A dwarf performer from a traveling circus falls in love with the beautiful star of the show. When he obtains an inheritance and proposes marriage, she accepts with the assumption that his life won't last much longer.
Jacques was a romanticist. He measured only twenty-eight inches from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head; but there were times as he rode into the arena on his gallant charger when he felt himself a knight of old about to battle for his lady.
What did it matter that the gallant charger of his imagination was, in reality, not even a pony, indeed, but a large dog?
What did it matter that his entrance was greeted with shouts of derisive laughter and bombardments of fruit peels?
What did it matter that he had no lady? The tiny man lived in dreams, resolutely closing his shoe-button eyes to the drab realities of life.
He had no friends among the other freaks in Copo’s Circus. They considered him ill-tempered and egotistical, and he loathed them for their acceptance of things as they were. Imagination was the armour that protected him from the glances of a cruel, gaping world. Without it, he must have shriveled up and died.
But those others? The door that opened on the kingdom of imagination was closed and locked to them; and they resented anyone who possessed the key.
After many humiliating performances, Miss Jeanne Marie entered the circus tent and in an instant, Jacques’s tiny heart stood still. She was a daring bareback rider; A tall, blonde woman of the amazon type, she had round eyes of baby blue which held no spark of her peasant’s soul, with carmine lips and cheeks, a large white smile, and hands which, when doubled up, were nearly the size of Jacques’ head.
From the first performance, Jacques loved Miss Jeanne Marie. All his tiny body was shaken with longing for her. Her buxom charms, so generously revealed in tights and spangles, made him flush and cast down his eyes.
Her partner in the act was called Simon, a hurculean young man with bold black eyes and hair that glistened with grease. Jacques would grind his teeth in impotent rage to see Simon circling round and round the ring, standing proudly on his horse and holding Miss Marie in an ecstatic embrace, while she kicked one shapely, sparkling leg skyward.
Jacques had one living relative— a prosperous farmer who had never married, and so when he was found dead of heart failure, his tiny nephew fell heir to a comfortable property. He made immediate plans to leave the circus and retire.
That evening as Miss Jeanne Marie was changing her costume after the performance, a light tap sounded on the door. “Enter!” she called, believing it to be Simon, who had promised to take her for a glass of wine to wash the sawdust down her throat.
The door swung slowly open; and in stepped Jacques, proud and upright, in fine silks and laces, with a tiny gold-hilted sword at his hip. Up he came, his shoe-button eyes all a-glitter to see the more than partially revealed charms of his robust lady. Down on one knee he went and pressed his lips to her red-slippered foot.
“Oh, most beautiful lady,” he cried, in a voice as shrill as a pin scratching glass, “will you not take mercy on a man so hungry for your smiles, starving for you lips? All night long he tosses on his couch and dreams of Miss Jeanne Marie!”
“What play acting is this, little fellow?” she asked, bending down with the smile of an ogress. “Has Simon sent you to tease me?”
“May the black plague have Simon!” Jacques cried, his eyes seeming to flash blue sparks. “It is true that I love you, mademoiselle; that I wish to make you my lady. And now that I have a fortune, not that—”
Marie’s large, florid face had turned purple from suppressed merriment. Her lips twitched at the corners. It was all she could do not to burst out into a roar of laughter. Why, this ridiculous little manikin was proposing marriage to her! He, this pocket-sized splinter of a fellow, wished to make her his wife! Why, she could carry him on her shoulder like a pet monkey! What a joke this was—what a colossal, corset-creaking joke! Wait till she told Simon!
But she must not laugh—not now. First she must listen to everything the dwarf had to say; draw all the sweetness of this bonbon of humour before she crushed it under the heel of ridicule.
Jacques’ face had turned to a withered apple. “What is this, Miss Jeanne Marie? Do you laugh at my love?”
She could easily throw back her head, open her mouth to the widest dimensions, and shake with laughter, but– “I am not laughing,” she managed to say. “You have taken me by surprise.”
“That is well,” he said. “I do not tolerate laughter. I am paid to make laughter. People pay to laugh at me!”
“But do I understand you alright? Are you proposing marriage?”
Jacques rested his hand on his heart and bowed. “Yes, mademoiselle, an honourable one. A week ago my uncle died and left me a large estate. We shall have servants to wait on our wants, and food and wine of the best. And you? Why, you will be a fine lady! I will clothe that beautiful big body of yours with silks and laces! You will be as happy as a cherry tree in June!”
The dark blood slowly receded from Marie’s full cheeks, her lips no longer twitched at the corners, her eyes had narrowed slightly. The life of the circus tent had lost its tinsel, and she was weary of it. She loved Simon; but she knew well enough that this Romeo in tights would never espouse a dowerless girl. These pygmies were a puny lot, though- they died young! She’d rule over the estate and later welcome Simon with all the luxuries near to his heart.
“Nothing that you wish will be withheld from you as long as you love me,” Jacques continued. “Your answer?”
Jeanne Marie bent forward, and with a single movement of her powerful arms, raised Jacques and placed him on her knee. She held him as if he were a large doll, with his tiny sword cocked out behind. She planted a huge kiss that covered his entire face from chin to brow, and pressed him into her ample bosom. “I am yours!”
The wedding was celebrated with a feast attended by a whole galaxy of celebrities. The bridegroom, his dark little face flushed with happiness and wine, sat at the head of the board. His chin was just above the tablecloth, so that his head looked like a large orange that had rolled off the fruit dish. Immediately beneath his dangling feet, his trusty hound worried a bone.
The ringleader was on Jacques’ right, his large round face as red and benevolent as a harvest moon. Next to him sat the giraffe boy, who was covered with spots and whose neck was so long that he looked down on all the rest, including Hercules the giant. Then there was the tiresome clown who juggled fruits, plates, and knives, although the whole company was heartily sick of his tricks, and Miss Samson, with her trained boa constrictors coiled about her neck. There, too, sat Simon, and a score of others.
Simon had laughed almost continuously since Jeanne Marie had told him of her engagement. Now he sat next to her in his crimson tights. His black hair was so glistened with grease that it reflected the lights overhead, like a polished helmet.
“Are sure you will not forget me, Simon?” Marie whispered. “It may be some time before I can get the little ape’s money.”
”Forget you, Jeanne?” he muttered. “By all the dancing devils in champagne, never! I grind my teeth to think of you in his arms! I will wait patiently till you have fed that mouse some poisoned cheese.”
The bride smiled, and regarded her husband with an appraising glance. Jacques was far gone in intoxication. His tiny face was suffused with blood, and he stared at Simon Lafleur belligerently.
“Ugh!” said Jeanne Marie, “That little ape turns my stomach.”
“Should he maltreat you,” Simon whispered, “do not forget that you have a protector in me.”
“You clown!” Jeanne Marie rolled her large eyes roguishly, and laid her hand on his knee. “I could crack his skull between my finger and thumb like a hickory nut!” She paused to illustrate her example, and then added reflectively: “And, perhaps, I shall do that very thing.”
By now the wedding guests were beginning to show the effects of their potations. The giraffe boy had closed his large brown eyes, and was swaying his small head languidly above the assembly. Miss Samson, uncoiling her necklace of baby boa constrictors, fed them lumps of sugar soaked in rum.
Jacques had finished his second glass of wine, and was surveying Simon through narrowed eyes. Hercules, swollen by his libations to even more colossal proportions, said sleepily “I am big! A very big man. Women love me. And when they return home, they laugh at other men always!”
“Fool!” cried Miss Samson. “Women do not come to see you, you fat bullock. They may as well stare at cattle in the street.” She picked up the two baby boa constrictors from drunken slumber on her lap, and shook them like whips at the wedding guests. “Copo will tell you himself that knows on account of these little charmers, Antony and Cleopatra, our side-show is the best attended!”
The ringleader, thus directly appealed to, frowned in perplexity. These freaks of his were difficult to handle. Their separate egos rattled angrily together, like so many pebbles in a bag. Whatever he said would be used against him. As he hesitated, a voice seemed to come from the roof.
“Surely it is none other than me whom the people come to stare at!” said the giraffe boy without opening his eyes.
“You all appear to forget me!” cried the clown. Scarcely were the words out of his mouth when one of the heavy plates he was juggling descended with a crash on the thick skull of Hercules.
The giant struck out savagely and knocked the juggler head-over-heels under the table. Pandemonium followed. Every freak’s hands, teeth, and feet turned against the others. Above the shouts, screams, growls, and hisses of the combat, Copo’s voice bellowed for peace. “My children, my children! This is no way to behave! Calm yourselves, I pray you!”
There is no doubt that Jacques would have suffered the most in this quarrel had it not been for the hound stationed over his tiny master, driving off any would-be assailants. As it was, the giraffe boy was the most defenseless; his small, round head swayed back and forth to blows like a punching bag. He was bitten, buffeted, kicked, and clawed, and the boa constricters wound themselves about his neck like hangmen’s nooses.
Copo implored Simon and half a dozen others to restore peace, and they sprang forward and tore the combatants apart. Jacques was found sitting grimly under a fold of tablecloth. The dwarf was very drunk, and with towering rage, he hurled a broken bottle at Simon’s head.
“You little wasp!” Simon cried, picking the little man up by his waistband. “Here is your fine husband, Jeanne Marie! He is bloodthirsty - take him away before he does me some mischief.”
The bride approached, her blond face crimson from wine and laughter. “Oh, la, la!” she cried, seizing the struggling dwarf and holding him forcibly on her shoulder. “What a temper the little monkey has! Perhaps we shall spank it out of him!”
“Let me down!” Jacques screamed. “Let me down, I say!”
But the bride shook her head. “No, no, my little one!” she laughed. “What, you would fly from my arms before the honeymoon!”
“Let me down!” he cried again. “Can’t you see that they are laughing at me!”
“And why should they not laugh? Let them, if they will; but I will not put you down. No, I will carry you thus, perched on my shoulder, to the farm.”
“But the farm is quite a distance from here,” said Simon. “You are strong as an ox, but still I’d wager a bottle of Burgundy that you set him down by the roadside.”
“Done, Simon!” the bride cried, which a flash of her strong white teeth. “You shall lose your wager, for I swear that I could carry my little ape from one end of France to the other!”
Jacques now sat bolt upright on his brides broad shoulder. From the flaming peaks of blind passion, he had fallen into an abyss of cold fury. His love was dead, but some alien emotion was rearing an evil head from its ashes.
“Come!” cried the bride suddenly. “I am off.”
A year rolled by, and the circus returned to town. For more than a week the country people had flocked to the side-show. Simon sat in his lodgings in nothing but red tights. His powerful torso, stripped to the waist, glistened with oil. He was kneading his biceps tenderly with some strong-smelling fluid. Suddenly there came the sound of heavy, laborious footsteps on the stairs.
Simon looked up. “Ah, Marcelle!” he told himself. “Or perhaps Rose, the English girl. Or yet again Francesca, though she walks more lightly.”
The footfalls came to a halt outside the door, and there was a timid knock. “Enter, mademoiselle!” Simon called.
The door swung slowly open and revealed the visitor. She was a tall, gaunt woman dressed like a peasant. The wind had blown her hair into her eyes. Now she raised a large, toil-worn hand, brushed it back across her forehead and looked long and attentively at the rider.
“Do you not remember me?” she said at length.
Simon slowly shook his head. He had known so many women in his times. “You do not remember me?” she said again.
Simon once more shook his sleek, black head. “I have a poor memory for faces, madame,” he said politely.
“Ah, but you should have remembered, Simon!” the woman cried, a sob rising in her throat. “Do you not remember Jeanne Marie?”
“Jeanne Marie!” the bareback rider cried. “Don’t tell me that you—”
He broke off and stared at her, open-mouthed. His sharp black eyes wandered from the wisps of wet, straggling hair down her gaunt person till they rested at last on her thick cowhide boots crusted with mud from the countryside.
“It is impossible!” he said at last.
“It is indeed Jeanne Marie,” the woman answered, “or what is left of her. There are no ignominities which he has not made me suffer!”
“To whom do you refer?” Simon demanded. “Surely you cannot mean that pocket edition husband of yours?”
“Ah, but I do, Simon! He has broken me!”
“He—that toothpick of a man?” the rider cried. “You said yourself you could crack his skull like a hickory nut!”
“So I thought once.”
“But I do not understand. Surely you could have slapped him into obedience?”
“Perhaps,” she assented wearily, “had it not been for that wolf dog of his. If I so much as answered his master back, he would show his teeth. Once, when I raised my hand to strike, he sprang at my throat and would have torn me limb from limb, had the dwarf not called him off. I was a strong woman, but even then I was no match for a wolf!”
“There was poison, was there not?” Simon Lafleur suggested.
“Ah, yes, I, too, thought of poison; but it was of no avail. The hound would eat nothing that I gave him; and the dwarf forced me to taste first all food placed before him and his dog. Unless I myself wished to die, there was no way of poisoning them.”
“My poor girl!” the Simon said, pityingly. “Sit down and tell me everything. The last I saw, you were stalking homeward so triumphantly with your monkey on your shoulder.”
“It was for that very reason that I have suffered so cruelly,” she said, seating herself on the only other chair the room afforded. “Do you remember how I boasted that I could carry him from one end of France to the other?”
“Well, each morning, rain or shine, we sully out of the house—he on my back, and the wolf dog at my heels—and I tramp along the dusty roads till my knees tremble from fatigue. He goads me with cruel little golden spurs; while, at the same time, the angry dog nips my ankles. When we return home, the little demon keeps score against the number of leagues from one end of France to another. Not even half the distance has been covered!”
She held up one of her feet for his inspection. The sole of the cowhide boot had been worn through; Simon caught a glimpse of bruised flesh caked with highway.
“This is the third pair that I have had,” she continued hoarsely. “Now he tells me that the price of leather is too high, that I shall finish my pilgrimage barefooted.”
“But why do you put up with all this, Jeanne?” Simon asked angrily. “You, who have a carriage and servants, should not walk at all!”
“He sent the servants away,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, “and sold the carriage at a nearby fair. Now there is no one but me to wait on him and his dog. I would have run away many months ago, if I could have escaped unnoticed; but they keep a continual watch on me.”
“But tonight you got away?”
“Yes,” she said, and with a quick, frightened glance at the door. “Tonight I slipped out while they were sleeping, and came here to you. I know that you would protect me, Simon, because of what we have been to each other. Save me!”
Jeanne Marie could longer suppress her sobs. They rose in her throat, choking her, making her incapable of further speech.
“Calm yourself, Jeanne,” Simon Lafleur told her soothingly. “I will do what I can.”
She sat up in her chair, and her face turned sickly white. “Hush!” she said, with a finger to her lips. “Listen.”
Simon could hear nothing but the tapping of rain on the roof.
“Don’t you hear it?” she cried with an inarticulate gasp. “It is in the house!” Simon’s sensitive hearts caught the sound now, a steady pit-pat, pit-pat up the stairs.
“Save me, Simon! Save me!” Jeanne Marie threw herself at his feet and clasped about his knees. “Save me! It is that terrible wolf dog!”
“Nonsense, woman!” Simon said angrily. “On the second landing, there is a fellow who owns a dog.”
“Please,” she begged. “Close the door and lock it!”
Pit-pat, pit-pat—it was on the second landing. Pit-pat, pitpat—now it was in the corridor, and coming fast. Pit-pat—all at once it stopped. There was a moment’s breathless silence, and then into the room came Jacques who sat astride his dog’s broad back, just as he had done in the circus ring.
He held a tiny drawn sword; his shoe-button eyes reflecting its steely glitter. The dwarf brought the dog to a halt in the middle of the room, and the stiff hair on its back rose up.
“So I find you with your lover!” Jacques said at last. The beast showed his long white fangs hungrily, eyes glowing like live coals.
“He is not my lover!” Jeanne Marie sobbed. “I have not seen him once since I married you!” “Once is enough,” the dwarf said grimly, eyeing Simon.
“Do not harm him, I beg of you!” Jeanne Marie implored. “It is not his fault that I came! I—”
But Simon drowned her out in a roar of laughter, putting his hands on his hips. “Ride on your dog’s back like a flea out of this room before I squash you!” He paused, expanded his barrel-like chest, puffed out his cheeks, and blew a great breath at the dwarf. “Blow away, insect,” he bellowed, “lest I put my heel on you!”
Jacques was unmoved. He sat very upright, his tiny sword resting on his tiny shoulder. “Are you done?” he said at last, when the bareback rider had run dry of invectives. “Very well, monsieur!”
On Jacques’ word, the dog crouched and sprang at Simon, who was bowled over by the unexpected leap. The hound’s clashing jaws closed on his right arm and crushed it to the bone. Jacques, still clinging to his dog’s back, thrust the point of his tiny sword forward, and the wasp-like sting of his blade found a mortal spot.
Simon shook with a convulsive tremor and rolled over onto his back. The circus Romeo was dead.
Jacques dismounted and approached Jeanne Marie. She was still crouching on the floor, her eyes closed, her head held tightly between both hands. The dwarf touched her on the broad shoulder which had so often carried him.
“Madame,” he said, “we now can return home.”
She rose to her feet, like a large trained animal at the word of command. “Do you wish to be carried?” she said between livid lips.
“Ah, yes!” he murmured. “Well, you are to be congratulated— you have covered nearly half the distance.”
”Nearly half the distance,” she repeated in a lifeless voice.
“Yes, madame,” Jacques continued. He paused, and then added reflectively: “It is truly remarkable how speedily one can ride the devil out of a woman—with spurs!”
Spurs was originally published as part of the 1926 anthology of Tod Robbins’ stories Who Wants a Green Bottle?
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