It will be recalled that in the first episode of this series, Anthony Drew a well-to-do young man about town, met by chance in Piccadilly Felice Carling, a beautiful, alluring blonde with only one leg - born so, as Anthony later discovered and who took him off to tea at her Kensington flat, where, falling in love at first sight, Anthony proposed to her but, without being actually repulsed was asked to wait before becoming definitely engaged, for reasons which Felice refused to divulge. As a substitute, however, a smile pact of friendship was entered into, the symbol of which was a costly jewelled circlet which Anthony was permitted to place upon the shapely stump of Felice's right leg.
I was utterly miserable, and life had lost all its savour, for I had not seen Felice for three whole days. Some wretched private business, connected with her much too opulent and socially important family, had taken her into the depths of the country, and the beastly part of it was that I hadn't the remotest idea of the date of her return. When the telephone bell rang on the evening of the third day, I picked up the receiver listlessly, but was suddenly galvanised into throbbing, glorious life.
"Felice!" I cried, with a perfect shout of joy. "You're back!"
"Yes, Tony darling," came her soft limpid tones, surely the most delightful and musical in the world. I'm back once again. Do I gather that you missed me at all?"
"Missed you! Why, you most precious of all mortal things-"
But Felice stopped me with a sigh.
"All right, darling," she gurgled. Come round in your own sweet person and tell me about it. And incidentally you can take me out to dinner. Does that intrigue you?"
Intrigue most inadequately described my feelings, and I told Felice so warmly. Then I dashed away to get into my evening things. Within an incredible short time I was being admitted to the flat by Willis, the pretty maid, who received me with her usual friendly smile. Then, as I stood in the hall after handing Willis my outer things, a slim, silken figure appeared in the hallway of the saloon, and Felice, with that airy, dancing ease of hers, hopped swiftly across to me on her cute little soft-slippered foot. Quite oblivious of the maid she swung herself into my arms, kissing me in passionate delight.
"I've missed you Tony," she whispered between her kisses. "It's good to have you here again."
I murmured all kinds of great nothings that you, dear reader, need not be troubled with. Then Felice hopping effortlessly, preceded me into the beautiful saloon. I sank into the comfortable depths of a many cushioned couch, while Felice, skilfully poised on her agile single leg, busied herself with shaking cocktails and giving me amusing details of her doings while away in the country. I sat there in supreme content, happy just to feast my eyes on her exquisite beauty, following her enchantedly as she made fascinating little hopping excursions about the room for the various cocktail ingredients.
Her lovely body was most provocatively clod in the thinnest of pyjamas in rose pink printed chiffon, the little sleeveless coat, itself only the most diaphanous of veils, affording, every now and then, delicious glimpses of her delicate bust.
Another enticing feature of her attire was that while on the left side the pyjama leg was of normal length, very full and flowing, on the right side only a little wide and filmy trouserette appeared, just a few inches in length, from which there peeped in most fascinating manner the plump little bare stump.
I caught alluring glimpses of the gold, jewelled circlet which I had been graciously permitted to place upon it, and which Felice still allowed to remain on its unusual resting place.
Then, after pouring out the cocktails, she bent over me, a hand on the back of the couch on either side of my head, smiling intimately and affectionately into my uplifted eyes. The intoxicating perfume of her lovely self drifted sensuously over me, drugging my senses with its heavy sweetness, and my arms went up, closing caressingly round the yielding circle of her waist and drawing her to me.
Bending like a tall, swaying flower, she fell gently against me, and so slid down in my arms. For an ecstatic minute we lay there in a close embrace, lips clinging to lips, her soft, warm body scarcely veiled by the thin silk of her diaphanous pyjamas crushed to mine, all her vivid electric quality communicating itself to me in vibrant, pulsing waves. It was heaven to have her once again in my arms after so many hours of longing. At last she stirred in my arms.
"I really should be dressing, darling" she murmured. "But I simply don't want to tear myself away. Shall we just stay here as we are, and not bother to go out to dinner? Cook is out, but Willis can find us something to eat."
"Your most delightful suggestion is carried unanimously," I said, thrilling at the prospect. "Personally I don't care if I never eat again. You, darling, just as you are, are all I desire for the rest of my life."
"Silly boy!" laughed Felice, her lips against mine. "But it's sweet of you to be so accommodating. We'll have a nice quiet, altogether delightful evening, all on our very own."
And with a little sight of contentment she settled herself more comfortably in my arms, her head on my breast, but with her head upturned and her lips conveniently near my own. As for me, I was utterly content, thrilled to have her sweet, warm body so closely wrapped in my arms.
And so we might have remained blissfully for the evening, had not the sound of the doorbell, shrilling through the flat, thrown us, as it were, swiftly apart, our heads turned to see who the visitor might be. A moment or so later Willis appeared.
"Miss Barry," she announced. "May I show her in?"
"Oh! do, please, Willis," cried Felice gaily, and then the door widened and a delightfully pretty girl stood smiling in the doorway.
"Hello June!" cried Felice in welcome, and, as the newcomer hesitated slightly, she added, "Come in, darling, don't be shy."
And then, to my utter astonishment, the girl hopped nimbly across the carpet towards us, just exactly as Felice herself might have done, only one shapely, silken leg showing below the fluttering skirt of her very short, clinging frock.
"June," said Felice blithely, as the girl sank down in a big chair opposite us, "this is Tony, that very naughty boy I told you about, who gets off with defenceless one-legged girls in the street."
"Felice!" I exclaimed, flushing in spite of myself.
"It's true, isn't it, you silly boy?" she persisted teasingly. Then softening deliciously at my distress, "it's all right, darling, June understands perfectly. I'm not telling any silly tales out of school."
June nodded at me in smiling reassurance.
"Don't take any notice of Felice, Mr. Drew," she said a little mischievously. "She's really most frightfully thrilled at having met you, and hasn't got over it yet."
It was Felice's turn to make a demonstration, and she jumped up and pummelled her friend until June laughingly cried for mercy. Then Felice shook a cocktail for her as a peace offering. June apologised and explained her visit.
"Dreadfully sorry for butting in so unceremoniously, darling," she said, "but I just came here to ask if you were going to 'Le Phenomene' to-night. It's one of their special nights. The gang are going to be there, and a new girl dancer is appearing who, I'm told, is an absolute wonder. You could bring Tony. It will be a unique experience for him."
Felice looked across at me excitedly.
"The very thing!" she cried, "We shall dine out after all, dearest, and then go on to 'Le Phenomene', an odd thing is I never thought about to-night, and I've been intending to take you along at the very first opportunity. What do you say, Tony?"
"I should be thrilled", I said laughingly, echoing her own enthusiasm.
"You certainly will be", Felice replied with a laugh. "Probably much more than you expect." At that somewhat cryptic remark Felice and June exchanged amused glances and then turned enigmatic smiles upon myself.
All this time, by the way I had been doing my utmost to appear as casual and unexcited as possible in the presence of the charming and very intriguing newcomer, who was facing me and smiled with open and frank friendliness across at me.
June was certainly as pretty as her name, a dainty, sunny, lovely thing of about nineteen, both slim yet at the same time very attractively feminine. Her very adequate frock, made in the very simplest manner in filmy, delicate pattern cerise crepe de chine, which I noted, fallen quite a couple inches or so short of the knee, when she stood, and now as she lay very lazily in the depths of the big sofa, the thin, almost transparent frock barely reached halfway down her beautifully rounded thigh.
In June's case, in this way differing from Felice, it was the left leg that was absent and it was the shapely right leg that was so freely displayed. And I very soon formed the opinion that she differed from Felice in an other interesting way.
She had happened to seat here in such a way that the skirt of her frock had been gathered under her on the left side, with the result that, while on the right side the thin, delicate silk fully outlined the suave contours of the thigh practically from the hip downwards, it appeared to show on the left side merely the line hip and nothing at all below it.
Unless I was mistaken - and I thought I could not be - June possessed no stump at all, her left leg being completely absent from the hip.
However, the little point was definitely settled a moment or so later when Felice at last made a move to go and dress for dinner. As she stood in her wonderfully easy manner, June stood up just as thoughtlessly, - both, incidentally, as may be guessed, providing a unique thrill to me as they stood by each other perfectly poised each upon her dainty single leg.
"Did you leave your crutch in the hall, darling?" asked Felice of June. "Or, as usual, didn't you bring one?"
June laughingly shook her head.
"I didn't bring", one she confessed.
"You see, I ran round on the two seater, and as a crutch wasn't particularly needed, I just didn't bother about one. It's always a relief to be without the thing anyway."
"I think, June uses a crutch even less than I do," said Felice, turning to me with a laugh. "She discards it on every possible occasion and you find her hopping gaily about in the most unlikely places. I shouldn't be at all surprised to see her hopping unconsciously down the aisle at her wedding "With you as bridesmaid, Felice", put in June with demure shyness.
"Of course," cried Felice, enthusiastically. "What a sensation we should cause together!"
She slipped an arm about June's waist, and the two girls stood smilingly side by side.
"Don't you think we make charming and unique picture, Tony?" went on Felice gaily. We're just about of a size and we balance each other perfectly, as in June's case the left leg is absent, and in mine the right. The only tiny flaw, June, is that you really ought to have a nice plump, shapely stump and you haven't a trace of one - or should it be that I ought to be without one? Tony, you shall be Paris and award one of us the apple. What is your opinion - is a one-legged girl more attractive with a remnant of her missing member, or without one?"
I stood there thrilled and yet embarrassed. As I looked at June, standing there, daintily poised in a perfect balance on her single slim leg with no trace of another lower limb in any way apparent, I realised that she was a perfect example of complete one-leggedness, more completely one-legged even than Felice, and in her way, as beautiful and enchanting in her unfinished loveliness. Each girl fulfilled for me an ideal of beauty almost equally potent. Only Felice held for me the greater enchantment because of passionate love for her, because, of the two girls, she was the more delicately lovely.
Stammeringly at last I ventured to speak.
"Of course," I said, doing my best to appear unmoved, "this is just a little joke on your part, Felice, and - well, it isn't quite fair to ask me to judge so delicate and difficult a problem. All I can say is that you both are a thousand times more attractive one-legged than otherwise; June is perfect without a stump and you Felice, are perfect with one and finally, if I must make a distinction, I award the apple to you Felice, because - well, see, I - I love you."
Both Felice and June clasped their hands, and then Felice hopped across to me and, with white arms about my neck, kissed wo warmly.
"Clever boy!" she cried. "You can go to the top of the class." Then in a soft whisper against my mouth she added "It was most adorably sweet of you, darling and I love you too!"
She swung round, with my arm still about her, and smiled happily to June.
"This is obviously no place for me," laughed June. "And in any case, I had better be off. I shall see you both at 'Le Phenomene'. Till then, au revoir."
When June had gone, Felice turned to me again, and in silence we clung to each other. At last Felice drew away breathless and, with a shy smile, made an odd little request.
"Carry me to my dressing-room, darling," she said softly. It will be lovely to lie in your arms."
I took her soft, warm, silken body tenderly in my arms and carried her lightly through to her dressing room, where Odette, her own pretty personal maid, promptly appeared, and in whose care, after another clinging kiss I left her.
When at last she reappeared in the salon, I could only gaze at her in rapt appreciation. She swung in with that alluringly clinging sway of hers on a delicately slender single crutch, beautifully fashioned in some silvery material, stamped with an inlaid design. Her frock was a fragile dream in gossamer chiffon, clinging so closely upwards from the hips as to give a startling impression of non-existence and dropping in clinging, filmy, uneven folds to only just above the knee on the left. On the slim delicate foot was a fragile wisp of a slipper in silver kid, set with brilliants, and with a tall spike heel close on six inches in height.
Round the white shapely column of the throat was a single string of perfectly matched pearls, and the whole lovely ensemble was completed by an evening wrap of supple jade green crepe satin with a wonderful collar and very full cuffs to the elbow, of magnificent white fox fur.
"Well," Felice said smilingly, breaking the little pregnant silence at last. "Will I do, darling?"
She had put aside her crutch for the moment and was standing periously, yet perfectly, poised on her one little foot in its amazingly high-heeled slipper, like some ethereally lovely goddess lightly hovering just above the earth to which she had descended.
"Felice," I murmured, as I came slowly forward, "you are divine! I feel humble and completely unworthy as I look at you. It is I who should be asking whether I am worthy to be with you."
But Felice stopped my mouth with a cool palm, and then, reaching up, kissed me tenderly.
"You talk nonsense, darling," she said softly. "But it is very sweet, very dear nonsense, and I love you for it."
With a little breathless laugh she released me, and I picked up her crutch and gently adjusted it beneath her arm.
It was as I seated myself beside her in the waiting car that I was conscious of a sudden pulse of excitement beating in my breast. Our eventual objective was this mysterious 'Le Phenomene' of which I had heard so much and yet so little. What exactly was I to find there? In what lay its peculiar and bizarre attraction? For the moment I had to keep my soul in patience and wait.
We dined luxuriously at a small restaurant, both myself and Felice. I must confess, fully enjoying the sensation aroused as we made our way between the tables, all eyes on the fascinating one-legged beauty who swung along so gracefully at my side. And as we faced each other across the small square table during dinner I had eyes only for Felice, the loveliest thing in that beautiful room, thrilled all the time, in my strange, inexplicable way, by my vivid consciousness of the fact that my enchanting partner was not as other girls at other tables, but was most wonderfully, most fascinatingly one-legged!
And Felice herself helped to keep this fact in my mind, for almost as soon as we were seated I felt a soft caressing pressure on my ankle, and realised that it came from Felice's silken, unslippered foot. And there for the most part the small, dainty foot remained during dinner, smoothing my ankle in a caress that was almost a kiss, its magic all the more potent because I was so keenly aware that it was the only foot the darling possessed!
We left the restaurant at last and, re-entering the car, made our way westwards. Quite soon after leaving Piccadilly and taking various twists and turnings, we drew up on a corner of a quiet, distinguished looking square. The great house at which we alighted, with its magnificent pillared facade and great shadowed portico, looked like a big private mansion, not at all the type of place I had imagined.
A grave, powdered footman answered our ring, and another received us just inside the luxurious entrance hall. Both men bowed smilingly to Felice, obviously recognising her as a habitue. Then after being relieved of our outer things, we passed through the hall and, for a while, wandered aimlessly but interestedly about the great luxurious rooms.
So far, nothing particularly out of the ordinary had struck me and, in fact, my main reaction was a slight feeling of disappointment. The house approximated to a very well run and highly expensive hotel or club, with all the usual appartenances of such a place, ornate dancing-rooms, lounges, palmcourts, card-rooms, a swimming-bath, and the like. And most of the people I encountered, well groomed men and pretty women, were just the type one meets in such places, with apparently nothing out of the ordinary about them.
Then I got a sudden and unexpected thrill when, on passing through a lounge, a very-pretty one-legged girl, swinging daintily along on a pair of slim crutches, crossed the room in front of us, escorted by a handsome boy. Apparently there were at least other limbless lady members in addition to Felice and June, and my interest suddenly revived. A few moments later something about two slim, good looking boys in beautifully fitting evening clothes, intrigued me as they possed us in a wide corridor, and I mentioned the fact to Felice.
"It's merely that those boys happen to be girls," she explained, I don't think they ever wear female garments - certainly not here, at any rate. I told you you would meet some queer people, and you will. But we'd better get down to the cabaret. That's were we'll find the most interesting crowd at this time."
We came to a broad, magnificent double staircase, curving gracefully downwards, and this we descended. Below, the double cycle of the stairs converged in very lofty and beautifully fashioned swing doors; and passing through these, we found ourselves in what I realised was the cabaret that Felice had referred to. It was indeed a wonderful place, catching one's eye with its gorgeous display of colour and one's imagination with its strange, exotic atmosphere.
The whole scheme of decoration was carried out in Oriental style and colour, Chinese design predominating, the lighting, rich yet softly diffused, coming from myriads of fantastically designed Eastern hanging lamps. Round the delicately mosaiced halls were hung balconies of gorgeously lacquered trellis-work, the space beneath these balconies being divided round the whole of the wall space into series of deep, softly lit alcoves, each furnished with built in heavily cushioned couches in glowing tapestries, and a large intricately carved Oriental table.
Outside these alcoves the floor was dotted with beautifully designed tables and chairs, but in the centre of the floor a large space was reserved for dancing. The whole floor itself was of thick plate glass, ingeniously lit from below by manycoloured lights, this device adding to the exotic glow of colour suffusing the beautiful room. Running right across one end of the room was a fully equipped stage, the design of which was carried out in the prevailing Eastern style. At the moment, however, it was not being used, and the heavy brocade curtains were down.
Many of the alcoves were already occupied by merry parties, and a sprinkling of smart, well-dressed men and women were sitting drinking at the tables outside, the numbers being added to practically every moment by the constant arrival of members and their friends. On the dance floor dancing was in full swing to the rhythmic strains of music coming from a hidden band in one of the balconies above.
We made our way to a table, and Felice only waited to dispose off her crutch and to allow me to order cocktails, before we also swung to the dance floor and swayed to he rhythm of a well-played fox-trot. My earlier practice with Felice now stood me in good stead, and we danced splendidly together, Felice once more showing how much at home she was and how easy and natural were her movements on that wonderful single leg of hers.
After three dances in quick succession, however, she began to feel the strain, and we returned to our table to my secret gratification, I must confess - much as I was thrilled to be dancing with Felice in my arms - for I was still filled with a queer, unsatisfied excitement, feeling that the strange, inner mysteries of this exotic resort were yet to be revealed to me.
My eyes were very busy with the colourful scene around me, as I sipped my cocktail, and gradually I became awore of many things that slowly helped me to an understanding of the "raison d'ątre" of this place that called itself by the very appropriate name of 'Le Phenomene'.
A couple who had been dancing detached themselves from the crowd on the dance floor just near our table and passed slowly by us. And my eyes opened as they fell upon the pair. The girl was quite young and a very pretty blonde, but she seemed like some dream survival from another age. Her incredibly tiny waist displayed to the full by the formfitting frock she wore, could not have been more than ten or twelve inches round, and I had a feeling that, had she bent suddenly, she must inevitably have snapped in two. Then, as my eyes slowly fell downwards, I saw that she was practically only tottering along, resting on the very tips of her toes as the incredibly tall slender heels of her black satin slippers were, at the very least, seven or eight inches in height. The couple were, I soon discovered, only one of several pairs, all vying with each other in the extraordinary smallness of their waists and the height of their heels.
I turned to Felice, to find her watching me with genuine amusement.
"Some of the 'phenomena' that frequent the 'Phenomene'," she said with a laugh. "Do you begin to understand? Look, there is another very remarkable specimen."
I followed her gaze with a little gasp of surprise and pleasure, for the girl swinging past in her partner's arms was completely and wonderfully armless, the bare white, perfectly rounded-off ends of her beautiful shoulders being fully exposed by her daringly low-cut frock. There was something fascinating about this perfect armlessness, and I followed the girl with my eyes until she was lost in the maze of the dancers.
Then across my ken there suddenly swung June, who waved a laughing greeting to us as she went past with her dancing partner. As I watched her, I was able to realise, from the grace and swaying ease of her dancing, something of the enchanting picture Felice made when dancing with me.
It was certainly astonishing to see how effortlessly June fitted in her quick one-footed steps to those of her partner; and to me at any rate, not even the neatest and shapeliest pair of egs in the room could ever equal, in sheer fascination and witchery, the beauty and elegance of the single leg moving so nimbly beneath the short fluttering skirt of her filmy silk frock.
A word from Felice brought my attention back to her.
"Yet another interesting exhibit," she said. "Look-"
I followed the graceful indication of her cigarette in the long jade holder, and I saw coming towards us on the arm of her partner, a very pretty girl in some extraordinary kind of costume, the details of which I could not quite make out. Her actual frock was of the scantiest proportions, low in front, backless, and dropping only a few inches below her hips. But it appeared that it was supplemented by a tight-fitting garment of many colours.
It was only when the couple passed within a few feet of us that I realised that the frock that I have described was actually the girl's one and only garment, and that she was wonderfully and beautifully tattooed, every inch of her white, shapely body, from the base of her throat to the tips of her toes, being covered with a perfect gallery of intricate designs.
She had no sooner passed that another intriguing figure caught my eye. At first I thought the girl - a lovely brunette - was completely clad in a suit of black silk tights; but on a nearer view I saw that, with black silk trunks, she was wearing wonderful high kid boots with amazingly slender heels, smoothly fitting, without a crease or wrinkle, right up to the hips; and on her arms she wore long, perfectly fitting kid gloves that reached the shoulders. The effect was very striking and, to me, entirely novel.
I was by this time, as my be guessed, immensely interested and thrilled, and I searched the throng about me, eager for further sensations. I got many in quick succession. A beautiful junoesque woman went by in the scantiest raiment, literally loaded with costly jewels. Her hair was encircled with diamonds, long glittering pendants swung from her ears, valuable necklaces on graduated lengths were hung about her throat. Her arms and ankles, the latter as bare as the former, as she was stockingless, were encircled by scores of jewelled bangles, and not only was every finger heavily beringed, but also every toe, which her little golden sandals left frankly displayed. A final bizarre touch was added to her gorgeous appearance by the fact that a tiny nose-ring, set with small diamonds, glittered in one nostril.
A laughing quartet, two girls and two boys, passed to a table near us, and I should have taken only a casual interest in them, but for the fact that the boys were so boyish and the girls, though certainly very pretty, seemed rather affected and mincing.
Then I suddenly recalled the two 'boys' I had seen shortly after entering the club, and I understood. Of course, the girls were really boys, and the two boys with them actually girls! The make-up in each case was really wonderful, and almost perfect; but there was just something about them that betrayed them to anybody studying them carefully.
I turned to Felice once again.
"Yes, I begin to understand," I said. "This is certainly a temple of strange gods."
Felice nodded laughingly.
"A very good description, Tony," she said. "That's just what it is. I suppose every possible kink or complex is represented here at one time or another. Nearly every member is abnormal in some curious way. But it's all most intensely fascinating, don't you think?"
"Most," I agreed. And then, as my eyes strayed again to the moving throng, I had yet another thrill more potent than any so far experienced. A pretty blonde walking slowly past me, supported by the encircling arm of her boy, attracted my attention by the curious stiffness of her gait and, with a sudden leap of the pulses, I saw below her very brief, clinging skirt, two slender, gleaming, beautifully turned spindles of silver! These slim supports were obviously all she had by way of legs, and it affected one strangely to see just those two delicately fashioned shafts moving stiffly below the dainty frock instead of the usual shapely flesh-and-blood limbs.
I pointed out the girl to Felice, and she nodded interestedly.
"Yes," she said, "that's Sylvia Garnett. Her more flippant friends call her 'Silver Legs'. The legs are of silver, too, but she only wears them at places like this. Ordinarily she wears wooden ones, slender, very neatly made spindles lacquered in black."
"Queer," I said, "a pretty girl wearing wooden peg legs -"
"Oh, everyone to her taste, or kink, Tony, darling. Sylvia gets some sort of kick out of wearing wooden legs, though as she has only very short stumps just below her hips, she must find walking rather a strain. Personally I should not like to spoil the shape of my stump by wearing an artificial leg of any kind; but many people do not mind that, as they find a leg of that kind so useful. I'm afraid I'm not a normal person, Tony, I like to be one-legged, and I like my stump just as a stump, and not as something on which to fit an artificial leg."
"I'm glad you are as you are, Felice, dearest," I whispered, "and you express my own feelingS exactly. It would utterly spoil your personal, subtle charm to in any way to adopt camouflage."
I went on murmuring soft endearments, and then we lapsed into blissful silence, Felice nestling quite unashamedly within the circle of my arms. Then suddenly she laughed and looked up at me as if to say, "Just look at that," as a dainty little one-legged girl, swinging gracefully along at her boy's side on a single neat crutch, halted just by our table and, without the slightest show of embarrassment, pulled up her short, scanty frock and removed a dainty handkerchief, with which she dabbed her nose, and returned it to its intimate little hiding-place, and then continued serenely on her way.
"Now, wasn't that cute?" cried Felice delightedly. "I shall certainly adopt that little trick when I wear a stump-sock. That will be nice for you, won't it, Tony?, she added slyly.
"Ecstasy!" I murmured softly, hugging her more close to me. And then my attention was caught by a lightly bobbing figure as of a girl skipping gaily through the throng of smoothly moving dancers. It was only as she neared us that I saw, with a quickening of the pulse, that the girl, very pretty and graceful, was, in fact, hopping in just the easy, effortless way as did June and Felice. So that when she came more fully into view I was not at all surprised to see only a single silk-clad leg very fully displayed below her very short, tight frock.
She passed within a few yards of us, and at that moment Felice caught sight of her and, sitting up, fluttered a gay greeting to her with white uplifted fingers.
"Desiree"! she called, and the girl turning her head, smiled deliciously and waved back.
"Just a moment, darling," she called, "and I'll be with you." And she hopped blithely and lissomly to a table a short distance away, where a mixed company was seated.
"Now, there's a pretty sight," said Felice, as we watched the girl still standing poised on her single leg and talking animatedly with her friends. "There is a little bond between Desiree and myself for, you see, we were both born with only one leg. But Desiree is really much more remarkable than I am in that respect - in fact, she's one of the most remarkable girls in the world. Here she's coming across to us."
The girl had now left her friend's table and, hopping in the most natural and dainty way in the world, reached our table. She kissed Felice and was introduced to me, and then stood chatting for a little while before passing on. She proved a very pretty brunette, slim and graceful in a brief, very close-fitting sleeveless frock that was little more than a wisp of chiffon. One characteristic that struck me at once was the extreme slimness of her hips, which, extraordinarily enough, appeared even narrower than her quite slender waist.
And then another thing intrigued me at the same time as it baffled me. The thin, sleek skirt of her very short frock fitted practically skin-tight for quite six or seven inches below the hips, and then broke into short filmy flares. So close fitting was it, in fact, that there seemed actually only room in it for the surprisingly plump thigh of the shapely one leg.
When at last she left us, moving with a grace that had, I thought, something alluringly serpentine about it, I turned to Felice a little excitedly.
"Felice," I said, "you told me that Desiree was a remarkable girl - and I should say she certainly is. She seems to me to have just her one leg and - well, nothing more. And yet that can't really be, can it?"
But Felice nodded smilingly.
"It can be," she said, "for the simple reason that in Desiree's case it is so! She is, as a matter of fact, the only living example of such an anomaly, and a perfect and very beautiful example of it, too. You must have noticed the extreme slimness of her hips. That is so because actually her body, instead of merging in the usual pair of legs, or even into one leg and a stump, as in my case, tapers beautifully and smoothly into just the single, shapely, perfect leg you saw. Her wonderful one-legged body is a really beautiful thing, her leg having no bias either to right or to left, but is formed on perfectly symmetrical lines. Exactly the same is the case with her foot, which is beautifully proportioned, and the amazing thing is that the big toe is not to the side, as in the normal foot, but in the middle, with the other toes group about it, two on each side. You did not know that Nature could play such extraordinary pranks with people, did you?"
"I certainly did not!" I exclaimed, unable to escape a queer feeling of unreality at the astonishing things I had heard and witnessed since I had come to this amazing, bizarre place.
And as my eyes wandered back to the dancing throng, yet another thrill was added to the many I had experienced. For a pretty girl went by on her partner's arms, both apparently dancing blithely, and my eyes narrowed as I saw that only a filmy wisp of chiffon floated airily below the girl's hips that, and nothing more! For she was quite legless from the hips, and was simply being carried round by her dancing partner, her laughing face, as she looked up into his eyes, revealing how much she was enjoying the odd sensation.
Then, when my amazement was still upon me, June and her boy partner came up, June for once, I noticed, swinging easily on a neat, slender crutch, and joined us at our table.
"The cabaret is just about to begin," announced June, after I had ordered more drinks. "The funny thing is that the others haven't turned up yet. They'll miss the show - and I know they wanted particularly to see it."
I wondered who exactly "the others" were, but I didn't care to appear too curious. And, anyhow, at the moment the lights began, one by one, to go out, and soon the room was in darkness save for a very dim, roseate glow that filtered through from some hidden source. Then the opening blare from the orchestra cut through the buzz of conversation and the heavy curtains that veiled the stage swished softly aside.
One cabaret performance is ordinarily very like another, but this particular show certainly had its interesting and intriguing points of difference. "Turns" of the usual order included the inevitable "crooning" singer of jazz songs, a very "low" but very funny comedian, and a clever and exceedingly naughty French "diseuse" who, by the way, provided in her own person a little thrill for many devotees present by revealing a quite freakishly tiny waist and wearing slippers with incredibly high slender heels.
The first really bizarre note, however, was struck by the entry of a pretty laughing girl who, after bowing near the wings, shook off, with a little wriggle of her shoulders, the thin silk wrap that covered her, and advanced to the centre of the stage, a slim, shapely figure in primrose silk tights.
It was only after a tiny but quite perceptible interval, that I realised with a sudden thrill, that the girl was completely armless, the smooth, bare, beautifully rounded shoulders that emerged like a white flower from the low-cut, tight-fitting bodice, revealing no trace of upper limbs at all.
But the girl soon showed that the absence of arms was, in her case, little or no handicap, for kicking off her little slippers and using her slender, shapely toes left bare by her daintily 'mittened' tights, she went through an amazing clever routine that through delighted applause from an audience in many ways specially qualified to appreciate her expertness.
Seated on a chair, she sang to her own accompaniment on the ukulele, daintily strummed with her toes, and then played with the skill of a trained musician, a brilliant violin solo, holding the instrument in the approved fashion under her chin, and bowing and 'fingering' with perfect ease.
Then crossing to an easel, she stood perfectly poised on one foot while with the toes of the other she drew in charcoal astonishingly rapid and very clever caricatures of wellknown members of the audience, including a very charming one of Felice, featuring very prominently her one leg.
These feats she followed with a succession of fascinating tricks, in all of which she displayed the astonishing expertness of her dainty toes and the wonderful flexibility of her slim legs.
She was followed by a quite remarkable female impersonator - slim and very short-skirted - who, had he not at the end of his performance removed a blonde wig, I should have been firmly convinced was a girl. He possessed, for a man, an extremely small waist, a full, white fleshed bust, and very slender, shapely legs, and no girl could have worn with more charm the dainty amazingly high heeled little slippers that graced her small feet.
With the next turn I got another personal thrill, for it was given by a couple of clever girl contortionists and equilibrists, whose fascinating exhibition was made all the more interesting by the fact that each had only one leg. They made a most attractive and unusual couple in their sleek, skinfitting costumes of pure white silk tights and, as usual, neither seemed in the slightest way inconvenienced by the possession of only one leg, maintaining perfect equilibrium even during the most difficult and tortuous feats.
One or two turns of a quite normal type followed, and then came the 'piece de resistance' of the evening, which our programme announced as the "Ballet Fantasque - featuring the world's most wonderful dancer, 'La Mysterieuse.'"
A buzz of excited chatter eddied through the spacious, beautiful room just before the act, dying down to hushed expectation as the great heavy curtain swished softly aside. I leaned forward tensely, a queer pulsing excitement in my heart, some second sense warning me that I was about to witness something odd, fantastic, amazing.
From the orchestra came throbbing, rhythmic music, barbaric and bizarre. As yet the stage was veiled by a glittering, transparent curtain which hang there like a delicate bejewelled cloud. Then this slowly slid away, as it were, in a soft mist dissolving, revealing a strangely lovely interior gorgeously Oriental in inception, but carried out in the most fantastically futurist and jazz design, and lit by an ethereal, unearthly radiance that added to the whole exotically weird effect.
On the right, left and centre, close by the walls, were stationed twelve figures utterly immobile, looking as if they were part of the general decorative scheme, gorgeously apparelled in stiff, brocaded costumes of Chinese design, the full, embroidered skirts reaching to the floor.
In the centre of the stage, but to the rear, stood a heavy pedestal, intricately carved and brilliantly lacquered on scarlet and gold, and upon this squatted what appeared to be the slim, exquisitely attired figure of a lovely Chinese goddess, her bare, heavily jewelled arms held out in a stiff, right-angled gesture, the open palms of her hands facing the audience. So the goddess and the twelve attended figures remained, absolutely motionless, while the uncanny Eastern music throbbed and a strange, exotic perfume drifted stealthily about the room.
A sudden crash of cymbals, and there entered from the side another figure, clad like the immobile attendants, in gorgeous Chinese brocade, the stiff, heavy skirts sweeping the floor. An even more gorgeous colour scheme differentiated her from the motionless figures, and in another respect she differed from them, for a narrow mask of black silk crossed the grave beauty of the porcelain-white face at the line of the eyes.
"La Mysterieuse", I heard Felice whisper. "I wonder who she really is? I think I could guess."
Smoothly, effortlessly, like a figure running on well oiled wheels, the girl moved forward and, in tune with the rhythmic music, glided and swayed about the stage in what could only be described as sheer poetry of motion. It was toe-dancing, of course, the rapid movement of the feet being hidden by the enveloping skirts, but superlative toe-dancing executed with a skill that only dancers of genius could attain.
Then with slow, gradual movements, as if waiting for an age-old dream, the squatting figure of the goddess on the pedestal began to move and sway, her arms wreathing in fantastic patterns, and the twelve attendant figures came, as it were, to life and swayed and gyrated in unison, forming a wonderful, ever-changing kaleidoscopic background for the gliding figure of the masked dancer in front.
Gradually the dance slowed, until once again the figures were motionless. The masked dancer seemed suddenly caught by the spell that had overcome the others, and stood immobile in the centre of the stage. There came a sudden crash on the cymbals, and by some ingeniously contrived mechanical trick, the stiff, brocaded garment fell away from her completely, leaving her standing there, a slim, lovely figure clad only in shimmering tights of flesh silk.
The little involuntary gasp of amazement that escaped my lips was echoed in a soft hiss round the room - and it was not surprising. For the masked dancer stood there perfectly and gracefully poised on a single slender leg that was only too obviously the only lower limb she possessed. For a moment or so the silence held; then the delighted audience cheered and applause broke out like crashing thunder.
As for myself, I was only then realising to the full what an amazing clever thing that dance had been. The girl, while conveying the illusion that her beautiful and perfect performance was being accomplished on two feet in the normal manner, had actually been pirouetting on the toes of just her single foot all the time! The agility and control required must have been almost superhuman. And yet there she stood, perfectly at ease on that slimly beautiful leg of hers, bowing with smiling calm to the continued applause as if nothing particularly out of the ordinary had happened. At last the sound of appreciation died down, and then we had another, and, to me, utterly unexpected thrill. The masked dancer, hopping swiftly and gracefully to the side of the stage, swept an arm in a flowing gesture towards the twelve motionless figures, and there came another reverberating crash of cymbals.
As if by magic, the stiff robes fell away, leaving twelve slender, girlish forms revealed in all the shapely beauty of flesh-coloured silk tights. My heart missed a beat and I felt my pulses racing as I gazed. Every single girl of the whole twelve was one-legged.
The band crashed forth in a wild Bacchanale, the whole troupe, led by the lovely one-legged dancer, broke into a medley of the fastest and most amazing dancing I have ever seen, all the more marvellous because of the uncanny skill in poise and balance shown by every member of this unique combination of beautiful one-legged girls. For a moment or two the pace was held, and then, in a whirl of flashing limbs the troupe swept tempestuously out through the wings, leaving the stage empty save for the slim, Chinese goddess on her lacquered pedestal.
That was the opening dance of that amazing and certainly well-named 'Ballet Fantasque'. There followed a series of dances, each in its way more astonishing than its predecessor, and which - much as I should like to describe them in detail - I can only, in the space at my disposal, do little more than catalogue.
There was the wonderful "Danse Sans Jambes" (Dance Without Legs) 'danced' by the lovely girl who had posed as the Chinese goddess, and who, when she dropped to her hands from the pedestal, revealed herself as being entirely without legs, her slim body being neatly and perfectly rounded off at the line of the hips. She 'danced' with wonderful grace and agility on her hands, her slender legless body balanced on a lissom curve above her head.
There was the fascinating and thrilling 'Danse Des Moignon' in which the whole corps of dancers, clad in wonderful tights of glittering diamante, brought their shapely and flexible stumps into play in a number of ingenious ways. Then, separating, the dancers executed a musical drill with the precision of a troupe of Tiller Girls, and in the control and balance was little short of miraculous.
There were the two very effective and neatly executed dances, 'The Crutch Dance' and the 'Peg Leg Dance', each performed by a different quartet of dancers, the first quartet supported by single, slender, glittering rhinestone-covered crutches, and the second wearing slim, spindle-shaped 'peg legs' also covered with rhinestones. All kinds of ingenious effects were obtained, including step and acrobatic dancing. Finally, there were perhaps the most amazing of all - the various solo dances of 'La Mysterieuse' herself, including miraculous toe-work and most incredible feats of balance and concluding with the wonderful 'Adagio Monopedique', danced with a handsome, finely proportioned male partner, himself also with only one leg.
The dance was a marvellous performance in every respect, for not only did both dancers reach the peak of perfect balance and control, darting, gliding and pirouetting about the stage on their single legs with an ease that a practised twolegged dancer could hardly have equalled, but the girl proved an amazing contortionist, her lissom, flexible body being juggled with by her partner on every possible and apparently impossible way.
He swung her round his body in swirling circles at all kind of angles, swept her round the stage in wider and faster circles, gripping now her hands, now just the slender ankle. He caught and held her in various beautifully balanced poses, after she had hopped across the stage to him at astounding speed on the tips of her toes - once holding her, like a beautiful bird poised for flight, at the full length of his upraised right arm.
Finally as a closing and utterly breath-taking thrill, the girl, once again hopping with that incredible speed of hers across the stage, jumped as she reached her partner, and, lifting her leg, hooked her foot round his neck and, clinging only by that desperately precarious hold, was whirled round and round at ever increasing pace. Slowing down at last, she regained the upright once again, and the pair stood together, breathless but smiling and perfectly balanced, bowing to the tremendous applause that thundered through the room.
The great curtain swung down and swished back a half dozen times as the pair and the whole troupe were recalled again and again, until at last 'La Mysterieuse' stood alone on the stage, a lovely slim figure, delicately poised, and then at last she pulled off her mask and laughingly waved it to the applauding throng in the front.
"It is Sonia!" cried Felice excitedly. "I thought it could only be she." And from all parts of the room came the welcoming cry. "Sonia - Sonia - Sonia -"
"I'm afraid, I'm just as wise as before," I said to Felice as the curtains swung down for the last time and a great buzz of chatter filled the room. "Everybody seems to know the mysterious dancer now that she has removed her masked. Who is she?"
"What a shocking confession of ignorance!" laughed Felice, with a little unusual glance at June. "In private life she is Sonia Merrill, but she has been famous for years as the world's most beautiful and wonderful one-legged dancer - 'La Belle Monopede'. She's been away dancing in America for a year or so, and it's just like her to come back and play this little 'La Mysterieuse' trick to us."
But at this juncture June suddenly interrupted with a little shriek of joy.
"Oh, there you are," she cried. "They must have come with Sonia and taken there table just before her ballet." And she waved a slim, white arm towards one of the alcoves thot fringed the dance floor.
With Felice, I turn&d and looked in the direction of the alcove. And as I gazed I could feel an odd excitement awake in my veins. At the table set within the alcove were seated three girls and three men. One of the girls was partly hidden by her male partner, but the other two girls were on full view, except, of course, for the intervening table. They were both, I could see, daintily, exquisitely beautiful. But that was not all my widening, staring eyes saw.
The frocks of both girls were most daringly low cut, and it was only too amazingly obvious that both girls were entirely armless! There could be no mistake about it. In each case the firm, white flesh of the perfectly rounded-off shoulder ends was plainly visible. Each had lovely, perfect shoulders, but nothing at all in the way of arms.
And as if to settle the point, just as I was looking at them, the younger of them raised above the table a little shapely silk-stockinged foot and, with her beautiful slender tees left bare by the neatly mittened stocking, removed the cigarette she was smoking from her lips!
It was just then that this girl and her companions in the alcove caught sight of June's waving hand, and with laughing excitement the girl threw away the cigarette she held between her toes and, dropping her foot, jumped up and came hastening towards us. And now the excitement began once again to well up within me, for it was only too plain that the lovely armless girl was hopping in the easy way that Felice had accustomed me to; and as she came within full view I saw that only the right leg, slim and shapely in its smooth-fitting silk stocking, showed below the brief skirt of her thin, clinging chiffon frock. Young, exquisitely lovely, yet armless and one-legged! It was no wonder that I was moved to the very core - that I could not take my thrilled eyes from her, unconscious for the time being of everybody and everything else.
She reached our table and, sinking gracefully into a chair, greeted the two girls gaily and turned wonderful, long-lashed, smiling, very friendly eyes on myself.
"This is Tina, my dear," was Felice's introduction. "Tina Nicholas. You've heard of the famous Dr. Nicholas, the wonderful French plastic surgeon, of course. He is the husband of our wonderful Tina - in fact, he was responsible for Tina as you now see her."
I did not confess the fact to Felice, but I had not till then heard of the famous Dr. Nicholas, nor did I at that moment understand Felice's cryptic reference to his responsibility for Tina. It was only later that I learned the amazing truth - that the wonderful and amazing amputations of Tina's arms and left leg had been performed under extraordinary circumstances by the doctor himself.
However, Tina herself laughingly interrupted Felice's remarks about her.
"Felice, darling," she said still smiling, though I could sense the feeling behind the gay manner. "I'm really not Tina Nicholas any longer. You see, I've divorced my husband. Of course, he's insane. I didn't realise the dreadful part of him until after our marriage. So you see, I'm Tina Romney once again. And now you're all to come to our table for a final drink, and then we're going to Moira's, - you too."
She turned soft flattering eyes in my direction as she whispered the last two words to me, and I felt something velvety and warm slip into my hand as it lay there on my knee. With a sudden thrill I realised that it was Tina's little foot, with it's beautiful, slender bare toes, that rested within my hand.
I didn't knew who 'Noira' was or what 'Noira's' meant except that in all probability it referred to the lady's house; but, closing my fingers over the little foot, I looked into her eyes and nodded almost imperceptibly in a way that was almost a caress.
I have not the slightest excuse to offer for my behaviour at that moment. It was imbecile, weak, vaccillating, cruel anything you like. I admit to all that, and I realised it to the full later. But in some way - helped, of course, by her really exquisite blonde beauty and the, for me, tremendous attraction of her physical peculiarities, Tina had cast a spell over me at the very first sight of her. For the time being even Felice was forgotten, and I had eyes for nobody but this lovely fragment of a woman - for that was really all she was, bereft of everything but that one shapely single limb of hers.
Of course, she had realised the truth at once, and immediately turned the whole battery of her incomplete charms upon me. Tina was by no means a heartless 'vamp'. It would not be fair to convey that impression of her. But she was a woman, a lovely, passionate woman; and I, for one, are not in a position to blame her for sensing my intense admiration for her unique unfinished beauty, and taking immediate advantage of it.
However, with a final squeeze of her flexible toes, she dropped her foot and resumed her little heel-less slipper, and we all made our way to the table in the alcove. Here I found that Sonia - 'La Belle Monopede' - and Desiree had both joined the group. And then I was introduced to 'Moira', whom Tina had mentioned when inviting us to their table. She was the other lovely armless girl I had noticed, and I learned that she was Lady Noira Pomeroy, the handsome young man at her side being her husband, the Honourable Ronald Pomeroy.
It was only when I sat between Moira and Tina, while the whole company laughed at Moira's very vivacious and witty sallies, that I realised, with yet another intense, pulsing thrill, the full extent of her amazing incompleteness. She was as beautiful and perfectly armless as Tina, the bare, white shoulders showing no traces of removal.
Gay, vivacious, delightfully witty as well as strikingly beautiful, Noira was really and literally only a lovely trunk of a woman, the only thing she had in the way of limbs being those little rounded stumps at her hips.
Felice had told me that I should find thrills at 'Le Phenomene', but never in all my wildest dreams had I expected such a succession of them.
I looked a little eagerly round the table, my eyes passing from girl to girl, my mind mechanically busy with an odd calculation - Moira armless and legless, Tina armless and onelegged, Sonia one-legged, June one-legged, Desiree one-legged; a beautiful dark brunette with a cynical, petulant expression and who had been introduced to me simply as Dolores was as yet an unknown quantity. And then Felice.
With a sudden start I woke up and gazed round in astonishment. Felice - where was she? The full extent of my sudden infatuation for Tina will be realised when I tell you that I hadn't noticed whether Felice had followed us to the table or not.
"June", I queried across the big table, "where has Felice got to?"
But June, with a little wistful smile, shook her head.
"I don't know, Tony," she said. "She - she just went off. I - I didn't see her go."
"She was tired, perhaps", said Tina to me; then in a soft whisper, "Does it matter?" And her little bare toes gently smoothed my ankle, while a bare, lovely armless shoulder brushed my lips.
"Oh, Felice is all right," said Dolores a little viciously. "Don't you worry about her, Tony. You're not the only pebble on the beach where she's concerned. She has quite a gift for being picked up by infatuated young men who fall for her highly attractive and very well displayed charms!"
The girl lied horribly, cruelly, but I did not know that until much later. But for the moment I was shaken, and I wanted to believe her. I was mad about Tina, and it suited me, treacherous, weak coward that I was at the moment, to believe the worst of poor, loving, loyal Felice.
"Well, if that's how she feels about things," I said, "all right - let her go." And as Tina slid into my arms I dropped my lips to hers and we clung together in our first kiss.
The cocktails arrived and we all drank, I with a hectic gaiety that had something just a little false about it. Tina with an ease and grace that seemed miraculous, took the little thin-stemmed glass between her dainty, slender toes, and raised it.
"To ourselves, Tony," she whispered. I gazed at her stunned by her wonderful unfinished beauty. To me, the whole vision of her at that moment - the lovely armless shoulders, the shapely perfection of one and only limb was utterly intoxicating, utterly desirable. She looked into my eyes, sensing all I felt. Then, stretching out her leg, she placed the glass gently against my lips, and then emptied it.
At Lady Moira's bidding, the party now made their preparations for departure. Moira herself was attended to by her obviously adoring husband, who placed a silk wrap about her, and then carried the wonderful limbless body out in his arms.
Sonia, partnered by one of the young men, swung out on a dainty, slender single crutch, as did June, while Desiree, I noted, used a pair of very neatly constructed elbow crutches, which she managed very deftly and efficiently.
To my great surprise Dolores was picked up by her boy and went out in his arms, her thin, filmy frock hanging limply and emptily from the hips.
Tina standing poised in a perfect balance on her single leg, turned to me and, employing that fascinating little caress she had already accustomed me to, brushed my lips with a bare, armless shoulder. "Carry me to my car, Tony - darling!" she whispered.
And with heart beating and pulse racing, I took her lovely incomplete body in my arms and, holding her as tenderly as I would a child, I carried her from the room.
One fleeting, devastating moment of doubt and anxiety assailed me as I went with my dainty burden to the waiting car.
Felice - where was she? Why had she gone? On the face of things she had gone off in pique, unable to look on calmly while I revealed my sudden, mad infatuation for Tina. But knowing Felice as I did, that explanation did not seem to fit. Felice was bigger than that; no matter how she felt, how slighted, or deserted, she would have remained with that gay, debonair smile on her lips, and would have given no outward evidence of what she was feeling within. No, the real reason was still to reveal itself; and only Felice herself was to solve the problem in her own good time.
Meanwhile I tenderly deposited my lovely burden in the luxurious car and got beside her. And so I was driven off, with my exquisite armless and one-legged charmer at my side to whatever strange adventure awaited me. And of those I shall tell in my next episode of my eventful quest.