First of all, let me introduce myself - Anthony Drew, tall, slim, passably good-looking, I hope, still on the sunny side of thirty, with sufficient money and leisure to have what is commonly known as a good time.
So much to the good. But I suppose the ordinary, normal individual, if he knew me sufficiently intimately, would call me queer, perhaps abnormal, I think I must have been born with a peculiar little kink that gives me my odd outlook on humanity - particularly feminine humanity; for I never remember a time when I was without it; and why exactly I should have it at all I have not the foggiest notion.
But I hear the reader saying, "Get on with the story!"
Well, I was strolling aimlessly along Piccadilly just after the lunch-hour on a perfect day in late July, and had just reached the palatial portals of that famous and exclusive restaurant, the Ritz and Carlton, when I saw the girl. She was just leaving the restaurant unescorted, and was obviously making for the powerful and luxurious Rolls-Royce saloon standing at the kerb.
It was not that she was exquisitely, adorably pretty, with a soft, blonde loveliness that was breath-taking, though she was all that; it was not her dainty slimness, nor the captivating fluttering on her filmy frock. It was none of these things, though they of course, had their own stunning effect, that drew me to a sudden halt there by the restaurant and held me spellbound like some callow youth seeing beauty for the first time in his life. It was something much more unusual, in fact, in that particular setting, definitely bizarre.
For the girl, obviously aristocratic, rich, exquisitely lovely, swung easily and with a clinging and undulating grace, on a single, slender crutch, daintily fashioned in white enamelled willow and silver. And below her brief, fluttering skirt, was just a single slim, shapely leg and a small, arched foot in flesh silk and glove fitting slipper, open almost to the toes, and with a tall, slender spike heel that must have been in the neighbourhood of four or five inches in height.
Actually I don't think I was aware at the time that I had halted there in that dumb, imbecile fashion. I know I must have gone white and my heart was pumping in my breast like some gigantic dynamo. And then I awoke to the astounding fact that the girl was addressing me, and that a dainty hand was resting softly on my sleeve.
"It's nice to see you again," the divinity was saying. "I haven't run across you for ages. Can I drop you anywhere?"
I drew a deep breath, snatched at my flying senses, and so won back to something like my normal control, though I was still shaken. For an imbecile second I very nearly spoiled everything by explaining to the girl that she had evidently mistaken me for somebody else. Then I saw what I thrice condemned fool I should be if I threw away this perfectly priceless opportunity of making the acquaintance of one who had apparently swung on her dainty crutch straight out of fairy land into my ken.
I managed to summon up a smile, and also sufficient wit to snatch off my hat, as I murmured something about my delight at meeting her again. The next moment I had helped the goddess into the luxurious interior of the car - though she herself proved most expertly agile - and found myself sitting at her side, my emotions equally compounded of bewilderment and lovesick excitement.
The car, under the skillful control of a neatly uniformed chauffeur, at once swung noiselessly away from the kerb and, gathering speed, slid rapidly down Piccadilly in the direction of the park. I turned to the girl and found her gazing at me with an odd little enigmatic smile on her lips. I started to speak, with the idea of offering a lame explanation of my presence, when she lifted a slim, dainty hand and nodded her head, still smiling her odd little smile.
"I know," she said calmly, "I can guess what you are going to say. You think I have mistaken you for somebody else. But - well, the truth is, I haven't. I'm perfectly aware that I have never met you before in my life."
"But" - I began, swallowing my amazement, and once again she smilingly interrupted me.
"It's really very simple", she said. "At least, I feel pretty sure it is, unless my diagnosis is completely astray. You see, you may not have been quite aware of how you acted outside the Ritz-Carlton; but what actually happened was that you, normally, I imagine, a cool-headed, experienced man about town, completely lost your head at the sight of me; so much that you stopped dead in front of me, and the blood drained completely from your face."
"I - I was absolutely bowled over by your beauty," I managed to stammer lamely.
"No", she countered, slowly shaking her head, while her queer smile deepened. "No, I don't think that quite explains everything. It might, had you been just a raw youth and I just a normal, beautiful girl. But you see, you are not a raw youth, and I - well, I am so obviously not exactly normal; the fact that I have only one leg is so very evident, isn't it? I'm afraid your explanation will not quite do."
I looked across at her, unable to hide my surprise or to keep the embarrassment out of my eyes. A queer little thrill of excitement was also pulsing through me. My lovely companion had lit a cigarette, having first of all pulled off the little tight hat she wore, and was lounging cosily on the deep luxurious cushions, puffing enjoyably, and regarding me amusedly through those beautiful, unfathomable eyes of hers.
"Shall I venture a possible explanation of our somewhat odd conduct?" she said slowly.
"Why, yes," I replied somewhat shamefacedly, and wondering what was coming.
"First of all," she went on, "I think we might as well know who each other is, don't you? I am Felice Carling."
"And my name", I replied, "is Anthony Drew."
"Good," she said smilingly. And now we have become properly acquainted, I can get on with my suggested explanation. Of course, I may be utterly wrong, but, taking everything into consideration, I don't really think I can be. Unflattering as it may appear to myself, you weren't bowled over by my beauty, as you so considerately suggested; though, of course had I been positively ugly, you would no doubt have passed on and never bothered about me - "
"I - I thought you were the loveliest thing," I injected warmly.
"That was perfectly sweet of you Mr. Drew. But, unless I am very much mistaken, my real, my thrilling attraction for you was - well, this - "
She raised her shapely single leg, lifting her dress slightly, straightening the limb out in front of her and arching the small, dainty foot. Then her hand suddenly closed over mine and her lovely face came periously close.
"Confess!" she whispered, "Am I not right? Weren't you really captivated by my one little leg and pity for the loss of the other? Isn't that the real explanation?"
Although from the moment she had addressed her first remarks to me I had more than half anticipated this very frank reading of the situation, yet the pulsing thrill I experienced was just as devastating as if I had been taken completely by surprise. The whole thing left me limp and shaken. It was not alone that she had surmised my secret, but that she should have been aware that such a kink existed at all!
As I regained control I became aware that my lovely partner had in some way, snuggled close to me, her little hand in mine, the sweet intoxicating perfume of her drifting over me like some magic spell. Unable to resist the sudden, overpowering temptation, I turned and, slipping my arms about her, I crushed her fiercely and passionately to me.
For a long time, it seemed, we remained in that close embrace, lip to lip. Then her hands slipped up to my breast and she gently disengaged herself, though only to lie back in my arms and look shyly up at me from behind lovely fluttering eyelids.
"So - I guessed correctly - Anthony?" she said, and now the little mocking smile had gone, and something very friendly and intimate had taken its place.
I nodded gaily. All my former embarrassment had gone.
"You did - Felice - delightful name," I agreed. Thought I have never openly confessed to such a thing before, you discovered my secret at one fell swoop. But what intrigues me is how you managed to stumble across so very an unusual and little known obsession? After all, I have stared at pretty one-legged girls before, and they, if they thought about it at all, only took me for some impertinent puppy, and I'm quite certain they never for a moment imagined that I was fascinated by the fact of their misfortune."
"Felice looked up at me quizzically for a moment and smiled roguishly.
"Well," she began, "I might very easily explain my somewhat esoteric knowledge of this peculiar kink by saying that a rather pretty one-legged girl, intelligent and with some knowledge of psychology, would be bound to discover, sooner or later, that while the great majority of men merely pitied her, certain other were strongly attracted. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what does happen; and in my own case I have proved the truth of it much more frequently than you might imagine.
"But that is not all the truth in my case, and somehow I feel I'd like to know all about me. You see - Tony - you you are different. Well, let me begin by asking you a question. You were born with - or, at any rate, very early acquired in some mysterious way - this peculiar preference for beautiful women deficient in one or more limbs. And, as you probably know, you are only one of many men so constituted. Has it therefore ever struck you that if certain men's feelings are like that, it is more than probable that certain women might be constituted with a corresponding peculiarity?"
I was genuinely startled, and showed it.
"To be quite candid," I said, "the possibility struck me never at all. But what exactly do you mean? In what way would these particular women be constituted?"
"Let me put it in another way," said Felice. "If the affection of certain men is for women in some way deficient, isn't it at least a very great possibility that certain women may wish to satisfy that preference?"
I hold her at arms length and gazed down at her in dumb astonishment, while she smiled up at me in gay unconcern.
"Felice! You mean - you mean-" I stammered at last and she suddenly laughed and, reaching up, swiftly kissed me on the lips. "Heavens! How melodramatic we have become all of a sudden," she cried. "What I mean is simply that I have my own kink, just as you have yours. I am one-legged from choice. I infinitely prefer to be as I am than to possess the prettiest pair of legs in the world. To me, one-leggedness is a continual thrill only surpassed by the greater thrill of meeting a boy who appreciates my one-legged condition at what I think is its true value and shows how fascinated he is by it. Do I sound very crazy, Tony? Do you think me quite mad? Or do you understand, just a little?"
"No darling," I whispered softly.
"You don't sound crazy - to me. I understand, and it's wonderful, wonderful. I never ever dared to dream that a girl like you could exist - a beautiful one-legged darling who not only completely understood the feelings of a man constituted as I am, but also delighted in her own charming incompleteness and infinitely preferred to be as she was. And here you are, the very girl herself! It's bewildering, dumbfounding - but utterly, thrillingly delightful. The perfect, the ideal woman, here in my arms."
"But Felice, darling," I said at length, as I lifted my head and regarded her fondly. "Tell me one thing. You said just a moment or so ago that you were one-legged from choice. Did you mean that you had actually had your leg amputated because you wanted to be one-legged?"
Felice laughed gaily, her lovely head, with its blonde shining helmet of close-cropped curls thrown back and lying against the crook of my arm.
"You'd get a mighty big thrill if I were to tell you that I had, wouldn't you my dear?" she retorted with a return to her old raillery. "But, as a matter of fact - and here's a nice little thrill for you - I never have to had to undergone an amputation. You see, I was born as you see me."
I certainly was thrilled. In some way I find it hard to explain; this quite unexpected little revelation seemed to add to Felice's charm. She had always been one-legged; there had never been a time when she was formed in the ordinary, conventional way. All this, I say, had somehow the power to thrill me and add to her fascination for me, and I suppose the fact was revealed in my face, for Felice laughed merrily again.
"That made a hit with you, didn't it, Tony?" she said. "Somehow, I rather felt it would. And perhaps it explains in some way why I feel as I do. Anyhow, I am glad I was born with only one leg, and I can't explain why, except that the feeling was given to me by the way of compensation. So now, darling, you know all about me and my oddity and queerness, and I'm ever so thrilled and excited to have you here with me, a kindred soul, looking at things as you do and understanding me as I understand you."
The raillery had all gone from her eyes and lips, leaving them tender and sweet. Her head dropped until it found a resting place on my shoulder. And there she lay, as if content just to be in my arms.
I held her close, sharing all the thrilled excitement, amazed at my strange fortune on stumbling, as it were, across her as I had done.
At the touch of my fingers I felt Felice thrill in my arms, and then her hand closed over mine, while her lips were crushed passionately to mine in a long, clinging kiss. In a eternity it seemed, she clung there, and then gently slid from my arms and, lying back in her own corner, gazed at me as if gradually waking from some drugged sleep. Then the smiles crept back to her lips and, sitting up, she corrected any little untidyness on her toilette with deftly feminine fingers.
"Well," she said, "we seem to have got on very well since we met such a very short time ago. I wonder where on earth we are?"
I had to laugh for I had been so captivated by my attractive companion that I hadn't given a thought to the car and its direction.
"Where are we bound for?" I asked.
"Oh; I merrily told Martin to drive on until further notice," she said. I think it's about time we turned back. Tony" - her hand fell softly on my arm - "What do you say. Come back to my place for tea? It will be jolly. Don't say you have any other appointment, or I'll break down and cry."
"That must be avoided at all costs," I said with a smile, squeezing her hand. "Personally I don't think twenty appointments would stand in the way of tea with you' especially if it is to be tea for two."
"Tea for two - certainly!"
"Then let's make all haste."
She dimpled deliciously and, snatching a quick butterfly kiss, picked up the speaking-tube and gave the necessary orders to the chauffeur.
It was some little time later that the big car drew up in the courtyard of a luxurious suite of flats in a quiet and serene Kensington square. Conscious of the thrill it meant for me Felice allowed me to lift her from the car and to adjust her slender crutch beneath her right arm.
Then at my side, her disengaged arm resting confidently in mine, she swung along to the lift with that easy grace of hers, clinging flexible to the crutch, the provocative outline of her shortened limb rising and falling with fascinating regularity with each step she took.
I had a feeling that she used a single crutch, in preference to a pair, of set purpose. A pair of crutches can, of course be employed very deftly, and their pretty user can float along with all the light, airy grace imaginable; but their is something alluring about the clinging, languorous sway which the use of a single crutch gives to the body, and I was sure that Felice, versed as she was in all the devices for displaying the charms of her lovely one-legged figure, was very much alive to the fact.
However, we eventually found ourselves in the salon of the flat, having been admitted by a slim and very pretty maid, daintily short-skirted and high-heeled.
The room was, in keeping with the rest of the flat, very typical of its charming mistress, a beautiful artistic symphony in cream and gold, yet a luxurious and cosy nest for a pretty woman, with thick, heavily piled carpets, deep inviting couches, masses of gorgeously hued cushions, and a pervasive atmosphere of perfumed ease.
When the smiling maid had withdrawn, bearing her mistress's order for tea. Felice, standing before me, lightly resting on her crutch, put her little white hands on my shoulders.
"Welcome to my little home, Tony," she said with a tender little smile. It's - it's very, very good to have you here." And she suddenly put up her soft lips and kissed me.
"Now, just make yourself comfortable for a few minutes," she went on in her cheery way, "while I go and make myself presentable." And with an airy wave of her hand she turned and swung lightly away.
As I strolled about admiring the wonderful appointments of the beautiful room, and still thrilled with the thrilled excitement of the whole adventure, the maid returned, pretty and efficient, making no sound on the luxuriously thick carpet. She drew a squat, Moorish lacquer table up to a low, deep-seated and many-cushioned couch that faced the long windows occupying one whole wall of the room, and then began to make the cheerful noise of setting out tea equipage. At last tea, with all its dainty and pleasant edible accompaniments, was ready, and the maid returned as unobtrusively as she had come.
The door opened again, and I turned. Framed in the doorway stood Felice, smiling at me, one beautiful white arm upraised, the hand resting on the doorpost, the other hand resting lightly on her hip. I saw at once that she was without her crutch and was standing quite unsupported, daintily poised on her single perfect leg and foot. That was not the thing that held me there as one under a spell. From her white shoulders there floated a filmy, clinging silk wrap that formed a sort of background to a very daring one-piece costume of flesh coloured silk that fitted her perfectly and responded to every curve and movement of her body.
She seemed quite noticeably not so tall as when I had seen her some minutes before, but the reason became apparent, for she had exchanged her amazingly high heeled shoe for a flimsy little skin-tight slipper also of flesh-coloured silk, made quite without a heel, very like the kind of slipper worn by women acrobats on the stage. And so she stood lightly and daintily poised, her lovely shapely head held at a delightfully impudent angle - altogether a delicious and unforgettable picture.
Then, to my amazement, for I had never anticipated such a thing, she withdrew her hand from the supporting door-post and began to hop easily and effortlessly towards me.
But how utterly inadequate is that little word 'hop', to describe her fascination method of progress! I can never hope to convey any real idea of the marvellous ease and grace of the performance. In the case of the ordinary person, hopping is an exceedingly awkward, ill-balanced business. But there was nothing in the least awkward or uncertain about Felice's movements. It was rather a lissom, gliding toe-dance down the room, amazingly expert and sure-footed, the arms and hands held quite still in a beautiful, flowing gesture. It looked, in fact, as it was indeed in Felice's case, a quite natural and easy method of moving about.
She floated lightly to where I stood and then, halting in front of me, stood poised in a perfect balance on her single little foot. Astonished though I had been by her expertness in hopping, I was able to hide a slight feeling of concern in seeing her standing there completely unsupported.
"Felice!" I called. " Be careful - you might fall."
But she only broke into a delicious laughter.
"What a dear old silly it is," she said. "Have you forgotten that I was born one-legged have lived all my life on one leg? I am just as much at home on one leg as you are on two - perhaps more so. I could stand like this, just as I can move about, for hours without being in the least danger of falling. As a matter of fact, I never use a crutch in the house. I infinitely prefer to get about like this. Here- just try to catch me - "
She flung off her scanty wrap and in all the slim, sleek beauty of her form-fitting attire, was away like some dancing will-o-the-wisp, darting with amazing speed and certainty in between the couches, the cushioned pouffes and little tables with which the room was dotted, I after her with laughing excitement.
It was wonderful how she managed to elude me, dodging cleverly here and there, sometimes jumping obstacles with an ease an athlete would have envied.
And then, suddenly, as she rounded the long, cream and gold grand piano, she slipped on a highly polished bit of parquet flooring. I got to her the moment she fell and, dropping to the carpet beside her, raised her into a sitting posture in my arms. She smiled bravely up at me, but a little spasm of pain shot across her face.
"I'm not as clever as I said, I was, am I? I fell on the wrong side, and it's - it's rather sensitive. I'll be all right in a moment."
Thinking of her only as a hurt child, I laid my hand gently on the injured limb and smoothed it with caressing fingers, massaging it as skillfully as I was able, and Felice had her own reaction to the soothing, caressing pressure.
She sighted softly as she looked up at me.
"That's better," she murmured. "You didn't know you had such a healing touch, did you, Tony? The pain is all gone."
Then her eyelids fluttered deliciously.
"Tony, darling," she whispered, "you do find me attractive, don't you? Not distasteful in any way? I mean, you don't think of me merely as a cripple - you love me as I am, and you - you think my figure pretty and charming - yes?"
I gazed down at her as she lay confidingly in my arms, all the slim loveliness of her displayed by the moulding sheath of her silk attire from the beautiful, bare white shoulders and arms to the little silk-slippered foot.
My encircling arms drew her closer to me till her lips were just below my own.
"Felice, dearest," I murmured, intoxicated by the perfume of her lovely body, "how could I find anything so exquisite as you distasteful? You really could not have thought so for a single moment. You know I am already mad about you, that I worship every bit of you. You know that to me your enchanting one-leggedness is a new thrill every time I contemplate it or think about it. And you know only to well that I have been almost hypnotically conscious of your beauty from the first moment I met you. It is part and parcel of your physical loveliness, as beautiful and attractive as any other part of you."
Her bare, white arms crept up round my neck, and a soft little smile parted her lips.
"Yes, I know. But, woman like, I wanted to hear you say so. It is so sweet to hear it all from your lips.
Then her lips were crushed to mine and clung for a swooning eternity.
At last she slid away and then, as it were, coming to earth with a bang, she sat up in mock concern.
"Tea!", she cried. "My good man - tea! Here you are shamelessly philandering with a poor one-legged child who cannot help herself, while tea is getting cold!"
She made a laughing attempt to jump up, but I picked her up as if she were the child she has just claimed to be, and carried her lightly to the couch in front of which the tea had been served.
Fortunately the tea was still quite hot, and for the next delightful quarter of an hour I had the extreme joy of sitting close to Felice, watching the dainty charm with which she poured tea, thrilling at the touch of her little fingers as she handed me my cup, suddenly amused as well a stirred by the thought of the amazement of any friends of mine, could they have seen me at that moment taking tea with a beautiful one-legged girl whose garment was a one-piece suit of silk!
Then, the tea things having been removed, we lay back, Felice slipping contentedly into my arms, and just chatted and kissed at our ease, the world containing for the moment just our two selves.
"Felice," I said after a little spell of silence, "now that we have met in such wonderful circumstances, we are not going to lose sight of each other, are we? I mean - "
"Why, you dear, old silly!" cried Felice, sitting upright with such vehemence that I had to laugh. "Whatever put that idiotic notion into your head? As if I should let you go now I have found you! Please don't misunderstand me, Tony. I'm not trying to be sentimental, or silly, or anything stupid like that. But - well, we're going to be the greatest and most wonderful of pals. We'll have the gayest and brightest, old times, you and I. We'll astonish the town together, and I shall wear my most stunning frock, and women will be green with envy of my handsome and distinguished-looking escort. We will make the folk stare at the most exclusive restaurants and night clubs, and I'll show you off at 'Le Phenomene'. By the way, do you know the 'Le Phenomene' at all, Tony?"
"Never heard of it, sweetheart. What is it?"
"Ah! I think I keep it a little secret, then. All I shall tell you is that the most remarkable and odd characters in London forgather at 'Le Phenomene'. Your first visit will be a most amazing experience, I can tell you. And, Tony," she went on, gripping my arm excitedly," we shall dance together. Of course you dance?"
I looked at her in incredulous amazement.
"Yes - of course I dance," I replied slowly. "But - but you - "
A little flash of amused exasperation sped across her face.
"Tony, darling;" she exclaimed. "Why will you persist in talking as if you thought me a helpless cripple? I'm neither helpless nor a cripple. And I simply adore dancing - "
She jumped up suddenly, all gay excitement.
"Come along," she said, "I'll show you. In any case, you'll want a little practice in fitting your steps to mine."
Then she turned like an excited child and hopped swiftly to where an exquisite period grammophone occupied a corner. Within a few minutes the room resounded with one of the latest fox-trots, and she returned lightly to my side.
"Now," she said in a crisp busyness like manner, "it's all very simple. First of all, clasp your right arm firmly round my waist, holding me close. That's it. Now put my left arm round your neck, so; and you see I'm quite comfortably and firmly supported without being in the least danger of falling. Now you move simply forward as usual, in the time to the music, and the only way I differ from an ordinary partner is that I take every step with my one foot instead of with alternate feet. You see the idea? You'll find I dance quite normally - or at any rate appear to do so."
Astonishing as it may seem, Felice only spoke the simple truth. She moved and swayed with all the grace and flexibility of a practised dancer fitting in expertly with all my steps, and one might easily have forgotten that she was employing all the time only a single leg.
It is true, of course, that, in a way, I was carrying her round in the firm circle of my arm, and she also got additional support by resting the stump on the outer part of my left thigh, just above where the bend of the hip-joint came. But for all that she really danced, and danced with all the most charming and easy grace imaginable.
At last, after dancing through a number of changes of records, we came to rest by the couch again, and Felice, deliciously flushed and triumphant, rewarded me with an almost suffocating hug, crushing her flexible body to mine and pressing to me in her passionate exuberance. Then we sank into the deep comfortable embrace of the couch; and there, with my arms about her, we lounged in dreamy peace.
Our talk was not all of tender nothings; we laughed and joked like a couple of happy children, Felice holding her own in the exchange of banter, with an ease that did not surprise me. And, incidentally, I twitted her about her somewhat unconventional attire.
I asked, "Do you reveal all your wonderful charms to all your friends in this fascinating way?"
"You are a special case, Tony, darling. I - I wanted you to see me as I am, for two reasons. First, I must confess, to satisfy my own vanity in revealing my one-legged charms to a boy whom I felt would really appreciate them. And then, secondly, in a way, to test you - to dissipate a tiny little doubt that lurked within me that you might possibly not find me so attractive when you saw me so fully and frankly revealed - just a girl with only one leg. I felt I wanted to be quite sure of you. That - that was why I asked you those silly questions after I fell.
"And I passed the test with honours, didn't I, darling?" I said, holding her very close. "I shall never forget my feelings when I saw you standing framed in the doorway, supported only by your single slender beautiful leg. You were divine! The loveliest thing I had ever seen or ever wished to see. The ideal woman met at last after centuries of waiting -"
Suddenly - though perhaps it was not so sudden as it seemed at the time - I took fire. I crushed my lips to hers fiercely, savagely. And then, lifting my head, leaving Felice limp and almost swooning in my arms, I crashed down the floodgates of my pent-up emotions.
"Felice, dearest, belovedest," I breathed. "I can't hold out against your wizardry any longer. I love you - I'm mad about you- I don't want to be just your wonderful pal - I want to have you for my own, to watch over you and guard you from harm, my own beautiful darling! Felice, sweetheart, will you marry me? Listen! Here's a wonderful idea. Get dressed, darling, and we'll go out this very blessed evening and buy the engagement ring, and then we'll go off and celebrate the brilliant and deliriously happy occasion. What do you say, sweetheart?"
But Felice, sweet and unshaken, managed to slip flexibly from my arms, and from the other end of the couch gazed across at me through soft, wet-lashed eyes.
"Tony, darling," she said a little brokenly, "it was so dear and splendid of you to ask me that. Believe me, I am oh, so utterly proud and grateful and thrilled. And I - perhaps, I love you, too, Tony, though we've only known each other little more than a moment or so. But though it's hard to say it, I don't want you to become formally and irrevocably bound to me - just yet. Please, Tony." She put up a hand as I made a sudden move towards her. "I am not acting just from caprice. I have the best and most adequate reasons; and remember, I'm - I'm not saying no to you or sending you away. I - I simply couldn't send you away, darling. I am only asking you to wait. You remember I told you that one reason for my appearing as I did was in order to give you a better test. Well, Tony, other tests may come your way - it doesn't matter of what kind, sooner or later, and I want you to remain absolutely free to do exactly as you want to."
"But, Felice, darling, I know exactly what I want to do now."
"I know, dearest, and it's very sweet of you. But, please" she crept close to me, her arms about my neck - "please believe me when I tell you that I am acting from the very best and purest of motives, and that - that if I consulted only my own feelings at this very moment I should consent to your proposal with the utmost joy and thankfulness. But I must not - that's the simple truth."
"You - you are not already engaged - or married?" I asked forlornly.
"Silly boy - of course not. No - I'm free; and while you are waiting, remember I shall be waiting too. Then, if you still want me. I shall be yours."
She drew away and regarded me with a little, wistful smile that was very friendly, very intimate.
"Poor boy," she said softly, "he is taking it to heart, isn't he? Smile, darling. After all, I'm not banishing you from my side. We're going to have splendid times together. Everything in the world is not lost!"
I was able to summon up a smile after a while, and Felice clapped delightedly.
"That's better," she said. Then suddenly, she jumped up excitedly and stood daintily poised in front of me.
"Listen, darling," she said gaily. "I've just had a delightful idea. For the, I admit, very mysterious reasons I have referred to we can't have a formal and open engagement, and we shan't bother for the time being about an engagement ring. But, just to please you, you silly boy, we shall have a little private ceremony, just a little secret pact between our two selves. Now, just stay here and be patient for a few minutes."
And with that she snatched up her wrap and sped away like a dainty sprite on her lissom single leg. Within a very short time she was back, veiled, I noticed casually, in a filmy wrap and, sinking down on the couch by my site, began:
"Look!" she cried, and held up a beautiful jewelled circlet of gold, much larger than an ordinary bracelet, the gold itself nearly half an inch broad, but beaten flat to almost wafer-like thinness.
"This", she said, "will be the symbol of our bond of friendship, and the ceremony is now about to begin. Now, darling, please be very good and kneel there on the carpet in front of me."
I had to laugh in spite of myself and my feelings, and did as I was bid. With a little smiling bow, Felice handed to me the glittering circlet. It was no wonder I knelt there as in some sort of trance, until Felice, with a little gurgling laugh, shook me from my semi-stupor.
"Tony, darling," she murmured softly, "we are in the middle of a most important and dignified ceremonial, and you allow yourself to be - to be hypnotised by - by - "
"By the wonderful unfinished beauty of a one-legged enchantress," I filled in, "who really ought to give fair warning to a poor, weak man before starting to weave the spells. But I am at your service again, sweetheart. The circlet - ?"
"That, dear heart, is a very rare adornment - a stump circlet, one of several a very famous jeweller made for me. Now do you understand?"
I bent forward, striving to conceal the thrilled excitement that shook me. Then gently I slid the flat gold circlet over the smooth, velvety flesh of the uplifted stump. It fitted perfectly.
Then I lifted my head and I was once again on the couch beside her, she in my arms, our lips clinging.
* * *
So I met and so I made that odd little pact with lovely Felice Carling, my enchanting unfinished Venus, exquisite in her one-legged beauty.
Of her reasons for refusing to marry me, while heartwhole and, I felt, obviously in love in me, I could not then offer any explanation. But gradually these amazing reasons became clear to me. You will see in the succeeding episodes of my strange story how I came to the knowledge of the curious and poignant yet wholly admirable workings of her mind.