it was a matter of life or death.
But recently my body has started changing. I have started my ‘monthlies’ and am beginning to develop. Not a lot, but enough so that I have to put a kind of bandage around my chest to keep myself flat. Luckily my poor dead foster ma Evangeline clearly laid out what was in store, so I was not too alarmed. The thing that worried me was this: Would I wake up one morning to find I preferred dolls to Deringers? Would I get a hankering to sew samplers instead of arrange my Tobacco, Bullet and Bug Collections? Would I stop feeling like a ‘Me’ and start feeling like a ‘She’?
I surely hope not.
I guess that is why I have taken to spitting & cussing & not stifling burps. I do not want to turn into a danged girly-girl. I may be a half-Indian Misfit, but I like me just the way I am. I do not want to change.
‘I said give me two!’ snapped Ping, bringing me out of my reverie.
I gave him two.
‘I bet three,’ said Ping. He pushed three pieces of licorice forward.
‘I’ll see your three pieces of licorice,’ I said, ‘and raise you a lemon drop.’
I showed the lemon drop to Mouse, who was perched on my shoulder, but he was disinterested. Mouse only eats live bugs, like crickets.
Once more the door opened.
It was Miss Bee Bloomfield in her tippy-tappy button-up boots. School had been closed all week on account of the Big Freeze.
Talk about girly-girls. Bee is about the girliest-girl in Virginia City. She uses Sozodont tooth powder & lilac toilet water & is always buying new bonnets. Worst of all, she is always trying to steal a kiss from me. If she knew she had been trying to kiss another gal, she would have conniptions, you bet.
‘Good morning, P.K. and Ping!’ She put a waxed-paper packet on my desk. ‘I brought you some oatmeal cookies baked by my own fair hand.’
Ping opened the packet & took out a cookie & ate it.
Bee frowned. ‘What’s that on your shelf?’ She went to investigate my branch and then recoiled with a squeal. ‘Oh! What are those green things hanging on it?’
I said, ‘Those are butterflies in chrysalis form. I saw them last week. When it started to snow, I took pity on them & went up & broke off a branch & brought it back here so they wouldn’t get froze.’
‘Friz,’ said a familiar voice from the doorway. ‘First it blew, then it snew, then it thew and then it friz. That is what the wags are all saying. But the thaw is here, and I believe spring is finally on the way.’ The voice belonged to Mr. Sam Clemens, a local reporter. He had a skinny blond boy with him.
‘Spring!’ Mr. Sam Clemens cried. ‘That fruitful time when young men turn their thoughts to bugs. P.K., this here is Affable Fitzsimmons.’
I nodded politely at the skinny blond boy. ‘Howdy,’ I said.
‘How do you do?’ said the boy in an English accent. I judged he was about 14. He was tall & thin with wire rimmed spectacles & straight blond hair. He wore a palm-leaf hat & beige linen knickerbockers & canvas shoes, none of which were suitable for the snowy climes of Virginia City in April.
Bee Bloomfield stepped forward. ‘Are you from England?’
‘I reside in San Francisco, with my parents,’ said Affable, ‘but I am English by birth.’
‘I’m Bee Bloomfield,’ she said, showing her dimples.
‘Affable is the son of the famous naturalist and jungle explorer, Sir Fitzhugh Fitzsimmons,’ drawled Sam. ‘Sir Fitzhugh promised to buy me a hot toddy if I could find some pals his own age.’
Affable Fitzsimmons looked around the room. ‘Mr. Twain said you have some interesting collections.’
I said, ‘Who is Mr. Twain?’
Sam said, ‘I am. It is my new nom de plume. I have started signing my newspaper articles “Mark Twain”.’
‘A rose by any other name,’ said Affable, ‘would smell as sweet. You can call me “Affie”,’ he added.
‘Something in here does not smell very sweet,’ said Bee, sniffing the air. She leaned towards me and wrinkled her nose. ‘P.K.! When did you last bathe?’
I confess I had to ponder this question.
‘December,’ I said at last, ‘I reckon my last bath was in December.’
‘Which year?’ asked Sam Clemens, AKA Mark Twain, striking a match and lighting up his notorious ‘pipe of a thousand smells’.
‘Last year,’ I replied. ‘1862.’
‘P.K.!’ gasped Bee, clapping her hand over her mouth. ‘You have not bathed in four months! Why, that ain’t Christian!’
I pointed at Mark Twain.
‘I ain’t as stinky as his tobacco,’ I said. ‘Folk call it “The Remains” on account of it smells like a dead critter.’
Affable AKA Affie chuckled.
‘At least it ain’t me who stinks,’ drawled Mark Twain, ‘but just my tobacco.’ He winked at me. ‘I was just being ironikle,’ he said, using one of his pet words.
‘Oh, I say!’ Affable stepped forward to examine the pale-green chrysalises dangling from my butterfly branch. ‘Don’t keep them so near the stove,’ he advised, ‘or they will hatch too early. May I move them out of danger?’
‘Sure,’ I said.
As he was carefully moving the branch away from the stove, he saw my glass-fronted butterfly tray on the shelf below.
‘What a bully collection!’ he cried. ‘And you are only missing one.’ He bent closer and read the label. ‘A Buckskin Fritillary, native to Nevada & California.’
Bee said, ‘What is a fritillary?’
Affie said, ‘It is a kind of butterfly.’
I said, ‘It was my foster pa’s collection. I am trying to finish it to honor his memory. I am hoping my branch will hatch out into Buckskin Fritillaries,’ I added.
Suddenly Bee Bloomfield’s brown eyes went round as quarters.
‘P.K.!’ she squealed. ‘There is a giant spider crawling on you!’
Mark Twain’s eyes bugged out, too, and his ‘pipe of a thousand smells’ clattered to the floor. ‘That ain’t no spider,’ he yelped. ‘That there is a deadly tarantula!’
The Case of the Bogus Detective by Caroline Lawrence is the fourth P.K. Pinkerton Mystery. You can buy the first 3 real cheap HERE. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!