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. Rene? 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 Rene?'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 Rene?, and Sir Stephen had opened her thighs with both his hands, Rene? 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," Rene? had replied, "O will be pleased to be rent."
And he had leaned down over her and kissed her hands.
The very idea that Rene? 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 Rene?, 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 Rene? 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 Rene?, but you're easy. Does Rene? 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 Rene?," O replied.
"You love Rene?, but you desire me, among others," Sir Stephen went on.
Yes, she did desire him, but what if Rene?, 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: "I can't."
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."
Rene? 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 Rene?'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 Rene?'s training leave a great deal to be desired."
"I always obey Rene?," 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 Rene? 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. Rene? 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 Rene?'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 Rene?, and wanted him to feel something more than desire for her. Not that she was in love, but because she clearly saw that Rene? 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 Rene? would follow Sir Stephen's example and emulate his attitude, and that if Sir Stephen were to show contempt for her Rene? 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 Rene?'s master, without Rene?'s being fully aware of it, which is to say that Rene? 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. Rene? 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 Rene? 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 Rene?' 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: "Rene? 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 Rene? 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 Rene? 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; Rene? 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, Rene?," 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 Rene?, she would have sworn: "Fatal for Sir Stephen", and have added: "and he'll know it too." But her love for Rene? and Rene?'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 Rene?. In the space of a week she learned fear, but certainty; anguish, but happiness. Rene? 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 Rene? held, without exception in his hand, were the only network through which the current of life any longer flowed into her.