The Story of O
By Pauline Réage
III - Anne-Marie and the Rings
O had believed, or wanted to believe, in order to give herself a good excuse, that Jacqueline would be uncommonly shy. She was enlightened on this score the moment she decided to open her eyes.
The modest air Jacqueline assumed - closing the door to the mirrored make-up room where she dressed and undressed - was in fact clearly intended to inflame O, to instill in her the desire to force the door which, had it been left wide open, she would never have made up her mind to enter. That O's decision finally came from an authority outside herself, and was not the result of that basic strategy, could not have been further from Jacqueline's mind. At first O was amused by it. As she helped Jacqueline arrange her hair, for example, after Jacqueline had taken off the clothes she had posed in and was slipping into her turtle-neck sweater and the turquoise necklace the same color as her eyes, O found herself amazingly delighted at the ideà that the very same evening Sir Stephen would be apprised of Jacqueline's every gesture - whether she had allowed O to fondle, through the black sweater, her small, well-spaced breasts, whether she had lowered her eyelids till those lashes, fairer than her skin, were touching her cheeks; whether she had sighed or moaned. When O embraced her, she became heavy, motionless and seemly expectant in her arms, her lips parted slightly and her hair cascaded back. O always had to be careful to hold her by both her shoulders and lean her up against the frame of a door or against a table. Otherwise she would have slipped to the floor, her eyes closed, without a sound. The minute O let go of her, she would again turn into ice and snow, laughing and distant, and would say: "You've got lipstick on me," and would wipe her mouth. It was this distant stranger that O enjoyed betraying by carefully noting - so as not to forget anything and be able to relate everything in detail - the slow flush of her cheeks, the smell of sage and sweat. Of Jacqueline it was impossible to say that she was forbearing or that she was on her guard. When she yielded to the kisses - and all she had so far granted O were kisses, which she accepted without returning - she yielded abruptly and, it seemed, totally, as though for ten seconds, or five minutes, she had become someone else. The rest of the time she was both coquettish and coy, incredibly clever at parrying an attack, contriving never to lay herself open either to a word or gesture, or even a look which would allow the victor to coincide with the vanquished or give O to believe that it was all that simple to take possession of her mouth. The only indication one had as a guide, the only thing that gave one to suspect troubled waters beneath the calm surface of her look was an occasional, apparently involuntary trace of a smile on her triangular face, similar to the smile of a cat, as fleeting and disturbing, and as uncertain, as a cat's. Yet it did not take O long to realize that this smile could be provoked by two things, and Jacqueline was totally unaware of either. The first was the gifts that were given to her, the second, any clear evidence of the desire she aroused - providing, however, that the person who desired her was someone who might be useful to her or who flattered her vanity. In what way was O useful to her? Or was it simply that O was an exception and that Jacqueline enjoyed being desired by O both because she took solace in O's manifest admiration and also because a woman's desire is harmless and of no consequence? Still in all, O was convinced that if, instead of bringing Jacqueline a mother-of-pearl brooch or the latest creation of Hermes' scarves on which I Love You was printed in every language under the sun, she were to offer Jacqueline the hundred or two hundred francs she seemed constantly to need, Jacqueline would have changed her tune about never having the time to have lunch or tea at O's place, or would have stopped evading her caresses. But of this O never had any proof. She had only barely mentioned it to Sir Stephen, who was chiding her for her slowness, when René stepped in. The five or six times that René had come by for O, when Jacqueline had happened to be there, the three of them had gone together to the Weber bar or to one of the English bars in the vicinity of the Madeleine; on these occasions René would contemplate Jacqueline with precisely the same mixture of interest, self-assurance, and arrogance with which he would gaze, at Roissy, at the girls who were completely at his disposal. The arrogance slid harmlessly off Jacqueline's solid, gleaming armor, and Jacqueline was not even aware of it. By a curious contradiction, O was disturbed by it, judging an attitude which she considered quite natural and normal for herself, insulting for Jacqueline. Was she taking up cudgels in defense of Jacqueline, or was it merely that she wanted her all to herself? She would have been hard put to answer that question, all the more so because she did not have her all to herself - at least not yet. But if she finally did succeed, she had to admit it was thanks to René. On three occasions, upon leaving the bar where they had given Jacqueline considerably more whisky than she should have drunk - her cheeks were flushed and shining, her eyes hard - he had driven her home before taking O to Sir Stephen's.
Jacqueline lived in one of those lugubrious Passy lodging houses into which hordes of White Russians had piled immediately following the Revolution, and from which they had never moved. The entrance hall was painted in imitation oak, and on the stairway the spaces between the banisters were covered with dust, and the green carpeting had been worn down till it was threadbare in many places. Each time René wanted to come in - and to date he had never got beyond the front door - Jacqueline would jump out of the car, cry "not tonight" or "thanks so much," and slam the car door behind her as though she had suddenly been burned by some tongue of flame. And it was true, O would say to herself, that she was being pursued by fire. It was admirable that Jacqueline had sensed it, even though she had no concrete evidence of it as yet. At least she realized that she had to be on her guard with René, whose detachment did not seem to affect her in the slightest. (Or did it? And as far as seeming unaffected, two could play at that game, and René was a worthy opponent for her).
The only time that Jacqueline let O come into the house and follow her up to her room, O had understood why she had so adamantly refused René permission to set foot in the house. What would have happened to her prestige, her black-and-white legend on the slick pages of the posh fashion magazines, if someone other than a woman like herself had seen the sordid lair from which the glorious creature issued forth every day? The bed was never made, at most the bedclothes were more or less pulled up, and the sheet which was visible was dirty and greasy, for Jacqueline never went to bed without massaging her face with cold cream, and she fell asleep too quickly to think of wiping it off. Sometime in the past a curtain had apparently partitioned off the toilet from the room: all that remained on the triangular shaped curtain rod were two rings and a few shreds of cloth. The color was faded from everything: from the rug, from the wallpaper whose pink and gray flowers were crawling upward like vegetation gone wild and become petrified on the imitation white trellis. One would have had to throw everything out and start again from scratch: scrape off the wallpaper, throw out the rug, sand the floors. But without waiting for that, one could in any case have cleaned off the dirt that, like so many strata, ringed the enamel of the basin, immediately wiped off and put into some kind of order the bottles of make-up remover and the jars of cream, cleaned up the powder box, wiped off the dressing table, thrown out the dirty cotton, opened the windows. But, straight and cool and clean and smelling of eau de Cologne and wild flowers, dirt-proof and impeccable, Jacqueline could not have cared less about her filthy room. What she did care about, however, what caused her no end of concern, was her family.
It was because of her hovel, which O was frank enough to have mentioned to René, that René made a proposal which was to alter their lives, but it was because of her family that Jacqueline accepted. René's suggestion was that Jacqueline should come and live with O. "Family" was a gross misunderstatement: it was a clan, or rather a horde. Grandmother, mother, aunt, and even a maid - four women ranging in age from fifty to seventy, strident, heavily made up, smothered beneath onyx and their black silks, sobbing and wailing at four in the morning in the faint red light of the icons, with the cigarette smoke swirling thickly about them, four women drowning in the clicking of the tea glasses and the harsh hissing of a language Jacqueline would gladly have given half her life to forget - she was going out of her mind having to submit to their orders, to listen to them, merely having to see them. Whenever she saw her mother lifting a piece of sugar to her mouth before drinking her tea, Jacqueline would set down her own glass and retreat to her dry and dusty pigsty, leaving all three of them behind, her grandmother, her mother, and her mother's sister, with their hair dyed black, their closely knit eyebrows, and their wide, doelike, disapproving eyes - there in her mother's room which doubled as a living room, there where, besides, the fourth female, the maid, ended by resembling them. She fled, banging the doors behind her, and they called after her: "Choura, Choura, little dove," just as in the novels of Tolstoy, for her name was not Jacqueline. Jacqueline was her professional name, a name chosen to forget her real name, and with it this sordid but tender gynaeceum, and to set herself up in the French sun, in a solid world where there are men who do marry you and not disappear, as had the father she had never known, into the vast arctic wastes from which he had never returned. She took after him completely, she used to tell herself with a mixture of anger and delight, she had his hair and high cheekbones, his complexion and his slanting eyes. All she was grateful for to her mother was having given her this blond devil as a father, this demon whom the snows had reclaimed as the earth reclaims other men. What she resented was that her mother had forgotten him quickly enough to have given birth one fine day to a dark-complexioned little girl the issue of a short-lived liaison, her half-sister by an unknown father, whose name was Natalie. Now fifteen, Natalie only saw them during vacation. Her father, never. But he provided for Natalie's room and board in a lycée not far from Paris, and gave her mother a monthly stipend on which the three women and the maid - and even Jacqueline till now - had subsisted, albeit poorly, in an idleness which to them was paradise. Whatever remained from Jacqueline's earnings as a model, after she had bought her cosmetics and lingerie, and her shoes and dresses - all of which came from the top fashion houses and were, even after the discount she received as a model, frightfully expensive - was swallowed by the gaping maw of the family purse and disappeared, God only knows where.
Obviously, Jacqueline could have chosen to have a lover to support her, and she had not lacked the opportunity. She had in fact had a lover or two, less because she liked them - not that she actually disliked them - than because she wanted to prove to herself that she was capable of provoking desire and inflaming a man to the point of love. The only one of the two - the second - who had been wealthy and made her a present of a very lovely pearl with a slight pink tint which she wore on her left hand, but she had refused to live with him, and since he had refused to marry her, she had left him, with no great regrets, merely relieved that she was not pregnant (she had thought she was, for several days had lived in a state of dread at the idea). No, to live with a lover was lose face, to forsake one's chances for the future, it was to do what her mother had done with Natalie's father, and that was out of the question.
With O, however, it was quite another matter. A polite fiction made it possible to pretend that Jacqueline was simply moving in with a girl friend, with whom she was going to share all costs. O would be serving a dual purpose, both playing the role of the lover who supports, or helps to support, the girl he loves, and also the theoretically opposite role of providing a moral guarantee. René's presence was not official enough, really, to compromise the fiction. But who can say whether, behind Jacqueline's decision, that very presence might not have been the real motivation for her acceptance? The fact remained that it was left up to O, and to O alone, to present the matter to Jacqueline's mother. Never had O been more keenly aware of playing the role of traitor, of spy, never had she felt so keenly she was the envoy of some criminal organization as when she found herself in the presence of that woman, who thanked her for befriending her daughter. And at the same time, deep in her heart O was repudiating her mission and the reasons which had brought her there. Yes, Jacqueline would move in with her, but never, never would O acquiesce so completely to Sir Stephen as to deliver her into his hands. And yet! ... For no sooner had she moved into O's apartment, where she was assigned, at René's request, the bedroom he sometimes pretended to occupy (pretended, given that he always slept in O's big bed), than O, contrary to all expectations, was amazed to find herself obsessed with the burning desire to have Jacqueline at any price, even if attaining her goal meant handing her over to Sir Stephen. After all, she rationalized to herself, Jacqueline's beauty is quite sufficient protection for her, and besides, why should I get involved in it anyway? And what if she were to be reduced to what I have been reduced to, is that really so terrible? - scarcely admitting, and yet so overwhelmed to imagine, how sweet it would be to see Jacqueline naked and defenseless beside her, and like her.
The week Jacqueline moved in, her mother having given her full consent, René proved to be exceedingly zealous, inviting them every other day to dinner and taking them to the movies which, curiously enough, he chose from among the detective pictures playing, tales of drug traffic and white slavery. He would sit down between them, gently hold hands with them both and not utter a word. But whenever there was a scene of violence, O would see him studying Jacqueline's face for the slightest trace of emotion. All you could see on it was a hint of disgust, revealed by the slight downward pout at the corners of her mouth.
Afterward he would drive them home in his convertible, with the top down, and in the open car with the windows rolled down, the speed and the night wind flattened Jacqueline's generous head of blond hair against her cheeks and narrow forehead, and even blew it into her eyes. She would toss her head to smooth her hair back into place and would run her hand through it the way boys do.
Once she had accepted the fact that she was living with O and that O was René's mistress, she consequently seemed to find René's little familiarities quite natural. It did not bother her in the least to have René come into her room under the pretense of looking for some piece of paper he had left there, and O knew that it was a pretense, for she had personally emptied the drawers of the big Dutch writing desk, with its elaborate pattern of inlay and its leather-lined leaf, which was always open, a desk so utterly unlike René. Why did he have it? Who had he gotten it from? Its weighty elegance, its light-colored woods were the only touch of wealth in the somewhat dark room which faced north and overlooked the courtyard and the steel gray of its walls and the cold, highly waxed surface of the floor provided a sharp contract with the cheerful rooms which faced the river. Well, there could be a virtue in that: Jacqueline would not be happy there. It would make it all the easier for her to agree to share the two front rooms with O, to sleep with O, as on the first day she had agreed to share the bathroom and kitchen, the cosmetics, the perfumes, the meals. In this, O was mistaken. Jacqueline was profoundly and passionately attached to anything that belonged to her - to her pink pearl, for instance - and completely indifferent to anything that was not hers. Had she lived in a palace, it would have interested her only if someone had told her: the palace is yours, and then proved it by giving her a notarized deed. She could not have cared less whether the gray room was pleasant or not, and it was not to get away from it that she climbed into O's bed. Nor was it to show her gratitude to O, for she in fact did not feel it, though O ascribed the feeling to her and was delighted to abuse it, or think she was abusing it. Jacqueline enjoyed pleasure, and found it both expedient and pleasant to receive it from a woman, in whose hands she was running no risk whatever.
Five days after she had unpacked her suitcases, whose contents O had helped her sort out and put away, when for the third time René had brought them home about ten o'clock after having dined with them, and had then left (as he had both other times), she simply appeared, naked and still wet from her bath, in O's doorway and said to O:
"You're sure he's not coming back?" and without even waiting for her answer, she slipped into the big bed. She allowed herself to be kissed and caressed, her eyes closed, not responding by a single caress; at first she moaned faintly, hardly more than a whimper, then louder, still louder, until finally she cried out. She fell asleep sprawled across the bed, her knees apart but her legs flat again on the bed, the upper part of her body slightly turned on one side, her hands open, her body bathed in the bright light of the pink lamp. Between her breasts a trace of sweat glistened. O covered her and turned out the light. When, two hours later, she took her again, in the dark, Jacqueline did not resist but murmured:
"Don't wear me out completely, I have to get up early tomorrow."
It was at this time that Jacqueline, in addition to her intermittent assignments as a model, began to engage in a more absorbing but equally unpredictable career: she was signed up to play bit parts in the movies. It was hard to tell whether she was proud of this or not, whether or not she considered this the first step in a career which might lead to her becoming famous. In the morning she would drag herself out of bed more in anger than with any show of enthusiasm, would take her shower, quickly make herself up, for breakfast would accept only the large cup of black coffee that O barely had time to make for her, and would let O kiss the tips of her fingers, responding with no more than a mechanical smile and an expression full of malice: O was soft and warm in her white vicuña dressing gown, her hair combed, her face washed, looking for all the world like someone who plans on going back to bed. And yet such was not the case. O had not yet found the courage to explain why to Jacqueline. The truth of the matter was that every day, when Jacqueline left for the film studio at Boulogne where her picture was being shot, at the same time as the children left for school and the white-collar workers for their offices, O, who in the past had indeed whiled away the morning in her apartment, also got dressed.
"I'm sending you my car," Sir Stephen had said, "to drive Jacqueline to Boulogne, then it will come back to pick you up."
Thus O found herself headed for Sir Stephen's place every morning when the sun along the way was still striking the eastern faces; the other walls were still cool in the shade, but in the gardens the shadows were already growing shorter.
At the rue de Poitiers, the housework was still not finished. Norah, the mulatto maid, would take O into the small bedroom where, the first evening, Sir Stephen had left her alone to sleep and cry, wait till O had put her gloves, her bag, and her clothes on the bed, and then she would take them and put them away, in O's presence, in a closet to which she alone had the key. Then, having given O the patent-leather high-heeled mules which made a sharp clicking sound as she walked, Norah would precede her, opening the doors as they went, till they reached Sir Stephen's study, when she would stand aside to let O pass.
O never got used to these preparations, and stripping in front of this patient old woman, who never said a word to her and scarcely looked at her, seemed to her as dangerous and formidable as being naked at Roissy in the presence of the valets there. On felt slippers, the old lady slipped silently by like a nun. As she followed her, O could not take her eyes off the twin points of her Madras kerchief and, every time she opened a door, off her thin, swarthy hand on the porcelain handle, a hand that seemed as hard as wood.
At the same time, by a feeling diametrically opposed to the terror she inspired in her - a contradiction O was unable to explain - O experienced a kind of pride that this servant of Sir Stephen (and just what was her relation to Sir Stephen, and why had he entrusted her with this task as costume and make-up assistant for which she assumed so poorly suited?) was a witness to the fact that she too - like so many others, perhaps, whom she had guided in the same way, and why should she think otherwise? - was worthy of being used by Sir Stephen. For perhaps Sir Stephen did love her, without a doubt he did, and O sensed that the time was not far off when he would no longer be content to let her suspect it but would declare it to her - but to the very degree that his love and desire for her were increasing, he was becoming more completely, more minutely, and more deliberately exacting with her. Thus retained by his side for whole mornings, during which he sometimes scarcely touched her, waiting only to be caressed by her, she did whatever he wanted of her with a sentiment that must be qualified as gratitude, which was all the greater whenever his request took the form of a command. Each surrender was for her the pledge that another surrender would be demanded of her, and she acquitted herself of each as though of a duty performed; it was odd that she would have been completely satisfied by it, and yet she was.
Sir Stephen's office, situated directly above the yellow and gray drawing room where he held sway in the evening, was smaller and had a lower ceiling. It contained neither settee nor sofa, only two regency armchairs upholstered in a tapestry with a floral pattern. O sat in one occasionally, but Sir Stephen generally preferred to keep her near at hand, at arm's length, and while he was busy with other things, to none the less have her seated on his desk, to his left. The desk was set at right angles to the wall, which allowed O to lean back against the shelves which contained some dictionaries and leather-bound phone books. The telephone was snug against her left thigh, and every time the phone rang she jumped it. It was she who picked up the receiver and answered, saying: "May I ask who's calling?" then either repeating the name out loud and passing the receiver to Sir Stephen, or, if he signaled to her, making some excuse for him. Whenever had a visitor, old Norah would announce him, Sir Stephen would have him wait long enough for Norah to conduct O back to the room where she had undressed and where, after Sir Stephen's visitor had left, she would come to fetch her again when Sir Stephen rang for her.
Since Norah entered and left the study several times each morning, either to bring Sir Stephen his coffee or to bring in the mail, to open or draw the blinds or to empty the ashtrays, and since she alone had the right to enter and had been expressly instructed never to knock, and since, finally, she always waited in silence whenever she had something to say, until Sir Stephen spoke to her to ask her what it was she wanted, it so happened that on one occasion when Norah came into the room O was bent over the desk with her rear exposed, her head and arms against the leather top, waiting for Sir Stephen to impale her. She raised her head. If Norah had not glanced at her, and she invariably never did, that would have been the only movement O would have made. But this time it was obvious that Norah was trying to catch O's eye. Those black, beady eyes fastened on her own - and it was impossible for O to tell whether they bespoke indifference or not - those eyes set in a deeply furrowed, impassive face so bothered O that she made a movement to try and get away from Sir Stephen. He gathered what it was all about, and with one hand pinned her waist to the table, while prying her open with the other. She who was constantly striving to cooperate and do her best was now, quite involuntarily, tense and contracted, and Sir Stephen was obliged to force his way. Even when he had done so, she felt that the ring of her buttocks was tightening around him, and he had trouble forcing himself all the way into her. He withdrew only when he was certain he could come and go with ease. Then as he was on the point of taking her again, he told Norah to wait, and said that she could help O get dressed when he had finished with her. And yet, before he dismissed her, he kissed O tenderly on the mouth. It was that kiss which, several days later, gave her the courage to tell him that Norah frightened her.
"I should hope so," he retorted. "And when you wear my mark and my irons, as I trust you soon will - if you will consent to it - you'll have much more reason to be afraid of her."
"Why?" O asked, "and what mark and what irons? I'm already wearing this ring...."
"That's completely up to Anne-Marie, to whom in fact I've promised to show you. We're going to pay her a visit after lunch. I trust you don't mind? She's a friend of mine, and you may have noted that, till now, I've refrained from ever introducing you to my friends. When Anne-Marie is finished with you, I'll give you genuine reasons for being afraid of Norah."
O did not dare to pursue the matter any further. This Anne-Marie whom they had threatened her with intrigued her more than Norah. Sir Stephen had already mentioned her when they had lunched together at Saint-Cloud. And it was quite true that O knew none of Sir Stephen's friends, nor any of his acquaintances. In short, she was living in Paris, locked in her secret as though she had been locked in a brothel; the only persons who had the key to her secret, René and Sir Stephen, at the same time had the only key to her body. She could not help thinking that the expression "open oneself to someone," which meant to give oneself, for her had only this meaning, for she was in fact opening every part of her body which was capable of being opened. It also seemed to her that this was her raison d'être and that Sir Stephen, like René, intended it should be, since whenever he spoke of his friends as he had done at Saint-Cloud, it was to tell her that those to whom he might introduce her would, needless to say, be free to dispose of her however they wished, if indeed they did. But in trying to visualize Anne-Marie and imagine what it might be that Sir Stephen expected from Anne-Marie as far as she, O, was concerned, O was completely at sea, and not even her experience at Roissy was of any help to her. Sir Stephen had also mentioned that he wanted to see her caress another woman: could that be it? (But he had specified that he was referring to Jacqueline....) No, it wasn't that. "To show you," he had just said. Indeed. But after she left Anne-Marie, O knew no more than before.
Anne-Marie lived not far from the Observatoire in Paris, in an apartment flanked by a kind of large studio, on the top floor of a new building overlooking the treetops. She was a slender woman, the same age more or less as Sir Stephen, and her black hair was streaked with gray. Her eyes were such a deep blue they looked black. She offered O and Sir Stephen some coffee, a very strong bitter coffee which she served steaming hot in tiny cups, and which reassured O. When she had finished her coffee and got up from her chair to put down her empty cup on a coffee table, Anne-Marie seized her by the wrist and, turning to Sir Stephen, said:
"Please do," Sir Stephen said.
Then Anne-Marie, who tell then had neither spoken to nor smiled at O, even to greet her or to acknowledge Sir Stephen's introduction, said to her softly, with a smile so tender one would have thought she were giving her a present:
"Come, my child, and let me see your belly and backside, but better yet, why don't you take off all your clothes."
While O obeyed, she lighted a cigarette. Sir Stephen had not taken his eyes off O. They left her standing there for perhaps five minutes. There was no mirror in the room, but O caught a vague reflection of herself in the black-lacquer surface of a screen.
"Take off your stockings too," Anne-Marie said suddenly. "You see," she went on, "you shouldn't wear garters, you'll ruin your thighs." And with the tip of her finger she pointed to the spot just above O's knees where O rolled down her stockings around a wide elastic garter. There was in fact a faint mark on her leg.
"Who told you to do that?"
Before O had a chance to reply, Sir Stephen said:
"The boy who gave her to me, you know him, René." And he added: "But I'm sure he'll come around to your opinion."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Anne-Marie. "I'm going to give you some long, dark stockings, O, and a corset to hold them up. But it will be a whalebone corset, one that will be snug at the waist."
When Anne-Marie had run a young blonde, silent girl had brought in some very sheer, black stockings and a tight-fitting corset of black nylon taffeta, reinforced and sustained by wide, close-set stays which curved in at the lower belly and above the hips. O, who was still standing, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, slipped on the stockings, which came to the top of her thighs. The young blonde helped her into the corset, which had a row of buckles along one of the busks on one side near the back. Like the bodices at Roissy, this one could be laced up as tightly or as loosely as desired, the laces being at the back. O fastened her stockings to the four garter-belt snaps in front and on the sides, then the girl set about lacing her up as tight as she could. O felt her waist and belly being pressed inward by the pressure of the stays, that in front descended almost to the pubis, which they left free, as they did her hips. The corset was shorter behind and left her rear completely free.
"She'll be much improved," Anne-Marie said, speaking to Sir Stephen, "when her waist is a fraction of its present size. And what's more, if you're too pressed for time to have her undress, you'll see that the corset is no inconvenience. Now then, O, step over this way."
The girl left: O went over to Anne-Marie, who was sitting in a low chair, a small easy chair upholstered in bright red velvet. Anne-Marie ran her hand lightly over her buttocks and then, toppling her over on an ottoman similar to the red velvet chair and ordering her not to move, seized both her nether lips.
This is how they lift the fish at the market, O was thinking, by the gills, and how they pry open the mouths of horses. She also recalled that the valet Pierre, during her first evening at Roissy, had done the same to her after having fastened her in chains. After all, she was no longer mistress of her own fate, and that part of her of which she was least in control was most assuredly that half of her body which could, so to speak, be put to use independently of the rest. Why, each time that she realized this, as she - surprised was not really the right word - once again persuaded, why was she paralyzed each time by the same feeling of profound distress, a sentiment which tended to deliver her not so much into the hands of the person she was with as into the hands of him who had turned her over to alien hands, a sentiment which drew her closer to René when others were possessing her and which, here, was tending to draw her closer to whom? To René or to Sir Stephen? She no longer knew.... But that was because she did not want to know, for it was clear that she had belonged to Sir Stephen now for ... how long had it been? ...
Anne-Marie had her stand up and put her clothes back on.
"You can bring her to me whenever you like," she said to Sir Stephen. "I'll be at Samois (Samois... O had expected: Roissy. But if it did not mean Roissy; then what did it mean?) in two days time. That will be fine." (What would be fine?)
"In ten days, if that suits you," Sir Stephen said, "at the beginning of July."
In the car which was driving back home, Sir Stephen having remained behind at Anne-Marie's she remembered the statue she had seen as a child in the Luxembourg Gardens: a woman whose waist had been similarly constricted and seemed so slim between her full breasts and plump behind - she was leaning over limpid water, a spring which, like her, was carefully sculptured in marble, looking at her reflection - so slim and frail that she had been afraid the marble waist would snap. But if that was what Sir Stephen wanted...
As for Jacqueline, she could handle her easily enough merely by telling her the corset was one of René's whims. Which brought O back to a train of thought she had been trying to avoid whenever it occurred to her, one which surprised her above all not to find more painful: why, since Jacqueline had moved in with her, had he made an effort not so much to leave her alone with Jacqueline, which she could understand, but to avoid being alone with O any more? July was fast approaching, and he would be going away and would not be coming to visit her at this Anne-Marie's where Sir Stephen was sending her; must she therefore resign herself to the fact that the only times she would see him would be those evenings when he was in the mood to invite Jacqueline and her, or - and she didn't know which of the two possibilities upset her most (since between them, at this point, there was something basically false, due to the fact that their relationship was so circumscribed) - on those occasional mornings when she was at Sir Stephen's and Norah ushered René in, after having announced his arrival? Sir Stephen always received him, invariably René kissed O, caressed the tips of her breasts, coordinated his plans with Sir Stephen for the following day - plans which never included O - and left. Had he given her to Sir Stephen so completely that he had ceased to love her? The thought threw O into such a state of panic that, mechanically, she got out of Sir Stephen's car in front of her house, instead of telling the chauffeur to wait, and after it had pulled away she had to dash off in search of a taxi. Taxis are few and far between on the quai de Bethune. O had to run all the way to the boulevard Saint-Germain, and still she had to wait. She was all out of breath, and in a sweat, because her corset made it hard for her to breathe, when a taxi finally slowed down at the corner of the rue Cardinal-Lemoine. She signaled to it, gave the driver the address of René's office, got in without knowing whether René would be there, and if he was, whether he would see her; it was the first time she had gone to his office.
She was not surprised by the impressive building on a side street just off the Champs-Elysées, or by the American-style offices, but what did disconcert her was René's attitude, although he did receive her immediately. Not that he was aggressive or full of reproaches. She would have preferred reproaches, for he had never given her permission to come and disturb him at his office, and it was possible that she was creating a considerable disturbance for him. He dismissed his secretary, told her that he did not want to see anyone, and asked her to hold all calls. Then he asked O what was the matter.
"I was afraid you didn't love me any longer," O said.
He laughed. "All of a sudden, just like that?"
"Yes, in the car coming back from..."
"Coming back from where?"
O remained silent.
René laughed again:
"But I know where you were, silly. Coming back from Anne-Marie's. And in ten days you're going to Samois. Sir Stephen just talked to me on the phone."
René was seated in the only comfortable chain in the office, which was facing the table, and O had buried herself in his arms.
"They can do whatever they want with me, I don't care," she murmured. "But tell me you still love me."
"Of course I love you, darling," René said, "but I want you to obey me, and I'm afraid you're not doing a very good job of it. Did you tell Jacqueline that you belonged to Sir Stephen, did you talk to her about Roissy?"
O assured him that she had not. Jacqueline acquiesced to her caresses, but the day she should learn that O...
René stopped her from completing her sentence, lifted her up and laid her down in the chair where he had just been sitting, and bunched up her skirt.
"Ah ha, so you have your corset," he said. "It's true that you'll be much more attractive when you have a smaller waistline."
Then he took her, and it seemed to O that it had been so long since he had that, subconsciously, she realized she had begun to doubt whether he really desired her any longer, and in his act she saw proof of love.
"You know," he said afterward, "you're foolish not to talk to Jacqueline. We absolutely need her at Roissy, and the simplest way of getting her there would be through you. Besides, when you come back from Anne-Marie's there won't be any way of concealing your true conditioning any longer."
O wanted to know why.
"You'll see," René went on. "You still have five days, and only five days, because Sir Stephen intends to start whipping you again daily, five days before he sends you to Anne-Marie's and there will be no way for you to hide the marks. How will you ever explain them to Jacqueline?"
O did not reply. What René did not know was that Jacqueline was completely egotistical as far as O was concerned, being interested in her solely because of O's manifest, and passionate, interest in her, and she never looked at O. If O were covered with welts from the floggings, all she would have to do would be to take care not to bathe in Jacqueline's presence, and to wear a nightgown. Jacqueline would never notice a thing. She had never noticed that O did not wear panties, and there was no danger she would notice anything else: the fact was that O did not interest her.
"Listen to me," René went on, "there's one thing anyway I want you to tell her, and tell her right away, and that is that I'm in love with her."
"Is that true?" O said.
"I want her," René said, "and since you can't - or won't - do anything about it, I'll take charge of the matter myself and do what has to be done."
"You'll never get her to agree to go to Roissy," O said.
"I won't? In that case," René retorted, "we'll force her to."
That night, after dark, when Jacqueline was in bed and O had pulled the covers back to gaze at her in the light of the lamp, after having said to her: "René's in love with you, you know" - for she had delivered the message and delivered it without delay - O, who a month before had been horrified at the idea of seeing this delicate wisp of a body scored by the lash, these narrow loins quartered, the pure mouth screaming, and the far down on her cheeks streaked with tear, O now repeated to herself René's final words and was happy.
With Jacqueline gone and not due back until beginning of August, if they had finished shooting the film she was making, there was nothing further to keep O in Paris. July was around the corner, all the gardens in Paris were bursting with crimson geraniums, at noon all the shutters in town were closed, and René was complaining that he would have to make a trip to Scotland. For a moment O was hoping that he would take her along. But apart from the fact that he never took her anywhere to see his family, she knew that he would surrender her to Sir Stephen, if he were to ask for her.
Sir Stephen announced that he would come for her the same day that René was flying to London. She was on vacation.
"We're going down to Anne-Marie's," he said, "she's expecting you. Don't bother packing a suitcase, you won't need anything."
Their destination was not the apartment near the Observatoire where O had first met Anne-Marie, but a low-lying two-story house at the end of a large garden, on the edge of the Fontanebleau Forest. Since that first day, O had been wearing the whalebone corset that Anne-Marie had deemed so essential: each day she had tightened it a little more, until now her waist was scarcely larger than the circle formed by her ten fingers.; Anne-Marie ought to be pleased.
When they arrived it was two o'clock in the afternoon, the whole house was asleep, and the dog barked faintly when they rang the bell: a big, shaggy, sheepdog that sniffed at O's knees beneath her skirt. Anne-Marie was sitting under a copper beech tree on the edge of the lawn which , in one corner of the garden, faced the windows of her bedroom. She did not get up.
"Her's O," Sir Stephen said. "You know what has to be done with her. When will she be ready?"
Anne-Marie glanced at O. "You mean you haven't told her? All right, I'll begin immediately. You should probably allow ten days after it's over. I imagine you'll want to put the rings and monogram on yourself? Come back in two weeks. The whole business should be finished in two weeks after that."
O started to ask a question.
"Just a minute, O," Anne-Marie said, "go into the front bedroom over there, get undressed but keep your sandals on, and come back."
The room, a large white bedroom with heavy purple Jouy print drapes, was empty. O put her bag, her gloves, and her clothes on a small chair near a closet door. There was no mirror. She went back outside and, dazzled by the bright sunlight, walked slowly back over in the shade of the beech tree. Sir Stephen was still standing in front of Anne-Marie, the dog at his feet. Anne-Marie's black hair, streaked with gray, shone as though she had used some kind of cream on it, her blue eyes seemed black. She was dressed in white, with a patent-leather belt around her waist, and she was wearing patent-leather sandals which revealed the bright red nail polish on the toenails of her bare feet, the same color polish she was wearing on her fingernails.
"O," she said, "kneel down in front of Sir Stephen."
O obliged, her arms crossed behind her back, the tips of her breasts quivering. The dog tensed, as though he were about to spring at her.
"Down, Turk," Anne-Marie ordered. Then: "Do you consent, O, to bear the rings and monogram with which Sir Stephen desires you to be marked, without knowing how they will be placed upon you?"
"I do," O said.
"All right then, I'm going to walk Sir Stephen to his car. Stay here."
As Anne-Marie got up from her chaise lounge, Sir Stephen bent down and took O's breasts in his hands. He kissed her on the mouth and murmured:
"Are you mine, O, are you really mine?" then turned and left her, to follow Anne-Marie. The gate banged shut, Anne-Marie was coming back. O, her legs folded beneath her, was sitting on her heels and had her arms on her knees, like an Egyptian statue.
There were three other girls living in the house, all of whom had a bedroom on the second floor. O was given a small bedroom on the ground floor, adjoining Anne-Marie's. Anne-Marie called up to them to come down into the garden. Like O, all three of them were naked. The only persons in this gynaeceum - which was carefully concealed by the high walls and by closed shutters over the windows which overlooked a narrow dirt road - the only persons who wore clothes were Anne-Marie and the three servants: a cook and two maids, all of whom were older than Anne-Marie, three severe, dour women in their black alpaca skirts and stiffly starched aprons.
"Her name is O," said Anne-Marie, who had sat down again. "Bring her over to me so I can get a better look at her." Two of the girls helped O to her feet: they were both brunettes, their hair as dark as their fleece below, and the nipples of their breasts were large and dark, almost purple. The other girl was a short, plump redhead, and the chalky skin of her bosom was crisscrossed by a terrifying network of green veins. The two girls pushed O till she was right next to Anne-Marie, who pointed to the three black stripes that showed on the front of her thighs and were repeated on her buttocks.
"Who whipped you?" she asked. "Sir Stephen?"
"Yes," O said.
"When? And with what?"
"Three days ago, with a riding crop."
"Starting tomorrow, and for a month thereafter, you will not be whipped. But today you will, to mark your arrival, as soon as I've had a chance to examine you. Has Sir Stephen ever whipped you on the inside of your thighs, with your legs spread wide? No? It's true, men don't know how to. Well, we'll soon see. Show me your waist. Yes, it's much better!"
Anne-Marie pressed O's waist to make it even more wasplike. Then she sent the redhead to fetch another corset and had them put it on her. It was also made of black nylon, but it was so stiffly whaleboned and so narrow that it looked for all the world like an extremely wide belt. It had no garter straps. One of the girls laced it up as tight as she could, with Anne-Marie lending her encouragement as she pulled on the laces as hard as she could.
"This is dreadful," O said. "I don't know whether I can bear it."
"That's the whole point," Anne-Marie said. "You're much, much lovelier than you were, but the problem was you didn't lace it tight enough. You're going to wear it this way every day. But tell me now, how did Sir Stephen prefer using you? I need to know."
She had seized O's womb with her whole hand, and O could not reply. Two of the girls were seated on the lawn, the third, one of the brunettes, was seated on the foot of Anne-Marie's chaise lounge.
"Turn her around for me, girls, so I can see her back," Anne-Marie said.
She was turned around and bent over, and the hands of both girls vented her.
"Of course," Anne-Marie went on, "there was no need for you to tell me. You'll have to be marked on the rear. Stand up. We're going to put on your bracelets. Colette, go get the box, and we'll draw lots to see who will whip you. Bring the tokens, Colette, then we'll go to the music room."
Colette was the taller of the two dark-haired girls, the other's name was Claire; the short redhead was named Yvonne. O had not noticed till now that they were all wearing, as at Roissy, a leather collar and leather bracelets on their wrists. They were also wearing similar bracelets around their ankles.
When Yvonne had chosen some bracelets that fit O and put them on her, Anne-Marie handed O four tokens and asked her to give one to each of the girls, without looking at the numbers on them. O handed out the tokens, the three girls each looked at theirs but said nothing, waiting for Anne-Marie to speak.
"I have number two," Anne-Marie said. "Who has number one?"
Colette had number one.
"All right, take O away, she's all yours."
Colette seized O's arms and joined her hands behind her back; she fastened the bracelets together and pushed O ahead of her. On the threshold of a French door that opened into a small wing which formed an L with the front of the house, Yvonne, who was leading the way, removed her sandals. The light entering through the French door revealed a room the far end of which formed a kind of raised rotunda; the ceiling, in the shape of a shallow cupola, was supported by two narrow columns set about six feet apart. This dais was about four steps high and, in the area between the columns, projected further into the room in a gentle arc. The floor of the rotunda, like that of the rest of the room, was covered with a red felt carpet. The walls were white, the curtains on the windows red, and the sofas set in a semicircle facing the rotunda were upholstered in the same red felt material as the carpet on the floor. In the rectangular portion of the room there was a fireplace which was wider than it was deep, and opposite the fireplace a large console-type combination record player and radio, with shelves of records on both sides. This was why it was called the music room, which communicated directly with Anne-Marie's bedroom via a door near the fireplace. The identical door on the other side of the fireplace opened into a closet. Aside from the record player and the sofas, the room had no furniture.
While Colette had O sit down on the edge of the platform, which in this center portion between the columns made a vertical drop to the floor - the steps having been placed to the left and right of the columns - the two other girls, after first having closed the venetian blinds a trifle, shut the French door. O was surprised to note that it was a double door, and Anne-Marie, who was laughing said:
"That's so no one can hear you scream. And the walls are lined with cork. Don't worry, no one can hear the slightest thing that goes on in here. Now lie down."
She took her by both shoulders and laid her back, then pulled her slightly forward. O's hands were clutching the edge of the platform - Yvonne having attached them to a ring set in the platform - and her buttocks were thus suspended in mid-air. Anne-Marie made her raise her legs toward her chest, then O suddenly felt her legs, still doubled-up above her, being pulled taut in the same direction: straps had been fastened to her ankle bracelets and thence to the columns on either side, while she lay thus between them on this raised dais exposed in such a way that the only part of her which was visible was the double cleft of her womb and her buttocks violently quartered. Anne-Marie caressed the inside of her thighs.
"It's the most tender spot of the whole body," she said, "be careful not to harm it. Not too hard now, Colette."
Colette was standing over her, astride her at the level of her waist, and in the bridge formed by her dark legs, O could see the tassels of the whip she was holding in her hand. As the first blows burned into her loins, O moaned. Colette alternated from left to right, paused, then started again. O struggled with all her might, she thought the straps would tear her limb from limb. She did not want to grovel, she did not want to beg for mercy. And yet, that was precisely what Anne-Marie intended wringing from her lips.
"Faster," she said to Colette, "and harder."
O braced herself, but it was no use. A minute later she could bear it no more, she screamed and burst into tears, while Anne-Marie caressed her face.
"Just a second longer," she said, "and it will be over. Only five more minutes. She can scream for five minutes. It's twenty-five past, Colette. Stop when it's half past, when I tell you to."
But O was screaming:
"No, no, for God's sake don't!" screaming that she couldn't bear it, no, she couldn't bear the torture another second. And yet she endured it to the bitter end, and after Colette had left the little stage, Anne-Marie smiled at her.
"Thank me," she said to O, and O thanked her.
She knew very well why Anne-Marie had wanted, above all else, to have her whipped. That the female of the species was as cruel as, and more implacable than, the male, O had never doubted for a minute. But O suspected that Anne-Marie was less interested in making a spectacle of her power than she was in establishing between O and herself a sense of complicity. O had never really understood, but she had finally come to accept as an undeniable and important verity, this constant and contradictory jumble of her emotions: she liked the idea of torture, but when she was being tortured herself she would have betrayed the whole world to escape it, and yet when it was over she was happy to have gone through it, happier still if it had been especially cruel and prolonged. Anne-Marie had been correct in her assumptions both as to O's acquiescence and as to her revolt, and knew that her pleas for mercy were indeed genuine. There was still a third reason for what she had done, which she explained to O. She was bent on proving to every girl who came into her house, and who was fated to live in a totally feminine universe, that her condition as a woman should not be minimized or denigrated by the fact that she was in contact only with other women, but that, on the contrary, it should be heightened and intensified. That was why she required that the girls be constantly naked; the way in which O was flogged, as well as the position in which she was bound, had no other purpose. Today it was O who would remain for the rest of the afternoon - for three more hours - exposed on the dais, her legs raised and spread. Tomorrow it would be Claire, or Colette, or Yvonne, whom O would contemplate in tun. It was a technique much too slow and meticulous (as was the way the whip was wielded) to be used at Roissy. But O would see how efficient it was. Apart from the rings and the letters she would wear when she left, she would be returned to Sir Stephen more open, and more profoundly enslaved, than she had ever before thought possible.
The following morning, after breakfast, Anne-Marie told O and Yvonne to follow her into the bedroom. From her writing desk she took a green leather coffer which she set on the bed and proceeded to open. Both girls squatted on their heels.
"Hasn't Yvonne said anything to you about this?" Anne-Marie asked O.
O shook her head. What was there for Yvonne to tell her?
"And I know Sir Stephen didn't either. No matter. Anyway, here are the rings he wants you to wear."
The rings were of stainless steel, unburnished, the same dull finish as the gold-plated iron ring. They were oblong in shape, similar to the links of a heavy chain, the rounded metal being approximately as thick as the diameter of an oversized coloring pencil. Anne-Marie showed O that each ring was composed of two U-shaped halves, one of which fitted into the other.
"This is only the test model," she said, "which can be removed after it's been inserted. The permanent model, you see, has a spring inside, and when you press on it, it locks into the female slot of the other half of the ring and cannot be removed, except by filing."
Each ring was as long as two joints of the little finger and wide enough for the same little finger to slip through it. To each ring was suspended, like another ring, or as though to the supporting loop of an earring, a ring which was meant to hang parallel to the plane of the ear and form its extension, a round disk made of the same metal, whose diameter was the same size as the ring was long. On one of its faces, a triskelion in gold inlay; on the opposite face, nothing.
"On the blank side will be your name, your title, and Sir Stephen's family and given names," Anne-Marie said, "with below it, a design composed of a crossed whip and riding crop. Yvonne is wearing a disk just like it on her necklace, but yours will be worn on your loins."
"But...," O ventured.
"I know," Anne-Marie replied, "that's why I brought Yvonne along. Show yours, Yvonne."
The red-haired girl rose to her feet and lay back on the bed. Anne-Marie spread her thighs and showed O that one of the nether lobes had been neatly pierced, half way down and close to the base. The iron ring would just fit into it.
"In a moment I'll pierce you, O," Anne-Marie said. "It's nothing really. What takes the longest is placing the clamps so as to be able to suture the outer and inner layers, attach the epidermis to the inner membrane. It's much easier to bear than the whip."
"You mean to say you won't put me to sleep?" O cried, trembling.
"Of course not," Anne-Marie replied. "You'll merely be tied a little more tightly than you were yesterday. That's really quite sufficient. Now come long."
A week later, Anne-Marie removed the clamps and slipped on the test ring. It was lighter than it looked, for it was hollow, but still O could feel its weight. The hard metal, which was visibly piercing the flesh, looked like an instrument of torture. What would it be like when the weight of the second ring was added to it? This barbaric instrument would be immediately and glaringly apparent to the most casual glance.
"Of course it will," Anne-Marie said, when O pointed this out to her. "But aren't you by now fully aware of what Sir Stephen wants? Anyone at Roissy or anywhere else, Sir Stephen or anyone else, even you in front of the mirror, anyone who lifts your skirts will immediately see his rings on your loins and, if you turn around, his monogram on your buttocks. You may possibly file the rings off one day, but the grand on your backside will never come off."
"I thought it was possible to have tattoos removed," Colette said. (It was she who had tattooed, on Yvonne's white skin just above the triangle of her belly, the initials of Yvonne's master in ornate blue letters, like the letters you find on embroidery.)
"O will not be tattooed," replied Anne-Marie.
O looked at Anne-Marie. Colette and Yvonne were stunned, and said nothing. Anne-Marie was fumbling for her words.
"Go ahead and say it," O said.
"My poor dear girl, I just couldn't work up the courage to tell you: you're to be branded. Sir Stephen sent me the branding irons two days ago."
"Branded?" Yvonne cried, "with a red-hot branding iron?"
from the first day, O had shared in the life of the house. Idleness, absolute and deliberate idleness was the order of the day, interspersed with dull distractions. The girls were at liberty to walk in the garden, to read, draw, play cards, play solitaire. They could sleep in their rooms or sunbathe on the lawn. Sometimes two of them would chat, or they would talk together in pairs for hours on end, and sometimes they would sit at Anne-Marie's feet without uttering a word. Mealtimes were always the same, dinner was by candlelight, tea was served in the garden, and there was something absurd about the matter-of-fact way in which the two servants served these naked girls seated around a festive table.
In the evening, Anne-Marie would designate one of them to sleep with her, sometimes the same one several nights in succession. She caressed her chosen partner and was by her caressed, generally toward dawn, and then she would immediately fall asleep, after having sent her partner back to her own room. The purple drapes, only half closed, tinted the dawning day mauve, and Yvonne used to say that Anne-Marie was as beautiful and haughty in receiving pleasure as she was unstinting in her demands. None of them had ever seen her naked. She would pull up or open slightly her white nightgown, but would not take it off. Neither the pleasure she may have tasted the previous night before nor her choice of partner the previous evening had the least influence on her decision the following afternoon, which was always determined by a drawing. At three in the afternoon, beneath the copper beech where the garden chairs were grouped about a round, white-marble table, Anne-Marie would bring out the token box. Each girl would take a token. Whoever drew the lowest number was then taken to the music room and arranged on the dais as O had been that first day. She then had to point to (save for O, who was exempted until her departure) Anne-Marie's right or left hand, in each of which she was holding a white or black ball. If she chose black, she was flogged; white, she was not. Anne-Marie never resorted to chicanery, even if chance condemned or spared the same girl several days in a row. Thus the torture of little Yvonne, who sobbed and cried out for her lover, was repeated four days running. Her thighs, like her breasts crisscrossed with a green network of veins, spread to reveal a pink flesh which was pierced by the thick iron ring, which had finally been inserted, and the spectacle was all the more striking because Yvonne was completely shaved.
"But why?" O wanted to know, "and why the ring if you are already wearing a disk on your collar?"
"He says I'm more naked when I'm shaved. The ring, I think the ring is to fasten me with."
Yvonne's green eyes and her tiny triangular face reminded O of Jacqueline every time she looked at her. What if Jacqueline were to go to Roissy? Sooner or later, Jacqueline would end up here, would here be strapped on her back on this platform.
"I won't," O would say, "I don't want to and I won't lift a finger to get her there. As it is, I've already said too much. Jacqueline's not the sort to be flogged and marked."
But how admirably suited to blows and irons was little Yvonne how lovely it was to hear her moans and sighs, how lovely too to witness her body soaked with perspiration, and what a pleasure to wrest the moans and the sweat from her. For on two occasions Anne-Marie had handed O the thonged whip - both times the victim had been Yvonne - and told her to use it. The first time, for the first minute, she had hesitated, and at Yvonne's first scream, O had recoiled and cringed, but as soon as she had started in again and Yvonne's cries had echoed anew, she had been overwhelmed with a terrible feeling of pleasure, a feeling so intense that she had caught herself laughing in spite of herself, and she had found it almost impossible to restrain herself from striking Yvonne as hard as she could. Afterward she had remained next to Yvonne throughout the entire period of time she was kept tied up, embracing her from time to time. In some ways, she probably resembled Yvonne. At least one was led to suspect as much by the way Anne-Marie felt about them both. Was it O's silence, her meekness that endeared her to Anne-Marie? Scarcely had O's wounds healed than Anne-Marie remarked:
"How I regret not to be able to whip you!... When you come back... But let's say no more about it. In any event, I'm going to open you every day."
And, daily, when the girl who was in the music room had been untied, O would replace her until the bell rang for dinner. And Anne-Marie was right: it was true that during those two hours all she could think of was the fact that she was opened, and of the ring, hanging heavily from her (after one had been placed there) which, after they had inserted the second ring, weighed even more. She could think of nothing save her enslaved condition, and of the marks that went with it.
One evening Claire had come in with Colette from the garden, come over to O and examined both sides of the rings.
"When you went to Roissy," she said, "was it Anne-Marie who brought you there?"
"No," O said.
"It was Anne-Marie who brought me, two years ago. I'm going back there day after tomorrow."
"But don't you belong to anyone?" O said.
"Claire belongs to me," said Anne-Marie, appearing from nowhere. "Your master's arriving tomorrow, O. Tonight you'll sleep with me."
The short summer night waxed slowly brighter until, toward four o'clock, daylight drowned the last stars. O, who was sleeping with her legs together, was awakened by Anne-Marie's hands probing between her thighs. But all Anne-Marie wanted was to awaken O, to have O caress her. Her eyes were shining in the half light, and her black hair, with the streaks of gray interspersed, was pushed up behind her on the pillow: only slightly curly, and cut quite short, it made her look like some mighty nobleman in exile, like some brave libertine. With her lips, O brushed the hard tips of her breasts, and her hand ran lightly over the valley of her belly. Anne-Marie was quick to yield - but not to O. The pleasure to which she opened her eyes wide, staring at the growing daylight, was an anonymous, impersonal pleasure of which O was merely the instrument. It made no difference whatever to Anne-Marie that O admired her face, smooth and glowing with renewed youth, her lovely panting lips, nor did she care whether O heard her moan when her lips and teeth seized the crest of flesh hidden in the furrow of her belly. She merely seized O by the hair to press her more closely to her, and only let her go in order to say to her:
"Again, do it again."
O had loved Jacqueline in the same way, had held her completely abandoned in her arms. She had possessed her; or at least she so thought. But the similarity of gestures meant nothing. O did not possess Anne-Marie. No one possessed Anne-Marie. Anne-Marie demanded caresses without worrying about what the person providing them might feel, and she surrendered herself with an arrogant liberty. Yet she was all kindness and gentleness with O, kissed her on the mouth and kissed her breasts, and held her close against her for an hour before sending her back to her own room. She had removed her irons.
"These are your final hours here," she said, "you can sleep without the irons. The ones we'll put on you in a little while you'll never be able to take off."
She had run her hand softly, and at great length, over O's rear, then had taken her into the room where she, Anne-Marie, dressed, the only room in the house where there was a three-sided mirror. She had opened the mirror so that O could see herself.
"This is the last time you'll see yourself intact," she said. "Here, on this smooth rounded area is where Sir Stephen's initials will be branded, on either side of the cleft in your behind. The day before you leave I'll bring you back here for another look at yourself. You won't recognize yourself. But Sir Stephen is right. Now go and get some sleep, O."
But O was too worried and upset to sleep, and when at ten the next morning Yvonne came to fetch her, O was trembling so that she had to help her bathe, arrange her hair, and put on her lipstick. She had heard the garden gate open; Sir Stephen was there.
"Come along now, O," Yvonne said, "he's waiting for you."
The sun was already high in the sky, not a breath of air was stirring in the leave of the beech tree, which looked as though it were made out of copper. The dog, overcome by the heat, was lying at the foot of the tree, and since the sun had not yet disappeared behind the main mass of foliage, its rays shot through the end of the only branch which, at this hour, cast a shadow on the table: the marble top was resplendent with bright, warm spots of light.
Sir Stephen was standing, motionless, beside the table, Anne-Marie seated beside him.
"Here she is," said Anne-Marie, when Yvonne had brought O before them, "the rings can be put on whenever you like, she's been pierced."
Without replying, Sir Stephen took O in his arms, kissed her on the mouth and, lifting her completely off her feet, lay her down on the table and bent over her. Then he kissed her again, caressed her eyebrows and her hair and, straightening up, said to Anne-Marie:
"Right now, if it's all right with you."
Anne-Marie took the leather coffer which she had brought out with her and set down on a chair, and handed Sir Stephen the rings, which were unhooked, and on which were inscribed the names of O and Sir Stephen.
"Any time," Sir Stephen said.
Yvonne lifted O's knees, and O felt the cold metal as Anne-Marie slipped it into place. As she was slipping the second half of the ring into the first, she was careful to see that the side inlaid with gold was against her thigh, and the side which bore the inscription facing inward. But the spring was so tight that the prongs would not go in all the way. They had to send Yvonne to fetch the hammer. Then they made O sit up and lean over, with her legs spread, on the edge of the marble slab, which served as an anvil first for the one, then the other of the two links of the chain, while they hit the other end of the hammer to drive the prongs home. Sir Stephen looked on in silence. When it was over, he thanked Anne-Marie and helped O to her feet. It was then she realized that these new irons were much heavier than the ones she had been wearing temporarily for the past few days. But these were permanent.
"And now your monogram, right?" Anne-Marie said to Sir Stephen.
Sir Stephen nodded assent, and held O by the waist, for she was stumbling and looked as though she might fall. She was not wearing her black corset, but it had so molded her into the desired shape that she looked as though she might break, so slim was her waistline now. And, as a result, her hips and breasts seemed fuller.
In the music room, into which Sir Stephen carried rather than led O, Colette and Claire were seated at the foot of the stage. When the others came in, they both got to their feet. On the stage was a big, round single-burner stove. Anne-Marie took the straps from the closet and had them tie O tightly around the waist and knees, her belly hard against one of the columns. They also bound her hands and feet. Consumed by fear and terror, O felt one of Anne-Marie's hands on her buttocks, indicating the exact spot for the irons, she heard the hiss of a flame and, in total silence, heard the windows being closed. She could not have turned her head and looked, but she did not have the strength to. One single, frightful stab of pain coursed through her, made her go rigid in the bonds and wrenched a scream from her lips, and she never knew who it was who had, with both branding irons at once, seared the flesh of her buttocks, nor whose voice had counted slowly up to five, nor whose hand had given the signal to withdraw the irons.
When they unfastened her, she collapsed into Anne-Marie's arms and had time, before everything turned black around her and she completely lost consciousness, to catch a glimpse, between two waves of darkness, of Sir Stephen's ghastly pale face.
Ten days before the end of July, Sir Stephen drove O back to Paris. The irons attached to the left lobe of her belly cleft, proclaiming in bold letters that she was Sir Stephen's personal property, came about a third of the way down her thigh and, at every step, swung back and forth between her legs like the clapper of a bell, the inscribed disk being heavier and longer than the ring to which it was attached. The marks made by the branding iron, about three inches in height and half that in width, had been burned into the flesh as though by a gouging tool, and were almost half an inch deep: the lightest stroke of the finger revealed them. From these irons and these marks, O derived a feeling of inordinate pride. Had Jacqueline been there, instead of trying to conceal from her the fact that she bore them, as she had tried to hide the traces of the welts raised by the riding crop which Sir Stephen had wielded during those last days before her departure, she would have gone running in search of Jacqueline, to show them to her. But Jacqueline was not due back for another week. René wasn't there. During that week, O, at Sir Stephen's behest, had several summer dresses made, and a number of evening gowns of a very light material. He allowed her only two models, but let her order variations on both: one with a zipper all the way down the front (O already had several like it), the other a full skirt, easy to lift, always with a corselet above, which came up to below the breasts and was worn with a high-necked bolero. All one had to do was remove the bolero and the shoulders and breasts were bare, or simply to open it if one desired to see the breasts. Bathing suits, of course, were out of the question; the nether irons would hang below the suit. Sir Stephen had told her that this summer she would have to swim naked whenever she went swimming. Beach slacks were also out. However, Anne-Marie, who was responsible for the two basic models of dresses, knowing where Sir Stephen's preference lay in using O, had proposed a type of slacks which would be supported in front by the blouse and, on both sides, have long zippers, thus allowing the back flap to be lowered without taking off the slacks. But Sir Stephen refused. It was true that he used O, when he did not have recourse to her mouth, almost invariably as he would have a boy. But O had had ample opportunity to notice that when she was near him, even when he did not particularly desire her, he loved to take hold of and tug at her fleece with his hand, to pry her open and burrow at length within. The pleasure O derived from holding Jacqueline in much the same way, moist and burning between her locked fingers, was ample evidence and a guarantee of Sir Stephen's pleasure. She understood why he did not want any extraneous obstacles set in the path of that pleasure.
Hatless, wearing practically no make-up, her hair completely free, O looked like a well-brought-up little girl, dressed as she was in her twirled stripe or polka dot, navy blue-and-white or gray-and-white pleated sun-skirts and the fitted bolero buttoned at the neck, or in her more conservative dresses of black nylon. Everywhere Sir Stephen escorted her she was taken for his daughter, or his niece, and this mistake was abetted by the fact that he, in addressing her, employed the tu form, wheras she employed the vous. Alone together in Paris, strolling through the streets to window shop, or walking along the quays, where the paving stones were dusty because the weather had been so dry, they evinced no surprise at seeing the passers-by smile at them, the way people smile at people who are happy.
Once in a while Sir Stephen would push her into the recess of a porte-cochere, or beneath the archway of a building, which was always slightly dark and from which there rose the musty odor of ancient cellars, and he would kiss her and tell her he loved her. O would hook her heels over the sill of the porte-cochere out of which the regular pedestrian door had been cut. They caught a glimpse of a courtyard in the rear, with lines of laundry drying in the windows. Leaning on one of the balconies, a blonde girl would be staring fixedly at them. A cat would slip between their legs. Thus did they stroll through the Gobeline district, by Saint-Marcel, along the rue Mouffetard, to the area known as the Temple, and to the Bastille.
Once Sir Stephen suddenly steered O into a wretched brothel-like hotel, where the desk clerk first wanted them to fill out the forms, but then said not to bother if it was only for an hour. The wallpaper in the room was blue, with enormous golden peonies, the window looked out onto a pit whence rose the odor of garbage cans. However weak the light bulb at the head of the bed, you could still see streaks of face powder and forgotten hairpins on the mantelpiece. On the ceiling above the bed was a large mirror.
Once, but only once, Sir Stephen invited O to lunch with two of his compatriots who were passing through Paris. He came for her an hour before she was ready, and instead of having her driven to his place, he came to the quai de Bethune.
O had finished bathing, but she had not done her hair or put on her make-up, and was not dressed. To her surprise, she saw that Sir Stephen was carrying a golf bag, though she saw no clubs in it. But she soon got over her surprise: Sir Stephen told her to open the bag. Inside were several leather riding crops, two fairly thick ones of red leather, two that were long and thin of black leather, a scourge with long lashes of green leather, each of which was folded back at the end to form a loop, a dog's whip made of a thick single lash whose handle was of braided leather and, last but not least, leather bracelets of the sort used at Roissy, plus some rope. O lad them outside by side on the unmade bed. No matter how accustomed she became to seeing them, no matter what resolutions she made about them, she could not keep from trembling. Sir Stephen took her in his arms.
"Which do you prefer, O?" he asked her.
But she could barely speak, and already could feel the sweat running down her arms.
"Which do you prefer?" he repeated. "All right," he said confronted by her silence, "first you're going to help me."
He asked for some nails, and having found a way to arrange them in a decorative manner, whips and riding crosses crossed, he showed O a panel of wainscoting between her mirror and the fireplace, opposite her bed, which would be ideal for them. He hammered some nails into the wood. There were rings on the ends of the handles of the whips and riding crops, by which they could be suspended from the nails, a system which allowed each whip to be easily taken down and returned to its place on the wall. Thus, together with the bracelets and the rope, O would have, opposite her bed, the complete array of her instruments of torture. It was a handsome panoply, as harmonious as the wheel and spikes in the painting of Saint Catherine, the martyr, as the nails and hammer, the crown of thorns, the spear and scourges portrayed in the paintings of the Crucifixion. When Jacqueline came back... but all this involved Jacqueline, involved her deeply. She would have to reply to Sir Stephen's question: O could not, he chose the dog whip himself.
In a tiny private dining room of the La Pérouse restaurant, along the quays of the Left Bank, a room on the third floor whose dark walls were brightened by Watteau-like figures in pastel colors who resembled actors of the puppet theater, O was ensconced alone on the sofa, with one of Sir Stephen's friends in an armchair to her right, another to her left, and Sir Stephen across from her. She remembered already having seen one of the men at Roissy, but she could not recall having been taken by him. The other was a tall red-haired boy with gray eyes, who could not have been more than twenty-five. In two words, Sir Stephen told them why he had invited O, and what she was. Listening to him, O was once again astonished at the coarseness of his language. But then, how did she expect to be referred to, if not as a whore, a girl who, in the presence of men (not to mention the restaurant waiters who kept trooping in and out, since luncheon was being served) would open her bodice to bare her breasts, the tips of which had been reddened with lipstick, as they could see, as they could also see from the purple furrows across her milk-white skin that she had been flogged?
The meal went on for a long time, and the two Englishmen drank a great deal. Over coffee, when the liqueurs had been served, Sir Stephen pushed the table back against the opposite wal and, after having lifted her skirt to show his friends how O was branded and in irons, left her to them.
The man she had met at Roissy wasted no time with her: without leaving his armchair, without even touching her with his fingertips, he ordered her to kneel down in front him, take him and caress his sex until he discharged in her mouth. After which, he made her straighten out his clothing, and then he left.
But the red-haired lad, who had been completely overwhelmed by O's submissiveness and meek surrender, by her irons and the welts which he had glimpsed on her body, took her by the hand instead of throwing himself upon her as she had expected, and descended the stairs, paying not the slightest heed to the sly smiles of the waiters and, after hailing a taxi, took her back to his hotel room. He did not let her go till nightfall, after having frantically plowed her fore and aft, both of which he bruised and belabored unmercifully, he being of an uncommon size and rigidity and, what is more being totally intoxicated by the sudden freedom granted him to penetrate a woman doubly and be embraced by her in the way he had seen ordered to a short while before (something he had never before dared ask of anyone).
The following day, when O arrived at Sir Stephen's at two o'clock in answer to his summons, she found him looking older and his face careworn.
"Eric has fallen head over heels in love with you, O," he told her. "This morning he called on me and begged me to grant you your freedom. He told me he wants to marry you. He wants to save you. You see how I treat you if you're mind, O, and if you are mine you have no right to refuse my commands; but you also know that you are always free to choose not to be mine. I told him so. He's coming back here at three."
O burst out laughing. "Isn't it a little late?" she said. "You're both quite mad. If Eric had not come by this morning, what would you have done with me this afternoon? We would have gone for a walk, nothing more? Then let's go for a walk. Or perhaps you would not have summoned me this afternoon? In that case I'll leave...."
"No," Sir Stephen broke in, "I would have called you, but not to go for a walk. I wanted..."
"Go on, say it."
"Come, it will be simpler to show you."
He got up and opened a door in the wall opposite to the fireplace, a door identical to the one in his office.
O had always thought that the door led into a closet which was no longer used. She saw a tiny bedroom, newly painted, and hung with dark red silk. Half of the room was occupied by a rounded stage flanked by two columns, identical to the stage in the music room at Samois.
"The walls and ceiling are lined with cork, are they not?" O said. "And the door is padded, and you've had a double window installed?"
Sir Stephen nodded.
"But since when has all this been done?" O said.
"Since you've been back."
"Why did I wait until today? Because I first wanted to hand you over to other men. Now I shall punish you for it. I've never punished you, O."
"But I belong to you," O said. "Punish me. When Eric comes..."
An hour later, when he was shown a grotesquely bound and spread-eagled O strapped to the two columns, the boy blanched, mumbled something and disappeared. O thought she would never see him again. She ran into him again at Roissy, at the end of September, and he had her consigned to him for three days in a row, during which he savagely abused and mistreated her.