No Kind of Woman — Anna Pittenger
I frown at the dilapidated appearance of the hotel—the chipped paint, the crooked shutters. It certainly is a lower-class establishment. Just once, I wish that I could travel as befits my true status, but masquerading as a lower-class woman provides me the freedom to travel without either servants or male escort—neither of which I currently have—and, in truth, if I am to continue to travel as I have been doing these past months, I must be economical.
Someday, I suppose, I will settle down, take one of the wigs which I have made, assume a new identity, and make a life for myself once again. Perhaps I should do it soon, while I still have enough money to be comfortable. Indeed, this was originally my plan after taking my first revenge on those who had ridiculed me. Still, the thrill of succeeding with my schemes and deceptions, the taste of triumph that comes with taking back what I have lost with my own two hands, the pride of possession when I hold a new braid of hair or place the wig on my head, have given me a new pleasure in life beyond what I could have anticipated, and I know that resigning myself to a single existence will require more effort and be a great deal more tedious than assuming a new name every fortnight.
“It is only a single night,” I tell myself, “and if all goes well at the party this evening, it will make even these dismal accommodations worth it.” I pick up my traveling case, holding it beneath one arm and my wig-box beneath the other, and walk towards the door.
Once inside, I find the room is better than I had anticipated: a little small, perhaps, and sparsely furnished, but at least I am not expected to share either the bed or the room with anyone. Some say that adversity makes strange bedfellows, but I find solitude to be more convenient. I am also pleasantly surprised to find that it contains a mirrored washstand, which means that I will not have to make use of my pocket mirror to check my costume, as I have had to do on occasion in the past.
I undress, standing in front of the mirrored washstand, taking off my dress, my petticoats, and finally my lady wig. I hate being confronted by the sight of my bald head, seeing the tangible reminder of my loss. It reminds of my shame as my hair thinned and fell out, of the caps I wore to try and hide it, to no avail. It reminds of the way people used to look at me with pitying eyes and then turn away, whispering to each other behind their fans, of Beatrice and the others who once taunted me. Again I hear her words, “How can you dare to show your face in public, looking like that? You are a disgrace to the whole community. How can you have the gall to wear skirts and petticoats like the rest of us? Everyone knows there can be no kind of woman without hair.” Yet though it pains me, I force myself to look, to reinforce my determination for the task ahead.
I don’t know why I lost my hair. Father had started going bald when he was still relatively young, and both of my grandfathers had apparently also lost their hair early, but I was a girl so no one expected it from me. Some of the women whispered that it was a punishment from God, for my vanity, but I never believed believe that. There are plenty of other vain women and girls out there who still have all of their hair, after all. Perhaps that’s why I’m doing this. Not just because I’m jealous that they still have what I lost, although I cannot deny that I am jealous, but also as a warning.
I tried getting a wig to replace my original hair, when I first went bald. I remember father commissioned it to be made especially for me. It was a beautiful wig. Real human hair, and so long, it reached down to the middle of my back. The color matched almost exactly to what my hair color had been. I tried to tell myself that I was happy with it. It was not my real hair, but it was close. I sat in my room for a long time brushing and brushing it, while I was getting ready, trying to feel like it was really my hair. I remember how nervous I was going into the ballroom for the first time wearing that wig. Yet at the same time I was excited. I had not wanted to show my face around other people when I was bald, but now I had hair again, beautiful hair, even longer than it had been before. I felt like I could be a part of things again, like I could be beautiful again. At first, I thought that it was a success. Some of the girls complimented me on my dress. No one mentioned my hair to my face, but I could hear the whispers from the older women clustered against the walls of the ballroom: “look at her, how shameful, it’s even more than before,” “anyone can see that she didn’t learn her lesson.” Then Beatrice came up to me and said, her voice pitched loud to carry, “Look at this, a jackdaw in peacock’s feathers.” She tore the wig from my head. “Not so pretty now, are you, without your borrowed finery? Why don’t you stop lying and let everyone see what you really are.” I was wrong. Getting a wig was not to be the magic pass that would let me back into the circle of my former so-called friends. Losing my hair taught me just how shallow and petty all of those people were, and how quick they were to turn on someone when something went wrong. They were all jealous of me, jealous of how beautiful I was; they rejoiced in seeing me made less than they were, and they would never concede to give back the place which I had occupied among them. That was when I knew that I could never be happy in that place, in that life, with or without (a wig full of) hair. After Beatrice ripped off my wig in front of everyone, I ran back to my room and cried. I cried for a long time that night, alone in my room, and when I was done crying I knew what I needed to do. From that time until now, my determination has never wavered.
I bind my breasts with bandages to make my chest flatter, though I do this mostly for extra security and to help me get into character. It might be more crucial if I had larger breasts, but I have never been blessed or cursed with a super-abundance in that area. Without my corset to press them upwards, my breasts are already scarcely discernable beneath my clothes, and when I bind my chest, there is no sign of them at all. I put on the breeches, shirt, waistcoat and tailcoat, half-wishing I had someone to assist me. Although women’s clothing is certainly more difficult to get into and out of than men’s, there are a few things, such as tying the cravat, which can be difficult to do by oneself. A gentleman of my standing would be expected to travel with at least one manservant, but I can rely on the assistance of no one, male or female. This is no one who I could trust not to spill my secret, either sooner or later—my plan only works so long as I remain alone.
The transformation from a female to a male is fairly simple to effect. A good bit of it is in the clothes—I also add a bit of padding at my shoulders to make them seem wider—and the way of carrying oneself, for example, walking with longer strides and holding the hips more stiffly. However, the two most important areas are the face and the voice. There are some girls of such delicate features that I am sure they could never pass for a man, or only with a thick fake beard to disguise their cheeks and jawline. Personally, I dislike few things so much as having to stick pieces of false hair to my cheeks with spirit gum, and then peel it off again later, so I always prefer to make my appearance as a clean-shaven young man. Although I am by no means unattractive as a woman, I am perhaps more handsome and elegant than daintily lovely. I have inherited some of my father’s features, and when presented properly above male attire they make a convincing enough man’s face, especially for a dandy, who might be expected to have a slightly more delicate look. Shoes and gloves help my feet and hands seem a little bigger. The hardest part is the voice, as I have to pitch my voice lower than usual, and keep the pitch consistent. Finally, I slip on my gentleman’s wig—the brown one, because the lady wig which I have been wearing is brown and I do not wish to recolor my eyebrows. I stand back and survey my reflection with satisfaction. I make a dashing gentleman, if I do say so myself.
“Who shall I be tonight?” I ask the gentleman in the mirror, pitching my voice lower so that it falls within the male range. With the costume and the voice come an entire persona, a name, an accent, a way of speaking, and mannerisms. “Jonathon Abington,” I say, practicing my bow in the mirror. Smiling, I leave the room.
I check that the hallway is clear before leaving the hotel. After all, as a single woman of any class, it would be scandalous to have a man seen entering or exiting my room. I hire a carriage to take me to the party. If I had a house in town, as many of the gentry do, I would have my own carriage and horses, but since I am new to the area, my hiring a carriage is excusable. I hope that inviting myself to this party will also be excusable. It is a larger event, so one more guest should not be too much of a burden to the hosts and—since it is not strictly a private gathering—although there might be list of expected guests, the affair—like all such affairs of the season—should be open to all those members of high society who care to attend.
One might think that as someone who travels as much as I do and who has been out of the social scene—at least officially—for some time would find it difficult to obtain knowledge of such social gatherings, but I have been to London for the season before, if only once, and people at one party are always talking about the next one in the offing.
The coach comes to a stop in front of an elegant/imposing mansion, a fitting residence for a person of standing. Inside, the ballroom is larger than the one at home, with polished wood floors and a large crystal chandelier.
I can feel the eyes following me as I make my way through the room, hear the muttered comments, “Filthy dandy,” “Bloody exquisite,” but I smile, pretending not to hear.
I always dress up to the nines for these occasions, even if some people might consider it flashy or ostentatious. After all, it is the bird with the brightest plumage who gets a mate, and although I am not looking for a mate, I am looking to attract a certain type of woman—the romantic type who would fall for a smooth talker and a flamboyant dresser.
I circle the room, making polite conversation as I look for my mark. Whenever I see a likely looking woman, I stop and talk to her, but always, after a few minutes, I am forced to move on. Surely there must be someone amongst all these people who fits my requirements.
From across the room, I see a figure that I recognize. Beatrice! A chill runs through me. At the sight of her, memories flood up in me. What is she doing here? I would have expected her to stay home in shame for the rest of the season after I cut her hair off, and certainly not for her to come to London in a wig. I step quickly closer, crossing the room almost without realizing it. Yet I am still several yards away when she turns and I get a better look at her face. The breath I had not realized I was holding comes out of me all at once in a deep sigh. It is not Beatrice. In fact, now that I am closer and can see her better, I am surprised that I made such a mistake in the first place. How foolish, I think, allowing my own overactive imagination to play tricks on me. The incident has shaken me, but I force myself to push the feelings aside and to regain my calm. I pause by a window, staring at my reflection in the darkened glass as I reaffirm my persona. I am Jonathon Abington, a dashing young gentleman who is here to flirt with all of the most beautiful women, and whose charm no woman can resist. My heartbeat slows back to its normal pace. I smile at my reflection and then turn, moving back into the room in search of the perfect girl.
“I find it surprising that the Enfields are not present,” a lady remarks as I pass. I notice that she is speaking to Lady Ashforth, a woman whom I had met briefly while I was still at home. Though I recognize her, I have no fear of her doing the same with me. If I could make my revenge on Beatrice and her cronies with impunity, there is small chance that a brief acquaintance will call me out.
“Have you not heard?” Lady Ashforth asks. “The eldest daughter of that family passed away only a few months ago. I expect they are all still in mourning.”
I had entertained no intentions of joining in this conversation, but my curiosity is piqued. After being forced to miss my own funeral, I am interested in hearing what people might have to say about it, especially so far from home and after a passage of time.
“Is that so?” I say, acting surprised. “Do you have any idea what caused it? I had not heard that she was ill.”
“They say she died in a boating accident,” Lady Ashforth says, lowering her voice slightly as she speaks of death.
I nod. A boating accident was easy to fake, since the river runs so quickly out to sea in a storm it is almost useless searching for a body. I have no idea what lies beneath my tombstone in the graveyard, whether it is an empty coffin or another body misidentified as mine. “How very unfortunate,” I say, hoping she will add some rumor about me or my death so that I will know what people are saying.
“Indeed,” Lady Ashforth says, shifting her gaze back to her original conversation partner. “Now, shall we speak of a happier subject? I hear that Minnie Forsyth is engaged to be married this approaching spring.”
I suppose that it would be fair to say that I was not quite in my right mind at the time. Perhaps I am still not entirely in my right mind. At the very least, I am no longer the naïve child who I was before the perfidy of Beatrice and those others who I had formerly believed to be my friends. My grief over the loss of my hair, my shame at being thus humiliated, my burning jealousy against all those who still had what I lacked, surely these things conspired together to unhinge my mind at least temporarily, for only a slightly disturbed mind could have conceived the plan which I came up with at that time and put into action. First, late at night when I was sure that even the servants were asleep, I took all of the jewelry and all the coin which was accessible to me, not only from my own room but also from the rooms of my sisters, and every un-monogramed piece of silver from the dining room. These I secreted in various places on my person. These clothes which women are forced to wear are generally quite cumbersome, with their wide hooped skirts and bustles, but regarded in a different light they provide excellent opportunities for concealment. I made sure that all the rooms were disturbed, as seemed proper for a burglary, and even went so far as to break one of the front windows with a rock. The next morning, when the burglary was reported, I raised my own hue and cry alongside that of the servants and my siblings. I waited until the police retreated back to the village police station, still puzzling over who the burglar might be—really, country police are incredibly slow! I have heard that the Metropolitan Police Force in London is far superior; though I have had no cause to make comparison, having never reattempted such a crime. Then I professed myself to be quite distressed by the whole business, and said that the only thing which would quiet my nerves would be to go boating out in the river. My younger sisters having already taken to their beds from the shock, and my father preoccupied with the burglary, there was no one to go with me, as I had planned. At first, my father was loathe to let me go alone, but eventually I prevailed upon him. Had it been the proper time of the month, I might have attempted to fake my death by more violent means, such as my injury and abduction by the burglars, by spreading my own blood across my sheets and floor. However, the timing not being right and I not wanting to wait, I went ahead and staged my death in a much more conventional manner. I took the boat out on the river and there faked my own death in a boating accident—apparently quite successfully—before making my escape. I remained in the vicinity for a few weeks after that, boarding at an inn in the village under an assumed name. I bought some men’s clothes, trimmed my wig, and at the next several parties that were held I returned under various assumed identities and exacted my vengeance on Beatrice and all the other girls who had mocked me. After that, I had thought that I would be satisfied, but I was not. There was no way for me to return to my old life, even if I had wanted to, and I could not at that time yet conceive what form a new life might take. The one thing that was clear was that I could not remain in that village. There was too great a chance of detection. Thus I moved on to the next town and, while I contemplated what to do and what it was that I wanted, I continued my charade. I waited until I was in the next town to pawn the silverware, not wanting to raise suspicion. The jewelry I have pawned piece by piece as I have found myself in need of more funds. Eventually, I will grow tired of this game that I play (/that I am playing) and find some other way to amuse myself, perhaps by following an occupation. The fact that I have continued for so long after achieving my original goal of revenge is perhaps proof that, as I have said, that my mind is still somewhat unhinged. What else could induce such a proper young lady as myself to don trousers and follow a life of petty crime? Yet even now I am not at all regretful.
I drift on while the ladies continue their conversation, slightly frustrated with Lady Ashforth’s unwillingness to speak of death, for now I have no way of knowing if any rumors are spreading about me, or if anyone claims to have seen my ghost. The manner I dealt with some of my first victims was less polished than my current technique, after all. Still, I have the small comfort of knowing that at least as far as Lady Ashforth is concerned, my reputation is safe. So far I have heard no one bring up the possibility or suicide in relation to my death, and although suicide is as close to the truth as anything, I prefer to keep my former reputation unsullied. I am grateful as well that so far I have heard nothing to suggest that anyone outside my immediate social circle was aware of my hair loss, for I dread the spread of that information almost more than the rumor of suicide. Then again, little word has spread of the plights of any of my victims either. It is the sort of thing which the family would try to cover up and which no polite person would mention, which has made continuing my antics far easier than I had initially anticipated. It is strange to think that it has been only a few months since my old life ended, for it seems a long time since I was Patricia Enfield. I have been so many other people since then.
It truly is strange, when I think about my current existence. I faked my death, so my old life, and my old self are dead. Every time I put on a wig and an ensemble, I take on a new identity, a new life. I become a different person, but it only lasts for a few days on the road, or a single night at a party. I never stay in any place, or as any one person, for very long. Even though I am physically alive—even though I can feel my heart beating and my chest rising and falling with each breath, even though I can feel my head itching and sweating under the wig—I am not truly alive as a person. The personas I put on with my wigs are certainly not real people; they are merely names and personalities I invent and wear for a few days before I exchange them for another one. I suppose it really is like I’ve become a ghost, one that drifts around haunting people, taking different forms. I am constantly hovering at the edge of society, never really belonging anywhere. I drop in and out of other people’s lives, with no one really knowing where I come from or where I’m going. In a way, it’s certainly lonely. Yet at the same time, it’s exhilarating. Knowing that I can be anyone I want to be, at any time, and do whatever I want to do, and that as soon as I tired of that identity I can be someone else, it’s a very liberating feeling. It’s tantalizing to know that I can sweep into a room and captivate everyone in it, that I can make heads turn and inspire envy wherever I go. It’s exhilarating to be able to pull off a charade so successful that dizzy romantic-minded girls fall for my masculine charms and swoon in my arms, without having the slightest idea who I am. A life like this is highly entertaining, so much more so than the one which I had previously followed. I have learned so much through these experiences, and I regard this small store of worldly knowledge as a treasure. I would never have attained it, had I kept my previous life, and I would not part with it now that I possess it.
The musicians start playing, and people begin to dance. I dance my way across the room, inscribing my alias on the dance card of one young woman after another, as I search for the one who will best suit my purposes. Close dancing allows me to examine each woman in detail: the material of her dress, the amount of cosmetics she employs, the state of her hair, and how she reacts to my steady gaze and small advances.
My head feels hot and itchy under the wig. I long to take it off, to let the skin on top of my head breathe. I would feel so much more comfortable without the wig. Still, I grit my teeth and resist the temptation to take it off. My wig is a necessary part of my character, and a key point of my appeal. Even as a man, it isn’t acceptable for people to lose their hair until they get old. A bald young man could never be considered handsome, the same way that a bald woman could never be considered beautiful.
One would think that by now I would have gotten used to the way the wigs always make my head itch, or the way my scalp sweats underneath them when I wear one for too long. Still, although I’ve learn to tolerate these sensations during my past weeks of always wearing a wig of one sort or another, tolerating something and accepting it as normal are completely different things. I wonder if someday this will feel normal to me, or if I will become so accustomed to the sensations that I cease to notice them. I hope so.
I pause by the punchbowl, taking a small break from dancing and my search. It is a large party, and there are still plenty of women in the room, I reassure myself. I may yet find what I am searching for. Even if I do not, even if I must leave tonight empty-handed, it will not be the end of the world. There have been a few occasions before where I have gone to a party but left with nothing. Although it is not nearly as satisfactory an experience, still there is some enjoyment in just dressing nicely and dancing, and inspiring feelings of admiration and jealousy in others. I especially like toying with the men.
A group of young men, lounging near the table, begin to insult me, making comments about my dandyish appearance, implying that such an effeminate man is a disgrace to the sex and has no right appealing to the hearts of women.
They speak with the tones of frustrated lovers. No doubt they have been standing here all evening, drowning their sorrows in the punchbowl after finding themselves unable to get a dance. I ignore them for the most part. They are all so transparent in their jealousy, their insults revealing their insecurity. How irritating it would be for them if they knew; I am not even a man, yet I am a better man than they are.
“I suppose you wear a corset too, beneath that frippery,” one of them scoffs at me.
Of course not. Imitation dandy or not, a corset on a man is as idiotic as tight-lacing on women. Anyone who willingly sacrifices their lung capacity as a tribute to their vanity is putting themselves into a precarious position. Not that I believe he has any real intention of engaging me in a discussion on fashion. His intention was probably to insult my masculinity, and no doubt he will expect me to retaliate. Even though I have no real reason to defend it, I should go ahead and insult him back and get this over with.
“Unlike some people, I have no need of one.” The trick to insulting someone is to say it with the just the right wording and inflection, almost as if it were a casual comment, and then walk away before they realize its significance. I count the number of steps it takes, walking back out onto the dance floor. One, two, three, four,
“Wait!” His voice exclaims from the table behind me.
A smile stretches my lips. Under normal circumstances, it might not be the best idea to make enemies; I’m sure he wants to hit me now. Still, he can hardly hit me here, in front of such an assemblage of women, and after tonight Jonathon Abington will vanish from the face of the Earth as though he had never existed in the first place. For all its inconvenience, being a ghost offers certain freedoms beyond the imagination of those who cling to life. Now, if only I could find the type of woman I am looking for, this evening would be perfect.
I dance with a few more girls to be sociable, and because it amuses me to see the other men looking on, jealous. However, before long I tire of this and stand by the wall, watching as the couples whirl by, looking for the perfect mark.
It is amusing to me how much jealous anger the men vent in my direction, how much attention they pay me, I who am nobody, a ghost, a phantom, here one night and gone the next, never to be seen again. It is amusing to me that I, a woman, could make a good enough imitation of a man as to make real men jealous. Still, these are only incidental pleasures. I have no desire to be a man, save on the brief occasions when the pretense is convenient, as it is now. Nor am I here for these men, to incite their jealousy and enjoy their reactions. I am here for the women, for a woman, and the whole time I have been here, circulating the room, exchanging polite conversation and witty repartee, and dancing with girl after girl while their mothers look daggers at me from behind their fans, I have been looking for the one girl who will make this night worthwhile. There are a few important things I always look for when selecting my mark. The most important, of course, is the hair. She must wear it natural, not artificially curled or straightened or teased into some elaborate style; it must be thick, not fine; and it must be long, to her mid-back at least. After the hair comes another important factor: she must not be too sensible or strong-minded; that type is difficult to trick, and now that I have taken care of my original tormentors I prefer that my work be as simple as possible to complete. It is even better if she is vain, though this combination is difficult to find for the vain ones almost always dress their hair.
Turning, one of the girls dancing catches my eye. The light glimmers on her long and strikingly red hair, which hangs unadorned over her shoulders and down her back. As the song ends, I approach her. She is wearing a gauze dress, decked in ribbons and silk flowers, an outfit designed for a single night. “Lovely,” I murmur as I approach her, speaking to myself, but she smiles at overhearing me. Red is one color that I do not yet have among my collection. I am not entirely sure if my complexion is right for red hair; red-heads tend to be pale and freckled, while my own coloring is naturally a bit darker, but I think with a bit of powder I might make it work, and it will be interesting to try it out and see. Still, I must not put the cart before the horse. First I must obtain the hair. Then I can worry about whether or not it truly suits me.
“Good evening,” I saw, bowing. “I do not believe that we have been introduced. My name is Jonathon Abington.”
“Lorena Smallwood.” She responds, with a small curtsey.
“You have a lovely name, Miss Smallwood,” I tell her, “though I am afraid that no name could do justice to your beauty.” I cast the words out like bait on a fish-hook and wait, seeing if she will bite.
“Why thank you, Mister Abington,” she says, smiling and batting her eyelashes. “Although, honesty compels me to say that you are not the first person to admire my name.”
I smile back, noting the pauses between her words, and my eyes travel down her figure, noting her improbably narrow waist. Perhaps my search is over. “I see your dance card is empty for the next few dances,” I say. “Perhaps you would let me fill them in?”
She smiles. “Of course, Mister Abington.”
“Please, call me Jonathon,” I tell her. “My friends do, and I should very much like for the two of us to be friends.”
She blushes at my forwardness, but smiles. “Very well, Jonathon.”
“You are an excellent dancer,” I tell her as we pause in between sets, catching our breath. I notice she is having more difficulty than I am.
“Thank you,” she says, her voice breathy. “You yourself are passing well. Shall we sit out the next dance and speak together instead, that I might come to know you better?”
“Oh, come!” I entreat her. “The night is yet young. Surely you cannot be tired already. One more dance. Then we will rest.”
She looks into my eyes and acquiesces. “All right, but just one more.”
The next dance which the musicians strike up is a fast one, for which I am grateful. She leans more and more into me over the course of the dance, her dainty feet stumbling for the first time, her mouth open slightly as she pants for breath. We whirl and step, going faster and faster along with the music. Her face is flushed beneath the pale powder. As the music ends, I step closer and hold her tightly against me as she swoons in my arms. If it had been a slow dance, I would have had to accept her request to rest afterwards, and then tried to renew my efforts later, or else attempted to prompt her into fainting by other means.
“Come,” I say, speaking as if she were still conscious, an act for the audience of other partygoers around us. “You seem tired of dancing,” I say, “and I should indeed like to get to know you better. Shall we sit for a while and talk?”
Her body is limp in my arms. I lean her head against my shoulder so it will not loll about on her neck and reveal her lack of consciousness, her face turned inwards against my shirt so that no one will see that her eyes are closed. I grasp her tightly in my arms, doing my best to drag her off the dance floor and towards the corner of the room, while appearing only to support her. It helps that she is small and light, and luckily it seems as though the others are too preoccupied with their own dance and conversation partners to watch us too closely. I carry her to a curtained alcove near a window which I had noticed on my rounds of the room. Once inside, we will be shielded from the view of everyone in the room. At last I lift her up onto the bench and sit down beside her, letting her head lie in my lap as though we were lovers, or she a tired child and I her governess. I begin to plait her hair into a braid, to make it easier to harvest. I have now reached the crucial moment in my plan. Everything from here on out depends on how quick I can be, and how careful. If I take too long here in the corner, anyone who observed us going here will wonder what is taking so long and will come over to investigate. One of those jealous men by the punchbowl, for instance, might be tempted to see whether the lady and I are indeed playing the role of lovers, and come over with the intention of raising an uproar. Or, one of the lady’s friends might become concerned about her health, seeing how tired she was at the end of the last dance, and come over with the intention of being solicitous. No matter what the reason, I must be done from this place before anyone comes over to investigate. I have no intention of being caught red-handed, so to speak, with a thick hank of hair in my hand and the same gone from the lady’s head.
“I guessed that you were a tight-lacer,” I say conversationally, reaching into my pocket to pull out the scissors. “Such a foolish practice, tight-lacing,” I remark, turning her head so her hair is facing me. “It makes you liable to faint at a moment’s notice, especially the wrong moment.”
I wonder, looking at her, is this how people saw me? A foolish, empty-headed child, accepting admiration as my due and obsessed with my own appearance to the extent that I became heedless of the thoughts and feelings of others? I like to believe myself more intelligent than this girl, at least, though I may well have been just as vain, before the loss of my hair. Indeed, I am still vain, though now I guard my pleasure within myself as silent thoughts rather than laying them bare in front of everyone.
I grasp her braid with one hand and neatly clip it from her head with the scissors. “I suppose,” I say, tying it off at the other end and folding it so that it will fit into my pocket, “that some men might find that attractive—evidence of weak femininity succumbing to the strength of their mainly charms, but it does put you into a position where people can take advantage of you.” I tuck the hair and scissors into my pocket. “I hope this experience proves instructional to you.”
I go over to the window and look out. We are on the first floor, so there is no risk of injury if I use it to make my exit, and I can see no sign of anyone outside who might witness my unorthodox departure. I open the window and put my foot on the sill. “I suppose a gentleman would let someone know you had fainted,” I say, turning back for one last look at her, “but then, I am hardly a gentleman.” I step out through the window and into the night, closing the window behind me. She will come to sooner or later, or else someone will find her. It is no longer my concern.
I whistle a little as I walk down lawn towards the street, swaggering a little with a man’s posture. The night air feels pleasantly cool against my face after the stifling atmosphere of the ballroom. I go to carriage, where the coachman is waiting. If he has any opinions about my wish to leave the party early, he is too well-trained to voice them. I have the coachman let me off in front of a house a few blocks away from the hotel and walk the rest of the way, again checking to see that I am unobserved.
Back in the room, I empty my pockets and take off my outfit and the gentleman’s wig, slipping back into my clothes from earlier. One good thing about masquerading as a lower-class woman is that the clothes are designed to be put on without assistance. I stand at the mirrored washstand scrubbing off the cosmetics. Once again, I am confronted with the sight of my bald head, but this time the sting is offset by the feeling of victory that comes from the braid of hair which I have secured. I stroke it tenderly, marveling at its softness, the silky feel of it as I hold it against my face, testing how well it will become me.
Humming a little to myself as I do so, I place the braid in a special compartment in my trunk, ready for the time when I will use it to make a wig.
Perhaps when I do finally tire of this game and settle down into a single identity, I will take up the occupation of a wig-maker. I’ve certainly gained enough skill to be able to make excellent wigs using a variety of hair types, and it would be steady work. Every time I think about abandoning my current chimerical existence and settling for a single identity, though, I’m filled with regret and disappointment. A career as an actress would be much more to my taste, with my talent for assuming various diverse characters and with my desire for widespread admiration. However, when it comes to respectability, an actress is barely above a lady of the night or a kept woman, especially since the former may often become the latter when circumstance dictates, or in order to gain a wealthy patron. Yet I have fallen so far already from my original station that perhaps it would not be so horribly odious to pursue a career as an actress. A wig-maker is already a great fall from my former station in life; an actress would not be so very much further of a fall. Besides, in my current station as a ghost, or perhaps more accurately as a phantom thief, I have already probably exceeded the lower limits of social standing. At least work as an actress would be exciting, and it might even gain me some small fame and notoriety.
Going over to the box where I keep my wigs, I pause for a moment to run my hand across them, feeling the soft and silky texture of the hair, admiring the variations in color, length, thickness, and style. I pull them out, trying them on one after another. For me, each wig suggests a different personality, a different persona which I could adopt just by putting it on. The serious straight-haired brunette; the giggling and flirty blonde with ringlets; the mysterious woman with black hair, and so many more. Sometimes the personas are based on the people from whom I took the hair, but more often they are creations of my own imagination. Within this one travelling case, I have perhaps twenty different people—some male, some female—who I can be at a moment’s notice. The ones who pitied me, the ones who mocked me, even the ones who dared to have what I have lost, now I am more woman than all of them.
“Is that not so, Beatrice?” I ask, slipping her hair onto my head. “After all, there can be no kind of woman without hair.”