Toward evening she asked me to go to the post-office and mail her letters myself. I took her carriage, and was back within an hour.
"Mistress has asked for you," said the negress, with a grin, as I ascended the wide marble stairs.
"Has anyone been here?"
"No one," she replied, crouching down on the steps like a black cat.
I slowly passed through the drawing-room, and then stood before her bedroom door.
Why does my heart beat so? Am I not perfectly happy?
Opening the door softly, I draw back the portiere. Wanda is lying on the ottoman, and does not seem to notice me. How beautiful she looks, in her silver-gray dress, which fits closely, and while displaying in tell-tale fashion her splendid figure, leaves her wonderful bust and arms bare.
Her hair is interwoven with, and held up by a black velvet ribbon. A mighty fire is burning in the fire-place, the hanging lamp casts a reddish glow, and the whole room is as if drowned in blood.
"Wanda," I said at last.
"Oh Severin," she cried out joyously. "I have been impatiently waiting for you." She leaped up, and folded me in her arms. She sat down again on the rich cushions and tried to draw me down to her side, but I softly slid down to her feet and placed my head in her lap.
"Do you know I am very much in love with you to-day?" she whispered, brushing a few stray hairs from my forehead and kissing my eyes.
"How beautiful your eyes are, I have always loved them as the best of you, but to-day they fairly intoxicate me. I am all—" She extended her magnificent limbs and tenderly looked at me from beneath her red lashes.
"And you—you are cold—you hold me like a block of wood; wait, I'll stir you with the fire of love," she said, and again clung fawningly and caressingly to my lips.
"I no longer please you; I suppose I'll have to be cruel to you again, evidently I have been too kind to you to-day. Do you know, you little fool, what I shall do, I shall whip you for a while—"
"I want to."
"Come, let me bind you," she continued, and ran gaily through the room. "I want to see you very much in love, do you understand? Here are the ropes. I wonder if I can still do it?"
She began with fettering my feet and then she tied my hands behind my back, pinioning my arms like those of a prisoner.
"So," she said, with gay eagerness. "Can you still move?"
She then tied a noose in a stout rope, threw it over my head, and let it slip down as far as the hips. She drew it tight, and bound me to a pillar.
A curious tremor seized me at that moment.
"I have a feeling as if I were about to be executed," I said with a low voice.
"Well, you shall have a thorough punishment to-day," exclaimed Wanda.
"But put on your fur-jacket, please," I said.
"I shall gladly give you that pleasure," she replied. She got her kazabaika, and put it on. Then she stood in front of me with her arms folded across her chest, and looked at me out of half-closed eyes.
"Do you remember the story of the ox of Dionysius?" she asked.
"I remember it only vaguely, what about it?"
"A courtier invented a new implement of torture for the Tyrant of Syracuse. It was an iron ox in which those condemned to death were to be shut, and then pushed into a mighty furnace.
"As soon as the iron ox began to get hot, and the condemned person began to cry out in his torment, his wails sounded like the bellowing of an ox.
"Dionysius nodded graciously to the inventor, and to put his invention to an immediate test had him shut up in the iron ox.
"It is a very instructive story.
"It was you who innoculated me with selfishness, pride, and cruelty, and you shall be their first victim. I now literally enjoy having a human being that thinks and feels and desires like myself in my power; I love to abuse a man who is stronger in intelligence and body than I, especially a man who loves me.
"Do you still love me?"
"Even to madness," I exclaimed.
"So much the better," she replied, "and so much the more will you enjoy what I am about to do with you now."
"What is the matter with you?" I asked. "I don't understand you, there is a gleam of real cruelty in your eyes to-day, and you are strangely beautiful—completely Venus in Furs."
Without replying Wanda placed her arms around my neck and kissed me. I was again seized by my fanatical passion.
"Where is the whip?" I asked.
Wanda laughed, and withdrew a couple of steps.
"You really insist upon being punished?" she exclaimed, proudly tossing back her head.
Suddenly Wanda's face was completely transformed. It was as if disfigured by rage; for a moment she seemed even ugly to me.
"Very well, then you whip him!" she called loudly.
At the same instant the beautiful Greek stuck his head of black curls through the curtains of her four-poster bed. At first I was speechless, petrified.
There was a horribly comic element in the situation. I would have laughed aloud, had not my position been at the same time so terribly cruel and humiliating.
It went beyond anything I had imagined. A cold shudder ran down my back, when my rival stepped from the bed in his riding boots, his tight-fitting white breeches, and his short velvet jacket, and I saw his athletic limbs.
"You are indeed cruel," he said, turning to Wanda.
"Only inordinately fond of pleasure," she replied with a wild sort of humor.
"Pleasure alone lends value to existence; whoever enjoys does not easily part from life, whoever suffers or is needy meets death like a friend.
"But whoever wants to enjoy must take life gaily in the sense of the ancient world; he dare not hesitate to enjoy at the expense of others; he must never feel pity; he must be ready to harness others to his carriage or his plough as though they were animals. He must know how to make slaves of men who feel and would enjoy as he does, and use them for his service and pleasure without remorse. It is not his affair whether they like it, or whether they go to rack and ruin. He must always remember this, that if they had him in their power, as he has them they would act in exactly the same way, and he would have to pay for their pleasure with his sweat and blood and soul. That was the world of the ancients: pleasure and cruelty, liberty and slavery went hand in hand.
People who want to live like the gods of Olympus must of necessity have slaves whom they can toss into their fish- ponds, and gladiators who will do battle, the while they banquet, and they must not mind if by chance a bit of blood bespatters them."
Her words brought back my complete self-possession.
"Unloosen me!" I exclaimed angrily.
"Aren't you my slave, my property?" replied Wanda. "Do you want me to show you the agreement?"
"Untie me!" I threatened, "otherwise—" I tugged at the ropes.
"Can he tear himself free?" she asked. "He has threatened to kill me."
"Be entirely at ease," said the Greek, testing my fetters.
"I shall call for help," I began again.
"No one will hear you," replied Wanda, "and no one will hinder me from abusing your most sacred emotions or playing a frivolous game with you." she continued, repeating with satanic mockery phrases from my letter to her.
"Do you think I am at this moment merely cruel and merciless, or am I also about to become cheap? What? Do you still love me, or do you already hate and despise me? Here is the whip—" She handed it to the Greek who quickly stepped closer.
"Don't you dare!" I exclaimed, trembling with indignation, "I won't permit it—"
"Oh, because I don't wear furs," the Greek replied with an ironical smile, and he took his short sable from the bed.
"You are adorable," exclaimed Wanda, kissing him, and helping him into his furs.
"May I really whip him?" he asked.
"Do with him what you please," replied Wanda.
"Beast!" I exclaimed, utterly revolted.
The Greek fixed his cold tigerish look upon me and tried out the whip. His muscles swelled when he drew back his arms, and made the whip hiss through the air. I was bound like Marsyas while Apollo was getting ready to flay me.
My look wandered about the room and remained fixed on the ceiling, where Samson, lying at Delilah's feet, was about to have his eyes put out by the Philistines. The picture at that moment seemed to me like a symbol, an eternal parable of passion and lust, of the love of man for woman. "Each one of us in the end is a Samson," I thought, "and ultimately for better or worse is betrayed by the woman he loves, whether he wears an ordinary coat or sables."
"Now watch me break him in," said the Greek. He showed his teeth, and his face acquired the blood-thirsty expression, which startled me the first time I saw him.
And he began to apply the lash—so mercilessly, with such frightful force that I quivered under each blow, and began to tremble all over with pain. Tears rolled down over my cheeks. In the meantime Wanda lay on the ottoman in her fur-jacket, supporting herself on her arm; she looked on with cruel curiosity, and was convulsed with laughter.
The sensation of being whipped by a successful rival before the eyes of an adored woman cannot be described. I almost went mad with shame and despair.
What was most humiliating was that at first I felt a certain wild, supersensual stimulation under Apollo's whip and the cruel laughter of my Venus, no matter how horrible my position was. But Apollo whipped on and on, blow after blow, until I forgot all about poetry, and finally gritted my teeth in impotent rage, and cursed my wild dreams, woman, and love.
All of a sudden I saw with horrible clarity whither blind passion and lust have led man, ever since Holofernes and Agamemnon—into a blind alley, into the net of woman's treachery, into misery, slavery, and death.
It was as though I were awakening from a dream.
Blood was already flowing under the whip. I wound like a worm that is trodden on, but he whipped on without mercy, and she continued to laugh without mercy.
In the meantime she locked her packed trunk and slipped into her travelling furs, and was still laughing, when she went downstairs on his arm and entered the carriage.
Then everything was silent for a moment.
I listened breathlessly.
The carriage door slammed, the horse began to pull—the rolling of the carriage for a short time—then all was over.