On and on, now east now west, wound the poor thread that once had been our drive. Sometimes I thought it lost, but it appeared again, beneath a fallen tree perhaps, or struggling on the other side of a muddied ditch created by the winter rains. I had not thought the way so long.
But I never dared ask Mrs. Danvers what she did about it. She would have looked at me in scorn, smiling that freezing, superior smile of hers, and I can imagine her saying: “There were never any complaints when Mrs. de Winter was alive.”
Mrs. Danvers. I wonder what she is doing now.
“When we climbed the hills and looked down over the precipice. I was there some years ago, with my wife. You asked me if it was still the same, if it had changed at all. It was just the same, but—I was thankful to realize—oddly impersonal. There was no suggestion of the other time. She and I had left no record. It may have been because you were with me. You have blotted out the past for me, you know, far more effectively than all the bright lights of Monte Carlo.”
How many times she must have written to him thus, in how many varied moods. Little notes, scrawled on half-sheets of paper, and letters, when he was away, page after page, intimate, their news. Her voice, echoing through the house, and down the garden, careless and familiar like the writing in the book.
And I had to call him Maxim.
“If you think I'm one of the people who try to be funny at breakfast you're wrong,” he said. “I'm invariably ill-tempered in the early morning. I repeat to you, the choice is open to you. Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.”
“Do you mean you want a secretary or something?”
“No, I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool.”
“Naturally one wants you to be happy, and I grant you he's a very attractive creature but—well, I'm sorry; and personally I think you are making a big mistake—one you will bitterly regret.”
“Who is it?” I said, “who do you want?”
There was a strange buzzing at the end of the line, and then a voice came, low and rather harsh, whether that of a woman or a man I could not tell, and “Mrs. de Winter?” it said, “Mrs. de Winter?”
“I'm afraid you have made a mistake,” I said; “Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year.” I sat there, waiting, staring stupidly into the mouthpiece, and it was not until the name was repeated again, the voice incredulous, slightly raised, that I became aware, with a rush of color to my face, that I had blundered irretrievably, and could not take back my words.
“It's Mrs. Danvers, Madam,” said the voice. “I'm speaking to you on the house telephone.”
“You see,” she said, snapping the top, and walking down the stairs, “you are so very different from Rebecca.”
I heard myself saying boldly, brazenly, “Rebecca must have been a wonderful person.”
I could not believe that I had said the name at last. I waited, wondering what would happen. I had said the name. I had said the word Rebecca aloud. It was a tremendous relief. It was as though I had taken a purge and rid myself of an intolerable pain. Rebecca. I had said it aloud.
“I ought to have told you all this before,” I said.
“I wish you had,” he said. “I might have spared you some worry.”
“I feel happier,” I said, “much happier. And I've got you for my friend whatever happens, haven't I, Frank?”
“Yes, indeed,” he said.
We were out of the dark.
I dreaded his going. When I saw the car disappear round the sweep in the drive I felt exactly as though it were to be a final parting and I should never see him again. There would be an accident of course and later on in the afternoon, when I came back from my walk, I should find Frith white and frightened waiting for me with a message. The doctor would have rung up from some cottage hospital. “You must be very brave,” he would say, “I'm afraid you must be prepared for a great shock.”
She had relaxed against the pillows, plucking at her shawl, and her mouth began to tremble. “You talk too much, all of you. I don't understand.” Then she looked across at me, a frown on her face, and began shaking her head. “Who are you, my dear, I haven't seen you before? I don't know your face. I don't remember you at Manderley. Bee, who is this child? Why did not Maxim bring Rebecca? I'm so fond of Rebecca. Where is dear Rebecca?”
He considered me a moment, his eyebrows raised, whistling softly. “Listen, my sweet. When you were a little girl, were you ever forbidden to read certain books, and did your father put those books under lock and key?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, then. A husband is not so very different from a father after all. There is a certain type of knowledge I prefer you not to have. It's better kept under lock and key. So that's that. And now eat up your peaches, and don't ask me any more questions, or I shall put you in the corner.”
“I wish you would not treat me as if I was six,” I said.
“What the hell do you think you are doing?” he asked. His eyes blazed in anger. His face was still ashen white.
I could not move, I went on standing there, my hand on the banister.
“It's the picture,” I said, terrified at his eyes, at his voice. “It's the picture, the one in the gallery.”
There was a long silence. We went on staring at each other. Nobody moved in the hall. I swallowed, my hand moved to my throat. “What is it?” I said. “What have I done?”
I remember Robert dropping a tray of ices, and the expression of Frith's face when he saw Robert was the culprit and not one of the minions hired for the occasion. I wanted to go to Robert and stand beside him and say “I know how you feel. I understand. I've done worse than you tonight.”
That was why I had come down last night in my blue dress and had not stayed hidden in my room. There was nothing brave or fine about it, it was a wretched tribute to convention. I had not come down for Maxim's sake, or Beatrice's, for the sake of Manderley. I had come down because I did not want the people at the ball to think I had quarreled with Maxim. I didn't want them to go home and say, “Of course you know they don't get on. I hear he's not at all happy.” I had come for my own sake, my own poor personal pride.
“I thought I hated you but I don't now,” she said; “it seems to have spent itself, all the feeling I had.”
“Why should you hate me?” I asked; “what have I ever done to you that you should hate me?”
“You tried to take Mrs. de Winter's place,” she said.
I was free now to be with Maxim, to touch him, and hold him, and love him. I would never be a child again.
“Our marriage was a farce from the very first. She was vicious, damnable, rotten through and through. We never loved each other, never had one moment of happiness together. Rebecca was incapable of love, of tenderness, of decency. She was not even normal.”
“Yes,” I said, “my sweet, my love.” But I looked away from him so he should not see my face. What did it matter whether I understood him or not? My heart was light like a feather floating in the air. He had never loved Rebecca.
“I will give the orders about the lunch,” she said. She waited a moment. I did not say anything. Then she went out of the room. She can't frighten me any more, I thought. She has lost her power with Rebecca.
“This business has been a shock to me, you know,” he said. “A bloody awful shock. Rebecca was my cousin. I was damn fond of her.”
“Yes,” I said. “I'm very sorry for you.”
“We were brought up together,” he went on. “Always tremendous pals. Liked the same things, the same people. Laughed at the same jokes. I suppose I was fonder of Rebecca than anyone else in the world. And she was fond of me. All this has been a bloody shock.”
Thank God for Favell's laugh. Thank God for his pointing finger, his flushed face, his staring bloodshot eyes. Thank God for the way he stood there swaying on his two feet. Because it made Colonel Julyan antagonistic, it put him on our side. I saw the disgust on his face, the quick movement of his lips. Colonel Julyan did not believe him. Colonel Julyan was on our side.
I would learn more about the estate, too. I should ask Frank to explain things to me. I was sure Frank liked me. I liked him, too. I would go into things, and learn how they were managed. What they did at the farm. How the work in the grounds was planned. I might take to gardening myself, and in time have one or two things altered. That little square lawn outside the morning-room with the statue of the satyr. I did not like it. We would give the satyr away. There were heaps of things that I could do, little by little. People would come and stay and I should not mind. There would be the interest of seeing to their rooms, having flowers and books put, arranging the food. We would have children. Surely we would have children.
There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.