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."