Table of Contents
Also by Alex Simmons and Bill McCay
The Raven League:
Sherlock Holmes is Missing!
The Raven League: Buffalo Bill Wanted!
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group
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Copyright 2007 Â© Alex Simmons and William McCay
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Use of the Sherlock Holmes characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle courtesy of the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle.
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“CAN YOU MAKE THIS OUT, WIGGINS?” JEAN-BAPTISTE Owens asked.
Archie Wiggins's thin face twisted in concentration as he tried to sound out the first word on the poster. “ âB-Buf-Buffalo.' ”
The rest was easier. " 'Buffalo Bill's Wild West.' ”
The bottom of the poster got harder again, but he plowed on. “ âAmerica's Na-National Enterenterâ' ”
“Entertainment,” said Jennie James. “You're getting on well with your reading.”
Wiggins shot an annoyed glance at her. “It would come on better if you used a more exciting book to teach us.”
“Yeah,” said William Doolan, known as Dooley. “All that happens in those stories is that children go to heaven.”
“Right,” Owens chimed in, pointing at the poster. “Why can't we have stories with cowboys and Indians?”
“We'll be seein' them soon enough,” Wiggins said with a grin.
“So you say.” Jennie shot a dubious look at the crowd around them. All spring, London and the British Empire had celebrated Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. To mark the queen's fifty years on the throne, Londoners had stood at solemn ceremonies and cheered at a grand parade. But they'd also turned out in force to cheer this show that came from America. A good thirty thousand people showed up for each performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West, paying up to four shillings to get a ticket.
For a boy or girl from the poor East End of the city, even one shilling was a tremendous amount of money. Working every job they could find, Wiggins and his friends had managed to scrape up the train fare to Earl's Court, where the Wild West show appeared as part of the American Exposition. They didn't have enough to pay for tickets, but Wiggins was sure he could get them in somehow. He'd managed to crash the gate at every music hall in the East End, sometimes in search of clues for the great detective Sherlock Holmes. Most times, however, he'd just wanted a free look at the show.
“Follow me.” Wiggins started pushing his way through the crowd. They passed the front of the exhibition building, a huge, shed-like affair that reminded Wiggins of a big train station. The building stretched easily 120 feet, and it extended ten times deeper than that. Its plaster front was already getting a bit grimy, thanks to cinders from passing trains. An American eagle stood over the main entrance, while the Stars and Stripes flapped from a large flagpole. Inside were examples of American know-howâfrom the way they built steam engines to how their dentists dealt with bad teeth.
Wiggins didn't care about all that, and neither did most of the visitorsâexcept that they had to buy their tickets in the building to get to the outdoor area where Buffalo Bill's Wild West took place. But he knew there had to be entrances where people came in without ticketsâperformers, workmen, even animals.
A quick glance around showed obstacles, however. The exhibition grounds had started out as wasteland, cut off from the rest of the city by railway lines. These tracks also offered a challenge for would-be gate-crashers. Three railway cuttings created a sort of moat around the Wild West performance area. The only access to the triangular plot of land came from several bridges set across the trenches.
There was a bridge from the exhibition building, but that was for ticket holders. Wiggins settled on a bridge fronting on a roadway as their route in. “Let's try over there,” he said.
Jennie nodded toward a figure in blue waving the masses of people past the bridge and toward the ticket offices. “That police constable is sort of in the way.”
“There's only one of him,” Dooley pointed out.
“All we have to do is wait for our chance,” Wiggins said.
A heavy van came rattling up to the bridge. The driver reined in the team of horses, then he jumped off, arranging a set of heavy boards as a ramp. The canvas curtains at the back of the van parted, and a tall, rangy man in a leather vest backed his way down, tugging on a rope.
Londoners dressed in their bestâmen in straw hats, ladies with parasols, children in sailor outfitsâ stopped to gawk as the weather-beaten man pulled the rope more sharply.
“He looks like a cowboy,” Dooley said.
“Right,” Wiggins scoffed. “I'm sure plenty of cowboys work as Londonâ” He broke off when a horned head poked between the canvas panels, something he'd only seen in pictures from Western storiesâa buffalo!
The beast stood as large as a horse, maybe bigger, with tightly curled hair covering its humped back and huge head. The rope around its neck like a leash seemed awfully thin.
Another man stepped out beside the buffalo. He also held a lead rope attached to the animal as he carefully stepped past it. This man had high cheekbones, a beak of a nose, and copper-bronze skin.
“I bet he's a Red Indian,” Dooley gasped. “A real live savage!”
A final man came out of the van, taking up a station behind the buffalo with a third leash rope. But he didn't look like a Westerner. Wiggins thought he looked like a music-hall comedian. Maybe it was the large, bushy mustache that tried to make up for his sharply receding chin.
Owens nudged Wiggins. “Looks like he left his chin behind in America,” he joked.
As the front two men tugged on their ropes, the buffalo came down the ramp to the pavement. Then the creature must have noticed all the people around and stopped dead.
This could be interesting ,
How do you get a beast that big to move if he doesn't want to?
The chinless man in the rear tried shoving the buffalo alongâwithout much success.
“He don't know much about animals,” Wiggins commented.
The chinless man doubled up the loose end of the rope he held and whacked it across the buffalo's rump. The big beast gave a great jerk, its powerful frame nearly hauling the three handlers off their feet.
Wiggins thought. If an animal that size spooked and tried to run through the crowd, people were going to get hurt. He grabbed Dooley's shoulder and began backing them away. From the corner of his eye, he saw Jennie retreating with Owens. Those around them shifted about, uncertain whether to continue watching or move away.
The buffalo gave a great snort, twisting around as if looking for a way to escape. The police constable, obviously realizing the danger, pushed forward. “All right, now,” he told the onlookers. “Move along and let the men do their work.”
The Indian dropped his rope and turned to push through the tightly clustered knot of spectators.
“Silent Eagle,” the cowboy in the leather vest called. “Where are you going?”
The Indian gave no reply, disappearing into the crowd. Wiggins saw Jennie on tiptoe, trying to see where the Indian went. She looked nervous. No wonderâtwo men couldn't control such a big animal alone.
The chinless man raised his rope as if to whip the buffalo again.
“You blasted fool!” yelled the weather-beaten cowboyâtoo late. The gesture was enough to spook the animal. With a bellow, the buffalo began trying to shake loose from the ropes around its neck. The creature's heavy shoulder hit the cowboy hard enough to send him stumbling.
Perhaps that Indian had the right idea, running off,
Wiggins thought as scared crowd members jostled him, struggling back from the buffalo.
The police constable's face went pale, but he stepped in front of the beast.
“What's he going to do?” Jennie gasped.
Wiggins wasn't sure. A blow from the constable's truncheon wouldn't even faze the buffalo, and the man certainly couldn't hope to wrestle with the big brute.
“He's trying to get its attention,” Wiggins realized. “If it charges, it'll come for
.” Wiggins had to give the copper grudging respect for bravery. It might be the only way to protect the people crowded around, but it would probably kill the man.
Suddenly someone shoved past Wiggins, heading straight for the snorting, stomping beast. It was the Indian! He held his hands cupped together, opening them up as he came to the buffalo.
The enormous animal thrust his nose at the Indian's hands. A huge, pinkish tongue came out to swipe up some of the grain the man held out.