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The Dancing Partner

by Jerome K. Jerome
"This story," commenced MacShaugnassy, "comes from Furtwangen, a small town
in the Black Forest. There lived there a very wonderful old fellow named
Nicholaus Geiel. !is usiness was the making of mechanical toys, at which
work he had ac"uired an almost #uro$ean re$utation. !e made raits that
would emerge from the heart of a caage, flo$ their ears, smooth their
whiskers, and disa$$ear again% cats that would wash their faces, and mew so
naturally that dogs would mistake them for real cats and fly at them% dolls
with $honogra$hs concealed within them, that would raise their hats and say,
&Good morning% how do you do'& and some that would even sing a song.
"But, he was something more than a mere mechanic% he was an artist. !is work
was with him a hoy, almost a $assion. !is sho$ was filled with all manner
of strange things that never would, or could, e sold (( things he had made
for the $ure love of making them. !e had contrived a mechanical donkey that
would trot for two hours y means of stored electricity, and trot, too, much
faster than the live article, and with less need for e)ertion on the $art of
the driver, a ird that would shoot u$ into the air, fly round and round in
a circle, and dro$ to earth at the e)act s$ot from where it started% a
skeleton that, su$$orted y an u$right iron ar, would dance a horn$i$e, a
life(si*e lady doll that could $lay the fiddle, and a gentleman with a
hollow inside who could smoke a $i$e and drink more lager eer than any
three average German students $ut together, which is saying much.
"+ndeed, it was the elief of the town that old Geiel could make a man
ca$ale of doing everything that a res$ectale man need want to do. ,ne day
he made a man who did too much, and it came aout in this way-
".oung /octor Follen had a ay, and the ay had a irthday. +ts first
irthday $ut /octor Follen&s household into somewhat of a flurry, ut on the
occasion of its second irthday, Mrs. /octor Follen gave a all in honour of
the event. ,ld Geiel and his daughter ,lga were among the guests.
"/uring the afternoon of the ne)t day some three or four of ,lga&s osom
friends, who had also een $resent at the all, dro$$ed in to have a chat
aout it. They naturally fell to discussing the men, and to critici*ing
their dancing. ,ld Geiel was in the room, ut he a$$eared to e asored in
his news$a$er, and the girls took no notice of him.
"&There seem to e fewer men who can dance at every all you go to,& said
one of the girls.
"&.es, and don&t the ones who can give themselves airs,& said another% &they
make "uite a favor of asking you.&
"&0nd how stu$idly they talk,& added a third. &They always say e)actly the
same things- "!ow charming you are looking to(night." "/o you often go to
1ienna' ,h, you should, it&s delightful." "2hat a charming dress you have
on." "2hat a warm day it has een." "/o you like 2agner'" + do wish they&d
think of something new.&
"&,h, + never mind how they talk,& said a forth. &+f a man dances well he
may e a fool for all + care.&
"&!e generally is,& sli$$ed in a thin girl, rather s$itefully.
"&+ go to a all to dance,& continued the $revious s$eaker, not noticing the
interru$tion. &0ll + ask is that he shall hold me firmly, take me round
steadily, and not get tired efore + do.&
"&0 clockwork figure would e the thing for you,& said the girl who had
"&Bravo3& cried one of the others, cla$$ing her hands, &what a ca$ital
"&2hat&s a ca$ital idea'& they asked.
"&2hy, a clockwork dancer, or, etter still, one that would go y
electricity and never run down.&
"The girls took u$ the idea with enthusiasm.
"&,h, what a lovely $artner he would make,& said one% &he would never kick
you, or tread on your toes.&
"&,r tear your dress,& said another.
"&,r get out of ste$.&
"&,r get giddy and lean on you.&
"&0nd he would never want to mo$ his face with his handkerchief. + do hate
to see a man do that after every dance.&
"&0nd wouldn&t want to s$end the whole evening in the su$$er(room.&
"&2hy, with a $honogra$h inside him to grind out all the stock remarks, you
would not e ale to tell him from a real man,& said the girl who had first
suggested the idea.
",h yes, you would,& said the thin girl, &he would e so much nicer.&
",ld Geiel had laid down his $a$er, and was listening with oth his ears.
,n one of the girls glancing in his direction, however, he hurriedly hid
himself again ehind it.
"0fter the girls were gone, he went into his worksho$, where ,lga heard him
walking u$ and down, and every now and then chuckling to himself% and that
night he talked to her a good deal aout dancing and dancing men (( asked
what dances were most $o$ular (( what ste$s were gone through, with many
other "uestions earing on the su4ect.
"Then for a cou$le of weeks he ke$t much to his factory, and was very
thoughtful and usy, though $rone at une)$ected moments to reak into a
"uiet low laugh, as if en4oying a 4oke that noody else knew of.
"0 month later another all took $lace in Furtwangen. ,n this occasion it
was given y old 2en*el, the wealthy timer merchant, to celerate his
niece&s etrothal, and Geiel and his daughter were again among the invited.
"2hen the hour arrived to set out, ,lga sought her father. Not finding him
in the house, she ta$$ed at the door of his worksho$. !e a$$eared in his
shirt(sleeves, looking hot ut radiant.
"/on&t wait for me,& he said, &you go on, +&ll follow you. +&ve got
something to finish.&
"0s she turned to oey he called after her, &Tell them +&m going to ring a
young man with me (( such a nice young man, and an e)cellent dancer. 0ll the
girls will like him.& Then he laughed and closed the door.
"!er father generally ke$t his doings secret from everyody, ut she had a
$retty shrewd sus$icion of what he had een $lanning, and so, to a certain
e)tent, was ale to $re$are the guests for what was coming. 0ntici$ation ran
high, and the arrival of the famous mechanist was eagerly awaited.
"0t length the sound of wheels was heard outside, followed y a great
commotion in the $assage, and old 2en*el himself, his 4olly face red with
e)citement and su$$ressed laughter, urst into the room and announced in
stentorian tones-
"&!err Geiel (( and a friend.&
"!err Geiel and his &friend& entered, greeted with shouts of laughter and
a$$lause, and advanced to the centre of the room.
"&0llow me, ladies and gentlemen,& said !err Geiel, &to introduce you to my
friend, 5ieutenant Frit*. Frit*, my dear fellow, ow to the ladies and
"Geiel $laced his hand encouragingly on Frit*&s shoulder, and the
5ieutenant owed low, accom$anying the action with a harsh clicking noise in
his throat, un$leasantly suggestive of a death(rattle. But that was only a
"&!e walks a little stiffly& 6old Geiel took his arm and walked him forward
a few ste$s. !e certainly did walk stiffly7, &ut then, walking is not his
forte. !e is essentially a dancing man. + have only een ale to teach him
the walt* as yet, ut at that he is faultless. 8ome, which of you ladies may
+ introduce him to as a $artner' !e kee$s $erfect time% he never gets tired%
he won&t kick you or trad on your dress% he will hold you as firmly as you
like, and go as "uickly or a slowly as you $lease% he never gets giddy% and
he is full of conversation. 8ome, s$eak u$ for yourself, my oy.&
"The old gentleman twisted one of the uttons at the ack of his coat, and
immediately Frit* o$ened his mouth, and in thin tones that a$$eared to
$roceed from the ack of his head, remarked suddenly, &May + have the
$leasure'& and then shut his mouth again with a sna$.
"That 5ieutenant Frit* had made a strong im$ression on the com$any was
undouted, yet none of the girls seemed inclined to dance with him. They
looked askance at his wa)en face, with its staring eyes and fi)ed smile, and
shuddered. 0t last old Geiel came to the girl who had conceived the idea.
"&+t is your own suggestion, carried out to the letter,& said Geiel, &an
electric dancer. .ou owe it to the gentleman to give him a trial.&
"She was a right, saucy little girl, fond of a frolic. !er host added his
entreaties, and she consented.
"!er Geiel fi)ed the figure to her. +ts right arm was screwed round her
waist, and held her firmly% its delicately 4ointed left hand was made to
fasten u$on her right. The old toymaker showed her how to regulate its
s$eed, and how to sto$ it, and release herself.
"&+t will take you round in a com$lete circle,& he e)$lained% &e careful
that no one knocks against you, and alters its course.&
"The music struck u$. ,ld Geiel $ut the current in motion, and 0nnette and
her strange $artner egan to dance.
"For a while everyone stood watching them. The figure $erformed its $ur$ose
admiraly. 9ee$ing $erfect time and ste$, and holding its little $artner
tight clas$ed in an unyielding emrace, it revolved steadily, $ouring forth
at the same time a constant flow of s"ueaky conversation, roken y rief
intervals of grinding silence.
"&!ow charming you are looking tonight,& it remarked in its thin, far(away
voice. &2hat a lovely day it has een. /o you like dancing' !ow well our
ste$s agree. .ou will give me another, won&t you' ,h, don&t e so cruel.
2hat a charming gown you have on. +sn&t walt*ing delightful' + could go on
dancing for ever (( with you. !ave you had su$$er'&
"0s she grew more familiar with the uncanny creature, the girl&s nervousness
wore off, and she entered into the fun of the thing.
"&,h, he&s 4ust lovely,& she cried, laughing% &+ could go on dancing with
him all my life.&
"8ou$le after cou$le now 4oined them, and soon all the dancers in the room
were whirling round ehind them. Nicholaus Geiel stood looking on, eaming
with childish delight at his success.
",ld 2en*el a$$roached him, and whis$ered something in his ear. Geiel
laughed and nodded, and the two worked their way "uietly towards the door.
"&This is the young $eo$le&s house to(night,& said 2en*el, as soon as they
were outside% &you and + will have a "uiet $i$e and glass of hock, over in
the counting(house.&
"Meanwhile the dancing grew more fast and furious. 5ittle 0nnette loosened
the screw regulating her $artner&s rate of $rogress, and the figure flew
round with her swifter and swifter. 8ou$le after cou$le dro$$ed out
e)hausted, ut they only went the faster, till at length they remained
dancing alone.
"Madder and madder ecame the walt*. The music lagged ehind- the musicians,
unale to kee$ $ace, ceased, and sat staring. The younger guests a$$lauded,
ut the older faces egan to grow an)ious.
"&!adn&t you etter sto$, dear,& said one of the women, &you&ll make
yourself so tired.&
"But 0nnette did not answer.
"&+ elieve she&s fainted,& cried out a girl who had caught sight of her
face as it was swe$t y.
",ne of the men s$rang forward and clutched at the figure, ut its im$etus
threw him down on to the floor, where its steel(cased feet laid are his
cheek. The thing evidently did not intend to $art with its $ri*e so easily.
"!ad any one retained a cool head, the figure, one cannot hel$ thinking,
might easily have een sto$$ed. Two or three men acting in concert might
have lifted it odily off the floor, or have 4ammed it into a corner. But
few human heads are ca$ale of remaining cool under e)citement. Those who
are not $resent think how stu$id must have een those wh were% those who are
reflect afterwards how sim$le it would have een to do this, that, or the
other, if only they had thought of it at the time.
"The women grew hysterical. The men shouted contradictory directions to one
another. Tow of them made a ungling rush at the figure, which had the end
result of forcing it out of its orit at the centre of the room, and sending
it crashing against the walls and furniture. 0 stream of lood showed itself
down the girl&s white frock, and followed her along the floor. The affair
was ecoming horrile. The women rushed screaming from the room. The men
followed them.
",ne sensile suggestion was made- &Find Geiel (( fetch Geiel.&
"No one had noticed him leave the room, no one knew where he was. 0 $arty
went in search of him. The others, too unnerved to go ack into the
allroom, crowded outside the door and listened. They could hear the steady
whir of the wheels u$on the $olished floor as the thing s$un round and
round% the dull thud as every now and again it dashed itself and its urden
against some o$$osing o4ect and ricocheted off in a new direction.
"0nd everlastingly it talked in that thin ghostly voice, re$eating over and
over the same formula- &!ow charming you look to(night. 2hat a lovely day it
has een. ,h, don&t e so cruel. + could go on dancing for ever (( with you.
!ave you had su$$er'&
",f course they sought Geiel everywhere ut where he was. They looked in
every room in the house, then they rushed off in a ody to his own $lace,
and s$ent $recious minutes waking u$ his deaf old housekee$er. 0t last it
occurred to one of the $arty that 2en*el was missing also, and then the idea
of the counting(house across the yard $resented itself to them, and there
they found him.
"!e rose u$, very $ale, and followed them% and he and old 2en*el forced
their way through the crowd of guests gathered outside, and entered the
room, and locked the door ehind them.
"From within there came the muffled sound of low voices and "uick ste$s,
followed y a confused scuffling noise, then silence, then the low voices
"0fter a time the door o$ened, and those near it $ressed forward to enter,
ut old 2en*el&s road head and shoulders arred the way.
"+ want you (( and you, Bekler,& he said, addressing a cou$le of the elder
men. !is voice was calm, ut his face was deadly white. &The rest of you,
$lease go (( get the women away as "uickly as you can.&
"From that day old Nicholaus Geiel confined himself to the making of
mechanical raits, and cats that mewed and washed their faces."

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