VENUS IN FURS
Of this book, intended for private circulation, only 1225 copies have been printed, and type afterward distributed.
VENUS IN FURS
LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH
Translated from the German
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in Lemberg, Austrian Galicia, on January 27, 1836. He studied jurisprudence at Prague and Graz, and in 1857 became a teacher at the latter university. He published several historical works, but soon gave up his academic career to devote himself wholly to literature. For a number of years he edited the international review, Auf der Hohe, at Leipzig, but later removed to Paris, for he was always strongly Francophile. His last years he spent at Lindheim in Hesse, Germany, where he died on March 9, 1895. In 1873 he married Aurora von Rumelin, who wrote a number of novels under the pseudonym of Wanda von Dunajew, which it is interesting to note is the name of the heroine of Venus in Furs. Her sensational memoirs which have been the cause of considerable controversy were published in 1906.
During his career as writer an endless number of works poured from Sacher-Masoch's pen. Many of these were works of ephemeral journalism, and some of them unfortunately pure sensationalism, for economic necessity forced him to turn his pen to unworthy ends.
There is, however, a residue among his works which has a distinct literary and even greater psychological value. His principal literary ambition was never completely fulfilled. It was a somewhat programmatic plan to give a picture of contemporary life in all its various aspects and interrelations under the general title of the Heritage of Cain. This idea was probably derived from Balzac's Comedie Humaine. The whole was to be divided into six subdivisions with the general titles Love, Property, Money, The State, War, and Death. Each of these divisions in its turn consisted of six novels, of which the last was intended to summarize the author's conclusions and to present his solution for the problems set in the others.
This extensive plan remained unachieved, and only the first two parts, Love and Property, were completed. Of the other sections only fragments remain. The present novel, Venus in Furs, forms the fifth in the series, Love.
The best of Sacher-Masoch's work is characterized by a swift narration and a graphic representation of character and scene and a rich humor. The latter has made many of his shorter stories dealing with his native Galicia little masterpieces of local color.
There is, however, another element in his work which has caused his name to become as eponym for an entire series of phenomena at one end of the psycho-sexual scale. This gives his productions a peculiar psychological value, though it cannot be denied also a morbid tinge that makes them often repellent. However, it is well to remember that nature is neither good nor bad, neither altruistic nor egoistic, and that it operates through the human psyche as well as through crystals and plants and animals with the same inexorable laws.
Sacher-Masoch was the poet of the anomaly now generally known as masochism. By this is meant the desire on the part of the individual affected of desiring himself completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex, and being treated by this person as by a master, to be humiliated, abused, and tormented, even to the verge of death. This motive is treated in all its innumerable variations. As a creative artist Sacher-Masoch was, of course, on the quest for the absolute, and sometimes, when impulses in the human being assume an abnormal or exaggerated form, there is just for a moment a flash that gives a glimpse of the thing in itself.
If any defense were needed for the publication of work like Sacher- Masoch's it is well to remember that artists are the historians of the human soul and one might recall the wise and tolerant Montaigne's essay On the Duty of Historians where he says, "One may cover over secret actions, but to be silent on what all the world knows, and things which have had effects which are public and of so much consequence is an inexcusable defect."
And the curious interrelation between cruelty and sex, again and again, creeps into literature. Sacher-Masoch has not created anything new in this. He has simply taken an ancient motive and developed it frankly and consciously, until, it seems, there is nothing further to say on the subject. To the violent attacks which his books met he replied in a polemical work, Uber den Wert der Kritik.
It would be interesting to trace the masochistic tendency as it occurs throughout literature, but no more can be done than just to allude to a few instances. The theme recurs continually in the Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau; it explains the character of the chevalier in Prevost's Manon l'Escault. Scenes of this nature are found in Zola's Nana, in Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved, in Albert Juhelle's Les Pecheurs d'Hommes, in Dostojevski. In disguised and unrecognized form it constitutes the undercurrent of much of the sentimental literature of the present day, though in most cases the authors as well as the readers are unaware of the pathological elements out of which their characters are built.
In all these strange and troubled waters of the human spirit one might wish for something of the serene and simple attitude of the ancient world. Laurent Tailhade has an admirable passage in his Platres et Marbres, which is well worth reproducing in this connection:
"Toutefois, les Hellenes, dans, leurs cites de lumiere, de douceur et d'harmonie, avaient une indulgence qu'on peut nommer scientifique pour les troubles amoureux de l'esprit. S'ils ne regardaient pas l'aliene comme en proie a la vistation d'un dieu (idee orientale et fataliste), du moins ils savaient que l'amour est une sorte d'envoutement, une folie ou se manifeste l'animosite des puissances cosmiques. Plus tard, le christianisme enveloppa les ames de tenebres. Ce fut la grande nuite. L'Eglise condamna tout ce qui lui parut neuf ou menacant pour les dogmes implacable ui reduisaient le monde en esclavage."
Among Sacher-Masoch's works, Venus in Furs is one of the most typical and outstanding. In spite of melodramatic elements and other literary faults, it is unquestionably a sincere work, written without any idea of titillating morbid fancies. One feels that in the hero many subjective elements have been incorporated, which are a disadvantage to the work from the point of view of literature, but on the other hand raise the book beyond the sphere of art, pure and simple, and make it one of those appalling human documents which belong, part to science and part to psychology. It is the confession of a deeply unhappy man who could not master his personal tragedy of existence, and so sought to unburden his soul in writing down the things he felt and experienced. The reader who will approach the book from this angle and who will honestly put aside moral prejudices and prepossessions will come away from the perusal of this book with a deeper understanding of this poor miserable soul of ours and a light will be cast into dark places that lie latent in all of us.
Sacher-Masoch's works have held an established position in European letters for something like half a century, and the author himself was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in 1883, on the occasion of his literary jubilee. When several years ago cheap reprints were brought out on the Continent and attempts were made by various guardians of morality—they exist in all countries— to have them suppressed, the judicial decisions were invariably against the plaintiff and in favor of the publisher. Are Americans children that they must be protected from books which any European school-boy can purchase whenever he wishes? However, such seems to be the case, and this translation, which has long been in preparation, consequently appears in a limited edition printed for subscribers only. In another connection Herbert Spencer once used these words: "The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools." They have a very pointed application in the case of a work like Venus in Furs.
Atlantic City April, 1921
VENUS IN FURS
"But the Almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman."
—The Vulgate, Judith, xvi. 7.
My company was charming.
Opposite me by the massive Renaissance fireplace sat Venus; she was not a casual woman of the half-world, who under this pseudonym wages war against the enemy sex, like Mademoiselle Cleopatra, but the real, true goddess of love.
She sat in an armchair and had kindled a crackling fire, whose reflection ran in red flames over her pale face with its white eyes, and from time to time over her feet when she sought to warm them.
Her head was wonderful in spite of the dead stony eyes; it was all I could see of her. She had wrapped her marble-like body in a huge fur, and rolled herself up trembling like a cat.
"I don't understand it," I exclaimed, "It isn't really cold any longer. For two weeks past we have had perfect spring weather. You must be nervous."
"Much obliged for your spring," she replied with a low stony voice, and immediately afterwards sneezed divinely, twice in succession. "I really can't stand it here much longer, and I am beginning to understand—"
"What, dear lady?"
"I am beginning to believe the unbelievable and to understand the un- understandable. All of a sudden I understand the Germanic virtue of woman, and German philosophy, and I am no longer surprised that you of the North do not know how to love, haven't even an idea of what love is."
"But, madame," I replied flaring up, "I surely haven't given you any reason."
"Oh, you—" The divinity sneezed for the third time, and shrugged her shoulders with inimitable grace. "That's why I have always been nice to you, and even come to see you now and then, although I catch a cold every time, in spite of all my furs. Do you remember the first time we met?"
"How could I forget it," I said. "You wore your abundant hair in brown curls, and you had brown eyes and a red mouth, but I recognized you immediately by the outline of your face and its marble-like pallor—you always wore a violet-blue velvet jacket edged with squirrel-skin."
"You were really in love with the costume, and awfully docile."
"You have taught me what love is. Your serene form of worship let me forget two thousand years."
"And my faithfulness to you was without equal!"
"Well, as far as faithfulness goes—"
"I will not reproach you with anything. You are a divine woman, but nevertheless a woman, and like every woman cruel in love."
"What you call cruel," the goddess of love replied eagerly, "is simply the element of passion and of natural love, which is woman's nature and makes her give herself where she loves, and makes her love everything, that pleases her."
"Can there be any greater cruelty for a lover than the unfaithfulness of the woman he loves?"
"Indeed!" she replied. "We are faithful as long as we love, but you demand faithfulness of a woman without love, and the giving of herself without enjoyment. Who is cruel there—woman or man? You of the North in general take love too soberly and seriously. You talk of duties where there should be only a question of pleasure."
"That is why our emotions are honorable and virtuous, and our relations permanent."
"And yet a restless, always unsatisfied craving for the nudity of paganism," she interrupted, "but that love, which is the highest joy, which is divine simplicity itself, is not for you moderns, you children of reflection. It works only evil in you. As soon as you wish to be natural, you become common. To you nature seems something hostile; you have made devils out of the smiling gods of Greece, and out of me a demon. You can only exorcise and curse me, or slay yourselves in bacchantic madness before my altar. And if ever one of you has had the courage to kiss my red mouth, he makes a barefoot pilgrimage to Rome in penitential robes and expects flowers to grow from his withered staff, while under my feet roses, violets, and myrtles spring up every hour, but their fragrance does not agree with you. Stay among your northern fogs and Christian incense; let us pagans remain under the debris, beneath the lava; do not disinter us. Pompeii was not built for you, nor our villas, our baths, our temples. You do not require gods. We are chilled in your world."
The beautiful marble woman coughed, and drew the dark sables still closer about her shoulders.
"Much obliged for the classical lesson," I replied, "but you cannot deny, that man and woman are mortal enemies, in your serene sunlit world as well as in our foggy one. In love there is union into a single being for a short time only, capable of only one thought, one sensation, one will, in order to be then further disunited. And you know this better than I; whichever of the two fails to subjugate will soon feel the feet of the other on his neck—"
"And as a rule the man that of the woman," cried Madame Venus with proud mockery, "which you know better than I."
"Of course, and that is why I don't have any illusions."
"You mean you are now my slave without illusions, and for that reason you shall feel the weight of my foot without mercy."
"Don't you know me yet? Yes, I am cruel—since you take so much delight in that word-and am I not entitled to be so? Man is the one who desires, woman the one who is desired. This is woman's entire but decisive advantage. Through his passion nature has given man into woman's hands, and the woman who does not know how to make him her subject, her slave, her toy, and how to betray him with a smile in the end is not wise."
"Exactly your principles," I interrupted angrily.
"They are based on the experience of thousands of years," she replied ironically, while her white fingers played over the dark fur. "The more devoted a woman shows herself, the sooner the man sobers down and becomes domineering. The more cruelly she treats him and the more faithless she is, the worse she uses him, the more wantonly she plays with him, the less pity she shows him, by so much the more will she increase his desire, be loved, worshipped by him. So it has always been, since the time of Helen and Delilah, down to Catherine the Second and Lola Montez."
"I cannot deny," I said, "that nothing will attract a man more than the picture of a beautiful, passionate, cruel, and despotic woman who wantonly changes her favorites without scruple in accordance with her whim—"
"And in addition wears furs," exclaimed the divinity.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I know your predilection."
"Do you know," I interrupted, "that, since we last saw each other, you have grown very coquettish."
"In what way, may I ask?"
"In that there is no way of accentuating your white body to greater advantage than by these dark furs, and that—"
The divinity laughed.
"You are dreaming," she cried, "wake up!" and she clasped my arm with her marble-white hand. "Do wake up," she repeated raucously with the low register of her voice. I opened my eyes with difficulty.
I saw the hand which shook me, and suddenly it was brown as bronze; the voice was the thick alcoholic voice of my cossack servant who stood before me at his full height of nearly six feet.
"Do get up," continued the good fellow, "it is really disgraceful."
"What is disgraceful?"
"To fall asleep in your clothes and with a book besides." He snuffed the candles which had burned down, and picked up the volume which had fallen from my hand, "with a book by"—he looked at the title page— "by Hegel. Besides it is high time you were starting for Mr. Severin's who is expecting us for tea."
"A curious dream," said Severin when I had finished. He supported his arms on his knees, resting his face in his delicate, finely veined hands, and fell to pondering.
I knew that he wouldn't move for a long time, hardly even breathe. This actually happened, but I didn't consider his behavior as in any way remarkable. I had been on terms of close friendship with him for nearly three years, and gotten used to his peculiarities. For it cannot be denied that he was peculiar, although he wasn't quite the dangerous madman that the neighborhood, or indeed the entire district of Kolomea, considered him to be. I found his personality not only interesting—and that is why many also regarded me a bit mad—but to a degree sympathetic. For a Galician nobleman and land-owner, and considering his age—he was hardly over thirty—he displayed surprising sobriety, a certain seriousness, even pedantry. He lived according to a minutely elaborated, half-philosophical, half- practical system, like clock-work; not this alone, but also by the thermometer, barometer, aerometer, hydrometer, Hippocrates, Hufeland, Plato, Kant, Knigge, and Lord Chesterfield. But at times he had violent attacks of sudden passion, and gave the impression of being about to run with his head right through a wall. At such times every one preferred to get out of his way.
While he remained silent, the fire sang in the chimney and the large venerable samovar sang; and the ancient chair in which I sat rocking to and fro smoking my cigar, and the cricket in the old walls sang too. I let my eyes glide over the curious apparatus, skeletons of animals, stuffed birds, globes, plaster-casts, with which his room was heaped full, until by chance my glance remained fixed on a picture which I had seen often enough before. But to-day, under the reflected red glow of the fire, it made an indescribable impression on me.
It was a large oil painting, done in the robust full-bodied manner of the Belgian school. Its subject was strange enough.
A beautiful woman with a radiant smile upon her face, with abundant hair tied into a classical knot, on which white powder lay like a soft hoarfrost, was resting on an ottoman, supported on her left arm. She was nude in her dark furs. Her right hand played with a lash, while her bare foot rested carelessly on a man, lying before her like a slave, like a dog. In the sharply outlined, but well-formed linaments of this man lay brooding melancholy and passionate devotion; he looked up to her with the ecstatic burning eye of a martyr. This man, the footstool for her feet, was Severin, but beardless, and, it seemed, some ten years younger.
"Venus in Furs," I cried, pointing to the picture. "That is the way I saw her in my dream."
"I, too," said Severin, "only I dreamed my dream with open eyes."
"It is a tiresome story."
"Your picture apparently suggested my dream," I continued. "But do tell me what it means. I can imagine that it played a role in your life, and perhaps a very decisive one. But the details I can only get from you."
"Look at its counterpart," replied my strange friend, without heeding my question.
The counterpart was an excellent copy of Titian's well-known "Venus with the Mirror" in the Dresden Gallery.
"And what is the significance?"
Severin rose and pointed with his finger at the fur with which Titian garbed his goddess of love.
"It, too, is a 'Venus in Furs,'" he said with a slight smile. "I don't believe that the old Venetian had any secondary intention. He simply painted the portrait of some aristocratic Mesalina, and was tactful enough to let Cupid hold the mirror in which she tests her majestic allure with cold satisfaction. He looks as though his task were becoming burdensome enough. The picture is painted flattery. Later an 'expert' in the Rococo period baptized the lady with the name of Venus. The furs of the despot in which Titian's fair model wrapped herself, probably more for fear of a cold than out of modesty, have become a symbol of the tyranny and cruelty that constitute woman's essence and her beauty.
"But enough of that. The picture, as it now exists, is a bitter satire on our love. Venus in this abstract North, in this icy Christian world, has to creep into huge black furs so as not to catch cold—"
Severin laughed, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
Just then the door opened and an attractive, stoutish, blonde girl entered. She had wise, kindly eyes, was dressed in black silk, and brought us cold meat and eggs with our tea. Severin took one of the latter, and decapitated it with his knife.
"Didn't I tell you that I want them soft-boiled?" he cried with a violence that made the young woman tremble.
"But my dear Sevtchu—" she said timidly.
"Sevtchu, nothing," he yelled, "you are to obey, obey, do you understand?" and he tore the kantchuk [Footnote: A long whip with a short handle.] which was hanging beside the weapons from its hook.
The woman fled from the chamber quickly and timidly like a doe.
"Just wait, I'll get you yet," he called after her.
"But Severin," I said placing my hand on his arm, "how can you treat a pretty young woman thus?"
"Look at the woman," he replied, blinking humorously with his eyes. "Had I flattered her, she would have cast the noose around my neck, but now, when I bring her up with the kantchuk, she adores me."
"Nonsense, nothing, that is the way you have to break in women."
"Well, if you like it, live like a pasha in your harem, but don't lay down theories for me—"
"Why not," he said animatedly. "Goethe's 'you must be hammer or anvil' is absolutely appropriate to the relation between man and woman. Didn't Lady Venus in your dream prove that to you? Woman's power lies in man's passion, and she knows how to use it, if man doesn't understand himself. He has only one choice: to be the tyrant over or the slave of woman. As soon as he gives in, his neck is under the yoke, and the lash will soon fall upon him."
"Not maxims, but experiences," he replied, nodding his head, "I have actually felt the lash. I am cured. Do you care to know how?"
He rose, and got a small manuscript from his massive desk, and put it in front of me.
"You have already asked about the picture. I have long owed you an explanation. Here—read!"
Severin sat down by the chimney with his back toward me, and seemed to dream with open eyes. Silence had fallen again, and again the fire sang in the chimney, and the samovar and the cricket in the old walls. I opened the manuscript and read:
CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERSENSUAL MAN.
The margin of the manuscript bore as motto a variation of the well- known lines from Faust:
"Thou supersensual sensual woer A woman leads you by the nose." —MEPHISTOPHELES.
I turned the title-page and read: "What follows has been compiled from my diary of that period, because it is impossible ever frankly to write of one's past, but in this way everything retains its fresh colors, the colors of the present."
Gogol, the Russian Moliere, says—where? well, somewhere—"the real comic muse is the one under whose laughing mask tears roll down."
A wonderful saying.
So I have a very curious feeling as I am writing all this down. The atmosphere seems filled with a stimulating fragrance of flowers, which overcomes me and gives me a headache. The smoke of the fireplace curls and condenses into figures, small gray-bearded kokolds that mockingly point their finger at me. Chubby-cheeked cupids ride on the arms of my chair and on my knees. I have to smile involuntarily, even laugh aloud, as I am writing down my adventures. Yet I am not writing with ordinary ink, but with red blood that drips from my heart. All its wounds long scarred over have opened and it throbs and hurts, and now and then a tear falls on the paper.
The days creep along sluggishly in the little Carpathian health- resort. You see no one, and no one sees you. It is boring enough to write idyls. I would have leisure here to supply a whole gallery of paintings, furnish a theater with new pieces for an entire season, a dozen virtuosos with concertos, trios, and duos, but—what am I saying—the upshot of it all is that I don't do much more than to stretch the canvas, smooth the bow, line the scores. For I am—no false modesty, Friend Severin; you can lie to others, but you don't quite succeed any longer in lying to yourself—I am nothing but a dilettante, a dilettante in painting, in poetry, in music, and several other of the so-called unprofitable arts, which, however, at present secure for their masters the income of a cabinet minister, or even that of a minor potentate. Above all else I am a dilettante in life.
Up to the present I have lived as I have painted and written poetry. I never got far beyond the preparation, the plan, the first act, the first stanza. There are people like that who begin everything, and never finish anything. I am such a one.
But what am I saying?
To the business in hand.
I lie in my window, and the miserable little town, which fills me with despondency, really seems infinitely full of poetry. How wonderful the outlook upon the blue wall of high mountains interwoven with golden sunlight; mountain-torrents weave through them like ribbons of silver! How clear and blue the heavens into which snowcapped crags project; how green and fresh the forested slopes; the meadows on which small herds graze, down to the yellow billows of grain where reapers stand and bend over and rise up again.
The house in which I live stands in a sort of park, or forest, or wilderness, whatever one wants to call it, and is very solitary.
Its sole inhabitants are myself, a widow from Lemberg, and Madame Tartakovska, who runs the house, a little old woman, who grows older and smaller each day. There are also an old dog that limps on one leg, and a young cat that continually plays with a ball of yarn. This ball of yarn, I believe, belongs to the widow.
She is said to be really beautiful, this widow, still very young, twenty-four at the most, and very rich. She dwells in the first story, and I on the ground floor. She always keeps the green blinds drawn, and has a balcony entirely overgrown with green climbing- plants. I for my part down below have a comfortable, intimate arbor of honeysuckle, in which I read and write and paint and sing like a bird among the twigs. I can look up on the balcony. Sometimes I actually do so, and then from time to time a white gown gleams between the dense green network.
Really the beautiful woman up there doesn't interest me very much, for I am in love with someone else, and terribly unhappy at that; far more unhappy than the Knight of Toggenburg or the Chevalier in Manon l'Escault, because the object of my adoration is of stone.
In the garden, in the tiny wilderness, there is a graceful little meadow on which a couple of deer graze peacefully. On this meadow is a stone statue of Venus, the original of which, I believe, is in Florence. This Venus is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in all my life.
That, however, does not signify much, for I have seen few beautiful women, or rather few women at all. In love too, I am a dilettante who never got beyond the preparation, the first act.
But why talk in superlatives, as if something that is beautiful could be surpassed?
It is sufficient to say that this Venus is beautiful. I love her passionately with a morbid intensity; madly as one can only love a woman who never responds to our love with anything but an eternally uniform, eternally calm, stony smile. I literally adore her.
I often lie reading under the leafy covering of a young birch when the sun broods over the forest. Often I visit that cold, cruel mistress of mine by night and lie on my knees before her, with the face pressed against the cold pedestal on which her feet rest, and my prayers go up to her.
The rising moon, which just now is waning, produces an indescribable effect. It seems to hover among the trees and submerges the meadow in its gleam of silver. The goddess stands as if transfigured, and seems to bathe in the soft moonlight.
Once when I was returning from my devotions by one of the walks leading to the house, I suddenly saw a woman's figure, white as stone, under the illumination of the moon and separated from me merely by a screen of trees. It seemed as if the beautiful woman of marble had taken pity on me, become alive, and followed me. I was seized by a nameless fear, my heart threatened to burst, and instead—
Well, I am a dilettante. As always, I broke down at the second stanza; rather, on the contrary, I did not break down, but ran away as fast as my legs would carry me.
* * * * *
What an accident! Through a Jew, dealing in photographs I secured a picture of my ideal. It is a small reproduction of Titian's "Venus with the Mirror." What a woman! I want to write a poem, but instead, I take the reproduction, and write on it: Venus in Furs.
You are cold, while you yourself fan flames. By all means wrap yourself in your despotic furs, there is no one to whom they are more appropriate, cruel goddess of love and of beauty!—After a while I add a few verses from Goethe, which I recently found in his paralipomena to Faust.
"The pair of wings a fiction are, The arrows, they are naught but claws, The wreath conceals the little horns, For without any doubt he is Like all the gods of ancient Greece Only a devil in disguise."
Then I put the picture before me on my table, supporting it with a book, and looked at it.
I was enraptured and at the same time filled with a strange fear by the cold coquetry with which this magnificent woman draped her charms in her furs of dark sable; by the severity and hardness which lay in this cold marble-like face. Again I took my pen in hand, and wrote the following words:
"To love, to be loved, what happiness! And yet how the glamour of this pales in comparison with the tormenting bliss of worshipping a woman who makes a plaything out of us, of being the slave of a beautiful tyrant who treads us pitilessly underfoot. Even Samson, the hero, the giant, again put himself into the hands of Delilah, even after she had betrayed him, and again she betrayed him, and the Philistines bound him and put out his eyes which until the very end he kept fixed, drunken with rage and love, upon the beautiful betrayer."
I was breakfasting in my honey-suckle arbor, and reading in the Book of Judith. I envied the hero Holofernes because of the regal woman who cut off his head with a sword, and because of his beautiful sanguinary end.
"The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman."
This sentence strangely impressed me.
How ungallant these Jews are, I thought. And their God might choose more becoming expressions when he speaks of the fair sex.
"The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman," I repeated to myself. What shall I do, so that He may punish me?
Heaven preserve us! Here comes the housekeeper, who has again diminished somewhat in size overnight. And up there among the green twinings and garlandings the white gown gleams again. Is it Venus, or the widow?
This time it happens to be the widow, for Madame Tartakovska makes a courtesy, and asks me in her name for something to read. I run to my room, and gather together a couple of volumes.
Later I remember that my picture of Venus is in one of them, and now it and my effusions are in the hands of the white woman up there together. What will she say?
I hear her laugh.
Is she laughing at me?
It is full moon. It is already peering over the tops of the low hemlocks that fringe the park. A silvery exhalation fills the terrace, the groups of trees, all the landscape, as far as the eye can reach; in the distance it gradually fades away, like trembling waters.
I cannot resist. I feel a strange urge and call within me. I put on my clothes again and go out into the garden.
Some power draws me toward the meadow, toward her, who is my divinity and my beloved.
The night is cool. I feel a slight chill. The atmosphere is heavy with the odor of flowers and of the forest. It intoxicates.
What solemnity! What music round about! A nightingale sobs. The stars quiver very faintly in the pale-blue glamour. The meadow seems smooth, like a mirror, like a covering of ice on a pond.
The statue of Venus stands out august and luminous.
But—what has happened? From the marble shoulders of the goddess a large dark fur flows down to her heels. I stand dumbfounded and stare at her in amazement; again an indescribable fear seizes hold of me and I take flight.
I hasten my steps, and notice that I have missed the main path. As I am about to turn aside into one of the green walks I see Venus sitting before me on a stone bench, not the beautiful woman of marble, but the goddess of love herself with warm blood and throbbing pulses. She has actually come to life for me, like the statue that began to breathe for her creator. Indeed, the miracle is only half completed. Her white hair seems still to be of stone, and her white gown shimmers like moonlight, or is it satin? From her shoulders the dark fur flows. But her lips are already reddening and her cheeks begin to take color. Two diabolical green rays out of her eyes fall upon me, and now she laughs.
Her laughter is very mysterious, very—I don't know. It cannot be described, it takes my breath away. I flee further, and after every few steps I have to pause to take breath. The mocking laughter pursues me through the dark leafy paths, across light open spaces, through the thicket where only single moonbeams can pierce. I can no longer find my way, I wander about utterly confused, with cold drops of perspiration on the forehead.
Finally I stand still, and engage in a short monologue.
It runs—well—one is either very polite to one's self or very rude.
I say to myself:
This word exercises a remarkable effect, like a magic formula, which sets me free and makes me master of myself.
I am perfectly quiet in a moment.
With considerable pleasure I repeat: "Donkey!"
Now everything is perfectly clear and distinct before my eyes again. There is the fountain, there the alley of box-wood, there the house which I am slowly approaching.
Yet—suddenly the appearance is here again. Behind the green screen through which the moonlight gleams so that it seems embroidered with silver, I again see the white figure, the woman of stone whom I adore, whom I fear and flee.
With a couple of leaps I am within the house and catch my breath and reflect.
What am I really, a little dilettante or a great big donkey?
A sultry morning, the atmosphere is dead, heavily laden with odors, yet stimulating. Again I am sitting in my honey-suckle arbor, reading in the Odyssey about the beautiful witch who transformed her admirers into beasts. A wonderful picture of antique love.
There is a soft rustling in the twigs and blades and the pages of my book rustle and on the terrace likewise there is a rustling.
A woman's dress—
She is there—Venus—but without furs—No, this time it is merely the widow—and yet—Venus-oh, what a woman!
As she stands there in her light white morning gown, looking at me, her slight figure seems full of poetry and grace. She is neither large, nor small; her head is alluring, piquant—in the sense of the period of the French marquises—rather than formally beautiful. What enchantment and softness, what roguish charm play about her none too small mouth! Her skin is so infinitely delicate, that the blue veins show through everywhere; even through the muslin covering her arms and bosom. How abundant her red hair-it is red, not blonde or golden- yellow—how diabolically and yet tenderly it plays around her neck! Now her eyes meet mine like green lightnings—they are green, these eyes of hers, whose power is so indescribable—green, but as are precious stones, or deep unfathomable mountain lakes.
She observes my confusion, which has even made me discourteous, for I have remained seated and still have my cap on my head.
She smiles roguishly.
Finally I rise and bow to her. She comes closer, and bursts out into a loud, almost childlike laughter. I stammer, as only a little dilettante or great big donkey can do on such an occasion.
Thus our acquaintance began.
The divinity asks for my name, and mentions her own.
Her name is Wanda von Dunajew.
And she is actually my Venus.
"But madame, what put the idea into your head?"
"The little picture in one of your books—"
"I had forgotten about it."
"The curious notes on its back—"
She looked at me.
"I have always wanted to know a real dreamer some time—for the sake of the change—and you seem one of the maddest of the tribe."
"Dear lady—in fact—" Again I fell victim to an odious, asinine stammering, and in addition blushed in a way that might have been appropriate for a youngster of sixteen, but not for me, who was almost a full ten years older—
"You were afraid of me last night."
"Really—of course—but won't you sit down?"
She sat down, and enjoyed my embarrassment—for actually I was even more afraid of her now in the full light of day. A delightful expression of contempt hovered about her upper lip.
"You look at love, and especially woman," she began, "as something hostile, something against which you put up a defense, even if unsuccessfully. You feel that their power over you gives you a sensation of pleasurable torture, of pungent cruelty. This is a genuinely modern point of view."
"You don't share it?"
"I do not share it," she said quickly and decisively, shaking her head, so that her curls flew up like red flames.
"The ideal which I strive to realize in my life is the serene sensuousness of the Greeks—pleasure without pain. I do not believe in the kind of love which is preached by Christianity, by the moderns, by the knights of the spirit. Yes, look at me, I am worse than a heretic, I am a pagan.
'Doest thou imagine long the goddess of love took counsel When in Ida's grove she was pleased with the hero Achilles?'
"These lines from Goethe's Roman Elegy have always delighted me.
"In nature there is only the love of the heroic age, 'when gods and goddesses loved.' At that time 'desire followed the glance, enjoyment desire.' All else is factitious, affected, a lie. Christianity, whose cruel emblem, the cross, has always had for me an element of the monstrous, brought something alien and hostile into nature and its innocent instincts.
"The battle of the spirit with the senses is the gospel of modern man. I do not care to have a share in it."
"Yes, Mount Olympus would be the place for you, madame," I replied, "but we moderns can no longer support the antique serenity, least of all in love. The idea of sharing a woman, even if it were an Aspasia, with another revolts us. We are jealous as is our God. For example, we have made a term abuse out of the name of the glorious Phryne.
"We prefer one of Holbein's meagre, pallid virgins, which is wholly ours to an antique Venus, no matter how divinely beautiful she is, but who loves Anchises to-day, Paris to-morrow, Adonis the day after. And if nature triumphs in us so that we give our whole glowing, passionate devotion to such a woman, her serene joy of life appears to us as something demonic and cruel, and we read into our happiness a sin which we must expiate."
"So you too are one of those who rave about modern women, those miserable hysterical feminine creatures who don't appreciate a real man in their somnambulistic search for some dream-man and masculine ideal. Amid tears and convulsions they daily outrage their Christian duties; they cheat and are cheated; they always seek again and choose and reject; they are never happy, and never give happiness. They accuse fate instead of calmly confessing that they want to love and live as Helen and Aspasia lived. Nature admits of no permanence in the relation between man and woman."
"But, my dear lady—"
"Let me finish. It is only man's egoism which wants to keep woman like some buried treasure. All endeavors to introduce permanence in love, the most changeable thing in this changeable human existence, have gone shipwreck in spite of religious ceremonies, vows, and legalities. Can you deny that our Christian world has given itself over to corruption?"
"But you are about to say, the individual who rebels against the arrangements of society is ostracized, branded, stoned. So be it. I am willing to take the risk; my principles are very pagan. I will live my own life as it pleases me. I am willing to do without your hypocritical respect; I prefer to be happy. The inventors of the Christian marriage have done well, simultaneously to invent immortality. I, however, have no wish to live eternally. When with my last breath everything as far as Wanda von Dunajew is concerned comes to an end here below, what does it profit me whether my pure spirit joins the choirs of angels, or whether my dust goes into the formation of new beings? Shall I belong to one man whom I don't love, merely because I have once loved him? No, I do not renounce; I love everyone who pleases me, and give happiness to everyone who loves me. Is that ugly? No, it is more beautiful by far, than if cruelly I enjoy the tortures, which my beauty excites, and virtuously reject the poor fellow who is pining away for me. I am young, rich, and beautiful, and I live serenely for the sake of pleasure and enjoyment."
While she was speaking her eyes sparkled roguishly, and I had taken hold of her hands without exactly knowing what to do with them, but being a genuine dilettante I hastily let go of them again.
"Your frankness," I said, "delights me, and not it alone—"
My confounded dilettantism again throttled me as though there were a rope around my neck.
"You were about to say—"
"I was about to say—I was—I am sorry—I interrupted you."
A long pause. She is doubtless engaging in a monologue, which translated into my language would be comprised in the single word, "donkey."
"If I may ask," I finally began, "how did you arrive at these—these conclusions?"
"Quite simply, my father was an intelligent man. From my cradle onward I was surrounded by replicas of ancient art; at ten years of age I read Gil Blas, at twelve La Pucelle. Where others had Hop-o'-my-thumb, Bluebeard, Cinderella, as childhood friends, mine were Venus and Apollo, Hercules and Lackoon. My husband's personality was filled with serenity and sunlight. Not even the incurable illness which fell upon him soon after our marriage could long cloud his brow. On the very night of his death he took me in his arms, and during the many months when he lay dying in his wheel chair, he often said jokingly to me: 'Well, have you already picked out a lover?' I blushed with shame. 'Don't deceive me,' he added on one occasion, 'that would seem ugly to me, but pick out an attractive lover, or preferably several. You are a splendid woman, but still half a child, and you need toys.'
"I suppose, I hardly need tell you that during his life time I had no lover; but it was through him that I have become what I am, a woman of Greece."
"A goddess," I interrupted.
"Which one," she smiled.
She threatened me with her finger and knitted her brows. "Perhaps, even a 'Venus in Furs.' Watch out, I have a large, very large fur, with which I could cover you up entirely, and I have a mind to catch you in it as in a net."
"Do you believe," I said quickly, for an idea which seemed good, in spite of its conventionality and triteness, flashed into my head, "do you believe that your theories could be carried into execution at the present time, that Venus would be permitted to stray with impunity among our railroads and telegraphs in all her undraped beauty and serenity?"
"Undraped, of course not, but in furs," she replied smiling, "would you care to see mine?"
"Beautiful, free, serene, and happy human beings, such as the Greeks were, are only possible when it is permitted to have slaves who will perform the prosaic tasks of every day for them and above all else labor for them."
"Of course," she replied playfully, "an Olympian divinity, such as I am, requires a whole army of slaves. Beware of me!"
I myself was frightened at the hardiness with which I uttered this "why"; it did not startle her in the least.
She drew back her lips a little so that her small white teeth became visible, and then said lightly, as if she were discussing some trifling matter, "Do you want to be my slave?"
"There is no equality in love," I replied solemnly. "Whenever it is a matter of choice for me of ruling or being ruled, it seems much more satisfactory to me to be the slave of a beautiful woman. But where shall I find the woman who knows how to rule, calmly, full of self-confidence, even harshly, and not seek to gain her power by means of petty nagging?"
"Oh, that might not be so difficult."
"I—for instance—" she laughed and leaned far back—"I have a real talent for despotism—I also have the necessary furs—but last night you were really seriously afraid of me!"
"Now, I am more afraid of you than ever!"
We are together every day, I and—Venus; we are together a great deal. We breakfast in my honey-suckle arbor, and have tea in her little sitting-room. I have an opportunity to unfold all my small, very small talents. Of what use would have been my study of all the various sciences, my playing at all the arts, if I were unable in the case of a pretty, little woman—
But this woman is by no means little; in fact she impresses me tremendously. I made a drawing of her to-day, and felt particularly clearly, how inappropriate the modern way of dressing is for a cameo- head like hers. The configuration of her face has little of the Roman, but much of the Greek.
Sometimes I should like to paint her as Psyche, and then again as Astarte. It depends upon the expression in her eyes, whether it is vaguely dreamy, or half-consuming, filled with tired desire. She, however, insists that it be a portrait-likeness.
I shall make her a present of furs.
How could I have any doubts? If not for her, for whom would princely furs be suitable?
* * * * *
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, [Footnote: A woman's jacket.] 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; [Footnote: The street of the Jews in Lemberg.] 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."
* * * * *
It is strange how every relation in life assumes a different face as soon as a new person enters.
We spent marvellous days together; we visited the mountains and lakes, we read together, and I completed Wanda's portrait. And how we loved one another, how beautiful her smiling face was!
Then a friend of hers arrived, a divorced woman somewhat older, more experienced, and less scrupulous than Wanda. Her influence is already making itself felt in every direction.
Wanda wrinkles her brows, and displays a certain impatience with me.
Has she ceased loving me?
* * * * *
For almost a fortnight this unbearable restraint has lain upon us. Her friend lives with her, and we are never alone. A circle of men surrounds the young women. With my seriousness and melancholy I am playing an absurd role as lover. Wanda treats me like a stranger.
To-day, while out walking, she staid behind with me. I saw that this was done intentionally, and I rejoiced. But what did she tell me?
"My friend doesn't understand how I can love you. She doesn't think you either handsome or particularly attractive otherwise. She is telling me from morning till night about the glamour of the frivolous life in the capital, hinting at the advantages to which I could lay claim, the large parties which I would find there, and the distinguished and handsome admirers which I would attract. But of what use is all this, since it happens that I love you."
For a moment I lost my breath, then I said: "I have no wish to stand in the way of your happiness, Wanda. Do not consider me." Then I raised my hat, and let her go ahead. She looked at me surprised, but did not answer a syllable.
When by chance I happened to be close to her on the way back, she secretly pressed my hand. Her glance was so radiant, so full of promised happiness, that in a moment all the torments of these days were forgotten and all their wounds healed.
I now am aware again of how much I love her.
* * * * *
"My friend has complained about you," said Wanda to-day.
"Perhaps she feels that I despise her."
"But why do you despise her, you foolish young man?" exclaimed Wanda, pulling my ears with both hands.
"Because she is a hypocrite," I said. "I respect only a woman who is actually virtuous, or who openly lives for pleasure's sake."
"Like me, for instance," replied Wanda jestingly, "but you see, child, a woman can only do that in the rarest cases. She can neither be as gaily sensual, nor as spiritually free as man; her state is always a mixture of the sensual and spiritual. Her heart desires to enchain man permanently, while she herself is ever subject to the desire for change. The result is a conflict, and thus usually against her wishes lies and deception enter into her actions and personality and corrupt her character."
"Certainly that is true," I said. "The transcendental character with which woman wants to stamp love leads her to deception."
"But the world likewise demands it," Wanda interrupted. "Look at this woman. She has a husband and a lover in Lemberg and has found a new admirer here. She deceives all three and yet is honored by all and respected by the world."
"I don't care," I exclaimed, "but she is to leave you alone; she treats you like an article of commerce."
"Why not?" the beautiful woman interrupted vivaciously. "Every woman has the instinct or desire to draw advantage out of her attractions, and much is to be said for giving one's self without love or pleasure because if you do it in cold blood, you can reap profit to best advantage."
"Wanda, what are you saying?"
"Why not?" she said, "and take note of what I am about to say to you. Never feel secure with the woman you love, for there are more dangers in woman's nature than you imagine. Women are neither as good as their admirers and defenders maintain, nor as bad as their enemies make them out to be. Woman's character is characterlessness. The best woman will momentarily go down into the mire, and the worst unexpectedly rises to deeds of greatness and goodness and puts to shame those that despise her. No woman is so good or so bad, but that at any moment she is capable of the most diabolical as well as of the most divine, of the filthiest as well as of the purest, thoughts, emotions, and actions. In spite of all the advances of civilization, woman has remained as she came out of the hand of nature. She has the nature of a savage, who is faithful or faithless, magnanimous or cruel, according to the impulse that dominates at the moment. Throughout history it has always been a serious deep culture which has produced moral character. Man even when he is selfish or evil always follows principles, woman never follows anything but impulses. Don't ever forget that, and never feel secure with the woman you love."
* * * * *
Her friend has left. At last an evening alone with her again. It seems as if Wanda had saved up all the love, which had been kept from her, for this superlative evening; never had she been so kind, so near, so full of tenderness.
What happiness to cling to her lips, and to die away in her arms! In a state of relaxation and wholly mine, her head rests against my breast, and with drunken rapture our eyes seek each other.
I cannot yet believe, comprehend, that this woman is mine, wholly mine.
"She is right on one point," Wanda began, without moving, without opening her eyes, as if she were asleep.
She remained silent.
She nodded. "Yes, she is right, you are not a man, you are a dreamer, a charming cavalier, and you certainly would be a priceless slave, but I cannot imagine you as husband."
I was frightened.
"What is the matter? You are trembling?"
"I tremble at the thought of how easily I might lose you," I replied.
"Are you made less happy now, because of this?" she replied. "Does it rob you of any of your joys, that I have belonged to another before I did to you, that others after you will possess me, and would you enjoy less if another were made happy simultaneously with you?"
"You see," she continued, "that would be a way out. You won't ever lose me then. I care deeply for you and intellectually we are harmonious, and I should like to live with you always, if in addition to you I might have—"
"What an idea," I cried. "You fill me with a sort of horror."
"Do you love me any the less?"
"On the contrary."
Wanda had raised herself on her left arm. "I believe," she said, "that to hold a man permanently, it is vitally important not to be faithful to him. What honest woman has ever been as devotedly loved as a hetaira?"
"There is a painful stimulus in the unfaithfulness of a beloved woman. It is the highest kind of ecstacy."
"For you, too?" Wanda asked quickly.
"For me, too."
"And if I should give you that pleasure," Wanda exclaimed mockingly.
"I shall suffer terrible agonies, but I shall adore you the more," I replied. "But you would never deceive me, you would have the daemonic greatness of saying to me: I shall love no one but you, but I shall make happy whoever pleases me."
Wanda shook her head. "I don't like deception, I am honest, but what man exists who can support the burden of truth. Were I say to you: this serene, sensual life, this paganism is my ideal, would you be strong enough to bear it?"
"Certainly. I could endure anything so as not to lose you. I feel how little I really mean to you."
"But it is so," said I, "and just for that reason—"
"For that reason you would—" she smiled roguishly—"have I guessed it?"
"Be your slave!" I exclaimed. "Be your unrestricted property, without a will of my own, of which you could dispose as you wished, and which would therefore never be a burden to you. While you drink life at its fullness, while surrounded by luxury, you enjoy the serene happiness and Olympian love, I want to be your servant, put on and take off your shoes."
"You really aren't so far from wrong," replied Wanda, "for only as my slave could you endure my loving others. Furthermore the freedom of enjoyment of the ancient world is unthinkable without slavery. It must give one a feeling of like unto a god to see a man kneel before one and tremble. I want a slave, do you hear, Severin?"