"Max, you silly devil, you'll break your neck if you go careering
slide that way. Drop it, and come to the Club House with me and
"I've had enough for to-day. I'm damp all through. There,
give us a
cigarette, Victor, old man. When are you going home?"
"Not for another hour. It's fine this afternoon, and I'm getting
decent shape. Look out, get off the track; here comes Fraulein Winkel.
Damned elegant the way she manages her sleigh!"
"I'm cold all through. That's the worst of this place--the
damp cold. Here, Forman, look after this sleigh--and stick it somewhere
that I can get it without looking through a hundred and fifty others
They sat down at a small round table near the stove and ordered
Victor sprawled in his chair, patting his little brown dog Bobo
looking, half laughingly, at Max.
"What's the matter, my dear? Isn't the world being nice and
"I want my coffee, and I want to put my feet into my pocket--they're
stones...Nothing to eat, thanks--the cake is like underdone india-rubber
Fuchs and Wistuba came and sat at their table. Max half turned
and stretched his feet out to the oven. The three other men all
talking at once--of the weather--of the record slide--of the fine
of the Wald See for skating.
Suddenly Fuchs looked at Max, raised his eyebrows and nodded across
Victor, who shook his head.
"Baby doesn't feel well," he said, feeding the brown
dog with broken lumps
of sugar, "and nobody's to disturb him--I'm nurse."
"That's the first time I've ever known him off colour,"
"I've always imagined he had the better part of this world
that could not
be taken away from him. I think he says his prayers to the dear
having spared him being taken home in seven basketsful to-night.
fool's game to risk your all that way and leave the nation desolate."
"Dry up," said Max. "You ought to be wheeled about
on the snow in a
"Oh, no offence, I hope. Don't get nasty. How's your wife,
"She's not at all well. She hurt her head coming down the
slide with Max
on Sunday. I told her to stay at home all day."
"I'm sorry. Are you other fellows going back to the town or
Fuchs and Victor said they were stopping--Max did not answer, but
motionless while the men paid for their coffee and moved away. Victor
back a moment and put a hand on his shoulder.
"If you're going right back, my dear, I wish you'd look Elsa
up and tell
her I won't be in till late. And feed with us to-night at Limpold,
you? And take some hot grog when you get in."
"Thanks, old fellow, I'm all right. Going back now."
He rose, stretched himself, buttoned on his heavy coat and lighted
From the door Victor watched him plunging through the heavy snow--head
bent--hands thrust in his pockets--he almost appeared to be running
the heavy snow towards the town.
Someone came stamping up the stairs--paused at the door of her sitting-
room, and knocked.
"Is that you, Victor?" she called.
"No, it is I... can I come in?"
"Of course. Why, what a Santa Claus! Hang your coat on the
shake yourself over the banisters. Had a good time?"
The room was full of light and warmth. Elsa, in a white velvet
lay curled up on the sofa--a book of fashions on her lap, a box
The curtains were not yet drawn before the windows and a blue light
through, and the white boughs of the trees sprayed across.
A woman's room--full of flowers and photographs and silk pillows--the
smothered in rugs--an immense tiger-skin under the piano--just the
"It was good enough," said Max. "Victor can't be
in till late. He told me
to come up and tell you."
He started walking up and down--tore off his gloves and flung them
"Don't do that, Max," said Elsa, "you get on my
nerves. And I've got a
headache to-day; I'm feverish and quite flushed...Don't I look flushed?"
He paused by the window and glanced at her a moment over his shoulder.
"No," he said; "I didn't notice it."
"Oh, you haven't looked at me properly, and I've got a new
too." She pulled her skirts together and patted a little place
"Come along and sit by me and tell me why you're being naughty."
But, standing by the window, he suddenly flung his arm across his
"Oh," he said, "I can't. I'm done--I'm spent--I'm
Silence in the room. The fashion-book fell to the floor with a
rustle of leaves. Elsa sat forward, her hands clasped in her lap;
strange light shone in her eyes, a red colour stained her mouth.
Then she spoke very quietly.
"Come over here and explain yourself. I don't know what on
earth you are
"You do know--you know far better than I. You've simply played
in my presence that I may feel worse. You've tormented me--you've
on--offering me everything and nothing at all. It's been a spider-and-fly
business from first to last--and I've never for one moment been
that--and I've never for one moment been able to withstand it."
He turned round deliberately.
"Do you suppose that when you asked me to pin your flowers
evening gown--when you let me come into your bedroom when Victor
while you did your hair--when you pretended to be a baby and let
you with grapes--when you have run to me and searched in all my
a cigarette--knowing perfectly well where they were kept--going
every pocket just the same--I knowing too--I keeping up the farce--do
suppose that now you have finally lighted your bonfire you are going
find it a peaceful and pleasant thing--you are going to prevent
house from burning?"
She suddenly turned white and drew in her breath sharply.
"Don't talk to me like that. You have no right to talk to
me like that. I
am another man's wife."
"Hum," he sneered, throwing back his head, "that's
rather late in the game,
and that's been your trump card all along. You only love Victor
cat-and-cream principle--you a poor little starved kitten that he's
everything to, that he's carried in his breast, never dreaming that
little pink claws could tear out a man's heart."
She stirred, looking at him with almost fear in her eyes.
"After all"--unsteadily--"this is my room; I'll
have to ask you to go."
But he stumbled towards her, knelt down by the couch, burying his
her lap, clasping his arms round her waist.
"And I LOVE you--I love you; the humiliation of it--I adore
don't--just a minute let me stay here--just a moment in a whole
She leant back and pressed her head into the pillows.
Then his muffled voice: "I feel like a savage. I want your
whole body. I
want to carry you away to a cave and love you until I kill you--you
understand how a man feels. I kill myself when I see you--I'm sick
own strength that turns in upon itself, and dies, and rises new
born like a
Phoenix out of the ashes of that horrible death. Love me just this
tell me a lie, SAY that you do--you are always lying."
Instead, she pushed him away--frightened.
"Get up," she said; "suppose the servant came in
with the tea?"
"Oh, ye gods!" He stumbled to his feet and stood staring
down at her.
"You're rotten to the core and so am I. But you're heathenishly
The woman went over to the piano--stood there--striking one note--her
drawn together. Then she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"I'll make a confession. Every word you have said is true.
I can't help
it. I can't help seeking admiration any more than a cat can help
people to be stroked. It's my nature. I'm born out of my time. And
you know, I'm not a COMMON woman. I like men to adore me--to flatter
even to make love to me--but I would never give myself to any man.
never let a man kiss me... even."
"It's immeasurably worse--you've no legitimate excuse. Why,
prostitute has a greater sense of generosity!"
"I know," she said, "I know perfectly well--but
I can't help the way I'm
built...Are you going?"
He put on his gloves.
"Well," he said, "what's going to happen to us now?"
Again she shrugged her shoulders.
"I haven't the slightest idea. I never have--just let things
"All alone?" cried Victor. "Has Max been here?"
"He only stayed a moment, and wouldn't even have tea. I sent
him home to
change his clothes...He was frightfully boring."
"You poor darling, your hair's coming down. I'll fix it, stand
moment...so you were bored?"
"Um--m--frightfully...Oh, you've run a hairpin right into
your wife's head
--you naughty boy!"
She flung her arms round his neck and looked up at him, half laughing,
a beautiful, loving child.
"God! What a woman you are," said the man. "You
make me so infernally
proud--dearest, that I...I tell you!"