March 15, 1901, a date so deeply seared in my memory I daresay I shall not soon forget it. Nearly every detail of that day appears to me as a blur of time which I have never been able to decipher. My remembrances exclude every happening that would have, on any other day, been of some significance to me. These insignificant moments, that are always deemed to be of more importance than they merit, have receded into the shadow of one distinct scene that has since been perfected in my reflections to a terrible clarity.
My parents had died some years earlier, leaving my sister and me to be cared for by our aunt. I was sixteen years old at the time, and always a boy of violent passions, I found myself enraged at having my parents thus taken from me. As the presence of my aunt and sister did nothing but make my awareness of the loss I had incurred acute, I found myself increasingly spending my time wandering the streets. It was on one such excursion that I discovered an outlet for my anger in a man by the name of Jack Slade. He fascinated me with a sort of dangerous attraction of personality that drew me irresistibly to him. Slade possessed a dark, troubled face marred by a thin white scar across his left cheek, and his hair was as black as the clothes he wore continuously. If not for that face he would not have appeared to be so menacing, but something about his dark brown eyes, the way they appeared to see everything while focusing on nothing, made him more wonderful to me than any villainous character I could have imagined for myself. He was a quiet man; in a way that made you sure he knew many dark and terrible secrets that he kept carefully concealed behind his brooding face.
Jack introduced me, by degrees, into the underworld of London, although it was sometime before I understood that he was not only a part of the dark world that I had only read about, but that he orchestrated its every action. I was intrigued by the power he possessed, and even more so by the power he offered to me. Over a period of several years, I became increasingly involved with this organization of Slade's, and found myself serving as what amounted to his second in command. I had begun on the most peripheral level of service, usually acting as a messenger, meeting correspondents in appointed places, but never possessing much knowledge as to the content of my messages. Slowly, my role became more important, and with that importance came an increasingly acute awareness of the content of the messages that I had once had the task of delivering as well as the actions that they instigated. Slade taught me all of the useful skills that one must possess in that line of work; everything from picking locks to knife fighting, in which I was found to have a great proficiency. I too became acquainted with many dark and terrible secrets, involving not only the actions of my comrades, but my own as well. I read with satisfaction the newspaper accounts of horrific murders in which the murderer was, to the consternation of the police, utterly untraceable, and elaborate robberies with equally invisible culprits. I took a sort of dark pride in the level of perfection that our crimes had achieved. I do not think I shall ever be rid of my memories from that time in my life, when I fancied myself to be nigh invincible to pain or punishment. The crimes I committed, due in part to that fearlessness, will maim my conscience for the rest of my life.
Tragedy struck me once again in November of the year 1900, when my sister and her husband were killed in a train wreck while returning home from a vacation to the country. They left behind a daughter, Constance, who was only ten years old. To my astonishment, my sister had appointed me sole guardian of the child. It was then that I decided that I had to disentangle myself from the underworld in which I was now deeply involved. I dared not broach the subject with Slade, knowing full well what his response would be. Having spent nearly ten years in complete knowledge and participation of the actions dictated by Jack Slade, I had seen what happened to those who knew too much and tried to withdraw themselves. I, myself, had carried out a few of the punishments that Slade demanded. Mercy would not be granted. Therefore, Constance and I quietly removed ourselves to Bath where I thought we would remain undiscovered in a small but comfortable home that had belonged to my parents.
During the next four months, I came to view Constance as my own child. She had always had a peculiar liking for me that had at one time been a source of complete annoyance and disgust to me. She was a curious girl whose brown eyes always seemed to reflect the same unreadable question. She was not a particularly beautiful child having hair as she called it, "quite as brown as dirt" insisting that it had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Regardless of her physical aspect she was to me the embodiment of an angel that had inadvertently rescued me from certain destruction, for had she not been thrust upon me I would have remained in my sinister lifestyle indefinitely. Having lost her parents so abruptly, her first reaction was one of shock and withdrawal, followed after about a month by an insatiable desire to be near me at every moment. Constance spent countless hours with me, insisting that I read to her from her favorite books or that I take her on extended walks outside. She found solace in me, and I in her, and thus four months were spent happily in each other's company.
March 15 arrived. It had rained the previous night and the clouds remained looming in the sky giving a dark and ominous aspect to the day, and due to the dreary weather I had kept Constance indoors insisting that she be content to listen to me read. The day passed as any rainy day might, in a sleepy haze of mundane activity. As night fell, however, the clouds dispersed making the evening quite pleasant. Seizing the opportunity, Constance inquired, "Please, may we go for a walk, Uncle?" I relented, and we made our way outside along one of Constance's favorite routes.
Unconcerned, I allowed Constance to wander ahead of me. I remember musing to myself that it seemed that darkness fell upon us with a kind of menacing swiftness. I was on the verge of calling Constance back to walk with me when I heard it: a scream that chilled every fiber of my body with the absolute terror of which it told. The scream belonged to Constance. I have no memory of how I arrived on the scene, but it seemed as though time had frozen. There I stood, several feet from the place where Jack Slade now held Constance with a knife pressed viciously to her throat. The expression on her face, so deathly pale and frightened, is one that has haunted me from the moment I was confronted with it. Slade looked at me with the same cold malice with which he looked at everyone, yet so intensely that it alarmed me more than the scream had. In that moment I understood that I had brought this upon myself, upon Constance. The choices that I had made so many years ago now rose before me as malicious specters, poised to strike and have their vengeance. For several breathless moments, nothing moved except for the tears that had begun to fall from Constance's terrified eyes.
Jack Slade possessed a perceptive ability that revealed everyone's most deep-seated weaknesses to him as plainly as the color of their eyes. He knew that my weakness was Constance. He knew I had left for her. He knew, because Slade always knew. Slade broke the silence that had descended over us with the five words that I had heard him utter on numerous occasions to many men who had been unfortunate enough to cross him. "Your mistake has cost you," and with that he plunged the knife into Constance's side, and let her fall to the ground. As he withdrew, I advanced and fell to my knees where Constance lay, gathering her up in my arms. She bled profusely, but uttered nothing more than a whimper. Constance stared at me, her eyes already looking eerily glassy. As I wept, she struggled to breathe, yet Constance managed to whisper two words that have since rung in my head almost ceaselessly, "Forgive me." As soon as the words had left her lips, her eyes became unfocused and glazed and her body went horrifically limp in my arms. Forgive me. What must she have been thinking to say such words with her dying breath? Perhaps she thought it was her fault for begging me to take her out for a walk. Or perhaps she thought that Slade's statement had been meant for her.
Consumed with my loss, I never saw Slade withdraw into the darkness. He vanished from my life after that moment, apparently convinced that his vengeance had been sated. Every moment of that night is ingrained in my memory. Closing my eyes, I can see the malice in Jack's face, the tears streaming from Constance's eyes, and I can feel the bitter wind that blew that night, her blood on my hands. The shriek still echoes in my head at night, along with the piteous last words of the child I loved, my angel.