Rebecca Chapter 11

The weather was wet and cold for quite a week, as it often can be in the west country in the early summer, and we did not go down to the beach again. I could see the sea from the terrace, and the lawns. It looked gray and uninviting, great rollers sweeping into the bay past the beacon on the headland. I pictured them surging into the little cove and breaking with a roar upon the rocks, then running swift and strong to the shelving beach. If I stood on the terrace and listened I could hear the murmur of the sea below me, low and sullen. A dull, persistent sound that never ceased. And the gulls flew inland too, driven by the weather. They hovered above the house in circles, wheeling and crying, flapping their spread wings. I began to understand why some people could not bear the clamor of the sea. It has a mournful harping note sometimes, and the very persistence of it, that eternal roll and thunder and hiss, plays a jagged tune upon the nerves. I was glad our rooms were in the east wing and I could lean out of my window and look down upon the rose garden. For sometimes I could not sleep, and getting softly out of bed in the quiet night I would wander to the window, and lean there, my arms upon the sill, and the air would be very peaceful, very still.

I could not hear the restless sea, and because I could not hear it my thoughts would be peaceful too. They would not carry me down that steep path through the woods to the gray cove and the deserted cottage. I did not want to think about the cottage. I remembered it too often in the day. The memory of it nagged at me whenever I saw the sea from the terrace. For I would see once more the blue spots on the china, the spun webs on the little masts of those model ships, and the rat holes on the sofa bed. I would remember the pattering of the rain on the roof. And I thought of Ben, too, with his narrow watery blue eyes, his sly idiot’s smile. These things disturbed me, I was not happy about them. I wanted to forget them but at the same time I wanted to know why they disturbed me, why they made me uneasy and unhappy. Somewhere, at the back of my mind, there was a frightened furtive seed of curiosity that grew slowly and stealthily, for all my denial of it, and I knew all the doubt and anxiety of the child who has been told, “these things are not discussed, they are forbidden.”

I could not forget the white, lost look in Maxim’s eyes when we came up the path through the woods, and I could not forget his words. “Oh, God, what a fool I was to come back.” It was all my fault, because I had gone down into the bay. I had opened up a road into the past again. And although Maxim had recovered, and was himself again, and we lived our lives together, sleeping, eating, walking, writing letters, driving to the village, working hour by hour through our day, I knew there was a barrier between us because of it.

He walked alone, on the other side, and I must not come to him. And I became nervous and fearful that some heedless word, some turn in a careless conversation should bring that expression back to his eyes again. I began to dread any mention of the sea, for the sea might lead to boats, to accidents, to drowning… Even Frank Crawley, who came to lunch one day, put me in a little fever of fear when he said something about the sailing races in Kerrith harbor, three miles away. I looked steadily at my plate, a stab of sickness in my heart at once, but Maxim went on talking quite naturally, he did not seem to mind, while I sat in a sweat of uncertainty wondering what would happen and where the conversation would lead us.

It was during cheese, Frith had left the room, and I remember getting up and going to the sideboard, and taking some more cheese, not wanting it, so as not to be at the table with them, listening; humming a little tune to myself so I could not hear. I was wrong of course, morbid, stupid; this was the hypersensitive behavior of a neurotic, not the normal happy self I knew myself to be. But I could not help it. I did not know what to do. My shyness and gaucherie became worse, too, making me stolid and dumb when people came to the house. For we were called upon, I remember, during those first weeks, by people who lived near us in the county, and the receiving of them, and the shaking hands, and the spinning out of the formal half hour became a worse ordeal than I first anticipated, because of this new fear of mine that they would talk about something that must not be discussed. The agony of those wheels on the drive, of that pealing bell, of my own first wild rush for flight to my own room. The scrambled dab of powder on my nose, the hasty comb through my hair, and then the inevitable knock on the door and the entrance of the cards on a silver salver.

“All right. I’ll be down immediately.” The clap of my heels on the stairs and across the hall, the opening of the library door or, worse still, that long, cold, lifeless drawing room, and the strange woman waiting there, or two of them perhaps, or a husband and a wife.

“How do you do? I’m sorry; Maxim is in the garden somewhere, Frith has gone to find him.”

“We felt we must come and pay our respects to the bride.”

A little laughter, a little flurry of chat, a pause, a glance round the room.

“Manderley is looking as charming as ever. Don’t you love it?”

“Oh, yes, rather…” And in my shyness and anxiety to please, those schoolgirls’ phrases would escape from me again, those words I never used except in moments like these, “Oh, ripping”; and “Oh, topping”; and “absolutely”; and “priceless”; even, I think, to one dowager who had carried a lorgnette “cheerio.” My relief at Maxim’s arrival would be tempered by the fear they might say something indiscreet, and I became dumb at once, a set smile on my lips, my hands in my lap. They would turn to Maxim then, talking of people and places I had not met or did not know, and now and again I would find their eyes upon me, doubtful, rather bewildered.

I could picture them saying to one another as they drove away, “My dear, what a dull girl. She scarcely opened her mouth,” and then the sentence I had first heard upon Beatrice’s lips, haunting me ever since, a sentence I read in every eye, on every tongue—“She’s so different from Rebecca.”

Sometimes I would glean little snatches of information to add to my secret store. A word dropped here at random, a question, a passing phrase. And, if Maxim was not with me, the hearing of them would be a furtive, rather painful pleasure, guilty knowledge learned in the dark.

I would return a call perhaps, for Maxim was punctilious in these matters and would not spare me, and if he did not come with me I must brave the formality alone, and there would be a pause in the conversation while I searched for something to say. “Will you be entertaining much at Manderley, Mrs. de Winter?” they would say, and my answer would come, “I don’t know, Maxim has not said much about it up to the present.” “No, of course not, it’s early yet. I believe the house was generally full of people in the old days.” Another pause. “People from London, you know. There used to be tremendous parties.” “Yes,” I would say. “Yes, so I have heard.” A further pause, and then the lowered voice that is always used about the dead or in a place of worship, “She was so tremendously popular, you know. Such a personality.” “Yes,” I would say. “Yes, of course.” And after a moment or so I would glance at my watch under cover of my glove, and say, “I’m afraid I ought to be going; it must be after four.”

“Won’t you stay for tea? We always have it at quarter past.”

“No—No, really, thanks most awfully. I promised Maxim…” my sentence would go trailing off into nothing, but the meaning would be understood. We would both rise to our feet, both of us knowing I was not deceived about her offer to tea nor she in my mention of a promise to Maxim. I had sometimes wondered what would happen if convention were denied, if, having got into the car and waved a hand to my hostess on the doorstep, I suddenly opened it again, and said, “I don’t think I’ll go back after all. Let’s go to your drawing room again and sit down. I’ll stay to dinner if you like, or stop the night.”

I used to wonder if convention and good county manners would brave the surprise, and whether a smile of welcome would be summoned to the frozen face, “But of course! How very delightful of you to suggest it.” I used to wish I had the courage to try. But instead the door would slam, the car would go bowling away down the smooth gravel drive, and my late hostess would wander back to her room with a sigh of relief and become herself again. It was the wife of the bishop in the neighboring cathedral town who said to me, “Will your husband revive the Manderley Fancy Dress ball, do you suppose? Such a lovely sight always; I shall never forget it.”

I had to smile as though I knew all about it and say, “We have not decided. There have been so many things to do and to discuss.”

“Yes, I suppose so. But I do hope it won’t be dropped. You must use your influence with him. There was not one last year of course. But I remember two years ago, the bishop and I went, and it was quite enchanting. Manderley so lends itself to anything like that. The hall looked wonderful. They danced there, and had the music in the gallery; it was all so in keeping. A tremendous thing to organize, but everybody appreciated it so.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I must ask Maxim about it.”

I thought of the docketed pigeonhole in the desk in the morning room, I pictured the stack upon stack of invitation cards, the long list of names, the addresses, and I could see a woman sitting there at the desk and putting a V beside the names she wanted, and reaching for the invitation cards, dipping her pen in the ink, writing upon them swift and sure in that long, slanting hand.

“There was a garden party, too, we went to one summer,” said the bishop’s wife. “Everything always so beautifully done. The flowers at their best. A glorious day, I remember. Tea was served at little tables in the rose garden; such an attractive original idea. Of course, she was so clever…”

She stopped, turning a little pink, fearing a loss of tact; but I agreed with her at once to save embarrassment, and 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 wondered if the bishop’s wife saw the flush on my face, but she went on smoothly with the conversation, and I listened to her greedily, like an eavesdropper at a shuttered window.

“You never met her then?” she asked, and when I shook my head she hesitated a moment, a little uncertain of her ground. “We never knew her well personally, you know: the bishop was only inducted here four years ago, but of course she received us when we went to the ball and the garden party. We dined there, too, one winter. Yes, she was a very lovely creature. So full of life.”

“She seems to have been so good at everything too,” I said, my voice just careless enough to show I did not mind, while I played with the fringe of my glove. “It’s not often you get someone who is clever and beautiful and fond of sport.”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” said the bishop’s wife. “She was certainly very gifted. I can see her now, standing at the foot of the stairs on the night of the ball, shaking hands with everybody, that cloud of dark hair against the very white skin, and her costume suited her so. Yes, she was very beautiful.”

“She ran the house herself, too,” I said, smiling, as if to say, “I am quite at my ease, I often discuss her.” “It must have taken a lot of time and thought. I’m afraid I leave it to the housekeeper.”

“Oh, well, we can’t all do everything. And you are very young, aren’t you? No doubt in time, when you have settled down. Besides, you have your own hobby, haven’t you? Someone told me you were fond of sketching.”

“Oh, that,” I said. “I don’t know that I can count it for much.”

“It’s a nice little talent to have,” said the bishop’s wife; “it’s not everyone that can sketch. You must not drop it. Manderley must be full of pretty spots to sketch.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I suppose so,” depressed by her words, having a sudden vision of myself wandering across the lawns with a camp-stool and a box of pencils under one arm, and my “little talent” as she described it, under the other. It sounded like a pet disease.

“Do you play any games? Do you ride, or shoot?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “I don’t do anything like that. I’m fond of walking,” I added, as a wretched anticlimax.

“The best exercise in the world,” she said briskly; “the bishop and I walk a lot.” I wondered if he went round and round the cathedral, in his shovel hat and his gaiters, with her on his arm. She began to talk about a walking holiday they had taken once, years ago, in the Pennines, how they had done an average of twenty miles a day, and I nodded my head, smiling politely, wondering about the Pennines, thinking they were something like the Andes, remembering, afterwards, they were that chain of hills marked with a furry line in the middle of a pink England on my school atlas. And he all the time in his hat and gaiters.

The inevitable pause, the glance at the watch unnecessary, as her drawing room clock chimed four in shrill tones, and my rise from the chair. “I’m so glad I found you in. I hope you will come and see us.”

“We should love to. The bishop is always so busy, alas. Please remember me to your husband, and be sure to ask him to revive the ball.”

“Yes, indeed I will.” Lying, pretending I knew all about it; and in the car going home I sat in my corner, biting my thumb nail, seeing the great hall at Manderley thronged with people in fancy dress, the chatter, hum, and laughter of the moving crowd, the musicians in the gallery, supper in the drawing room probably, long buffet tables against the wall, and I could see Maxim standing at the front of the stairs, laughing, shaking hands, turning to someone who stood by his side, tall and slim, with dark hair, said the bishop’s wife, dark hair against a white face, someone whose quick eyes saw to the comfort of her guests, who gave an order over her shoulder to a servant, someone who was never awkward, never without grace, who when she danced left a stab of perfume in the air like a white azalea.

“Will you be entertaining much at Manderley, Mrs. de Winter?” I heard the voice again, suggestive, rather inquisitive, in the voice of that woman I had called upon who lived the other side of Kerrith, and I saw her eye too, dubious, considering, taking in my clothes from top to toe, wondering, with that swift downward glance given to all brides, if I was going to have a baby.

I did not want to see her again. I did not want to see any of them again. They only came to call at Manderley because they were curious and prying. They liked to criticize my looks, my manners, my figure, they liked to watch how Maxim and I behaved to each other, whether we seemed fond of one another, so that they could go back afterwards and discuss us, saying, “Very different from the old days.” They came because they wanted to compare me to Rebecca… I would not return these calls anymore, I decided. I should tell Maxim so. I did not mind if they thought me rude and ungracious. It would give them more to criticize, more to discuss. They could say I was ill-bred. “I’m not surprised,” they would say; “after all, who was she?” And then a laugh and a shrug of the shoulder. “My dear, don’t you know? He picked her up in Monte Carlo or somewhere; she hadn’t a penny. She was a companion to some old woman.” More laughter, more lifting of the eyebrows. “Nonsense, not really? How extraordinary men are. Maxim, of all people, who was so fastidious. How could he, after Rebecca?”

I did not mind. I did not care. They could say what they liked. As the car turned in at the lodge gates I leaned forward in my seat to smile at the woman who lived there. She was bending down, picking flowers in the front garden. She straightened up as she heard the car, but she did not see me smile. I waved, and she stared at me blankly. I don’t think she knew who I was. I leaned back in my seat again. The car went on down the drive.

When we turned at one of the narrow bends I saw a man walking along the drive a little distance ahead. It was the agent, Frank Crawley. He stopped when he heard the car, and the chauffeur slowed down. Frank Crawley took off his hat and smiled when he saw me in the car. He seemed glad to see me. I smiled back at him. It was nice of him to be glad to see me. I liked Frank Crawley. I did not find him dull or uninteresting as Beatrice had done. Perhaps it was because I was dull myself. We were both dull. We neither of us had a word to say for ourselves. Like to like.

I tapped on the glass and told the chauffeur to stop.

“I think I’ll get out and walk with Mr. Crawley,” I said.

He opened the door for me. “Been paying calls, Mrs. de Winter?” he said.

“Yes, Frank,” I said. I called him Frank because Maxim did, but he would always call me Mrs. de Winter. He was that sort of person. Even if we had been thrown on a desert island together and lived there in intimacy for the rest of our lives, I should have been Mrs. de Winter.

“I’ve been calling on the bishop,” I said, “and I found the bishop out, but the bishop’s lady was at home. She and the bishop are very fond of walking. Sometimes they do twenty miles a day, in the Pennines.”

“I don’t know that part of the world,” said Frank Crawley; “they say the country round is very fine. An uncle of mine used to live there.”

It was the sort of remark Frank Crawley always made. Safe, conventional, very correct.

“The bishop’s wife wants to know when we are going to give a Fancy Dress ball at Manderley,” I said, watching him out of the tail of my eye. “She came to the last one, she said, and enjoyed it very much. I did not know you have Fancy Dress dances here, Frank.”

He hesitated a moment before replying. He looked a little troubled. “Oh, yes,” he said after a moment, “the Manderley ball was generally an annual affair. Everyone in the county came. A lot of people from London too. Quite a big show.”

“It must have taken a lot of organization,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“I suppose,” I said carelessly, “Rebecca did most of it?”

I looked straight ahead of me along the drive, but I could see his face was turned towards me, as though he wished to read my expression.

“We all of us worked pretty hard,” he said quietly.

There was a funny reserve in his manner as he said this, a certain shyness that reminded me of my own. I wondered suddenly if he had been in love with Rebecca. His voice was the sort of voice I should have used in his circumstances, had this been so. The idea opened up a new field of possibilities. Frank Crawley being so shy, so dull, he would never have told anyone, least of all Rebecca.

“I’m afraid I should not be much use if we have a dance,” I said, “I’m no earthly use at organizing anything.”

“There would be no need for you to do anything,” he said, “you would just be your self and look decorative.”

“That’s very polite of you, Frank,” I said, “but I’m afraid I should not be able to do that very well either.”

“I think you would do it excellently,” he said. Dear Frank Crawley, how tactful he was and considerate. I almost believed him. But he did not deceive me really.

“Will you ask Maxim about the ball?” I said.

“Why don’t you ask him?” he answered.

“No,” I said. “No, I don’t like to.”

We were silent then. We went on walking along the drive. Now that I had broken down my reluctance at saying Rebecca’s name, first with the bishop’s wife and now with Frank Crawley, the urge to continue was strong within me. It gave me a curious satisfaction, it acted upon me like a stimulant. I knew that in a moment or two I should have to say it again. “I was down on one of the beaches the other day,” I said, “the one with the breakwater. Jasper was being infuriating, he kept barking at the poor man with the idiot’s eyes.”

“You must mean Ben,” said Frank, his voice quite easy now; “he always potters about on the shore. He’s quite a nice fellow, you need never be frightened of him. He would not hurt a fly.”

“Oh, I wasn’t frightened,” I said. I waited a moment, humming a tune to give me confidence. “I’m afraid that cottage place is going to rack and ruin,” I said lightly. “I had to go in, to find a piece of string or something to tie up Jasper. The china is moldy and the books are being ruined. Why isn’t something done about it? It seems such a pity.”

I knew he would not answer at once. He bent down to tie up his shoe lace.

I pretended to examine a leaf on one of the shrubs. “I think if Maxim wanted anything done he would tell me,” he said, still fumbling with his shoe.

“Are they all Rebecca’s things?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I threw the leaf away and picked another, turning it over in my hands.

“What did she use the cottage for?” I asked; “it looked quite furnished. I thought from the outside it was just a boathouse.”

“It was a boathouse originally,” he said, his voice constrained again, difficult, the voice of someone who is uncomfortable about his subject. “Then—then she converted it like that, had furniture put in, and china.”

I thought it funny the way he called her “she.” He did not say Rebecca or Mrs. de Winter, as I expected him to do.

“Did she use it a great deal?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, she did. Moonlight picnics, and—and one thing and another.”

We were walking again side by side, I still humming my little tune. “How jolly,” I said brightly. “Moonlight picnics must be great fun. Did you ever go to them?”

“Once or twice,” he said. I pretended not to notice his manner, how quiet it had become, how reluctant to speak about these things.

“Why is the buoy there in the little harbor place?” I said.

“The boat used to be moored there,” he said.

“What boat?” I asked.

“Her boat,” he said.

A strange sort of excitement was upon me. I had to go on with my questions. He did not want to talk about it. I knew that, but although I was sorry for him and shocked at my own self I had to continue, I could not be silent.

“What happened to it?” I said. “Was that the boat she was sailing when she was drowned?”

“Yes,” he said quietly, “it capsized and sank. She was washed overboard.”

“What sort of size boat was it?” I asked.

“About three tons. It had a little cabin.”

“What made it capsize?” I said.

“It can be very squally in the bay,” he said.

I thought of that green sea, foam-flecked, that ran down channel beyond the headland. Did the wind come suddenly, I wondered, in a funnel from the beacon on the hill, and did the little boat heel to it, shivering, the white sail flat against a breaking sea?

“Could not someone have got out to her?” I said.

“Nobody saw the accident, nobody knew she had gone,” he said.

I was very careful not to look at him. He might have seen the surprise in my face. I had always thought it happened in a sailing race, that other boats were there, the boats from Kerrith, and that people were watching from the cliffs. I did not know she had been alone, quite alone, out there in the bay.

“They must have known up at the house!” I said.

“No,” he said. “She often went out alone like that. She would come back any time of the night, and sleep at the cottage on the beach.”

“Was not she nervous?”

“Nervous?” he said; “no, she was not nervous of anything.”

“Did—did Maxim mind her going off alone like that?”

He waited a minute, and then “I don’t know,” he said shortly. I had the impression he was being loyal to someone. Either to Maxim or to Rebecca, or perhaps even to himself. He was odd. I did not know what to make of it.

“She must have been drowned, then, trying to swim to shore, after the boat sank?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

I knew how the little boat would quiver and plunge, the water gushing into the steering well, and how the sails would press her down, suddenly, horribly, in that gust of wind. It must have been very dark out there in the bay. The shore must have seemed very far away to anyone swimming there, in the water.

“How long afterwards was it that they found her?” I said.

“About two months,” he said.

Two months. I thought drowned people were found after two days. I thought they would be washed up close to the shore when the tide came.

“Where did they find her?” I asked.

“Near Edgecoombe, about forty miles up channel,” he said.

I had spent a holiday at Edgecoombe once, when I was seven. It was a big place, with a pier, and donkeys. I remembered riding a donkey along the sands.

“How did they know it was her—after two months, how could they tell?” I said. I wondered why he paused before each sentence, as though he weighed his words. Had he cared for her, then, had he minded so much?

“Maxim went up to Edgecoombe to identify her,” he said.

Suddenly I did not want to ask him any more. I felt sick at myself, sick and disgusted. I was like a curious sightseer standing on the fringe of a crowd after someone had been knocked down. I was like a poor person in a tenement building, when someone had died, asking if I might see the body. I hated myself. My questions had been degrading, shameful. Frank Crawley must despise me.

“It was a terrible time for all of you,” I said rapidly. “I don’t suppose you like being reminded about it. I just wondered if there was anything one could do to the cottage, that’s all. It seems such a pity, all the furniture being spoiled by the damp.”

He did not say anything. I felt hot and uncomfortable. He must have sensed that it was not concern for the empty cottage that had prompted me to all these questions, and now he was silent because he was shocked at me. Ours had been a comfortable, steady sort of friendship. I had felt him an ally. Perhaps I had destroyed all this, and he would never feel the same about me again.

“What a long drive this is,” I said; “it always reminds me of the path in the forest in a Grimm’s fairy tale, where the prince gets lost, you know. It’s always longer than one expects, and the trees are so dark, and close.”

“Yes, it is rather exceptional,” he said.

I could tell by his manner he was still on his guard, as though waiting for a further question from me. There was an awkwardness between us that could not be ignored. Something had to be done about it, even if it covered me with shame.

“Frank,” I said desperately, “I know what you are thinking. You can’t understand why I asked all those questions just now. You think I’m morbid, and curious, in a rather beastly way. It’s not that, I promise you. It’s only that—that sometimes I feel myself at such a disadvantage. It’s all very strange to me, living here at Manderley. Not the sort of life I’ve been brought up to. When I go returning these calls, as I did this afternoon, I know people are looking me up and down, wondering what sort of success I’m going to make of it. I can imagine them saying, ‘What on earth does Maxim see in her?’ And then, Frank, I begin to wonder myself, and I begin to doubt, and I have a fearful haunting feeling that I should never have married Maxim, that we are not going to be happy. You see, I know that all the time, whenever I meet anyone new, they are all thinking the same thing—How different she is to Rebecca.”

I stopped breathless, already a little ashamed of my outburst, feeling that now at any rate I had burned my boats for all time. He turned to me looking very concerned and troubled.

“Mrs. de Winter, please don’t think that,” he said. “For my part I can’t tell you how delighted I am that you have married Maxim. It will make all the difference to his life. I am positive that you will make a great success of it. From my point of view it’s—it’s very refreshing and charming to find someone like yourself who is not entirely—er—” he blushed, searching for a word “not entirely au fait, shall we say, with ways at Manderley. And if people around here give you the impression that they are criticizing you, it’s—well—it’s most damnably offensive of them, that’s all. I’ve never heard a word of criticism, and if I did I should take great care that it was never uttered again.”

“That’s very sweet of you, Frank,” I said, “and what you say helps enormously. I dare say I’ve been very stupid. I’m not good at meeting people, I’ve never had to do it, and all the time I keep remembering how—how it must have been at Manderley before, when there was someone there who was born and bred to it, did it all naturally and without effort. And I realize, every day, that things I lack, confidence, grace, beauty, intelligence, wit—Oh, all the qualities that mean most in a woman—she possessed. It doesn’t help, Frank, it doesn’t help.”

He said nothing. He went on looking anxious, and distressed. He pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose. “You must not say that,” he said.

“Why not? It’s true,” I said.

“You have qualities that are just as important, far more so, in fact. It’s perhaps cheek of me to say so, I don’t know you very well. I’m a bachelor, I don’t know very much about women, I lead a quiet sort of life down here at Manderley as you know, but I should say that kindness, and sincerity, and—if I may say so—modesty are worth far more to a man, to a husband, than all the wit and beauty in the world.”

He looked very agitated, and blew his nose again. I saw that I had upset him far more than I had upset myself, and the realization of this calmed me and gave me a feeling of superiority. I wondered why he was making such a fuss. After all, I had not said very much. I had only confessed my sense of insecurity, following as I did upon Rebecca. And she must have had these qualities that he presented to me as mine. She must have been kind and sincere, with all her friends, her boundless popularity. I was not sure what he meant by modesty. It was a word I had never understood. I always imagined it had something to do with minding meeting people in a passage on the way to the bathroom… Poor Frank. And Beatrice had called him a dull man, with never a word to say for himself.

“Well,” I said, rather embarrassed, “well, I don’t know about all that. I don’t think I’m very kind, or particularly sincere, and as for being modest, I don’t think I’ve ever had much of a chance to be anything else. It was not very modest, of course, being married hurriedly like that, down in Monte Carlo, and being alone there in that hotel, beforehand, but perhaps you don’t count that?”

“My dear Mrs. de Winter, you don’t think I imagine for one moment that your meeting down there was not entirely aboveboard?” he said in a low voice.

“No, of course not,” I said gravely. Dear Frank. I think I had shocked him. What a Frankish expression, too, “aboveboard.” It made one think immediately of the sort of things that would happen below board.

“I’m sure,” he began, and hesitated, his expression still troubled, “I’m sure that Maxim would be very worried, very distressed, if he knew how you felt. I don’t think he can have any idea of it.”

“You won’t tell him?” I said hastily.

“No, naturally not, what do you take me for? But you see, Mrs. de Winter, I know Maxim pretty well, and I’ve seen him through many… moods. If he thought you were worrying about—well—about the past, it would distress him more than anything on earth. I can promise you that. He’s looking very well, very fit, but Mrs. Lacy was quite right the other day when she said he had been on the verge of a breakdown last year, though it was tactless of her to say so in front of him. That’s why you are so good for him. You are fresh and young and—and sensible, you have nothing to do with all that time that has gone. Forget it, Mrs. de Winter, forget it, as he has done, thank heaven, and the rest of us. We none of us want to bring back the past. Maxim least of all. And it’s up to you, you know, to lead us away from it. Not to take us back there again.”

He was right, of course he was right. Dear good Frank, my friend, my ally. I had been selfish and hypersensitive, a martyr to my own inferiority complex. “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 wooded drive and into the light again. The rhododendrons were upon us. Their hour would soon be over. Already they looked a little overblown, a little faded. Next month the petals would fall one by one from the great faces, and the gardeners would come and sweep them away. Theirs was a brief beauty. Not lasting very long.

“Frank,” I said, “before we put an end to this conversation, forever let’s say, will you promise to answer me one thing, quite truthfully?”

He paused, looking at me a little suspiciously. “That’s not quite fair,” he said, “you might ask me something that I should not be able to answer, something quite impossible.”

“No,” I said, “it’s not that sort of question. It’s not intimate or personal, or anything like that.”

“Very well, I’ll do my best,” he said.

We came round the sweep of the drive and Manderley was before us, serene and peaceful in the hollow of the lawns, surprising me as it always did, with its perfect symmetry and grace, its great simplicity.

The sunlight flickered on the mullioned windows, and there was a soft rusted glow about the stone walls where the lichen clung. A thin column of smoke curled from the library chimney. I bit my thumb nail, watching Frank out of the tail of my eye.

“Tell me,” I said, my voice casual, not caring a bit, “tell me, was Rebecca very beautiful?”

Frank waited a moment. I could not see his face. He was looking away from me towards the house. “Yes,” he said slowly, “yes, I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life.”

We went up the steps then to the hall, and I rang the bell for tea.