Philip awakens, and is puzzled to find that the tree outside is window is already in leaf. He also realizes he has grown a beard. Rachel is in the room with Philip, and when he asks where Mary Pascoe is Rachel responds that she has long since gone. It is the second week of May; Philip has been ill for five weeks, having nearly died of meningitis. Philip asks “what pulled [him] through” and Rachel replies that she gave instructions to the doctors. “We are very old,” she says, “and very wise, who come from Florence.”
Rachel’s claim about being “old and wise” is significant because it is one of the few times that Rachel claims to have any sort of mystical (rather than purely practical) wisdom. Though Rachel links her wisdom to her identity as an Italian, it also seems to be implied that her gender somehow impacted her ability to heal Philip, even when the male doctors were at loss for how to treat him.
Philip begins to convalesce. Though he cannot remember much of his illness, he is sure that he and Rachel were married the day before his birthday. Philip finds Rachel gentle and tender, and loves her more every day. Eventually, he is well enough to go outside and he finds that many of his home improvements are complete. The house now boasts a terrace walk, and a sunken garden that is waiting to be paved. Tamlyn also shows Philip through the grounds, where Philip admires the blossoming laburnum trees. Tamlyn mentions that the trees will need to be moved the following year; otherwise, they will drop their poisonous pods into the cow fields and potentially kill the animals.
The fact that Philip is so content to have Rachel tend to him suggests that much of what he values about her is based on her maternal qualities. While this does lend a strange quality to the nature of Philip and Rachel’s romantic relationship, it is also rather melancholy, as it serves as reminder that Philip grew up without ever knowing his mother. This passage also introduces the presence of poisonous laburnum seeds on the Ashley estate, a dramatic reveal that du Maurier has timed perfectly to add drama to the final chapters of the novel.
When Philip remarks that there were laburnum trees in the Villa Sangalletti, Tamlyn replies that he and the servants have heard Rachel will soon be returning there. “She was only waiting to see you restored to health before she went,” Tamlyn says. That night, when Philip is drinking his customary cup of tisana before bed, he asks about Rachel’s plans. She intends to be back in Florence by the spring, and suggests Philip might like to visit her there. Philip is confused and asks when Rachel plans to tell the servants that she and Philip are married. When Rachel tells him this is not true, Philip bursts into tears, realizing that he has been living a fantasy the past several weeks. “It would have been better […] had you let me die,” he says.
This passage parallels the “fantasy” Philip previously had about being engaged to Rachel. This time, Philip’s delusion is caused by the lingering amnesia from his illness, yet du Maurier suggests that Philip’s earlier conviction that he and Rachel would get married was just as much a delusion. Again, du Maurier emphasizes how powerfully one’s desires shape one’s understanding of others, and she also seems to suggest that that understanding is always, at least on some level, a kind of fantasy.
Rachel attempts to soothe Philip, encouraging him to continue making improvements to the estate after she has left. “In a little while everything will seem to you just the same as it was before I came,” she says. When Philip asks if Rachel truly believes this, she says that she must, or she will have “no peace of mind.” Philip implores Rachel to stay at least a few more weeks before leaving. He thinks: “I sought to evade the future and escape. But when I held her it was not the same.”
For the first time, it would seem, Rachel is practicing the same willful denial that Philip has exhibited throughout the novel. It is difficult to guess whether Rachel truly regrets having to leave Philip, or if she is merely trying to make the best of the situation by doing everything in her power to avoid “provoking” further violence from him. In this way, the confusion the reader may feel at trying to parse Rachel’s motives mirrors Philip’s own.