The Story of O
By Pauline Réage
IV - The Owl
What O failed completely to understand now was why she had ever been hesitant to speak to Jacqueline about what René rightly called her true condition. Anne-Marie had warned her that she would be changed when she left Samois, but O had never imagined that the change would be so great. With Jacqueline back, more lovely and radiant than ever, it seemed natural to her to be no more reticent about revealing herself when she bathed or dressed than she was when she was alone. And yet Jacqueline was so disinterested in others, in anything that did not pertain directly to herself, that it was not until the second day after Jacqueline arrived back and by chance came into the bathroom just as O was stepping out of the tub, that O jingled her irons against the porcelain to draw her attention to the odd noise. Jacqueline turned her head, and saw both the disks hanging between her legs and the black stripes crisscrossing her thighs and breasts.
"What in the world's the matter?" she said.
"It's Sir Stephen," O replied. And she added, as thought it were something to be taken completely for granted: "René gave me to him, and he's had me pierced with his rings. Look." And as she dried herself with the bath towel she came over to Jacqueline, who was so staggered she had slumped onto the lacquered bathroom stool, close enough so that Jacqueline could take the disk in her hand and read the inscription; then, slipping down her bathrobe she turned around and pointed to the initials S and H engraved in her buttocks and said:
"He also had me branded with his monogram. As for the rest, that's where I was flogged with a riding crop. He generally whips me himself, but he also has a Negro maid whip me."
Dumbfounded, Jacqueline gazed at O. O burst out laughing and made as though to kiss her. Terror-stricken, Jacqueline pushed her away and fled into her own room. O leisurely finished drying herself, put on her perfume, and combed her hair. She put on her corset, her stockings, her mules, and when she opened the bathroom door she encountered Jacqueline's gaze in the mirror, before which she was combing her hair, without having the vaguest notion what she was doing.
"Lace up my corset, will you?" she said. "You really do look astonished. René's in love with you, did he say anything about it?"
"I don't understand," Jacqueline said. And she lost no time revealing what surprised her the most. "You look as though you were proud of it, I don't understand."
"You will, after René takes you to Roissy. By the way, have you already slept with him?"
Jacqueline's face turned a bright crimson, and she was shaking her head in denial with such little conviction that once again O burst out laughing.
"You're lying, darling. Don't be an ass. You have every right in the world to sleep with him. And I might add that that's no reason to reject me. Come, let me caress you and I'll tell you all about Roissy."
Had Jacqueline been afraid that O's jealousy would explode in her face and then yield to her out of relief when it did not, or was it curiosity, did she want to hear the promised explanations, or was it merely because she loved the patience, the slowness, the passion of O's caresses? In any event, yield she did.
"Tell me about it," she later said to O.
"All right," O said. "But first kiss the tips of my breasts. It's time you got used to it, if you're ever to be of any use to René."
Jacqueline did as she was bade, so well in fact that she wrested a moan from O.
"Tell me about it," she said.
O's tale, however faithful and clear it may have been, and notwithstanding the material proof she herself constituted, seemed completely mad to Jacqueline.
"You mean you're going back in September?" she said.
"After we've come back from the Midi," O said. "I'll take you, or René will."
"To see what it's like, I wouldn't mind that," Jacqueline went on, "but only to see what it's like."
"I'm sure that can be arranged," said O, though she was convinced of the contrary. But, she kept telling herself, if she could only persuade Jacqueline to enter the gates at Roissy, Sir Stephen would be grateful to her - and once she was in, there would be enough valets, chains, and whips to teach Jacqueline to obey.
She already knew that the summer house that Sir Stephen had rented near Cannes on the Riviera, where she was scheduled to spend the month of August with René, Jacqueline, and him (and with Jacqueline's younger sister, whom Jacqueline had asked if she could bring along, not because she cared especially to have her but because her mother had been hounding her to obtain O's permission), she knew that her room, to which she was certain she could entice Jacqueline, who would be unable to refuse when René was away, was separated from Sir Stephen's bedroom by a wall that looked as though it was full but actually was not; the wall was decorated with a trompe l'oeil latticework which enabled Sir Stephen to raise a blind on his die and thus to see and hear as well as if he had been standing beside the bed. Jacqueline would be surrendering to Sir Stephen's gaze while O was caressing her, and by the time she found out it would be too late. O was pleased to think that she could deliver Jacqueline by an act of betrayal, because she had felt insulted at seeing Jacqueline's contempt for her condition as a flogged and branded slave, a condition of which O herself was proud.
O had never been to the south of France before. The clear blue sky, the almost mirror-like sea, the motionless pines beneath the burning sun: everything seemed mineral and hostile to her. "No real trees," she remarked sadly to herself as she gazed at the fragrant thickets full of shrubs and bushes, where all the tones, and even the lichens, were warm to the touch. "The sea doesn't even smell like the sea," she thought. She blamed the sea for washing up nothing more than an occasional piece of wretched seaweed which looked like dung, she blamed it for being too blue and for always lapping at the same bit of shore. But in the garden of Sir Stephen's villa, which was an old farmhouse that had been restored, they were far from the sea. To left and right, high walls protected them from the neighbors; the servants' wing faced the entrance courtyard, while the side of the house overlooking the garden faced the east; O's bedroom was on this side, and opened directly onto a second story terrace. The tops of the tall black cypress trees were level with the overlapping hollow tiles which served as a parapet for the terrace, which was protected from the noon sun by a reed latticework. The floor of the terrace was of red tile, the same as the tiles in her bedroom. Aside from the wall which separated O's bedroom from Sir Stephen's - and this was the wall of a large alcove bounded by an archway and separated from the rest of the room by a kind of railing similar to the railings of stairways, with banisters of hand-carved wood - all the other walls were whitewashed. The thick white run on the tile floor was made of cotton, the curtains were of yellow-and-white linen. There were two armchairs upholstered in the same material, and some triple-layered Oriental cushions. The only furniture was a heavy and very handsome Regency bureau made of walnut, and a very long, narrow peasant table in light-colored wood which was waxed till it shone like a mirror. O hung her clothes in a closet.
Jacqueline's little sister Natalie had been given a room near O's, and in the morning when she knew that O was taking a sunbath on the terrace, she came out and lay down beside her. She had snow-white skin, was a shade plump, but her features were none the less delicate and like her sister, she had slanting eyes, but hers were black and shining, which made her look Chinese. Her black hair was cut in straight bangs across her forehead, just above her eyebrows, and in the back was also cut straight, at the nape of the neck. She had firm, tremulous little breasts, and her adolescent hips were only beginning to fill out. She too had chanced upon O, and had taken her quite by surprise, one day when she had dashed out onto the terrace expecting to find her sister but found O instead, lying there alone on her stomach on the Oriental pillows. But what had shocked Jacqueline filled Natalie with envy and desire. She asked her sister about it. Jacqueline's replies, which were intended to shock and revolt young Natalie by repeating to her what O had related, in no wise altered Natalie's feelings. If anything, it accomplished the contrary. She had fallen in love with O. For more than a week she managed to keep it to herself, then late one Sunday afternoon she managed to be alone with O.
The weather had been cooler than normal. René, who had spent part of the morning swimming, was asleep on the sofa of a cool room on the ground floor. Nettled at seeing that he should prefer to take a nap, Jacqueline had gone upstairs and joined O in her alcove. The sea and sun had already made her more golden than before: her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes, her nether fleece, her armpits, all seemed to be powdered with silver, and since she was not wearing any make-up, her mouth was the same color pink as the pink flesh between her thighs.
To make sure that Sir Stephen could see Jacqueline in detail - and O thought to herself that if she were Jacqueline she would have guessed, or noticed, his invisible presence - O took pains to pull back her legs and keep them spread in the light of the bedside lamp which she had turned on. The shutters were closed, the room almost dark, despite the thin rays of light that spilled in where the wood was not snug. For more than an hour Jacqueline moaned to O's caressed, and finally, her breasts aroused, her arms thrown back behind her head while her hands circled the wooden bars of the headboard of O's Italian-style bed, she began to cry out when O, parting the lobes hemmed with pale hair, slowly began to bite the crest of flesh at the point between her thighs where the dainty, supple lips joined. O felt her rigid and burning beneath her tongue, and wrested cry after cry from her lips, with no respite, until she suddenly relaxed, the springs broken, and she lay there moist with pleasure. Then O sent her back to her room, where she fell asleep.
Jacqueline was awake and ready, though, when René came for her at five o'clock to go sailing, with Natalie, in a small sailboat, as they had grown accustomed to doing. A slight wind usually came up at the end of the afternoon.
"Where's Natalie?" René said.
Natalie was not in her room, nor was she anywhere in the house. They went out to the garden and called her. René went as far as the thicket of scrub oak at the end of the garden; no one answered.
"Maybe she's already down at the inlet," René said, "or in the boat."
They left without calling her any more.
It was at that point that O, who was lying on the Oriental pillows on her terrace, glanced through the tile banisters, and saw Natalie running toward the house. She got up, put on her dressing gown - it was still so warm, even this late in the afternoon, that she was naked - and was tying her belt when Natalie erupted into the room like one of the Furies and threw herself at O.
"She's gone," she shouted, "she's finally gone. I heard her, O, I heard you both, I was listening behind the door. You kiss her, you caress her. Why don't you caress me, why don't you kiss me? Is it because I'm dark, because I'm not pretty? She doesn't love you, O, but I do, I love you!" And she broke down and began to sob.
"All right, fine," O said to herself.
She eased the child into an armchair, took a large handkerchief from her bureau (it was one of Sir Stephen's), and when Natalie's sobs had subsided a little, wiped away her tears away. Natalie begged her forgiveness, kissing O's hands.
"Even if you don't want to kiss me, O, keep me with you. Keep me with you always. If you had a dog, you'd keep him and take care of him. And even if you don't want to kiss me, but would enjoy beating me, you can beat me. But don't send me away."
"Keep still, Natalie, you don't know what you're saying," O murmured, almost in a whisper.
The child, slipping down and hugging O's knees, also replied in a near-whisper:
"Oh, yes I do. I saw you the other morning on the terrace. I saw the initials, I saw the long black-and-blue marks. And Jacqueline has told me..."
"Told you what?"
"Where you've been, O, and what they did to you there."
"Did she talk to you about Roissy?"
"She also told me that you had been, that you are..."
"That I was what?"
"That you wear iron rings."
"That's right," O said, "and what else?"
"That Sir Stephen whips you every day."
"That's correct," O repeated, "and he'll be here any second. So run along, Natalie."
Natalie, without shifting position, raised her head to O, and O's eyes encountered her adoring gaze.
"Teach me, O, please teach me," she started in again, "I want to be like you. I'll do anything you tell me. Promise me you'll take me with you when you go back to that place Jacqueline told me about."
"You're too young," O said.
"No, I'm not too young, I'm fifteen going on sixteen," she cried out angrily. "I'm not too young. Ask Sir Stephen," she said, for he had just entered the room.
Natalie was granted permission to remain with O, and extracted the promise that she would be taken to Roissy. But Sir Stephen forbade O to teach her the least caress, not even a kiss on the lips, and also gave strict instructions that O was not to allow Natalie to kiss her. He had every intention of having her reach Roissy completely untouched by hands or lips. By way of compensation, what he did demand, since Natalie was loath to leave O, was that she not leave her a single moment, that she witness O caressing both Jacqueline and himself, that she be present when O yielded to him and when he whipped her, or when she was flogged by old Norah. The kisses with which O smothered her sister, O's mouth glued to her, made Natalie quiver with jealousy and hate. But glowering on the carpet in the alcove, at the foot of O's bed, like little Dinarzade at the foot of Scheherazade's bed, she watched each time that O, tied to the wooden balustrade, writhed and squirmed beneath the riding crop, saw O on her knees humbling receiving Sir Stephen's massive upright sex in her mouth, saw her, prostate, spread her own buttocks with both hands to offer him the after passage - she witnessed all these things with no other feelings but those of admiration, envy, and impatience.
It was about this same time that a change took place in Jacqueline: perhaps O had counted too heavily both on Jacqueline's indifference and her sensuality, perhaps Jacqueline herself naively felt that surrendering herself to O was dangerous for her relations with René: but whatever the reason, she suddenly ceased coming to O. At the same time, she seemed to be keeping herself aloof from René, with whom, whoever, she was spending almost every day and every night. She had never acted as though she were in love with him. She studied him coldly, and when she smiled at him, her eyes remained cold. Even assuming that she was as completely abandoned with him as she was with O, which was quite likely, O could not help thinking that this surrender was superficial. Whereas René was head over heels in love with her, paralyzed by a love such as he had never known before, a worrisome, uncertain love, one he was far from sure was requited, a love that acts not, for fear of offending. He lived, he slept in the same house as Sir Stephen, the same house as O, he lunched, he dined, he went on walks with Sir Stephen, with O, he conversed with them both: he didn't see them, he didn't hear what they said. He saw, he heard, he talked through them, beyond them, and as in a dream when one tried to catch a departing train or clings desperately to the parapet of a collapsing bridge, he was forever trying to understand the raison d'être, the truth which must have been lurking somewhere inside Jacqueline, under that golden skin, like the mechanism inside a crying doll.
"Well," thought O, "the day I was so afraid would arrive is here, the day when I'd merely be a shadow in René's past. And I'm not even sad; the only thing I feel for him is pity, and even knowing he doesn't desire me any longer, I can see him every day without any trace of bitterness, without the least regret, without even feeling hurt. And yet only a few weeks ago, I dashed all the way across town to his office, to beg him to tell me he still loved me. Was that all my love was, all it meant? So light, so easily gone and forgotten? Is solace that simple? And solace is not even the right word: I'm happy. Do you mean to say it was enough for him to have given me to Sir Stephen for me to be detached from him, for me to find a new love so easily in the arms of another?"
But then, what was René compared to Sir Stephen? Ropes of straw, anchors of cork, paper chains: these were the real symbols of the bonds with which he had held her, and which he had been so quick to sever. But what a delight and comfort, this iron ring which pierces the flesh and weighs one down forever, this mark eternal, how peaceful and reassuring the hand of a master who lays you on a bed of rock, the love of a master who knows how to take what he loves ruthlessly, without pity. And O said to herself that, in the final analysis, with René she had been an apprentice to love, she had loved him only to learn how to give herself, enslaved and surfeited, to Sir Stephen. But to see René, who had been so free with her - and she had loved his free ways - walking as though he were hobbled, like someone whose legs were ensnarled in the water and reeds of a pond whose surface seems calm but which, deeper down, swirls with subterranean currents, to see him thus, filled O with hate for Jacqueline. Did René dimly perceive her feelings? Did O carelessly reveal how she felt? In any case, O committed an error.
One afternoon she and Jacqueline had gone to Cannes together to the hairdresser, alone, then to the Reserve Café for an ice cream on the terrace. Jacqueline was superb in her tight-fitting black slacks and sheer black sweater, eclipsing even the brilliance of the children around her she was so bronzed and sleek, so hard and bright in the burning sun, so insolent and inaccessible. She told O she had made an appointment there with the director whose picture she had been playing in in Paris, to arrange for taking some exteriors, probably in the mountains above Saint-Paul-de-Vence. And there he was, forthright and determined. He didn't need to open his mouth, it was obvious he was in love with Jacqueline. All one had to do was see the way he looked at her. What was so surprising about that? Nothing; but what was surprising was Jacqueline. Half reclining in one of those adjustable beach chairs, Jacqueline listened to him as he talked of dates to be set, appointments to be made, of the problems of raising enough money to finish the half-completed picture. He used the tu form in addressing Jacqueline, who replied with a mere nod or shake of her head, keeping her eyes half-closed. O was seated across from Jacqueline, with him between them. It took no great act of perception to notice that Jacqueline, whose eyes were lowered, was watching, from beneath the protection of those motionless eyelids, the young man's desire, the way she always did when she thought no one was looking. But strangest of all was how upset she seemed, her hands quiet at her side, her face serious and expressionless, without the trace of a smile, something she had never displayed in René's presence. A fleeting, almost imperceptible smile on her lips as O leaned forward to set her glass of ice water on the table and their eyes met, was all O needed to realize that Jacqueline was aware that O knew the game was up. It didn't bother her, though; it was rather O who blushed.
"Are you too warm?" Jacqueline said. "We'll be leaving in five minutes. Red is becoming to you, by the way."
Then she smiled again, turning her gaze to her interlocutor, a smile so utterly tender that it seemed impossible he would not hasten to embrace her. But he did not. He was too young to know that motionlessness and silence can be the lair of immodesty. He allowed Jacqueline to get up, shook hands with her, and said goodbye. She would phone him. He also said goodbye to the shadow that O represented for him, and stood on the sidewalk watching the black Buick disappear down the avenue between the sun-drenched houses and the dark, almost purple sea. The palm trees looked as though they had been cut out of metal, the strollers like poorly fashioned wax models, animated by some absurd mechanism.
"You really like him all that much?" O said to Jacqueline as the car left the city and moved along the upper coast road.
"Is that any business of yours?" Jacqueline responded.
"It's René's business," she retorted.
"What is René's business, and Sir Stephen's, and, if I understand it correctly, a number of other people's, is the fact that you're badly seated. You're going to wrinkle your dress."
O failed to move.
"And I also thought," Jacqueline added, "that you weren't supposed to cross your legs."
But O was no longer listening. What did she care about Jacqueline's threats. If Jacqueline threatened to inform on her for that peccadillo, what did she think would keep her from denouncing Jacqueline in turn to René? Not that O lacked the desire to. But René would not be able to bear the news that Jacqueline was lying to him, or that she had plans of her own which did not include him. How could she make Jacqueline believe that if she were to keep still, it would be to avoid seeing René lose face, turning pale over someone other than herself, and perhaps revealing himself to be too weak to punish her? How could she convince her that her silence, even more, would be the result of her fear at seeing René's wrath turned against her, the bearer of ill tidings, the informer? How could she tell Jacqueline that she would not say a word, without giving the impression that she was making a mutual non-betrayal pact with her? For Jacqueline had the idea that O was terrified, terrified to death at what would happen to her if she, Jacqueline, talked.
From that point on, until they got out of the car in the courtyard of the old farm, they did not exchange another word. Without glancing at O, Jacqueline picked a white geranium growing beside the house. O was following closely enough behind to catch a whiff of the strong, delicate odor of the leaf crumpled between her hands. Did she believe she would thus be able to mask the odor of her own sweat, which was marking darkening circles beneath the arms of her sweater and causing the black material to cling to her armpits.
In the big whitewashed room with the red-tile floor, René was alone.
"You're late," he said when they came in. "Sir Stephen's waiting for you in the next room," he added, nodding to O. "He needs you for something. He's not in a very good mood."
Jacqueline burst out laughing, and O looked at her and turned red.
"You could have saved it for another time," said René, who misinterpreted both Jacqueline's laugh and O's concern.
"That's not the reason," Jacqueline said, "but I might say, René, your obedient beauty isn't so obedient when you're not around. Look at her dress, you see how wrinkled it is?"
O was standing in the middle of the room, facing René. He told her to turn around; she was rooted to the spot.
"She also crosses her legs," Jacqueline added, "but that you won't be able to see, of course. As you won't be able to see the way she accosts the boys."
"That's not true," O shouted, "you're the one!" and she leaped at Jacqueline.
René grabbed her just as she was about to hit Jacqueline, and she went on struggling in his arms merely for the sake of feeling weaker than he, of being at his mercy, when, lifting her head, she saw Sir Stephen standing in the doorway looking at her.
Jacqueline had thrown herself down on the sofa, her tiny face hardened with anger and fear, and O could feel that René, though he had his hands full trying to subdue her, had eyes only for Jacqueline. She ceased resisting and crestfallen at the idea of having been found wanting in the presence of Sir Stephen, she repeated, this time almost in a whisper:
"It's not true, I swear it's not true."
Without uttering a word, without so much as a glance at Jacqueline, Sir Stephen made a sign to René to let O go, and to O to go into the other room. But on the other side of the door O, who was immediately wedged against the wall, her belly and breasts seized, her lips forced apart by Sir Stephen's insistent tongue, moaned with happiness and deliverance. The points of her breasts stiffened beneath his hand's caress, and with his other hand Sir Stephen probed her loins so roughly she thought she would faint. Would she ever dare to tell him that no pleasure, no joy, no figment of her imagination could ever compete with the happiness she felt at the way he used her with such utter freedom, at the notion that he could do anything with her, that there was no limit, no restriction in the manner with which, on her body, he might search for pleasure. Her absolute certainty that when he touched her, whether it was to fondle or flog her, when he ordered her to do something it was solely because he wanted to, her certainty that all he cared about was his own desire, so overwhelmed and gratified O that each time she saw new proof of it, and often even when it merely occurred to her in thought, a cape of fire, a burning breastplate extending from the shoulders to the knees, descended upon her. As she was there, pinned against the wall, her eyes closed, her lips murmuring "I love you" when she could find the breath to say them, Sir Stephen's hands, though they were as cool as the waters of a bubbling spring on the fire coursing through her from head to toe, made her burn even hotter. Gently he released her, dropping her skirt down over her moist thighs, closing her bolero over her quivering breasts.
"Come, O," he said, "I need you."
Then, opening her eyes, O noticed that they were not alone. The big, bare, whitewashed room, identical in all respects to the living room, also opened, through a French door, onto the garden. Seated in a wicker chair on the terrace, which lay between the house and garden, an enormous man, a giant of a creature with a cigarette between his lips, his head shaved and his vast belly swelling beneath his open shirt and cloth trousers, was gazing at O. He rose and moved toward Sir Stephen, who was shoving O ahead of him. It was then that O noticed, dangling at the end of his watch chain, the Roissy insignia that the man was sporting. Still, Sir Stephen politely introduced him to O, simply as "Commander," with no name attached, and much to O's surprise she saw that he was kissing her hand, the first time it had happened since she had been involved with Roissy members (with the exception of Sir Stephen).
All three of them came back into the room, leaving the door open. Sir Stephen walked over to one end of the fireplace and rang. On the Chinese table beside the sofa, O saw a bottle of whisky, some soda water, and glasses. So he was not ringing for something to drink. At the same time she noticed a large cardboard box on the floor beside the fireplace. The man from Roissy had sat down on a wicker chair, Sir Stephen was half-seated on the edge of the round table, with one leg dangling. O, who had been motioned over to the sofa, had meekly raised her skirt and could feel the prickly cotton of the roughly woven Provençal upholstery.
It was Norah who came in. Sir Stephen ordered her to undress O and remove her clothing from the room. O allowed her to take off her bolero, her dress, her whalebone belt which constricted her waist, and her sandals. As soon as she had stripped O completely, Norah left, and O, automatically reverting to the rules of Roissy, and certain that all Sir Stephen waned from her was perfect submissiveness, remained standing in the middle of the room, her eyes lowered, so that she sensed rather than saw Natalie slip in through the open window, dressed in black like her sister, barefoot and silent. Sir Stephen had doubtless explained who she was and why she was there; to his visitor he merely mentioned her name, to which the visitor did not respond, and asked her to make them a drink. As soon as she had handed them some whisky, soda, water, and the ice cubes (and, in the silence, the clink of the ice cubes against the side of the glass made a harrowing racket), the Commander got up from his wicker chair, in which he had been sitting while O was being undressed and, with his glass in his hand, walked over to O. O thought that, with his free hand, he was going to take her breast or seize her belly. But he did not touch her, confining himself to scrutinizing her closely, from her parted lips to her parted knees. He circled her, studying her breasts, her thighs, her hindquarters, inspecting her in detail but offering no comment, and this careful scrutiny and the presence of this gigantic body so close to her overwhelmed O so that she wasn't sure whether she wanted to run away or, on the contrary, have him throw her down and crush her. So upset was she that she lost control and raised her eyes toward Sir Stephen, searching for help. He understood, smiled, came over to her, and talking both her hands, pulled them behind her back, and held them in one of his. She leaned back against him, her eyes closed, and it was in a dream, or at least in the dusk of a near-sleep born of exhaustion, the way she had heard as a child, still half under the influence of ether, the nurses talking about her, thinking she was still asleep, of her hair, her pallor, her flat belly where only the faint early signs of pubescence were showing, it was in a dream that she heard the stranger complimenting Sir Stephen on her, paying special due to the pleasant contrast between her ample bosom and the narrow waist, the irons which he found longer, thicker, and more visible than usual. At the same time, she learned that Sir Stephen had in all probability consented to lend her to him the following week, since he was thanking Sir Stephen for something. At which point Sir Stephen, taking her by the nape of the neck, gently told her to wake up and, with Natalie, to go upstairs and wait in her room.
Had she good reason to be so upset, and to be so annoyed at Natalie who, elated at the prospect of seeing O opened by someone other than Sir Stephen, was doing a kind of wild Indian dance around her and shouting:
"Do you think he'll go into your mouth too, O?" You should have seen the way he was looking at your mouth! Oh, how lucky you are to be desired like that! I'm sure that he'll whip you: he came back three times to those marks where you can see you've been whipped. At least you won't be thinking about Jacqueline then!"
"I'm not always thinking about Jacqueline, you silly fool," O replied.
"No! I'm not silly and I'm not a fool. I know very well you miss her," the child said.
It was true, but not completely. What O missed was not, properly speaking, Jacqueline, but the use of a girl's body, with no restrictions attached. If Natalie had not been declared off-limits to her, she would have taken Natalie, and the only reason she had not violated the restriction was her certainty that Natalie would be given to her at Roissy in a few weeks' time, and that, some time previously, Natalie would be handed over in her presence by her, and thanks to her. She was burning to demolish the wall of air, of space, of - to use the correct term - void between Natalie and her, and yet at the same time she was enjoying the wait imposed upon her. She said so to Natalie, who only shook her head and refused to believe her.
"If Jacqueline were her, and were willing," she said, "you'd caress her."
"Of course I would," O said with a laugh.
"There, you see," the child broke in.
How could she make her understand - and was it even worth the effort? - that it wasn't so much that she was in love with Jacqueline, nor for that matter with Natalie or any other girl in particular, but that she was only in love with girls as such, girls in general - the way one can be in love with one's own image - but in her case she always thought the other girls were more lovely and desirable than she found herself to be. The pleasure she derived from seeing a girl pant beneath her caresses, seeing her eyes close and the tips of her breasts stiffen beneath her lips and teeth, the pleasure she got from exploring her fore and aft with her hand - and from feeling her tighten around her fingers, then sigh and moan - was more than she could bear; and if this pleasure was so intense, it was only because it made her constantly aware of the pleasure which she in turn gave when she tightened around whoever was holding her, whenever she sighed or moaned, with this difference, that she could not conceive of being given thus to a girl, the way this girl was given to her, but only to a man. Moreover, it seemed to her that the girls she caressed belonged by right to the man to whom she belonged, and that she was only present by proxy. Had Sir Stephen come into her room during one of those previous afternoons when Jacqueline had been wont to nap with her, and found O caressing her, she would have spread her charge's thighs and held them apart with both hands, without the slightest remorse, and in fact with the greatest of pleasure, if had pleased Sir Stephen to possess her, rather than peering at her through the trellised wall as he had one. She was apt at hunting, a naturally trained bird of prey who would beat the game and always bring it back to the hunter. And speaking of the devil...
It was at this point, just as she was thinking again with beating heart of Jacqueline's lips, so pink and dainty beneath her downy fir, of the even more delicate and pinker ring between her buttocks, which she had only dared force on three occasions, that she heard Sir Stephen moving about in his room. She knew that he could see her, although she could not see him, and once again she felt that she was fortunate indeed to be constantly exposed this way, constantly imprisoned by these all-encompassing eyes. Young Natalie was seated on the white rug in the middle of the room, like a fly in a bowl of milk; while O, standing in front of the massive bureau which also served as her dressing table, and able to see herself from head to waist in a slightly greenish antique mirror which was streaked like wrinkles in a pond, looked for all the world like one of those late nineteenth-century prints in which the women are wandering naked through their chambers in a subdued light, even though it is mid-summer.
When Sir Stephen pushed open the door, she turned around so abruptly that one of the irons between her legs struck one of the bronze knobs of the bureau upon which she was leaning, and jingled.
"Natalie," Sir Stephen said, "run downstairs and get the white cardboard box in the front living room."
When Natalie came back, she set the box down on the bed, opened it, and one by one removed the objects inside, unwrapping the paper in which they were packed, and handing them to Sir Stephen. They were masks, a combination headpiece and mask; it was obvious they had been made to cover the entire head, with the exception of the mouth and chin - and of course the slits for eyes. Sparrow-hawk, falcon, owl, fox, lion, bull: nothing but animal masks, but scaled to the size of the human head, made of real fur and feathers, the eye crowned with lashes when the actual animal had lashes (as the lion), and with the pelts or feathers descending to the shoulders of the person wearing them. To make the mask fit snugly along the upper lips (there was an orifice for each nostril) and along both cheeks, all one had to do was adjust a fairly loose strap concealed inside this cope-like affair which hung down the back. A frame made of molded, hardened cardboard located between the outside facing and the inner lining of skin, kept the shape of the mask rigid. In front of the full-length mirror, O tried on each of the masks. The most striking, and the one she thought transformed her most and was also most natural, was one of the owl masks (there were two), no doubt because it was composed of tan and tawny feathers whose color blended beautifully with her tan; the cope of feathers almost completely concealed her shoulders, descending half way down her back and, in front, to the nascent curve of her breasts. Sir Stephen had her rub the lipstick from her lips, then said to her as she took off the mask:
"All right, you'll be an owl for the Commander. But O, and I hope you forgive me, you'll be taken on a leash. Natalie, go look in the top drawer of my desk, you'll find a chain and some pliers."
Natalie came back with the chain and pliers, which Sir Stephen used to force open the last link, fastened it to the second ring that O was wearing in her loins, then forced it closed again. The chain, similar to those used for dogs - in fact that was what it was - was between four and five feet long, with a leather strap on one end. After O had donned the mask, Sir Stephen told Natalie to take the end of the chain and walk around the room, ahead of O. Three times Natalie paraded around the room, trailing O behind her by the rings, O being naked and masked.
"Well, I must say," Sir Stephen remarked, "the Commander was right, all the hair will have to be removed. But that can wait till tomorrow. Meanwhile, keep your chain on."
That evening, and for the first time in the company of Jacqueline and Natalie, of René and Sir Stephen, O dined naked, her chain pulled up between her legs and across her buttocks and wrapped around her waist. Norah was alone serving, and O avoided her gaze. Two hours before, Sir Stephen had summoned her.
What shocked and upset the girl at the beauty parlor the following day, more than the irons and the black and blue marks on her lower back, were the brand new lacerations. O had gone there to have the offending hair removed, and it did no good to explain to her that this wax-type depilatory, a method in which the wax is applied and allowed to harden, then suddenly removed, taking the hair with it - was no more painful than being struck with the riding crop. No matter how many times she repeated it, or made an attempt to explain, if not what her fate was, at least that she was happy, there was no way of reassuring her or allaying her feeling of disgust and terror. The only visible result of O's efforts to soothe her was that, instead of being looked upon with pity, as she had been at first, she was beheld with horror. It made no difference how kind and profuse were her thanks when she left the little alcove where she had been spread-eagled as though for love, nor did it matter how generous a tip she gave as she left, when it was all over, she had the feeling that she was being evicted rather than leaving of her own free will. What did she care? It was obvious to her that there was something shocking about the contrast between the fur on her belly and the feathers on her mask, as it was obvious that this air of an Egyptian statue, which this mask lent her, and which her broad shoulders, narrow waist, and long legs only served to emphasize, to demand that her flesh be perfectly smooth. Only the effigies of primitive goddesses portrayed so proudly and openly the cleft of the belly between whose outer lips appeared the more delicate line of the lower lips. And had any ever been seen sporting rings in their nether lips? O recalled the plump red-haired girl at Anne-Marie's who had said that all her master ever used the belly ring for was to attach her at the foot of the bed, and she had also said that the reason he wanted her shaved was because only in that way was she completely naked. O was worried about displeasing Sir Stephen, who so enjoyed pulling her over to him by the fleece, but she was mistaken: Sir Stephen found her more moving that way, and after she had donned her mask, having removed all trace of lipstick above and below, the upper and nether lips then being so uncommonly pale, that he caressed her almost timidly, the way one does with an animal one wants to tame.
He had told her nothing about the place to which he was taking her, nor indicated the time they would have to leave, nor had he said who the Commander's guests would be. But he came and spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping beside her, and in the evening had dinner brought up to the room, for the two of them.
They left an hour before midnight, in the Buick, O swathed in a great brown mountaineer's cape and wearing wooden clogs on her feet. Natalie, in a black sweater and slacks, was holding her chain, the leather strap of which was attached to the leather bracelet Natalie was wearing on her right wrist. Sir Stephen was driving. The moon was almost full, and illuminated the road with large snowlike spots, also illuminating the trees and houses of the villages through which they passed, leaving everything else as black as India ink. Here and there, groups of people were still clustered, even at this hour, on the thresholds of streetside doors, and they could feel the people's curiosity aroused the passage of that closed car (Sir Stephen had not lowered the top). Some dogs were barking. On the side of the road bathed in moonlight, the olive trees looked like the silver clouds floating six feet above the ground, and the cypresses like black feathers. There was nothing real about this country, which night had -turned into make-believe, nothing except the smell of sage and lavender. The road continued to climb, but the same warm layer of air still lay heavy over the earth. O slipped her cape down off her shoulders. She couldn't be seen, there was not a soul left in sight.
Ten minutes later, having skirted a forest of green oak on the crest of a hill, Sir Stephen slowed down before a long wall into which was cut a porte-cochere, which opened at the approach of the car. He parked in some forecourt as they were closing the gate behind him, then got out and helped Natalie and O out, first having ordered O to leave her cape and clogs in the car.
The door he pushed open revealed a cloister with Renaissance arcades on three sides, the fourth side being an extension of the flagstone court of the cloister proper. A dozen people were dancing on the terrace and in a courtyard, a few women with very low-cut dresses and some men in white dinner jackets were seated at small tables lighted by the candlelight; the record player was in the left-hand gallery, and a buffet table had been set up in the gallery to the right.
The moon provided as much light as the candles, though, and when it fell upon O, who was being pulled forward by her black little shadow, Natalie, those who noticed her stopped dancing, and the men got to their feet. The boy near the record player, sensing that something was happening, turned around and, taken completely aback, stopped the record. O had come to a halt; Sir Stephen, motionless two steps behind her, was also waiting.
The Commander dispersed those who had gathered around O and had already called for torches to examine her more closely.
"Who is she," they were saying, "who does she belong to?"
"You, if you like," he replied, and he led O and Natalie over to a corner of the terrace where a stone bench covered with cushions was set against a low wall.
When O was seated, her back against the wall, her hands lying on her knees, with Natalie on the ground to the left of her feet, still holding onto the chain, he turned around to them. O's eyes searched for Sir Stephen, and at first could not find him. Then she sensed his presence, reclining on a chaise lounge at the other corner of the terrace. He was able to see her, she was reassured. The music had begun again, the dancers were dancing again. As they danced, one or two couples moved over in her direction, as though by accident at first, then one of the couples dropped the pretense and, with the woman leading the way, marched boldly over. O stared at them with eyes that, beneath her plumage, were darkened with bister, eyes opened wide like the eyes of the nocturnal bird she was impersonating, and the illusion was so extraordinary that no one thought of questioning her, which would have been the most natural thing to do, as though she were a real owl, deaf to human language, and dumb.
From midnight to dawn, which began to lighten the eastern sky at about five, as the moon waned and descended toward the west, people came up to her several times and some even touched her, they formed a circle around her several times and several times they parted her knees and lifted the chain, bringing with them on of those two-branched candlesticks of Provençal earthenware - and she could feel the flames from the candles warming the inside of her thighs - to see how she was attached.
There was even one drunken American who, laughing, grabbed her, but when he realized that he had seized a fistful of flesh and the chain which pierced her, he suddenly sobered up, and O saw his face fill with the same expression of horror and contempt that she had seen on the face of the girl who had given her a depilatory; he turn and fled.
There was another girl, very young, a girl with bare shoulders and a choker of pearls around her neck, wearing one of those white dresses young girls wear to their first ball, two tea-scented roses at her waist and a pair of golden slippers on her feet, and a boy made her sit down next to O, on her right. Then he took her hand and made her caress O's breasts, which quivered to the touch of the cool, light fingers, and touch her belly, and the chain, and the hole through which it passed, the young girl silently, did as she was bid, and when the boy said he planned to do the same thing to her, she did not seem shocked. But even though they thus made use of O, and even though they used her in this way as a model, or the subject of a demonstration, not once did anyone ever speak to her directly. Was she then of stone or wax, or rather some creature from another world, and did they think it pointless to speak to her? Or didn't they dare?
It was only after daybreak, after all the dancers had left, that Sir Stephen and the Commander, awakening Natalie who was asleep at O's feet, helped O to her feet, led her to the middle of the courtyard, unfastened her chain and removed her mask and, laying her back upon a table, possessed her one after the other.
In a final chapter, which has been suppressed, O returned to Roissy, where she was abandoned by Sir Stephen.
There exists a second ending to the story of O, according to which O, seeing that Sir Stephen was about to leave her, said she would prefer to die. Sir Stephen gave her his consent.