I was with her yesterday evening, reading the Roman Elegies to her. Then I laid the book aside, and improvised something for her. She seemed pleased; rather more than that, she actually hung upon my words, and her bosom heaved.
Or was I mistaken?
The rain beat in melancholy fashion on the window-panes, the fire crackled in the fireplace in wintery comfort. I felt quite at home with her, and for a moment lost all my fear of this beautiful woman; I kissed her hand, and she permitted it.
Then I sat down at her feet and read a short poem I had written for her.
VENUS IN FURS.
"Place thy foot upon thy slave,
Oh thou, half of hell, half of dreams;
Among the shadows, dark and grave,
Thy extended body softly gleams."
And—so on. This time I really got beyond the first stanza. At her request I gave her the poem in the evening, keeping no copy. And now as I am writing this down in my diary I can only remember the first stanza.
I am filled with a very curious sensation. I don't believe that I am in love with Wanda; I am sure that at our first meeting, I felt nothing of the lightning-like flashes of passion. But I feel how her extraordinary, really divine beauty is gradually winding magic snares about me. It isn't any spiritual sympathy which is growing in me; it is a physical subjection, coming on slowly, but for that reason more absolutely.
I suffer under it more and more each day, and she—she merely smiles.
Without any provocation she suddenly said to me to-day: "You interest me. Most men are very commonplace, without verve or poetry. In you there is a certain depth and capacity for enthusiasm and a deep seriousness, which delight me. I might learn to love you."
After a short but severe shower we went out together to the meadow and the statue of Venus. All about us the earth steamed; mists rose up toward heaven like clouds of incense; a shattered rainbow still hovered in the air. The trees were still shedding drops, but sparrows and finches were already hopping from twig to twig. They are twittering gaily, as if very much pleased at something. Everything is filled with a fresh fragrance. We cannot cross the meadow for it is still wet. In the sunlight it looks like a small pool, and the goddess of love seems to rise from the undulations of its mirror-like surface. About her head a swarm of gnats is dancing, which, illuminated by the sun, seem to hover above her like an aureole.
Wanda is enjoying the lovely scene. As all the benches along the walk are still wet, she supports herself on my arm to rest a while. A soft weariness permeates her whole being, her eyes are half closed; I feel the touch of her breath on my cheek.
How I managed to get up courage enough I really don't know, but I took hold of her hand, asking,
"Could you love me?"
"Why not," she replied, letting her calm, clear look rest upon me, but not for long.
A moment later I am kneeling before her, pressing my burning face against the fragrant muslin of her gown.
"But Severin—this isn't right," she cried.
But I take hold of her little foot, and press my lips upon it.
"You are getting worse and worse!" she cried. She tore herself free, and fled rapidly toward the house, the while her adorable slipper remained in my hand.
Is it an omen?
All day long I didn't dare to go near her. Toward evening as I was sitting in my arbor her gay red head peered suddenly through the greenery of her balcony. "Why don't you come up?" he called down impatiently.
I ran upstairs, and at the top lost courage again. I knocked very lightly. She didn't say come-in, but opened the door herself, and stood on the threshold.
"Where is my slipper?"
"It is—I have—I want," I stammered.
"Get it, and then we will have tea together, and chat."
When I returned, she was engaged in making tea. I ceremoniously placed the slipper on the table, and stood in the corner like a child awaiting punishment.
I noticed that her brows were slightly contracted, and there was an expression of hardness and dominance about her lips which delighted me.
All of a sudden she broke out laughing.
"So—you are really in love—with me?"
"Yes, and I suffer more from it than you can imagine?"
"You suffer?" she laughed again.
I was revolted, mortified, annihilated, but all this was quite useless.
"Why?" she continued, "I like you, with all my heart."
She gave me her hand, and looked at me in the friendliest fashion.
"And will you be my wife?"
Wanda looked at me—how did she look at me? I think first of all with surprise, and then with a tinge of irony.
"What has given you so much courage, all at once?"
"Yes courage, to ask anyone to be your wife, and me in particular?" She lifted up the slipper. "Was it through a sudden friendship with this? But joking aside. Do you really wish to marry me?"
"Well, Severin, that is a serious matter. I believe, you love me, and I care for you too, and what is more important each of us finds the other interesting. There is no danger that we would soon get bored, but, you know, I am a fickle person, and just for that reason I take marriage seriously. If I assume obligations, I want to be able to meet them. But I am afraid—no—it would hurt you."
"Please be perfectly frank with me," I replied.
"Well then honestly, I don't believe I could love a man longer than— " She inclined her head gracefully to one side and mused.
"What do you imagine—a month perhaps."
"Not even me?"
"Oh you—perhaps two."
"Two months!" I exclaimed.
"Two months is very long."
"You go beyond antiquity, madame."
"You see, you cannot stand the truth."
Wanda walked across the room and leaned back against the fireplace, watching me and resting one of her arms on the mantelpiece.
"What shall I do with you?" she began anew.
"Whatever you wish," I replied with resignation, "whatever will give you pleasure."
"How illogical!" she cried, "first you want to make me your wife, and then you offer yourself to me as something to toy with."
"Wanda—I love you."
"Now we are back to the place where we started. You love me, and want to make me your wife, but I don't want to enter into a new marriage, because I doubt the permanence of both my and your feelings."
"But if I am willing to take the risk with you?" I replied.
"But it also depends on whether I am willing to risk it with you," she said quietly. "I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would dominate me, who would subjugate me by his inate strength, do you understand? And every man—I know this very well—as soon as he falls in love becomes weak, pliable, ridiculous. He puts himself into the woman's hands, kneels down before her. The only man whom I could love permanently would be he before whom I should have to kneel. I've gotten to like you so much, however, that I'll try it with you."
I fell down at her feet.
"For heaven's sake, here you are kneeling already," she said mockingly. "You are making a good beginning." When I had risen again she continued, "I will give you a year's time to win me, to convince me that we are suited to each other, that we might live together. If you succeed, I will become your wife, and a wife, Severin, who will conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties. During this year we will live as though we were married—"
My blood rose to my head.
In her eyes too there was a sudden flame—
"We will live together," she continued, "share our daily life, so that we may find out whether we are really fitted for each other. I grant you all the rights of a husband, of a lover, of a friend. Are you satisfied?"
"I suppose, I'll have to be?"
"You don't have to."
"Well then, I want to—"
"Splendid. That is how a man speaks. Here is my hand."
For ten days I have been with her every hour, except at night. All the time I was allowed to look into her eyes, hold her hands, listen to what she said, accompany her wherever she went.
My love seems to me like a deep, bottomless abyss, into which I subside deeper and deeper. There is nothing now which could save me from it.
This afternoon we were resting on the meadow at the foot of the Venus-statue. I plucked flowers and tossed them into her lap; she wound them into wreaths with which we adorned our goddess.
Suddenly Wanda looked at me so strangely that my senses became confused and passion swept over my head like a conflagration. Losing command over myself, I threw my arms about her and clung to her lips, and she—she drew me close to her heaving breast.
"Are you angry?" I then asked her.
"I am never angry at anything that is natural—" she replied, "but I am afraid you suffer."
"Oh, I am suffering frightfully."
"Poor friend!" she brushed my disordered hair back from my fore- head. "I hope it isn't through any fault of mine."
"No—" I replied,—"and yet my love for you has become a sort of madness. The thought that I might lose you, perhaps actually lose you, torments me day and night."
"But you don't yet possess me," said Wanda, and again she looked at me with that vibrant, consuming expression, which had already once before carried me away. Then she rose, and with her small transparent hands placed a wreath of blue anemones upon the ringletted white head of Venus. Half against my will I threw my arm around her body.
"I can no longer live without you, oh wonderful woman," I said. "Believe me, believe only this once, that this time it is not a phrase, not a thing of dreams. I feel deep down in my innermost soul, that my life belongs inseparably with yours. If you leave me, I shall perish, go to pieces."
"That will hardly be necessary, for I love you," she took hold of my chin, "you foolish man!"
"But you will be mine only under conditions, while I belong to you unconditionally—"
"That isn't wise, Severin," she replied almost with a start. "Don't you know me yet, do you absolutely refuse to know me? I am good when I am treated seriously and reasonably, but when you abandon yourself too absolutely to me, I grow arrogant—"
"So be it, be arrogant, be despotic," I cried in the fulness of exaltation, "only be mine, mine forever." I lay at her feet, embracing her knees.
"Things will end badly, my friend," she said soberly, without moving.
"It shall never end," I cried excitedly, almost violently. "Only death shall part us. If you cannot be mine, all mine and for always, then I want to be your slave, serve you, suffer everything from you, if only you won't drive me away."
"Calm yourself," she said, bending down and kissing my forehead, "I am really very fond of you, but your way is not the way to win and hold me."
"I want to do everything, absolutely everything, that you want, only not to lose you," I cried, "only not that, I cannot bear the thought."
"Do get up."
"You are a strange person," continued Wanda. "You wish to possess me at any price?"
"Yes, at any price."
"But of what value, for instance, would that be?"—She pondered; a lurking uncanny expression entered her eyes—"If I no longer loved you, if I belonged to another."
A shudder ran through me. I looked at her She stood firmly and confident before me, and her eyes disclosed a cold gleam.
"You see," she continued, "the very thought frightens you." A beautiful smile suddenly illuminated her face.
"I feel a perfect horror, when I imagine, that the woman I love and who has responded to my love could give herself to another regardless of me. But have I still a choice? If I love such a woman, even unto madness, shall I turn my back to her and lose everything for the sake of a bit of boastful strength; shall I send a bullet through my brains? I have two ideals of woman. If I cannot obtain the one that is noble and simple, the woman who will faithfully and truly share my life, well then I don't want anything half-way or lukewarm. Then I would rather be subject to a woman without virtue, fidelity, or pity. Such a woman in her magnificent selfishness is likewise an ideal. If I am not permitted to enjoy the happiness of love, fully and wholly, I want to taste its pains and torments to the very dregs; I want to be maltreated and betrayed by the woman I love, and the more cruelly the better. This too is a luxury."
"Have you lost your senses," cried Wanda.
"I love you with all my soul," I continued, "with all my senses, and your presence and personality are absolutely essential to me, if I am to go on living. Choose between my ideals. Do with me what you will, make of me your husband or your slave."
"Very well," said Wanda, contracting her small but strongly arched brows, "it seems to me it would be rather entertaining to have a man, who interests me and loves me, completely in my power; at least I shall not lack pastime. You were imprudent enough to leave the choice to me. Therefore I choose; I want you to be my slave, I shall make a plaything for myself out of you!"
"Oh, please do," I cried half-shuddering, half-enraptured. "If the foundation of marriage depends on equality and agreement, it is likewise true that the greatest passions rise out of opposites. We are such opposites, almost enemies. That is why my love is part hate, part fear. In such a relation only one can be hammer and the other anvil. I wish to be the anvil. I cannot be happy when I look down upon the woman I love. I want to adore a woman, and this I can only do when she is cruel towards me."
"But, Severin," replied Wanda, almost angrily, "do you believe me capable of maltreating a man who loves me as you do, and whom I love?"
"Why not, if I adore you the more on this account? It is possible to love really only that which stands above us, a woman, who through her beauty, temperament, intelligence, and strength of will subjugates us and becomes a despot over us."
"Then that which repels others, attracts you."
"Yes. That is the strange part of me."
"Perhaps, after all, there isn't anything so very unique or strange in all your passions, for who doesn't love beautiful furs? And everyone knows and feels how closely sexual love and cruelty are related."
"But in my case all these elements are raised to their highest degree," I replied.
"In other words, reason has little power over you, and you are by nature, soft, sensual, yielding."
"Were the martyrs also soft and sensual by nature?"
"On the contrary, they were supersensual men, who found enjoyment in suffering. They sought out the most frightful tortures, even death itself, as others seek joy, and as they were, so am I—supersensual."
"Have a care that in being such, you do not become a martyr to love, the martyr of a woman."
We are sitting on Wanda's little balcony in the mellow fragrant summer night. A twofold roof is above us, first the green ceiling of climbing-plants, and then the vault of heaven sown with innumerable stars. The low wailing love-call of a cat rises from the park. I am sitting on footstool at the feet of my divinity, and am telling her of my childhood.
"And even then all these strange tendencies were distinctly marked in you?" asked Wanda.
"Of course, I can't remember a time when I didn't have them. Even in my cradle, so mother has told me, I was supersensual. I scorned the healthy breast of my nurse, and had to be brought up on goats' milk. As a little boy I was mysteriously shy before women, which really was only an expression of an inordinate interest in them. I was oppressed by the gray arches and half-darknesses of the church, and actually afraid of the glittering altars and images of the saints. Secretly, however, I sneaked as to a secret joy to a plaster-Venus which stood in my father's little library. I kneeled down before her, and to her I said the prayers I had been taught—the Paternoster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo.
"Once at night I left my bed to visit her. The sickle of the moon was my light and showed me the goddess in a pale-blue cold light. I prostrated myself before her and kissed her cold feet, as I had seen our peasants do when they kissed the feet of the dead Savior.
"An irresistible yearning seized me.
"I got up and embraced the beautiful cold body and kissed the cold lips. A deep shudder fell upon me and I fled, and later in a dream, it seemed to me, as if the goddess stood beside my bed, threatening me with up-raised arm.
"I was sent to school early and soon reached the gymnasium. I passionately grasped at everything which promised to make the world of antiquity accessible to me. Soon I was more familiar with the gods of Greece than with the religion of Jesus. I was with Paris when he gave the fateful apple to Venus, I saw Troy burn, and followed Ulysses on his wanderings. The prototypes of all that is beautiful sank deep into my soul, and consequently at the time when other boys are coarse and obscene, I displayed an insurmountable aversion to everything base, vulgar, unbeautiful.
"To me, the maturing youth, love for women seemed something especially base and unbeautiful, for it showed itself to me first in all its commonness. I avoided all contact with the fair sex; in short, I was supersensual to madness.
"When I was about fourteen my mother had a charming chamber-maid, young, attractive, with a figure just budding into womanhood. I was sitting one day studying my Tacitus and growing enthusiastic over the virtues of the ancient Teutons, while she was sweeping my room. Suddenly she stopped, bent down over me, in the meantime holding fast to the broom, and a pair of fresh, full, adorable lips touched mine. The kiss of the enamoured little cat ran through me like a shudder, but I raised up my Germania, like a shield against the temptress, and indignantly left the room."
Wanda broke out in loud laughter. "It would, indeed, be hard to find another man like you, but continue."
"There is another unforgetable incident belonging to that period," I continued my story. "Countess Sobol, a distant aunt of mine, was visiting my parents. She was a beautiful majestic woman with an attractive smile. I, however, hated her, for she was regarded by the family as a sort of Messalina. My behavior toward her was as rude, malicious, and awkward as possible.
"One day my parents drove to the capital of the district. My aunt determined to take advantage of their absence, and to exercise judgment over me. She entered unexpectedly in her fur-lined kazabaika, followed by the cook, kitchen-maid, and the cat of a chamber-maid whom I had scorned. Without asking any questions, they seized me and bound me hand and foot, in spite of my violent resistance. Then my aunt, with an evil smile, rolled up her sleeve and began to whip me with a stout switch. She whipped so hard that the blood flowed, and that, at last, notwithstanding my heroic spirit, I cried and wept and begged for mercy. She then had me untied, but I had to get down on my knees and thank her for the punishment and kiss her hand.
"Now you understand the supersensual fool! Under the lash of a beautiful woman my senses first realized the meaning of woman. In her fur-jacket she seemed to me like a wrathful queen, and from then on my aunt became the most desirable woman on God's earth.
"My Cato-like austerity, my shyness before woman, was nothing but an excessive feeling for beauty. In my imagination sensuality became a sort of cult. I took an oath to myself that I would not squander its holy wealth upon any ordinary person, but I would reserve it for an ideal woman, if possible for the goddess of love herself.
"I went to the university at a very early age. It was in the capital where my aunt lived. My room looked at that time like Doctor Faustus's. Everything in it was in a wild confusion. There were huge closets stuffed full of books, which I bought for a song from a Jewish dealer on the Servanica; there were globes, atlases, flasks, charts of the heavens, skeletons of animals, skulls, the busts of eminent men. It looked as though Mephistopheles might have stepped out from behind the huge green store as a wandering scholiast at any moment.
"I studied everything in a jumble without system, without selection: chemistry, alchemy, history, astronomy, philosophy, law, anatomy, and literature; I read Homer, Virgil, Ossian, Schiller, Goethe, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Voltaire, Moliere, the Koran, the Kosmos, Casanova's Memoirs. I grew more confused each day, more fantastical, more supersensual. All the time a beautiful ideal woman hovered in my imagination. Every so and so often she appeared before me like a vision among my leather-bound books and dead bones, lying on a bed of roses, surrounded by cupids. Sometimes she appeared gowned like the Olympians with the stern white face of the plaster Venus; sometimes in braids of a rich brown, blue-eyes, in my aunt's red velvet kazabaika, trimmed with ermine.
"One morning when she had again risen out of the golden mist of my imagination in all her smiling beauty, I went to see Countess Sobol, who received me in a friendly, even cordial manner. She gave me a kiss of welcome, which put all my senses in a turmoil. She was probably about forty years old, but like most well-preserved women of the world, still very attractive. She wore as always her fur-edged jacket. This time it was one of green velvet with brown marten. But nothing of the sternness which had so delighted me the other time was now discernable.
"On the contrary, there was so little of cruelty in her that without any more ado she let me adore her.
"Only too soon did she discover my supersensual folly and innocence, and it pleased her to make me happy. As for myself—I was as happy as a young god. What rapture for me to be allowed to lie before her on my knees, and to kiss her hands, those with which she had scourged me! What marvellous hands they were, of beautiful form, delicate, rounded, and white, with adorable dimples! I really was in love with her hands only. I played with them, let them submerge and emerge in the dark fur, held them against the light, and was unable to satiate my eyes with them."
Wanda involuntarily looked at her hand; I noticed it, and had to smile.
"From the way in which the supersensual predominated in me in those days you can see that I was in love only with the cruel lashes I received from my aunt; and about two years later when I paid court to a young actress only in the roles she played. Still later I became the admirer of a respectable woman. She acted the part of irreproachable virtue, only in the end to betray me with a rich Jew. You see, it is because I was betrayed, sold, by a woman who feigned the strictest principles and the highest ideals, that I hate that sort of poetical, sentimental virtue so intensely. Give me rather a woman who is honest enough to say to me: I am a Pompadour, a Lucretia Borgia, and I am ready to adore her."
Wanda rose and opened the window.
"You have a curious way of arousing one's imagination, stimulating all one's nerves, and making one's pulses beat faster. You put an aureole on vice, provided only if it is honest. Your ideal is a daring courtesan of genius. Oh, you are the kind of man who will corrupt a woman to her very last fiber."
In the middle of the night there was a knock at my window; I got up, opened it, and was startled. Without stood "Venus in Furs," just as she had appeared to me the first time.
"You have disturbed me with your stories; I have been tossing about in bed, and can't go to sleep," she said. "Now come and stay with me."
"In a moment."
As I entered Wanda was crouching by the fireplace where she had kindled a small fire.
"Autumn is coming," she began, "the nights are really quite cold already. I am afraid you may not like it, but I can't put off my furs until the room is sufficiently warm."
"Not like it—you are joking—you know—" I threw my arm around her, and kissed her.
"Of course, I know, but why this great fondness for furs?"
"I was born with it," I replied. "I already had it as a child. Furthermore furs have a stimulating effect on all highly organized natures. This is due both to general and natural laws. It is a physical stimulus which sets you tingling, and no one can wholly escape it. Science has recently shown a certain relationship between electricity and warmth; at any rate, their effects upon the human organism are related. The torrid zone produces more passionate characters, a heated atmosphere stimulation. Likewise with electricity. This is the reason why the presence of cats exercises such a magic influence upon highly-organized men of intellect. This is why these long-tailed Graces of the animal kingdom, these adorable, scintillating electric batteries have been the favorite animal of a Mahommed, Cardinal Richelieu, Crebillon, Rousseau, Wieland."
"A woman wearing furs, then," cried Wanda, "is nothing else than a large cat, an augmented electric battery?"
"Certainly," I replied. "That is my explanation of the symbolic meaning which fur has acquired as the attribute of power and beauty. Monarchs and the dominant higher nobility in former times used it in this sense for their costume, exclusively; great painters used it only for queenly beauty. The most beautiful frame, which Raphael could find for the divine forms of Fornarina and Titian for the roseate body of his beloved, was dark furs."
"Thanks for the learned discourse on love," said Wanda, "but you haven't told me everything. You associate something entirely individual with furs."
"Certainly," I cried. "I have repeatedly told you that suffering has a peculiar attraction for me. Nothing can intensify my passion more than tyranny, cruelty, and especially the faithlessness of a beautiful woman. And I cannot imagine this woman, this strange ideal derived from an aesthetics of ugliness, this soul of Nero in the body of a Phryne, except in furs."
"I understand," Wanda interrupted. "It gives a dominant and imposing quality to a woman."
"Not only that," I continued. "You know I am supersensual. With me everything has its roots in the imagination, and thence it receives its nourishment. I was already pre-maturely developed and highly sensitive, when at about the age of ten the legends of the martyrs fell into my hands. I remember reading with a kind of horror, which really was rapture, of how they pined in prisons, were laid on the gridiron, pierced with arrows, boiled in pitch, thrown to wild animals, nailed to the cross, and suffered the most horrible torment with a kind of joy. To suffer and endure cruel torture from then on seemed to me exquisite delight, especially when it was inflicted by a beautiful woman, for ever since I can remember all poetry and everything demonic was for me concentrated in woman. I literally carried the idea into a sort of cult.
"I felt there was something sacred in sex; in fact, it was the only sacred thing. In woman and her beauty I saw something divine, because the most important function of existence—the continuation of the species—is her vocation. To me woman represented a personification of nature, Isis, and man was her priest, her slave. In contrast to him she was cruel like nature herself who tosses aside whatever has served her purposes as soon as she no longer has need for it. To him her cruelties, even death itself, still were sensual raptures.
"I envied King Gunther whom the mighty Brunhilde fettered on the bridal night, and the poor troubadour whom his capricious mistress had sewed in the skins of wolves to have him hunted like game. I envied the Knight Ctirad whom the daring Amazon Scharka craftily ensnared in a forest near Prague, and carried to her castle Divin, where, after having amused herself a while with him, she had him broken on the wheel—"
"Disgusting," cried Wanda. "I almost wish you might fall into the hands of a woman of their savage race. In the wolf's skin, under the teeth of the dogs, or upon the wheel, you would lose the taste for your kind of poetry."
"Do you think so? I hardly do."
"Have you actually lost your senses."
"Possibly. But let me go on. I developed a perfect passion for reading stories in which the extremest cruelties were described. I loved especially to look at pictures and prints which represented them. All the sanguinary tyrants that ever occupied a throne; the inquisitors who had the heretics tortured, roasted, and butchered; all the woman whom the pages of history have recorded as lustful, beautiful, and violent women like Libussa, Lucretia Borgia, Agnes of Hungary, Queen Margot, Isabeau, the Sultana Roxolane, the Russian Czarinas of last century—all these I saw in furs or in robes bordered with ermine."
"And so furs now rouse strange imaginings in you," said Wanda, and simultaneously she began to drape her magnificent fur-cloak coquettishly about her, so that the dark shining sable played beautifully around her bust and arms. "Well, how do you feel now, half broken on the wheel?"
Her piercing green eyes rested on me with a peculiar mocking satisfaction. Overcome by desire, I flung myself down before her, and threw my arms about her.
"Yes—you have awakened my dearest dream," I cried. "It has slept long enough."
"And this is?" She put her hand on my neck.
I was seized with a sweet intoxication under the influence of this warm little hand and of her regard, which, tenderly searching, fell upon me through her half-closed lids.
"To be the slave of a woman, a beautiful woman, whom I love, whom I worship."
"And who on that account maltreats you," interrupted Wanda, laughing.
"Yes, who fetters me and whips me, treads me underfoot, the while she gives herself to another."
"And who in her wantonness will go so far as to make a present of you to your successful rival when driven insane by jealousy you must meet him face to face, who will turn you over to his absolute mercy. Why not? This final tableau doesn't please you so well?"
I looked at Wanda frightened.
"You surpass my dreams."
"Yes, we women are inventive," she said, "take heed, when you find your ideal, it might easily happen, that she will treat you more cruelly than you anticipate."
"I am afraid that I have already found my ideal!" I exclaimed, burying my burning face in her lap.
"Not I?" exclaimed Wanda, throwing off her furs and moving about the room laughing. She was still laughing as I went downstairs, and when I stood musing in the yard, I still heard her peals of laughter above.
"Do you really then expect me to embody your ideal?" Wanda asked archly, when we met in the park to-day.
At first I could find no answer. The most antagonistic emotions were battling within me. In the meantime she sat down on one of the stone- benches, and played with a flower.
I kneeled down and seized her hands.
"Once more I beg you to become my wife, my true and loyal wife; if you can't do that then become the embodiment of my ideal, absolutely, without reservation, without softness."
"You know I am ready at the end of a year to give you my hand, if you prove to be the man I am seeking," Wanda replied very seriously, "but I think you would be more grateful to me if through me you realized your imaginings. Well, which do you prefer?"
"I believe that everything my imagination has dreamed lies latent in your personality."
"You are mistaken."
"I believe," I continued, "that you enjoy having a man wholly in your power, torturing him—"
"No, no," she exclaimed quickly, "or perhaps—." She pondered.
"I don't understand myself any longer," she continued, "but I have a confession to make to you. You have corrupted my imagination and inflamed my blood. I am beginning to like the things you speak of. The enthusiasm with which you speak of a Pompadour, a Catherine the Second, and all the other selfish, frivolous, cruel women, carries me away and takes hold of my soul. It urges me on to become like those women, who in spite of their vileness were slavishly adored during their lifetime and still exert a miraculous power from their graves.
"You will end by making of me a despot in miniature, a domestic Pompadour."
"Well then," I said in agitation, "if all this is inherent in you, give way to this trend of your nature. Nothing half-way. If you can't be a true and loyal wife to me, be a demon."
I was nervous from loss of sleep, and the proximity of the beautiful woman affected me like a fever. I no longer recall what I said, but I remember that I kissed her feet, and finally raised her foot and put my neck under it. She withdrew it quickly, and rose almost angrily.
"If you love me, Severin," she said quickly, and her voice sounded sharp and commanding, "never speak to me of those things again. Understand, never! Otherwise I might really—" She smiled and sat down again.
"I am entirely serious," I exclaimed, half-raving. "I adore you so infinitely that I am willing to suffer anything from you, for the sake of spending my whole life near you."
"Severin, once more I warn you."
"Your warning is vain. Do with me what you will, as long as you don't drive me away."
"Severin," replied Wanda, "I am a frivolous young woman; it is dangerous for you to put yourself so completely in my power. You will end by actually becoming a plaything to me. Who will give warrant that I shall not abuse your insane desire?"
"Your own nobility of character."
"Power makes people over-bearing."
"Be it," I cried, "tread me underfoot."
Wanda threw her arms around my neck, looked into my eyes, and shook her head.
"I am afraid I can't, but I will try, for your sake, for I love you Severin, as I have loved no other man."
To-day she suddenly took her hat and shawl, and I had to go shopping with her. She looked at whips, long whips with a short handle, the kind that are used on dogs.
"Are these satisfactory?" said the shopkeeper.
"No, they are much too small," replied Wanda, with a side-glance at me. "I need a large—"
"For a bull-dog, I suppose?" opined the merchant.
"Yes," she exclaimed, "of the kind that are used in Russia for intractable slaves."
She looked further and finally selected a whip, at whose sight I felt a strange creeping sensation.
"Now good-by, Severin," she said. "I have some other purchases to make, but you can't go along."
I left her and took a walk. On the way back I saw Wanda coming out at a furrier's. She beckoned me.
"Consider it well," she began in good spirits, "I have never made a secret of how deeply your serious, dreamy character has fascinated me. The idea of seeing this serious man wholly in my power, actually lying enraptured at my feet, of course, stimulates me—but will this attraction last? Woman loves a man; she maltreats a slave, and ends by kicking him aside."
"Very well then, kick me aside," I replied, "when you are tired of me. I want to be your slave."
"Dangerous forces lie within me," said Wanda, after we had gone a few steps further. "You awaken them, and not to your advantage. You know how to paint pleasure, cruelty, arrogance in glowing colors. What would you say should I try my hand at them, and make you the first object of my experiments. I would be like Dionysius who had the inventor of the iron ox roasted within it in order to see whether his wails and groans really resembled the bellowing of an ox.
"Perhaps I am a female Dionysius?"
"Be it," I exclaimed, "and my dreams will be fulfilled. I am yours for good or evil, choose. The destiny that lies concealed within my breast drives me on—demoniacally—relentlessly."
I do not care to see you to-day or to-morrow, and not until evening the day after tomorrow, and then as my slave.
"As my slave" was underlined. I read the note which I received early in the morning a second time. Then I had a donkey saddled, an animal symbolic of learned professors, and rode into the mountains. I wanted to numb my desire, my yearning, with the magnificent scenery of the Carpathians. I am back, tired, hungry, thirsty, and more in love than ever. I quickly change my clothes, and a few moments later knock at her door.
I enter. She is standing in the center of the room, dressed in a gown of white satin which floods down her body like light. Over it she wears a scarlet kazabaika, richly edged with ermine. Upon her powdered, snowy hair is a little diadem of diamonds. She stands with her arms folded across her breast, and with her brows contracted.
"Wanda!" I run toward her, and am about to throw my arm about her to kiss her. She retreats a step, measuring me from top to bottom.
"Mistress!" I kneel down, and kiss the hem of her garment.
"That is as it should be."
"Oh, how beautiful you are."
"Do I please you?" She stepped before the mirror, and looked at herself with proud satisfaction.
"I shall become mad!"
Her lower lip twitched derisively, and she looked at me mockingly from behind half-closed lids.
"Give me the whip."
I looked about the room.
"No," she exclaimed, "stay as you are, kneeling." She went over to the fire-place, took the whip from the mantle-piece, and, watching me with a smile, let it hiss through the air; then she slowly rolled up the sleeve of her fur-jacket.
"Marvellous woman!" I exclaimed.
"Silence, slave!" She suddenly scowled, looked savage, and struck me with the whip. A moment later she threw her arm tenderly about me, and pityingly bent down to me. "Did I hurt you?" she asked, half- shyly, half-timidly.
"No," I replied, "and even if you had, pains that come through you are a joy. Strike again, if it gives you pleasure."
"But it doesn't give me pleasure."
Again I was seized with that strange intoxication.
"Whip me," I begged, "whip me without mercy."
Wanda swung the whip, and hit me twice. "Are you satisfied now?"
"Whip me, I beg you, it is a joy to me."
"Yes, because you know very well that it isn't serious," she replied, "because I haven't the heart to hurt you. This brutal game goes against my grain. Were I really the woman who beats her slaves you would be horrified."
"No, Wanda," I replied, "I love you more than myself; I am devoted to you for death and life. In all seriousness, you can do with me whatever you will, whatever your caprice suggests."
"Tread me underfoot!" I exclaimed, and flung myself face to the floor before her.
"I hate all this play-acting," said Wanda impatiently.
"Well, then maltreat me seriously."
An uncanny pause.
"Severin, I warn you for the last time," began Wanda.
"If you love me, be cruel towards me," I pleaded with upraised eyes.
"If I love you," repeated Wanda. "Very well!" She stepped back and looked at me with a sombre smile. "Be then my slave, and know what it means to be delivered into the hands of a woman." And at the same moment she gave me a kick.
"How do you like that, slave?"
Then she flourished the whip.
I was about to rise.
"Not that way," she commanded, "on your knees."
I obeyed, and she began to apply the lash.
The blows fell rapidly and powerfully on my back and arms. Each one cut into my flesh and burned there, but the pains enraptured me. They came from her whom I adored, and for whom I was ready at any hour to lay down my life.
She stopped. "I am beginning to enjoy it," she said, "but enough for to-day. I am beginning to feel a demonic curiosity to see how far your strength goes. I take a cruel joy in seeing you tremble and writhe beneath my whip, and in hearing your groans and wails; I want to go on whipping without pity until you beg for mercy, until you lose your senses. You have awakened dangerous elements in my being. But now get up."
I seized her hand to press it to my lips.
She shoved me away with her foot.
"Out of my sight, slave!"
After having spent a feverish night filled with confused dreams, I awoke. Dawn was just beginning to break.
How much of what was hovering in my memory was true; what had I actually experienced and what had I dreamed? That I had been whipped was certain. I can still feel each blow, and count the burning red stripes on my body. And she whipped me. Now I know everything.
My dream has become truth. How does it make me feel? Am I disappointed in the realization of my dream?
No, I am merely somewhat tired, but her cruelty has enraptured me. Oh, how I love her, adore her! All this cannot express in the remotest way my feeling for her, my complete devotion to her. What happiness to be her slave!
She calls to me from her balcony. I hurry upstairs. She is standing on the threshold, holding out her hand in friendly fashion. "I am ashamed of myself," she says, while I embrace her, and she hides her head against my breast.
"Please try to forget the ugly scene of yesterday," she said with quivering voice, "I have fulfilled your mad wish, now let us be reasonable and happy and love each other, and in a year I will be your wife."
"My mistress," I exclaimed, "and I your slave!"
"Not another word of slavery, cruelty, or the whip," interrupted Wanda. "I shall not grant you any of those favors, none except wearing my fur-jacket; come and help me into it."
The little bronze clock on which stood a cupid who had just shot his bolt struck midnight.
I rose, and wanted to leave.
Wanda said nothing, but embraced me and drew me back on the ottoman. She began to kiss me anew, and this silent language was so comprehensible, so convincing—
And it told me more than I dared to understand.
A languid abandonment pervaded Wanda's entire being. What a voluptuous softness there was in the gloaming of her half-closed eyes, in the red flood of her hair which shimmered faintly under the white powder, in the red and white satin which crackled about her with every movement, in the swelling ermine of the kazabaika in which she carelessly nestled.
"Please," I stammered, "but you will be angry with me."
"Do with me what you will," she whispered.
"Well, then whip me, or I shall go mad."
"Haven't I forbidden you," said Wanda sternly, "but you are incorrigible."
"Oh, I am so terribly in love." I had sunken on my knees, and was burying my glowing face in her lap.
"I really believe," said Wanda thoughtfully, "that your madness is nothing but a demonic, unsatisfied sensuality. Our unnatural way of life must generate such illnesses. Were you less virtuous, you would be completely sane."
"Well then, make me sane," I murmured. My hands were running through her hair and playing tremblingly with the gleaming fur, which rose and fell like a moonlit wave upon her heaving bosom, and drove all my senses into confusion.
And I kissed her. No, she kissed me savagely, pitilessly, as if she wanted to slay me with her kisses. I was as in a delirium, and had long since lost my reason, but now I, too, was breathless. I sought to free myself.
"What is the matter?" asked Wanda.
"I am suffering agonies."
"You are suffering—" she broke out into a loud amused laughter.
"You laugh!" I moaned, "have you no idea—"
She was serious all of a sudden. She raised my head in her hands, and with a violent gesture drew me to her breast.
"Wanda," I stammered.
"Of course, you enjoy suffering," she said, and laughed again, "but wait, I'll bring you to your senses."
"No, I will no longer ask," I exclaimed, "whether you want to belong to me for always or for only a brief moment of intoxication. I want to drain my happiness to the full. You are mine now, and I would rather lose you than never to have had you."
"Now you are sensible," she said. She kissed me again with her murderous lips. I tore the ermine apart and the covering of lace and her naked breast surged against mine.
Then my senses left me—
The first thing I remember is the moment when I saw blood dripping from my hand, and she asked apathetically: "Did you scratch me?"
"No, I believe, I have bitten you."