For the benefit of those readers who missed Episodes One and Two of this chronicle when they appeared in these columns it may be recalled in those episodes Anthony Drew, a handsome man about town, tells of his meeting and falling in love with Felice Carling, a very beautiful one-legged Society girl. For some mysterious reasons Felice agrees only to a sort of temporary engagement, the symbol of which is a jewelled circlet which Felice wears on her amputated limb. One night Felice takes Tony to a curious club, called 'La Phenomene', where he meets a number of beautiful girls of varying degrees of physical disability. Among them is Tina Nicholas, who had recently divorced her husband, Dr. René Nicholas, a famous French plastic surgeon, about whose extraordinary surgical operations many sinister rumours are current. Tina herself is English, a young and very lovely girl, but she has lost both arms from the shoulders, and at the same time she also has only one leg - her right. In spite of himself and conscious of his weakness, Tony is completely captivated by the wonderful armless and one-legged girl and, for the moment, even Felice is forgotten. After leaving 'La Phenomene', Tina and Tony and a number of club members go on to a party at the house of one of the ladies. Tony suddenly discovers that Felice has mysteriously disappeared and is upset by the occurrence.
He now continues the story.
As I strolled aimlessly along Piccadilly on the afternoon of the day following my visit to that curious club, 'La Phenomene', I was in a thoroughly unenviable frame of mind, able to realise how completely inexcusable had been my conduct towards my darling Felice.
My conscience had, in fact, pricked me the very moment I had got away from the party last night, and now to my feelings of shame was added one of anxiety. What had happened to Felice? Why had she disappeared so suddenly and so completely, and where was she now? I had already called at her flat, only to be told by her maid that her mistress was out of town. It certainly looked as if that sudden bud of friendship that had so delightfully burgeoned for Felice and myself had been killed forever by the frost of my callous behaviour.
And yet, even as I thought in this wise, calling myself all sorts of spineless reptile, I knew that the devil of it was that as soon as Tina appeared before me again, just as soon would I fall a victim to her exotic attraction.
The extraordinary thing was that I was put to the test at the very moment. For there suddenly came to my ears the soft contralto tones of a well remembered voice and, wheeling round, I found myself looking into the beautiful eyes of Tina as she smiled roguishly at me from the open saloon window of a big, luxurious Rolls-Royce.
It was lost. I knew it, as with leaping pulses, I hurried across to the car. Felice, my conscience, everything was forgotten in the magic light of those beckoning eyes!
"Why so sad and contemplative on such a glorious sunny day?" asked Tina, with demure mischief, as I reached the car. And to complete my subjugation, a little white foot, the long, subtle bare toes agleam with tiny jewelled rings, was lifted to the window with that miraculous ease of hers, and slipped softly into my hand.
I bent down, raising the little perfumed foot to my lips. Then, as Tina withdrew it, I smiled joyously, no doubt foolishly, into her eyes.
"If I was sad and contemplative," I said, "the mood has vanished. And you know who has charmed it away."
"What a pretty speech-maker the boy is!" laughed Tina, with a little hint of mockery, though I knew she was really delighted. "And to what important appointment were you making your gloomy way?" she went on.
I confessed to the utter aimlessness of my wanderings.
"Splendid!" exclaimed Tina. "Then the obvious thing to do is to offer your valuable services to a lonely lady. What do you think?"
I needed no second bidding, and a few moments later I was seated, in a kind of thrilled ecstasy, by Tina's side, while the car, under the skillful guidance of a smartly uniformed chauffeur, purred smartly down Piccadilly.
Tina's blonde loveliness was, if possible, more alluring than ever. The slim, wonderful body was gowned in a sheath of diaphanous black clinging lace. The rounded beauty of the white, rounded shoulders was really more revealed than veiled by the very brief lace sleeves, which outlined the smooth, perfect contours and then fell, each in a strong cascade, as it were, over the shoulder ends. Every flexible movement of the latter, as Tina shrugged them in that expressive way of hers, as she talked, was discernible and, as usual, most fascinating to watch.
On the dainty foot she now wore a little heelless sandal, a fragile jewelled affair that left bare the beautiful toes and most of the foot. The most carefully manicured fingers of the most fastidious beauty in the land could not be more delicately shapely than those wonderful toes of Tina's, long and tapering, each perfect little nail gleaming with scarlet enamel. That little foot had held an extraordinary fascination for me at my first meeting with Tina, and now my eyes would stray to it every now and then, as if drawn by something irresistible.
She was, as I well knew, as adept in using all the peculiar and fascinating charms she possessed when in the presence of a sympathetic male.
So I sat there simply content to watch her as she chatted gaily of all sorts of things, thrilled by her nearness, conscious only of her strange enchantment.
Yes, undoubtedly the spell of this unique, unfinished Venus, the exquisite blonde with only a single limb, this lovely sorceress who bewitched and now held me once again in thrall, left Felice and the rest of the world utterly forgotten.
We chatted happily, and every now and then, as Tina emphasized some point or other, the little bare foot would slip from its sandal and the supple toes would drop lightly an my hand, just as another girl's fingers might do.
So engrossed was I with my enchanting companion, that it war; like awaking from a dream when at last the car slowed to a standstill and Tina looked out of the window with a laughing "Here we are!" Then she turned to me again.
"Would you like to have tea with a real live princess, Tony?" she asked. "Or have you other calls upon your no doubt valuable time?"
"I am at the moment hopelessly under your spell, Tina," I laughed, "and completely at your disposal. If having tea with princesses keeps me by your side, then I propose to drink tea until further orders."
"Silly boy!" said Tina, gaily, and then suddenly I felt her soft, warm lips on mine, and for a divine moment she lay in my arms. Then, as suddenly, she drew away with a little laugh, and it was only then that I became acutely conscious of the chauffeur who, with perfectly expressionless face, stood by the open door of the saloon. But Tina was quite cool and collected when she spoke to me again.
"This is the house of my friend, Princess Ottilie, a very beautiful Russian," she explained. Then a twinkle danced in her eyes. "I do not really know whether I ought to expose you to the temptation of falling in love with her," she went on. "You know, Tony, dear, you are just a little susceptible, aren't you, darling?"
I flushed in spite of myself. It was such a palpable hit. But Tina saved me the necessity of making halting excuses by continuing:
"But I'll risk it. And in any case you're bound to meet the Lady sooner or later."
She turned to the chauffeur. "Charles," she said, "please go ahead and let them know we are here. Mr. Drew will carry me in."
The chauffeur mounted the broad steps of the great house set in the corner of a quiet, exclusive street. As the door opened I gathered the beautiful body in my arms, a warm pulsing went through me as I did so. I carried her lightly from the car to the magnificent hall. Here, instead of the footman one expected, we were received by a dark, slim, extremely pretty maid who smilingly explained to Tina, in most fascinating broken English that Her Highness the Princess was motoring from the country and would be delayed, but had 'phoned instructions that Tina was to be given tea if she would be so very kind to await the Princess's return.
I must have heard all the pretty maid said, because later I recalled it all fully; but my brain must have acted more or less automatically. For actually I was not really listening to her. I was concerned by something about her much more astonishing than the words she uttered. For the girl, her slim graceful figure clad in a neat short skirted uniform of black silk, was, as she talked, perfectly poised on but a single shapely leg revealed by its well-fitting black silk stocking to just above the knee.
I confess that I stared open mouthed. That the girl was onelegged was unexpected enough in the circumstances; but more intriguing still was the fact that she stood there, in perfect unconcern without crutch or support of any kind, balanced quite securely on her single little foot in its soft high heeled slipper of black satin.
And my fascinated interest grew when, after Tina smilingly consented to the arrangements, the girl turned and led the way to one of the smaller drawing-room, hopping in front of us with an effortless, graceful ease, and with as much unconcern as if her method of progress was the most natural thing in the world. After ushering us into a room she smilingly withdrew, and I carried Tina to a couch.
"And now that Nadine has gone," said Tina, with a mischievous smiling glint in her eye, as she settled herself cozily amid the cushions, "perhaps I shall be able to claim a bit of your attention again."
"Nadine?" I questioned, stammering.
"The little one-legged maid," explained Tina.
"Tina," I protested, laughingly despite of my touch of embarrassment, "that's not fair. You know very well that I wasn't interested in the girl herself. But one hardly expects, when making a call, to find the door opened by a maid with only one leg - and without a crutch, too! I admit I was startled and, if you want, interested. Anybody would have been.
"All right, Tony darling," laughed Tina soothingly, and the little bare foot crept once again into my hand. I was only teasing you; and, of course, I quite understood your interest."
But what an intriguing idea," I said "A one-legged maid."
Oh, that's just one of Ottilie's little fads," explained Tina. "She's very keen on limbless beauty. In fact, if I cared to be indiscreet, I might let you understand how keen. But one mustn't tell tales out of school."
I was wondering what exactly to make of that last cryptic remark of Tina's, when the door opened and Nadine reappeared, hopping with that graceful unconcern of hers, and propelling in front of her a daintily equipped tea-wagon. Then to my utter amazement, she was followed by another maid, just as pretty in her way as Nadine, her slim figure similarly attired in neat black silk, and she, too, hopping expertly on but a single black, silk-clad leg.
Naturally, I could only sit and stare, probably a little stupidly, as the two girls placed a little low table by the couch on which Tina and I sat together, and deftly set out the tea things, balancing and moving on their pretty single legs with quite miraculous ease as they worked. Then, when they withdrew, I turned to find a little amused smile on Tina's lips.
"Another little surprise, Tony?" she said. "I didn't tell you. I know it's wicked of me, but it's so amusing to see the look of absolute astonishment that comes over your face at each new revelation."
"Well, I don't mind," I said airily, "especially when the revelations are so extraordinary - and pretty," I added maliciously. "Are there any more of them?"
"I think there are about five or six maids of various kinds, not including the kitchen staff, and all of them, with one special exception, are, you're be duly thrilled to hear, one-legged. All of them, too, are trained to move about without crutches - which they use only out of doors; - as Ottilie thinks, and I agree with her, that the girls look much more neat and trim without them. And now, Tony, dear, having explained all that, no doubt to your intense satisfaction, I think we might turn our attention to tea."
And then, before I could offer my services as a tea dispenser - which I fancied might be necessary in the circumstances - Tina herself proceeded to do what war required with a neatness and dexterity that added yet another delightful sensation to the afternoon.
Slipping off her sandal, she lifted her little bare foot to the low table and, setting out the cups, put sugar and milk in and poured out the tea, using her beautiful toes as expertly as the most nimble fingers. Then, with as much ease, she 'handed' me my cup.
It was most fascinating, as I sat there sipping my tea, to watch her conveying her own cup to her lips without apparent effort, or daintily selecting a cake with her slim, supple toes.
The extraordinary thing was that after one had become accustomed to Tina's almost complete limblessness, one also got quite used to this amazing and continuous employment of her leg and foot. It remained unusual, of course, but the action in every case was so graceful and so effortless, that one came gradually to regard it as not so much a contortion as almost a natural movement. To me, at any rate, there was nothing in the least distasteful in this extremely skillful display; but on the contrary, something distinctly dainty and pleasing.
Tina herself was, of course, charmingly vain of her skill, just as she was quite openly proud of her strange, unfinished beauty; and I know that she was conscious all the time of my admiration, and fully enjoying going through her wonderful repertoire of pretty little tricks for my special benefit.
After tea she accepted a cigarette from my case but, characteristically, did not allow me to place it between her lips. She made her own selection with skillful toes, and after tapping the cigarette expertly on the table, placed it herself in her mouth.
Then we smoked for a little while in silence, Tina with her cigarette held daintily between her toes. As my eyes wandered - as I must confess they did perhaps too frequently - over the perfections of her beautiful, incomplete figure, I became aware of an intriguing little thing that strongly aroused my curiosity. The continuous raising of her limb in order to use her toes had by now resulted in the filmy skirt of her frock slipping and the end of the beautiful rounded stump was just visible. Imprinted on the white skin was what I first of all took to be a black irregularly shaped patch, and then suddenly I realised that the 'patch' was really a tiny, beautifully designed butterfly. Tina turned and regarded me with a little questioning smile.
"It's the little butterfly, Tina" I explained. "I haven't seen it before, and I am curious."
"Oh, the butterfly!" she said. "I am not sure that you should have been allowed to see it," she went on demurely. "But now that you have, don't you think it sweet?"
"Perfectly charming!" I agreed. I suppose that is the very latest stump-wear. How is it put on - a sort of transfer of some kind?"
She laughed. "No, as it happens, it's a permanent adornment. You see it's tattooed."
"What a perfectly ripping idea. What put it into your head?"
"Well, as a matter of fact," Tina confessed, "the idea isn't mine at all. The little black butterfly is simply an emblem or sign worn by members of an exclusive little society of which I happen to be one. There's nothing very startling about it - just a little stunt to amuse ourselves. Its members - at any rate, its lady members - all are limbless in some way, and the general idea is to foster among them the spirit of independence and selfconfidence. For instance, we don't look upon ourselves as cripples, and would be insulted to be referred as such. Nor do we think ourselves in any way inferior to normally formed people. we realise that limblessness in a beautiful women has its fascinating side, and we do all we can to emphasize that aspect of the matter. And only women who are beautiful and fascinating, though lacking one or more limbs, and who are in complete accord with our aims, are allowed to become members and to wear the little black tattooed butterfly."
"I say," I put in with a laugh that had more than a hint of thrilled interest in it, "what about the men? Are they allowed into this holy of holies?"
"Oh, yes," replied Tina, smiling, "We allow certain members of the male sex to become honorary members. They must, of course, have what we call the 'limbless complex' - that is, be attracted by the charm of limbless beauty."
"Then in that case," I broke in again, "I am certainly eligible for honorary membership."
The amused glint was back in Tina's eyes.
"Well, my darling," she said, "you certainly have more than your share of that 'limbless complex' I mentioned. If you'd really like to be a 'Black Butterfly', I'll see what I can do."
I was, as may be guessed, most emphatic in the acceptance of that very attractive offer. And I would have gone more fully into the matter; only just at that moment something else suddenly flashed into my mind. "How about Felice?" I asked abruptly. "I mean Felice Carling. Why isn't she a 'Black Butterfly', as you call it. She, if anybody, is proud of her one-legged beauty and a firm believer in the fascination of the limbless female form divine."
Just for a second it seemed to me that Tina's eyelid fluttered in a sort of embarrassment. But the emotion, whatever it was, was gone almost as soon as it had appeared and was replaced by the old half amused, half-mocking gleam.
"And how do you know that Felice isn't a 'Butterfly'?" she asked slowly.
In spite of myself, I had to laugh at the little malicious suggestion behind that direct question.
"Well," I replied, mocking in turn, "you see, Felice is just as generous in the display of her charms as you are."
Tina nodded good-humoredly.
"Yes, that's right, Tony," she agreed. "No, Felice wouldn't join us - although she is so completely in agreement with the main aims of the society." She wouldn't say more.
"Do you know why, Tina?" I asked suddenly.
Again came that curious fluttering of the long-lashed lids, and again the little smile, this time without the hint of mockery.
"Well, Tony," she said, "it is not really for me to say. I don't know though I may suspect a lot. I fear her quarrel is with one particular member of the society, and that is as far as I can go."
The mention of Felice brought back all my concern about her,and no doubt, it showed in my face.
"Don't let us worry about Felice and her affairs, darling," she murmured. "Felice is perfectly all right and no doubt having a good time somewhere or another. Don't you find me just as attractive? Am I not even more charmingly incomplete than she is? Kiss me and forget about everything and everybody else."
Of course I was as wax in her hands. I forgot everything in the bliss of her clinging kisses and the intoxication of holding her in my arms.
So we sat amid the cushions until a discrete knocking on the door at last penetrated our consciousness and brought us back to earth. The door opened to the call of "Come in" and pretty onelegged Nadine ushered in a newcomer.
With a little thrill of pleasure I saw that it was Desiree, the pretty and dainty girl, one-legged in so wonderful and unique manner, to whom it will be remembered Felice introduced me at 'Le Phenomene'. She floated gracefully in on her slender black elbow crutches, and it was most fascinating to see how, as she walked, the beautifully formed single leg swung exactly centrally between the two crutches and not with a bias to left or right, as in the case of an ordinary one-legged girl.
Her frock of shimmering green crepe de chine was obviously designed to accentuate the perfect though unusual lines of her figure, for it fitted like a sheath to just above the knee, where it broke into a charming riot of filmy flares. The amazing and unique formation of her lovely body was thus quite frankly revealed - the perfectly formed trunk merging in one unbroken line from the abnormally slim hips into just that single leg, exactly as a mermaid's body is represented as merging into its tail.
After a smiling greeting to Tina and myself, she sank gracefully into a deep comfortable chair, depositing her crutches neatly on the carpet by its side.
"Desiree is the secretary of our little society," said Tina to me, when Nadine had departed. Then, turning to Desiree she explained, I've just been telling Tony about the 'Butterflies'. I suppose, like myself you've come to see Ottilie about tomorrow night's crush?"
It was some little time later that I understood what Tina meant by that reference to a 'crush'. Far the moment I could only listen interestedly, wondering vaguely to what the girls were referring.
Desiree, who had helped herself to a cigarette and who was puffing enjoyably shook her head.
"Not quite," she said. "As a matter of fact, I've just returned with Ottilie. She asked me to stay the week-end with her at her country place, and I ran down last night, or rather this morning, after the party we discussed all the arrangements for to-morrow's affair then. We were to return to-morrow afternoon only she suddenly remembered that she had arranged to see you about things this evening. And so here we are. Ottilie is now having a bath and making herself pretty after the journey."
She looked across at me, and a little impish twinkle danced in her beautiful eyes.
"I rather fancy, however," she went on, "that the news that a charming and very good looking young man was on the premises is at least partly responsible for her concern about her travelstained beauty."
Tina laughed at my pink, embarrassed face. "I've already warned Tony against Her Highness the Princess," she said to Desiree. "If it's true that she is making special preparations for vamping him, then he's as good as lost!"
The two girls laughed mischievously again, and I was glad when Desiree created a little diversion.
"Which reminds me," she said, "that I'm rather on the grubby side myself." With a light, easy spring, she jumped upright and stood poised in effortless grace on her single dainty foot in it's little high-heeled satin slipper. "what do you say to a swim, Tina, before Ottilie shows up? And you, Tony? We'll find a costume to fit you. What do you say?"
Tina was at once enthusiastic; and as for myself, I could hardly hide the thrill that pulsed through me as I eagerly agreed.
At once, without more ado, Desiree gaily picked up her crutches and, adjusting them neatly, swung across to the door. Tina smiled up into my eyes as I gathered her into my arms and carried her out of the room.
Desiree led the way across a wide sumptuously carpeted corridor to an electric lift which, when we were all inside, she manipulated herself. We shot smoothly down to the basement of the great house and leaving the lift, eventually found ourselves, to my surprise, in a long, beautifully appointed room, on the marble floor of which was sunk quite a good-sized swimming bath.
The bath was not set out exactly in the center of the floor, but rather to one side. Thus, while on one side of the bath only a margin sufficiently wide for walking was left, on the other side quite a large proportion of floor space remained. This portion, except for just the pathway round the bath, was richly carpeted in a colour resembling sand, and was set with quaint little tables and chairs, brightly cushioned couches, and big, gaily coloured beach sunshades; while along the wall were a number of daintily designed dressing cabinets. It was obvious that the swimming bath was a popular resort in the house, and the scene of gay social gatherings.
However, at the moment there was just our three selves. Desiree entered one of the cabinets and produced for my inspection quite an assortment of men's swimming costumes, from which I made my choice. Then in response to her ring, one of the pretty one-legged maids appeared, hopping daintily on her single foot, and while I dressed in one cabinet she attended to Tina and Desiree in another.
I suppose excitement and anticipation, made me hurry, for I was first at the bath side in a 'Varsity' costume that fitted me perfectly.
Then with a little gay laugh, Tina made her appearance, and I caught my breath at the sight of that marvellous body of hers so fully and frankly revealed by the swimming suit she wore.
It was a frail affair of cobwebby scarlet silk. The lovely, white, armless shoulders, so suave in their smooth rounded-off perfection, the slim, shapely leg and tiny foot, and the plump, perfect oval of the dainty stump, with its fascinating butterfly adornment, were all fully in evidence as she hopped with fairylike lightness over to me. And as she stood there before me, delicately poised on her little bare foot, smilingly and frankly inviting my admiration, I could only think of her as a lovely unfinished masterpiece of living sculpture by some world famous artist.
But if Tina's appearance was a breath-taking thrill, Desiree's was, in her own way, quite as devastating. As she joined us, hopping just as effortlessly as Tina, it really seemed as if she were not a living girl, but some marvellous illusion.
She wore a specially made costume of her favourite green silk. It was actually more like a skin-tight tunic than a normal swimming costume, as, of course, it did not possess the ordinary double opening for the legs at the hips, but only one. And seeing her in such a costume, one was able for the first time to appreciate fully the marvel of her uniquely shaped body.
One was struck once again by the extreme slimness of the hips, then the dress revealed with what faultless perfection the trunk became merged into the lower limb, which tapered from it as smoothly and inevitably as if the whole body were just one single shapely limb.
There was no hint of deformity, no mutilation of any kind. It was as symmetrical on its single-legged beauty as the most perfect two-legged body ever created. One tiny point brought this fact home in a curious way.
Desiree, being a one-legged girl, had joined the society of 'Black Butterflies'; but, as she possessed nothing in the way of a stump, the little emblem had perforce to be tattooed just about a couple of inches above the knee.
The final miracle about her was her little bare foot. In just as her body was formed like no other body, so was her foot like no other foot. It was small and very shapely, but the big toe, instead of being to the side as in a normal foot, was set exactly in the middle with the other toes grouped about it, two on each side. It was extraordinary in its way, yet it was the natural outcome of her abnormal bodily formation and, in the circumstances, was more fitting and beautiful than if it had been formed in the ordinary way.
Also, as I learned later from Desiree herself, this formation of her foot gave her a natural, easy balance, and she was as much at home on her small foot as are normal persons on two. In fact, had it not been for the sensation such a practice would have caused, she would very easily have dispensed with her crutches altogether, as she did for the most parts indoors.
Meanwhile Desiree herself was by no means unconscious of my thrilled scrutiny of her charms. In fact, she posed as steadily as if she were carved from white marble, an amused little smile curving her shapely lips.
However, at last we turned to the business in hand, and we were soon disporting ourselves in the water.
Tina, to my great surprise, was quite at home in the water and needed little assistance - though, of course, I was always at hand in care of need. She jumped in foot first, and then her method was to float on her back, which she did quite expertly, and when necessary to propel herself gently with her foot.
Desiree was a fine swimmer, diving with all the ease and grace of a professional, and employing every variety of stroke when swimming. Her expert use of her leg was extraordinary, and in a race of four lengths, to which she challenged me, I only just beat her, though I'm a fairly useful swimmer.
We had been enjoying ourselves in this way for some little time, when Nadine made her appearance.
"Her Highness," she announced, addressing the two girls in the water, "asks me to inform you that she is now at your service, mesdemoiselles. She is in her boudoir and will await you there."
"Right, Nadine," said Tina, "tell Her Highness we'll be with her in a moment."
The maid withdrew, and after dressing we all proceeded to the main floor again and were eventually ushered into a small but dainty apartment, exquisitely appointed in delicate shades of pink and adrift with an exotic, sensuous perfume - obviously the boudoir of a wealthy and luxurious woman.
I was naturally a little excited at the prospect of meeting the Princess, to whose remarkable beauty so many intriguing references had been made. But the curious thing that I had, up to then, only thought of her as a charming and lovely woman whom I was shortly to meet. Certainly I had no premonition of the tremendous shock that was to hold me dumb when she entered the room.
Actually the first individual my eyes fell upon as we entered was the neatly attired maid who opened the door to my knock. She was a girl I had never seen before, a very pretty blonde, more attractive even than Nadine, and the curious thing about her was that, unlike the other maids, she was quite normally formed, with both her shapely silken legs well in evidence. And it was while I was idly wondering why the girl was an exception to the rule of the house, that I saw the Princess - and received my shock.
She was cozily ensconced amid glowing, colourful cushions at one end of a deep, luxurious couch; and certainly she was lovely, superbly lovely. I suppose she was over 30, but she looked dainty and fresh as a young girl. But it was not her beauty that stuck me dumb; though it was so immediately and strikingly apparent. The astounding, the utterly unexpected fact was that the beautiful Russian was just a mere fragment of a women - a lovely, living trunk, and absolutely nothing more!
A magnificently formed body she certainly had - white, peerless, satin-smooth shoulders, a beautifully rounded bust, a neat shapely waist curving into perfectly modelled hips - but that was all. Nothing at all in the way of either arms or legs protruded from the wonderful trunk - not even the merest suggestion of stumps marred the smooth, clean line of shoulders and hips. Both at shoulders and hips the body was as suavely rounded off as if limbs were things that had never been considered when she was so beautifully molded in her present form.
Her frock - or rather, her costume, for it could hardly be called a frock - was a black chiffon velvet, fitted her everywhere with unwrinkled, glove-like perfection. Cut extremely low back and front, it allowed the bust and shoulders to burst from it, as it were, like some wonderful white flower. One other fact was also evident - that the Princess was like Tina and Desiree, a 'Black Butterfly', for tattooed on the smooth satin skin of the right shoulder was the dainty little emblem of the society.
I could only hope that I was successful in hiding the agitation that shook me at the sudden and unexpected sight of this beautiful women smiling up at me from her cushions as calmly as if there was nothing at all unusual in her appearance.
I think I did manage to appear more or less at my ease, though I knew that Tina was regarding me with only half-concealed amusement from the chair into which I had placed her on entering the room. Then the introductions were made and the tension relieved - at any rate, to some extent.
"So you are Tony," said the Princess to me in liquid tones in which there was just a hint of an attractive foreign accent. "I have heard very nice things of you, Tony. Come, you shall sit by me and be charming to me, eh?"
She issued her invitation with that calm assurance that any pretty woman employs, secure in the knowledge of the potency of her charms. Apparently it did not occur to her that she was anything but alluringly attractive. In any case, thrilled as I was by the whole intriguing situation, I was perfectly willing to be agreeable. Consequently, encouraged by a little smiling nod from Tina, I crossed to the couch and sat down by the Princess.
Now this chronicle, as readers will have discovered, is not only the record of some strange adventures of mine, but also the candid confession of my weaknesses. I have, for instance, already frankly admitted my frailness of purpose in the matter of Felice and Tina. But, in justice to myself, I want to say at this juncture that though I was immensely interested in and intrigued by the Princess Ottilie, and, in fact, sensible of her strange, exotic allure, I was never in any real danger of allowing myself to become completely infatuated.
Something - I was not at that time able to fathom what - some elusive barrier kept me from once again making a complete cad of myself. Something faintly sinister, it seemed, even at that first meeting, yet nothing tangible, nothing that I could even guess at. But one thing was certain - if I may say such a thing without appearing a conceited ass, if I was not completely enslaved, Ottilie fully intended that I should be. In fact, from the first she made no secret of her own feelings, in spite of the fact that not only Tina and Desiree were present, but also Wanda, the maid, who stood a respectful distance apart but ready to anticipate the slightest wish of her mistress.
(It was, by the way, easy to understand why Wanda was a quite ordinary built girl. Her mistress was, of course, completely helpless, and had to rely upon her personal maid for assistance in everything she did. The absence of a leg would obviously have severely handicapped her in such circumstances.)
However, to return to the situation between the Princess and myself, it was a relief to realise that Tina at once summed it up correctly and was genuinely amused, rather than hurt, by any apparent defection.
As I sat down by Ottilie she moved herself slightly in some miraculous way. The field battery of her beautiful, large velvet, dark eyes was turned upon me, and at the same time the delicate perfume that emanated from her crept insidiously over my senses, weaving its own potent spell.
At last, with a little shrug of her shapely armless shoulders, she accepted the situation for the moment quite good humouredly. Then, after accepting a cigarette from watchful Wanda, who placed it in her mistress's mouth and lit it, she began to talk to Tina and Desiree about the 'affair' to which they had both referred earlier in the afternoon and about which at the time I had been more than a little curious.
I now discovered that it was a big party in connection with the 'Black Butterflies', and was to be held the following night at the Princess's houses. As they discussed the various arrangements, I was able to gather that the affair was to be on quite a lavish scale, including a cabaret, a masked fancy dress dance, and a variety of stunts of a novel and intriguing character.
As she talked, Ottilie managed her cigarette expertly, dropping the ash with a flick of the mobile lips onto a silver tray supported by a slender lacquer stand, rather taller than usual, that stood by the head of the couch.
As the discussion went on, I became naturally more and more interested in the forthcoming function, and was just deciding in my own mind that, even if Tina had to smuggle me in, I was going to be there, when the Princess quite unexpectedly came to my aid. The three ladies had been enumerating the various people who were to be present, and Ottilie suddenly turned to me.
"And what about you, Tony?" she asked. So ardent a worshiper at the shrine of limbless beauty as you are ought to be a member. There's a honorary membership open to gentlemen - would you like to be put up?"
"I most certainly should, Princess," I said eagerly.
"Then it shall be arranged. And in the meantime I think I, as president of the society, may be allowed to stretch a point and grant you permission to attend to-morrow night. What do you say, Tina?"
"Splendid, Ottilie," exclaimed Tina. "I was wondering what we were going to do about Tony, and I knew he was simply dying to come. But he'll have to have a butterfly, won't he?"
"We'll very soon manage that," replied Ottilie, briskly. "Tony will have to have his just a little in advance, that's all."
And turning to Wanda, she asked her to fetch a butterfly. The girl slipped softly away and was back within a minute or so with the butterfly emblem in black enamel picked nicely in gold, which apparently was applied to male members of the strange and out of the ordinary society. This, at Ottilie's request was handed to Tina, who had slipped off her little sandal to accept it. Then, with slim, expert toes Tina attached the butterfly by its pin to the left lapel of my coat.
"There," she said, smiling as she tapped my neck affectionately with the soft, bare toes, "you are now a 'Butterfly' and you must wear this badge to-morrow night and any other function in connection with the society you may attend."
I thanked them all very gratefully and, in fact, excitedly. I was almost thrilling with pleasurable anticipation of what the next night was to bring forth. Certainly I had not the slightest premonition of how near stark tragedy I was to come, and the evil passions that were to be unleashed at the fateful and always to be remembered gathering of the most bizarre of societies, the 'Black Butterflies'.
Of that gathering and its sinister consequences I hope to tell you in the fourth and final episode of this strange, eventful chronicle. Until then, adieu!