Rebecca Chapter 10

We watched the car disappear round the sweep of the drive, and then Maxim took my arm and said, “Thank God that’s that. Get a coat quickly, and come out. Damn the rain, I want a walk. I can’t stand this sitting about.” He looked white and strained, and I wondered why the entertaining of Beatrice and Giles, his own sister and brother-in-law, should have tired him so.

“Wait while I run upstairs for my coat,” I said.

“There’s a heap of mackintoshes in the flower room, get one of them,” he said impatiently, “women are always half an hour when they go to their bedrooms. Robert, fetch a coat from the flower room, will you, for Mrs. de Winter? There must be half a dozen raincoats hanging there left by people at one time or another.” He was already standing in the drive, and calling to Jasper, “Come on, you lazy little beggar, and take some of that fat off.” Jasper ran round in circles, barking hysterically at the prospect of his walk. “Shut up, you idiot,” said Maxim. “What on earth is Robert doing?”

Robert came running out of the hall carrying a raincoat, and I struggled into it hurriedly, fumbling with the collar. It was too big, of course, and too long, but there was no time to change it, and we set off together across the lawn to the woods, Jasper running in front.

“I find a little of my family goes a very long way,” said Maxim. “Beatrice is one of the best people in the world, but she invariably puts her foot in it.”

I was not sure where Beatrice had blundered, and thought it better not to ask. Perhaps he still resented the chat about his health before lunch.

“What did you think of her?” he went on.

“I liked her very much,” I said; “she was very nice to me.”

“What did she talk to you about out here, after lunch?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think I did most of the talking. I was telling her about Mrs. Van Hopper, and how you and I met, and all that. She said I was quite different from what she expected.”

“What the devil did she expect?”

“Someone much smarter, more sophisticated, I imagine. A social butterfly, she said.”

Maxim did not answer for a moment; he bent down, and threw a stick for Jasper. “Beatrice can sometimes be infernally unintelligent,” he said.

We climbed the grass bank above the lawns, and plunged into the woods. The trees grew very close together, and it was dark. We trod upon broken twigs, and last year’s leaves, and here and there the fresh green stubble of the young bracken, and the shoots of the bluebells soon to blossom. Jasper was silent now, his nose to the ground. I took Maxim’s arm.

“Do you like my hair?” I said.

He stared down at me in astonishment. “Your hair?” he said. “Why on earth do you ask? Of course I like it. What’s the matter with it?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said, “I just wondered.”

“How funny you are,” he said.

We came to a clearing in the woods, and there were two paths, going in opposite directions. Jasper took the right-hand path without hesitation.

“Not that way,” called Maxim; “come on, old chap.”

The dog looked back at us and stood there, wagging his tail, but did not return. “Why does he want to go that way?” I asked.

“I suppose he’s used to it,” said Maxim briefly; “it leads to a small cove, where we used to keep a boat. Come on, Jasper, old man.”

We turned into the left-hand path, not saying anything, and presently I looked over my shoulder and saw that Jasper was following us.

“This brings us to the valley I told you about,” said Maxim, “and you shall smell the azaleas. Never mind the rain, it will bring out the scent.”

He seemed all right again now, happy and cheerful, the Maxim I knew and loved, and he began talking about Frank Crawley and what a good fellow he was, so thorough and reliable, and devoted to Manderley.

“This is better,” I thought; “this is like it was in Italy,” and I smiled up at him, squeezing his arm, relieved that the odd strained look on his face had passed away, and while I said “Yes,” and “Really?” and “Fancy, darling,” my thoughts wandered back to Beatrice, wondering why her presence should have disturbed him, what she had done; and I thought too of all she had said about his temper, how he lost it, she told me, about once or twice a year.

She must know him, of course; she was his sister. But it was not what I had thought; it was not my idea of Maxim. I could see him moody, difficult, irritable perhaps, but not angry as she had inferred, not passionate. Perhaps she had exaggerated; people very often were wrong about their relatives.

“There,” said Maxim suddenly, “take a look at that.”

We stood on a slope of a wooded hill, and the path wound away before us to a valley, by the side of a running stream. There were no dark trees here, no tangled undergrowth, but on either side of the narrow path stood azaleas and rhododendrons, not blood-colored like the giants in the drive, but salmon, white, and gold, things of beauty and of grace, drooping their lovely, delicate heads in the soft summer rain.

The air was full of their scent, sweet and heady, and it seemed to me as though their very essence had mingled with the running waters of the stream, and become one with the falling rain and the dank rich moss beneath our feet. There was no sound here but the tumbling of the little stream, and the quiet rain. When Maxim spoke, his voice was hushed too, gentle and low, as if he had no wish to break upon the silence.

“We call it the Happy Valley,” he said.

We stood quite still, not speaking, looking down upon the clear white faces of the flowers closest to us, and Maxim stooped, and picked up a fallen petal and gave it to me. It was crushed and bruised, and turning brown at the curled edge, but as I rubbed it across my hand the scent rose to me, sweet and strong, vivid as the living tree from which it came.

Then the birds began. First a blackbird, his note clear and cool above the running stream, and after a moment he had answer from his fellow hidden in the woods behind us, and soon the still air about us was made turbulent with song, pursuing us as we wandered down into the valley, and the fragrance of the white petals followed us too. It was disturbing, like an enchanted place. I had not thought it could be as beautiful as this.

The sky, now overcast and sullen, so changed from the early afternoon, and the steady insistent rain could not disturb the soft quietude of the valley; the rain and the rivulet mingled with one another, and the liquid note of the black bird fell upon the damp air in harmony with them both. I brushed the dripping heads of azaleas as I passed, so close they grew together, bordering the path. Little drops of water fell onto my hands from the soaked petals. There were petals at my feet too, brown and sodden, bearing their scent upon them still, and a richer, older scent as well, the smell of deep moss and bitter earth, the stems of bracken, and the twisted buried roots of trees. I held Maxim’s hand and I had not spoken. The spell of the Happy Valley was upon me. This at last was the core of Manderley, the Manderley I would know and learn to love. The first drive was forgotten, the black, herded woods, the glaring rhododendrons, luscious and over-proud. And the vast house too, the silence of that echoing hall, the uneasy stillness of the west wing, wrapped in dust-sheets. There I was an interloper, wandering in rooms that did not know me, sitting at a desk and in a chair that were not mine. Here it was different. The Happy Valley knew no trespassers. We came to the end of the path, and the flowers formed an archway above our heads. We bent down, passing underneath, and when I stood straight again, brushing the raindrops from my hair, I saw that the valley was behind us, and the azaleas, and the trees, and, as Maxim had described to me that afternoon many weeks ago in Monte Carlo, we were standing in a little narrow cove, the shingle hard and white under our feet, and the sea was breaking on the shore beyond us.

Maxim smiled down at me, watching the bewilderment on my face.

“It’s a shock, isn’t it?” he said; “no one ever expects it. The contrast is too sudden; it almost hurts.” He picked up a stone and flung it across the beach for Jasper. “Fetch it, good man,” and Jasper streaked away in search of the stone, his long black ears flapping in the wind.

The enchantment was no more, the spell was broken. We were mortal again, two people playing on a beach. We threw more stones, went to the water’s edge, flung ducks and drakes, and fished for driftwood. The tide had turned, and came lapping in the bay. The small rocks were covered, the seaweed washed on the stones. We rescued a big floating plank and carried it up the beach above high-water mark. Maxim turned to me, laughing, wiping the hair out of his eyes, and I unrolled the sleeves of my mackintosh caught by the sea spray. And then we looked round, and saw that Jasper had disappeared. We called and whistled, and he did not come. I looked anxiously towards the mouth of the cove where the waves were breaking upon the rocks.

“No,” said Maxim, “we should have seen him, he can’t have fallen. Jasper, you idiot, where are you? Jasper, Jasper?”

“Perhaps he’s gone back to the Happy Valley?” I said.

“He was by that rock a minute ago, sniffing a dead sea-gull,” said Maxim.

We walked up the beach towards the valley once again. “Jasper, Jasper?” called Maxim.

In the distance, beyond the rocks to the right of the beach, I heard a short, sharp bark. “Hear that?” I said. “He’s climbed over this way.” I began to scramble up the slippery rocks in the direction of the bark.

“Come back,” said Maxim sharply; “we don’t want to go that way. The fool of a dog must look after himself.”

I hesitated, looked down from my rock. “Perhaps he’s fallen,” I said, “poor little chap. Let me fetch him.” Jasper barked again, further away this time. “Oh, listen,” I said, “I must get him. It’s quite safe, isn’t it? The tide won’t have cut him off?”

“He’s all right,” said Maxim irritably; “why not leave him? He knows his own way back.”

I pretended not to hear, and began scrambling over the rocks towards Jasper. Great jagged boulders screened the view, and I slipped and stumbled on the wet rocks, making my way as best I could in Jasper’s direction. It was heartless of Maxim to leave Jasper, I thought, and I could not understand it. Besides, the tide was coming in. I came up beside the big boulder that had hidden the view, and looked beyond it. And I saw, to my surprise, that I was looking down into another cove, similar to the one I had left, but wider and more rounded. A small stone breakwater had been thrown out across the cove for shelter, and behind it the bay formed a tiny natural harbor. There was a buoy anchored there, but no boat. The beach in the cove was white shingle, like the one behind me, but steeper, shelving suddenly to the sea. The woods came right down to the tangle of seaweed marking high water, encroaching almost to the rocks themselves, and at the fringe of the woods was a long low building, half cottage, half boathouse, built of the same stone as the breakwater.

There was a man on the beach, a fisherman perhaps, in long boots and a sou’wester, and Jasper was barking at him, running round him in circles, darting at his boots. The man took no notice; he was bending down, and scraping in the shingle. “Jasper,” I shouted, “Jasper, come here.”

The dog looked up, wagging his tail, but he did not obey me. He went on baiting the solitary figure on the beach.

I looked over my shoulder. There was still no sign of Maxim. I climbed down over the rocks to the beach below. My feet made a crunching noise across the shingle, and the man looked up at the sound. I saw then that he had the small slit eyes of an idiot, and the red, wet mouth. He smiled at me, showing toothless gums.

“G’day,” he said. “Dirty, ain’t it?”

“Good afternoon,” I said. “No. I’m afraid it’s not very nice weather.”

He watched me with interest, smiling all the while. “Diggin’ for shell,” he said. “No shell here. Been diggin’ since forenoon.”

“Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry you can’t find any.”

“That’s right,” he said, “no shell here.”

“Come on, Jasper,” I said, “it’s getting late. Come on, old boy.”

But Jasper was in an infuriating mood. Perhaps the wind and the sea had gone to his head, for he backed away from me, barking stupidly, and began racing round the beach after nothing at all. I saw he would never follow me, and I had no lead. I turned to the man, who had bent down again to his futile digging.

“Have you got any string?” I said.

“Eh?” he said.

“Have you got any string?” I repeated.

“No shell here,” he said, shaking his head. “Been diggin’ since forenoon.” He nodded his head at me, and wiped his pale blue watery eyes.

“I want something to tie the dog,” I said. “He won’t follow me.”

“Eh?” he said. And he smiled his poor idiot’s smile.

“All right,” I said; “it doesn’t matter.”

He looked at me uncertainly, and then leaned forward, and poked me in the chest.

“I know that dog,” he said; “he comes fro’ the house.”

“Yes,” I said. “I want him to come back with me now.”

“He’s not yourn,” he said.

“He’s Mr. de Winter’s dog,” I said gently. “I want to take him back to the house.”

“Eh?” he said.

I called Jasper once more, but he was chasing a feather blown by the wind. I wondered if there was any string in the boathouse, and I walked up the beach towards it. There must have been a garden once, but now the grass was long and overgrown, crowded with nettles. The windows were boarded up. No doubt the door was locked, and I lifted the latch without much hope. To my surprise it opened after the first stiffness, and I went inside, bending my head because of the low door. I expected to find the usual boat store, dirty and dusty with disuse, ropes and blocks and oars upon the floor. The dust was there, and the dirt too in places, but there were no ropes or blocks. The room was furnished, and ran the whole length of the cottage. There was a desk in the corner, a table, and chairs, and a bed-sofa pushed against the wall. There was a dresser too, with cups and plates. Bookshelves, the books inside them, and models of ships standing on the top of the shelves. For a moment I thought it must be inhabited—perhaps the poor man on the beach lived here—but I looked around me again and saw no sign of recent occupation. That rusted grate knew no fire, this dusty floor no footsteps, and the china there on the dresser was blue-spotted with the damp. There was a queer musty smell about the place. Cobwebs spun threads upon the ships’ models, making their own ghostly rigging. No one lived here. No one came here. The door had creaked on its hinges when I opened it. The rain pattered on the roof with a hollow sound, and tapped upon the boarded windows. The fabric of the sofa-bed had been nibbled by mice or rats. I could see the jagged holes, and the frayed edges. It was damp in the cottage, damp and chill. Dark, and oppressive. I did not like it. I had no wish to stay there. I hated the hollow sound of the rain pattering on the roof. It seemed to echo in the room itself, and I heard the water dripping too into the rusted grate.

I looked about me for some string. There was nothing that would serve my purpose, nothing at all. There was another door at the end of the room, and I went to it, and opened it, a little fearful now, a little afraid, for I had the odd, uneasy feeling that I might come upon something unawares, that I had no wish to see. Something that might harm me, that might be horrible.

It was nonsense of course, and I opened the door. It was only a boat store after all. Here were the ropes and blocks I had expected, two or three sails, fenders, a small punt, pots of paints, all the litter and junk that goes with the using of boats. A ball of twine lay on a shelf, a rusted clasp knife beside it. This would be all I needed for Jasper. I opened the knife, and cut a length of twine, and came back into the room again. The rain still fell upon the roof, and into the grate. I came out of the cottage hurriedly, not looking behind me, trying not to see the torn sofa and the mildewed china, the spun cobwebs on the model ships, and so through the creaking gate and onto the white beach.

The man was not digging anymore; he was watching me, Jasper at his side.

“Come along, Jasper,” I said; “come on, good dog.” I bent down and this time he allowed me to touch him and pull hold of his collar. “I found some string in the cottage,” I said to the man.

He did not answer, and I tied the string loosely round Jasper’s collar.

“Good afternoon,” I said, tugging at Jasper.

The man nodded, staring at me with his narrow idiot’s eyes. “I saw’ee go in yonder,” he said.

“Yes,” I said; “it’s all right, Mr. de Winter won’t mind.”

“She don’t go in there now,” he said.

“No,” I said, “not now.”

“She’s gone in the sea, ain’t she?” he said; “she won’t come back no more?”

“No,” I said, “she’ll not come back.”

“I never said nothing, did I?” he said.

“No, of course not; don’t worry,” I said.

He bent down again to his digging, muttering to himself. I went across the shingle and I saw Maxim waiting for me by the rocks, his hands in his pockets.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Jasper would not come. I had to get some string.”

He turned abruptly on his heel, and made towards the woods.

“Aren’t we going back over the rocks?” I said.

“What’s the point? We’re here now,” he said briefly.

We went up past the cottage and struck into a path through the woods. “I’m sorry I was such a time; it was Jasper’s fault,” I said, “he kept barking at the man. Who was he?”

“Only Ben,” said Maxim; “he’s quite harmless, poor devil. His old father used to be one of the keepers; they live near the home farm. Where did you get that piece of twine?”

“I found it in the cottage on the beach,” I said.

“Was the door open?” he asked.

“Yes, I pushed it open. I found the string in the other room, where the sails were, and a small boat.”

“Oh,” he said shortly. “Oh, I see,” and then he added, after a moment or two: “That cottage is supposed to be locked, the door has no business to be open.”

I said nothing; it was not my affair.

“Did Ben tell you the door was open?”

“No,” I said, “he did not seem to understand anything I asked him.”

“He makes out he’s worse than he is,” said Maxim. “He can talk quite intelligibly if he wants to. He’s probably been in and out of the cottage dozens of times, and did not want you to know.”

“I don’t think so,” I answered; “the place looked deserted, quite untouched. There was dust everywhere, and no footmarks. It was terribly damp. I’m afraid those books will be quite spoiled, and the chairs, and that sofa. There are rats there, too; they have eaten away some of the covers.”

Maxim did not reply. He walked at a tremendous pace, and the climb up from the beach was steep. It was very different from the Happy Valley. The trees were dark here and close together, there were no azaleas brushing the path. The rain dripped heavily from the thick branches. It splashed on my collar and trickled down my neck. I shivered; it was unpleasant, like a cold finger. My legs ached, after the unaccustomed scramble over the rocks. And Jasper lagged behind, weary from his wild scamper, his tongue hanging from his mouth.

“Come on, Jasper, for God’s sake,” said Maxim. “Make him walk up, pull at the twine or something, can’t you? Beatrice was right. The dog is much too fat.”

“It’s your fault,” I said, “you walk so fast. We can’t keep up with you.”

“If you had listened to me instead of rushing wildly over those rocks we would have been home by now,” said Maxim. “Jasper knew his way back perfectly. I can’t think what you wanted to go after him for.”

“I thought he might have fallen, and I was afraid of the tide,” I said.

“Is it likely I should have left the dog had there been any question of the tide?” said Maxim. “I told you not to go on those rocks, and now you are grumbling because you are tired.”

“I’m not grumbling,” I said. “Anyone, even if they had legs of iron, would be tired walking at this pace. I thought you would come with me when I went after Jasper anyway, instead of staying behind.”

“Why should I exhaust myself careering after the damn dog?” he said.

“It was no more exhausting careering after Jasper on the rocks than it was careering after the driftwood on the beach,” I answered. “You just say that because you have not any other excuse.”

“My good child, what am I supposed to excuse myself about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said wearily; “let’s stop this.”

“Not at all, you began it. What do you mean by saying I was trying to find an excuse? Excuse for what?”

“Excuse for not having come with me over the rocks, I suppose,” I said.

“Well, and why do you think I did not want to cross to the other beach?”

“Oh, Maxim, how should I know? I’m not a thought-reader. I know you did not want to, that’s all. I could see it in your face.”

“See what in my face?”

“I’ve already told you. I could see you did not want to go. Oh, do let’s have an end to it. I’m sick to death of the subject.”

“All women say that when they’ve lost an argument. All right, I did not want to go to the other beach. Will that please you? I never go near the bloody place, or that Goddamned cottage. And if you had my memories you would not want to go there either, or talk about it, or even think about it. There. You can digest that if you like, and I hope it satisfies you.”

His face was white, and his eyes strained and wretched with that dark lost look they had had when I first met him. I put out my hand to him, I took hold of his, holding it tight.

“Please, Maxim, please,” I said.

“What’s the matter?” he said roughly.

“I don’t want you to look like that,” I said. “It hurts too much. Please, Maxim. Let’s forget all we said. A futile silly argument. I’m sorry, darling. I’m sorry. Please let everything be all right.”

“We ought to have stayed in Italy,” he said. “We ought never to have come back to Manderley. Oh, God, what a fool I was to come back.”

He brushed through the trees impatiently, striding even faster than before, and I had to run to keep pace with him, catching at my breath, tears very near the surface, dragging poor Jasper after me on the end of his string.

At last we came to the top of the path, and I saw its fellow branching left to the Happy Valley. We had climbed the path then that Jasper had wished to take at the beginning of the afternoon. I knew now why Jasper had turned to it. It led to the beach he knew best, and the cottage. It was his old routine.

We came out onto the lawns, and went across them to the house without a word. Maxim’s face was hard, with no expression. He went straight into the hall and onto the library without looking at me. Frith was in the hall.

“We want tea at once,” said Maxim, and he shut the library door.

I fought to keep back my tears. Frith must not see them. He would think we had been quarrelling, and he would go to the servants’ hall and say to them all, “Mrs. de Winter was crying in the hall just now. It looks as though things are not going very well.” I turned away, so that Frith should not see my face. He came towards me though, he began to help me off with my mackintosh.

“I’ll put your raincoat away for you in the flower room, Madam,” he said.

“Thank you, Frith,” I replied, my face still away from him.

“Not a very pleasant afternoon for a walk, I fear, Madam.”

“No,” I said. “No, it was not very nice.”

“Your handkerchief, Madam?” he said, picking up something that had fallen on the floor. “Thank you,” I said, putting it in my pocket.

I was wondering whether to go upstairs or whether to follow Maxim to the library. Frith took the coat to the flower room. I stood there, hesitating, biting my nails. Frith came back again. He looked surprised to see me still there.

“There is a good fire in the library now, Madam.”

“Thank you, Frith,” I said.

I walked slowly across the hall to the library. I opened the door and went in. Maxim was sitting in his chair, Jasper at his feet, the old dog in her basket. Maxim was not reading the paper, though it lay on the arm of the chair beside him. I went and knelt down by his side and put my face close to his.

“Don’t be angry with me anymore,” I whispered.

He took my face in his hands, and looked down at me with his tired, strained eyes. “I’m not angry with you,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve made you unhappy. It’s the same as making you angry. You’re all wounded and hurt and torn inside. I can’t bear to see you like this. I love you so much.”

“Do you?” he said. “Do you?” He held me very tight, and his eyes questioned me, dark and uncertain, the eyes of a child in pain, a child in fear.

“What is it, darling?” I said. “Why do you look like that?”

I heard the door open before he could answer, and I sank back on my heels, pretending to reach for a log to throw on the fire, while Frith came into the room followed by Robert, and the ritual of our tea began.

The performance of the day before was repeated, the placing of the table, the laying of the snow-white cloth, the putting down of cakes and crumpets, the silver kettle of hot water placed on its little flame, while Jasper, wagging his tail, his ears stretched back in anticipation, watched my face. Five minutes must have passed before we were alone again, and when I looked at Maxim I saw the color had come back into his face, the tired, lost look was gone, and he was reaching for a sandwich.

“Having all that crowd to lunch was the trouble,” he said. “Poor old Beatrice always does rub me up the wrong way. We used to scrap like dogs as children. I’m so fond of her too, bless her. Such a relief though that they don’t live too near. Which reminds me, we’ll have to go over and see Granny sometime. Pour out my tea, sweetheart, and forgive me for being a bear to you.”

It was over then. The episode was finished. We must not speak of it again. He smiled at me over his cup of tea, and then reached for the newspaper on the arm of his chair. The smile was my reward. Like a pat on the head to Jasper. Good dog then, lie down, don’t worry me anymore. I was Jasper again. I was back where I had been before. I took a piece of crumpet and divided it between the two dogs. I did not want it myself, I was not hungry. I felt very weary now, very tired in a dull, spent way. I looked at Maxim but he was reading his paper, he had folded it over to another page. My fingers were messy with the butter from the crumpet, and I felt in my pocket for a handkerchief. I drew it out, a tiny scrap of a thing, lace-edged. I stared at it, frowning, for it was not mine. I remembered then that Frith had picked it up from the stone floor of the hall. It must have fallen out of the pocket in the mackintosh. I turned it over in my hand. It was grubby; little bits of fluff from the pocket clung to it. It must have been in the mackintosh pocket for a long time. There was a monogram in the corner. A tall sloping R, with the letters de W interlaced. The R dwarfed the other letters, the tail of it ran down into the cambric, away from the laced edge. It was only a small handkerchief, quite a scrap of a thing. It had been rolled in a ball and put away in the pocket and forgotten.

I must have been the first person to put on that mackintosh since the handkerchief was used. She who had worn the coat then was tall, slim, broader than me about the shoulders, for I had found it big and overlong, and the sleeves had come below my wrist. Some of the buttons were missing. She had not bothered then to do it up. She had thrown it over her shoulders like a cape, or worn it loose, hanging open, her hands deep in the pockets.

There was a pink mark upon the handkerchief. The mark of lipstick. She had rubbed her lips with the handkerchief, and then rolled it in a ball, and left it in the pocket. I wiped my fingers with the handkerchief, and as I did so I noticed that a dull scent clung about it still. A scent I recognized, a scent I knew. I shut my eyes and tried to remember. It was something elusive, something faint and fragrant that I could not name. I had breathed it before, touched it surely, that very afternoon.

And then I knew that the vanished scent upon the handkerchief was the same as the crushed white petals of the azaleas in the Happy Valley.