Two hours later, at 4 o’clock, I was standing in front of a full-length mirror in Wasserman’s Emporium wearing a balloon-sleeved, puffy-skirted merino-wool dress of a vivid yellow color.
Pa had told Ray G. Tempest our ‘gallus’ plan & Ray had liked it so much that he had gone to get us an appointment to meet with the owner of the Overland Stage Company as soon as possible. We had to act quickly as the road out of Virginia would soon be passable for stagecoaches and the first silver shipments would be double-sized.
Mrs. Wasserman had shown us three made-up dresses in the store. The one I now wore was the closest to my size & also the most girly.
It was mainly yellow, but had a kind of bib & cuffs & a waistband & pleated hem all in grass green. There were some green tongue-shaped flaps hanging down from the waist that the storekeeper called ‘flounces’. I was also wearing my black wig with ringlets and my pink poke bonnet that I use for my ‘Prim Girl Disguise.’
I said, ‘I look like an Indian brave who had just massacred a little white girl and dressed in her clothes, scalp and bonnet for a hideous jest.’
‘Oh pshaw!’ said my pa. ‘It ain’t that bad.’
‘Try smiling,’ said Mrs. Wasserman, who had just returned with some girly undergarments.
I turned to them & bared my newly-whitened teeth.
They both took a step back.
‘Ach! That is mare a grimace than a smile,’ said my pa.
‘You look like a wolf trapped in a hole,’ said Mrs. Wasserman.
I stopped smiling.
Mrs. Wasserman said, ‘I believe part of problem is that bonnet. You can’t really see her face. Just those glittering black eyes and gleaming teeth.’
‘Ye’re right,’ said Pa. ‘We need to see that bonny wee face.’
Mrs. Wasserman reached up to a shelf & brought down a bonnet. It was tall rather than deep, and made of yellow straw. It had two yellow flowers on top and a kind of yellow sash that poked through the straw to tie under your chin.
‘This is the new style Skyscraper Bonnet for May,’ she said. ‘Some folk call it a “lighthouse bonnet”. It is all the fashion. Go on. Try it.’
I took off my poke bonnet and put on the lighthouse bonnet.
‘Why, there!’ said Mrs. Wasserman, adjusting one of the flowers on top. ‘It suits you down to the ground.’
Instead of hiding my face, it framed it.
‘There’s me bonny wee lassie!’ said Pa.
But I could not bear to look & had to avert my eyes. Pa was nodding happily & turning his putty-colored plug hat in his hands.
Among some other men’s hats on a shelf, I saw a hat with a flat top and a flat brim like Jace’s only it was brown not black. ‘How much is that hat?’ I asked Mrs. Wasserman.
‘That one is ten dollars,’ she said, ‘on account of it is real beaver felt.’
It looked like a regular hat to me, but when Pa tried it on it made him look fine, and not a bit silly.
‘It makes you look fine, and not a bit silly,’ I said. ‘I will buy it for you.’
‘Ach, nay. I cannae let ye do that.’
‘Sure you can. I have plenty of money at Wells Fargo & Co just across the street.’ I pulled out my medicine bag and took out some gold eagles. Because the dress was already made up and store bought, it was more expensive than I thought it would be. So was that lighthouse bonnet. What with buying those things & new undergarments & my pa’s new beaver felt hat, I would have to pay another visit to Wells Fargo & Co. in the near future. But if it could help me catch those Reb Road Agents and earn me a place in Pa’s Agency, then it was worth it.
‘Let me just alter your frock,’ said Mrs. Wasserman. ‘Come with me. It will only take five minutes on my new Singer Sewing Machine.’
I went into a back room with her. She had one of them new Singer Sewing Machines that looks like a giant black ant with a wheel on its backside. She also had two dressmaker’s dummies in there: one was wood & the other was papier maché. She made me stand still while she put pins in my dress & made me take it off & stand in chemise & bloomers.
She put the dress under the metal ant’s nose & used her feet to make it take little sips of the cloth with its needle tongue. When she brought back it out, why there was a new seam! Now the dress fit perfect.
When I came back into the shop, I saw Ray standing by a window with my pa. They were at the far end of the shop smoking & talking. They had their backs to me, but I have excellent hearing.
I heard Ray say, ‘It a perfect plan; better than we could have imagined.’
They must have heard my tippy-tappy boots for they turned to look at me.
‘There’s me wee bonny lassie!’ said Pa. ‘Guess what? Ray is just back from the Overland Stage Company. We have a meeting with the owner tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. Come closer.’
I went over to them, feeling awkward in my yellow balloon sleeves & puffy skirt & flounces & furbelows & lighthouse bonnet.
‘Her walk ain’t quite right,’ said Ray, blowing smoke down.
To me, Pa said, ‘Try to walk like a lady and not stride forth like an angry teamster.’
I took little tripping steps & held my arms straight down by my sides with wrists bent so my palms faced the floor.
Ray shook his head & blew more smoke down. ‘You have come up with a bully plan,’ he said. ‘But she has got to be a dam sight more convincing than that, or the owner of the Overland Stage Company will never buy it.’
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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!