I left the Emeu’s cage and went racing back the way I had come. I whizzed down crowded paths, across bowling greens & through the fronds of willow branches. As I rounded the carousel of ‘flying horses’, I slipped in those danged girly boots and twisted my ankle.
My limpy run would not get me away. I must hide!
Then I saw a wagon such as peddlers use to sell notions and potions. On the side it said Minnehaha’s Medicine Show. There were wooden steps going up the back and before I knew it I was up those four wooden steps & through a kind of curtain.
Imagine my surprise when I saw Minnehaha herself, sitting in front of a table with a mirror. She was smearing white cream on her face. She whirled round on her seat & gave me Expression No. 4 – surprise.
I was breathing hard. ‘Please can you hide me?’ I asked her in gasping Lakota. ‘Some men want to arrest me for something I did not do.’
‘What are you doing in my wagon, at all?’ she asked in English.
She did not appear to understand Lakota.
‘Please can you hide me?’ I asked her in gasping English. ‘Some men want to arrest me for something I did not do.’
Close up, I could see she was taking off face paint with the white cream. She was a bogus Indian!
‘Why are they after you?’ she asked. Her eyes were wide which meant she was surprised not angry.
‘They think I killed a stagecoach driver and that I stole some silver ingots and gold coins.’ I pulled off my pink poke bonnet and laid it over my heart. ‘But I am innocent.’
‘Bejeezus!’ she cried. ‘You have short hair. Are you a boy or a girl?’ Her eyes were wide.
‘I am a girl,’ I confessed, surprised at how easy it was to tell her. ‘Only I hate dressing like one.’
The sound of men’s voices reached us. They were outside!
She chewed her lower lip for a moment and her eyes darted here and there, looking for a place where I might hide.
From outside came the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs and a man’s voice. ‘Minnehaha? You in there?’
‘Yes?’ she replied. ‘Why?’
‘I got a representative of the Overland Stage Company and a policeman with me. They are looking for a Wanted Person. They would like to question you. May I send ’em in?’
Minnehaha lifted the flounce of the table at which she was sitting & looked at me & pointed underneath.
I did not wait to be asked twice. I jumped under & scrouched down like a mouse in the pantry.
‘Enter!’ Minnehaha said.
I felt the wagon rock and heard it creak as they came aboard.
‘My name is Isaac Blue,’ growled a familiar voice. ‘I am looking for a dangerous fugitive.’ I heard the rustle of paper. ‘You seen this girl?’ he asked. Then he added. ‘Or maybe it is a boy. Folk are not decided.’
‘Miss Prudence Pinkerton,’ said Minnehaha. I could tell from her halting speech that she was reading it. ‘Aged 12. Half Sioux Indian. Wearing a fur-trimmed purple cape, a yellow dress & a lighthouse bonnet.’
‘She changed her lighthouse bonnet for a narrow pink one,’ he added. ‘And she prob’ly ditched the cape.’
‘They are offering one hundred dollars?’ cried Minnehaha.
‘Actually,’ growled Icy Blue, ‘it is two hundred. They have just doubled the reward money.’
I held my breath. All Minnehaha had to do was jump up & pull back the flounce. My crouching form would be exposed & she would be $200 richer. There was nothing preventing her, not even loyalty among Lakota: for she was a bogus Indian.
‘Well,’ she said at last. ‘I do remember a girl in a green and yellow dress and a pink poke bonnet was watching my twelve o’clock show. She put a greenback in my quiver. And just now, on my way in here I thought I saw that same girl running past.’
‘When was that?’ said another male voice. It was probably the policeman’s.
‘Two or three minutes ago,’ said Minnehaha. ‘Maybe less. She was heading towards the main exit.’
Blue swore in language unfit for publication & I felt the wagon rock as they hurried back down the steps.
‘If you hurry,’ cried Minnehaha, ‘you might catch her!’
A moment later she whispered. ‘You can come out now. The coast is clear.’
I came out from beneath the table.
‘Thank you for not giving me away,’ I said in a low tone. ‘I will make it up to you when I find the real robbers and get the reward.’
‘That would be bully,’ she said, and added, ‘We tomboys have to stick together.’
I said, ‘Tomboys? What is a tomboy?’
She said. ‘Why someone like you and me! Girls who like to dress like boys and play with guns and knives and such like.’
I said, ‘There is a word for us?’
‘Why sure! That word is Tomboy.’ She draped her bare white arm around my shoulders; I could feel it firm & cool & round through the merino-wool fabric of my dress. ‘Did you think you were alone in the world?’
I nodded. ‘I feel a bit like that Emeu in his cage. Like a giant plucked chicken. I used to dress a bit like you. Then my bogus pa burned my buckskins and flannel shirt. I surely do miss them.’
She stood up & went over to a box & opened it & pulled out a pair of buckskin trowsers with beads on them and fringe, too.
‘I have outgrown these trowsers,’ she said. ‘I bet they will fit you. And these moccasins, too. Take them!’
I felt prickly-eyed all of a sudden and there was a bunch in my throat. ‘Thank you,’ I said. It seemed the least thing made me want to blub these days.
Minnehaha’s face showed Expression No. 1 – a genuine smile. ‘As I am feeling generous,’ she said, ‘you may borrow one of my wigs until you are safe. This one has hair like yours would be if you let it grow. It came from a real Cheyenne squaw, they say.’
The hair of the wig was beautiful: straight & black, long & shiny.
‘Let me pay you for the clothes,’ I said. ‘I do not like to owe people.’
I pulled my medicine bag out from the neck of my daffodil-yellow dress and took out the coins & greenbacks.
‘There,’ I put the money on her dressing table. ‘Eighteen dollars and twenty-five cents. It ain’t much but it is all I have left.’
She gathered up the money and pressed it back into my hand. ‘I will not take all the spondulicks you have left. But if you get a reward, you can share it with me like you said.’ She winked at me. Her eyes were sparkly green and she had freckles on her nose. She rolled up the wig and moccasins in the trowsers to make a kind of parcel. Then she tied it all with a piece of twine.
Once again I had to swallow a lump in my throat.
‘What is your real name?’ I asked.
‘Bridget,’ said she. ‘Bridget O’Malley. But you can call me Minnie.’ She held out her hand & I shook it. Her hand was small, but her grip as firm as a man’s. ‘I take it you are Prudence?’
‘Never call me Prudence,’ I said. ‘That is a bogus name. My name is P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye. You can call me Pinky if “P.K.” seems too strange.’
‘You are a private eye?’ Her eyes glittered. ‘That sounds exciting.’
‘Yup,’ I said. ‘It is exciting, all right. Dangerous, too.’
She said, ‘Well, P.K., I was just going to drive into the city to attend Mass. May I take you anywhere? Where are you staying?’
I said, ‘I have heard the What Cheer House is only fifty cents a night.’
She laughed. ‘The What Cheer House is for men only. And they pack lots of them in each room.’
‘Oh,’ I said. That part had not been on my cherry red slip of paper.
She said, ‘You got any family or friends here in Frisco?’
‘My newspaper friend Mark Twain is here,’ I said. ‘But he is more an acquaintance than a friend and I don’t reckon it would be proper for me to stay with a bachelor, anyways.’
‘Anybody else? Any lady friends?’
At first I thought of Mrs. John D. Winters. But then I remembered how she had looked down her nose at me.
Then it came to me. Of course I had gal friends! They had even written to invite me to stay with them any time I was in Frisco.
‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I know a ten-year-old Negro girl named Martha. She was my first client. After she witnessed the murder of a Soiled Dove, the man who done it tried to kill her. She came to me for protection.’
‘Did you protect her?’ Minnehaha’s green eyes were round.
I nodded. ‘After I vanquished the killer, Martha left Virginia City for Frisco with a pretty seamstress named Zoe Brown. They invited me to stay with them any time I was in Frisco.’
‘Well there you are, then! Do you know where they live?’
I nodded. ‘88 Sansome Street was the return address on the letter they sent me.’
‘I know that street,’ said Minnie. ‘It should be easy to find them. If they are still there.’