In the second instalment of this series "Marcel", a Frenchman now living in London, related the strange fascination he experienced when, one summer's afternoon in Paris, he saw a beautiful little blonde one-legged girl swinging daintily along the rue de la Paix on ebony crutches, along with another beautifully dressed girl. He followed the ladies into a tea-room, and watched the one-legged girl with admiration; but she ignored his obvious interest.
Eventually they left, and the two girls parted. Marcel followed the beautiful monopede, who called a taxi and, evidently amused by his following her, spoke to him and, after some amusing badinage, allowed him to escort her home.
Now read Zelie's, the beautiful monopede's story.
For a few minutes she sat there in silence, smiling in quite friendly fashion at me, letting her fine eyes roam, in frank appraisement, over my face and person. As for myself, my feeling of thrilled anticipation had grown with the promise of normal adventure. I realised that this girl was quite different from any of her kind I had met before, and that with such a girl anything might happen. I could feel myself on the tip-toe of excited curiosity. As I wondered what the next move might be, the girl herself broke into my thoughts.
"You don't quite know what to make of me, do you, mon ami?" she said, smilingly. "And you're simply bursting to ask all kinds of questions. For instance, you are wondering how an earth I knew you were following me."
I admitted that that, among other things, had certainly been puzzling me.
"Well, it's all very simple", she said. "I am, of course, quite used to people staring at me in the street. I don't mind it; in fact, to confess the truth I rather enjoy it. But there are stares and stares. And every now and then - not often, sometimes only once or twice a year - I am stared at in a way that is very different from the ordinary interest of pitying glances that are usually given. I know that particular kind of stare as soon as I see it. To confess again, I am nearly always on the look-out for it whenever I am walking in the streets. It always comes from a man. Sometimes the man stops for just a moment or so as he stares; very frequently he goes quite pale. But whatever he does, there it the same tense, excited quality about the stare in every case. Nearly always he follows me; sometimes he will try to get in touch with me in some way.
Now you, mon ami, did not stop dead when you met me. I imagine you saw me in plenty of time to enable you to make an effort to pull yourself together. But here was no mistaking the look on your face as you passed, and you had certainly gone pale. I had only to stop a little further up the road, ostensibly to look into a shop window, to discover that you had turned and were following. Then I was certain. And when you walked into the Petit Ritz I had a very hard job to keep myself from laughing."
"Well, all I can say," I exclaimed at the end of this very interesting explanation, "is that you were much cleverer than I, mam'selle. You never betrayed in the smallest way that you were aware of my interest in you."
She looked at me oddly, and that characteristic little smile of hers curled the corners of her lips.
"Not - not in any way?" she asked slowly, with a little upward inflection.
And with a sudden thrill, all the more devastating because of the complete unexpectedness of the thing, I saw the thin, filmy silk of her frock, just below the left side, lifted once again as it had been in the tea-shop, and the round shapely outline appeared plumply upon it. This time, however, it did not move in the flexible way it had done before, but was brought to rest against the rounded right thigh, very much as if girl was crossing her legs. And there it remained, fully and attractively outlined on the thinly veiling silk.
I looked at the girl, trying to keep my breathing even; but except for the mocking light that danced in her beautiful eyes, she was once again apparently unconscious of the provocation of her movements. And then suddenly she laughed softly and delightfully; and, sitting up, she slipped an arm confidingly through mine.
"Poor boy!" she said softly. "It's a shame to tease you. You don't quite understand me, but I understand you pretty well. You see, though I am still quite young, I have been one-legged a good many years; and, I am - well, let us say, not bad looking."
"Let us say delightfully pretty," I murmured, carried away by her nearness and her delightful change of manner.
"Let us say if you wish," she returned.
Turning me with the arm she had put through mine, so that I almost direct: faced her, she continued:
"You followed me for exactly that reason. You find me attractive because of my one little leg? You have what is called a kink. You are thrilled, and think it much more chic and charming than two legs could possibly be. Isn't that the truth, cherie? Confess!"
It was not only her indictment, though that was intriguing enough, that thrilled me to the core. As she put it, her voice sank to a caressing murmur, and her eyes, soft and friendly, looked into mine. What could I do but release my arm and slip it round the beautiful, lissom body?
"There doesn't seem to be a great deal for me to confess," I said. "You appear to know all about it. But it true enough. You'd be decidedly attractive in any case; but it is a fact that your missing limb makes you a thousand times more fascinating as far as I am concerned. The very thought of it thrills me now as I look at you. I don't know why it should be. I can't even begin to understand the amazing thing myself. You must think men like myself absolutely crazy."
She shrugged her pretty shoulders unconcernedly. "Perhaps I may have done so at one time," she said, "but now I do not trouble about it. Besides" - she smiled frankly up at me.- "I like it! That's funny, isn't it? But it is perfectly true. You see, after all, I am one-legged. I can't get away from that fact even if I wanted to. And - well, is it not very pleasant for a girl in my position, though usually an object of pity, that she is attractive to a man for the very thing that other people think a terrible misfortune? Particularly" - her smile became roguish as she shot a little glance from the corners of her eyes - "particularly when the man is as charming as a certain monsieur I could mention."
Her eyes sparkled adorably, I paw her: red lips, half open, smiling, inviting. When inevitably my lips met hers, she did not draw back, but slipped her arms up about my neck and held me close while her mouth clung to mine in a fierce, passionate kiss. At last we drew apart, smiling uncertainly at each other, her uplifted face glowing and tender. Then suddenly she broke into a soft laughter.
"Do you know," she said "we've actually got to the kissing stage without knowing each others names. My friends, by the way, call me Zelie."
"Almost as delightful as its charming owner," I commented, giving her a little squeeze. "I am called by the more ordinary name of Marcel."
"It's a very nice name - Marcel", she protested, and kissed me softly again. Then for a little while we sat together in a pleasant, companionable silence.
My own thoughts during that brief interval may be imagined. I almost wondered whether the whole events of that afternoon were not part of a dream. By some odd caprice of Fate, I had not only casually encountered a one-legged girl who must surely be one of the prettiest and most captivating of her kind, but had actually made her acquaintance. And further and more amazing still, she was the first girl to whom I had not to make halting explanations of the reasons for my interest. Apparently and astoundingly she knew all about my particular type, and instead of finding my interest odd and inexplicable, was actually fascinated and thrilled by it. The whole situation was extraordinary, and it was no wonder that the sick excitement was still pulsing through me.
I was still occupied with my thoughts when Zelie turned slowly and looked up smilingly up in my eyes. She was, as she had already proved, a quick and instinctive girl, and she may have sensed the trend of my thought. Arching the delicate instep of her foot as a dancer does, the beautiful limb looked very shapely in its daringly diaphanous stocking, the silk of which was so thin and frail that the delicately formed toes of her little unslippered foot could be distinctly seen through the open mesh.
"It's terribly nice to know you think my one little leg attractive Marcel," she murmured.
Then she slowly lowered her foot on my instep, and there returned to her lips the odd little enigmatic smile I had noticed in the tea-shop.
Then there were many question and answers, and when I had made it quite plain that I infinitely preferred her as she was, and that both her beautiful leg and shapely shortened limb were perfect in my eyes, she kissed me with sudden passion.
Meanwhile, of course, the taxi had long ago left the Place Vendome, and, threading its way southwards, through the whirling traffic, down the Rue Castignore, had turned into the Rue de Rivoli. Speeding westwards, it had eventually crossed the Place de la Concorde, and was now making its way along the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe. Reaching there, it turned down the Avenue Victor Hugo, and then branched off to the left into a maze of pleasant side streets. At last it drew up at a charming block of "appartements". We had arrived.
By this time, Zelie had resumed her little high heeled slip per and had made herself tidy with deft touches of powder, lipstick, etc. I had to smile at the way in which the ceremonial of our arrival differed from that embarkation at the Place Vendome. Then, Zelie had swung herself easily into the taxi without seeking assistance from myself. Now, as soon as I had descended to the pavement, she surrendered herself frankly and charmingly to my arms, and I lifted her tenderly out, posing her carefully on her little foot. Then, reaching for her crutches, I adjusted them neatly beneath her arms, receiving a very intimate and ravishing smile as thanks for my pains. So we entered Zelie's apartment.
We were admitted to the flat by a pretty maid, trimly attired in black taffetas with a tiny frilled white apron, neat black silk stockings, and little buckled high-heeled shoes. The flat, small and compact war. charming, prettily furnished in the bright, dainty manner one would expect from Zelie.
Swinging gracefully on her crutches, and chattering happily, Zelie ushered me into a pleasant little lounge, and there bade me make myself comfortable.
"Here are cigarettes," she said affectionately, drawing up a little Moorish smoking-table. "There are drinks in the buffet. You can mix yourself something, and, while you are about it, mix me a nice long one with Vermouth, grenadine syrup, ice and soda. I'll be back in a moment.
Then she swung daintily out on her crutches, and left me to my own devices. I mixed Zelie's drink and my own, and, selecting a cigarette,I settled myself an the couch to wait, with what patience I. could muster, my charming hostess's return. I had, however, hardly time to wonder what Zelie was doing, for within a few minutes I heard a musical little call and, turning my head, I saw her framed in the doorway. She had removed her hat, revealing the fascinating way in which her blonde curls clung closely to her shapely little head, and had replaced her frock with a filmy, diaphanous negligee of delicate black lace, with an intimate scroll design in black and gold worked all over it.
Possessing all the sheer transparency of such lace, and held, as it was closely wrapped about her, it was a most daring and beautiful article of attire. For just a moment or so Zelie stood there smiling, in an alluring, coquettish pose. Then she swung towards me using, I was intrigued to notice, only a single crutch. This in a curious manner had changed the whole character of her walk. On a pair of crutches she had swung along in a crisp, effortless manner, very delightful - at any rate, for me to watch. Now she moved with a slow languorous swing, the body clinging to the crutch in a curiously intimate way and undulating flexibly at each forward movement.
The whole swaggering movement had a fascinating allure of its own, and I felt my pulses quicken as I watched her. She had also, I saw, changed her outdoor slipper for another one - a tiny, very open Court slipper in black and gold brocade, with a slender, even higher heel, that arched her shapely instep so steeply that little more than the tips of her toes rested on the carpet as she walked.
She reached the couch, by which I was standing to receive her, and allowed me to take her crutch and put it away while she settled herself comfortably among the cushions. When I had seated myself by her side, she drank thirstily of the iced drink I had prepared, and accepted a cigarette, which I lit for her. Then she sank back lazily in the cushions.
"Did you mind my using only a single crutch just now?" she asked, after a while, turning and looking at me. "Or would you have liked me to use both my crutches - or perhaps you would have preferred me not to use crutches at all?" That mocking little smile of hers curved her lips. "Really I should have asked you," she went on, "knowing how important these things can be."
I looked down at her narrowly, for here was another of these odd questions of hers that told of curious knowledge. But I replied calmly enough.
"What do you usually do in the house?" I asked.
"Oh, I never use a pair of crutches indoors, she replied. "You can't do much else when you have two crutches to manage. I either use a single crutch or just hop about without one at all."
I couldn't help, of course, showing my keen interest in that last admission.
"Oh, you hop about," I said quietly. "You don't find that difficult?"
Zelie shot me a swift glance.
I really believe the boy would like me to hop," she said with a laugh. "Wouldn't he?"
I laughed a little confusedly.
"Well, yes," I admitted, "though I must confess I was certainly fascinated by the way you used a single crutch."
"Nice boy," she said. "Knows how to say the right thing. But you shall see me hop. It's just as easy for me as using crutches. I've hopped about without them since I was a kiddie."
With that she kicked off her little slipper, incidentally revealing that she was still wearing her very filmy, wide meshed silk stocking; and springing up lightly, she gathered her clinging negligee closely about her and sped with effortless grace across the room, hopping daintily on the tips of her toes with all the delicate poise of a trained dancer.
Near the doorway she turned and stood facing me in a perfect balance, maintaining the pose without a quiver for a minute or so. Then she came speeding back at a pace that alarmed me. I had visions of her falling and hurting herself badly. But she was as sure-footed as if she were running on two feet, and never faltered in the slightest.
Her action was not at all the ungainly shuffle that a normal two-legged individual would adopt when trying to hop. It was obviously the result of long training - a very easy, graceful, gliding motion, without any awkward jerking of the body.
She reached the couch and, with a little smile of triumph, stood poised before me, one arm held out in a gesture like that of a performer on the stage who has just accomplished a difficult feat. I smiled at her and softly clapped my hands.
"Marvellous!" I said. "A perfect and most thrilling performance!"
"You really think so?" she asked eagerly and, far such a sophisticated individual as she was, with a charming naivete. "Which do you prefer then - my single crutch or my hopping?"
"Well, honestly, I don't know. I find both most fascinating, each in its own way."
"That's perfectly charming of you," she said delightedly. "I'll tell you what I'll do. So that you'll be perfectly happy, I'll compromise and sometimes use my crutch and sometimes hop. And, if you'd like me to, I'll sometimes use only a single crutch when I am out walking with you in the street. Will you like that?"
Of course it was all very silly in its way, as I quite realised, as I nodded laughingly at Zelie, and as I was sure she did also. But at the time it had its own odd thrill for me, as I quite frankly confessed her.
Then I told her that, from many things she had said, it seemed to me that her outlook, like my own, was not quite normal.
Zelie nodded slowly, gazing at me in that characteristic way of hers out of the corners of her eyes.
"There's something in what you say," she said, "but I don't altogether agree that I have a kink in the same way as you have one. Your kink is a completely inexplicable affair. It is one that the ordinary person cannot, and never could, understand. On the other hand, my point of view, strange though it may be, is, in its way, a normal one. It is not one that had arisen from an abnormal mental outlook, but one that has been forced on me by peculiar circumstances. Listen! I'll tell you all about myself, and that will perhaps explain what I mean."
So, lying completely in my arms, smoking her cigarette - and
having incidentally and characteristically captured my hand, Zelie told me her story.
(In a further instalment the romance of Zelie will be unfolded.)