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Venus in Furs

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<P>It is evening. An attractive maid brings me orders to appear before my mistress. I ascend the wide marble stairs, pass through the anteroom, a large salon furnished with extravagant magnificence, and knock at the door of the bedroom. I knock very softly for the luxury displayed everywhere intimidates me. Consequently no one hears me, and I stand for some time in front of the door. I have a feeling as if I were standing before the bed-room of the great Catherine, and it seems as if at any moment she might come out in her green sleeping furs, with the red ribbon and decoration on her bare breast, and with her little white powdered curls.</P> <P>I knocked again. Wanda impatiently pulls the door open.</P> <P>"Why so late?" she asks.</P> <P>"I was standing in front of the door, but you didn't hear me knock," I reply timidly. She closes the door, and clinging to me, she leads me to the red damask ottoman on which she had been resting. The entire arrangement of the room is in red damask&mdash;wall-paper, curtains, portieres, hangings of the bed. A magnificent painting of Samson and Delilah forms the ceiling.</P> <P>Wanda receives me in an intoxicating dishabille. Her white satin dress flows gracefully and picturesquely down her slender body, leaving her arms and breast bare, and carelessly they nestle amid the dark hair of the great fur of sable, lined with green velvet. Her red hair falls down her back as far as the hips, only half held by strings of black pearls.</P> <P>"Venus in Furs," I whisper, while she draws me to her breast and threatens to stifle me with her kisses. Then I no longer speak and neither do I think; everything is drowned out in an ocean of unimagined bliss.</P> <P>"Do you still love me?" she asks, her eye softening in passionate tenderness.</P> <P>"You ask!" I exclaimed.</P> <P>"You still remember your oath," she continued with an alluring smile, "now that everything is prepared, everything in readiness, I ask you once more, is it still your serious wish to become my slave?"</P> <P>"Am I not ready?" I asked in surprise.</P> <P>"You have not yet signed the papers."</P> <P>"Papers&mdash;what papers?"</P> <P>"Oh, I see, you want to give it up," she said, "well then, we will let it go."</P> <P>"But Wanda," I said, "you know that nothing gives me greater happiness than to serve you, to be your slave. I would give everything for the sake of feeling myself wholly in your power, even unto death&mdash;"</P> <P>"How beautiful you are," she whispered, "when you speak so enthusiastically, so passionately. I am more in love with you than ever and you want me to be dominant, stern, and cruel. I am afraid, it will be impossible for me to be so."</P> <P>"I am not afraid," I replied smiling, "where are the papers?'"</P> <P>"So that you may know what it means to be absolutely in my power, I have drafted a second agreement in which you declare that you have decided to kill yourself. In that way I can even kill you, if I so desire."</P> <P>"Give them to me."</P> <P>While I was unfolding the documents and reading them, Wanda got pen and ink. She then sat down beside me with her arm about my neck, and looked over my shoulder at the paper.</P> <P>The first one read:</P> <P><SMALL>AGREEMENT BETWEEN MME. VON DUNAJEW AND SEVERIN VON KUSIEMSKI</SMALL></P> <P>"Severin von Kusiemski ceases with the present day being the affianced of Mme. Wanda von Dunajew, and renounces all the rights appertaining thereunto; he on the contrary binds himself on his word of honor as a man and nobleman, that hereafter he will be her <I>slave</I> until such time that she herself sets him at liberty again.</P> <P>"As the slave of Mme. von Dunajew he is to bear the name Gregor, and he is unconditionally to comply with every one of her wishes, and to obey every one of her commands; he is always to be submissive to his mistress, and is to consider her every sign of favor as an extraordinary mercy.</P> <P>"Mme. von Dunajew is entitled not only to punish her slave as she deems best, even for the slightest inadvertence or fault, but also is herewith given the right to torture him as the mood may seize her or merely for the sake of whiling away the time. Should she so desire, she may kill him whenever she wishes; in short, he is her unrestricted property.</P> <P>"Should Mme. von Dunajew ever set her slave at liberty, Severin von Kusiemski agrees to forget everything that he has experienced or suffered as her slave, and promises <I>never under any circumstances and in no wise to think of vengeance or retaliation</I>.</P> <P>"Mme. von Dunajew on her behalf agrees as his mistress to appear as often as possible in her furs, especially when she purposes some cruelty toward her slave."</P> <P>Appended at the bottom of the agreement was the date of the present day.</P> <P>The second document contained only a few words.</P> <P>"Having since many years become weary of existence and its illusions, I have of my own free will put an end to my worthless life."</P> <P>I was seized with a deep horror when I had finished. There was still time, I could still withdraw, but the madness of passion and the sight of the beautiful woman that lay all relaxed against my shoulder carried me away.</P> <P>"This one you will have to copy, Severin," said Wanda, indicating the second document. "It has to be entirely in your own handwriting; this, of course, isn't necessary in the case of the agreement."</P> <P>I quickly copied the few lines in which I designated myself a suicide, and handed them to Wanda. She read them, and put them on the table with a smile.</P> <P>"Now have you the courage to sign it?" she asked with a crafty smile, inclining her head.</P> <P>I took the pen.</P> <P>"Let me sign first," said Wanda, "your hand is trembling, are you afraid of the happiness that is to be yours?"</P> <P>She took the agreement and pen. While engaging in my internal struggle, I looked upward for a moment. It occurred to me that the painting on the ceiling, like many of those of the Italian and Dutch schools, was utterly unhistorical, but this very fact gave it a strange mood which had an almost uncanny effect on me. Delilah, an opulent woman with flaming red hair, lay extended, half-disrobed, in a dark fur-cloak, upon a red ottoman, and bent smiling over Samson who had been overthrown and bound by the Philistines. Her smile in its mocking coquetry was full of a diabolical cruelty; her eyes, half- closed, met Samson's, and his with a last look of insane passion cling to hers, for already one of his enemies is kneeling on his breast with the red-hot iron to blind him.</P> <P>"Now&mdash;" said Wanda. "Why you are all lost in thought. What is the matter with you, everything will remain just as it was, even after you have signed, don't you know me yet, dear heart?"</P> <P>I looked at the agreement. Her name was written there in bold letters. I peered once more into her eyes with their potent magic, then I took the pen and quickly signed the agreement.</P> <P>"You are trembling," said Wanda calmly, "shall I help you?"</P> <P>She gently took hold of my hand, and my name appeared at the bottom of the second paper. Wanda looked once more at the two documents, and then locked them in the desk which stood at the head of the ottoman.</P> <P>"Now then, give me your passport and money."</P> <P>I took out my wallet and handed it to her. She inspected it, nodded, and put it with other things while in a sweet drunkenness I kneeled before her leaning my head against her breast.</P> <P>Suddenly she thrusts me away with her foot, leaps up, and pulls the bell-rope. In answer to its sound three young, slender negresses enter; they are as if carved of ebony, and are dressed from head to foot in red satin; each one has a rope in her hand.</P> <P>Suddenly I realize my position, and am about to rise. Wanda stands proudly erect, her cold beautiful face with its sombre brows and contemptous eyes is turned toward me. She stands before me as mistress, commanding, gives a sign with her hand, and before I really know what has happened to me the negresses have dragged me to the ground, and have tied me hand and foot. As in the case of one about to be executed my arms are bound behind my back, so that I can scarcely move.</P> <P>"Give me the whip, Haydee," commands Wanda, with unearthly calm.</P> <P>The negress hands it to her mistress, kneeling.</P> <P>"And now take off my heavy furs," she continues, "they impede me."</P> <P>The negress obeyed.</P> <P>"The jacket there!" Wanda commanded.</P> <P>Haydee quickly brought her the <I>kazabaika</I>, set with ermine, which lay on the bed, and Wanda slipped into it with two inimitably graceful movements.</P> <P>"Now tie him to the pillar here!"</P> <P>The negresses lifted me up, and twisting a heavy rope around my body, tied me standing against one of the massive pillars which supported the top of the wide Italian bed.</P> <P>Then they suddenly disappeared, as if the earth had swallowed them.</P> <P>Wanda swiftly approached me. Her white satin dress flowed behind her in a long train, like silver, like moonlight; her hair flared like flames against the white fur of her jacket. Now she stood in front of me with her left hand firmly planted on her hips, in her right hand she held the whip. She uttered an abrupt laugh.</P> <P>"Now play has come to an end between us," she said with heartless coldness. "Now we will begin in dead earnest. You fool, I laugh at you and despise you; you who in your insane infatuation have given yourself as a plaything to <I>me</I>, the frivolous and capricious woman. You are no longer the man I love, but <I>my slave</I>, at my mercy even unto life and death.</P> <P>"You shall know me!</P> <P>"First of all you shall have a taste of the whip in all seriousness, without having done anything to deserve it, so that you may understand what to expect, if you are awkward, disobedient, or refractory."</P> <P>With a wild grace she rolled back her fur-lined sleeve, and struck me across the back.</P> <P>I winced, for the whip cut like a knife into my flesh.</P> <P>"Well, how do you like that?" she exclaimed.</P> <P>I was silent.</P> <P>"Just wait, you will yet whine like a dog beneath my whip," she threatened, and simultaneously began to strike me again.</P> <P>The blows fell quickly, in rapid succession, with terrific force upon my back, arms, and neck; I had to grit my teeth not to scream aloud. Now she struck me in the face, warm blood ran down, but she laughed, and continued her blows.</P> <P>"It is only now I understand you," she exclaimed. "It really is a joy to have some one so completely in one's power, and a man at that, who loves you&mdash;you do love me?&mdash;No&mdash;Oh! I'll tear you to shreds yet, and with each blow my pleasure will grow. Now, twist like a worm, scream, whine! You will find no mercy in me!"</P> <P>Finally she seemed tired.</P> <P>She tossed the whip aside, stretched out on the ottoman, and rang.</P> <P>The negresses entered.</P> <P>"Untie him!"</P> <P>As they loosened the rope, I fell to the floor like a lump of wood. The black women grinned, showing their white teeth.</P> <P>"Untie the rope around his feet."</P> <P>They did it, but I was unable to rise.</P> <P>"Come over here, Gregor."</P> <P>I approached the beautiful woman. Never did she seem more seductive to me than to-day in spite of all her cruelty and contempt.</P> <P>"One step further," Wanda commanded. "Now kneel down, and kiss my foot."</P> <P>She extended her foot beyond the hem of white satin, and I, the supersensual fool, pressed my lips upon it.</P> <P>"Now, you won't lay eyes on me for an entire month, Gregor," she said seriously. "I want to become a stranger to you, so you will more easily adjust yourself to our new relationship. In the meantime you will work in the garden, and await my orders. Now, off with you, slave!"</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>A month has passed with monotonous regularity, heavy work, and a melancholy hunger, hunger for her, who is inflicting all these torments on me.</P> <P>I am under the gardener's orders; I help him lop the trees and prune the hedges, transplant flowers, turn over the flower beds, sweep the gravel paths; I share his coarse food and his hard cot; I rise and go to bed with the chickens. Now and then I hear that our mistress is amusing herself, surrounded by admirers. Once I heard her gay laughter even down here in the garden.</P> <P>I seem awfully stupid to myself. Was it the result of my present life, or was I so before? The month is drawing to a close&mdash;the day after to-morrow. What will she do with me now, or has she forgotten me, and left me to trim hedges and bind bouquets till my dying day?</P> <P>A written order.</P> <P>"The slave Gregor is herewith ordered to my personal service.</P> <P>Wanda Dunajew."</P> <P>With a beating heart I draw aside the damask curtain on the following morning, and enter the bed-room of my divinity. It is still filled with a pleasant half darkness.</P> <P>"Is it you, Gregor?" she asks, while I kneel before the fire-place, building a fire. I tremble at the sound of the beloved voice. I cannot see her herself; she is invisible behind the curtains of the four-poster bed.</P> <P>"Yes, my mistress," I reply.</P> <P>"How late is it?"</P> <P>"Past nine o'clock."</P> <P>"Breakfast."</P> <P>I hasten to get it, and then kneel down with the tray beside her bed.</P> <P>"Here is breakfast, my mistress."</P> <P>Wanda draws back the curtains, and curiously enough at the first glance when I see her among the pillows with loosened flowing hair, she seems an absolute stranger, a beautiful woman, but the beloved soft lines are gone. This face is hard and has an expression of weariness and satiety.</P> <P>Or is it simply that formerly my eye did not see this?</P> <P>She fixes her green eyes upon me, more with curiosity than with menace, perhaps even somewhat pityingly, and lazily pulls the dark sleeping fur on which she lies over the bared shoulder.</P> <P>At this moment she is very charming, very maddening, and I feel my blood rising to my head and heart. The tray in my hands begins to sway. She notices it and reached out for the whip which is lying on the toilet-table.</P> <P>"You are awkward, slave," she says furrowing her brow.</P> <P>I lower my looks to the ground, and hold the tray as steadily as possible. She eats her breakfast, yawns, and stretches her opulent limbs in the magnificent furs.</P> <P>She has rung. I enter.</P> <P>"Take this letter to Prince Corsini."</P> <P>I hurry into the city, and hand the letter to the Prince. He is a handsome young man with glowing black eyes. Consumed with jealousy, I take his answer to her.</P> <P>"What is the matter with you?" she asks with lurking spitefulness. "You are very pale."</P> <P>"Nothing, mistress, I merely walked rather fast."</P> <P>At luncheon the prince is at her side, and I am condemned to serve both her and him. They joke, and I am, as if non-existent, for both. For a brief moment I see black; I was just pouring some Bordeaux into his glass, and spilled it over the table-cloth and her gown.</P> <P>"How awkward," Wanda exclaimed and slapped my face. The prince laughed, and she also, but I felt the blood rising to my face.</P> <P>After luncheon she drove in the Cascine. She has a little carriage with a handsome, brown English horse, and holds the reins herself. I sit behind and notice how coquettishly she acts, and nods with a smile when one of the distinguished gentlemen bows to her.</P> <P>As I help her out of the carriage, she leans lightly on my arm; the contact runs through me like an electric shock. She <I>is</I> a wonderful woman, and I love her more than ever.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>For dinner at six she has invited a small group of men and women. I serve, but this time I do not spill any wine over the table-cloth.</P> <P>A slap in the face is more effective than ten lectures. It makes you understand very quickly, especially when the instruction is by the way of a small woman's hand.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>After dinner she drives to the Pergola Theater. As she descends the stairs in her black velvet dress with its large collar of ermine and with a diadem of white roses on her hair, she is literally stunning. I open the carriage-door, and help her in. In front of the theater I leap from the driver's seat, and in alighting she leaned on my arm, which trembled under the sweet burden. I open the door of her box, and then wait in the vestibule. The performance lasts four hours; she receives visits from her cavaliers, the while I grit my teeth with rage.</P> <P>It is way beyond midnight when my mistress's bell sounds for the last time.</P> <P>"Fire!" she orders abruptly, and when the fire-place crackles, "Tea!"</P> <P>When I return with the samovar, she has already undressed, and with the aid of the negress slipped into a white negligee.</P> <P>Haydee thereupon leaves.</P> <P>"Hand me the sleeping-furs," says Wanda, sleepily stretching her lovely limbs. I take them from the arm-chair, and hold them while she slowly and lazily slides into the sleeves. She then throws herself down on the cushions of the ottoman.</P> <P>"Take off my shoes, and put on my velvet slippers."</P> <P>I kneel down and tug at the little shoe which resists my efforts. "Hurry, hurry!" Wanda exclaims, "you are hurting me! just you wait&mdash;I will teach you." She strikes me with the whip, but now the shoe is off.</P> <P>"Now get out!" Still a kick&mdash;and then I can go to bed.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>To-night I accompanied her to a soiree. In the entrance-hall she ordered me to help her out of her furs; then with a proud smile, confident of victory, she entered the brilliantly illuminated room. I again waited with gloomy and monotonous thoughts, watching hour after hour run by. From time to time the sounds of music reached me, when the door remained open for a moment. Several servants tried to start a conversation with me, but soon desisted, since I knew only a few words of Italian.</P> <P>Finally I fell asleep, and dreamed that I murdered Wanda in a violent attack of jealousy. I was condemned to death, and saw myself strapped on the board; the knife fell, I felt it on my neck, but I was still alive&mdash;</P> <P>Then the executioner slapped my face.</P> <P>No, it wasn't the executioner; it was Wanda who stood wrathfully before me demanding her furs. I am at her side in a moment, and help her on with it.</P> <P>There is a deep joy in wrapping a beautiful woman into her furs, and in seeing and feeling how her neck and magnificent limbs nestle in the precious soft furs, and to lift the flowing hair over the collar. When she throws it off a soft warmth and a faint fragrance of her body still clings to the ends of the hairs of sable. It is enough to drive one mad.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>Finally a day came when there were neither guests, nor theater, nor other company. I breathed a sigh of relief. Wanda sat in the gallery, reading, and apparently had no orders for me. At dusk when the silvery evening mists fell she withdrew. I served her at dinner, she ate by herself, but had not a look, not a syllable for me, not even a slap in the face.</P> <P>I actually desire a slap from her hand. Tears fill my eyes, and I feel that she has humiliated me so deeply, that she doesn't even find it worth while to torture or maltreat me any further.</P> <P>Before she goes to bed, her bell calls me.</P> <P>"You will sleep here to-night, I had horrible dreams last night, and am afraid of being alone. Take one of the cushions from the ottoman, and lie down on the bearskin at my feet."</P> <P>Then Wanda put out the lights. The only illumination in the room was from a small lamp suspended from the ceiling. She herself got into bed. "Don't stir, so as not to wake me."</P> <P>I did as she had commanded, but could not fall asleep for a long time. I saw the beautiful woman, beautiful as a goddess, lying on her back on the dark sleeping-furs; her arms beneath her neck, with a flood of red hair over them. I heard her magnificent breast rise in deep regular breathing, and whenever she moved ever so slightly. I woke up and listened to see whether she needed me.</P> <P>But she did not require me.</P> <P>No task was required of me; I meant no more to her than a night- lamp, or a revolver which one places under one's pillow.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>Am I mad or is she? Does all this arise out of an inventive, wanton woman's brain with the intention of surpassing my supersensual fantasies, or is this woman really one of those Neronian characters who take a diabolical pleasure in treading underfoot, like a worm, human beings, who have thoughts and feelings and a will like theirs?</P> <P>What have I experienced?</P> <P>When I knelt with the coffee-tray beside her bed, Wanda suddenly placed her hand on my shoulder and her eyes plunged deep into mine.</P> <P>"What beautiful eyes you have," she said softly, "and especially now since you suffer. Are you very unhappy?"</P> <P>I bowed my head, and kept silent.</P> <P>"Severin, do you still love me," she suddenly exclaimed passionately, "can you still love me?"</P> <P>She drew me close with such vehemence that the coffee-tray upset, the can and cups fell to the floor, and the coffee ran over the carpet.</P> <P>"Wanda&mdash;my Wanda," I cried out and held her passionately against me; I covered her mouth, face, and breast with kisses.</P> <P>"It is my unhappiness that I love you more and more madly the worse you treat me, the more frequently you betray me. Oh, I shall die of pain and love and jealousy."</P> <P>"But I haven't betrayed you, as yet, Severin," replied Wanda smiling.</P> <P>"Not? Wanda! Don't jest so mercilessly with me," I cried. "Haven't I myself taken the letter to the Prince&mdash;"</P> <P>"Of course, it was an invitation for luncheon."</P> <P>"You have, since we have been in Florence&mdash;"</P> <P>"I have been absolutely faithful to you" replied Wanda, "I swear it by all that is holy to me. All that I have done was merely to fulfill your dream and it was done for your sake.</P> <P>"However, I shall take a lover, otherwise things will be only half accomplished, and in the end you will yet reproach me with not having treated you cruelly enough, my dear beautiful slave! But to-day you shall be Severin again, the only one I love. I haven't given away your clothes. They are here in the chest. Go and dress as you used to in the little Carpathian health-resort when our love was so intimate. Forget everything that has happened since; oh, you will forget it easily in my arms; I shall kiss away all your sorrows."</P> <P>She began to treat me tenderly like a child, to kiss me and caress me. Finally she said with a gracious smile, "Go now and dress, I too will dress. Shall I put on my fur-jacket? Oh yes, I know, now run along!"</P> <P>When I returned she was standing in the center of the room in her white satin dress, and the red <I>kazabaika</I> edged with ermine; her hair was white with powder and over her forehead she wore a small diamond diadem. For a moment she reminded me in an uncanny way of Catherine the Second, but she did not give me much time for reminiscences. She drew me down on the ottoman beside her and we enjoyed two blissful hours. She was no longer the stern capricious mistress, she was entirely a fine lady, a tender sweetheart. She showed me photographs and books which had just appeared, and talked about them with so much intelligence, clarity, and good taste, that I more than once carried her hand to my lips, enraptured. She then had me recite several of Lermontov's poems, and when I was all afire with enthusiasm, she placed her small hand gently on mine. Her expression was soft, and her eyes were filled with tender pleasure.</P> <P>"Are you happy?"</P> <P>"Not yet."</P> <P>She then leaned back on the cushions, and slowly opened her <I>kazabaika</I>.</P> <P>But I quickly covered the half-bared breast again with the ermine. "You are driving me mad." I stammered.</P> <P>"Come!"</P> <P>I was already lying in her arms, and like a serpent she was kissing me with her tongue, when again she whispered, "Are you happy?"</P> <P>"Infinitely!" I exclaimed.</P> <P>She laughed aloud. It was an evil, shrill laugh which made cold shivers run down by back.</P> <P>"You used to dream of being the slave, the plaything of a beautiful woman, and now you imagine you are a free human being, a man, my lover-you fool! A sign from me, and you are a slave again. Down on your knees!"</P> <P>I sank down from the ottoman to her feet, but my eye still clung doubtingly on hers.</P> <P>"You can't believe it," she said, looking at me with her arms folded across her breast. "I am bored, and you will just do to while away a couple of hours of time. Don't look at me that way&mdash;"</P> <P>She kicked me with her foot.</P> <P>"You are just what I want, a human being, a thing, an animal&mdash;"</P> <P>She rang. The three negresses entered.</P> <P>"Tie his hands behind his back."</P> <P>I remained kneeling and unresistingly let them do this. They led me into the garden, down to the little vineyard, which forms the southern boundary. Corn had been planted between the espaliers, and here and there a few dead stalks still stood. To one side was a plough.</P> <P>The negresses tied me to a post, and amused themselves sticking me with their golden hair-needles. But this did not last long, before Wanda appeared with her ermine cap on her head, and with her hands in the pockets of her jacket. She had me untied, and then my hands were fastened together on my back. She finally had a yoke put around my neck, and harnessed me to the plough.</P> <P>Then her black demons drove me out into the field. One of them held the plough, the other one led me by a line, the third applied the whip, and Venus in Furs stood to one side and looked on.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>When I was serving dinner on the following day Wanda said: "Bring another cover, I want you to dine with me to-day," and when I was about to sit down opposite her, she added, "No, over here, close by my side."</P> <P>She is in the best of humors, gives me soup with her spoon, feeds me with her fork, and places her head on the table like a playful kitten and flirts with me. I have the misfortune of looking at Haydee, who serves in my place, perhaps a little longer than is necessary. It is only now that I noticed her noble, almost European cast of countenance and her magnificent statuesque bust, which is as if hewn out of black marble. The black devil observes that she pleases me, and, grinning, shows her teeth. She has hardly left the room, before Wanda leaps up in a rage.</P> <P>"What, you dare to look at another woman besides me! Perhaps you like her even better than you do me, she is even more demonic!"</P> <P>I am frightened; I have never seen her like this before; she is suddenly pale even to the lips and her whole body trembles. Venus in Furs is jealous of her slave. She snatches the whip from its hook and strikes me in the face; then she calls her black servants, who bind me, and carry me down into the cellar, where they throw me into a dark, dank, subterranean compartment, a veritable prison-cell.</P> <P>Then the lock of the door clicks, the bolts are drawn, a key sings in the lock. I am a prisoner, buried.</P> <P>I have been lying here for I don't know how long, bound like a calf about to be hauled to the slaughter, on a bundle of damp straw, without any light, without food, without drink, without sleep. It would be like her to let me starve to death, if I don't freeze to death before then. I am shaking with cold. Or is it fever? I believe I am beginning to hate this woman.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>A red streak, like blood, floods across the floor; it is a light falling through the door which is now thrust open.</P> <P>Wanda appears on the threshold, wrapped in her sables, holding a lighted torch.</P> <P>"Are you still alive?" she asks.</P> <P>"Are you coming to kill me?" I reply with a low, hoarse voice.</P> <P>With two rapid strides Wanda reaches my side, she kneels down beside me, and places my head in her lap. "Are you ill? Your eyes glow so, do you love me? I want you to love me."</P> <P>She draws forth a short dagger. I start with fright when its blade gleams in front of my eyes. I actually believe that she is about to kill me. She laughs, and cuts the ropes that bind me.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>Every evening after dinner she now has me called. I have to read to her, and she discusses with me all sorts of interesting problems and subjects. She seems entirely transformed; it is as if she were ashamed of the savagery which she betrayed to me and of the cruelty with which she treated me. A touching gentleness transfigures her entire being, and when at the good-night she gives me her hand, a superhuman power of goodness and love lies in her eyes, of the kind which calls forth tears in us and causes us to forget all the miseries of existence and all the terrors of death.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR>
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