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.