The apartment where O lived was situated on the Ile Saint-Louis, under the eaves of an old house which faced south and overlooked the Seine. All the rooms, which were spacious and low, had sloping ceilings, and the two rooms at the front of the house each opened onto a balcony set into the sloping roof. One of them was O's room; the other, in which bookshelves filled one wall from floor to ceiling on either side of the fireplace, served as a living room, a study, and even as a bedroom in case of necessity. Facing the two windows was a big couch, and there was a large antique table before the fireplace. It was here that they dined whenever the tiny dining room, which faced the interior courtyard and was decorated with dark green serge, was really too small to accommodate the guests. Another room, which also looked onto the courtyard, was René's, and it was here that he dressed and kept his clothes. O shared the yellow bathroom with him; the kitchen, also yellow, was tiny. A cleaning woman came in every day. The flooring of the rooms overlooking the courtyard was of red tile, those antique hexagonal tiles which in old Paris hotels are used to cover the stairs and landings above the second story. Seeing them again gave O a shock and made her heart beat faster: they were the same tiles as the ones in the hallways at Roissy. Her room was small, the pink and black chintz curtains were closed, the fire was glowing behind the metallic screen, the bed was made, the covers turned back.
"I bought you a nylon nightgown," René said. "You've never had one before."
Yes, a white pleated nylon nightgown, tailored and tasteful like the clothing of Egyptian statuettes, an almost transparent nightgown was unfolded on the edge of the bed, on the side where O slept. O tied a thin belt around her waist, over the elastic waistband of the nightgown itself, and the material of the gown was so light that the projection of the buttocks colored it a pale pink. Everything - save for the curtains and the panel hung with the same material against which the head of the bed was set, and the two small armchairs upholstered with the same chintz - everything in the room was white: the walls, the fringe around the mahogany four-poster bed, and the bearskin rug on the floor. Seated before the fire in her white nightgown, O listened to her lover.
He began by saying that she should not think that she was now free. With one exception, and that was that she was free not to love him any longer, and to leave him immediately. But if she did love him, then she was in no wise free. She listened to him without saying a word, thinking how happy she was that he wanted to prove to himself - it mattered little how - that she belonged to him, and thinking too that he was more than a little naive not to realize that this proprietorship was beyond any proof. But did he perhaps realize it and want to emphasize it merely because he derived a certain pleasure from it? She gazed into the fire as he talked, but he did not, not daring to meet her eyes. He was standing, pacing back and forth. Suddenly he said to her that, for a start, he wanted her to listen to him with her knees unclasped and her arms unfolded, for she was sitting with her knees together and her arms folded around them. So she lifted her nightgown and, on her knees, or, rather, squatting on her heels in the manner of the Carmelites or the Japanese women, she waited. The only thing was, since her knees were spread, she could feel the light, sharp pricking of the white fur between her half-open thighs; he came back to it again: she was not opening her legs wide enough. The word "open" and the expression "opening her legs" were, on her lover's lips, charged with such uneasiness and power that she could never hear them without experiencing a kind of internal prostration, a sacred submission, as though a god, and not he, had spoken to her. So she remained motionless, and her hands were lying palm upward beside her knees, between which the material of her nightgown was spread, with the pleats reforming.
What her lover wanted from her was very simple: that she be constantly and immediately accessible. It was not enough for him to know that she was: she was to be so without the slightest obstacle intervening, and her bearing and clothing were to bespeak, as it were, the symbol of that availability to experienced eyes. That, he went on, meant two things. The first she knew, having been informed of it the evening of her arrival at the château: that she must never cross her knees, as her lips had always to remain open. She doubtless thought that this was nothing (that was indeed what she did think), but she would learn that to maintain this discipline would require a constant effort on her part, an effort which would remind her, in the secret they shared between them and perhaps with a few others, of the reality of her condition, when she was with those who did not share the secret, and engaged in ordinary pursuits.
As for her clothes, it was up to her to choose them, or if need be to invent them, so that this semi-undressing to which he had subjected her in the car on their way to Roissy would no longer be necessary: tomorrow she was to go through her closet and sort out her dresses, and do the same with her underclothing by going through her dresser drawers. She would hand over to him absolutely everything she found in the way of belts and panties; the same for any brassieres like the one whose straps he had had to cut before he could remove it, any full slips which covered her breasts, all the blouses and dresses which did not open up the front, and any skirts too tight to be raised with a single movement. She was to have other brassieres, other blouses, other dresses made. Meanwhile, was she supposed to visit her corset maker with nothing on under her blouse or sweater? Yes, she was to go with nothing on underneath. If someone should notice, she could explain it any way she liked, or not explain it at all, whichever she preferred, but it was her problem and hers alone. Now, as for the rest of what he still had to teach her, he preferred to wait for a few days and wanted her to be dressed properly before hearing it. She would find all the money she needed in the little drawer of her desk. When he had finished speaking, she murmured "I love you" without the slightest gesture. It was he who added some wood to the fire, lighted the bedside lamp, which was of pink opaline. Then he told O to get into bed and wait for him, that he would sleep with her. When he came back, O reached over to turn out the lamp: it was her left hand, and the last thing she saw before the room was plunged into darkness was the somber glitter of her iron ring. She was lying half on her side: her lover called her softly by name and, simultaneously, seizing her with his whole hand, covered the nether part of her belly and drew her to him.
The next day, O, in her dressing gown, had just finished lunch alone in the green dining room - René had left early in the morning and was not due home until evening, to take her out to dinner - when the phone rang. The phone was in the bedroom, beneath the lamp at the head of the bed. O sat down on the floor to answer it. It was René who wanted to know whether the cleaning woman had left. Yes, she had just left, after having served lunch, and would not be back till the following morning.
"Have you started to sort out your clothes yet?" René said.
"I was just going to start," she answered, "but I got up late, took a batch, and it was noon before I was ready."
"Are you dressed?"
"No, I have on my nightgown and my dressing gown."
"Put the phone down, take off your robe and your nightgown."
O obeyed, so startled that the phone slipped from the bed where she had placed it down onto the white rug, and she thought she had been cut off. No, she had not been cut off.
"Are you naked?" René went on.
"Yes," she said. "But where are you calling from?"
He ignored her question, merely adding:
"Did you keep your ring on?"
She had her ring on.
Then he told her to remain as she was until he came home and to prepare, thus undressed, the suitcase of clothing she was to get rid of. Then he hung up.
It was past one o'clock, and the weather was lovely. A small pool of sunlight fell on the rug, lighting the white nightgown and the corduroy dressing gown, pale green like the shells of fresh almonds, which O had let slip to the floor when she had taken them off. She picked them up and went to take them into the bathroom, to hang them up in a closet. On her way, she suddenly saw her reflection in one of the mirrors fastened to a door and which, together with another mirror covering part of the wall and a third on another door, formed a large three-faced mirror: all she was wearing was a pair of leather mules the same green as her dressing gown - and only slightly darker than the mules she wore at Roissy - and her ring. She was no longer wearing either a collar or leather bracelets, and she was alone, her own sole spectator. And yet never had she felt more totally committed to a will which was not her own, more totally a slave, and more content to be so.
When she bent down to open a drawer, she saw her breasts stir gently. It took her almost two hours to lay out on her bed the clothes which she then had to pack away in the suitcase. There was no problem about the panties; she made a little pile of them near one of the bedposts. The same for her brassieres, not one would stay, for they all had a strap in the back and fastened on the side. And yet she saw how she could have the same model made, by shifting the catch to the front, in the middle, directly beneath the cleavage of the breasts. The girdles and garter belts posed no further problems, but she hesitated to add to the pile the corset of pink satin brocade which laced up in the back and so closely resembled the bodice she had worn at Roissy. She put it aside on the drawer. That would be René's decision. He would also decide about the sweaters, all of which went on over the head and were tight at the neck, therefore could not be opened. But they could be pulled up from the waist and thus bare the breasts. All the slips, however, were piled on her bed. In the dresser drawer there still remained a flounce and fine Valenciennes lace, which was made to be worn under a pleated sun skirt of black wool which was too sheer not to be transparent. She would need other half-length slips, short, light-colored ones. She also realized that she would either have to give up wearing sheath dresses or else pick out the kin of dress that buttoned all the way down the front, in which case she would also have to have her slips made in such a way that they would open together with the dress. As for the petticoats, that was easy, the dresses too, but what would her dressmaker say about the underclothes? She would explain that she wanted a detachable lining, because she was cold-blooded. As a matter of fact, she was sensitive to the cold, and suddenly she wondered how in the world she would stand the winter cold when she was dressed so lightly?
When she had finally finished, and had kept from her entire wardrobe only her blouses, all of which buttoned down the front, her black pleated skirt, her coats of course, and the suit she had worn home from Roissy, she went to prepare tea. She turned up the thermostat in the kitchen; the cleaning woman had not filled the wood basket for the living-room fire, and O knew that her lover liked to find her in the living room beside the fire when he arrived home in the evening. She filled the basket from the woodpile in the hallway closet, carried it back to the living-room fireplace, and lighted the fire. Thus she waited for him, curled up in a big easy chair, the tea tray beside her, waited for him to come home, but this time she waited, the way he had ordered her to, naked.
The first difficulty O encountered was in her work. Difficulty is perhaps an exaggeration. Astonishment would be a better term. O worked in the fashion department of a photography agency. This meant that it was she who photographed, in the studios where they had to pose for hours on end, the most exotic and prettiest girls whom the fashion designers had chosen to model their creations.
They were surprised that O had postponed her vacation until this late in the fall and had thus been away at a time of year when the fashion world was busiest, when the new collections were about to be presented. But that was nothing. What surprised them most was how changed she was. At first glance, they found it hard to say exactly what was changed about her, but none the less they felt it, and the more they observed her, the more convinced they were. She stood and walked straighter, her eyes were clearer, but what ws especially striking was her perfection when she was in repose, and how measured her gestures were.
She had always been a conservative dresser, the way girls do whose work resembles that of men, but she was so skillful that she brought it off; and because the other girls - who constituted her subjects - were constantly concerned, both professionally and personally, with clothing and adornments, they were quick to note what might have passed unperceived to eyes other than theirs. Sweaters worn right next to the skin, which gently molded the contours of the breasts - René had finally consented to the sweaters - pleated skirts so prone to swirling when she turned: O wore them so often it was a little as though they formed a discreet uniform.
"Very little-girl like," one of the models said to her one day, a blond, green-eyed model with high Slavic cheekbones and the olive complexion that goes with it. "But you shouldn't wear garters," she added. "You're going to ruin your legs."
This remark was occasioned by O, who, without stopping to think, had sat down somewhat hastily in her presence, and obliquely in front of her, on the arm of a big leather easy chair, and in so doing had lifted her skirt. The tall girl had glimpsed a flash of naked thigh above the rolled stocking, which covered the knee but stopped just above it.
O had seen her smile, so strangely that she wondered what the girl had been thinking at the time, or perhaps what she had understood. She adjusted her stockings, one at a time, pulling them up to tighten them, for it was not as easy to keep them tight this way as it was when the stockings ended at mid-thigh and were fastened to a garter belt, and answered Jacqueline, as though to justify herself:
"Practical for what?" Jacqueline wanted to know.
"I dislike garter belts," O replied.
But Jacqueline was not listening to her and was looking at the iron ring.
During the next few days, O took some fifty photographs of Jacqueline. They were like nothing she had ever taken before. Never, perhaps, had she had such a model. Anyway, never before had she been able to extract such meaning and emotion from a face or body. And yet all she was aiming for was to make the silks, the furs, and the laces more beautiful by that sudden beauty of an elfin creature surprised by her reflection in the mirror, which Jacqueline became in the simplest blouse, as she did in the most elegant mink. She had short, thick, blond hair, only slightly curly, and at the least excuse she would cock her head slightly toward her left shoulder and nestle her cheek against the upturned collar of her fur, if she were wearing fur. O caught her once in this position, tender and smiling, her hair gently blown as though by a soft wind, and her smooth, hard cheekbone snuggled against the gray mink, soft and gray as the freshly fallen ashes of a wood fire. Her lips were slightly parted, and her eyes half-closed. Beneath the gleaming, liquid gloss of the photograph she looked like some blissful girl who had drowned, she was pale, so pale. O had the picture printed with as little contrast as possible. She had taken another picture of Jacqueline with she found even more stunning: back lighted, it portrayed her bare-shouldered, with her delicate head, and her face as well, enveloped in a large-meshed black veil surmounted by an absurd double aigrette whose impalpable tufts crowned her like wisps of smoke; she was wearing an enormous robe of heavy brocaded silk, red like the dress of a bride in the Middle Ages, which came down to below her ankles, flared at the hips and tight at the waist, and the armature of which traced the outline of her bosom. It was what the dress designers called a gala gown, the kind no one ever wears. The spike-heeled sandals were also of red silk. And all the time Jacqueline was before O dressed in that gown and sandals, and that veil which was like the premonition of a mask, O, in her mind's eye, was completing, was inwardly modifying the model: a trifle here, a trifle there - the waist drawn in a little tighter, the breasts slightly raised - and it was the same dress as at Roissy, the same dress that Jeanne had worn, the same smooth, heavy, cascading silk which one takes by the handful and raises whenever one is told to ... Why yes, Jacqueline was lifting it in just that way as she descended from the platform on which she had been posting for the past fifteen minutes. It was the same rustling, the same crackling of dried leaves. No one wears these gala gowns any longer? But they do. Jacqueline was also wearing a gold choker around her neck, and on her wrists two gold bracelets. O caught herself thinking that she would be more beautiful with leather collar and leather bracelets. And then she did something she had never done before: she followed Jacqueline into the large dressing room adjacent to the studio, where the models dressed and made up and where they left their clothing and make-up kits after hours. She remained standing, leaning against the doorjamb, her eyes glued to the mirror of the dressing table before which Jacqueline, without removing her gown, had sat down. The mirror was so big - it covered the entire back wall, and the dressing table itself was a simple slab of black glass - that she could see Jacqueline's and her own reflection, as doing the aigrettes and the tulle netting. Jacqueline removed the choker herself, her bare arms lifted like two handles; a touch of perspiration gleamed in her armpits, which were shaved (Why? O wondered, what a pity, she's so fair), and O could smell the sharp delicate, slightly plantlike odor and wondered what perfume Jacqueline ought to wear - what perfume they would make her wear. Then Jacqueline unclasped her bracelets and put them on the glass slab, where they made a momentary clanking sound like the sound of chains. Her hair was so fair that her skin was actually darker than her hair, a grayish beige like fine-grained sand just after the tide has gone out. On the photograph, the red silk would be black. Just then, the thick eyelashes, which Jacqueline was always reluctant to make up, lifted, and in the mirror O met her gaze, a look so direct and steady that, without being able to detach her own eyes from it, she felt herself slowly blushing. That was all.
"I'm sorry," Jacqueline said, "I have to undress."
"Sorry," O murmured, and closed the door.
The next day she took home with her the proofs of the shots she had made the day before, not really knowing whether she wanted, or did not want, to show them to her love, with whom she had a dinner date. She looked at them as she was putting on her make-up at the dressing table in her room, pausing to trace on the photographs with her finger the curve of an eyebrow, the suggestion of a smile. But when she heard the sound of the key in the front door, she slipped them into the drawer.
For two weeks, O had been completely outfitted and ready for use, and could not get used to being so, when she discovered one evening upon returning from the studio a note from her lover asking her to be ready at eight to join him and one of his friends for dinner. A car would stop by to pick her up, the chauffeur would come up and ring her bell. The postscript specified that she was to take her fur jacket, that she was to dress entirely in black (entirely was underlined), and was to be at pains to make up and perfume herself as at Roissy.
It was six o'clock. Entirely in black, and for dinner - and it was mid-December, the weather was cold, that meant black silk stockings, black gloves, her pleated fan-shaped skirt, a heavy-knit sweater, with spangles or her short jacket of faille. It was padded and quilted in large stitches, close fitting and hooked from neck to waist like the tight-fitting doublets that men used to wear in the sixteenth century, and if it molded the bosom so perfectly, it was because the brassiere was built into it. It was lined of the same faille, and its slit tails were hip-length. The only bright foil were the large gold hooks like those on children's snow boots which made a clicking sound as they were hooked or unhooked from their broad flat rings.
After she had laid out her clothes on her bed, and at the foot of the bed her black suede shoes with raised soles and spiked heels, nothing seemed stranger to O than to see herself, solitary and free in her bathroom, meticulously making herself up and perfuming herself, after she had taken her bath, as she had done at Roissy. The cosmetics she owned were not the same as those used at Roissy. In the drawer of her dressing table she found some face rouge - she never used any - which she utilized to emphasize the halo of her breasts. It was a rouge which was scarcely visible when first applied, but when darkened later. At first she thought she had put on too much and tried to take a little off with alcohol - it was very hard to remove - and started all over: a dark peony pink flowered at the tip of her breasts. Vainly she tried to make up the lips which the fleece of her loins concealed, but the rouge left no mark. Finally, among the tubes of lipstick she had in the same drawer, she found one of those kiss proof lipsticks which she did not like to use because they were too dry and too hard to remove. There, it worked. She fixed her hair and freshened her face, then finally put on the perfume. René had given her, in an atomizer which released a heavy spray, a perfume whose name she didn't know, which had the odor of dry wood and marshy plants, a pungent, slightly savage odor. On her skin the spray melted, on the fur of the armpits and belly it ran and formed tiny droplets.
At Roissy, O had learned to take her time: she perfumed herself three times, each time allowing the perfume to dry. First she put on her stockings, and high heels, then the petticoat and skirt, then the jacket. She put on her gloves and took her bag. In her bag were her compact, her lipstick, a comb, her key, and ten francs. Wearing her gloves, she took her fur coat from the closet and glanced at the time at the head of her bed: quarter to eight. She sat down diagonally on the edge of the bed and, her eyes riveted to the alarm clock, waited without moving for the bell to ring. When she heard it at last and rose to leave, she noticed in the mirror above her dressing table, before turning out the light, her bold, gentle, docile expression.
When she pushed open the door of the little Italian restaurant before which the car had stopped, the first person she saw, at the bar, was René. He smiled at her tenderly, took her by the hand, and turning toward a sort of grizzled athlete, introduced her tin English to Sir Stephen H. O was offered a stool between the two men, and as she was about to sit down René said to her in a half-whisper to be careful not to muss her dress. He helped her to slide her skirt out from under her and down over the edges of the stool, the cold leather of which she felt against her skin, while the metal rim around it pressed directly against the furrow of her thighs, for at first she had dared only half sit down, for fear that if she were to sit down completely she might yield to the temptation to cross her legs. Her skirt billowed around her. Her right heel was caught in one of the rungs of the stool, the tip of her left foot was touching the floor. The Englishman, who had bowed without uttering a word, had not taken his eyes off her, she saw that he was looking at her knees, her hands, and finally at her lips - but so calmly and with such precise attention, with such self-assurance, that O felt herself being weighed and measured as the instrument she knew full well she was, and it was as though compelled by his gaze and, so to speak, in spite of herself that she withdrew her gloves: she knew that he would speak when her hands were bare - because she had unusual hands, more like those of a young boy than the hands of a woman, and because she was wearing on the third finger of her left hand the iron ring with the triple spiral of gold. But no, he said nothing, he smiled: he had seen the ring.
René was drinking a martini, Sir Stephen a whisky. He nursed his whisky, then waited till René had drunk his second martini and O the grapefruit juice that René had ordered for her, meanwhile explaining that if O would be good enough to concur in their joint opinion, they would dine in the room downstairs, which was smaller and less noisy than the one on the first floor, which was simply the extension of the bar.
"Of course," O said, already gathering up her bag and gloves which she had placed on the bar.
Then, to help her off the stool, Sir Stephen offered her his right hand, in which she placed hers, he finally addressing her directly by observing that she had hands that were made to wear irons, so becoming was iron to her. But as he said it in English, there was a trace of ambiguity in his words, leaving one in some doubt as to whether he was referring to the metal alone or whether he were not also, and perhaps even specifically, referring to iron chains.
In the room downstairs, which was a simple white-washed cellar, but cool and pleasant, there were in fact only four tables, one of which was occupied by guests who were finishing their meal. On the walls had been drawn, like a fresco, a gastronomical and tourist map of Italy, in soft, ice cream colors: vanilla, raspberry, and pistachio. It reminded O that she wanted to order ice cream for dessert, with lots of almonds and whipped cream. For she was feeling light and happy, René's knee was touching her knee beneath the table, and whenever he spoke she knew he was talking for her ears alone. He too was observing her lips. They let her have the ice cream, but not the coffee. Sir Stephen invited O and René to have coffee at his place. They all dined very lightly, and O realized that they had been careful to drink very little, and had kept her from virtually drinking at all: half a liter of Chianti for the three of them. They had also dined very quickly: it was barely nine o'clock.
"I sent the chauffeur home," said Sir Stephen. "Would you drive, René. The simplest thing would be to go straight to my house."
René took the wheal. O sat beside him, and Sir Stephen was next to her. The car was a big Buick, there was ample room for three people in the front seat.
After the Alma intersection, the Cours la Reine was visible because trees were bare, and the Place de la Concorde sparkling and dry with, above it, the sort of sky which promises snow, but from which snow has not yet fallen. O heard a little click and felt the warm air rising around her legs: Sir Stephen had turned on the heater. René was still keeping to the Right Bank of the Seine, then he turned at the Pont Royal to cross over to the Left Bank: between its stone yokes, the water looked as frozen as the stone, and just as black. O thought of hematites, which are black. When she was fifteen her best friend, who was then thirty and with whom she was in love, wore a hematite ring set in a cluster of tiny diamonds. O would have liked a necklace of those black stones, without diamonds, a tight-fitting necklace, perhaps even a choker. But the necklaces that were given to her now - no they were not given to her - would she exchange them for the necklace of hematites, for the hematites of the dream? She saw again the wretched room where Marion had taken her, behind the Turbigo intersection, and remembered how she had untied - she, not Marion - her two big schoolgirl pigtails when Marion had undressed her and laid her down on the iron bed. How lovely Marion was when she was being caressed, and it's true that eyes can resemble stars; hers looked like quivering blue stars.
René stopped the car. O did not recognize the little street, one of the cross streets which joins the rue de l'Universite and the rue de Lille.
Sir Stephen's apartment was situated at the far end of a courtyard, in one wing of an old private mansion, and the rooms were laid out in a straight line, one opening into the next. The room at the very end was also the largest, and the most reposing, furnished in dark English mahogany and pale yellow and gray silk drapes.
"I shan't ask you to tend the fire," Sir Stephen said to O, "but this sofa is for you. Please sit down, René will make coffee. I would be most grateful if you would hear what I have to say."
The large sofa of light-colored Damascus silk was set at right angles to the fireplace, facing the windows which overlooked the garden and with its back to those behind, which looked onto the courtyard. O took off her fur and lay it over the back of the sofa. When she turned around, she noticed that her lover and her host were standing, waiting for her to accept Sir Stephen's invitation. She set her bag down next to her fur and unbuttoned her gloves. When, would she ever learn, and would she ever learn, a gesture stealthy enough so that when she lifted her skirt no would notice, so that she could forget her nakedness, her submission? Not, in any case, as long as René and that stranger were staring at her in silence, as they were presently doing. Finally she gave in. Sir Stephen stirred the fire, René suddenly went behind the sofa and, seizing O by the throat and the hair, pulled her head down against the couch and kissed her on the mouth, a kiss so prolonged and profound that she gasped for breath and could feel her loins melting and burning. He let her go only long enough to tell her that he loved her, and then immediately took her again. O's hands, overturned in a gesture of utter abandon and defeat, her palms upward, lay quietly on her black dress that spread like a corolla around her. Sir Stephen had come nearer, and when at last René let her go and she opened her eyes, it was the gray, unflinching gaze of the Englishman which she encountered.
Completely stunned and bewildered, as she still was, and gasping with joy, she none the less was easily able to see that he was admiring her, and that he desired her. Who could have resisted her moist, half-open mouth, with its full lips, the white stalk of her arching neck against the black collar of her pageboy jacket, her eyes large and clear, which refused to be evasive? But the only gesture Sir Stephen allowed himself was to run his fingers over her eyebrows, then over her lips. Then he sat down facing her on the opposite side of the fireplace, and when René had also sat down in an armchair, he began to speak.
"I don't believe René has ever spoken to you about his family," he said. "Still, perhaps you do know that his mother, before she married his father, had previously been married to an Englishman, who had a son from his first marriage. I am that son, and it was she who raised me, until she left my father. So René and I are not actually relatives, and yet, in a way, we are brothers. That René loves you I have no doubt. I would have known even if he hadn't told me, even if he hadn't made a move: all one has to do is to see the way he looks at you. I know too that you are among those girls who have been to Roissy, and i imagine you'll be going back again. In principle, the ring you're wearing gives me the right to do with you what I will, as it does to all those men who know its meaning. But that involves merely a fleeting assignation, and what we expect from you is more serious. I say 'we' because, as you see, René is saying nothing: he prefers to have me speak for both of us.
"If we are brothers, I am the eldest, ten years older than he. There is also between us a freedom so absolute and of such long standing that what belongs to me has always belonged to him, and what belongs to him has likewise belonged to me. Will you agree to join with us? I beg of you to, and I ask you to swear to it because it will involve more than your submission, which I know we can count on. Before you reply, realize for a moment that I am only, and can only be, another form of your lover: you will still have only one master. A more formidable one, I grand you, than the men to whom you were surrendered at Roissy, because I shall be there every day, and besides I am fond of habits and rites...." (This last phrase he uttered in English.)
Sir Stephen's quit, self-assured voice rose in an absolute silence. Even the flames in the fireplace flickered noiselessly. O was frozen to the sofa like a butterfly impaled upon a pin, a long pin composed of words and looks which pierced the middle of her body and pressed her naked, attentive loins against the warm silk. She was no longer mistress of her breasts, her hands, the nape of her neck. But of this much she was sure: the object of the habits and rites of which he had spoken were patently going to be the possession of (among other parts of her body) her long thighs concealed beneath the black skirt, her already opened thighs.
Both men were sitting across from her. René was smoking, but before he had lighted his cigarette he had lighted one of those black-hooded lamps which consumes the smoke, and the air, already purified by the wood fire, smelled of the cool odors of the night.
"Will you give me an answer, or would you like to know more?" Sir Stephen repeated.
"If you give your consent," René said, "I'll personally explain to you Sir Stephen's preferences."
"Demands," Sir Stephen corrected.
The hardest thing, O was thinking, was not the question of giving her consent, and she realized that never for a moment did either of them dream that she might refuse; nor for that matter did she. The hardest thing was simply to speak. Her lips were burning and her mouth was dry, all her saliva was gone, an anguish both of fear and desire constricted her throat, and her new-found hands were cold and moist. If only she could have closed her eyes. But she could not. Two gazes talked her eyes, gazes from which she could not - and did not desire to - escape. They drew her toward something she thought she had left behind for a long time, perhaps forever, at Roissy. For since her return, René had taken her only by caresses, and the symbol signifying that she belonged to anyone who knew the secret of her ring had been without consequence: either she had not met anyone who was familiar with the secret, or else those who had remained silent - the only person she suspected was Jacqueline (and if Jacqueline had been at Roissy, why wasn't she also wearing the ring? Besides, what right did Jacqueline's knowledge of this secret give her over O, and did it, in fact give her any?). In order to speak, did she have to move? But she could not move of her own free will - an order from them would immediately have made her get up, but this time what they w anted from he was not blind obedience, acquiescence to an order, they wanted her to anticipate orders, to judge herself a slave and surrender herself as such. This, then, is what they called her consent. She remembered that she had never told René anything but "I love you" or "I'm yours." Today it seemed that they wanted her to speak and to agree to, specifically and in detail, what till now she had only tacitly consented to.
Finally she straightened up and, as though what she was going to say was stifling her, unfastened the top hooks of her tunic, until the cleavage of her breasts was visible. Then she stood up. Her hands and her knees were shaking.
"I'm yours," she said at length to René. "I'll be whatever you want me to be."
"No," he broke in, "ours. Repeat after me: I belong to both of you. I shall be whatever both of you want me to be."
Sir Stephen's piercing gray eyes were fixed firmly upon hers, as were René's, and in them she was lost, slowly repeating after him the phrases he was dictating to her, but like a lesson of grammar, she was transposing them into the first person.
"To Sir Stephen and to me you grand the right..." The right to dispose of her body however they wished, in whatever place or manner they should choose, the right to keep her in chains, the right to whip her like a slave or prisoner for the slightest failing or infraction, or simply for their pleasure, the right to pay no heed to her pleas and cries, if they should make her cry out.
"I believe," said René, "that at this point Sir Stephen would like me to take over, both you and I willing, and have me brief you concerning his demands."
O was listening to her lover, and the words which he had spoken to her at Roissy came back to her: they were almost the same words. But then she had listened snuffled up against him, protected by a feeling of improbability, as though it were all a dream, as though she existed only in another life, and perhaps did not really exist at all. Dream or nightmare, the prison setting, the lavish party gowns, men in masks: all this removed from her own life, even to the point of being uncertain how long it would last. There, at Roissy, she felt the way you do at night, lost in a dream you have had before and are now beginning to dream all over again: certain that it exists and certain that it will end, and you want it to end because you're not sure you'll be able to bear it, and you also want it to go on so you'll know how it comes out. Well the end was here, where she least expected it (or no longer expected it at all) and in the form she least expected (assuming, she was saying to herself, that this really was the end, that there was not actually another hiding behind this one, and perhaps still another behind the next one). The present end was toppling her from memory into reality and, besides, what had only been reality in a closed circle, a private universe, was suddenly about to contaminate all the customs and circumstances of her daily life, but on her and within her, now no longer satisfied with signs and symbols - the bare buttocks, bodices that unhook, the iron ring - but demanding fulfillment.
It was true that René had never whipped her, and the only difference between the period of their relationship prior to his taking her to Roissy and the time elapsed since her return was that now he used both her backside and mouth the way he formerly had used only her womb (which he continued to use). She had never been able to tell whether the floggings she had regularly received at Roissy had been administered, were it only once, by him (whenever there was any question about it, that is when she herself had been blindfolded or when those with whom she was dealing were masked), but she tended to doubt it. The pleasure he derived from the spectacle of her body bound and surrendered, struggling vainly, and of her cries, was doubtless so great that he could not bear the idea of lending a hand himself and thus having his attention distracted from it. It was as though he were admitting it, since he was now saying to her, so gently, so tenderly, without moving from the deep armchair in which he was half reclining with his legs crossed, he was saying how happy he was that she was handing herself over to, the commands and desires of Sir Stephen. Whenever Sir Stephen would like her to spend the night at his place, or only an hour, or if he should want her to accompany him outside Paris or, in Paris itself, to join him at some restaurant or for some show, he would telephone her and send his car for her - unless René himself came to pick her up. Today, now, it was her turn to speak. Did she consent? But words failed her. This willful assent they were suddenly asking her to express was the agreement to surrender herself, to say yes in advance to everything to which she most assuredly wanted to say yes but to which her body said no, at least insofar as the whipping was concerned. As for the rest, if she were honest with herself, she would have to admit to a feeling of both anxiety and excitement caused by what she read in Sir Stephen's eyes, a feeling too intense for her to delude herself, and as she was trembling like a leaf, and perhaps for the very reason that she was trembling, she knew that she was waiting more impatiently than he for the moment when he would place his hand, and perhaps his lips, upon her. It was probably up to her to hasten the moment. Whatever courage, or whatever surge of overwhelming desire she may have had, she felt herself suddenly grow so weak as she was about to reply that she slipped to the floor, her dress in full bloom around her, and in the silence Sir Stephen's hollow voice remarked that fear was becoming to her too. His words were not intended for her, but for René. O had the feeling that he was restraining himself from advancing upon her, and regretted his restraint. And yet she avoided his gaze, her eyes fixed upon René, terrified lest he should see what was in her eyes and perhaps deem it as a betrayal. And yet it was not betrayal, for if she were to weigh her desire to belong to Sir Stephen against her belonging to René, she would not have had a second's hesitation: the only reason she was yielding to this desire was that René had allowed her to and, to a certain extent, given her to understand that he was ordering her to. And yet there was still a lingering doubt in her mind as to whether René might not be annoyed to see her acquiesce too quickly or too well. The slightest sign from him would obliterate it immediately. But he made no sign, confining himself to ask her for the third time for an answer. She mumbled:
"I consent to whatever you both desire," and lowered her eyes toward her hands, which were waiting unclasped in the hollows of her knees, then added in a murmur: "I should like to know whether I shall be whipped...."
There was a long pause, during which she regretted twenty times over having asked the question. Then Sir Stephen's voice said slowly:
"From time to time."
Then O heard a match being struck and the sound of glasses: both men were probably helping themselves to another round of whisky. René was leaving O to her own devices. René was saying nothing.
"Even if I agree to it now," she said, "even if I promise now, I couldn't bear it."
"All we ask you to do is submit to it, and if you scream or moan, to agree ahead of time that it will be in vain," Sir Stephen went on.
"Oh, please, for pity's sake, not yet!" said O, for Sir Stephen was getting to his feet, René was following suit, he leaned down and took her by the shoulders.
"So give us your answer," he said. "Do you consent?"
Finally she said that she did. Gently he helped her up and, having sat down on the big sofa, made her kneel down alongside him facing the sofa, on which reclined her outstretched arms, her bust, and her head. Her eyes were closed, and an image she had seen several years before flashed across her mind: a strange print portraying a woman kneeling, as she was, before an armchair. The floor was of tile, and in one corner a dog and child were playing. The woman's skirts were raised, and standing close beside her was a man brandishing a handful of switches, ready to whip her. They were all dressed in sixteenth-century clothes, and the print bore a title which she found disgusting: Family Punishment.
With one hand, René took her wrists in a viselike grip, and with the other lifted her skirts so high that she could feel the muslin lining brush her cheek. He caressed her flanks and drew Sir Stephen's attention to the two dimples that graced them, and the softness of the furrow between her thighs. Then with that same hand he pressed her waist, to accentuate further her buttocks, and ordered her to pen her knees wider. She obeyed without saying a word. The honors René was bestowing upon her body, and Sir Stephen's replies, and the coarseness of the terms the men were using so overwhelmed her with a shame as violent as it was unexpected that the desire she had felt to be had by Sir Stephen vanished and she began to wish for the whip as a deliverance, for the pain and screams as a justification. But Sir Stephen's hands pried open her again, caressed her until she moaned. She was vanquished, undone, and humiliated that she had moaned.
"I leave you to Sir Stephen," René then said. "Remain the way you are, he'll dismiss you when he sees fit."
How often had she remained like this at Roissy, on her knees, offered to one and all? But then she had always had her hands bound together by the bracelets, a happy prisoner upon whom everything was imposed and from whom nothing was asked. Her it was through her own free will that she remained half naked, whereas a single gesture, the same that would have sufficed to bring her back to her feet, would also have sufficed to cover her. Her promise bound her as much as had the leather bracelets and chains. Was it only the promise? And however humiliated she was, or rather because she had been humiliated, was it not somehow pleasant to be esteemed only for her humiliation, for the meekness with which she surrendered, for the obedient way in which she opened?
With René gone, Sir Stephen having escorted him to the door, she waited thus alone, motionless, feeling more exposed in the solitude and more prostituted by the wait than she had ever felt before, when they were there. The gray and yellow silk of the sofa was smooth to her cheek; through her nylon stockings she felt, below her knees, the thick wool rug, and along the full length of her left thigh, the warmth from the fireplace hearth, for Sir Stephen had added three logs which were blazing noisily. Above a chest of drawers, an antique clock ticked so quietly that it was only audible when everything around was silent. O listened carefully, thinking how absurd her position was in this civilized, tasteful living room. Through the Venetian blinds could be heard the sleepy rumbling of Paris after midnight. In the light of day, tomorrow morning, would she recognize the spot on the sofa cushion where she had laid her head? Would she ever return, in broad daylight, to this same living room, would she ever be treated in the same way here?
Sir Stephen was apparently in no hurry to return, and O, who had waited so submissively for the strangers of Roissy to take their pleasure, now felt a lump rise in her throat at the idea that in one minute, in ten minutes, he would again put his hands on her. But it was not exactly as she had imagined it.
She heard him open the door and cross the room. He remained for some time with his back to the fire, studying O, then in a near whisper he told her to get up and then sit back down. Surprised, almost embarrassed, she obeyed. He courteously brought her a glass of whisky and a cigarette, both of which she refused. Then she saw that he was in a dressing gown, a very conservative dressing gown of gray homespun - a gray that matched his hair. His hands were long and dry and his flat fingernails, cut short, were very white. He caught her staring, and O blushed: these were indeed the same hands which had seized her body, the hands she now dreaded, and desired. But he did not approach her.
"I'd like you to get completely undressed," he said. "But first simply undo your jacket, without getting up."
O unhooked the large gold hooks and slipped her close-fitting jacket down over her shoulders; then she put it at the other end of the sofa, where her fur, her gloves, and her bag were.
"Caress the tips of your breasts, ever so lightly," Sir Stephen said then, before adding: "You must use a darker rouge, yours is too light."
Taken completely aback, O fondled her nipples with her fingertips and felt them stiffen and rise. She covered them with her palms.
"Oh, no!" Sir Stephen said.
She withdrew her hands and lay back against the back of the couch: her breasts were heavy for so slender a torso, and, parting, rose gently toward her armpits. The nape of her neck was resting against the back of the sofa, and her hands were lying on either side of her hips. Why did Sir Stephen not bend over, bring his mouth close to hers, why did his hands not move toward the nipples which he had seen stiffen and which she, being absolutely motionless, could feel quiver whenever she took a breath. But he had drawn near, had sat down across the arm of the sofa, and was not touching her. He was smoking, and a movement of his hand - O never knew whether or not it was voluntary - flicked some still-warm ashes down between her breasts. She had the feeling he wanted to insult her, by his disdain, his silence, by a certain attitude of detachment. Yet he had desired her a while ago, he still did now, she could see it by the tautness beneath the soft material of his dressing gown. Then let him take her, if only to wound her! O hated herself for her own desire, and loathed Sir Stephen for the self-control he was displaying. She wanted him to love her, there, the truth was out: she wanted him to be chafing under the urge to touch her lips and penetrate her body, to devastate her if need be, but not to remain so calm and self-possessed. At Roissy, she had not cared in the slightest whether those who had used her had any feeling whatsoever: they were the instruments by which her lover derived pleasure from her, by which she became what he wanted her to be, polished and smooth and gentle as a stone. Their hands were his hands, their order his order. But not here. René had turned her over to Sir Stephen, but it was clear that he wanted to share her with him, not to obtain anything further from her, nor for the pleasure of surrendering her, but in order to share with Sir Stephen what today he loved most, as no doubt in days gone by, when they were young, they had shared a trip, a boat, a horse.
And today, this sharing derived the meaning from René's relation to Sir Stephen much more than it did from his relation to her. What each of them would look for in her would be the other's mark, the trace of the other's passage. Only a short while before, when she had been kneeling half-naked before René, and Sir Stephen had opened her thighs with both his hands, René had explained to Sir Stephen why O's buttocks were so easily accessible, and why he was pleased that they had been thus prepared: it was because it had occurred to him that Sir Stephen would enjoy having his preferred path constantly at his disposal. He had even added that, if Sir Stephen wished, he would grant him the sole use of it.
"Why, gladly," Sir Stephen had said, but he had remarked that, in spite of everything, there was a risk that he might rend O.
"O is yours," René had replied, "O will be pleased to be rent."
And he had leaned down over her and kissed her hands.
The very idea that René could imagine giving up any part of her left O stunned. She had taken it as the sign that her lover cared more about Sir Stephen than he did about her. And too, although he had so often told her that what he loved in her was the object he had made of her, her absolute availability to him, his freedom with respect to her, as one is free to dispose of a piece of furniture, which one enjoys giving as much as, and sometimes even more than, one may enjoy keeping it for oneself, she realized that she had not believed him completely.
She saw another sign of what could scarcely be termed anything but a certain deference or respect toward Sir Stephen, in the fact that René, who so passionately loved to see her beneath the bodies or the blows of others beside himself, whose look was one of constant tenderness, of unflagging gratitude whenever he saw her mouth open to moan or scream, her eyes closed over tears, had left her after having made certain, by exposing her to him, by opening her as one opens a horse's mouth to prove that it is young enough, that Sir Stephen found her beautiful enough or, strictly speaking, suitable enough for him, and vouchsafed to accept her. However offensive and insulting his conduct may have been, O's love for René remained unchanged. She considered herself fortunate to count enough in his eyes for him to derive pleasure from offending her, as believers give thanks to God for humbling them.
But, in Sir Stephen, she thought she detected a will of ice and iron, which would not be swayed by desire, a will in whose judgement, no matter how moving and submissive she might be, she counted for absolutely nothing, at least till now. Otherwise why should she have been so frightened? The whip at the valets' belt at Roissy, the chains borne almost constantly had seemed to her less terrifying than the equanimity of Sir Stephen's gaze as it fastened on the breasts he refrained from touching. She realized to what extent their very fullness, smooth and distended on her tiny shoulders and slender torso, rendered them fragile. She could not keep them from trembling, she would have had to stop breathing. To hope that this fragility would disarm Sir Stephen was futile, and she was fully aware that it was quite the contrary: her proffered gentleness cried for wounds as much as caresses, fingernails as much as lips. She had a momentary illusion: Sir Stephen's right hand, which was holding his cigarette, grazed their tips with the end of his middle finger and, obediently, they stiffened further. That this, for Sir Stephen, was a game, or the guise of a game, nothing more, or a check, the way one checks to ascertain whether a machine is functioning properly, O had no doubt.
Without moving from the arm of his chair, Sir Stephen then told her to take off her skirt. O's moist hands made the hooks slippery, and it took her two tries before she succeeded in undoing the black faille petticoat under her skirt.
When she was completely naked, her high-heeled patent-leather sandals and her black nylon stockings rolled down flat above her knees, accentuating the delicate lines of her legs and the whiteness of thighs, Sir Stephen, who had also gotten to his feet, seized her loins with one hand and pushed her toward the sofa. He had her kneel down, her back against the sofa, and to make her press more tightly against it with her shoulders than with her waist, he made her spread her thighs slightly. Her hands were lying on her ankles, thus forcing her belly ajar, and above her still proffered breasts, her throat arched back.
She did not dare look Sir Stephen in the face, but she saw his hands undoing his belt. When he had straddled O, who was still kneeling, and had seized her by the nape of her neck, he drove into her mouth. It was not the caress of her lips the length of him he was looking for, but the back of her throat. For a long time he probed, and O felt the suffocating gag of flesh swell and harden, its slow repeated hammering finally bringing her to tears. In order to invade her better, Sir Stephen ended by kneeling on the sofa, one knee on each side of her face, and there were moments when his buttocks rested on O's breast, and in her heart she felt her womb, useless and scorned, burning her. Although he delighted and reveled in her for a long time, Sir Stephen did not bring his pleasure to a climax, but withdrew from her in silence and rose again to his feet, without closing his dressing gown.
"You are easy, O," he said to her. "You love René, but you're easy. Does René realize that you covet and long for all the men who desire you, that by sending you to Roissy or surrendering you to others he is providing you with a string of alibis to cover your easy virtue?"
"I love René," O replied.
"You love René, but you desire me, among others," Sir Stephen went on.
Yes, she did desire him, but what if René, upon learning it, were to change? All she could do was remain silent and lower her eyes: even to have looked Sir Stephen directly in the eyes would have been tantamount to a confession.
Then Sir Stephen bent down over her and, taking her by the shoulders, made her slide down onto the rug. Again she was on her back, her legs raised and doubled up against her. Sir Stephen, who had sat down on the part of the couch against which she had just been leaning, seized her right knee and pulled her toward him. Since she was facing the fireplace, the light from the nearby hearth shed a fierce light upon the double, quartered furrow of her belly and rear. Without loosing his grip, Sir Stephen abruptly ordered her to caress herself, without closing her legs. Startled, O meekly stretched her right hand toward her loins, where her fingers encountered the ridge of flesh - already emerging from the protective fleece beneath, already burning - where her belly's fragile lips merged.
But her hand recoiled and she mumbled:
And in fact she could not. The only times she had ever caressed herself furtively had been in the warmth and obscurity of her bed, when she slept alone, but she had never tried to carry it to a climax. But later she would sometimes come upon it in her sleep and would wake up disappointed that it had been so intense and yet so fleeting.
Sir Stephen's gaze was persistent. She could not bear it, and repeating "I can't," she closed her eyes.
What she was seeing in her mind's eye, what she had never been able to forget, what still filled her with the same sensation of nausea and disgust that she had felt when she had first witnessed it when she was fifteen, was the image of Marion slumped in the leather armchair in a hotel room, Marion with one leg sprawled over one arm of the chair and her head half hanging over the other, caressing herself in her, O's, presence, and moaning. Marion had related to her how she had one day caressed herself this way in her office when she had thought she was alone, and her boss had happened to walk in and caught her in the act.
O remembered Marion's office, a bare room with pale green walls, with the north light filtering in through dusty windows. There was only one easy chair, intended for visitors, facing the table.
"Did you run away?" O had asked.
"No," Marion had answered, "he asked me to begin all over again, but he locked the door, made me take off my panties, and pushed the chair over in front of the window."
O had been overwhelmed with admiration - and with horror - for what she took to be Marion's courage, and had steadfastly refused to fondle herself in Marion's presence and sworn that she never would, in anyone's presence. Marion had laughed and said:
"You'll see. Wait till your lover asks you to."
René never had asked her to. Would she have obeyed? Yes, of course she would, but she would also have been terrified at the thought that she might see René's eyes filling with the same disgust that she had felt for Marion. Which was absurd. And since it was Sir Stephen, it was all the more absurd; what did she care whether Sir Stephen was disgusted? But no, she couldn't. For the third time she murmured:
Though she uttered the words in almost a whisper, he heard them, let her go, rose to his feet, closed his dressing gown, and ordered O to get up.
"Is this your obedience?" he said.
Then he caught both her wrists with his left hand, and with his right he slapped her on both sides of the face. She staggered, and would have fallen had he not held her up.
"Kneel down and listen to me," he said. "I'm afraid René's training leave a great deal to be desired."
"I always obey René," she mumbled.
"You're confusing love and obedience. You'll obey me without loving me, and without my loving you."
With that, she felt a strange inexplicable storm of revolt rising within her, silently denying in the depths of her being the words she was hearing, denying her promises of submission and slavery, denying her own agreement, her own desire, her nakedness, her sweat, her trembling limbs, the circles under her eyes. She struggled and clenched her teeth with rage when, having made her bend over, with her elbows on the floor and her head between her arms, her buttocks raised, he forced her from behind, to rend her as René had said he would.
The first time she did not cry out. He went at it again, harder now, and she screamed. She screamed as much out of revolt as of pain, and he was fully aware of it. She also knew - which meant that in any event she was vanquished - that he was pleased to make her cry out. When he had finished with her, and after he had helped her to her feet, he was on the point of dismissing her when he remarked to her that what he had spilled in her was going to seep slowly out, tinted with the blood of the wound he had inflicted on her, that this wound would burn her as long as her buttocks were not used to him and he was obliged to keep forcing his way. René had reserved this particular use of her to him, and he certainly intended to make full use of it, she had best have no illusions on that score. He reminded her that she had agreed to be René's slave, and his too, but that it appeared unlikely that she was aware - consciously aware - of what she had consented to. By the time she had learned, it would be too late for her to escape.
Listening, O told herself that perhaps it would also be too late for him to escape becoming enamored of her, for she had no intention of being quickly tamed, and by the time she was he might have learned to love her a little. For all her inner resistance, and the timid refusal she had dared to display, had one object and one object alone: she wanted to exist for Sir Stephen in however modest a way, in the same way she existed for René, and wanted him to feel something more than desire for her. Not that she was in love, but because she clearly saw that René loved Sir Stephen in that passionate way boys love their elders, and she sensed that he was ready, if need be, to sacrifice her to any and all of Sir Stephen's whims, in an effort to satisfy him. She knew with an infallible intuition that that René would follow Sir Stephen's example and emulate his attitude, and that if Sir Stephen were to show contempt for her René would be contaminated by it, no matter how much he loved her, contaminated in a way he had never been, or had dreamed of being, by the opinions and example of the men at Roissy. This was because at Roissy, with regard to her, he was the master, and the opinions of all the men there to whom he gave her derived from and depended on his own. Here he was not the master any longer. On the contrary, Sir Stephen was René's master, without René's being fully aware of it, which is to say that René admired him and wanted to emulate him, to compete with him, and why he had given O to him: this time it was apparent that she had been given with no strings attached. René would probably go on loving her insofar as Sir Stephen deemed that she was worth the trouble and would love her himself. Till then, it was clear that Sir Stephen would be her master and, regardless of what René might think, her only master, in the precise relationship of master to slave. She did not expect any pity from him; but could she not hope to wrest some slight feeling of love from him?
Sprawled in the same big armchair next to the fire, which he had been occupying before René' departure, he had left her standing there naked and told her to await his further orders. She had waited without saying a word. Then he had got to his feet and told her to follow him. Still naked, except for her high-heeled sandals and black stockings, she had followed him up a flight of stairs which went from the ground-floor landing, and entered a small bedroom, a room so tiny there was only space enough for a bed in one corner and a dressing table and chair between the bed and window. This small room communicated with a larger room, which was Sir Stephen's, with a common bathroom between.
O washed and wiped herself - the towel was faintly stained with pink - removed her sandals and stockings, and crawled in between the cold sheets. The curtains of the window were open, but the night was dark.
Before he closed the door between their rooms, after O was already in bed, Sir Stephen came over to her and kissed her fingertips, as he had done when she had slipped down her stool in the bar and he had complimented her on her iron ring. Thus, he had thrust his hands and sex into her, ransacked and ravaged her mouth and rear, but condescended only to place his lips upon her fingertips. O wept, and did not fall asleep until dawn.
The following day, a little before noon, Sir Stephen's chauffeur drove O home. She had awakened at ten, an elderly mulatto servant had brought her a cup of coffee, prepared her bath, and given her her clothes, except for her fur wrap, her gloves, and her bag, which she had found on the living-room couch when she had gone downstairs. The living room was empty, the Venetian blinds were raised, and the curtains were open. Through the window opposite the couch, she could see a garden green and narrow as an aquarium, planed in nothing but ivy, holly, and spindle hedges.
As she was putting on her coat, the mulatto servant told her that Sir Stephen had left, and handed her an envelope on which there was nothing but her initial; the white sheet inside consisted of two lines: "René phoned that he would come by for you at the studio at six o'clock," signed with and S and with a postscript: "The riding crop is for your next visit."
O glanced around her: on the table, between the two chairs in which Sir Stephen and René had been sitting the evening before, there was a long, slender, leather riding crop near a vase of yellow roses. The servant was waiting at the door. O put the letter in her bag and left.
So René had phoned Sir Stephen, and not her. Back home, after having taken off her clothes, and having had lunch in her dressing gown, she still had plenty of time to freshen her make-up and rearrange her hair, and to get dressed to go to the studio, where she was due at three o'clock. The telephone did not ring; René did not call her. Why? What had Sir Stephen told him? How had they talked about her? She remembered the words they both had used in her presence, their casual remarks concerning the advantages of her body with respect to the demands of theirs. Perhaps it was merely that she was not used to this kind of vocabulary in English, but the only French equivalents she could find seemed utterly base and contemptible to her. It was true that she had been passed from hand to hand as often as were the prostitutes in the brothels, so why should they treat her otherwise? "I love you, I love you, René," she repeated, softly calling to him in the solitude of her room, "" love you, do whatever you want with me, but don't leave me, for God's sake, don't leave me."
Who pities those who wait? They are easily recognized: by their gentleness, by their falsely attentive looks - attentive, yes, but to something other than what they are looking at - by their absent-mindedness. For three long hours, in the studio where a short, plump red-haired model whom O did not know and who was modeling hats for her, O was that absent-minded person, withdrawn into herself by her desire for the minutes to hasten by, and by her own anxiety.
Over a blouse and petticoat of red silk she had put on a plaid skirt and a short suede jacket. The bright red of her blouse beneath her partly opened jacket made her already pale face seem even paler, and the little red-haired model told her that she looked like a femme fatale. "Fatal for whom?" O said to herself.
Two years earlier, before she had met and fallen in love with René, she would have sworn: "Fatal for Sir Stephen", and have added: "and he'll know it too." But her love for René and René's love for her had stripped her of all her weapons, and instead of providing her with any new proof of her power, had stripped her of those she had previously possessed. Once she had been indifferent and fickle, someone who enjoyed tempting, by a word or gesture, the boys who were in love with her, but without giving them anything, then giving herself impulsively, for no reason, once and only once, as a reward, but also to inflame then even more and render a passion she did not share even more cruel. She was sure that they loved her. One of them had tried to commit suicide; when he had been released from the hospital where they had taken him, she had gone to his place, had stripped naked, and forbidding him to touch her, had lain down on his couch. Pale with pain and passion, he had stared at her silently for two hours, petrified by the promise he had made. She had never wanted to see him again. It wasn't that she took lightly the desire she aroused. She understood it, or thought she understood, all the more so because she herself felt a similar desire (or so she thought) for her girl friends, or for young strangers, girls she encountered by chance. Some of them yielded to her, and she would take them to some discreet hotel with its narrow hallways and paper-thin walls, while others, horrified, spurned her. But what she took - or mistook - to be desire was actually nothing more than the thirst for conquest, and neither her tough-guy exterior nor the fact that she had had several lovers - if you could call them lovers - nor her hardness, nor even her courage was of any help to her when she had met René. In the space of a week she learned fear, but certainty; anguish, but happiness. René threw himself at her like a pirate at his prisoner, and she reveled in her captivity, feeling on her wrists, her ankles, feeling on all her members and in the secret depths of her heart and body, bonds less visible than the finest strands of hair, more powerful than the cables the Lilliputians used to tie up Gulliver, bonds her lover loosened or tightened with a glance. She was no longer free? Yes! Thank God, she was no longer free. But she was light, a nymph on clouds, a fish in water, lost in happiness. Lost because these fine strands of hair, these cables which René held, without exception in his hand, were the only network through which the current of life any longer flowed into her.
This was true to such a degree that when René relaxed his grip upon her - or when she imagined he had - when he seemed distracted, when he left her in a mood which she took to be indifference of let some time go by without seeing her or replying to her letters and she assumed that he no longer cared to see her and was on the verge of ceasing to love her, then everything was choked and smothered within her. The grass turned black, day was no longer day nor night any longer night, but both merely infernal machines which alternately provided, as part of her torture, periods of light and darkness. Cool water made her nauseous. She felt as though she were a statue of ashes - bitter, useless, damned - like the salt statues of Gomorrah. For she was guilty. Those who love God, and by Him are abandoned in the dark of night, are guilty because they are abandoned. They cast back into their memories, searching for their sins. She looked back, hunting for hers. All she found were insignificant acts of kindness or self-indulgence, which were not so much acts as an innate part of her personality, such as arousing the desires of men other than René, men she noticed only to the extent that the love René gave her, the certainty of belonging to René, made her happy and filled her cup of happiness to overflowing, and insofar as her total submission to René rendered her vulnerable, irresponsible, and all her trifling acts - but what acts? For all she had to reproach herself with were thoughts and fleeting temptations. Yet, he was certain that she was guilty and, without really wanting to, René was punishing her for a sin he knew nothing about (since it remained completely internal), although Sir Stephen had immediately detected it: her wantonness.
O was happy that René had had her whipped and had prostituted her, because her impassioned submission would furnish her lover with the proof that she belonged to him, but also because the pain and shame of the lash, and the outrage inflicted upon her by those who compelled her to pleasure when they took her, and at the same time delighted in their own without paying the slightest heed to hers, seemed to her the very redemption of her sins. There had been embraces she had found foul, hands that had been an intolerable insult on her breasts, mouths which had sucked on her lips and tongues like so many soft, vile leeches, and tongues and sexes, viscous beasts which, caressing themselves at her closed mouth, at the double furrow before and behind, which she had squeezed tight with all her might, had stiffened her with disgust and kept her stiffened so long that it was all the whip could do to unbend her, but she had finally yielded to the blows and opened, with disgust and abominable servility. And what if, in spite of that, Sir Stephen was right? What if she actually enjoyed her debasement? In that case, the baser she was, the more merciful was René to consent to make O the instrument of his pleasure.
As a child, O had read a Biblical text in red letters on the white wall of a room in Wales where she had lived for two months, a text such as the Protestants often inscribe in their houses:
IT IS A FEARFUL THING TO FALL INTO THE HANDS OF THE LIVING GOD
No, O told herself now, that isn't true. What is fearful is to be cast out at the hands of the living God. Every time René postponed, or was late to, a rendezvous with her, as he had done today - for six o'clock had come and gone, as had six-thirty - O was prey to a dual feeling of madness and despair, but for nothing. Madness was nothing, despair for nothing, nothing was true. René would arrive, he would be there, nothing was changed, he loved her but had been held up by a staff meeting or some extra work, he had not had time to let her know; in a flash, O emerged from her airless chamber, and yet each of these attacks of terror would leave behind, somewhere deep inside her, a dull premonition, a warning of woe: for there were also times when René neglected to let her know when the reason for the delay was a game of golf or a hand of bridge, or perhaps another face, for he loved O but he was free, sure of her and fickle, so fickle. Would a day of death and ashes not come, a day in the long string of other days which would give the nod to madness, a day when the gas chamber would reopen? Oh, let the miracle continue, let me still be touched by grace, René don't leave me! Each day, O did not look, nor did she care to look, any further than the next day and the day after; nor, each week, any further than the following week. And for her every night with René was a night which would last forever.
René finally arrived at seven, so happy to see her again that he kissed her in front of the electrician who was repairing a floodlight, in front of the short, red-haired model who was just coming out of the dressing room, and in front of Jacqueline, whom on one expected, who had come in suddenly on the heels of the other model.
"What a lovely sight," Jacqueline said to O. "I was just passing. I wanted to ask you for the last shots of me you took, but I gather this isn't the right moment. I'll be on my way."
"Mademoiselle, please don't go," René called after her, without letting go of O, whom he was holding around the waist, "please don't go!"
O introduced them: Jacqueline, René; René, Jacqueline.
Piqued, the red-haired model had gone back into her dressing room, the electrician was pretending to be busy. O was looking at Jacqueline and could feel René's eyes following her gaze. Jacqueline was wearing a ski outfit, the kind that only movie stars who never go skiing wear. Her black sweater accentuated her small, widely spaced breasts, her tight-fitting ski pants did the same for her long, winter-sports-girl legs. Everything about her looked like snow: the bluish sheen of her gray sealskin jacket was snow in the shade; the hoar-frost reflection of her hair and eyelashes, snow in sunlight. She had on lipstick whose deep red shaded almost to purple, and when she smiled and lifted her eyes till they were fixed on O, O said to herself that no would could resist the desire to drink of that green and moving water beneath the silvery lashes, to rip off her sweater to lay his hands on the fairly small breasts. There, you see: no sooner had René returned than, completely reassured by his presence, she recovered her taste for others and for herself, her zest for life.
They left together, all thee of them. On the rue Royale the snow, which had been falling in large flakes for two hours, fell now in eddies of thin little flakes for two hours, fell now in eddies of thin little white flies which stung the face. The rock salt scattered on the sidewalk crunched beneath their feet and melted the snow, and O felt the icy breath it emitted rising along her legs and fastened on her naked thighs.
O had a fairly clear idea of what she was looking for in the young women she pursued. It wasn't that she wanted to give the impression she was vying with men, nor that she was trying to compensate by her manifest masculinity for a female inferiority which she in no wise felt. It's true that when she was twenty she had caught herself courting the prettiest of her girl friends by doffing her beret, by standing aside to let her pass, and by offering a hand to help her out of a taxi. In the same vein, she would not tolerate not paying whenever they had tea together in some pastry shop. She would kiss her hand and, if she had a chance, her mouth, if possible in the street. But these were so many affectations she paraded for the sake of scandal, displayed much more from childishness than from conviction. On the other hand, her penchant for the sweetness of sweetly made-up lips yielding beneath her own, for the porcelain or pearly sparkle of eyes half-closed in the half-light of couches at five in the afternoon, when the curtains are drawn and the lamp on the fireplace mantel lighted, for the voices that say: "Again, oh, please, again...," for the marine odor clinging to her fingers: this was a real, deeply-rooted taste. And she also enjoyed the pursuit just as much. Probably not for the pursuit itself, however amusing or fascinating it might be, but for the complete sense of freedom she experienced in the act of hunting. She, and she alone, set the rules and directed the proceedings (something she never did with men, or only in a most oblique manner). She initiated the discussions and set the rendezvous, the kisses came from her too, so much so that she preferred not to have someone kiss her first, and since she had first had lovers she almost never allowed the girl whom she was caressing to return her caresses. As much as she was in a hurry to behold her girlfriend naked, she was equally quick to find excuses why she herself should not undress. She often looked for excuses to avoid it, saying that she was cold, that it was the wrong time of the month for her. And, what is more, rare was the woman in whom she failed to detect some element of beauty. She remembered that, just out of the lycée, she had tried to seduce an ugly, disagreeable, constantly ill-natured little girl for the sole reason that she had a wild mop of blonde hair which, by its unevenly cut curls, created a forest of light and shade over a skin that, while lusterless, had a texture which was soft, smooth, and totally flat. But the little girl had repelled her advances, and if one day pleasure had ever lighted up the ungrateful wench's face, it had not been because of O. For O passionately loved to see faces enveloped in that mist which makes them so young and smooth, a timeless youth that does not restore childhood but enlarges the lips, widens the eyes the way make-up does, and renders the iris sparkling and clear. In this, admiration played a larger part than pride, for it was not her handiwork which moved her: at Roissy she had experienced the same uncomfortable feeling in the presence of the transfigured face of a girl possessed by a stranger. The nakedness and surrender of the bodies overwhelmed her, and she had the feeling that her girlfriends, when they simply agreed to display themselves naked in a locked room, were giving her a gift which she could never repay in kind. For the nakedness of vacations, in the sun and on the beaches, made no impression on her - not simply because it was public but because, being public and not absolute, she was to some extent protected from it. The beauty of other women, which with unfailing generosity she was inclined to find superior to her own, nevertheless reassured her concerning her own beauty, in which she saw, whenever she unexpectedly caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror, a kind of reflection of theirs. The power she acknowledged that her girlfriends had over her was at the same time a guarantee of her own power over men. And what she asked of women (and never returned, or ever so little), she was happy and found it quite natural that men should be eager and impatient to ask of her. Thus was she constantly and simultaneously the accomplice of both men and women, having, as it were, her cake and eating it too. There were times when the game was not all that easy. That O was in love with Jacqueline, no more and no less than she had been in love with many others, and assuming that the term "in love" (which was saying a great deal) was the proper one, there could be no doubt. But why did she conceal it so?
When the buds burst open on the poplar tree along the quays, and daylight, lingering longer, gave lovers time to sit for a while in the gardens after work, she thought she had at last found the courage to face Jacqueline. In winter, Jacqueline had seemed too triumphant to her beneath her cool furs, too iridescent, untouchable, inaccessible. And Jacqueline knew it. Spring put her back into suits, flat-heeled shoes, sweaters. With her short Dutch bob, she finally resembled those fresh school girls whom O, as a lycée student herself, used to grab by the wrists and drag silently into an empty cloakroom and push back against the hanging coats. The coats would tumble from the hangars. Then O would burst out laughing. They used to wear uniform blouses of raw cotton, with their initials embroidered in red cotton on their breast pockets. Three years later, three kilometers away, Jacqueline had worn the same blouses in another lycée. It was by chance that O learned that one day when Jacqueline was modeling some high-fashion dresses and said with a sigh that, really, if only they had had as pretty dresses at school, they would have been much happier there. Or if they had been allowed to wear the jumper they gave you, without anything on underneath. "What do you mean, without anything on?" O said. "Without a dress, naturally," Jacqueline replied. To which O began to blush. She could not get used to being naked beneath her dress, and any equivocal remark seemed to her to be an allusion to her condition. It did no good to keep on repeating to herself that one is always naked beneath one's clothes. No, she felt as naked as that woman from Verona who went out to offer herself to the chief of the besieging army in order to free her city: naked beneath a coat, which only needed to be opened a crack. It also seemed to her that, like the Italian, her nakedness was meant to redeem something. But what? Since Jacqueline was sure of herself, she had nothing to redeem; she had no need to be reassured, all she needed was a mirror. O looked at her humbly, thinking that the only flowers one could offer her were magnolias, because their waxen whiteness is sometimes infused with a pink glow. As winter waned, the pale tan that gilded Jacqueline's skin vanished with the memory of the snow. Soon, only camellias would do. But O was afraid of making a fool of herself with these melodramatic flowers. On day she brought a big bouquet of blue hyacinths, whose odor is overwhelming, like that of tuberoses: oily, cloying, clinging, exactly the odor camellias ought to have but don't. Jacqueline buried her Mongolian nose in the warm, stiff-stemmed flowers, her small nose and pink lips, for she had been wearing a pink lipstick for the past two weeks, and not red any longer.
"Are they for me?" she said, the way women do who are used to receiving gifts.
Then she thanked O and asked her if René were coming for her. Yes, he was coming, O said. He's coming, she repeated to herself, and it will be for him that Jacqueline will lift her icy, liquid eyes for a second, those eyes which never look at anyone squarely, as she stands there falsely motionless, falsely silent. No on would need to tech her anything: neither to remain silent nor now to keep her hands unclenched at her sides, nor indeed how to arch her head half back. O was dying to seize a handful of that too blonde hair at the nape of the neck, and pull her docile head all the way back, to run at least her finger over the line of her eyebrows. But René would want to do it too. She was fully aware why she, once so daring and bold, had become so shy, why she had wanted Jacqueline for two months without betraying it by the least word or gesture, and giving herself lame excuses to explain her timidity. It was not true that Jacqueline was intangible. The obstacle was not in Jacqueline, it lay deep within O herself, its roots deeper than anything she had ever before encountered. It was because René was leaving her free, and because she loathed her freedom. Her freedom was worse than any chains. Her freedom was separating her from René. She could have taken Jacqueline by the shoulders any number of times and without saying a word, pinned her against the wall with her two hands, the way a butterfly is impaled; Jacqueline would not have moved, and probably not even done so much as smile. But O was henceforth like those wild animals which have been taken captive and either serve as decoys for the hunter or, leaping forward only at the hunter's command, head off the game for him.
It was she who sometimes leaned back against a wall, pale and trembling, stubbornly impaled by her silence, bound there by her silence, so happy to remain silent. She was waiting for more than permission, since she already had permission. She was waiting for an order. It cam to her not from René, but from Sir Stephen.
As the months went by since the day René had given her to Sir Stephen, O was terrified to note the growing importance Sir Stephen was assuming in her lover's eyes. Moreover, she realized at the same time that, in this matter, she was perhaps mistaken, imagining a progression in the fact or the feeling where actually the only progression had been in the acknowledgment of this fact or the admission of this feeling. Be that as it may, she had been quick to note that René chose to spend with her those nights, and only those nights, following those she had spent with Sir Stephen (Sir Stephen keeping her the whole night only when René was away from Paris). She also noticed that when René remained for one of those evenings at Sir Stephen's he would never touch O except to make her more readily available or an easier offering to Sir Stephen, if she happened to be struggling. It was extremely rare for him to stay, and he never did unless at Sir Stephen's express request. Whenever he did, he remained fully dressed, as he had done the first time, keeping quiet, lighting one cigarette after another, adding wood to the fire, serving Sir Stephen something to drink - but not drinking himself. O felt that he was watching her the way a lion trainer watches the animal he trained, careful to see that it performs with complete obedience and thus does honor to him, but even more the way a prince's bodyguard or a bandit's second-in-command keeps an eye on the prostitute he has gone down to fetch in the street. The proof that he was indeed yielding to the role of servant or acolyte resided in the fact that he watched Sir Stephen's face more closely than he did hers - and beneath his gaze O felt herself stripped of the very voluptuousness in which her features were immersed: for this sensual pleasure René paid obeisance, expressed admiration and even gratitude to Sir Stephen, who had engendered it, pleased that he had deigned to take pleasure in something he had given him.
Everything would probably have been much simpler if Sir Stephen had liked boys, and O did not doubt that René, who was not so inclined, still would have readily granted to Sir Stephen both the slightest and the most demanding of his requests. But Sir Stephen only liked women.
O realized that through the medium of her body, shared between them, they attained something more mysterious and perhaps more acute, more intense than an amorous communion, the very conception of which was arduous but whose reality and force she could not deny. Still, why was this division in a way abstract? At Roissy, O had at the same time ad in the same place, belonged both to René and to other men. Why did René, in Sir Stephen's presence, refrain not only from taking her, but from giving her any order? (All he ever did was pass on Sir Stephen's.) She asked him why, certain beforehand of the reply.
"Out of respect," René replied.
"But I belong to you," O had said.
"You belong to Sir Stephen first."
And it was true, at least in the sense that when René had surrendered her to his friend the surrender had been absolute, that Sir Stephen's slightest desired took precedence over René's decisions as far as she was concerned, and even over her own. If René had decided that they would dine together and go to the theater, and Sir Stephen happened to phone an hour before he was to pick up O, René would come by for her at the studio as agreed, but only to drive her to Sir Stephen's door and leave her there. Once, and only once, O had asked René to please ask Sir Stephen to change the day, because she so much wanted to go with René to a party to which they were both invited. René had refused.
"My sweet angel," he had said, "you mean you still haven't understood that you no longer belong to me, that I'm not longer the master who's in charge of you?"
Not only had he refused, but he had told Sir Stephen of O's request and, in her presence, asked him to punish her harshly enough so that she would never again dare even to conceive of shirking her duties.
"Certainly," Sir Stephen had replied.
The scene had taken place in the little oval room with the inlaid floor, in which the only piece of furniture was a table encrusted with mother-of-pearl, the room adjoining the yellow and gray living room. René remained only long enough to betray O and hear Sir Stephen's reply. Then he shook hands with him, smiled at O, and left. Through the window, O saw him crossing the courtyard; he did not turn around; she heard the car door slam shut, the roar of the motor, and in a little mirror imbedded in the wall she caught a glimpse of her own image: she was white with fear and despair. Then, mechanically, when she walked past Sir Stephen, who opened the living-room door for her and stood back for her to pass, she looked at him: he was as pale as she. In a flash, she was absolutely certain that he loved her, but it was a fleeting certainty that vanished as fast as it had come. Although she did not believe it and chided herself for having thought of it, she was comforted by it and undressed meekly, on a mere signal from him. Then, and for the first time since he had been making her come two or three times a week, and using her slowly, sometimes making her wait for an hour naked without coming near her, listening to her entreaties without ever replying, for there were times when she did beg and beseech, enjoining her to do the same things always at the same moments, as in a ritual, so that she knew when her mouth was supposed to caress him and when, on her knees, her head buried in the silken sofa, she should offer him only her back, which he now possessed without hurting her, for the first time, for in spite of the fear which convulsed her - or perhaps because of that fear - she opened to him, in spite of the chagrin she felt at René's betrayal, but perhaps too because of it, she surrendered herself completely. And for the first time, so gentle were her yielding eyes when they fastened on Sir Stephen's pale, burning gaze, that he suddenly spoke to her in French, employing the familiar tu form:
"I'm going to put a gag in your mouth, O, because I'd like to whip you till I draw blood. Do I have your permission?"
"I'm yours," O said.
She was standing in the middle of the drawing room, and her arms raised and held together by the Roissy bracelets, which were attached by a chain to a ring in the ceiling from which a chandelier had formerly hung, thrust her breasts forward. Sir Stephen caressed them, then kissed them, then kissed her mouth once, ten times. (He had never kissed her.) And when he had put on the gag, which filled her mouth with the taste of wet canvas and pushed her tongue to the back of her throat, the gag so arranged that she could scarcely clench it in her teeth, he took her by the hair. Held in equilibrium by the chain, she stumbled on her bare feet.
"Excuse me, O," he murmured (he had never before begged her pardon), then he let her go, and struck.
When René returned to O's apartment after midnight, after having gone alone to the party they had intended to go to together, he found her in bed, trembling in the white nylon of her long nightgown. Sir Stephen had brought her home and put her to bed himself and kissed her again. She told René that. She also told him that she no longer had any inclination not to obey Sir Stephen, realizing full well that from this René would conclude that she deemed it essential, and even pleasant to be beaten (which was true; but this was not the only reason). What she was also certain of was that it was equally essential to René that she be beaten. He was as horrified at the idea of striking her - so much so that he had never been able to bring himself to do it - as he enjoyed seeing her struggle and hearing her scream. Once, in his presence, Sir Stephen had used the riding crop on her. René had forced O back against the table and held her there, motionless. Her skirt had slipped down; he had lifted it up. Perhaps he needed even more to know that while he was not with her, while he was away walking or working, O was writing, moaning, and crying beneath the whip, was asking for his pity and not obtaining it - and was aware that this pain and humiliation had been inflicted on her by the will of the lover whom she loved, and for his pleasure. At Roissy, he had had her flogged by the valets. In Sir Stephen he had found the stern master he himself was unable to be. The fact that the man he most admired in the world could take a fancy to her and take the trouble to tame her, only made René's passion all the greater, as O could plainly see. All the mouths that had probed her mouth, all the hands that had seized her breasts and her belly, all the members that had been thrust into her and so perfectly provided the living proof that she was indeed prostituted, had at the same time provided the proof that she was worthy of being prostituted and had, so to speak, sanctified her. But this, in René's eyes, was nothing compared to the proof Sir Stephen provided. Each time she emerged from his arms, René looked for the mark of a god upon her. O knew full well that if he had betrayed her a few hours before, it was in order to provoke new, and crueler, marks. And she also knew that, though the reasons for provoking them might disappear, Sir Stephen would not turn back. So much the worse. (But to herself she was thinking the exact opposite.) René impressed and overwhelmed, gazed for a long time at the thin body marked by thick, purple welts like so many ropes spanning the shoulders, the back, the buttocks, the belly, and the breasts, welt which sometimes overlapped and crisscrossed. Here and there a little blood still oozed.
"Oh, how I love you," he murmured.
With trembling hands he took off his clothes, turned out the light, and lay down next to O. She moaned in the darkness, all the time he possessed her.
The welts on O's body took almost a month to disappear. In places where the skin had been broken, she still bore the traces of slightly whiter lines, like very old scars. If ever she were inclined to forget where they came from, the attitude of René and Sir Stephen were there to remind her.
René, of course, had a key to O's apartment. He hadn't thought to give one to Sir Stephen, probably because, till now, Sir Stephen had not evinced the desire to visit O's place. But the fact that he had brought her home that night suddenly made René realize that this door, which only he and O could open, might be considered by Sir Stephen as an obstacle, a barrier, or as a restriction deliberately imposed by René, and that it was ridiculous to give him O if he did not at the same time give him the freedom to come and go at O's whenever he pleased. In short, he had a key made, gave it to Sir Stephen, and told O only after Sir Stephen had accepted it. She did not dream of protesting, and she soon discovered that, while she was waiting for Sir Stephen to appear, she felt incomprehensibly peaceful. She waited for a long time, wondering whether he would surprise her by coming in the middle of the night, whether he would take advantage of one of René's absences, whether he would come alone, or indeed whether he would even come at all. She did not dare speak about it to René.
On morning when the cleaning woman had happened not to be there and O had gotten up earlier than usual and, at ten o'clock, was already dressed and ready to go out, she heard a key turning in the lock and flew to the door shouting: "René" (for there were times when René did arrive in this way and at this hour, and she had not dreamed it could be anyone but he). It was Sir Stephen, who smiled and said to her:
"All right, why don't we call up René."
But René, tied up at his office by a business appointment, would be there only in an hour's time.
O, her heart pounding wildly (and she wondering why), watched Sir Stephen hang up. He sat her down on the bed, took her head in both his hands, and forced her mouth open slightly in order to kiss her. She was so out of breath that she might have slipped and fallen if he had not held her. But he did hold her, and straightened her up.
She could not understand why her throat was knotted by such a feeling of anxiety and anguish, for, after all, what did she have to fear from Sir Stephen that she had not already experienced.
He bade her remove all her clothes, and watched her, without saying a word, as she obeyed. Wasn't she, in fact, quite accustomed to his silence, as she was accustomed to waiting for him to decide what his pleasure would be? She had to admit she had been deceiving herself, and that if she was taken aback by the time and the place, by the fact that she had never been naked in this room for anyone except René, the basic reason for her being upset was actually still the same: her own self-consciousness. The only difference was that this self-consciousness was made all the more apparent to her because it was not taking place in some specific spot to which she had to repair in order to submit to it, and not at night, thereby partaking of a dream or of some clandestine existence in relation to the length of the day, as Roissy had been in relation to the length of her life with René. The bright light of a May day turned the clandestine into something public: henceforth the reality of the night and the reality of day would be one and the same. Henceforth - and O was thinking: at last. This is doubtless the source of that strange sentiment of security, mingled with terror, to which she felt she was surrendering herself and of which, without understand it, she had had a premonition. Henceforth there were no more hiatuses, no dead time, no remission. He whom one awaits is, because he is expected, already present, already present, already master. Sir Stephen was a far more demanding but also a far surer master than René. And however passionately O loved René, and he her, there was between them a kind of equality (were it only the equality of age) which eliminated in her any feeling of obedience, the awareness of her submission. Whatever he wanted of her she wanted too, solely because he was asking it of her. But it was as though he had instilled in her, insofar as Sir Stephen was concerned, his own admiration, his own respect. She obeyed Sir Stephen's orders as orders about which there was no question, and was grateful to him for having give them to her. Whether he addressed her in French or English, employed the familiar tu or the less personal vous form with her, she, like a stranger or a servant, never addressed him as anything but Sir Stephen. She told herself that the term "Lord" would have been more appropriate, if she had dared utter it, as he, in referring to her, would have been better advised to employ the word "slave." She also told herself that all was well, since René was happy loving in her Sir Stephen's slave.
And so, her clothes neatly arranged at the foot of the bed, having again put on her high-heeled mules, she waited, with lowered yes, facing Sir Stephen, who was leaning against the window. Bright sunlight was streaming through the dotted muslin curtains and gently warmed her hips and thighs. She was not looking for any special effect, but it immediately occurred to her that she should have put on more perfume, she realized that she had not made up the tips of her breasts, and that, luckily, she had on her mules, for the nail polish on her toenails was beginning to peel off. Then she suddenly knew that what she was in fact waiting for in this silence, and this light, was for Sir Stephen to make some signal to her, or for him to order her to kneel down before him, unbutton him, and caress him. But no. Because she alone had been the one to whom such a thought had occurred, she turned scarlet, and as she was blushing she was thinking what a fool she was to blush: such modesty and shame in a whore!
Just then, Sir Stephen asked O to sit down before her dressing table and hear what he had to say. The dressing table was not, properly speaking, a dressing table, but next to a low ledge set into the wall, on which were arranged brushes and bottles, a large Restoration swing-mirror in which O, seated in her low-slung chair, could see herself full length.
Sir Stephen paced back and forth behind her as he talked; from time to time his reflection crossed the mirror, behind the image of O, but his was a reflection which seemed far away, because the silvering of the mirror was discolored and slightly murky.
O, her hands unclasped and her knees apart, had an urge to seize the reflection and stop it, in order to reply more easily. For Sir Stephen, speaking in a clipped English, was asking question after question, the last questions O would ever have dreamed he would ask, even assuming he would ask any in the first place. Hardly had he begin, however, when he broke off to settle O deeper and farther back in the chair; with hr left leg over the arm of the chair and the other curled up slightly, O, in that bath of bright light, was then presented, to her own eyes and to Sir Stephen's as perfectly open as though an invisible lover had withdrawn from her and left her slightly ajar.
Sir Stephen resumed his questioning, with a judge-like resolution and the skill of a father confessor. O did not see him speaking, and saw herself replying. Whether she had, since she had returned from Roissy, belonged to other men besides René and himself? No. Whether she had wanted to belong to any other she might have met? No. Whether she caressed herself at night, when she was alone? No. Whether she had any girl friends she caressed or who she allowed to caress her? No (the "no" was more hesitant). Any girlfriends she did desire? Well, there was Jacqueline, but "friend" was stretching the term. Acquaintance would be closer, or even chum, the way well-bred schoolgirls refer to each other in high-class boarding schools.
Whereupon Sir Stephen asked her whether she had any photographs of Jacqueline, and he helped her to her feet so she could go and get them. It was in the living room that René, entering out of breath, for he had dashed up the four flights of stairs, came upon them: O was standing in front of the big table on which there shone, black and white, like puddles of water in the night, all of the pictures of Jacqueline. Sir Stephen, half-seated on the table, was taking them one by one as O handed them to him, and putting them back on the table; his other hand was holding O's womb. From that moment on, Sir Stephen, who had greeted René without letting go of her - in fact she felt his hand probe deeper into her - had ceased addressing her, and addressed himself to René. She thought she knew why: with René there, the accord between Sir Stephen and René concerning her was established, but apart from her, she was only the occasion for it or the object of it, they no longer had to question her, nor she to reply; what she had to do, and even what she had to be, was decided without her.
It was almost noon. The sun, falling directly on the table, curled the edges of the photographs. O wanted to move them and flatten them out to keep them from being ruined, but her fingers fumbled, she was on the verge of yielding to the burning probe of Sir Stephen's hand and allowing a moan to escape from her lips. She failed to hold it back, did in fact moan, and found herself sprawled flat on her back among the photographs, where Sir Stephen had rudely shoved her as he left her, with her legs spread and dangling. Her feet were not touching the floor; one of her mules slipped from her foot and dropped noiselessly onto the white rung. Her face was flooded with sunshine: she closed her eyes.
Later, much later, she must have remembered overhearing the conversation between Sir Stephen and René, but at the time she was not struck by it, as though it did not concern her and, simultaneously, as though she had already experienced it before. And it was true that she had already experienced a similar scene, since the first time that René had taken her to Sir Stephen's, they had discussed her in the same way. But on that initial occasion she had been a stranger to Sir Stephen, and René had done most of the talking. Since then, Sir Stephen had made her submit to all his fantasies, had molded her to his own taste, had demanded and obtained from her, as something quite routine, the most outrageous and scurrilous acts. She had nothing more to give than hat he already possessed. At least so she thought.
He was speaking, he who generally was silent in her presence, and his remarks, as well as René's revealed that they were renewing a conversation they often engaged in together, with her as the subject. It was a question of how she could best be utilized, and how the things each of them had learned from his particular use of her could best be shared. Sir Stephen readily admitted that O was infinitely more moving when her body was covered with marks, of whatever kind, if only because these marks made it impossible for her to cheat and immediately proclaimed, the moment they were seen, that anything went as far as she was concerned. For to know this was one thing, but to see the proof of it, and to see the proof constantly renewed, was quite another. René, Sir Stephen said, was perfectly right in wishing to have her whipped. They decided that she would be, irrespective of the pleasure they might derive from her screams and tears, as often as necessary so that some trace of the flogging could always be seen upon her.
O, still lying motionless on her back, her loins still aflame, was listening, and she had the feeling that by some strange substitution Sir Stephen was speaking for her, in her place. As though he was somehow in her body and could feel the anxiety, the anguish, and the shame, but also the secret pride and harrowing pleasure that she was feeling, especially when she was alone in a crowd of strangers, of passers-by in the street, or when she got into a bus, or when she was at the studio with the models and technicians, and she told herself that any and all of these people she was with, if they should have an accident and have to be laid down on the ground or if a doctor had to be called, would keep their secrets, even if they were unconscious and naked; but not she: her secret did not depend upon her silence alone, did not depend on her alone. Even if she wanted to, she could not indulge in the slightest caprice - and that was indeed the meaning of one of Sir Stephen's questions - without immediately revealing herself, she could not allow herself to partake of the most innocent acts, such as playing tennis or swimming. That these things were forbidden her was a comfort to her, a material comfort, as the bars of the convent materially prevent the cloistered girls from belonging to one another, and from escaping. For this reason too, how could she run the risk that Jacqueline would not spurn her, without at the same time running the risk of having to explain the truth to Jacqueline, or at least part of the truth?
The sun had moved and left her face. Her shoulders were sticking to the glossy surface of the photographs on which she was lying, and against her knee she could feel the rough edge of Sir Stephen's suitcoat, for he had come back beside her. He and René each took her by one hand and helped her to her feet. René picked up one of her mules. It was time for her to get dressed.
It was during the lunch that followed, at Saint-Cloud on the banks of the Seine, that Sir Stephen, who had remained alone with her, began to question her once again. The restaurant tables, covered with white tablecloths, were arranged on a shaded terrace which was bordered by privet hedges, at the foot of which was a bed of dark red, scarcely opened peonies.
Even before Sir Stephen could make a sign to her, O had obediently lifted her skirts as she sat down on the iron chair, and it had taken her bare thighs a long time to warm the cold iron. They heard the water slapping against the boats tied up to the wooden jetty at the end of the terrace. Sir Stephen was seated across from her, and O was speaking slowly, determined not to say anything that was not true. What Sir Stephen wanted to know was why she liked Jacqueline. Oh! That was easy: it was because she was too beautiful for O, like the full-sized dolls given to the poor children for Christmas, which they're afraid to touch. And yet she knew that if she had not spoken to her, and had not accosted her, it was because she really didn't want to. As she said this she raised her eyes, which had been lowered, fixed on the bed of peonies, and she realized that Sir Stephen was staring at her lips. Was he listening to what she was saying, or was he merely listening to the sound of her voice or watching the movement of her lips? Suddenly she stopped speaking, and Sir Stephen's gaze rose and intercepted her own. What she read in it was so clear this time, and it was so obvious to him that she had seen it, that now it was his turn to blanch. If indeed he did love her, would he ever forgive her for having noticed it? She could neither avert her gaze nor smile, nor speak. Had her life depended on it, she would have been incapable of making a gesture, incapable of fleeing, her legs would never have carried her. He would probably never want anything from her save her submission to his desire, as long as he continued to desire her. But was desire sufficient to explain the fact that, from the day René had handed her over to him, he asked for her and kept her more and more frequently, sometimes merely to have her with him, without asking anything from her?
There he sat across from her, silent and motionless. Some businessmen, at a neighboring table, were talking as they drank a coffee so black and aromatic that the aroma was wafted all the way to their own table. Two well-groomed, contemptuous Americans lighted cigarettes halfway through their meal; the gravel crunched beneath the waters' feet - one of them came over to refill Sir Stephen's glass, which was three-quarters empty, but what was the point of wasting good wine on a statue, a sleepwalker? The waiter did not belabor the point.
O was delighted to feel that if his gray, ardent gaze wandered from her eyes, it was to fasten on her breasts, her hands, before returning to her eyes. Finally she saw the trace of a smile appear on his lips, a smile she dared to answer. But utter a single word, impossible! She could barely breathe.
"O..." Sir Stephen said.
"Yes," O said, faintly.
"O, what I'm going to speak to you about i have already discussed with René, and we're both in accord on it. But also, I..." He broke off.
O never knew whether it was because, seized by a sudden chill, she had closed her eyes, or whether he too had difficulty catching his breath. He paused, the water was changing plates, bringing O the menu so she could choose the dessert. O handed it to Sir Stephen. A soufflé? Yes, a soufflé. It will take twenty minutes. All right, twenty minutes. The waiter left.
"I need more than twenty minutes," Sir Stephen said.
And he went on in a steady voice, and what he said quickly convinced O that one thing at least was certain, and that was, if he did love her, nothing would be changed, unless one considered this curious respect a change, this ardor with which he was saying to her: "I'd be most pleased if you would care to..." instead of simply asking her to accede to his requests. Yet they were still orders, and there was no question of O's not obeying them. She pointed this out to Sir Stephen. He admitted as much.
"I still want your answer," he said.
"I'll do whatever you like," O responded, and the echo of what she was saying resounded in her memory: "I'll do whatever you like," she was used to saying to René. Almost in a whisper, she murmured: "René..."
Sir Stephen heard it.
"René knows what I want from you. Listen to me."
He was speaking English, but in a low, carefully controlled voice which was inaudible at the neighboring tables. Whenever the waiters approached their table, he fell silent, resuming his sentence where he had left off as soon as they had moved away. What he was saying seemed strange and out of keeping with this peaceful, public place, and yet what was strangest of all was that he could say it, and O hear it, so naturally.
He began by reminding her that the first evening when she had come to his apartment he had given her an order she had refused to obey, and he noted that although he might have slapped her then, he had never repeated the order since that night. Would she grant him now what she had refused him then? O understood that not only must she acquiesce, but that he wanted to hear her say it herself, in her own words, say that she would caress herself any time he asked her to. She said it, and again she saw the yellow and gray drawing room, René's departure from it, her revulsion that first evening, the fire glowing between her open knees when she was lying naked on the rug. Tonight, in this same drawing room... No, Sir Stephen had not specified, and was going on.
He also pointed out to her that she had never been possessed in his presence by René (or by anyone else), as she had been by him in René's presence (and at Roissy by a whole host of others). From this she should not conclude that René would be the only one to humiliate her by handing her over to a man who did not lover her - and perhaps derive pleasure from it - in the presence of a man who did. (He went on at such length, and with such cruelty - she soon would open her thighs and back, and her mouth, to those of his friends who, once they had met her, might desire her - that O suspected that this coarseness was aimed as much at himself as it was at her, and the only thing she remembered was the end of the sentence: in the presence of a man who did love her. What more did she want in the way of a confession?) What was more, he would bring her back to Roissy sometime in the course of the summer. Hadn't it ever struck her as surprising, this isolation in which first then, then he had kept her? They were the only men she saw, either together, or one after the other. Whenever Sir Stephen had invited people to his apartment on the rue de Poitiers, O was never invited. She had never lunched or dined at his place. Nor had René ever introduced her to any of his friends, except for Sir Stephen. In all probability he would continue to keep her in the background, for to Sir Stephen was henceforth reserved the privilege of doing as he liked with her. But she should not get the idea that she belonged to him that she would be detained more legally; on the contrary. (But what hurt and wounded O most was the realization that Sir Stephen was going to treat her in exactly the same way René had, in the same, identical way.) The iron and gold ring that she was wearing on her left hand - and did she recall that the ring had been chosen so tight-fitting that they had had to force it on her ring finger? She could not take it off - that ring was the sign that she was a slave, but one who was common property. It had been merely by chance that, since this past autumn, she had not met any Roissy members who might have noticed her irons, or revealed that they had noticed them.
The word irons, used in the plural, which she had taken to be an equivocal term when Sir Stephen had told her that irons were becoming to her, had in no wise been equivocal; it had been a mode of recognition, a password. Sir Stephen had not had to use the second formula: namely, whose irons was she wearing? But if today this question were asked of O, what would she reply? O hesitated?
"René's and yours," she said.
"No," Sir Stephen said, "mine. René wants you to be answerable first of all to me."
O was fully cognizant of this, why did she pretend she was not? In a short while, and in any case prior to her return to Roissy, she would have to accept a definitive mar, which would not absolve her from the obligation of being a common-property slave, Sir Stephen's and the traces of the floggings on her body, or the marks raised by the riding crop, if indeed they were inflicted again, would be discreet and futile compared to this ultimate mark. (But what would the mark be, of what would it consist, in what way would it be definitive? O, terrified and fascinated, was dying to know, she had to know immediately. But it was obvious that Sir Stephen was not yet ready to explain it. And it was true that she had to accept, to consent in the real sense of the term, for nothing would be inflicted upon her by force to which she had not already previously consented; she could refuse, nothing was keeping her enslaved except her love and her self-enslavement. What prevented her from leaving?) And yet, before this mark was imposed upon her, even before Sir Stephen became accustomed to flogging her, as had been decided by René and himself, to flogging her in such a way that the traces were constantly visible, she would be granted a reprieve - the time required for her to make Jacqueline submit to her. Stunned, O raised her head and looked at Sir Stephen. Why? Why Jacqueline? And if Jacqueline interested Sir Stephen, why was it in relation to O?
"There are two reasons," Sir Stephen said. "The first, and least important, is that I would like to see you kiss and caress a woman."
"But even assuming she gives in to me," cried O, "how in the world do you expect me to make her consent to your being present?"
"That's the least of my worries," Sir Stephen said. "If necessary, by betrayal, and anyway, I'm counting on you for a great deal more than that, for the second reason why I want you to seduce her is that you're to be the bait that lures her to Roissy."
O set down the cup of coffee she was holding in her hand, shaking so violently that she spilled the viscous dregs of coffee and sugar at the bottom of the cup. Like a soothsayer, she saw unbearable images in the spreading brown stain on the tablecloth: Jacqueline's glazed eyes confronting the valet Pierre; her flanks, doubtless as golden as her breasts, though O had never seen them, exposed to view below the folds of her long red velvet dress with its tucked-up skirt; her downy cheeks stained with tears and her painted mouth open and screaming, and her straight hair, in a Dutch bob along her forehead, straight as new-mown hay - no, it was impossible, not her, not Jacqueline.
"No, it's out of the question," she said.
"Of course it's not," Sir Stephen retorted. "How do you think girls are recruited for Roissy? Once you have brought her there, the matter will be completely out of your hands, and anyway, if she wants to leave, she can leave. Come along now."
He had gotten suddenly to his feet, leaving the money for the bill on the table. O followed him to the car, climbed in, and sat down. Scarcely had they entered the Bois de Boulogne when he turned in to a side road, stopped the car in a narrow lane, and took her in his arms.