The Dancing Partner by Jerome K. Jerome Follow story

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by Jerome K. Jerome


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Part I

"This story," commenced MacShaugnassy, "comes from Furtwangen, a small town

in the Black Forest. There lived there a very wonderful old fellow named

Nicholaus Geibel. His business was the making of mechanical toys, at which

work he had acquired an almost European reputation. He made rabbits that

would emerge from the heart of a cabbage, flop their ears, smooth their

whiskers, and disappear again; cats that would wash their faces, and mew so

naturally that dogs would mistake them for real cats and fly at them; dolls

with phonographs concealed within them, that would raise their hats and say,

'Good morning; how do you do?' and some that would even sing a song.

"But, he was something more than a mere mechanic; he was an artist. His work

was with him a hobby, almost a passion. His shop was filled with all manner

of strange things that never would, or could, be sold -- things he had made

for the pure love of making them. He had contrived a mechanical donkey that

would trot for two hours by means of stored electricity, and trot, too, much

faster than the live article, and with less need for exertion on the part of

the driver, a bird that would shoot up into the air, fly round and round in

a circle, and drop to earth at the exact spot from where it started; a

skeleton that, supported by an upright iron bar, would dance a hornpipe, a

life-size lady doll that could play the fiddle, and a gentleman with a

hollow inside who could smoke a pipe and drink more lager beer than any

three average German students put together, which is saying much.

"Indeed, it was the belief of the town that old Geibel could make a man

capable of doing everything that a respectable man need want to do. One day

he made a man who did too much, and it came about in this way:

"Young Doctor Follen had a baby, and the baby had a birthday. Its first

birthday put Doctor Follen's household into somewhat of a flurry, but on the

occasion of its second birthday, Mrs. Doctor Follen gave a ball in honour of

the event. Old Geibel and his daughter Olga were among the guests.

"During the afternoon of the next day some three or four of Olga's bosom

friends, who had also been present at the ball, dropped in to have a chat

about it. They naturally fell to discussing the men, and to criticizing

their dancing. Old Geibel was in the room, but he appeared to be absorbed in

his newspaper, and the girls took no notice of him.

"'There seem to be fewer men who can dance at every ball you go to,' said

one of the girls.

"'Yes, and don't the ones who can give themselves airs,' said another; 'they

make quite a favor of asking you.'

"'And how stupidly they talk,' added a third. 'They always say exactly the

same things: "How charming you are looking to-night." "Do you often go to

Vienna? Oh, you should, it's delightful." "What a charming dress you have

on." "What a warm day it has been." "Do you like Wagner?" I do wish they'd

think of something new.'

"'Oh, I never mind how they talk,' said a forth. 'If a man dances well he

may be a fool for all I care.'

"'He generally is,' slipped in a thin girl, rather spitefully.

"'I go to a ball to dance,' continued the previous speaker, not noticing the

interruption. 'All I ask is that he shall hold me firmly, take me round

steadily, and not get tired before I do.'

"'A clockwork figure would be the thing for you,' said the girl who had

interrupted.

"'Bravo!' cried one of the others, clapping her hands, 'what a capital

idea!'

"'What's a capital idea?' they asked.

"'Why, a clockwork dancer, or, better still, one that would go by

electricity and never run down.'

"The girls took up the idea with enthusiasm.

"'Oh, what a lovely partner he would make,' said one; 'he would never kick

you, or tread on your toes.'

"'Or tear your dress,' said another.

"'Or get out of step.'

"'Or get giddy and lean on you.'

"'And he would never want to mop his face with his handkerchief. I do hate

to see a man do that after every dance.'

"'And wouldn't want to spend the whole evening in the supper-room.'

"'Why, with a phonograph inside him to grind out all the stock remarks, you

would not be able to tell him from a real man,' said the girl who had first

suggested the idea.

"Oh yes, you would,' said the thin girl, 'he would be so much nicer.'

"Old Geibel had laid down his paper, and was listening with both his ears.

On one of the girls glancing in his direction, however, he hurriedly hid

himself again behind it.

"After the girls were gone, he went into his workshop, where Olga heard him

walking up and down, and every now and then chuckling to himself; and that

night he talked to her a good deal about dancing and dancing men -- asked

what dances were most popular -- what steps were gone through, with many

other questions bearing on the subject.

"Then for a couple of weeks he kept much to his factory, and was very

thoughtful and busy, though prone at unexpected moments to break into a

quiet low laugh, as if enjoying a joke that nobody else knew of.

"A month later another ball took place in Furtwangen. On this occasion it

was given by old Wenzel, the wealthy timber merchant, to celebrate his

niece's betrothal, and Geibel and his daughter were again among the invited.

"When the hour arrived to set out, Olga sought her father. Not finding him

in the house, she tapped at the door of his workshop. He appeared in his

shirt-sleeves, looking hot but radiant.

"Don't wait for me,' he said, 'you go on, I'll follow you. I've got

something to finish.'

"As she turned to obey he called after her, 'Tell them I'm going to bring a

young man with me -- such a nice young man, and an excellent dancer. All the

girls will like him.' Then he laughed and closed the door.

"Her father generally kept his doings secret from everybody, but she had a

pretty shrewd suspicion of what he had been planning, and so, to a certain

extent, was able to prepare the guests for what was coming. Anticipation ran

high, and the arrival of the famous mechanist was eagerly awaited.

"At length the sound of wheels was heard outside, followed by a great

commotion in the passage, and old Wenzel himself, his jolly face red with

excitement and suppressed laughter, burst into the room and announced in

stentorian tones:

"'Herr Geibel -- and a friend.'

"Herr Geibel and his 'friend' entered, greeted with shouts of laughter and

applause, and advanced to the centre of the room.

"'Allow me, ladies and gentlemen,' said Herr Geibel, 'to introduce you to my

friend, Lieutenant Fritz. Fritz, my dear fellow, bow to the ladies and

gentlemen.'

"Geibel placed his hand encouragingly on Fritz's shoulder, and the

Lieutenant bowed low, accompanying the action with a harsh clicking noise in

his throat, unpleasantly suggestive of a death-rattle. But that was only a

detail.

"'He walks a little stiffly' (old Geibel took his arm and walked him forward

a few steps. He certainly did walk stiffly), 'but then, walking is not his

forte. He is essentially a dancing man. I have only been able to teach him

the waltz as yet, but at that he is faultless. Come, which of you ladies may

I introduce him to as a partner? He keeps perfect time; he never gets tired;

he won't kick you or trad on your dress; he will hold you as firmly as you

like, and go as quickly or a slowly as you please; he never gets giddy; and

he is full of conversation. Come, speak up for yourself, my boy.'

"The old gentleman twisted one of the buttons at the back of his coat, and

immediately Fritz opened his mouth, and in thin tones that appeared to

proceed from the back of his head, remarked suddenly, 'May I have the

pleasure?' and then shut his mouth again with a snap.

"That Lieutenant Fritz had made a strong impression on the company was

undoubted, yet none of the girls seemed inclined to dance with him. They

looked askance at his waxen face, with its staring eyes and fixed smile, and

shuddered. At last old Geibel came to the girl who had conceived the idea.

"'It is your own suggestion, carried out to the letter,' said Geibel, 'an

electric dancer. You owe it to the gentleman to give him a trial.'

"She was a bright, saucy little girl, fond of a frolic. Her host added his

entreaties, and she consented.

"Her Geibel fixed the figure to her. Its right arm was screwed round her

waist, and held her firmly; its delicately jointed left hand was made to

fasten upon her right. The old toymaker showed her how to regulate its

speed, and how to stop it, and release herself.

"'It will take you round in a complete circle,' he explained; 'be careful

that no one knocks against you, and alters its course.'

"The music struck up. Old Geibel put the current in motion, and Annette and

her strange partner began to dance.

"For a while everyone stood watching them. The figure performed its purpose

admirably. Keeping perfect time and step, and holding its little partner

tight clasped in an unyielding embrace, it revolved steadily, pouring forth

at the same time a constant flow of squeaky conversation, broken by brief

intervals of grinding silence.

"'How charming you are looking tonight,' it remarked in its thin, far-away

voice. 'What a lovely day it has been. Do you like dancing? How well our

steps agree. You will give me another, won't you? Oh, don't be so cruel.

What a charming gown you have on. Isn't waltzing delightful? I could go on

dancing for ever -- with you. Have you had supper?'

"As she grew more familiar with the uncanny creature, the girl's nervousness

wore off, and she entered into the fun of the thing.

"'Oh, he's just lovely,' she cried, laughing; 'I could go on dancing with

him all my life.'

"Couple after couple now joined them, and soon all the dancers in the room

were whirling round behind them. Nicholaus Geibel stood looking on, beaming

with childish delight at his success.

"Old Wenzel approached him, and whispered something in his ear. Geibel

laughed and nodded, and the two worked their way quietly towards the door.

"'This is the young people's house to-night,' said Wenzel, as soon as they

were outside; 'you and I will have a quiet pipe and glass of hock, over in

the counting-house.'

"Meanwhile the dancing grew more fast and furious. Little Annette loosened

the screw regulating her partner's rate of progress, and the figure flew

round with her swifter and swifter. Couple after couple dropped out

exhausted, but they only went the faster, till at length they remained

dancing alone.

"Madder and madder became the waltz. The music lagged behind: the musicians,

unable to keep pace, ceased, and sat staring. The younger guests applauded,

but the older faces began to grow anxious.

"'Hadn't you better stop, dear,' said one of the women, 'you'll make

yourself so tired.'

"But Annette did not answer.

"'I believe she's fainted,' cried out a girl who had caught sight of her

face as it was swept by.

"One of the men sprang forward and clutched at the figure, but its impetus

threw him down on to the floor, where its steel-cased feet laid bare his

cheek. The thing evidently did not intend to part with its prize so easily.

"Had any one retained a cool head, the figure, one cannot help thinking,

might easily have been stopped. Two or three men acting in concert might

have lifted it bodily off the floor, or have jammed it into a corner. But

few human heads are capable of remaining cool under excitement. Those who

are not present think how stupid must have been those wh were; those who are

reflect afterwards how simple it would have been to do this, that, or the

other, if only they had thought of it at the time.

"The women grew hysterical. The men shouted contradictory directions to one

another. Tow of them made a bungling rush at the figure, which had the end

result of forcing it out of its orbit at the centre of the room, and sending

it crashing against the walls and furniture. A stream of blood showed itself

down the girl's white frock, and followed her along the floor. The affair

was becoming horrible. The women rushed screaming from the room. The men

followed them.

"One sensible suggestion was made: 'Find Geibel -- fetch Geibel.'

"No one had noticed him leave the room, no one knew where he was. A party

went in search of him. The others, too unnerved to go back into the

ballroom, crowded outside the door and listened. They could hear the steady

whir of the wheels upon the polished floor as the thing spun round and

round; the dull thud as every now and again it dashed itself and its burden

against some opposing object and ricocheted off in a new direction.

"And everlastingly it talked in that thin ghostly voice, repeating over and

over the same formula: 'How charming you look to-night. What a lovely day it

has been. Oh, don't be so cruel. I could go on dancing for ever -- with you.

Have you had supper?'

"Of course they sought Geibel everywhere but where he was. They looked in

every room in the house, then they rushed off in a body to his own place,

and spent precious minutes waking up his deaf old housekeeper. At last it

occurred to one of the party that Wenzel was missing also, and then the idea

of the counting-house across the yard presented itself to them, and there

they found him.

"He rose up, very pale, and followed them; and he and old Wenzel forced

their way through the crowd of guests gathered outside, and entered the

room, and locked the door behind them.

"From within there came the muffled sound of low voices and quick steps,

followed by a confused scuffling noise, then silence, then the low voices

again.

"After a time the door opened, and those near it pressed forward to enter,

but old Wenzel's broad head and shoulders barred the way.

"I want you -- and you, Bekler,' he said, addressing a couple of the elder

men. His voice was calm, but his face was deadly white. 'The rest of you,

please go -- get the women away as quickly as you can.'

"From that day old Nicholaus Geibel confined himself to the making of

mechanical rabbits, and cats that mewed and washed their faces."

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