so much so that he had never been able to bring himself to do it - as he enjoyed seeing her struggle and hearing her scream. Once, in his presence, Sir Stephen had used the riding crop on her. Rene? had forced O back against the table and held her there, motionless. Her skirt had slipped down; he had lifted it up. Perhaps he needed even more to know that while he was not with her, while he was away walking or working, O was writing, moaning, and crying beneath the whip, was asking for his pity and not obtaining it - and was aware that this pain and humiliation had been inflicted on her by the will of the lover whom she loved, and for his pleasure. At Roissy, he had had her flogged by the valets. In Sir Stephen he had found the stern master he himself was unable to be. The fact that the man he most admired in the world could take a fancy to her and take the trouble to tame her, only made Rene?'s passion all the greater, as O could plainly see. All the mouths that had probed her mouth, all the hands that had seized her breasts and her belly, all the members that had been thrust into her and so perfectly provided the living proof that she was indeed prostituted, had at the same time provided the proof that she was worthy of being prostituted and had, so to speak, sanctified her. But this, in Rene?'s eyes, was nothing compared to the proof Sir Stephen provided. Each time she emerged from his arms, Rene? looked for the mark of a god upon her. O knew full well that if he had betrayed her a few hours before, it was in order to provoke new, and crueler, marks. And she also knew that, though the reasons for provoking them might disappear, Sir Stephen would not turn back. So much the worse. (But to herself she was thinking the exact opposite.) Rene? impressed and overwhelmed, gazed for a long time at the thin body marked by thick, purple welts like so many ropes spanning the shoulders, the back, the buttocks, the belly, and the breasts, welt which sometimes overlapped and crisscrossed. Here and there a little blood still oozed.
"Oh, how I love you," he murmured.
With trembling hands he took off his clothes, turned out the light, and lay down next to O. She moaned in the darkness, all the time he possessed her.
The welts on O's body took almost a month to disappear. In places where the skin had been broken, she still bore the traces of slightly whiter lines, like very old scars. If ever she were inclined to forget where they came from, the attitude of Rene? and Sir Stephen were there to remind her.
Rene?, of course, had a key to O's apartment. He hadn't thought to give one to Sir Stephen, probably because, till now, Sir Stephen had not evinced the desire to visit O's place. But the fact
that he had brought her home that night suddenly made Rene? realize that this door, which only he and O could open, might be considered by Sir Stephen as an obstacle, a barrier, or as a restriction deliberately imposed by Rene?, and that it was ridiculous to give him O if he did not at the same time give him the freedom to come and go at O's whenever he pleased. In short, he had a key made, gave it to Sir Stephen, and told O only after Sir Stephen had accepted it. She did not dream of protesting, and she soon discovered that, while she was waiting for Sir Stephen to appear, she felt incomprehensibly peaceful. She waited for a long time, wondering whether he would surprise her by coming in the middle of the night, whether he would take advantage of one of Rene?'s absences, whether he would come alone, or indeed whether he would even come at all. She did not dare speak about it to Rene?.
On morning when the cleaning woman had happened not to be there and O had gotten up earlier than usual and, at ten o'clock, was already dressed and ready to go out, she heard a key turning in the lock and flew to the door shouting: "Rene?" (for there were times when Rene? did arrive in this way and at this hour, and she had not dreamed it could be anyone but he). It was Sir Stephen, who smiled and said to her:
"All right, why don't we call up Rene?."
But Rene?, tied up at his office by a business appointment, would be there only in an hour's time.
O, her heart pounding wildly (and she wondering why), watched Sir Stephen hang up. He sat her down on the bed, took her head in both his hands, and forced her mouth open slightly in order to kiss her. She was so out of breath that she might have slipped and fallen if he had not held her. But he did hold her, and straightened her up.
She could not understand why her throat was knotted by such a feeling of anxiety and anguish, for, after all, what did she have to fear from Sir Stephen that she had not already experienced.
He bade her remove all her clothes, and watched her, without saying a word, as she obeyed. Wasn't she, in fact, quite accustomed to his silence, as she was accustomed to waiting for him to decide what his pleasure would be? She had to admit she had been deceiving herself, and that if she was taken aback by the time and the place, by the fact that she had never been naked in this room for anyone except Rene?, the basic reason for her being upset was actually still the same: her own self-consciousness. The only difference was that this self-consciousness was made all the more apparent to her because it was not taking place in some specific spot to which she had to repair in order to submit to it, and not at night, thereby partaking of a dream or of some clandestine existence in relation to the length of the day, as Roissy had been in relation to the length of her life with Rene?. The bright light of a May day turned the clandestine into something public: henceforth the reality of the night and the reality of day would be one and the same. Henceforth - and O was thinking: at last. This is doubtless the source of that strange sentiment of security, mingled with terror, to which she felt she was surrendering herself and of which, without understand it, she had had a premonition. Henceforth there were no more hiatuses, no dead time, no remission. He whom one awaits is, because he is expected, already present, already present, already master. Sir Stephen was a far more demanding but also a far surer master than Rene?. And however passionately O loved Rene?, and he her, there was between them a kind of equality (were it only the equality of age) which eliminated in her any feeling of obedience, the awareness of her submission. Whatever he wanted of her she wanted too, solely because he was
asking it of her. But it was as though he had instilled in her, insofar as Sir Stephen was concerned, his own admiration, his own respect. She obeyed Sir Stephen's orders as orders about which there was no question, and was grateful to him for having give them to her. Whether he addressed her in French or English, employed the familiar tu or the less personal vous form with her, she, like a stranger or a servant, never addressed him as anything but Sir Stephen. She told herself that the term "Lord" would have been more appropriate, if she had dared utter it, as he, in referring to her, would have been better advised to employ the word "slave." She also told herself that all was well, since Rene? was happy loving in her Sir Stephen's slave.
And so, her clothes neatly arranged at the foot of the bed, having again put on her high-heeled mules, she waited, with lowered yes, facing Sir Stephen, who was leaning against the window. Bright sunlight was streaming through the dotted muslin curtains and gently warmed her hips and thighs. She was not looking for any special effect, but it immediately occurred to her that she should have put on more perfume, she realized that she had not made up the tips of her breasts, and that, luckily, she had on her mules, for the nail polish on her toenails was beginning to peel off. Then she suddenly knew that what she was in fact waiting for in this silence, and this light, was for Sir Stephen to make some signal to her, or for him to order her to kneel down before him, unbutton him, and caress him. But no. Because she alone had been the one to whom such a thought had occurred, she turned scarlet, and as she was blushing she was thinking what a fool she was to blush: such modesty and shame in a whore!
Just then, Sir Stephen asked O to sit down before her dressing table and hear what he had to say. The dressing table was not, properly speaking, a dressing table, but next to a low ledge set into the wall, on which were arranged brushes and bottles, a large Restoration swing-mirror in which O, seated in her low-slung chair, could see herself full length.
Sir Stephen paced back and forth behind her as he talked; from time to time his reflection crossed the mirror, behind the image of O, but his was a reflection which seemed far away, because the silvering of the mirror was discolored and slightly murky.
O, her hands unclasped and her knees apart, had an urge to seize the reflection and stop it, in order to reply more easily. For Sir Stephen, speaking in a clipped English, was asking question after question, the last questions O would ever have dreamed he would ask, even assuming he would ask any in the first place. Hardly had he begin, however, when he broke off to settle O deeper and farther back in the chair; with hr left leg over the arm of the chair and the other curled up slightly, O, in that bath of bright light, was then presented, to her own eyes and to Sir Stephen's as perfectly open as though an invisible lover had withdrawn from her and left her slightly ajar.
Sir Stephen resumed his questioning, with a judge-like resolution and the skill of a father confessor. O did not see him speaking, and saw herself replying. Whether she had, since she had returned from Roissy, belonged to other men besides Rene? and himself? No. Whether she had wanted to belong to any other she might have met? No. Whether she caressed herself at night, when she was alone? No. Whether she had any girl friends she caressed or who she allowed to caress her? No (the "no" was more hesitant). Any girlfriends she did desire? Well, there was Jacqueline, but "friend" was stretching the term. Acquaintance would be closer, or even chum, the way well-bred schoolgirls refer to each other in high-class boarding schools.
Whereupon Sir Stephen asked her whether she had any photographs of Jacqueline, and he helped her to her feet so she could go and get them. It was in the living room that Rene?, entering out of breath, for he had dashed up the four flights of stairs, came upon them: O was standing in front of the big table on which there shone, black and white, like puddles of water in the night, all of the pictures of Jacqueline. Sir Stephen, half-seated on the table, was taking them one by one as O handed them to him, and putting them back on the table; his other hand was holding O's womb. From that moment on, Sir Stephen, who had greeted Rene? without letting go of her - in fact she felt his hand probe deeper into her - had ceased addressing her, and addressed himself to Rene?. She thought she knew why: with Rene? there, the accord between Sir Stephen and Rene? concerning her was established, but apart from her, she was only the occasion for it or the object of it, they no longer had to question her, nor she to reply; what she had to do, and even what she had to be, was decided without her.
It was almost noon. The sun, falling directly on the table, curled the edges of the photographs. O wanted to move them and flatten them out to keep them from being ruined, but her fingers fumbled, she was on the verge of yielding to the burning probe of Sir Stephen's hand and allowing a moan to escape from her lips. She failed to hold it back, did in fact moan, and found herself sprawled flat on her back among the photographs, where Sir Stephen had rudely shoved her as he left her, with her legs spread and dangling. Her feet were not touching the floor; one of her mules slipped from her foot and dropped noiselessly onto the white rung. Her face was flooded with sunshine: she closed her eyes.
Later, much later, she must have remembered overhearing the conversation between Sir Stephen and Rene?, but at the time she was not struck by it, as though it did not concern her and, simultaneously, as though she had already experienced it before. And it was true that she had already experienced a similar scene, since the first time that Rene? had taken her to Sir Stephen's, they had discussed her in the same way. But on that initial occasion she had been a stranger to Sir Stephen, and Rene? had done most of the talking. Since then, Sir Stephen had made her submit to all his fantasies, had molded her to his own taste, had demanded and obtained from her, as something quite routine, the most outrageous and scurrilous acts. She had nothing more to give than hat he already possessed. At least so she thought.
He was speaking, he who generally was silent in her presence, and his remarks, as well as Rene?'s revealed that they were renewing a conversation they often engaged in together, with her as the subject. It was a question of how she could best be utilized, and how the things each of them had learned from his particular use of her could best be shared. Sir Stephen readily admitted that O was infinitely more moving when her body was covered with marks, of whatever kind, if only because these marks made it impossible for her to cheat and immediately proclaimed, the moment they were seen, that anything went as far as she was concerned. For to know this was one thing, but to see the proof of it, and to see the proof constantly renewed, was quite another. Rene?, Sir Stephen said, was perfectly right in wishing to have her whipped. They decided that she would be, irrespective of the pleasure they might derive from her screams and tears, as often as necessary so that some trace of the flogging could always be seen upon her.
O, still lying motionless on her back, her loins still aflame, was listening, and she had the feeling that by some strange substitution Sir Stephen was speaking for her, in her place. As though he was somehow in her body and could feel the anxiety, the anguish, and the shame, but also the secret pride and harrowing pleasure that she was feeling, especially when she was alone in a
crowd of strangers, of passers-by in the street, or when she got into a bus, or when she was at the studio with the models and technicians, and she told herself that any and all of these people she was with, if they should have an accident and have to be laid down on the ground or if a doctor had to be called, would keep their secrets, even if they were unconscious and naked; but not she: her secret did not depend upon her silence alone, did not depend on her alone. Even if she wanted to, she could not indulge in the slightest caprice - and that was indeed the meaning of one of Sir Stephen's questions - without immediately revealing herself, she could not allow herself to partake of the most innocent acts, such as playing tennis or swimming. That these things were forbidden her was a comfort to her, a material comfort, as the bars of the convent materially prevent the cloistered girls from belonging to one another, and from escaping. For this reason too, how could she run the risk that Jacqueline would not spurn her, without at the same time running the risk of having to explain the truth to Jacqueline, or at least part of the truth?
The sun had moved and left her face. Her shoulders were sticking to the glossy surface of the photographs on which she was lying, and against her knee she could feel the rough edge of Sir Stephen's suitcoat, for he had come back beside her. He and Rene? each took her by one hand and helped her to her feet. Rene? picked up one of her mules. It was time for her to get dressed.
It was during the lunch that followed, at Saint-Cloud on the banks of the Seine, that Sir Stephen, who had remained alone with her, began to question her once again. The restaurant tables, covered with white tablecloths, were arranged on a shaded terrace which was bordered by privet hedges, at the foot of which was a bed of dark red, scarcely opened peonies.
Even before Sir Stephen could make a sign to her, O had obediently lifted her skirts as she sat down on the iron chair, and it had taken her bare thighs a long time to warm the cold iron. They heard the water slapping against the boats tied up to the wooden jetty at the end of the terrace. Sir Stephen was seated across from her, and O was speaking slowly, determined not to say anything that was not true. What Sir Stephen wanted to know was why she liked Jacqueline. Oh! That was easy: it was because she was too beautiful for O, like the full-sized dolls given to the poor children for Christmas, which they're afraid to touch. And yet she knew that if she had not spoken to her, and had not accosted her, it was because she really didn't want to. As she said this she raised her eyes, which had been lowered, fixed on the bed of peonies, and she realized that Sir Stephen was staring at her lips. Was he listening to what she was saying, or was he merely listening to the sound of her voice or watching the movement of her lips? Suddenly she stopped speaking, and Sir Stephen's gaze rose and intercepted her own. What she read in it was so clear this time, and it was so obvious to him that she had seen it, that now it was his turn to blanch. If indeed he did love her, would he ever forgive her for having noticed it? She could neither avert her gaze nor smile, nor speak. Had her life depended on it, she would have been incapable of making a gesture, incapable of fleeing, her legs would never have carried her. He would probably never want anything from her save her submission to his desire, as long as he continued to desire her. But was desire sufficient to explain the fact that, from the day Rene? had handed her over to him, he asked for her and kept her more and more frequently, sometimes merely to have her with him, without asking anything from her?
There he sat across from her, silent and motionless. Some businessmen, at a neighboring table, were talking as they drank a coffee so black and aromatic that the aroma was wafted all the way to their own table. Two well-groomed, contemptuous Americans lighted cigarettes halfway through their meal; the gravel crunched beneath the waters' feet - one of them came over to refill
Sir Stephen's glass, which was three-quarters empty, but what was the point of wasting good wine on a statue, a sleepwalker? The waiter did not belabor the point.
O was delighted to feel that if his gray, ardent gaze wandered from her eyes, it was to fasten on her breasts, her hands, before returning to her eyes. Finally she saw the trace of a smile appear on his lips, a smile she dared to answer. But utter a single word, impossible! She could barely breathe.
"O..." Sir Stephen said. "Yes," O said, faintly.
"O, what I'm going to speak to you about i have already discussed with Rene?, and we're both in accord on it. But also, I..." He broke off.
O never knew whether it was because, seized by a sudden chill, she had closed her eyes, or whether he too had difficulty catching his breath. He paused, the water was changing plates, bringing O the menu so she could choose the dessert. O handed it to Sir Stephen. A souffle?? Yes, a souffle?. It will take twenty minutes. All right, twenty minutes. The waiter left.
"I need more than twenty minutes," Sir Stephen said.
And he went on in a steady voice, and what he said quickly convinced O that one thing at least was certain, and that was, if he did love her, nothing would be changed, unless one considered this curious respect a change, this ardor with which he was saying to her: "I'd be most pleased if you would care to..." instead of simply asking her to accede to his requests. Yet they were still orders, and there was no question of O's not obeying them. She pointed this out to Sir Stephen. He admitted as much.
"I still want your answer," he said.
"I'll do whatever you like," O responded, and the echo of what she was saying resounded in her memory: "I'll do whatever you like," she was used to saying to Rene?. Almost in a whisper, she murmured: "Rene?..."
Sir Stephen heard it.
"Rene knows what I want from you. Listen to me."
He was speaking English, but in a low, carefully controlled voice which was inaudible at the neighboring tables. Whenever the waiters approached their table, he fell silent, resuming his sentence where he had left off as soon as they had moved away. What he was saying seemed strange and out of keeping with this peaceful, public place, and yet what was strangest of all was that he could say it, and O hear it, so naturally.
He began by reminding her that the first evening when she had come to his apartment he had given her an order she had refused to obey, and he noted that although he might have slapped her then, he had never repeated the order since that night. Would she grant him now what she had refused him then? O understood that not only must she acquiesce, but that he wanted to hear her say it herself, in her own words, say that she would caress herself any time he asked her to. She
said it, and again she saw the yellow and gray drawing room, Rene?'s departure from it, her revulsion that first evening, the fire glowing between her open knees when she was lying naked on the rug. Tonight, in this same drawing room... No, Sir Stephen had not specified, and was going on.
He also pointed out to her that she had never been possessed in his presence by Rene? (or by anyone else), as she had been by him in Rene?'s presence (and at Roissy by a whole host of others). From this she should not conclude that Rene? would be the only one to humiliate her by handing her over to a man who did not lover her - and perhaps derive pleasure from it - in the presence of a man who did. (He went on at such length, and with such cruelty - she soon would open her thighs and back, and her mouth, to those of his friends who, once they had met her, might desire her - that O suspected that this coarseness was aimed as much at himself as it was at her, and the only thing she remembered was the end of the sentence: in the presence of a man who did love her. What more did she want in the way of a confession?) What was more, he would bring her back to Roissy sometime in the course of the summer. Hadn't it ever struck her as surprising, this isolation in which first then, then he had kept her? They were the only men she saw, either together, or one after the other. Whenever Sir Stephen had invited people to his apartment on the rue de Poitiers, O was never invited. She had never lunched or dined at his place. Nor had Rene? ever introduced her to any of his friends, except for Sir Stephen. In all probability he would continue to keep her in the background, for to Sir Stephen was henceforth reserved the privilege of doing as he liked with her. But she should not get the idea that she belonged to him that she would be detained more legally; on the contrary. (But what hurt and wounded O most was the realization that Sir Stephen was going to treat her in exactly the same way Rene? had, in the same, identical way.) The iron and gold ring that she was wearing on her left hand - and did she recall that the ring had been chosen so tight-fitting that they had had to force it on her ring finger? She could not take it off - that ring was the sign that she was a slave, but one who was common property. It had been merely by chance that, since this past autumn, she had not met any Roissy members who might have noticed her irons, or revealed that they had noticed them.
The word irons, used in the plural, which she had taken to be an equivocal term when Sir Stephen had told her that irons were becoming to her, had in no wise been equivocal; it had been a mode of recognition, a password. Sir Stephen had not had to use the second formula: namely, whose irons was she wearing? But if today this question were asked of O, what would she reply? O hesitated?
"Rene's and yours," she said.
"No," Sir Stephen said, "mine. Rene? wants you to be answerable first of all to me."