In the first article of this series "Marcel", a Frenchman now living in London, related how he discovered in himself a freakish affection for limbless beauty, and went on to describe his first adventure. In this, the second article, he continues his narrative of succeeding experiences. - W. S.)
Towards the close of the preceding article I revealed how very infrequently one encounters one-legged girls, either in the streets, the theatres, or the restaurants. Even when one has had such an encounter, there then comes the difficulty of gaining an introduction.
It is popularly believed that Frenchmen rush in where Englishmen fear to tread, but even a Frenchmen can be circumspect; and, after all, a crippled girl is not in the same category as one who is quite normal. A crippled girl does not expect male admiration, and in most cases, as far as my own experience goes, she will be puzzled, and even frightened, by an unsolicited approach.
I should say that the majority of limbless girls are quite unaware of the existence of what has been called the "limbless kink," or, if manifestations of it come their way, they do not understand, or are frightened. But, on the other hand, I am also sure that a number - probably all of the pretty and attractively dressed - do know of the existence of this peculiarity; and while some do not like it and are therefore unresponsive, others definitely encourage it and even do all they can to present their limbless condition as attractively as possible. This is not a theory, by the way, but assured fact.
I may have given the impression by a remark made in the first article that I have usually been quite successful in getting in touch with limbless girls; but I hope not, but actually this is far from being the case. Though I have always made my approaches, I hope, as tactfully as possible, my most frequent experience has, quite naturally, been a complete rebuff.
Nothing would be served by recounting the history of such failures, and if I seem to be very successful in my quest it should be realised that the experiences described are all chosen because they were, or appeared to be, successful, and that such experiences were all punctuated by long periods of time, in some cases many years. Also, as will be seen, I was helped by luck rather than finesse.
I have told you how I had my first experience at the age of fifteen years. Well, I was actually nineteen before I became acquainted with another; and even then the friendship was not entirely satisfactory.
I had gone with my parents to Dinard, in Brittany, for the holidays, and we stayed in a pleasant hotel near the main place (L'Ecluse). I got my thrill the very first night, at dinner. We had only taken our seats a few minutes, when four people entered the dining-room - a middle aged man and woman and two girls - father, mother and two daughters, as we afterwards discovered. I remember my feeling of excitement when I saw that the younger daughter, a girl of about eighteen, walked with the aid of a pair of crutches.
She was a very pretty brunette. Her good look, however, was somewhat marred by her very sad expression, and she manipulated her neat crutches with an ease that told of practice. It was then about the period when the skirts where beginning to shorten, though they could not be called short as yet. They were probably about as long as. they are now worn in the streets, though very much fuller. But that left a girl's ankle intriguingly exposed and my thrill was complete when, as the party passed us on their way to their table, I saw, below the frock of the girl on crutches, only one neatly slippered foot.
As a matter of fact, the task of getting to know the girl was made perfectly simple for me. In common with most people in the hotel, my mother was very sorry for the pretty girl "so dreadfully crippled" and before the end of that evening she had already made friends with the parents and discussed in most sympathetic fashion their daughter's sad case. Very naturally, I gravitated to the two girls, as we became friendly almost at once.
I am afraid the normal sister was quite sure I was interested in her, but it soon became patent that it was the other girl who attracted me. To do her justice, however, the elder sister was very pleased that there was somebody to take an interest in her sister, particularly as her own fiance was expected in a day or two. I remember, too, that my attitude towards the one-legged girl was very charming.
Well, so far so good, hut actually the affair was not a very happy one. Yvette, as I shall call her, though that was not her name, was very pretty and attractive, and she became very friendly with me. But she had ever got over, and would never get over, the loss of a limb. The misfortune poisoned her life, and it was only now and then that she could be roused to anything like cheerfulness. It was true that she always dressed smartly and was obviously very fastidious about her personal appearance. She even went the length of using a special pair of very neatly made white crutches with her evening frocks. But all this had nothing to do with any desire to attract attention. She was much too sensitive about her loss even to think about such a thing. She never had the slightest idea that I was intrigued - and I never told her.
I very soon discovered, from the way in which her frock disposed itself on the right side that the missing limb was absent from very near the hip - a fact which heightened my interest.
One of Yvette's great griefs - and she had many - was that she could not join our party at bathing time. She had been a strong swimmer before her amputation, and she was now intensely envious of the jolly time we had in the water. I suggested that she should throw her scruples to the winds and come with us; but she was horrified. The thought of appearing on a crowded beach in a bathing costume that would display her misfortune to the crowded beach filled her with dismay.
But I was able to get her over her scruples by a very simple process. It was to change her dress in one of the beach tents we had rented for the season. I was to carry her to the water's edge, slip off her wrap, and carry her into the water. Even if people were curious, there would at least be no display of her deficiency. To my surprise, after some demur she agreed, Poor girl! It was only very rarely that the allowed herself to enjoy anything.
I was, of course, pleased at the prospect of carrying the pretty one-legged Yvette in my arms but nothing like so thrilled as I should have been in different circumstances. The girl's unremitting sadness, the obvious thing, almost of horror, with which she regarded her loss, took away practically all the pleasure I should normally have extracted from our friendship.
I have had, by the way, the same feeling at other times since that holiday. It may, or may not, be a curious thing, but I find that when a girl is unhappy, my attitude becomes the normal one of pity and I am not strongly attracted.
I should have liked Yvette to have ceased to trouble about her condition - in fact, to have forgotten it as far as that is possible - at any rate, to take it for granted, very much as she would have done with any other personal characteristic. I wanted her to be cheerful and gay and as much interested in life, pretty frocks, lively society, etc. as any normal girl. My ideal was for her to have actually come to be intrigued and fascinated by her own limblessness, to have realised that she was attractive, and to have been out to do everything she could to set off her limbless charm to the best advantage. Such a girl would, of course, have been very exceptional, and only to be met with once in a lifetime. But, to return to Yvette.
The next morning she was more cheerful than I had ever seen her as she swung off on her crutches with her sister and myself to the beach. She had not brought bathing things with her on holiday, but she had borrowed for the occasion a suit and a wrap from her sister, and they changed in one tent and I another. When they were ready, Yvette, holding her wrap closely about her, surrendered herself to my arms with a little smile and a blush that helped to reveal how really pretty she was, and I carried her carefully down to the sea.
I had never dared to make any advances to her. She was much too reserved and full of the misfortune to invite anything of the sort. Accordingly, though it was very pleasant to feel her soft self in my arms, I handled her very gently, carrying her more like a brother than a would-be lover. I could not help being acutely conscious of her single pretty leg, as it lay close to me. I felt practically certain that her missing leg was completely absent from the hip.
This, however, was not exactly the case. When, very hesitantly, she slipped off her wrap, she was revealed in a neat, closely fitting one-piece swimming suit of dark blue silk that moulded her very pretty figure to perfection.
Her sister was a very strong swimmer, who went in for scanty, business like swimming suits, and did not trouble about the elaborate skirted confections of the bathing belles of the time. Consequently, the suit Yvette had borrowed was more than revealing, displaying her white, shapely single leg practically from the hip. In the matter of the amputated limb, however, she had compromised by wearing on it a little well-fitting "chaussette de moignon", or sock, of black silk.
Of course, when Yvette removed her wrap I had to take everything in one comprehensive glance, for, I had to hurry her into the water away from prying eyes. Once in the sea she was comparatively happy, and she enjoyed that bathe and many others we had on subsequent days more than anything else during the holiday.
But I never got any nearer to her than that! There was I, constantly in the company of a pretty one-legged girl, taking her about, swimming with her, and all the rest and yet the irony of it was that I dared not to reveal the true reason for my interest! I knew that if ever I was idiot enough to tell her the truth, she would either be completely incredulous or consider me quite mad. We were very friendly, and she was very grateful for my friendship; no doubt, she thought me a particularly nice, thoughtful and kind boy.
During that friendship I learned that there was something more behind her distress than was apparent. The amputation had taken place only three years before, as the result of a very extensive blood poisoning, and there was a risk that the dread symptoms might reappear. Accordingly, Yvette lived in constant fear of losing her remaining limb. Poor girl, her fear was only too well founded!
After that holiday our two families kept in touch with each other, mainly by correspondence, however, as her people lived in the Provinces. Within eighteen month of meeting her, we learned that Yvette had undergone amputation of her other leg, close to the hip.
I understand that this was rather a precautionary rather than an absolutely necessary operation. It was proposed first of all to amputate the foot; but as other amputations, as had happened in the case of the first leg, might become advisable later, Yvette herself - very wisely, as it turned out - prayed the doctors to remove the whole leg. This was eventually done, and apparently it stopped the trouble, for Yvette remains today, quite legless, of course, but otherwise unmutilated.
She was later happily married to a well-to-do silk merchant, and when I saw her last was a plump, handsome matron, much happier than when she was a girl - though she will never be gay, I am afraid. She spends her time either on her couch or in her wheelchair; and, when I carried her one day, during my last visit, from her chair into the house, I wondered whether she recalled the days when I carried her, a pretty one-legged girl, down to the sea.
Well, my experience with Yvette was, in a way, typical of a number of other as the years passed. Of course they differed in various details. For instance, I never encountered another girl so terribly depressed over her loss as was Yvette.
Usually such girls take their condition for granted. Some are sensitive, and some are, naturally of a gay, happy-go-lucky temperament, and do not trouble much about their loss. But I nearly always found it extremely difficult to explain exactly why they attracted me.
Such was the general run of experiences, one very much like another, and I should be taking up space unnecessarily were I to describe them all. But one cannot pursue a quest of this kind continuously through the years without some outstanding and even bizarre encounter coming one's way. Some of these I think will be found to shed an interesting light on the working of this particular fancy of mine.
One such adventure which had its beginning some years after the Yvette episode was very much out of the usual run - in fact, was one of the most extraordinary I ever had.
I was strolling up the Rue de la Paix towards the Opera one pleasant June afternoon, when I got the old thrill. Through a break in the crowd of strolling shoppers, I had spied, about twenty or thirty yards away, a neat little feminine figure swinging towards me on crutches. I pulled myself together as well as I was able, and sauntered on, in apparent nonchalance, my eyes, however, appraising the approaching girl.
My heart pumped in spite of myself, for she was undoubtedly
very much out of the ordinary! Small and attractively plump, though not too much so, very chic, with the neatness of extreme smartness. Below her short skirt - it was the period when skirts were at their shortest - moved just one shapely leg in a well fitting stocking of black silk, so thin and transparent as to seem only a gossamer film on the pink and white flesh that blushed through it. And on the small, arched foot was a neat little slipper with an extravagantly high, slender heel. Her little blonde head was tilted in a sort of impudent attitude, and she seemed to strut rather than swing forward on her neat, very slender, black crutches, which her little gloved hands manipulated with dainty expertness.
She would have been a notable figure in any fashionable crowd had she been normally formed. As it was, with just that one, daringly displayed, silk-clad leg, and on crutches, she was a minor sensation - and the girl knew it!
She was accompanied by a girl friend, as smartly dressed as herself, to whom she chatted gaily as they walked away.
As I drew abreast of the couple, I tried to look absolutely unconcerned. But I must have gone white - the blood is always likely to drain from my face at such moments - and I dare say that I looked unnaturally strained in spite of my efforts at control. At any rate, I passed on and then, after proceeding a few yards, I turned and slowly followed the two girls. As far as I could judge, the limbless girl had not noticed me at all, and I felt pretty certain that she had no knowledge of the fact that I was walking slowly in her wake.
The two girls sauntered on unhurriedly, pausing now and then to look in a shop window. Eventually they crossed the Place Vendome, and when they had reached "Le Petit Ritz," a famous little tea shop where it had become the fashionable thing to have English afternoon tea, I was not at all surprised to see them enter it.
With my heart pumping again, I hesitated for a little while, and then plucked up courage and boldly entered the teashop.
The two girls were seated facing each other across a small table near the broad windows, and apparently without a glance in their direction I passed through and took a table a little beyond theirs, but also near the windows.
They took absolutely no notice of me, and I was still convinced that the one-legged girl did not even know I existed. I had chosen my table with care, as from it I had a very clear side view of this girl. But, to my disappointment, I noted that her pretty single leg was entirely hidden below the table at which she sat.
I was internally anathematising this, of course, very natural position she had taken up, when it almost seemed as if she had become aware of my thoughts. Still chatting volubly with her friend, and sinking pretty white teeth into luscious little bits of pastry, and still, incredibly, not showing the slightest interest in myself, she turned casually in her chair, with the result that her leg slipped out from underneath the table and so remained fully displayed to my guarded gaze.
I noted again how shapely it was. I was also able to see why the silk stocking was so extremely diaphanous. Its silk was of the frailest, wide-meshed, fish-net quality, so transparent as to become the consistency of gossamer.
Her foot had already wriggled itself half out of the tiny, extremely smart slipper, the slender, stockinged heel showing well above it. I thought the height of the slipper's heel amazing - quite 6 inches at least, I was sure. (It was as a matter of fact, not more than 3 1/2 inches in height. What 6 or 7 inches would really look like in actual wear I cannot imagine - probably grotesque!)
I tried to appear quite uninterested as I watched the girl, but every flexible movement of her leg, together with the constant slipping of her foot in and out of the slipper, was noted by me and had its separate thrill for me. Still she gave no sign of any knowledge of my presence or my interest.
However, whether this was so or not, I sat there and stared, thrilled to the core, filled with an inescapable premonition that I was on the threshold of one of the unforgettable experiences of my life.
Within a few minutes the two girls began to make preparations for departure, paid their bills, and gathered together their handbags and other feminine impedimenta.
And then I was given another little exhibition that again might or might not, have meant anything. The one-legged girl's crutches had been placed carefully in a corner some little distance from the table, and, at a sign from her, one of the waitresses hurried across the room for them. But meanwhile the girl, without waiting the coming of her crutches stood up, steadying herself with dainty hand on the table.
Then the crutches arrived, the girl neatly adjusted then beneath her armpits and the two girls, without a single glance my way, made their way slowly out of the teashop, watched curiously by very many more eyes than mine. In spite of this apparent ignoring once again of my very existence, there was, for me, only one thing to do. I had see this adventure to its end, whatever that end might be. I waited for just a few minutes, after carefully noting that the girls had turned south as they left the shop - the direction they had been taking when I met them. Then I paid my bill and hurried out.
I located the two girls almost at once, and my heart sank. They were standing only a few yards away, on the edge of the pavement. Obviously they were waiting for a taxi. As I wondered what my next move was to be a taxi swung in to the pavement. There to my tremendous relief -- I could feel it welling up into my throat -- the other girl, after shaking hands with her friend, got in the taxi and was whirled away, leaving my fascinating cripple standing alone.
I hung back, waiting for her to move on. But she did not stir. She stood there, resting easily on her crutches gazing calmly into the rushing, roaring traffic. Was she, too, going to take a taxi? It looked perilously like it.
I pulled myself together as well as I could and, strolling over, took up a position about a yard away. She turned slowly and then, to my amazement, I saw that amused smile of hers I had noted in the teashop pass lightly and elusively across her lips and then disappear.
"And now, M'sieur", she said quietly, "what shall I do - call an agent (policeman)?"
"But, Mam'selle," I spluttered in utter confusion, "w-what have I done?"
She looked gravely at me; but thank goodness, her eyes were dancing.
"What have you done?" she echoed. "For over an hour you have followed me, spied on me, watched every mouthful I ate, noted everything I did!" The little mocking smile fluttered over her lips again. "Ciel, I felt I had committed a crime and that the Surete was on my track. C'est drole ca - 'What have you done'?" I was already reassured by her manner, in spite of her tone and the terms of her indictment. But I was frankly amazed at her knowledge of my movements.
"But Mam'selle," I protested, how do you mean - followed you, spied on you, and the rest?"
"What a simpleton it is!" she exclaimed in amused scorn. "You passed me right at the top of the street, close to the Boulevard des Capucines. You deliberately turned and followed me all the way down into Place Vendome. Then, when I turned into the Ritz for tea, you had the impertinence to walk in and take up a position near me, where you could watch every movement I made. And now I find you here at my side looking like - like -" she suddenly spluttered with laughter - "like a schoolboy caught with the jam!" I grinned shamefacedly, but I made a spirited attempt at retaliation.
"But what reason had you to suppose I was following you, Mam'selle?' I asked. "I may have been interested in your friend."
"Oh, in that case," she retorted with unruffled calm, "you will find her in a taxi somewhere in Paris. I wish you good hunting, M'sieur, Good-afternoon." And she turned as if to go.
I capitulated with undignified haste.
"Please, Mam'selle", I pleaded, "I apologise profoundly, and I confess. It was you I followed, and I am guilty of all the crimes, with which you charge me."
The dancing laughter was back in her eyes.
"Then what do I do?" She asked mockingly. "Call an agent as I suggested before, or ask you to call a taxi for me?"
A little pulse of excitement blew within me. I did not reply, but immediately held up my hand and stopped a passing taxi.
The vehicle drew into the kerb. The girl gave the driver an address and then, slipping her crutches from under her arms, she deposited them in the cab and, with only very perfunctory help from me, for I didn't quite know how to be of service, short of picking he up in my arms, she swung her self nimbly inside.
She seated herself and, still smiling her old enigmatic smile, she thanked me for my assistance and then sank back against the cushion, as if the episode were over and all I had to do was to close the door and allow the vehicle to proceed on its way. But I had learned something about her tactics in the last few minutes; and, besides; I noted that she had taken up her position at the further end of the seat, leaving plenty of room for a second occupant.
As coolly as I was able I sprang in, banging the door behind me and as I took my seat at her side, the taxi darted off into the traffic. In a few minutes there was silence in the taxi, and for those minutes I stared in front of me.
Though I tried not to show it, I was struggling for calmness and trying to control my breathing. The astonishing, unexpected and tremendously thrilling turn in the tide of events had winded me both physically and mentally. When at last I turned to my companion, I found her, to my relief, obviously struggling with an almost uncontrollable impulse to laugh.
"Of course," she said with mock gravity, "I really ought to stop the taxi and hand you over to the police."
"But, of course, you won't!" I retorted boldly.
At that she laughed outright, and the little comedy of pretence was over.
("Marcel" will conclude his adventure with Zelie and continue the narrative of his strange experiences in the next article in this series. W. S.)