* * * * *
Florence! Crowds, cries, importunate porters and cab-drivers. Wanda
chooses a carriage, and dismisses the porters.
“What have I a servant for,” she says, “Gregor–here is the ticket–
get the luggage.”
She wraps herself in her furs and sits quietly in the carriage while I
drag the heavy trunks hither, one after another. I break down for a
moment under the last one; a good-natured _carabiniere_ with an
intelligent face comes to my assistance. She laughs.
“It must be heavy,” said she, “all my furs are in it.”
I get up on the driver’s seat, wiping drops of perspiration from my
brow. She gives the name of the hotel, and the driver urges on his
horse. In a few minutes we halt at the brilliantly illuminated
“Have you any rooms?” she asks the portier.
“Two for me, one for my servant, all with stoves.”
“Two first-class rooms for you, madame, both with stoves,” replied
the waiter who had hastily come up, “and one without heat for your
She looked at them, and then abruptly said: “they are satisfactory,
have fires built at once; my servant can sleep in the unheated room.”
I merely looked at her.
“Bring up the trunks, Gregor,” she commands, paying no attention to
my looks. “In the meantime I’ll be dressing, and then will go down
to the dining-room, and you can eat something for supper.”
As she goes into the adjoining room, I drag the trunks upstairs and
help the waiter build a fire in her bed-room. He tries to question
me in bad French about my employer. With a brief glance I see the
blazing fire, the fragrant white poster-bed, and the rugs which cover
the floor. Tired and hungry I then descend the stairs, and ask for
something to eat. A good-natured waiter, who used to be in the
Austrian army and takes all sorts of pains to entertain me in German,
shows me the dining-room and waits on me. I have just had the first
fresh drink in thirty-six hours and the first bite of warm food on
my fork, when she enters.
“What do you mean by taking me into a dining-room in which my
servant is eating,” she snaps at the waiter, flaring with anger. She
turns around and leaves.
Meanwhile I thank heaven that I am permitted to go on eating. Later
I climb the four flights upstairs to my room. My small trunk is
already there, and a miserable little oil-lamp is burning. It is a
narrow room without fire-place, without a window, but with a small
air-hole. If it weren’t so beastly cold, it would remind me of one
of the Venetian _piombi_. [Footnote: These were notorious prisons
under the leaden roof of the Palace of the Doges.] Involuntarily I
have to laugh out aloud, so that it re-echoes, and I am startled by
my own laughter.
Suddenly the door is pulled open and the waiter with a theatrical
Italian gesture calls “You are to come down to madame, at once.” I
pick up my cap, stumble down the first few steps, but finally arrive
in front of her door on the first floor and knock.
I enter, shut the door, and stand attention.
Wanda has made herself comfortable. She is sitting in a neglige of
white muslin and laces on a small red divan with her feet on a
footstool that matches. She has thrown her fur-cloak about her. It
is the identical cloak in which she appeared to me for the first time,
as goddess of love.
The yellow lights of the candelabra which stand on projections,
their reflections in the large mirrors, and the red flames from the
open fireplace play beautifully on the green velvet, the dark-brown
sable of the cloak, the smooth white skin, and the red, flaming hair
of the beautiful woman. Her clear, but cold face is turned toward me,
and her cold green eyes rest upon me.
“I am satisfied with you, Gregor,” she began.
“Still closer,” she looked down, and stroked the sable with her
hand. “Venus in Furs receives her slave. I can see that you are more
than an ordinary dreamer, you don’t remain far in arrears of your
dreams; you are the sort of man who is ready to carry his dreams into
effect, no matter how mad they are. I confess, I like this; it
impresses me. There is strength in this, and strength is the only
thing one respects. I actually believe that under unusual
circumstances, in a period of great deeds, what seems to be your
weakness would reveal itself as extraordinary power. Under the early
emperors you would have been a martyr, at the time of the Reformation
an anabaptist, during the French Revolution one of those inspired
Girondists who mounted the guillotine with the marseillaise on their
lips. But you are my slave, my–”
She suddenly leaped up; the furs slipped down, and she threw her
arms with soft pressure about my neck.
“My beloved slave, Severin, oh, how I love you, how I adore you, how
handsome you are in your Cracovian costume! You will be cold to-night
up in your wretched room without a fire. Shall I give you one of my
furs, dear heart, the large one there–”
She quickly picked it up, throwing it over my shoulders, and before
I knew what had happened I was completely wrapped up in it.
“How wonderfully becoming furs are to your face, they bring out your
noble lines. As soon as you cease being my slave, you must wear a
velvet coat with sable, do you understand? Otherwise I shall never
put on my fur-jacket again.”
And again she began to caress me and kiss me; finally she drew me
down on the little divan.
“You seem to be pleased with yourself in furs,” she said. “Quick,
quick, give them to me, or I will lose all sense of dignity.”
I placed the furs about her, and Wanda slipped her right arm into
“This is the pose in Titian’s picture. But now enough of joking.
Don’t always look so solemn, it makes me feel sad. As far as the
world is concerned you are still merely my servant; you are not yet
my slave, for you have not yet signed the contract. You are still
free, and can leave me any moment. You have played your part
magnificently. I have been delighted, but aren’t you tired of it
already, and don’t you think I am abominable? Well, say something–I
“Must I confess to you, Wanda?” I began.
“Yes, you must.”
“Even it you take advantage of it,” I continued, “I shall love you
the more deeply, adore you the more fanatically, the worse you treat
me. What you have just done inflames my blood and intoxicates all my
senses.” I held her close to me and clung for several moments to her
“Oh, you beautiful woman,” I then exclaimed, looking at her. In my
enthusiasm I tore the sable from her shoulders and pressed my mouth
against her neck.
“You love me even when I am cruel,” said Wanda, “now go!–you bore
me–don’t you hear?”
She boxed my ears so that I saw stars and bells rang in my ears.
“Help me into my furs, slave.”
I helped her, as well as I could.
“How awkward,” she exclaimed, and was scarcely in it before she
struck me in the face again. I felt myself growing pale.
“Did I hurt you?” she asked, softly touching me with her hand.
“No, no,” I exclaimed.
“At any rate you have no reason to complain, you want it thus; now
kiss me again.”
I threw my arms about her, and her lips clung closely to mine. As
she lay against my breast in her large heavy furs, I had a curiously
oppressive sensation. It was as if a wild beast, a she-bear, were
embracing me. It seemed as if I were about to feel her claws in my
flesh. But this time the she-bear let me off easily.
With my heart filled with smiling hopes, I went up to my miserable
servant’s room, and threw myself down on my hard couch.
“Life is really amazingly droll,” I thought. “A short time ago the
most beautiful woman, Venus herself, rested against your breast, and
now you have an opportunity for studying the Chinese hell. Unlike us,
they don’t hurl the damned into flames, but they have devils chasing
them out into fields of ice.
“Very likely the founders of their religion also slept in unheated