In the preceding articles in this series the narrator, "Marcel," a Frenchman now living in London, confessed the strange attraction which beautiful monopede girls had for him, and went on to describe his experiences with them in Paris. Among those he met was Zelie, a pretty, chic, sophisticated Parisienne, with whom he fell in love. Zelie admitted that she knew other limbless girls in Paris, but naturally did not go out of her way to introduce Marcel to any of them. But matters were taken out of her hands in an unforeseen manner, as will be seen in the present narrative.
One evening when I paid a visit to Zelie's flat I found a visitor there. He was a man of something over thirty, dark, handsome, well-groomed. He was introduced to me by Zelie, with a tiny frown and just the slightest shrug of her tiny shoulders, as M. Georges Laroche. (I substitute another name for the actual one she gave me, by the way.)
M. Laroche was very friendly, and he appeared to know quite a lot about myself, though he obviously had not known my name prior to our introduction. I guessed correctly that Zelie's new "boy" had been talked about among her friends, and that was how he had come to know about me. As we chatted and smoked over our drinks, I regarded M. Laroche with unobtrusive interest. Had he also the "kink" and was he one of Zelie's old admirers? He was certainly very charming to Zelie, in spite of her apparent lack of warmth; but then that is second nature to a Frenchman. However, I was soon to learn all about him, for when he rose to go he invited us both to dinner for a couple of days later.
"I shan't take a refusal," he said with laughing persistence when Zelie started to make halting excuses. "Denise sent me especially to dig you out. She says you haven't been near her for centuries, and she is not going to allow you to become completely selfish. Besides," he added, sending an amused glance in my direction, "she wants to meet your Marcel, and thinks it's high time he was on view. So Friday night, at seven -- and don't be late. The thing's fixed, absolute."
Zelie knew when it was time to capitulate; and, to do her justice, she did so quite sportingly.
"Very well, mon cher Georges," she said with a laugh, "we'll be along on Friday evening exactly at seven, just to show you. And if Denise thinks for one little moment that I am frightened of her, tell her to think again!"
"She doesn't think you are frightened," purred Laroche, grinning maliciously. "She knows you are!"
Then he made quickly for the door just as Zelie, kicking off her high-heeled slipper, jumped up from the couch on which she had been sitting and hopped swiftly after him on her little silk stockinged foot.
He was out of the flat and had the door banged behind him before she could reach him, but she was still laughing as she surrendered herself confidingly to my arms and let me carry her, in a close embrace, back to the couch.
"And who is Denise, darling?" I asked. "And why exactly should you be frightened of her?"
"Denise, sweetheart, is Madame Laroche, George's wife," explained Zelie. "And Madame Laroche is a very beautiful woman, and though a very dear friend of mine, she is just a little bit of a vamp. You see, I haven't taken you along to meet her, and so she suggests, or Georges does, that I was afraid to do so -- which is, of course, absurd. She isn't your type at all."
I wasn't so sure that it was as absurd as Zelie made out, but I agreed with her whole-heartedly. I speculated, however, on the intriguing little problem: If Madame Laroche wasn't my type, what particular type was she? And I looked forward to meeting her with a great deal of interest.
The Laroches, I found, had a very charming villa a few kilometres beyond Neuilly, a very pleasant north-western suburb of Paris. Laroche was obviously well-to-do; for the house, though termed, after the French fashion, a "villa," was a large one standing in its own extensive and very beautiful grounds and run by a perfect retinue of servants.
Zelie and I were admitted by a pretty, neatly attired maid, and as we were handing over our outer things Laroche himself hurried hospitably into the beautifully appointed hall to greet us. Exchanging laughing banter with Zelie, whom he obviously delighted to tease, and getting from her, by the way, quite as good as he gave, he led the way into a small salon, a very bright, typically French room, exquisitely decorated and furnished throughout in cream and gold. And here, awaiting us, was Madame Laroche.
I could not help but be immediately attracted and impressed, for Madame was indeed a very lovely woman. She was quite young - in fact, I was surprised to find her so young. Laroche was, I suppose, about thirty-five; but Denise was only about Zelie's age, not more than twenty-three or twenty-four.
She was a very delicate pink and white blonde, her beautiful, miraculously coiffured hair so flaxen as to be almost white. Nowadays she would be called a platinum blonde, but bleaching to that extent was unknown at that time, and Denise's wonderful hair was quite natural.
She was most strikingly clad in an evening frock of pure white clinging velvet, shaped to the figure on princess lines which, leaving the lovely arms and lovely shoulders very completely revealed in all their white and enticing beauty, moulded her shapely body in a glove-tight, smooth-fitting sheath.
A few gleaming rings on the slim, dainty fingers, and a single rope of very fine pearls encircling the perfect throat, was all the jewellery she wore.
This lovely, smiling vision greeted us with an outstretched hand of welcome from the nest of cushions in which she was ensconced on a very ornate couch; it was the somewhat odd fact that she did not rise to receive us that gave me the first hint that there was anything out of the ordinary about her. When, however, I reached the couch and bent to kiss the slender, white hand she held out to me, I was immediately aware -- and the knowledge shook me with a sudden shattering thrill of astonishing truth.
The beautiful frock was lying in fact unusually long for that particular period when even frocks where daringly short, and was, for example, in notable contrast with Zelie's striking evening frock, which did actually reach the rounded knee of her single, shapely leg.
But this exceptional length and the skin-tight fitting of the very thin, supple velvet to the perfect figure, only heightened the extraordinary effect. For after closely moulding the slim hips and the shapely, rounded thighs, the clinging velvet of the skirt, at a point about five of six inches below the hips suddenly narrowed to slender vacancy and fell in a flat, shimmering cascade, quite slack and empty, to the edge of the couch.
Considering all the preliminary it had been natural, before I met Madame Laroche, for me to suspect that she, too, like Zelie, had only one leg. I had been more or less prepared for such an eventuality. But I certainly had not expected to find that the lovely Denise had no legs at all! Yet that was the patent, startling fact, made all the more evident by the cunning, subtly revealing way in which her frock was fashioned. Below the hips, the thin, clinging velvet, just before falling emptily over the edge of the couch, fitted so snugly and revealed that she was devoid of nether limbs.
I had naturally very often speculated on what might be my attitude, if ever I met a beautiful girl entirely without lower limbs. I was not prepared to say that such a girl would attract me as strongly as would a pretty one-legged girl. Perhaps, in fact, she might not attract me at all. The display of the single leg below a short skirt, the magnetic appeal here always was in the contemplation of a perfectly fitting silk stocking and with the added appeal of the small, neat, only foot in a dainty, high heeled slipper, the various fascinating incidentals such as the expert use of neat, slender crutches or the even more expert accomplishment of being able to dispense with crutches altogether and hop blithely and smoothly an a single little foot -- all were very important facets of the strange inexplicable attraction onelegged girls had for me.
There could be none of those alluring characteristics about a girl entirely legless, however beautiful she were, and so it was highly probable that such a girl would make no appeal to me whatever.
But emotions are strange, incomprehensible things and one can never be sure how they will react to certain stimuli. I was absolutely astonished at the strength of my feeling when I made that unexpected discovery and my eyes gazed for the first time on the unfinished beauty of Denise Laroche.
I was able, thank goodness, to hide my feelings to a great extent by busying myself with Zelie, taking her crutches, seeing her comfortably seated on the couch by Madame Laroche's side, and other little offices of that kind. And I know that Zelie, though she naturally sensed my interest in Denise, had, happily, no idea how hard hit I was.
But even while busying myself in this way, my eyes, in spite of myself, were all the time drawn, as by some magnet, to that slim, white-and-gold, half-goddess, smiling in such friendly fashion at Zelie's side. She had, by the way, laughingly made room for Zelie on the couch, and she had done this by simply pushing herself easily on her hands and moving her beautiful shapely torso sideways with a supple swing.
But as we sat and chatted together, drinking a pre-dinner sherry, I was, thankfully, able to give tolerable imitation of an ordinary, rational human being, and nobody noticed my disturbed condition.
I had another odd, inexplicable thrill when, after dinner had been announced, Laroche tenderly took Denise's lovely half body into his arms, kissing her soft cheek as he did so, and carried her into the dining room, the supple folds of the white velvet frock as they hung emptily, practically from the hips, giving her a curious resemblance to a baby in his arms.
And during dinner as I talked and laughed with Denise with as much control as I could muster, I was filled with a queer excitement, simply because, though I could now see only her body above the table from about the waist upwards, I was all the time acutely conscious that below the table, the skirts of her frock were hanging emptily over the end of the chair, concealing all she possessed in the way of lower limbs. The point is perhaps subtle, and I don't know whether I have made it plain or not. In any case, the whole basis of the thrill is quite inexplicable.
Now I want to make it quite plain at the outset that Zelie was exaggerating in the way a woman will, when she said that Denise was a little bit of a vamp. Actually she was not. Also she was very much in love with her husband, who had fallen in love and married Denise.
There was no "affaire" between Denise and myself during the long period of our acquaintanceship. Candidly, though I was still very much in love with Zelie and had no desire at all to break with her, I was at the same time tremendously attracted by Denise.
But Denise had no feelings of that kind for me at all. She was very interested in me and delightfully friendly because I had a kink similar of that of her husband's and she was highly intrigued by my frank interest in her.
I was quite aware, for example, that many of her little tricks, very similar to those employed by Zelie, were designed to draw my attention to them. And she would make all kinds of frank, yet playful, references to her condition, about which she was just as completely unconcerned as Zelie.
I was also granted the privilege of carrying her about -- though, of course, as she preferred to move about the house in somebody's arms, she would quite frankly ask anybody to carry her when her husband or her personal maid were not available.
But though Zelie might still have been convinced that Denise was "vamping" me, I knew better. Georges Laroche was her king, the man who had changed her, as with a magician's wand, from a pathetic little cripple, whose extraordinary loveliness had made her helpless condition only more wretched and hopeless, into the happy and adored wife, whose very helplessness had become one of her greatest charms, a condition to be vain of rather than weep over.
THE ROMANCE OF DENISE.
Zelie told me the story of the romance of Denise and Georges, and a most interesting and charming one it was. At the age of eighteen, Denise, then a beautiful mannequin in a famous Paris couturiers, was involved, while travelling to the coast on holiday, in one of those dreadful railway smashes that occur, with such terrible frequency, on the French State railways. There was a shocking list of dead and injured, and poor Denise awoke in hospital to find both her beautiful legs amputated within a few inches of the hips.
It is not surprising that as soon as she was well enough to realise her condition, the first thing she did was to attempt to commit suicide. But she was restrained, and at last left hospital, her life finished, a hopeless, helpless, legless cripple with no interest in anything and only a longing to die. She still had, however, a splendid, adoring mother, who nursed her back to both physical and mental health, and managed to bring back a little cheerfulness into her life.
It was her mother, too, who instituted the proceedings about a year after the accident, against the railway company that were to lead to such a tremendous change in Denise's life and outlook.
Incidentally, Denise was granted compensation, a wretched sum enough, as it is usually in France, but something to live on. But this action for compensation had other and astonishing effects. It was attended by a good deal of publicity, for example.
Photographs of her in court and being carried from the court in her mother's arms, as well as others specially taken of her in her wheelchair and on her couch, appeared not only in Paris papers but in a number of foreign ones. One in particular, which was published in an American paper, was faked to show her in a skirtless costume resting an a low, cushioned stool, and giving the impression that she had not even stumps below the hips.
Denise learnt about these accounts and photographs in foreign newspapers in an extraordinary way. She received more than fifty letters from all over the world, some of them expressing sympathy. One was from a girl who had lost all four limbs in a railway accident. But most of them were from men, a good many of them proposed marriage! It was from an American admirer that she received the cutting of the faked photograph, by the way.
But the most important outcome of the whole strange business was that a certain M. Georges Laroche, young, well-to-do, charming, made a point of calling at her home. He called again and again. Gradually Denise began to look at life through different eyes. There seemed to be still some happiness left in the world for her. The love affair -- for that was what the friendship had became -- developed. At last Georges asked her to marry him.
But now Denise was troubled. She was little more than a beautiful trunk of a woman. Georges, no doubt fascinated by her beauty, had allowed himself to forget that she was only a cripple and that he would have to live his life with a helpless wife. One day he would realise the truth.
She told Zelie that one day, during that agonising period, she wheeled herself in her chair to a long mirror in her bedroom and gazed at her reflection in the mirror and broke down completely.
"He will have to see my stumps," she told herself through her tears, "and that will be the end!"
The poor girl mustered up sufficient courage to tell Georges that she could not marry him. But she reckoned without Georges. In the end, in reply to his persistent question, she had to tell him why.
"You don't seem to realise at all that I am completely legless," she began and unburdened her soul of her fears.
Georges was simply laughing; was still laughing as he lifted her from her chair and swung her in his arms so swiftly that she had to cry out to him to be careful or he might drop her!
"Why, you poor, darling little idiot," he cried as he held her close, "why do you think I sought you out in the first place? Wasn't I able to read in the newspapers that you were legless? Didn't all your photographs make it only too plain? Didn't every headline shout out the fact, and every paragraph enlarge upon it? My dear, darling little imbecile, I came just because you were so! Your beauty completed your conquest of my heart, but though you will think me utterly crazy, the actual candid truth is that your greatest charm for me is that very helplessness about which you are so troubled. So dry your eyes, dearest, and forget all your silly little worries. It's going to be my job to teach you an entirely new way of looking at things. I want to bring back happiness to your life and laughter to your eyes and lips. I want to care for you and love you and keep you from all harm. And I want you to get it right into your lovely but silly little head that if you were not as you are and in the way you are I, with this queer kink of mine, would not have taken the slightest interest in you. There you are. There you have the whole extraordinary truth. The trouble may be, of course, that you may think me too utterly crazy to have anything more to do with me. But I have to risk that."
Naturally Denise did not think him crazy. But she was also very much in love. Moreover, as she confessed to Zelie, she discovered, during the days that followed, that the knowledge that Georges found her helplessness attractive had power to send tiny thrills of happiness through her, even though she was still a little frightened about the whole amazing situation.
Then came the day when Georges brought the engagement ring. The beautiful, expensive thing was placed upon Denise's finger to the accompaniment of passionate kisses, mingled with her tears of sheer happiness. And then Georges, with a little secret smile, produced something else -- two beautiful glittering things that looked like bracelets, each of fine, gold, jewelled chain work, made in the form of a very thin, flexible strap about half an inch wide, with a jewelled clasp.
As Denise, with a little cry of delight, took them in her hands, she saw that they were considerably larger than ordinary bracelets.
"But what are they?" she asked doubtfully. "Necklaces?"
"No," said Georges, still smiling. "As a matter of fact, they are also engagement rings." And, ignoring her bewilderment, he went on, "You see, darling, this is no ordinary engagement; if I may say so, it isn't every day that a lovely, legless girl, is engaged to be married, and there really ought to be something more than an ordinary engagement ring to mark the wonderful occasion. I have placed the ring on your finger as the outward and public sign of our engagement. These" -- as he took the glittering, jewelled straps from her -- "these are to be our own secret engagement tokens, and they are to adorn those dainty, shapely little stumps which you were so absurdly afraid I should find unattractive. Don't you think the idea original and charming?"
The wedding followed within a few months -- a private ceremony, of course -- Georges holding his beautiful legless bride in his arms throughout, and carrying her into the waiting car afterwards.
Thus did love and happiness come to Denise Laroche; and certainly her husband made good his boast that he would teach her an entirely new way of looking at life. For at the time I met her, a very happy adoring and adored wife she was completely untroubled. With strangers she was always most careful not to do or say anything, or make any display that might embarrass them in the least. But among intimate friends, especially among those who she knew, she was delightfully frank, showing not the slightest sensitiveness about her misfortune, joking about the fact, obviously quite unconcerned about it, and also obviously and absurdly happy in her husband's quite unconcealed pride and delight in her unfinished beauty.
I discovered, for instance, when I became an intimate friend of the delightful couple that Denise only very rarely wore skirts in the house. Whenever strangers were expected, she always wore them for the reasons I have already given; but ordinarily her dainty and delightful costumes were little more than hip-length. To be quite just, this practice of hers was not altogether designed for display. It was easier for her to get about unhampered by skirts, to move herself, as she did with a dainty ease and grace from her couch to her wheelchair, or even as I have seen her when a chair she wished to gain was out of reach and she did not want to bother anybody, to drop nimbly to the carpet and leap with perfect ease into the chair she wanted.
Frocks of this type were also less awkward to manage when she was being carried about, as she was a great deal in the house. Her indoor wheelchair, a very slim, neat erection of steel tubing on comparatively small pneumatic-tyred wheels, and rather taller than her outdoor chair of the ordinary type, was electrically driven and worked by herself. But she used this mainly for travelling about the grounds, and really liked to move about in somebody's arms, preferably her husband's. He, by the way, was never happier than when carrying his lovely wife about; and they both, in some strange, inexplicable way, obviously got a queer kind of thrill out of this helplessness of hers.
Denise actually confessed to me one day that one of her compensations was that a good deal of her time was spent in being carried about in Georges' arms. I have found this curious trait in other helpless women.
To return to Denise's frocks, however, those for the house might have been designed for use, but they did, nevertheless, manage to be very fascinatingly revealing. Some of them had skirts of a kind, little lacey frills frothing about her hips. Others were made in pyjama fashion, with delightful tiny trouserettes, a couple of inches or so long.
But her most daring creation, which she wore at a big gathering of intimate friends, was a gown that was fashioned on the lines of a very modern bathing suit. What there was of it was of thin, clinging black velvet, fitting the lovely figure quite tight, and cut very low both back and front. At the hips it was cut an the lines of an acrobat's trunks.
Ordinarily she was not given to a display of jewels; but with this costume, probably obeying a safe instinct, she wore a good deal of valuable jewellery, necklaces and rings, long glittering earrings and flashing bracelets and a most wonderful diadem of scintillating diamonds in her marvellous hair.
I know I gasped when I saw her, but nobody else seemed embarrassed; and her husband, who carried her about most of the evening, was quite proud of the alluring display.
My friendship with both Laroche and his charming wife was one of the pleasantest of my life. But, as I have insisted, and in spite of Zelie's suggestion, there was nothing more than very warm friendship between Denise and myself, perhaps a little more close than an ordinary friendship because of the kink that allied me with her husband.
But it was at one of Denise's parties that I met another girl who, if I may be pardoned the appearance of conceit in saying so, did make a decided attempt to detach me from Zelie. I suppose I can say she was, in her way, one of the most remarkable girls I have ever met, and I shall have the pleasure of introducing her in a future narrative.