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!"