"Have you ever tried to plunge a dagger through five inches of human flesh?"
Accustomed as I was to Madelyn Mack's eccentricities, I stood stock still and stared into her face.
"Oh, I'm not a murderess! I refer to my dissecting room experiences."
(from "Cinderella's Slipper.")
It was irritating to be wearing a petticoat - and, had I thought that I would be delving into New York City's underworld, I should have donned boy's clothing and been done with it. Nevertheless a woman's skirt provides plenty of places to hide weaponry; and, having come into not a little wealth as a result of my previous detections, I had endeavored to have all my clothes made very cleverly, so that I should not be entirely helpless in the event of any untoward occurrence. One does not become a lady detective without encountering certain resistant parties.
Yet I had never imagined that I would find myself in a New York slum, grappling with men of the coarsest possible nature, whose only possible interest in me would be an interest in my virtue - that is, an interest in robbing me of it. A failure, I am sure. And yet - if I could only twist out from under his arm, so - my arm might reach around to the sharp little knife secreted in my skirts -
I was astonished to discover how much blood could come out of one man. His mouth formed into a regular little O, which was almost charming; it was as if I could look backward through time and see the baby in the man, a baby whom his mother loved and cosseted, whose little round mouth sought only to coo and suckle. But that would never do; my womanly thoughts would only make me feel pity for him; and (I reminded myself) I could not feel pity for him; pity, like other emotions, would only blunt my intellect and cause me to overlook some important detail.
I had punched quite a small hole in his chest, which had stopped him briefly, but not hurt him beyond repair; fortunately my knife had not caught on bone, and I had quite easily withdrawn it and slashed it upwards across his jugular, which wound had finally done him in. It had also, I realized, caused quite a lot of blood to pour all over me, which was not a pleasant sensation. I imagined that I would have to wash my hair several times to have it properly clean. It was just as well that I had chosen to wear all black to-day - but nevertheless my frock would never be the same.
Fortunately, my attacker-turned-victim had been struck too quickly to scream; only a pathetic little whuff of air exited his mouth, and then his larnyx had been sliced through just as much as his jugular had, and he had not the ability to utter any sound whatever. My fingerprints were on the weapon, yes, but no-where else that they might be discovered - and anyway the police department's finest would hardly come out for a good-for-nothing ruffian like this. I ought not feel the slightest compunction at leaving him where he lay, dirty, defeated, unable to threaten me any more.
And yet - as I slipped out of the alley, wiping my face on my shawl and hoping that I might quickly find some bolt-hole in which to wash and change clothing, I could not help but look back at his crumpled figure. He looked so small, there, dead. Surely I did not belong in the class of murdereress, Jezebel, unnatural killer-woman. Surely none could fault my conduct. And yet - there he was, and there I was, thinking already about all the ways in which I might cover up his death.
There was never an inquiry; I daresay that I might have left my shawl and weapon and even a calling-card at the scene, and the Chief of Police would have merely informed me that a dangerous criminal had been fortuitously removed from the streets by an 'unknown justice-doer.' There was never an inquiry; but ever since, and I am sure for the rest of my life, I have felt his blood on my face in my dreams, and often woken screaming to the memory of that pathetic little whuff. Nothing will erase it from my memory - not the knowledge of my righteousness, nor Nora's sisterly embrace, nor any other thing.