Mr. Isaac ‘Icy’ Blue was about to spot me, so I crept off the train and plunged into the crowd of people entering the Willows. I do not like seething masses of people but I let myself be carried along with the shuffling & laughing throng. I had to find somewhere to hide out until he had gone.
At a ticket booth beside the gate, they were asking a quarter a person for admittance to the grounds and theater. I had to use the emergency coin in my medicine bag to make 25 cts for the entry fee. I thought they might baulk at the sight of a $20 gold eagle but the ticket-man accepted it without comment and made change for me at once, partly in coins, partly in dollar bills.
I put the change back in my medicine bag and slipped it back into the neck of my yellow dress. I was surely glad I carried it around my neck. Otherwise I would be ‘broke’.
As soon as I got through the gate I looked for a hiding place. I saw several weeping willow trees near a big white house. I ran past a sign saying the Troupe from Gilberts Melodeon was Performing 2 Shows Daily & parted the curtain of green fronds of the second nearest willow & went inside & then peeped out to see if Icy Blue was still on my tail.
I could not see Icy, but I could see that the Willows Amusement Park was aptly named. It had lots of weeping willow trees giving cool shade on this hot Sunday noontime. I counted six pathways & two duck ponds & various grassy expanses all laid out with stalls and cages. I saw colorful throngs of people dressed in their Sunday best, including ladies in hoopskirts & parasols with children in boots & bonnets.
Over by the white house, a little boy of about 8 years old was walking up and down the line, calling out in a piping voice. ‘Get ’em here! All your favorite entertainers. Lotta Crabtree! Minnehaha! Martin the Wizard! Little Jennie Worrell, with or without her sisters! The California Pet! Dressed as a boy or dressed as a girl!’
This last statement caught my ear. A girl dressed as a boy sounded even more interesting than a Giant Chicken.
I waited about 10 minutes, and when I was sure Icy Blue had not entered the Willows Amusement Park, I parted the draping green willow branches & ventured across the grass to where the boy stood with a various photographic cards hung around his neck.
‘Help you, Miss?’ he said.
‘Is that the California Pet a girl dressed as a boy?’ I asked, pointing to one of the photographic cards on his board.
‘Yup, that is the California Pet,’ he said. ‘That one shows her blacked up as a minstrel singer,’ he added.
I examined the two cards showing the ‘California Pet’. I could not believe it: here in Frisco a girl could wear trowsers & get paid to do it! Then I saw a card of an Indian girl. She wore a tight buckskin top & puffy embroidered skirt with leggings & moccasins & she had long wavy black hair with an eagle feather in it. On the border underneath, someone had written Minnehaha.
I pulled out two quarters they had given me as change and bought a photographic card of the California Pet dressed as a young man and also a photographic card of Minnehaha.
‘Where can I see this California Pet?’ I asked the boy. ‘Is she performing with Gilbert’s Melodeon in that white house?’
‘She was here last week but she has gone to Sac City,’ he said. ‘But you can see Minnehaha. She is right over there on the other side of the pond. Look for her Medicine Show wagon.’
I looked where he was pointing & saw something colorful showing between the willows on the other side of a duck pond. It was a small yellow and blue platform like the outdoor stage of a music hall. It had red curtains. Behind it I could see a wagon and a dun horse tethered nearby. I put my 2 photographic cards in my neck pouch and started towards Minnehaha’s show. I kept a sharp lookout in case Mr. Icy Blue had come in by another entrance, but I saw only ladies rolling tenpins on a smooth grassy pitch & men popping pistols at a shooting gallery & children riding ‘Flying Horses’ round & round a carousel.
At last I found myself standing in on green grass in front of a small stage with a wooden frame & the words Minnehaha’s Famous Indian Medicine Show above & red velvet curtains either side. On the stage was the girl from the photographic card wearing exactly the same outfit of tight buckskin top & puffy embroidered skirt & an eagle feather in her glossy, wavy hair. Minnehaha had a gun belt slung around her hips with cartridge holders and holsters containing a pair of Smith & Wesson’s No. 2 with ivory grips. And she kept reaching into a leather shoulder bag making a throwing motion with her arm.
She was throwing knives!
She was facing a big wheel like a giant target with a spread-eagled man strapped to it. The wheel was revolving & the crowd was cheering as she threw those knives at him. Some of them were striking only inches from his head & limbs!
I was impressed. So was the crowd. They clapped & cheered.
When the Indian girl had thrown all her knives, she turned the disc so the spread-eagled man was right side up & she unstrapped him and helped him down & she curtsied to him & he laughed & wiped his forehead with his handkerchief & bowed to the applauding crowd. Minnehaha presented him with a hawk feather for bravery & a signed photographic card of herself as everybody cheered again.
For her next act, she got people to throw tin cans up into the air & she shot holes in them with her pistols & never missed once.
I was entranced & watched until the end of her show. When she had taken her ‘curtain calls’ she jumped down off the stage & passed through the crowd with an empty quiver instead of a hat. I saw people dropping coins in. When she got to me she winked.
Danged if I did not put in a whole greenback, willy-nilly!
I wandered off in a kind of daze.
My ears were still ringing from the gunshots & my mind was spinning with the revelation that here in California, gals could wear buckskin and/or trowsers in public! I looked up at the blue sky, which was softer than the hard desert sky of Virginia City. The sun warmed me all over, neither too hot nor too cold. I could smell flowers & grass & I even saw a butterfly flutter by.
I thought, ‘Maybe Frisco is the place for me.’
Then I thought, ‘If I lived here, I could dress like a boy. Or an Indian. Or both!’
And finally, ‘I could set up a detective agency here, now that I have burned my bridges back in Virginia City.’
That reminded me of my mission. I needed to make my way back to the Occidental hotel and search Violetta’s room for evidence that would get me off the hook.
I had almost reached the western exit of The Willows when I saw a cage full of monkeys and next to it what appeared to be a giant chicken in his own cage! He had long grayish brown feathers & a black neck & orange eyes. There were some women & children tossing it pieces of bread pulled from a fine white loaf.
I pushed forward to have a better look.
I looked at the Emeu and the Emeu looked at me. He seemed to be smiling.
I thought, ‘You are a Misfit like me. But you seem to like it here, too. Maybe Frisco is the place for Misfits.’
Then I got that prickly feeling I get when someone is spying on me. I looked past the giant emeu chicken through the bars of the cage & the pale green willow branches, and I saw two figures. One of them was in black and one in a blue uniform. The one in black wore a pair of round blue goggles beneath a black bowler hat.
It was Icy Blue, and he had found a policeman.
They were heading my way with purpose & intent!
[Don't have a clue what's going on? Start with chapter one.]