It is noonday. She, however, is still abed with her arms intertwined behind her neck.
"I want to bathe," she says, "and you will attend me. Lock the door!"
"Now go downstairs and make sure the door below is also locked."
I descended the winding stairs that lead from her bedroom to the bath; my feet gave way beneath me, and I had to support myself against the iron banister.
After having ascertained that the door leading to the Loggia and the garden was locked, I returned. Wanda was now sitting on the bed with loosened hair, wrapped in her green velvet furs. When she made a rapid movement, I noticed that the furs were her only covering. It made me start terribly, I don't know why? I was like one condemned to death, who knows he is on the way to the scaffold, and yet begins to tremble when he sees it.
"Come, Gregor, take me on your arms."
"You mean, mistress?"
"You are to carry me, don't you understand?"
I lifted her up, so that she rested in my arms, while she twined hers around my neck. Slowly, step by step, I went down the stairs with her and her hair beat from time to time against my cheek and her foot sought support against my knee. I trembled under the beautiful burden I was carrying, and every moment it seemed as if I had to break down beneath it.
The bath consisted of a wide, high rotunda, which received a soft quiet light from a red glass cupola above. Two palms extended their broad leaves like a roof over a couch of velvet cushions. From here steps covered with Turkish rugs led to the white marble basin which occupied the center.
"There is a green ribbon on my toilet-table upstairs," said Wanda, as I let her down on the couch, "go get it, and also bring the whip."
I flew upstairs and back again, and kneeling put both in my mistress's hands.
She then had me twist her heavy electric hair into a large knot which I fastened with the green ribbon. Then I prepared the bath. I did this very awkwardly because my hands and feet refused to obey me. Again and again I had to look at the beautiful woman lying on the red velvet cushions, and from time to time her wonderful body gleamed here and there beneath the furs. Some magnetic power stronger than my will compelled me to look. I felt that all sensuality and lustfulness lies in that which is half-concealed or intentionally disclosed; and the truth of this I recognized even more acutely, when the basin at last was full, and Wanda threw off the fur- cloak with a single gesture, and stood before me like the goddess in the Tribuna.
At that moment she seemed as sacred and chaste to me in her unveiled beauty, as did the divinity of long ago. I sank down on my knees before her, and devoutly pressed my lips on her foot.
My soul which had been storm-tossed only a little while earlier, suddenly was perfectly calm, and I now felt no element of cruelty in Wanda.
She slowly descended the stairs, and I could watch her with a calmness in which not a single atom of torment or desire was intermingled. I could see her plunge into and rise out of the crystalline water, and the wavelets which she herself raised played about her like tender lovers.
Our nihilistic aesthetician is right when he says: a real apple is more beautiful than a painted one, and a living woman is more beautiful than a Venus of stone.
And when she left the bath, and the silvery drops and the roseate light rippled down her body, I was seized with silent rapture. I wrapped the linen sheets about her, drying her glorious body. The calm bliss remained with me, even now when one foot upon me as upon a footstool, she rested on the cushions in her large velvet cloak. The lithe sables nestled desirously against her cold marble-like body. Her left arm on which she supported herself lay like a sleeping swan in the dark fur of the sleeve, while her left hand played carelessly with the whip.
By chance my look fell on the massive mirror on the wall opposite, and I cried out, for I saw the two of us in its golden frame as in a picture. The picture was so marvellously beautiful, so strange, so imaginative, that I was filled with deep sorrow at the thought that its lines and colors would have to dissolve like mist.
"What is the matter?" asked Wanda.
I pointed to the mirror.
"Ah, that is really beautiful," she exclaimed, "too bad one can't capture the moment and make it permanent."
"And why not?" I asked. "Would not any artist, even the most famous, be proud if you gave him leave to paint you and make you immortal by means of his brush.
"The very thought that this extra-ordinary beauty is to be lost to the world,"
I continued still watching her enthusiastically, "is horrible—all this glorious facial expression, this mysterious eye with its green fires, this demonic hair, this magnificence of body. The idea fills me with a horror of death, of annihilation. But the hand of an artist shall snatch you from this.
You shall not like the rest of us disappear absolutely and forever, without leaving a trace of your having been. Your picture must live, even when you yourself have long fallen to dust; your beauty must triumph beyond death!"
"Too bad, that present-day Italy hasn't a Titian or Raphael," she said, "but, perhaps, love will make amends for genius, who knows; our little German might do?" She pondered.
"Yes, he shall paint you, and I will see to it that the god of love mixes his colors."