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.