Dear Mr. Editor, - In the preceding articles in this series, Marcel, a Frenchman now living in London, (one of those peculiarly constituted individuals who find an attraction to limbless beauty) detailed his experiences in Paris.
Among those he met was Lulu, a very pretty, chic, highly sophisticated Parisienne with only one leg, about whom he had already heard very curious stories. He escorted her home from a party one night, and after a final cocktail she proceeded to intrigue and astonish him, first of all by asking some very odd questions about his general attitude to limbless beauty, and then by using, in the most expert fashion, the bare toes of her only foot as fingers. At last after some amusement at his growing bewilderment, Lulu settled down at his side to tell him her story.
Marcel now continues his narrative.
Without looking at me, with her cheek close to mine, Lulu began to talk in soft, low tones. I shall report what she said as fully as I can recall it, and I should like the reader to remember what I said, just before introducing Lulu to these pages. She may, as I said then, have been telling the plain, undiminished truth; medical annals have provided similar cases. She may have been simply romancing. She may even have duped herself into believing that what she related was true. I don't know. The one thing true about her was that she had a most excitingly interesting personality.
"Of course, darling," she began, "You think I am a queer inexplicable being, and you are right in thinking so. I am queer and inexplicable to myself. You wondered why I asked you those odd questions a little while ago. I wasn't being merely inquisitive. I wanted to discover your standpoint; to find whether you were sympathetic. I felt that you were; and I think that I know now that you are.
You have no doubt heard all kinds of things about me. I am perfectly aware that some of my so-called friends regard me as an impossible spinster - or if not that, at least misguided. I want you to believe me, Marcel, that at any rate I am not an impostor. You have heard me discussed; tell me, did you gather any details about the loss of my leg?"
"Well," I replied, "I gathered that nobody exactly knew what had happened, but that it was generally understood that a poisoned thorn, which ran into your foot when you were a young girl, had begun the trouble - which eventually ended in the amputation of your leg."
"Was that all you learnt?"
"Actually yes. But you insist on my telling you. I heard a lot of vague talk about your telling one story about your amputation in private and another in public."
"And that the first story was frankly incredible?" Lulu put in quickly.
"Yes, that was what I gathered."
"Well, darling, I'm going to tell you the truth. Probably, like the others, you won't believe me. But I hope you will, because I like you very much and I want you to like me and believe in me."
She turned and smiled up at me as she made that last statement, and her fingers tightened over my hand.
"You see," she went on, "the story to the ordinary individual who is not, as Denise put it, 'one of us', is the one about the poisoned thorn. That is a pure fabrication. The other story - well, I shall begin at the beginning, I fell sure that you, with your own odd point of view, will be at least sympathetic.
"You, Marcel, were born or so constituted that you find attractive only those who have lost one or more of their limbs. You are not by any means the only man with such a kink. One finds it all over the world. Now, has it ever occurred to you that a woman may be similarly affected? Obviously some women are in exactly the same way. One-legged, legless, even completely limbless men usually find wives. I daresay pity frequently operates in such cases, but in a number I am sure it is otherwise.
"Well, as you may have guessed by now, I myself have a weakness. You are attracted by limbless womankind. I am not in the least attracted by limbless men. It will seem incredible - it is to most of my friends - but the extraordinary fact is that I am attracted only by limblessness in myself."
I suppose Lulu heard my gasp, but she took no notice and went calmly on.
I've been like that for as long as I can remember. I haven't the slightest idea how such an abnormality came about. I suppose nobody can explain the queer feelings that affect them. As a child, a favourite amusement of mine was to bend my leg at the knee, binding the lower leg to my thigh, and so give myself a one-legged appearance. When alone, I would hop about like that for hours.
"When I was about 12 or 13 I managed to persuade my alarmed parents that I couldn't use my left leg, and I was provided with crutches which, you will be amazed to hear, I used permanently from that time onwards. The doctors could not find out what was the matter with my leg - which was not surprising, as there was nothing at all wrong with it. Naturally, from lack of use it gradually wasted and by the time I was 19 I really needed crutches, as my left leg was quite useless.
I now began to complain not only of my leg, but of the continual pain I alleged I was in, and everything was done to try to cure my mysterious malady. My father had died when I was 17, and when I was 20 I lost my mother. I found myself alone in the world and quite comfortably off. Our home was in Dijon, and I am afraid that without any qualms I sold it up and came to Paris.
Not long afterwards I met a very clever but not too scrupulous surgeon. To him I described my alleged symptoms, told the little fairy story of the continuous pain I was in, etc., and, of course, there was the concrete evidence of my wasted and useless leg.
He examined my leg again and again with a minute thoroughness that alarmed me. In the end he stood in front of me as I sat in his consulting room, with a queer, cynical smile on his good looking face. 'My dear young lady', he said, 'I think you had better confess. The only thing the matter with your leg is lack of use. You've allowed a childish whimsy to develop into an overmastering obsession. Yours is not the only case of a somewhat similar character that I have encountered, though I have never known it carried so far. Confess - or I am afraid I shall have to dismiss you. I simply will not work in the dark'.
"Well, I confessed. Something compelling in his matter made me. And I am very glad I did. At the end of my embarrassing recital he laughed and, sitting down beside me, he took my hand. 'So very pretty', he said, 'and yet so very misguided. But I think I shall have to help you. Your leg will never be of the slightest use again, and - it does not add to your beauty, does it?'
"I could hardly speak for the excitement that choked me. 'Then you will amputate, doctor?' I gasped at last, and he nodded, still smiling. 'Yes', he said. 'Candidly it is the kindest thing to do. Your leg is now only a useless and unpleasing appendage; and besides, your complex has become so deeply rooted that the gratification of it, after so many years of repression, will be of undoubted benefit to your health, both physically and mentally. Personally, I have no qualms about operating in such circumstances - though I shall have to ask you to sign a document stating that you agree on the grounds of general health and absolving me of any blame in the matter. But it will be as well for you to have a satisfactory story to tell your friends.'
The doctor paused for a few moments in thought, then nodded his head. 'This, I think, will serve,' he went on. 'When you were a child a poisoned thorn ran into your foot. It was forgotten; but its poison remained and slowly infected the whole leg. Eventually, in order to stop the poison spreading, it was found necessary to amputate the limb. That is quite simple, easy to remember, and will satisfy the inquisitive. There only remains the arrangements for going into my nursing home - and my fee, which I am afraid will necessarily be a very stiff one'.
His fee was indeed large enough to make me gasp. Within a few days the amputation was successfully performed, my leg being removed at the thigh about 4 inches from the hip. The remaining stump was subjected to the necessary plastic surgery to render it perfect in contour and its flesh as unblemished as possible.
The thrilling day came when I left the nursing home on my crutches, a happy one-legged girl at last. Life now became for me a thrilling adventure, and you can imagine my excitement when, by accident, I got to know Denise and became one of her circle of acquaintances. For the first time I learnt that some men found women like myself attractive and met such men at Denise's house. As you know, in explaining my amputation to ordinary, normal people, I employed the neat little piece of fiction about the poisoned thorn invented by the doctor. But I told something of the real truth to Zelie, Denise, and others of our special circle. I am afraid, though nothing has been said to me in so many words, that they found it a little hard to swallow. Anyhow, that's my story up to now. I should be the first to admit its strangeness - but it is true in every particular."
Naturally, I was silent after so amazing a story, told in such a calm, matter-of-fact way. And I must admit that at the moment her cool, contralto, essentially sane tones still sounding in my ears, I could not easily bring myself to doubt her. Later, away from the allure of her beauty and personal hypnotism, I wasn't so sure. And yet, as I have said, I don't know. I leave the reader to form his or her own opinion, remembering that there is nothing stranger in an astonishing world than human personality.
However, I could not tell the girl I thought her story a brilliant effort of the imagination, even if I was of that opinion - which at the moment I wasn't. And when I assured her of my belief in her I was perfectly honest. In any case, the story had thrilled me as Lulu had promised it would. It was certainly an intensely thrilling thought that the story might easily be true, and that I was sitting beside a beautiful girl who had voluntarily had her leg amputated because she actually wanted to be a cripple.
Lulu received my assurances with real, almost tearful, happiness, and sought my lips with hers in a lingering kiss. For a few moments we sat there in friendly, intimate silence. Then she did something which awoke in my brain another question that had been slumbering there since immediately before the narrative of the story.
Once again she stretched out her beautiful single leg and, opening the silver cigarette-box on the little table, expertly selected a cigarette with her long, slim, uncannily flexible toes. Conveying the cigarette effortlessly to her lips, she waited demurely, with the little white cylinder still held daintily between her toes, for me to light it.
I did so, and lit one for myself as well. In a few moments I watched her fascinatedly as she smoked, taking her cigarette from her lips every now and then from her lips every now and then with the toes of her still upraised foot and flicking the ash as expertly as if she were using her fingers. Then I turned resolutely and faced her.
"Lulu," I said quietly, "I've got a queer feeling that you didn't really finish your story. I have an idea that there is another chapter still to be told. What exactly is behind this amazing, almost miraculous use of your toes as fingers? How on earth did you ever become so expert, and why?"
Lulu slowly stubbed her cigarette in the ash-tray. I waited for her to speak, wondering what exactly was to be the nature of her latest revelation.
"Then, darling," she said, after a little pause, "you don't think my use of my toes as fingers distasteful?"
"Distasteful," I echoed, with a little scornful laugh. "Of course I couldn't think it any such thing. I think it most fascinating and delightful. Besides, I've never seen anything so amazing as the way you use your toes. But, candidly, it's why you do it that beats me. I've been puzzling out the mystery all evening. It must have taken years of practice, and you can't have acquired such an extraordinary accomplishment merely in order to astonish your friends."
She flashed a demure little smile up at me once again. "My trouble, Marcel," she said, "is that I must show off.
Really I ought to have kept this little accomplishment of mine a secret, and then I shouldn't be compelled, as I am now, to test your credulity to breaking point. But I suppose I wanted you to know all there is to know about the strange being that is me. I shall have to plunge right into things and tell you everything in cold blood. And this time I shan't be offended if you find you cannot altogether swallow what I have to tell, I almost find I cannot do so myself.
You said it must have taken years of practice for me to have become so expert with my toes. That's the plain truth. It has taken long years of practice. And it has nothing at all to do with an attempt to astonish my friends. It is really all part and parcel of my extraordinary and inexplicable make-up. The willingness to be one-legged that I have already confessed to is actually only one aspect. It will seem astounding even to you with your abnormal outlook, but I have always had, in addition, a desire to be entirely armless as well.
I am not a bit surprised that this further revelation has left you dumb, darling," Lulu went on, with a half-apologetic laugh after the tense little silence that had followed her last amazing statement. "And, of course, I'm not going to try to explain or extenuate the incredible situation. I should only like to point out that, though the desire still remains as powerful as ever, I still remain in possession of my arms. You see, though I know I should get a tremendous kick out of being armless and one-legged, there is a limit to what even I should be prepared to sacrifice.
Being one-legged is a mere nothing as far as inconvenience is concerned. It is not a great handicap for the ordinary person, and to me it is too thrilling a condition to be a handicap at all. Besides, I am more active and sure-footed on my single leg than many people are on two. I went to the whole astonishing business of having my leg amputated without a single qualm, in fact I got quite a thrill out of it.
But to be armless and one-legged - well, that's a different proposition. Even allowing for the use I can put my leg and toes to, though I could hop about happily enough indoors, I should be otherwise helpless, dependent upon others for all movement out of doors, unable to visit my favourite theatres, restaurants, night clubs, etc., unaided, to drop in on my friends, stroll in the Bois, or do any of the hundred and one things that I can now do without trouble, though I am one-legged. Besides, I should need a fortune to render life at all comfortable. I have, I am glad to say, enough of this world's goods to see me through very pleasantly in my present circumstances, but nothing like enough to make life bearable if I gave up my arms.
So you see, cherie, so far I have successfully resisted the temptation to have my arms - "
"But, Lulu," I broke in, speaking as calmly as I was able, considering the astonishing nature of her confession, "how could you lose your arms - supposing you wanted to?"
"Oh, I imagine that part of it would be easy enough," she replied coolly. "I should simply pay another visit to my charming and accommodating surgeon, tell him the exact truth, convince him that the craving had become so overpowering that it was ruining my health and affecting my sanity, and plead for his help a second time.
I feel pretty certain that he would consent - if the fee was high enough! As for explaining the matter to my friends - well, the little poisoned thorn had unfortunately reappeared, this time in my arms, and their amputation had become necessary.
However, as I have said, so far I have resisted the temptation to appeal to him. Instead, I have to be content, for the time being, with playing a little game of pretence with myself. You remember my telling you that, as a child, my favourite game was to tie up my leg and so to give myself a one-legged appearance. Well, now I play a similar sort of game - one which you no doubt regard as just as childish. I have, as you noted with considerable surprise, educated my toes to act as fingers. It took me years to get my present proficiency, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
And now, when I am alone, I am quite accustomed to act as if I were really armless as well as one-legged by keeping my arms out of sight and using only my toes. In fact it is such a habit of mine that in the house I use my toes quite as frequently as my fingers - probably more frequently. Marthe, my maid, has so got used to it that she now takes the whole thing as a matter of course.
"A little fairy tale, however, that I suffer periodic and crippling weakness in the arms, has helped matters with her; otherwise I am afraid I should have been regarded as completely insane and Marthe would probably have packed her things and departed. And now, darling, you know the worst; and, of course, you'll either doubt my complete sanity or think I've got an extraordinarily lively and morbid imagination."
I looked at Lulu in silence. I did not doubt her sanity. Her whole manner from the outset had had the perfect poise of complete sanity. I was sure an insane individual would never have discussed his or her abnormality with the calm lucidity that Lulu had displayed throughout her amazing story.
And yet there was the extraordinary factor of the use of her toes as fingers. That really did amaze me. Some very strong urge that could have had nothing to do with the acquisition of a parlour kink had forced her to devote many hours to the perfecting of this strange accomplishment. And if it had not a direct bearing upon her stated wish to be armless, what on earth was its raison d'etre? I admit, I was shaken by the consideration. The new idea, probably born of my deliberations, jumped into my mind, and I asked Lulu a question.
"Lulu," I said quietly, "are there any circumstances in which you might really succumb to the temptation to do this thing?"
She turned and looked up at me kindly. "As this seems to be my confessional night," she said at last with a little smile, "I'll answer your question. Of course, I am not at all sure that, if it came to the actual test I should in any circumstances make that drastic step. I've already given you my reasons why. But - well supposing someone came along who wanted to marry me and who would prefer me to be armless as well as what I am; supposing he were wealthy and therefore able to take care of me and have me taken care of in every possible way; supposing, of course, that I cared very much for him - well, then honestly I don't know what might happen. I might be terribly tempted and, if I succumbed, I might be deliriously happy."
She laughed suddenly again and gave me a little hug. "Please don't think I am putting now a proposition to you, darling," she went on, "because I'm not. For one thing, I think you really prefer, I think you really prefer me as I am - "
"I certainly do," I put in, decidedly, "and for another, I'm not wealthy -"
"Oh, you're not going on to say that you don't care for me?" she replied in mock anguish. And so the whole conversation, with its series of extraordinary revelations, ended in mutual laughter that certainly cleared an atmosphere that had become somewhat bizarre.
As will be realised, the night had grown during our most intriguing conversation. It was well into the small hours when I found myself at last strolling homewards, my thoughts full of this new and interesting friendship I had formed, and wondering how far I could credit Lulu's strange story.
It will not be surprising that I saw a great deal of her during the weeks that followed, taking her about and spending many happy hours in her company. An evening or two after my first memorable visit she sprang a characteristic little surprise at me that, considering everything she had told me, I might have been prepared for, but wasn't.
I was shown into the flat by Marthe, a pretty, typical Parisian maid, and found Lulu enthroned on her favourite couch. She was in her silk tights, and was wearing over them a beautifully fitting, very short-skirted little evening frock of supple black velvet, figured here and there with a dull gold design.
With an indescribable thrill, I saw that, instead of the beautiful, shapely arms, only the rounded white ends of her perfect shoulders protruded from the low cut, sleeveless frock, giving her an extraordinarily realistic appearance of being completely armless.
The remarkable thing was that, though her frock above the hips moulded her with glove-fitting smoothness, there was absolutely no indication of the skilfully hidden arms. She looked decidedly plumper than usually, but that was all. A stranger would, I am sure, have been quite convinced that she was, as she appeared, entirely without arms. The astonishing general effect can be imagined, with the swelling, apparently completely armless bust, and the slim, single leg displayed. Of course Lulu laughed when she saw my face; and I had to laugh myself as I took her little bare-toed foot which, after slipping off her velvet sandal, she presented to me in greeting. As I took my seat beside her, while she still clung to my fingers with her supple toes, I asked her how the apparent miracle was managed.
It was really quite simple, she told me. She was wearing beneath her frock a specially designed corset of very thin, flexible material, into which Marthe had laced her. The corset was worn next to the skin and over her arms to the best advantage, she folded them tightly and flatly beneath her breasts, clasping the sides of her body as closely as possible with the finger-tips of her flattened hands.
She had a swelling bust, but a very small, narrow waist, and the flatly folded lower arms fitted neatly and did not bulk as largely as one might have expected. In the appropriate places in its interior the corset was fitted with specially shaped padded cushions. The function of these was to fill out the corset all round the hidden arms and so give its exterior a perfectly smooth, unbroken appearance.
Had the padding not been there, the arms would have betrayed their presence by unnatural bulging. As it was the outward appearance was so perfectly neat and smooth that anybody, unaware of the way in which the arms were hidden, would never have suspected their presence.
Whenever Lulu felt like yielding to her desire to appear armless, she was laced into the extraordinary contrivance by the devoted Marthe. The lacing was done with extreme tightness, short of rendering Lulu completely breathless, so as to give her as slim an appearance as possible. The drawback to the whole amazing scheme was that she could stand the strain for only a few hours at a time, after which she had to be unlaced and her arms massaged until the blood was freely circulating again.
However, on this particular evening she maintained her wonderful armless appearance without apparent strain and certainly with the keenest pleasure, until I left her. She confessed that it was an added thrill to appear armless and one-legged before me; and she went through her repertory of tricks with immense gusto.
She hopped effortlessly and gaily about, poured out the cocktails, and "handed" me my glass with her bare toes; placed a cigarette between my lips, and lit it with the same means; startled me by playing the piano with the toes of her only foot, not particularly brilliant, it is true, but with astonishing skill in the circumstances.
I have just one more item on Lulu to narrate before I leave her and pass on to other experiences.
It was some years later that I put her case to a surgeon friend of mine, and he, too, was completely incredulous. He said no surgeon would have amputated for the reason put forward by Lulu. His own theory was that she had, when young, contracted a progressive and very virulent form of poisoning, and that after the amputation of her leg she had no doubt been warned of possible future amputations.
It was highly probable that when she made the exciting discovery that she was attractive to certain men because she had only one leg, she began to dramatise her condition and to find a certain abnormal pleasure in it. Also, her imaginative mind got to work on the commonplace, unpicturesque facts of her disease and substituted the highly picturesque and most bizarre story of her desire to be armless.
In a way, went on my medical friend, this imaginative daydreaming of Lulu's must have been of tremendous help in enabling her to face what would have been to other girls a dreadful fate. And she showed a sort of warped courage in devoting years to her education of her toes as fingers in anticipation of the possible amputation of her arms.
But she still found a kind of perverse pleasure in romancing about the whole business and in the pretence that she had her limbs amputated voluntarily.
He concluded by expressing the considered opinion that if Lulu had not had her remaining limb amputated, she would eventually have had to submit to that operation.
There I leave the matter. As I have already said, I still don't know quite what to believe, though no doubt my medical friend's theory is the most satisfactory solution of a very strange psychological problem.
And here I take leave of Lulu and the circle of friends of which she was a member - Zelie, Denise and the others. If able to write again, I will give experiences of a general, sporadic nature, embracing all kinds of odd and interesting encounters in Paris, London and elsewhere.