* * * * *
During the night I startled out of my sleep with a scream. I had
been dreaming of an icefield in which I had lost my way; I had been
looking in vain for a way out. Suddenly an eskimo drove up in a
sleigh harnessed with reindeer; he had the face of the waiter who had
shown me to the unheated room.
“What are you looking for here, my dear sir?” he exclaimed. “This is
the North Pole.”
A moment later he had disappeared, and Wanda flew over the smooth
ice on tiny skates. Her white satin skirt fluttered and crackled; the
ermine of her jacket and cap, but especially her face, gleamed whiter
than the snow. She shot toward me, inclosed me in her arms, and began
to kiss me. Suddenly I felt my blood running warm down my side.
“What are you doing?” I asked horror-stricken.
She laughed, and as I looked at her now, it was no longer Wanda, but
a huge, white she-bear, who was digging her paws into my body.
I cried out in despair, and still heard her diabolical laughter when
I awoke, and looked about the room in surprise.
Early in the morning I stood at Wanda’s door, and the waiter brought
the coffee. I took it from him, and served it to my beautiful
mistress. She had already dressed, and looked magnificent, all fresh
and roseate. She smiled graciously at me and called me back, when I
was about to withdraw respectfully.
“Come, Gregor, have your breakfast quickly too,” she said, “then we
will go house-hunting. I don’t want to stay in the hotel any longer
than I have to. It is very embarassing here. If I chat with you for
more than a minute, people will immediately say: ‘The fair Russian
is having an affair with her servant, you see, the race of Catherines
isn’t extinct yet.'”
Half an hour later we went out; Wanda was in her cloth-gown with the
Russian cap, and I in my Cracovian costume. We created quite a stir. I
walked about ten paces behind, looking very solemn, but expected
momentarily to have to break out into loud laughter. There was scarcely
a street in which one or the other of the attractive houses did not bear
the sign _camere ammobiliate_. Wanda always sent me upstairs, and only
when the apartment seemed to answer her requirements did she herself
ascend. By noon I was as tired as a stag-hound after the hunt.
We entered a new house and left it again without having found a suitable
habitation. Wanda was already somewhat out of humor. Suddenly she said
to me: “Severin, the seriousness with which you play your part is
charming, and the restrictions, which we have placed upon each other are
really annoying me. I can’t stand it any longer, I do love you, I must
kiss you. Let’s go into one of the houses.”
“But, my lady–” I interposed.
“Gregor?” She entered the next open corridor and ascended a few
steps of the dark stair-way; then she threw her arms about me with
passionate tenderness and kissed me.
“Oh, Severin, you were very wise. You are much more dangerous as
slave than I would have imagined; you are positively irrestible, and
I am afraid I shall have to fall in love with you again.”
“Don’t you love me any longer then,” I asked seized by a sudden
She solemnly shook her head, but kissed me again with her swelling,
We returned to the hotel. Wanda had luncheon, and ordered me also
quickly to get something to eat.
Of course, I wasn’t served as quickly as she, and so it happened
that just as I was carrying the second bite of my steak to my mouth,
the waiter entered and called out with his theatrical gesture:
“Madame wants you, at once.”
I took a rapid and painful leave of my food, and, tired and hungry,
hurried toward Wanda, who was already on the street.
“I wouldn’t have imagined you could be so cruel,” I said
reproachfully. “With all these, fatiguing duties you don’t even leave
me time to eat in peace.”
Wanda laughed gaily. “I thought you had finished,” she said, “but
never mind. Man was born to suffer, and you in particular. The
martyrs didn’t have any beefsteaks either.”
I followed her resentfully, gnawing at my hunger.
“I have given up the idea of finding a place in the city,” Wanda
continued. “It will be difficult to find an entire floor which is
shut off and where you can do as you please. In such a strange, mad
relationship as ours there must be no jarring note. I shall rent an
entire villa–and you will be surprised. You have my permission now
to satisfy your hunger, and look about a bit in Florence. I won’t be
home till evening. If I need you then, I will have you called.”
I looked at the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Logia di Lanzi, and
then I stood for a long time on the banks of the Arno. Again and
again I let my eyes rest on the magnificent ancient Florence, whose
round cupolas and towers were drawn in soft lines against the blue,
cloudless sky. I watched its splendid bridges beneath whose wide
arches the lively waves of the beautiful, yellow river ran, and the
green hills which surrounded the city, bearing slender cypresses and
extensive buildings, palaces and monasteries.
It is a different world, this one in which we are–a gay, sensuous,
smiling world. The landscape too has nothing of the seriousness and
somberness of ours. It is a long ways off to the last white villas
scattered among the pale green of the mountains, and yet there isn’t
a spot that isn’t bright with sunlight. The people are less serious
than we; perhaps, they think less, but they all look as though they
It is also maintained that death is easier in the South.
I have a vague feeling now that such a thing as beauty without thorn
and love of the senses without torment does exist.
Wanda has discovered a delightful little villa and rented it for the
winter. It is situated on a charming hill on the left bank of the
Arno, opposite the Cascine. It is surrounded by an attractive garden
with lovely paths, grass plots, and magnificent meadow of camelias.
It is only two stories high, quadrangular in the Italian fashion. An
open gallery runs along one side, a sort of loggia with plaster-casts
of antique statues; stone steps lead from it down into the garden.
From the gallery you enter a bath with a magnificent marble basin,
from which winding stairs lead to my mistress’ bed-chamber.
Wanda occupies the second story by herself.
A room on the ground floor has been assigned to me; it is very
attractive, and even has a fireplace.
I have roamed through the garden. On a round hillock I discovered a
little temple, but I found its door locked. However, there is a chink
in the door and when I glue my eye to it, I see the goddess of love
on a white pedestal.
A slight shudder passes over me. It seems to me as if she were
smiling at me saying: “Are you there? I have been expecting you.”