The story of the Baroness von Wagner, that came to its sordid and bloody end after she, with certain others, had tried to make an earthly paradise on a desert island, was so fantastic that if it had not first been published as news, even the editors of the sensational crime magazines would have thought twice before publishing it.
Yet the von Wagner case is commonplace, considered in relation to the case of the skeletons on Porcosito, or "Pig Island," as it is commonly called.
The bones in themselves are component parts of a nightmare. Their history, as it was found, written on mutilated paper in Lalouette's waterproof grouch-bag, is such that no one has yet dared to print it, although it happens to be true.
In case you are unacquainted with the old slang of the road: a grouch-bag is a little pouch that used to hang about the necks of circus performers. It held their savings, and was tied with a gathered string, like the old-fashioned Dorothy-bag. This was necessary, because circus-encampments used to be hotbeds of petty larceny. So, on the high trapeze, the double-back-somersault man wore his grouch-bag. The lion-tamer in the cage of the big cats might forget his whip or lose his nervehe would never forget or lose his grouch-bag, out of which could be filched the little moist roll of paper-money that was all he had to show for his constantly imperiled life.
Lalouette carried her grouch-bag long after the gulls had picked her clean. It contained six thousand seven hundred dollars and a wad of paper with a scribbled story, which I propose to make public here.
It is at once the most terrible and the most pathetic story I have ever had to tell.
· · · · ·
At first the captain of the ship who landed on Porcosito, who subscribed to a popular science magazine, thought he had discovered the missing linkthe creature that was neither man nor ape. The first skeleton he found had a sub-human appearance. The thorax was capacious enough to contain a small barrel; the arms were remarkably long, and the legs little and crooked. The bones of the hands, the feet, and the jaw, were prodigiously strong and thick. But then, not far awayit is only a little islandin a clump of bushes, he found another skeleton, of a man who, when he was alive, could not have been more than two feet tall.
There were other bones: bones of pigs, birds, and fishes; and also the scattered bones of another man who must have been no taller than the other little man. These bones were smashed to pieces and strewn over an area of several square yards. Wildly excited, happy as a schoolboy reading a mystery story, the captain (his name was Oxford) went deeper, into the more sheltered part of Porcosito, where a high hump or rock rises in the form of a hog's back and shelters a little hollow place from the wind that blows off the sea. There he found the ruins of a crude hut.
The roof, which must have been made of grass, or light canes, had disappeared. The birds had come in and pecked clean the white bones of a woman. Most of her hair was still there, caught in a crack into which the wind had blown it or the draft had pulled it. It was long and fair hair. The leather grouch-bag, which had hung about her neck, was lying on the floor in the region of the lower vertebrae, which were scattered like thrown dice. This human skeleton had no arms and no legs. Captain Oxford had the four sets of bones packed into separate boxes, and wrote in his log a minute account of his exploration of the tiny island of Porcosito. He believed that he had discovered something unexplainable.
He was disappointed.
The underwriters of Lloyd's in London had, with their usual punctiliousness, paid the many thousands of pounds for which the steamship Anna Maria had been insured, after she went down near Pig Island, as sailors called the place. The Anna Maria had gone down with all hands in a hurricane. The captain, officers, passengers, cargo, and crew had been written off as lost. Faragut's Circus was on board, traveling to Mexico.
Captain Oxford had not found the remains of an unclassified species of overgrown, undergrown, and limbless monsters. He had found the bones of Gargantua the Horror, Tick and Tack, the Tiny Twins, and Lalouette.
She had been born without arms and legs, and she was the queen of Pig Island. It was Lalouette who wrote the story I am telling now.
· · · · ·
Tick and Tack were tiny, but they were not twins.
A casual observer sees only the littleness of midgets, so that they all look alike. Tick was born in England, and his real name was Greaves. Tack, who was born in Dijon, France, was the son of a poor innkeeper named Kerouaille. They were about twenty-five inches tall, but well-formed, and remarkably agile, so that they made an attractive dancing-team. They were newcomers to the circus, and I never saw them.
But I have seen Gargantua and Lalouette; and so have hundreds of my readers. Gargantua the Horror has haunted many women's dreams. He was, indeed, half as strong and twice as ugly as a gorilla. A gorilla is not ugly according to the gorilla standard of beauty; Gargantua was ugly by any reckoning. He did not look like a man, and he did not quite resemble an ape. He was afflicted by that curious disease of the pituitary gland which the endocrinologists term acromegaly. There is a well-known wrestler who has it. Something goes wrong with one of the glands of internal secretion, so that the growth of the bones runs out of control. It can happen to anyone. It could happen to me, or to you; and it produces a really terrifying ugliness. Gargantua, as it happened, was by nature a man of terrible strength; George Walsh has told me that he might have been heavy-weight weight-lifting champion of the world. An astute promoter realized that there was money in his hideousness: so Percy Robinson rechristened himself. Gargantua the Horror grew a beardwhich came out in tufts like paint-brushes all over his faceand became a wrestler. As a wrestler he was too sweet-natured and silly, so he drifted into a sideshow. Naked to the waist, wearing only a bear-skin loincloth, he performed frightening feats of strength. In a fair in Italy I saw him lift on his back a platform upon which a fat man sat playing a grand piano. That same evening I saw Lalouette.
I would not have seen her if I had not been in the company of a beautiful and capricious woman who said, when I told her I had a prejudice against going to stare at freaks, that if I would not come with her she would go in alone. So I bought the tickets and we went into the booth.
Lalouette was an aristocrat among freaks. She drew great crowds. Having been born without arms and legs she had cultivated her lips and teeth, and the muscles of her neck, back, and stomach, so that she could dress herself, wash herself, and, holding a brush or pencil in her lips, paint a pretty picture in watercolors or write a letter in clear round longhand. They called her Lalouette because she could sing like a bird. One had the impression that she could do anything but comb her hair. She could even move a little, by throwing her weight forward and sideways in a strange rolling motion. Lalouette painted a little picture while we watched, and sang a little song, and my lady friend and I, overcome with admiration and with pity, agreed that a woman of her accomplishments might have been one of the greatest women in Europe if the Lord in His wisdom had seen fit to make her whole. For she was a lady, superbly educated, and extremely beautifula blonde with great black eyes and magnificent hair of white-gold. But there she was, a freak on a turn-table; nothing but a body and a head, weighing fifty pounds.
I had some conversation with her: she spoke five languages with perfect fluency, and had read many books. Enquiring into her history I learned that she came of a noble, ancient, overbred Viennese family. Indeed, royal blood ran in her veins, and some fortuneteller had told her mother the Countess that the child to which she was about to give birth would be a ruler, a queen.
But when the child was born they saw a monstrosity. The Count fainted. The Countess loved Lalouette and cherished her, devoting her wretched life to the unfortunate child, who, soon after she could speak, demonstrated a proud and unyielding spirit. Conscious of her infirmity, Lalouette wanted to do things for herself, despising assistanceand despising herself.
Her father could not bring himself to look at her. When she was seventeen years old her mother died and her father sent her away with her nurse. "All the money you need, take," he said, "only do not let me see this abortion." Then, when the First World War came, the Count lost all his money and shot himself. The kind old nurse made much of her kindness after that, and when an agent named Geefler offered her money if she could persuade the girl to go with him, the nurse, pleading sickness and poverty, had no difficulty in persuading Lalouette that this would be a good thing to do.
So the young lady changed her name. Geefler sold her to Gargamelov, who passed her on to Faragut; and she drew money up and down the world, until Faragut's Circus went towards Mexico, and the Anna Maria was wrecked, and she found herself with Tick and Tack and Gargantua the Horror on Porcosito, the island of pigs.
Then the prophecy came to pass. She was the queen of Pig Island. She had three subjects: two dancing dwarfs and the ugliest and strongest man in the world; and she had no arms and no legs; and she was beautiful.
· · · · ·
Gargantua was a man whose tenderness was in inverse proportion to his frightful ugliness. As soon as the Anna Maria began to sink he went instinctively to the weakest of his friends and offered them his muscles. To Tick and Tack he said: "Hold on to my shoulders." They were in sight of land. He took Lalouette in his left hand, told the others to hold tight, and jumped overboard, and swam with his legs and his right hand. The ship went down. The Horror swam steadily. He must have covered five miles in the face of a falling high wind. At last his feet touched ground and he staggered up to a sandy beach as the sun was rising. The two little men were clinging to him still. His left hand, stronger than the iron which it could bend, held Lalouette. The dwarfs dropped off like gorged leeches, and the giant threw himself down and went to sleepbut not before he had made a hollow place in the soft, fine sand, and put Lalouette comfortably to rest.
It was then, I believe, that Gargantua fell in love with Lalouette. I have seen it happen myselfin less outrageous circumstances, thank God! The strong makes itself the slave of the weak. And he saved her life. It is the tendency of man to love that which he has risked his life to save.
Unhappy Gargantua! Poor Horror!
· · · · ·
Armless and legless, Lalouette was the brain. In spite of her disability, she was the queen of Pig Island. She was without hope and devoid of fear; so she could command, since everything was clear in her mind. And she had read many books. Lalouette said: "Tick and Tack; there must be water here. One of you go to the left. The other goes to the right. Look for the place where things grow greenest"
"Who d'you think you are, giving orders?" said Tick.
She said: "Oh, yes, and another thing: empty your pockets."
Tick had, among other things, a leather-covered loose-leafed notebook. Tack had a remarkably large-bladed knife which he carried, no doubt, to give himself confidence; but he was a fierce little man at heart. They all had money. Gargantua had a fine gold cigarette-lighter, and a few hundred sodden dollars in a sea-soaked pockethe alone wore no grouch-bag. Lalouette had strung about her neck with her grouch-bag, a gold pencil.
"We'll need all these things," she said.
"Who in the hell d'you think you are, giving us orders?" said Tick.
"Be quiet," said Gargantua.
Lalouette continued: "That lighter is of no use as a lighter, because it's full of water. But it has flint and steel! It strikes a spark. Good. Gargantua, leave it to dry."
"You two, on your way right and left, had better pick up dry driftwoodthe drier the better. We can strike a spark with that lighter and make a fire. Having lit a fire we can keep it burning. It must not ever be allowed to go out. Your knife, Tack, will be useful too.
You, Gargantua, will go up the beach. There is a lot of wood here from ships. So there must be iron. Wood from ships always has iron. Iron is always useful. In any case bring wood that has been cut. We will build a little house. You shall build it, Garagantuaand you too, Tick, and you also, Tack. I shall tell you how you must build it."
Tick began to protest: "Who d'you think"
"Leave the lighter so that it dries in the sun," said Lalouette, "and take care that your knife is dry and clean, Tack."
"Always," said Tack.
Gargantua said: "Here's my lighter; you can have it if you likeit's solid gold. A lady gave me it in France. She said"
"You can have my notebook if you like," said Tick sullenly. "It's solid leather, that cover. Pull that gadget down and those rings open and the pages come out."
"Please, if you will allow me, I will keep my knife," said Tack.
"You may keep your knife," said Lalouette. "But remember that we may all need it, your knife."
"Naturally, Mademoiselle Lalouette."
"Who does she think" began Tick.
"Shush!" said Gargantua.
"No offence, Lalouette," said Tick.
"Go now, please. Go!"
They went. Tick found a spring of fresh water. Tack reported the presence of wild pigs. Gargantua returned with an armful of wreckage; wood spiked with rusty nails; a massive thing like a broken mast in which was embedded an enormous iron pin.
"Light the fire," said Lalouette. "You, Gargantua, make a spear of that long piece of iron. Make it sharp with stones. Then tie it tight to a stick. So you can kill pigs. You and you, Tick and Tack go up to the rocks. I have seen birds coming down. Where there are birds there are eggs. You are light, you are dancers. Find eggs. Better still, find birds. When they sit on their nests they are reluctant to go far away from their nests. Approach calmly and quietly, lie still, and then take them quickly. Do you understand?"
"Beautifully," said Tack.
Tick said nothing.
"Better get that fire going first of all," said Gargantua.
Lalouette said: "True. Boats must pass and they will see the smoke. Good, light the fire."
"If I could find another bit of iron, or something heavy," said Gargantua, "I could do better than this spiky sort of thing, miss. I dare say I could bang it out to a bit of a blade once I got the fire going good and hot."
"How?" said Lalouette.
"I was 'prentice to a blacksmith, 'm," said Gargantua. "My dad was a smith, before the motor-cars came in."
"What? You have skill then, in those great hands of yours?"
"Yes'm. Not much. A bit, but not much."
"Then make your 'bit of a blade,' Gargantua."
"Thank you, 'm."
"Can you make me a comb?"
"Why, I dare say, yes. Yes, I should say I could make you a bit of a comb, 'm. But nothing fancy," said Gargantua, shutting one eye and calculating. "Something out of a little bit of wood, like."
"Do so, then."
"Yes, 'm. If Mr. Tack doesn't mind me using his knife."
"Could you also build a house, Gargantua?"
"No, 'm, not a house; but I dare say I might put you up a bit of a shed, like. Better be near the drinking water, though. And I shouldn't be surprised if there was all sorts of bits of string along the beach. Where there's sea there's fish. And don't you worryI'll bring you home a nice pig, only let me get that fire going nice and bright. And as for fish," said Gargantua, plucking a nail out of plank and making a hook of it between a finger and a thumb, "sharpen that up and there you are."
"Clever!" said Tick, with malice.
"But he always was clever," said Tack, tonelessly, but with a bitter little smile. "We already know."
Gargantua blinked, while Lalouette said: "Be quiet, please, both of you."
Then Gargantua nodded and growled: "That's right. You be quiet."
Tick and Tack exchanged glances and said nothing until Lalouette cried: "Come! To work!"when Tick muttered: "Who the hell do they think they are, giving orders?"
"Come on, now, you two!" shouted Gargantua.
I believe it was then that the two midgets Tick and Tack began to plot and conspire against Gargantua the Horror, and I am convinced that they too in their dwarfish way were in love with Lalouette.
They followed Lalouette's instructions, and struck sparks out of Gargantua's lighter to kindle powdery flakes of dry driftwood whittled with Tack's big-bladed knife. Tick blew the smolder into flame and the men fed the fire until it blazed red-hot, so that Gargantua, having found a thick slab and a pear-shaped lump of hard rock for his anvil and hammer, beat his iron spike into a good spearhead which he lashed to a long, strong pole. Then they had a crude but effective pike, with which Gargantua killed wild pigs.
Porcosito is not called Pig Island without reason. It used to be overrun with swine, bred from a pedigree boar and some sows that Sir John Page sent to Mexico in 1893, in the Ponce de Leon, which was wrecked in a squall. Only the pigs swam ashore from the shipwreck. Porcosito seems to be an unlucky island.
Gargantua hunted ruthlessly. The pigs were apathetic. The boars chargedto meet the spear. The four freaks ate well. Tick and Tack fished and caught birds, gathered eggs and crabs. Lalouette directed everything and at night, by the fire, told them stories and sang to them; recited all the poetry she could remember, and dug out of her memory all she had ever read of philosophy. I believe that they were happy then; but it makes an odd picturethe truncated beauty, the stunted dancers, and the ugliest man on earth, grouped about a flickering fire while the songs of Schubert echo from the rocks and the sea says hush
on the beach. I can see the sharp, keen faces of the midgets; and the craggy forehead of the giant wrinkled in anguish as he tries to understand the inner significance of great thoughts expressed in noble words. She told them stories, too, of the heroes of ancient Greece and Romeof Regulus, who went back to Carthage to die; of the glorious dead at Thermopylae, and of the wise and cunning Ulysses, the subtlest of the Greeks, who strove with gods and came home triumphant at last. She told them of the triumph of Ulysses over Circe, the sorceress who turned men into beasts; and how he escaped with his crew from the cave of the one-eyed giant Cyclops. He was colossal; the men were small. Ulysses drilled his sailors to move like one man, and, with a sharpened stick, blinded the giant and escaped.
She let them comb her hair. The French dwarf Tack was skillful at this, and amusing in conversational accompaniment to the crackling of the hair and fire. Tick hated his partner for this. Yet the gigantic hands of Gargantua were lighter on her head than the hands of Tick or Tackalmost certainly because the little men wanted to prove that they were strong, and the giant wanted to demonstrate that he was gentle.
It was Gargantua who combed Lalouette's beautiful bright hair, evening after evening, while Tick and Tack sat exchanging looks. No words: only looks.
Sometimes the little men went hunting with Gargantua. Alone, neither Tick nor Tack could handle the heavy spear. But it must be remembered that they were a dancing-team, trained to move together in perfect accord. So, while Tick directed the fore-part of the shaft, Tack worked close behind him, and they put their combined, perfectly synchronized strength and agility into a dangerous leap-and-plunge. Once they killed a fat boar. This must have made them confident of their power to kill.
This is not all guesswork. I have ground for my assumption, in what Lalouette wrote in Tick's loose-leaf notebook, holding the gold pencil in her teeth and guiding it with her lips, before she bit the paper into a ball and pushed it with her tongue into her grouch-bag.
It takes courage and determination to kill a wild boar with a spear. A boar is fearless, powerful, unbelievably ferocious, and armored with hard hide and thick muscle. He is wickedly obstinatea slashing fury, a ripping terrortwo sickles on a battering-ram, animated by a will to kill, uninhibited by fear of death.
Having killed a boar, Tick and Tack, in their pride, resolved to kill Gargantua.
Lalouette says that she, unwittingly, gave them the idea, when she told them the story of Ulysses and Cyclops.
But the foolish giant called Gargantua the Horror, billed as the strongest and ugliest man on earth, must have been easy to kill. He worked all day. When Lalouette's hair was combed and her singing ceased, he went away modestly to sleep in the bushes. One night, after he had retired, Tick and Tack followed him. Gargantua always carried the spear. Lalouette listened drowsily for the comforting rumble of Gargantua's snoring a few yards away; she loved him, in a sisterly way.
As she listened, smiling, the snoring stopped with a gasp. Then Tick and Tack came back carrying the spear, and in the firelight Lalouette could see that the blade of the spear was no longer clean. The redness of it was a reflected redness.
Thus she knew what the little men had done to Gargantua. She would have wept if she could; but there was no hand to wipe away her tears, and she was a proud woman. So she forced herself to pretend to be asleep.
Later she wrote: I knew that this was the end. I was sorry. In this place I have felt strangely calm and free, happier than I have ever been since my dear mother used to hold me in her arms and tell me all the stories I told here; stories of gods and heroes and pygmies and giants, and of men with wings.
But that night, looking through the lashes of her half-closed eyes, she saw Tick untying the blade of the spear. He worked for an hour before he got it loose, and then he had a sort of dirk, more than a foot long, which he concealed in a trouser-leg. Tack, she thinks, had been watching him also; for as soon as Tick closed his eyes and began to breathe evenly, he took out the knife which he had never allowed them to take away from him, and stabbed his partner through the heart.
He carried the body out of the range of her vision, and left it where he let it fall. Lalouette never knew where.
Next morning Tack said to her: "At last we are alone. You are my queen."
"The fire?" she said, calmly.
"Ah yes. The fire. I will put wood on the fire, and then perhaps we may be alone after all this time."
Tack went away and Lalouette waited. He did not return. The disposition of his bones, and the scars on them, indicated that he was killed by a boar. There was no more driftwood nearby. Tack went into the trees to pick up whatever he might find. As I visualize it, he stooped to gather sticks, and looked up into the furious and bloody eyes of a great angry boar gathering itself for a charge. This must be so: there is no other way of accounting for the scattering of his shattered bones. Hence, the last thing Tack saw must have been the bristly head of a pig, a pair of curled tusks, and two little red eyes.
· · · · ·
The last words in what may be described as Lalouette's journal are as follows:
A wind is blowing. The fire is dying. God grant that my end may be soon.
This is the history of the queen of Pig Island, and of the bones that Captain Oxford found.