O was standing in the middle of the room, facing Rene?. He told her to turn around; she was rooted to the spot.
"She also crosses her legs," Jacqueline added, "but that you won't be able to see, of course. As you won't be able to see the way she accosts the boys."
"That's not true," O shouted, "you're the one!" and she leaped at Jacqueline.
Rene? grabbed her just as she was about to hit Jacqueline, and she went on struggling in his arms merely for the sake of feeling weaker than he, of being at his mercy, when, lifting her head, she saw Sir Stephen standing in the doorway looking at her.
Jacqueline had thrown herself down on the sofa, her tiny face hardened with anger and fear, and O could feel that Rene?, though he had his hands full trying to subdue her, had eyes only for Jacqueline. She ceased resisting and crestfallen at the idea of having been found wanting in the presence of Sir Stephen, she repeated, this time almost in a whisper:
"It's not true, I swear it's not true."
Without uttering a word, without so much as a glance at Jacqueline, Sir Stephen made a sign to Rene? to let O go, and to O to go into the other room. But on the other side of the door O, who was immediately wedged against the wall, her belly and breasts seized, her lips forced apart by Sir Stephen's insistent tongue, moaned with happiness and deliverance. The points of her breasts stiffened beneath his hand's caress, and with his other hand Sir Stephen probed her loins so roughly she thought she would faint. Would she ever dare to tell him that no pleasure, no joy, no figment of her imagination could ever compete with the happiness she felt at the way he used her with such utter freedom, at the notion that he could do anything with her, that there was no limit, no restriction in the manner with which, on her body, he might search for pleasure. Her absolute certainty that when he touched her, whether it was to fondle or flog her, when he ordered her to do something it was solely because he wanted to, her certainty that all he cared about was his own desire, so overwhelmed and gratified O that each time she saw new proof of it, and often even when it merely occurred to her in thought, a cape of fire, a burning breastplate extending from the shoulders to the knees, descended upon her. As she was there, pinned against the wall, her eyes closed, her lips murmuring "I love you" when she could find the breath to say them, Sir Stephen's hands, though they were as cool as the waters of a bubbling spring on the fire coursing through her from head to toe, made her burn even hotter. Gently he released her, dropping her skirt down over her moist thighs, closing her bolero over her quivering breasts.
"Come, O," he said, "I need you."
Then, opening her eyes, O noticed that they were not alone. The big, bare, whitewashed room, identical in all respects to the living room, also opened, through a French door, onto the garden. Seated in a wicker chair on the terrace, which lay between the house and garden, an enormous man, a giant of a creature with a cigarette between his lips, his head shaved and his vast belly swelling beneath his open shirt and cloth trousers, was gazing at O. He rose and moved toward Sir Stephen, who was shoving O ahead of him. It was then that O noticed, dangling at the end of his watch chain, the Roissy insignia that the man was sporting. Still, Sir Stephen politely introduced him to O, simply as "Commander," with no name attached, and much to O's surprise
she saw that he was kissing her hand, the first time it had happened since she had been involved with Roissy members (with the exception of Sir Stephen).
All three of them came back into the room, leaving the door open. Sir Stephen walked over to one end of the fireplace and rang. On the Chinese table beside the sofa, O saw a bottle of whisky, some soda water, and glasses. So he was not ringing for something to drink. At the same time she noticed a large cardboard box on the floor beside the fireplace. The man from Roissy had sat down on a wicker chair, Sir Stephen was half-seated on the edge of the round table, with one leg dangling. O, who had been motioned over to the sofa, had meekly raised her skirt and could feel the prickly cotton of the roughly woven Provenc?al upholstery.
It was Norah who came in. Sir Stephen ordered her to undress O and remove her clothing from the room. O allowed her to take off her bolero, her dress, her whalebone belt which constricted her waist, and her sandals. As soon as she had stripped O completely, Norah left, and O, automatically reverting to the rules of Roissy, and certain that all Sir Stephen waned from her was perfect submissiveness, remained standing in the middle of the room, her eyes lowered, so that she sensed rather than saw Natalie slip in through the open window, dressed in black like her sister, barefoot and silent. Sir Stephen had doubtless explained who she was and why she was there; to his visitor he merely mentioned her name, to which the visitor did not respond, and asked her to make them a drink. As soon as she had handed them some whisky, soda, water, and the ice cubes (and, in the silence, the clink of the ice cubes against the side of the glass made a harrowing racket), the Commander got up from his wicker chair, in which he had been sitting while O was being undressed and, with his glass in his hand, walked over to O. O thought that, with his free hand, he was going to take her breast or seize her belly. But he did not touch her, confining himself to scrutinizing her closely, from her parted lips to her parted knees. He circled her, studying her breasts, her thighs, her hindquarters, inspecting her in detail but offering no comment, and this careful scrutiny and the presence of this gigantic body so close to her overwhelmed O so that she wasn't sure whether she wanted to run away or, on the contrary, have him throw her down and crush her. So upset was she that she lost control and raised her eyes toward Sir Stephen, searching for help. He understood, smiled, came over to her, and talking both her hands, pulled them behind her back, and held them in one of his. She leaned back against him, her eyes closed, and it was in a dream, or at least in the dusk of a near-sleep born of exhaustion, the way she had heard as a child, still half under the influence of ether, the nurses talking about her, thinking she was still asleep, of her hair, her pallor, her flat belly where only the faint early signs of pubescence were showing, it was in a dream that she heard the stranger complimenting Sir Stephen on her, paying special due to the pleasant contrast between her ample bosom and the narrow waist, the irons which he found longer, thicker, and more visible than usual. At the same time, she learned that Sir Stephen had in all probability consented to lend her to him the following week, since he was thanking Sir Stephen for something. At which point Sir Stephen, taking her by the nape of the neck, gently told her to wake up and, with Natalie, to go upstairs and wait in her room.
Had she good reason to be so upset, and to be so annoyed at Natalie who, elated at the prospect of seeing O opened by someone other than Sir Stephen, was doing a kind of wild Indian dance around her and shouting:
"Do you think he'll go into your mouth too, O?" You should have seen the way he was looking at your mouth! Oh, how lucky you are to be desired like that! I'm sure that he'll whip you: he came
back three times to those marks where you can see you've been whipped. At least you won't be thinking about Jacqueline then!"
"I'm not always thinking about Jacqueline, you silly fool," O replied.
"No! I'm not silly and I'm not a fool. I know very well you miss her," the child said.
It was true, but not completely. What O missed was not, properly speaking, Jacqueline, but the use of a girl's body, with no restrictions attached. If Natalie had not been declared off-limits to her, she would have taken Natalie, and the only reason she had not violated the restriction was her certainty that Natalie would be given to her at Roissy in a few weeks' time, and that, some time previously, Natalie would be handed over in her presence by her, and thanks to her. She was burning to demolish the wall of air, of space, of - to use the correct term - void between Natalie and her, and yet at the same time she was enjoying the wait imposed upon her. She said so to Natalie, who only shook her head and refused to believe her.
"If Jacqueline were her, and were willing," she said, "you'd caress her." "Of course I would," O said with a laugh.
"There, you see," the child broke in.
How could she make her understand - and was it even worth the effort? - that it wasn't so much that she was in love with Jacqueline, nor for that matter with Natalie or any other girl in particular, but that she was only in love with girls as such, girls in general - the way one can be in love with one's own image - but in her case she always thought the other girls were more lovely and desirable than she found herself to be. The pleasure she derived from seeing a girl pant beneath her caresses, seeing her eyes close and the tips of her breasts stiffen beneath her lips and teeth, the pleasure she got from exploring her fore and aft with her hand - and from feeling her tighten around her fingers, then sigh and moan - was more than she could bear; and if this pleasure was so intense, it was only because it made her constantly aware of the pleasure which she in turn gave when she tightened around whoever was holding her, whenever she sighed or moaned, with this difference, that she could not conceive of being given thus to a girl, the way this girl was given to her, but only to a man. Moreover, it seemed to her that the girls she caressed belonged by right to the man to whom she belonged, and that she was only present by proxy. Had Sir Stephen come into her room during one of those previous afternoons when Jacqueline had been wont to nap with her, and found O caressing her, she would have spread her charge's thighs and held them apart with both hands, without the slightest remorse, and in fact with the greatest of pleasure, if had pleased Sir Stephen to possess her, rather than peering at her through the trellised wall as he had one. She was apt at hunting, a naturally trained bird of prey who would beat the game and always bring it back to the hunter. And speaking of the devil...
It was at this point, just as she was thinking again with beating heart of Jacqueline's lips, so pink and dainty beneath her downy fir, of the even more delicate and pinker ring between her buttocks, which she had only dared force on three occasions, that she heard Sir Stephen moving about in his room. She knew that he could see her, although she could not see him, and once again she felt that she was fortunate indeed to be constantly exposed this way, constantly imprisoned by these all-encompassing eyes. Young Natalie was seated on the white rug in the middle of the room, like a fly in a bowl of milk; while O, standing in front of the massive bureau
which also served as her dressing table, and able to see herself from head to waist in a slightly greenish antique mirror which was streaked like wrinkles in a pond, looked for all the world like one of those late nineteenth-century prints in which the women are wandering naked through their chambers in a subdued light, even though it is mid-summer.
When Sir Stephen pushed open the door, she turned around so abruptly that one of the irons between her legs struck one of the bronze knobs of the bureau upon which she was leaning, and jingled.
"Natalie," Sir Stephen said, "run downstairs and get the white cardboard box in the front living room."
When Natalie came back, she set the box down on the bed, opened it, and one by one removed the objects inside, unwrapping the paper in which they were packed, and handing them to Sir Stephen. They were masks, a combination headpiece and mask; it was obvious they had been made to cover the entire head, with the exception of the mouth and chin - and of course the slits for eyes. Sparrow-hawk, falcon, owl, fox, lion, bull: nothing but animal masks, but scaled to the size of the human head, made of real fur and feathers, the eye crowned with lashes when the actual animal had lashes (as the lion), and with the pelts or feathers descending to the shoulders of the person wearing them. To make the mask fit snugly along the upper lips (there was an orifice for each nostril) and along both cheeks, all one had to do was adjust a fairly loose strap concealed inside this cope-like affair which hung down the back. A frame made of molded, hardened cardboard located between the outside facing and the inner lining of skin, kept the shape of the mask rigid. In front of the full-length mirror, O tried on each of the masks. The most striking, and the one she thought transformed her most and was also most natural, was one of the owl masks (there were two), no doubt because it was composed of tan and tawny feathers whose color blended beautifully with her tan; the cope of feathers almost completely concealed her shoulders, descending half way down her back and, in front, to the nascent curve of her breasts. Sir Stephen had her rub the lipstick from her lips, then said to her as she took off the mask:
"All right, you'll be an owl for the Commander. But O, and I hope you forgive me, you'll be taken on a leash. Natalie, go look in the top drawer of my desk, you'll find a chain and some pliers."
Natalie came back with the chain and pliers, which Sir Stephen used to force open the last link, fastened it to the second ring that O was wearing in her loins, then forced it closed again. The chain, similar to those used for dogs - in fact that was what it was - was between four and five feet long, with a leather strap on one end. After O had donned the mask, Sir Stephen told Natalie to take the end of the chain and walk around the room, ahead of O. Three times Natalie paraded around the room, trailing O behind her by the rings, O being naked and masked.
"Well, I must say," Sir Stephen remarked, "the Commander was right, all the hair will have to be removed. But that can wait till tomorrow. Meanwhile, keep your chain on."
That evening, and for the first time in the company of Jacqueline and Natalie, of Rene? and Sir Stephen, O dined naked, her chain pulled up between her legs and across her buttocks and wrapped around her waist. Norah was alone serving, and O avoided her gaze. Two hours before, Sir Stephen had summoned her.