London Life

London Life | 1929

Limbless People I Have Met

by Wallace Stort

Though the one-legged girl in general is, of course, not quite a curiosity in our streets, restaurants, theatres, etc., the pretty, attractive, smartly dressed girl so handicapped is by no means common. One encounters such girls at rare intervals; but when one does meet them, one always seems to get the same impression about them. I won't go so far as to say that in every case they take a kind of morbid pleasure in showing off their "incomplete charms" to quote a phrase that seems to have captured the imagination of one-legged lady readers of "London Life" - but it certainly seems so in some cases, while in others there is at least no evidence of any wish to hide the loss of a leg.

I have often observed - and I dare say other readers who are interested in this subject will bear me out - that a pretty one-legged girl will often be more daring in her dress than the ordinary normally formed girl, going in for the extremes of fashion skirts barely reaching the knee, filmy flesh coloured stockings, the frailest and most open of extremely high heeled slippers, etc. - all of which must necessarily attract very general attention to the wearer.

A sensation in a restaurant I remember the mild sensation that was caused in a well known West End restaurant a couple of years ago by the entrance of an extremely pretty girl and her boy one evening. The girl was most daringly dressed in a slim, formfitting very brief frock of some delicate, filmy stuff, below which was revealed, from just above the knee, only one slender, silken leg and a small, satin-slippered foot. Her small, closely shingled head was held up with a sort of pert, amused insonciance as she swung gracefully and easily on a pair of dainty, white enamelled crutches, and it was only too evident that she enjoyed the little sensation she caused. I was convinced that here was a situation in which the girl was completely aware of the subtle fascination she exercised, and found a funny, but normal pleasure in making the best of it.

Travelling one-legged girl

By the way, in this connection, I wonder if the very pretty, always attractively dressed little Jewess, about nineteen, whom I encountered quite half-a-dozen times during last summer, and always on a very late tube train, is a reader of "London Life"?

If she is, I hope she won't mind my introducing her into this article, and perhaps she might be induced to send a few lines about herself to the correspondence columns?

She uses only a single, slenderly built, black, polished crutch, on which she swings quite expertly, and her costumes have all been of the very smartest, close fitting, coat and skirt type, the coat short and tight, and the skirt short and tighter.

The skirt barely touches the kneecap of her only leg - a rather plump, but quite shapely limb, clad in a thin silk stocking of that rose-brown shade that has for some time been superseding flesh colour, a very low patent leather pump with a heel a little above the normal height clinging tightly to a small, fleshy foot.

She cannot but be conscious of the general attention she attracts, and I have a very shrewd idea that she rather enjoys the undisguised interest interest of her fellow-travellers. Perhaps, if she reads these lines she will tell us what are her feelings and opinions about the matter?

A strange experience

Reference to this attractive little Jewess reminds me of an odd little experience I had about three years ago, when a business matter took me one evening down Whitechapel way. Round an open door in a side street were gathered four or five Jewish girls and boys, talking and larking together.

All were dressed in that extremely smart fashion that is so characteristic of young Jews in London the girls in short, tight costumes, with plump shapely legs displayed in flesh- coloured silk stockings.

An organ was playing jazz tunes close by, and the party, breaking up into couples, danced to the music. One girl standing in the doorway, looked on laughing for a while, and then one of the boys, snatching at her arm, dragged her into the street and jigged away with her.

It was only then that I saw that the girl had only one leg and had, up to then, been standing leaning against the doorway, unsupported by crutches. She was laughing a good deal, but managed to keep up with her partner, hopping quite easily in time to the music.

I paused for a while to watch the unusual and fascinating performance, and when at last dancing was finished, the girl stood in the street with the others, quite easily balanced on her single leg.

Daintily poised on one leg like a bird

Very similar, in its way, was the case of the pretty young housewife I once saw brushing the doorstep of her little villa in one of the brand new suburbs that are springing up in the outskirts of London. She, too was very daintily poised on only a single shapely leg, very well displayed by her short skirt, and as she used her brush she hopped blithely about in a fascinating effortless manner.

I am usually rather sceptical of the stories one reads of tremendously high heels, supposedly worn by lady devotees of this fashion. I'm afraid I can't quite swallow these seven and eight inch heels one is told about, and certainly I have never come across them at any time in any country. But the highest heel I ever saw was on the slipper of a one-legged lady. That heel I imagine was at least five or six inches high, but I was surprised to learn that it was no more than four inches.

Dominated the drawing room

The lady in question I met some years ago at a studio party given by an artist friend of mine, and she was certainly one of the dominating figures in a room crowded with interesting personalities. She was a magnificent, Junoesque woman, somewhere about forty, still strikingly beautiful, with a swelling, voluptuous bust and curving figure that would be very demode to-day, but was, all the same, very striking and imposing.

She reclined on a couch throughout the evening, receiving her many friends like a queen of old. Her gown of form-fitting, clinging silk, though it was long and sweeping, was draped revealingly about her figure, and showed only too obviously that she had only one leg, and, in fact, made it plain that the other leg was completely absent from the hip, as the supple silk fell emptily on one side just by the hipjoint, without revealing any suggestion of a stump. From the draped skirt there emerged coquettishly a neat silken ankle and shapely foot, on which was the wonderful slipper with the high tapering heel and with four thin jewelled bars crossing the very high, swelling in-step - an the whole ensemble was most intriguing and fascinating.

Sought after by artists

I understood that the lady had been a favourite model of many famous artists until an accident had resulted in the complete loss of her leg. She never used crutches, by the way, and, in fact, never walked, but spent her time either on her couch or in her bath-chair, being carried from one to the other when necessary.

She referred to herself - with quite cheerful resignation, it should be added - as broken and cast aside; but I was sure she was quite appreciative of the attention she attracted, and she enjoyed the whole thing immensely.

I should imagine that the type of limbless girl one most rarely meets - outside a circus side-show or fair, of course - is the completely armless girl. In the article on limbless beauties referred to at the beginning of the present article, I dealt at some length with a case that came within my own experience, as I happened, as a boy, to be friendly with a family the youngest daughter of which was born without arms. I was privileged to be present at her wedding, and witnessed her signature written with her toes. But this is the only case of an armless girl living privately with which I have ever come into personal contact.

Armless girl's wedding

Early last year a pretty armless girl of nineteen was married in the North of England, and she was quite a well-known figure in the little town in which she lived. She even assisted her father in his small tobacconist's business, and attracted a lot of customers by the fact that she served the cigarettes, etc., very neatly with her foot

In America, too, there are at present several cases of armless school girls attending ordinary mixed schools and mingling quite freely with the ordinary normally formed scholars. But, in spite of these isolated examples, the fact remains that girls of this type are seldom, if ever casually encountered.

This is not altogether the case with girls who have lost both legs. I have run across quite a number of girls in bath or wheeled chairs, of whom I had he impression that they were quite legless, though I could not always be quite sure. In a few cases, however, the fact was only too obvious. Only a year ago I saw a pretty flapper carried past me as I sat in a stall at a matinee at the London Coliseum, and I also saw her carried out to a waiting saloon car after the performance. And it was abundantly evident, by the way her brief skirt fell in slack, empty folds from the hips, that she was entirely without legs. She chatted quite gaily with her mother who carried her - I took it it was her mother who carried her and was a very charming, happy-looking girl, despite her great handicap.

Happy though handicapped

Another laughing girl similarly handicapped I remember meeting nearly every day during a short holiday at Bournemouth a few years ago. Sitting in a wheeled chair which was propelled by a boy I supposed was her fiancee, as she wore an engagement ring, she appeared every morning on the front of the pier, to listen to the band. The bright-coloured rug that was tucked about her did not disguise the fact that she was legless, as nothing at all appeared below it, and, in fact, the rug very frequently revealed, by its close fit about the hips, and its empty slackness below, that the girl was without legs from the hips, and very probably had not even stumps.

The pair was always the object of general and sympathetic interest, but neither appeared in the least concerned, and seemed to be very gay and happy in each other's company. People who professed to know about her said she had been born without legs, but I never definitely learned whether this was actually so or not.

I have reserved for the last an experience which intrigued and mystified me at the time of its occurence and which, I fancy, will be equally puzzling to the readers. It may be thought that the whole episode is pure fiction, but I assure sceptical readers that it actually happened exactly as related.

A Kensington puzzle

While home on leave during the early years of the war I happened one evening to pass a broad, aristocratic Kensington street. In front of a large, porticoed mansion stood a luxurious saloon car. As I drew near, a man and a girl, both clad in evening dress, descended the stairs and approached the car. With a sudden thrill I saw that the girl swung along on a pair of neat crutches and below her long, enveloping silk wrap only a single shapely silk-clad leg was revealed. And then the astonishing thing happened.

Just as I reached the pair, a sudden gust of wind blew open the girl,s wrap, and I had a swift momentary glimpse of her figure. and the amazing thing was that the girl, except for her wrap, was clad only in flesh-coloured silk tights; For just that moment I saw, sharply outlined in the gathering dusk, the slim neat figure, the shapely leg and the rounded stump. Then the wrap was hastily gathered about the body and the couple hurried into the waiting car which glided smoothly on its way.

I went on my way intensely intrigued by what I had seen, and trying to find a satisfactory explanation of the girl's appearance in such an extraordinary a costume. Was she dressed for a fancy dress dance? I almost thought so. One can imagine the the consternation that would be aroused in an ordinary ballroom by the appearance of a pretty one-legged girl thus clad!

Was she an acrobat or stage artist setting out for the theatre - yet that was not an entirely satisfactory explanation. In the meantime I don't think she would have been staying at the highly elegant and rich Kensington mansion; and, in addition, I had not heard of any one-legged artist appearing on the stage at that or any other time. She may, of course, have been bound for a private party. If so, it must have been a very peculiar and bizarre affair, full of wonders, in that connection, I would like to know how the other costumes were looking.

However, I leave the fascinating subject. Interested readers my easily try to puzzle out the riddle of the beautiful one-legged girl by themselves.

London Life February 23, 1929 p. 23
London Life | 1929