London Life

London Life | 1938

The Clue Of The Purple Heart

by Wallace Stort

What has gone before.

A certain Mr. Rudolf Muller, a German, has come to London to find the missing heiress of a recently dead German millionaire. The girl he seeks is a monopede with a heart-shaped birthmark. Muller thinks he has discovered the missing heiress when he meets Elaine Hammond and her fiance, Guy Saville, but he learns that Elaine has no such birthmark. Elaine is, however, in very great fear of the so-called Muller. She has realised from the outset that she is actually the girl he is seeking. She knows, too, that the man's story is a lying one, as her father was not a German, nor a millionaire, and died years ago.

In fact there is a mystery about Elaine of which even Guy is completely ignorant. The little birthmark is hidden in an ingenious way. She has joined a society calling itself "Society of Black Butterflies". The emblem of the society is a tiny black butterfly, and each member has the little emblem tattooed. Elaine's butterfly is supposed to be tattooed like the others, but actually she wears a tiny "transfer" of exactly similar design, and this covers and, of course, quite conceals the purple heart birthmark.

The headquarters of the "Black Butterflies" is an exclusive club in Mayfair called the "Phenomene". To this club Elaine and Guy take Muller, here to prosecute his search. They meet there many odd and exotic types, and in particular a great friend of Elaine's, Tina Nicholas, a very beautiful blonde.

Tina is the only individual who knows anything at all of Elaine's story.

While Guy and Muller explore the club, the two girls discuss the situation, from which discussion emerges the facts that Elaine's father was murdered in some mysterious circumstances when she was a child; that her mother fled with her during the fighting, and that during the flight a bullet smashed the child's leg and it had to be amputated. Elaine is quite sure that Muller must be aware of all these facts, though is ignorant of her own identity. In consequence, she knows that his story must be false.

Tina, half in mischief, but wholly anxious to help Elaine, determines to hoodwink Muller; and when he returns, she cleverly gives him the impression that she may be the girl he is looking for. She is a cripple of the same type as Elaine; and about the same age.

Eventually the party adjourn to the dining room, where Guy has secured a table close to the dance floor. Here they meet more acquaintances, and the cabaret performance is announced to begin.

Now read on.

One cabaret show is in essentials very like another, and this particular followed, for the most part, the usual routine. A pretty and attractive French diseuse sang risque songs in French with a sophisticated air and garnered the usual sniggers from the initiated. A couple of adagio dancers, a girl and a boy, performed impossible acrobatics to a dance rhythm, the girl 373  eappearing more like an incredibly flexible rubber doll than a human being. A famous cabaret light comedian sang topical and extremely libelous songs at the piano, to the accompaniment of roars of laughter. And other turns of a like character followed each other in swift succession.

But interspersed with these usual and for the most part conventional turns were a number that were by no means conventional and obviously could be presented only in a club as extraordinary and unique as the Phenomene.

There was, for example, the ingenious and attractive "Dance of the High Heel" - a dance performed apparently by six pairs of hip-length, glove-fitting scarlet kid boots, furnished with pencil-slim heels 7 inches or 8 inches in height. The lighting was so arranged that only the boots were visible, and the various intricate evolutions they went through were apparently performed without human aid. At the end, the spotlights lifted and revealed the comely upper portions of the six pretty wearers of the boots amid delighted applause.

Another warmly applauded turn was a clever and most difficult dance given by two pretty and most shapely girls whose bodies were shackled together with a network of silver chains. The dance required absolute precision and perfect timing.

Later in the evening there were amateur boxing and wrestling matches between the members in the club gymnasium.

After the combatants had bathed and dressed, Elaine and her friends left the gym and, like children at a party, seemed loath to go home, though midnight had chimed an hour or more ago. Eventually they drifted into the lounge they had left before supper, which still buzzed with the laughter and gossip of a goodly proportion of the members, who seemed as unconcerned as themselves with the passage of time. They were making their way to an unoccupied corner of the vast room when a musical call from near by halted them. They turned to a couch round which a number of people, both men and women, were collected, some seated and others standing. Elaine made a comical, half exasperated little grimace at Tina, but she was smiling with apparent amiability when the party joined that round the couch.

Muller had become, during that eventful night, almost immune to astonishment; but as he gazed down at the couch's beautiful occupant he realised the club seemed capable at any moment of producing just one further surprise, as it were, from its sleeve.

The woman to whose musical call they had responded, and who now smiled up at them from her nest of big colourful cushions, was a strikingly handsome, very distinguished-looking brunette, no longer young, yet with the beautifully smooth skin of a girl of twenty. But it was not her distinction and beauty that immediately struck the observer seeing her for the first time. It was the fact, remarkable even in so extraordinary a place as the Phenomene, that she was merely a beautiful trunk of a woman seemingly without limbs. The particular type of costume she wore was of gold lame, most daringly low cut to reveal the full beauty of her figure, perfectly modelled, smoothed skinned, without a flaw, and fitting the plump, attractively rounded contours of the shapely torso as if the gold had been painted on the bare flesh.

This wonderful and fascinating woman, Muller discovered on 3n3  eintroduction, was the famous Princess Ottilie, whose name he had heard mentioned several times during the evening, and who was the foundress and president of the Society of Black Butterflies.

Unkind fellow members of the society - and there were many where Princess Ottilie was concerned, for there was something slightly sinister and enigmatic about her - doubted if she was really a Princess, and circulated the malicious and no doubt entirely false story that she had at one time been a side-show exhibit appearing all over the world as "The Beautiful Half-woman". Whatever the truth was, she was now very wealthy, and her wonderful and luxurious house was used for many exceptional events.

She now welcomed Elaine and her friends with her usual graciousness, but as the party drew chairs about her couch she shot little, apparently casual, but actually searching glances at Muller, who had dropped at a chair almost at her side. Elaine, Tina and company had settled themselves away to the side and on the edge of the crowd, forming with two or three others a gay little circle of their own and practically out of earshot of the Princess. But Guy, having spotted one of his particular men friends over on the other side of the crowd, strolled away to chat. It was while he was talking, a little behind the seated Muller, that he noted the Princess's odd interest in Muller. It was as if she were trying to recall some memory that the man evoked. It would be interesting if the woman knew Muller, he thought; and as he chatted, he kept an eye on them both.

"And how did you leave Berlin, Mr. Muller?" Guy heard her ask suddenly, speaking in perfect German - which, incidentally, Guy himself spoke fluently. "It is ages since I was in the capital. they tell me that it has changed a great deal during recent years."

Muller, after favouring the Princess with his formal little bow, replied also in perfect German. And then, as the Princess continued the conversation, she suddenly interposed into the flow of German several rapidly spoken sentences that meant nothing at all to the listening Guy. Certainly they were not in German. Guy saw Muller stiffen for just a second and then, with admirable coolness, regain control himself. He smiled apologetically and shook his head.

"I am sorry Princes," he said," but I am afraid I do not quite understand."

The Princess laughed good humouredly, shrugging shapely, armless shoulders.

"It is I who should be sorry, Mr. Muller," she said, speaking again in German. "I forget. I speak five, ten, fifteen, oh, I don't know how many languages, and I slip into one or other of them without being aware of it."

"Ach so," responded Muller, nodding his head smilingly as if he quite understood so odd an idiosyncrasy. But to Guy there seemed something queer about the apparently ordinary little episode. He knew Princess Ottilie pretty well, and he knew that slips of the kind she had just confessed were quite foreign to her extremely alert and clever brain. He shrewdly suspected that, for some reason he could not fathom, the Princess had laid a little trap for Muller; and that Muller, if he had not actually fallen into 33  eit, had at any rate, unconsciously indicated to Ottilie's quick eyes his sudden realisation of its existence.

The Princess, however, gave no sign that she had achieved anything by her ruse - if, of course,it was a ruse.

"You must come to see me, my dear Mr. Muller," she was saying amiably. "A fragment of a woman, like myself, is unable to do much in the way of travel nowadays, and I have to rely on my friends to satisfy my quite insatiable hunger from news from abroad."

"A very beautiful and exquisite fragment, if I may say so, Princess," murmured Muller. "I shall be most happy to be of service."

The sequel to all this came a little while later when, after the party had eventually broken up, Guy was taking Muller back to his hotel in his car, having first of all dropped Elaine at her flat.

"Who exactly is this Princess Ottilie?" asked Muller, after some talk about nothing in particular.

"Just Princess Ottilie," replied Guy, with a laugh. "That's about all I know of her. I believe she is a Russian all right, and it seems to be generally accepted that she is, or was, a Princess. She is very rich and a popular hostess."

"She seems a most remarkable woman," commented Muller. "I suppose she was born as she now is?"

"I don't think anybody knows for certain. Probably she was, but I have often heard it whispered that it was an act of vengeance by political enemies - Bolsheviks, and all that, you know. No doubt a lot of nonsense."

"Ach so," said Muller, slowly; and for a while remained curiously silent.

"Yes, a most interesting woman," he said at last, in his precise way. "I shall be most happy to avail myself of her kind invitation and call upon her. Perhaps, my dear Mr. Saville, you will be so good as to give me the address of the Princess's town residence and instruct me how I can most easily discover it."

Guy gave him the information he asked for and a few minutes later dropped him at his hotel.

"Now, I wonder," was Guy's unspoken comment as he resumed his journey, "if there is anything between these two. Muller's a bit of a dark horse, and so is the Princess. I shouldn't be surprised if Muller has a little game on that we know nothing about. I must tell Elaine all about it tomorrow. She'll be darned interested.

And, little dreaming how "darned interested" Elaine would be, he drove on homewards through the deserted streets.

* * *

It was after lunch next day, during a phone talk with Elaine, primarily to make a date with her for that evening, that Guy told her of his suspicions regarding Muller and Princess Ottilie and his reasons for them. When at last he had rung off, Elaine sat for a while in silent and troubled thought. Then, inevitably, she rang up Tina and recounted Guy's story.

"Not so good," was Tina's comment. "If there is really anything between Muller and our worthy president, the Princess, we had 33  ebetter prepared for trouble. How about coming along and discussing ways and means over a comforting cup of tea?"

Accordingly, a little later, a pretty, neatly attired maid ushered Elaine into the charmingly appointed lounge of Tina's cosy little flat. Tina, who was deep in the recesses of a big couch, at once rose with effortless grace and hopped lithely over to Elaine and kissed her affectionately. It was a pardonable vanity of Tina's invariably to rise to receive her guests, quite obviously to demonstrate her uncanny agility and perfectly balanced poise.

She was attractively clad in one of her usual house frocks, of which she possessed many variants, all fashioned on more or less the same intriguing lines. This particular creation was of shimmering oyster grey silk fitting the perfect, uncorsetted figure skin tight and with unwrinkled smoothness from throat to hips, where it flowed into a many flared, extremely brief apology for a skirt, not many inches in length from the hips.

Certainly the rounded shoulders, the full swelling bosom, the shapely waist, and the beautifully curving hips were veiled by the skin-tight silk, but every contour was almost as fully outlined as if undraped.

Elaine was more conventionally clad in a tailored outdoor costume of thin white linen, the skirt extremely tight and short, and with it she wore a perilously high-heeled slipper of white kid, and neat, slender crutches enamelled in gleaming white.

After an intimate, mutual caress, which was a habit with them when alone together, they sat talking of this and that while the maid set everything ready for tea on a low table by the side of the couch.

When, at length, the maid had pattered out on slim high heels, the two girls turned their attention to tea. But Elaine, who, in the circumstances, might have been expected to preside at the ceremony, made no move to do so. A stranger might have rushed in with heedless helpfulness, but none of Tina's intimate friends would have done anything so tactless. They knew that nothing gave the fascinating beauty so much pleasure as displaying her skill on such an occasion.

Accordingly Tina busied herself with dispensing tea, putting milk in the dainty porcelain cups, pouring out the tea, "handling" the plates of delicate little cakes and the like - all with the clever, flexible toes of her shapely foot. And when at last the ceremony was over, it was she, too, who opened the silver box of cigarettes, selected a cigarette for Elaine and herself and, lifting her leg effortlessly, placed one little white cylinder between Elaine's lips and one between her own, and lit them with a tiny silver lighter that her wonderful toes manipulated with perfect ease.

Meanwhile neither had been forgetful of the main object of Elaine's visit. Tea was but the accompaniment of a serious discussion of the whole situation and its relation to Princess Ottilie and the part she light possibly play in it.

"But when supposing she does know, or thinks she knows, this Muller person," Elaine said, with a praiseworthy effort to pooh-pooh her fears, "what exactly can Ottilie do? She certainly knows nothing at all about me. She can't give the man any more information than he has already got, or to be truthful hasn't got from ourselves. We're probably worrying ourselves absolutely unnecessarily."

"I'd like to think so," said Tina, dryly, blowing smoke delicately from the cigarette she held daintily between her uplifted toes. "But the trouble is that our dear president is so devilishly intelligent. Hardly surprising, seeing that using the brain is about the only activity left to her. She can put two and two together more quickly than anybody else I know. Now you were able to head off the egregious Muller perfectly and easily -"

"I certainly hope so," sighed Elaine.

"Oh, you did all right. He has never given you another thought. It has never occurred to him that you were putting up a game of bluff. But do you think, you could have bluffed Ottilie so easily?"

"I can't imagine anybody bluffing Ottilie." Elaine agreed, spiritlessly.

"Quite," said Tina, "and so we have to face the very great likelihood that if Muller spills any beans at all, Ottilie will put her finger - or shall I say her shoulder - on the vital spot. Consider for a moment: Muller tells his story to Ottilie. Perhaps, as we suspect, she knows something about him, and so be able to get a little more of the truth than he has deigned to give us. He will tell her that he was quite convinced at first that you, Elaine, were the very girl he was looking for. You filled the bill in any way - except for the vital fact that you have not on you the all-important birthmark. "

"But what is the quick-witted Ottilie's immediate reaction to that little piece of information? She knows one or two things that Muller isn't aware of. She knows, first of all that there is some mystery about you, especially about your early days. Secondly she knows all about the Black Butterflies. How simple for any girl member of the society to cover an embarrassing birthmark with a supposedly tattooed butterfly!"

"Oh, Tina," breathed Elaine, the colour draining from her face, "that's exactly what she would think. What on earth are we to do?"

"Wait a bit, darling," said Tina, soothingly. "Hold everything. After all, Ottilie isn't the only lightning calculator in the immediate vicinity. Your little Tina happens to have just one more limb than the beautiful Russian torso, and that may enable me to get just one jump ahead of her. A pretty conceit, my sweet, isn't it? But you see what I mean?"

Elaine kissed her friend with sudden emotion.

"Sorry, dearest," she said. "I'm just a frightened little rabbit. I can't even think. It's just as well that you can think for both of us. But what can you hope to do if Ottilie suspects that I am the girl Muller is after?"

"Well, Let's see!" said Tina, with a bright, reassuring smile. "First of all, we know Ottilie well enough to be sure that, whatever she does, she won't come out into the open. She will work all the time behind the scenes, and if you are eventually discovered, she will apparently have had nothing at all to do with it. What we must be on our guard is some little subtle trick which she will spring upon us when we least expect it."

"Yes," nodded Elaine, "and we can at least be thankful that we are on our guard."

"Exactly. Now, secondly - and very importantly - it may surprise you to hear that yours will not be the only name mentioned when Muller discusses with Ottilie possible candidates for the position of the 'missing heiress'."

Elaine stared, not quite understanding Tina's suggestion.

"You mean," she asked slowly, "that Muller, having put me out of court, thinks he has found somebody else? But, if so, who?"

Tina made a comic little move.

"Me," she said in a small, childish voice. "Your little Tina!"

"But"- began Elaine incredulously.

"Listen!" Tina interposed, quickly. "I've had several nice, cosy, intimate little chats with Muller. I am very much your type, blonde, slim, about your height and age. Unless I'm very much mistaken, I'm pretty sure I have succeeded in leading him completely up the garden path. If he hasn't at this moment considerably more than half a suspicion that I am the girl he is looking for, then I'm not the clever little girl I think I am."

"But, darling, how about the fact that you are -?"

"That doesn't really affect the matter. It doesn't render me less likely to be the one-legged girl he is looking for."

"That's true, of course," said Elaine. "So - always supposing that Muller takes Ottilie into confidence - the Princess will believe that there is every likelihood of either you or myself being the missing girl."

"That's it. You see, Ottilie knows very little more about me than she knows about you. She will suddenly realise that I am in my own way as much a mystery as you are, and she won't know which to suspect. Accordingly, if, as we fear, she decides to keep Muller on his quest, she will try us out in some subtle way, play some characteristic trick upon us while we are supposedly unsuspecting."

"And then what?" asked Elaine, bluntly. "She will naturally concentrate on the important matter of the butterflies. Eventually she will discover than mine is a fake and that beneath it is the fatal birthmark, while yours is genuinely tattooed. How, darling, do you propose to get over that?"

"You can leave that safely to your little Tina, my child," said Tina, with a chuckle. That is the point to which I have been leading. I am about to take you behind the scenes, to unfold to you the mighty plot with which we hope to circumvent the sinister machinations of our wily Princess. Seriously, darling, it's just an ordinary, simple little peace of bluff, but let's hope it will serve its purpose for the time being."

She stretched out her slender silk-clad leg and pressed with her toes a bell-push set in the carpet near one end of the couch. The pretty, neatly attired maid who had served tea answered the call and stood smilingly attentive.

"Alice," said Tina, "you clear away the tea things. And, by the way, we are in an artistic mood this afternoon. Please fetch the big colour box - the oils only. And some warm water and a small sponge."

The girl nodded understandingly, went out with the tea things, and returned with a biggish, shallow, black japanned box. She drew up to the couch a long, low table. Upon this she set out the box and, opening it, revealed within a series of short, fat tubes of colour. By the box she placed a palette fitted with a number of shallow depressions in which to mix colours, and a flat quiver of brushes of every variety and size. Finally she brought in turpentine and spirit, a small bowl of warm water and a sponge, which she set by the other articles on the table. Then with another smile the girl withdrew.

Elaine was no stranger to the setting out of this paraphernalia, as she was aware of Tina's very marked artistic ability, and had often watched in wonder the skilful toes at work on a brilliant study in colour and composition.

"Now, darling," said Tina, briskly, "we shall see what we can do in the way of calling any little bluff that Ottilie may try to put up. Of course, there is always the possibility that Ottilie may not be taking a hand in this affair at all. But with our dear Princess you never know, an it's best to be prepared. By this time, you have no doubt got some notion of what I'm going to try to do. Simply, the idea is to transfer, at any rate as far as appearances go, the little birthmark from you to me - "

"Simply!" echoed Elaine, with the first genuine laugh she had allowed herself since she had arrived for the fateful conference. "That's good. It's going to be perfectly simpler of course! Just the entirely mad sort of idea you would get hold of."

"Laugh away, my child," said Tina, with unabashed cheerfulness. "In any case, we're going to have a shot at it. And we shall see what we shall see. Now then, my girl, the first thing to do is to have a look at your birthmark."

Tina bent down and examined for a moment the little black butterfly that adorned the smooth white flesh.

"By the way," she asked, suddenly looking up, "do you carry any of these transfer butterflies with you, darling?"

"When I think of it - yes," said Elaine. "I really should do so always, as there is the possibility that the transfer I am wearing may fall off or be rubbed off. Let's see." She drew her bag towards her and examined its contents. "A bit of luck," she went on. "I've got some with me now."

She produced a little flat silver box containing a number of tiny, wafer-like butterfly transfers, and placed it on the table.

"Splendid!" said Tina. "Now we can carry on."

With the aid of the sponge and the warm water, the little transfer butterfly was removed from Elaine's stump and the little birthmark, so cunningly concealed, was revealed.

"The cause of all the trouble," commented Tina, as she bent down to examine closely, while her toes gently smoothed the tiny, dark island of flesh. "It's really only a small, purplish discoloration of the skin," she went on, "shaped exactly like the ace of hearts in a pack of cards. It shouldn't be difficult to concoct a really veritable forgery. Anyhow, we're going to try."

Meanwhile Tina, with a brush held skilfully in her toes, was busy mixing a flesh colour on the palette.

"These are fast grease paints," she explained as she did so. "They'll stand up to a lot of wear and tear for quite a long time - long enough, we hope, to bluff our charming limbless Princess."

For some time she worked patiently, comparing at intervals the colour mixture she obtained with the colour and texture of the smooth flesh. At last, satisfied that she had got the tint as near nature as possible, she began to apply a first coat of flesh colour over the butterfly tattooed on the skin.

A second and third coat of the colour were smoothly applied after each had dried, and at last she laid back for Elaine's inspection. The tattooed butterfly had apparently completely disappeared, and only the closest inspection in a bright light would have detected the smooth coating of colour.

"Now for the birthmark," Tina said, taking up another brush and beginning again the business of mixing the appropriate colour. This done at last, she proceeded to sketch in the design of the tiny purple heart over the flesh colour on herself. The task was accomplished at last to Elaine's quite excited and elated applause. And then finally, when the painted mark was dry, Tina, selecting with her toes one of the little black butterfly transfers, affixed it neatly over the pseudo birthmark.

"Voila!" she exclaimed, holding up the shapely limb. "The job is done! For the time being we have changed places. The butterfly transfer hides the birthmark on me instead of on you. Now, let's see what we can do for you, darling."

Once again Tina turned to the task of mixing colours on the palette and, when satisfied, repeated on Elaine the skilful work she had done upon herself. Under several applications of colour, the birthmark gradually disappeared until at last the flesh appeared completely smooth and unmarked.

"So far, so good," Tina remarked, smiling up at the responsive Elaine. But the chef d'oeuvre is to come. Everything depends on that. We've got to be clever enough to deceive the sharp eyes of our beloved Ottilie, and there isn't any doubt that she is going to keep her eyes well skinned."

She selected with her toes a very fine brush and mixed a rich blue-black colour on the palette. Then, using one of the butterfly transfers as a model, she sketched in over the spot where the birthmark lay concealed, the neat butterfly design. Skilfully she filled the outline and picked out the high lights as in the original tattooed design, with tiny points of scarlet colour. As she drew back at last to examine her handiwork - or, to be exact, her "footwork" - Elaine softly clapped her hands and, bending forward, kissed her friend swiftly and affectionately.

"It's marvellous darling," she exclaimed. "All done with the cleverest little foot in all the world."

"It's not too bad," agreed Tina, coolly as with perhaps a little touch of bravado, she selected with her toes a cigarette from the box and, placing it between her lips, skilfully lit it with the lighter. The design is rather on the bright and new side at the moment, but it will naturally get rubbed, and after a day or two, it will acquire that dull, matt appearance a tattooed design always has."

She became grave and purposeful the next moment.

"You see the idea, darling, don't you?" she went on. "If by some trick or another the transfer butterfly on me is removed in the presence of Ottilie - and that's exactly what I am pretty sure Ottilie will try to manoeuvre - well, the little birthmark will reveal itself and there will be no doubt in her mind that I am in very sooth the missing girl. But your butterfly is not a transfer at all, and will remain permanent for quite a long time. It cannot be rubbed off or anything of the kind. So there you have the little counter-plot to whatever plans of campaign Ottilie and Muller may at this moment be concocting together."

Elaine nodded understandingly, yet with sudden gravity.

"Yes, that's all very well, dearest", she said slowly. "I don't think there is any doubt that your very ingenious plot will put both Ottilie and Muller completely off the scent. But, Tina, that's all fine and splendid for me. But what about you? We know, or at least we suspect, that Muller's intentions are sinister. God knows what evil he is plotting. And supposing he does become convinced that you are the missing girl - what's going to happen to you? Oh, Tina, I'm sorry I let you go through with this! I'm afraid - afraid for you!"

But Tina only shook her head with cheerful confidence.

"Nothing's going to happen to me, my sweet," she said. "I think I know how to handle Muller, if ever he decides on a little frightfulness. No, the idea is simply to lead him up the garden for as long as may be necessary. This is what I imagine may happen. Ottilie, let us suppose, divulges to Muller her suspicions that the birthmark is hidden by a fake butterfly. She doesn't know which of us two carries the fake butterfly, but by a trick she occasionally discovers that I am the guilty person. The whole interest will therefore shift to me, and neither Ottilie nor Muller will give you another thought. You therefore will slip quietly out of London and go into hiding -"

"I shall do nothing of the sort!" cried Elaine, indignantly.

You'll do exactly as you are told," said Tina, quietly. "You are the girl actually in danger - perhaps of your life; we don't know. If danger really ever threatens me, I can always reveal to Muller that I am only a fake, and that he is still to find his missing girl. "When that happens - as of course it will eventually - we'll have to think of some other means of circumventing this infernal meddler. But in the meantime - and this is really the important point - I may be able to find out exactly what Muller is after. You see that?"

Elaine nodded slowly.

"Yes, she said gravely. "I can see that - though I still hate the thought of your doing all this for me."

"Stuff and, I may add, nonsense," said Tina, gaily. "You would do just the same for me. Besides, it's a rag, an opportunity for a nice little bit of quiet fun that I wouldn't miss for worlds. And that's all there is to it."

Then, as Elaine started to utter a final halting protest, Tina's leg shot swiftly and flexibly upwards and the soft, bare toes closed firmly over the other's lips.

"Not another word," she said crisply. "You cannot deflect me from my grim purpose, so it's useless to try. And now I'm going to chuck you out. I have a heavy date with Marcel, and I'd hate to keep the darling waiting."

Elaine struggled ineffectively for a few moments against the imprisoning toes, and then with a laugh freed herself.

"All right," she said. You're madder than any hatter, but I suppose I shall have to let you have your way."

"You'd better, my girl," said Tina, closing the discussion with a final determined little nod of the head.

She bent down, and while her toes moved gently over the painted butterfly on Elaine, examined it closely.

"Yes," she went on, "the little work of art has dried quite nicely and is quite firm. You can safely cover your nakedness, darling."

She made the same test on herself and found everything satisfactory, and then pressed the floor bell-push for the maid.

Elaine's crutches were brought, and when they were adjusted, Tina, as if she were doing the most natural thing in the world, rose gracefully and hopped easily at her friend's side and saw Elaine to the door.

"Now, darling," she admonished, as she kissed Elaine, "just leave things in the lap of the gods, and goodness sake don't worry. The next move, if there is any move at all, is with Ottilie. And I fancy we have taken sufficient precautions to checkmate that move, unless it is unusually clever. Any further trouble we can simply leave until that trouble shows itself on the horizon. That's a philosophy of life, my sweet. It's always been mine. Take a tip from me and adopt it for yourself - now and always."

"That ought not to be difficult," said Elaine with an emotional little smile. "At any rate, just at this moment, with you hearing the brunt of the whole affair. But I wonder what exactly Ottilie will do."

"Something pretty snappy, or I miss my guess. However we shan't have to wait long. For our beloved Princess is a quick mover. If she's in the game, she'll very soon let us know. "

Meanwhile, at about the same time that Elaine was having tea with Tina, Muller was on his way to the house of Princess Ottilie, having rung the lady up that morning and fixed the appointment. The house, he discovered, was a fine old mansion in one of the big West End squares. He was admitted by a pretty, smiling maid, her slim figure clad in a neat, extremely short-skirted uniform of dull black satin, with a tiny lace apron and an attractive white cap set upon her blonde curls.

Muller followed her. At last she reached a door and, opening it, announced the visitor, ushered him inside and smilingly departed.

The room was obviously one of the smaller salons in a great mansion of very many rooms, and was charmingly appointed in the modern manner, without, however, comfort having been forgotten. Reclining in a nest of cushions in a big, deep, easy chair was Princess Ottilie; and Muller, concluding his series of ceremonial bows and formal expressions of pleasure of being permitted to be present, took his seat in a similar chair near by.

As he smiled amiably across at the Princess, he was struck afresh at the wonder of her. At one side of her chair stood a specially fashioned gadget consisting of a tall, spindle of ebony support in a narrow silver tray which contained a series of rows of cigarettes in its own slot and each protruding in such a manner that Ottilie was able to take one between her lips whenever she wished to smoke. By the side of this gadget was another made like it in ebony and silver, and finished on one side with a tiny glass flare and on the other with a silver ash tray, each within easy reach of the lady's head. The limbless beauty, as Muller noted curiously, was thus able to choose a cigarette when she wished, light it and flick the ash into the tray with her flexible lips as she smoked.

All this Muller, of course, observed within the first few minutes of his arrival. Meanwhile the Princess was being charmingly hospitable.

"You will have some tea, of course, Mr. Muller," she said pleasantly and, turning in her chair, pressed with her lips a silver bell-push set in the wing of the chair head. "For myself, she went on, "you must excuse me. I have not the afternoon tea habit."

Then, for a while, as he drank his tea and nibbled the delicious little cakes provided, and the Princess smoked her innumerable cigarettes, the two discussed generalities, arriving at last at the topic which was the real reason for the meeting.

"I understand, Mr. Muller," said Ottilie, "that you have come to England on a some-what strange mission. Last night I gathered only the vaguest details of it - something about a missing heiress. I should very much like to help if I could."

Muller examined for a swift few moments the smiling face of the princess, without appearing to do so. Then, with the earnest mien of one taking his listener fully into his confidence, he told the story he had told to Guy Saville the evening before - his search for the missing heiress of a recently dead German millionaire; the fact that the girl had only one leg; the bizarre element of the little heart-shaped birthmark on the stump of the absent left leg; and finally his first conviction that Elaine Hammond was the girl he sought, and his later suspicion that she really might be discovered in the person of Tina Nicholas.

Ottilie nodded gravely, watching the other's face with keen eyes.

"You understood from Guy Saville," she asked, that Elaine had no such birthmark?"

"That is so. That is why I began to look elsewhere."

"And you do not know yet whether Tina possesses the birthmark or not?"

"No; I still have to make sure of that important point."

"H'm!" murmured Ottilie, and her smile was inscrutable. For the very point that Tina had been certain the Princess would hit upon had in fact immediately occurred to her quick brain. The tattooed butterfly! It was pretty certain that either Elaine or Tina was sporting a faked emblem that ingeniously concealed the all-important birthmark! The question was - which?

She sat in silence amid her cushions, her eyes on Muller, her smile appearing to become more and more sinister.

Then out of the blue she hurled her bombshell.

"And now, my dear Colonel Von Strelnitz," she said very quietly, "suppose you tell me the real story - not the fairy story about the 'missing heiress'?"

(To be concluded in our Xmas Eve Double Number.)

London Life November 26, 1938 pp. 20 - 26
London Life | 1938