Rebecca Chapter 14

I found myself in the corridor where I had stood that first morning. I had not been there since, nor had I wished to go. The sun streamed in from the window in the alcove and made gold patterns on the dark paneling.

There was no sound at all. I was aware of the same musty, unused smell that had been before. I was uncertain which way to go. The plan of the rooms was not familiar to me. I remembered then that last time Mrs. Danvers had come out of a door here, just behind me, and it seemed to me that the position of the room would make it the one I wanted, whose windows looked out upon the lawns to the sea. I turned the handle of the door and went inside. It was dark of course, because of the shutters. I felt for the electric light switch on the wall and turned it on. I was standing in a little anteroom, a dressing-room I judged, with big wardrobes round the wall, and at the end of this room was another door, open, leading to a larger room. I went through to this room, and turned on the light. My first impression was one of shock because the room was fully furnished, as though in use.

I had expected to see chairs and tables swathed in dust-sheets, and dust-sheets too over the great double bed against the wall. Nothing was covered up. There were brushes and combs on the dressing table, scent, and powder. The bed was made up, I saw the gleam of white linen on the pillowcase, and the tip of a blanket beneath the quilted coverlet. There were flowers on the dressing table and on the table beside the bed. Flowers too on the carved mantelpiece. A satin dressing gown lay on a chair, and a pair of bedroom slippers beneath. For one desperate moment I thought that something had happened to my brain, that I was seeing back into Time, and looking upon the room as it used to be, before she died… In a minute Rebecca herself would come back into the room, sit down before the looking glass at her dressing table, humming a tune, reach for her comb and run it through her hair. If she sat there I should see her reflection in the glass and she would see me too, standing like this by the door. Nothing happened. I went on standing there, waiting for something to happen. It was the clock ticking on the wall that brought me to reality again. The hands stood at twenty-five past four. My watch said the same. There was something sane and comforting about the ticking of the clock. It reminded me of the present, and that tea would soon be ready for me on the lawn. I walked slowly into the middle of the room. No, it was not used. It was not lived in anymore. Even the flowers could not destroy the musty smell. The curtains were drawn and the shutters were closed. Rebecca would never come back to the room again. Even if Mrs. Danvers did put the flowers on the mantelpiece and the sheets upon the bed, they would not bring her back. She was dead. She had been dead now for a year. She lay buried in the crypt of the church with all the other dead de Winters.

I could hear the sound of the sea very plainly. I went to the window and swung back the shutter. Yes, I was standing at the same window where Favell and Mrs. Danvers had stood, half an hour ago. The long shaft of daylight made the electric light look false and yellow. I opened the shutter a little more. The daylight cast a white beam upon the bed. It shone upon the nightdress case, lying on the pillow. It shone on the glass top of the dressing table, on the brushes, and on the scent bottles.

The daylight gave an even greater air of reality to the room. When the shutter was closed and it had been lit by electricity the room had more the appearance of a setting on the stage. The scene set between performances. The curtain having fallen for the night, the evening over, and the first act set for tomorrow’s matinĂ©e. But the daylight made the room vivid and alive. I forgot the musty smell and the drawn curtains of the other windows. I was a guest again. An uninvited guest. I had strolled into my hostess’s bedroom by mistake. Those were her brushes on the dressing table, that was her dressing gown and slippers laid out upon the chair.

I realized for the first time since I had come into the room that my legs were trembling, weak as straw. I sat down on the stool by the dressing table. My heart no longer beat in a strange excited way. It felt as heavy as lead. I looked about me in the room with a sort of dumb stupidity. Yes, it was a beautiful room. Mrs. Danvers had not exaggerated that first evening. It was the most beautiful room in the house. That exquisite mantelpiece, the ceiling, the carved bedstead, and the curtain hangings, even the clock on the wall and the candlesticks upon the dressing table beside me, all were things I would have loved and almost worshipped had they been mine. They were not mine though. They belonged to somebody else. I put out my hand and touched the brushes. One was more worn than its fellow. I understood it well. There was always one brush that had the greater use. Often you forgot to use the other, and when they were taken to be washed there was one that was still quite clean and untouched. How white and thin my face looked in the glass, my hair hanging lank and straight. Did I always look like this? Surely I had more color as a rule? The reflection stared back at me, sallow and plain.

I got up from the stool and went and touched the dressing gown on the chair. I picked up the slippers and held them in my hand. I was aware of a growing sense of horror, of horror turning to despair. I touched the quilt on the bed, traced with my fingers the monogram on the nightdress case, R de W, interwoven and interlaced. The letters were corded and strong against the golden satin material. The nightdress was inside the case, thin as gossamer, apricot in color. I touched it, drew it out from the case, put it against my face. It was cold, quite cold. But there was a dim mustiness about it still where the scent had been. The scent of the white azaleas. I folded it, and put it back into the case, and as I did so I noticed with a sick dull aching in my heart that there were creases in the night-dress, the texture was ruffled, it had not been touched or laundered since it was last worn.

On a sudden impulse I moved away from the bed and went back to the little anteroom where I had seen the wardrobes. I opened one of them. It was as I thought. The wardrobe was full of clothes. There were evening dresses here, I caught the shimmer of silver over the top of the white bags that enfolded them. There was a piece of gold brocade. There, next to it, was velvet, wine-colored and soft. There was a train of white satin, dripping on the floor of the wardrobe. Peeping out from a piece of tissue paper on a shelf above was an ostrich feather fan.

The wardrobe smelt stuffy, queer. The azalea scent, so fragrant and delicate in the air, had turned stale inside the wardrobe, tarnishing the silver dresses and the brocade, and the breath of it wafted towards me now from the open doors, faded and old. I shut the doors. I went back into the bedroom once again. The gleam of light from the shutter still shone white and clear on the golden coverlet of the bed, picking out clearly and distinctly the tall sloping R of the monogram.

Then I heard a step behind me and turning round I saw Mrs. Danvers. I shall never forget the expression on her face. Triumphant, gloating, excited in a strange unhealthy way. I felt very frightened.

“Is anything the matter, Madam?” she said.

I tried to smile at her, and could not. I tried to speak.

“Are you feeling unwell?” she said, coming nearer to me, speaking very softly. I backed away from her. I believe if she had come any closer to me I should have fainted. I felt her breath on my face.

“I’m all right, Mrs. Danvers,” I said, after a moment, “I did not expect to see you. The fact is, I was looking up at the windows from the lawn. I noticed one of the shutters was not quite closed. I came up to see if I could fasten it.”

“I will fasten it,” she said, and she went silently across the room and clamped back the shutter. The daylight had gone. The room looked unreal again in the false yellow light. Unreal and ghastly.

Mrs. Danvers came back and stood beside me. She smiled, and her manner, instead of being still and unbending as it usually was, became startlingly familiar, fawning even.

“Why did you tell me the shutter was open?” she asked. “I closed it before I left the room. You opened it yourself, didn’t you, now? You wanted to see the room. Why have you never asked me to show it to you before? I was ready to show it to you every day. You had only to ask me.”

I wanted to run away, but I could not move. I went on watching her eyes.

“Now you are here, let me show you everything,” she said, her voice ingratiating and sweet as honey, horrible, false. “I know you want to see it all, you’ve wanted to for a long time, and you were too shy to ask. It’s a lovely room, isn’t it? The loveliest room you have ever seen.”

She took hold of my arm, and walked me towards the bed. I could not resist her, I was like a dumb thing. The touch of her hand made me shudder. And her voice was low and intimate, a voice I hated and feared.

“That was her bed. It’s a beautiful bed, isn’t it? I keep the golden coverlet on it always, it was her favorite. Here is her nightdress inside the case. You’ve been touching it, haven’t you? This was the nightdress she was wearing for the last time, before she died. Would you like to touch it again?” She took the nightdress from the case and held it before me. “Feel it, hold it,” she said, “how soft and light it is, isn’t it? I haven’t washed it since she wore it for the last time. I put it out like this, and the dressing gown and slippers, just as I put them out for her the night she never came back, the night she was drowned.” She folded up the nightgown and put it back in the case. “I did everything for her, you know,” she said, taking my arm again, leading me to the dressing gown and slippers. “We tried maid after maid but not one of them suited. ‘You maid me better than anyone, Danny,’ she used to say, ‘I won’t have anyone but you.’ Look, this is her dressing gown. She was much taller than you, you can see by the length. Put it up against you. It comes down to your ankles. She had a beautiful figure. These are her slippers. ‘Throw me my slips, Danny,’ she used to say. She had little feet for her height. Put your hands inside the slippers. They are quite small and narrow, aren’t they?”

She forced the slippers over my hands, smiling all the while, watching my eyes. “You never would have thought she was so tall, would you?” she said, “these slippers would fit a tiny foot. She was so slim too. You would forget her height, until she stood beside you. She was every bit as tall as me. But lying there in bed she looked quite a slip of a thing, with her mass of dark hair, standing out from her face like a halo.”

She put the slippers back on the floor, and laid the dressing gown on the chair. “You’ve seen her brushes, haven’t you?” she said, taking me to the dressing table; “there they are, just as she used them, unwashed and untouched. I used to brush her hair for her every evening. ‘Come on, Danny, hair-drill,’ she would say, and I’d stand behind her by the stool here, and brush away for twenty minutes at a time. She only wore it short the last few years, you know. It came down below the waist, when she was first married. Mr. de Winter used to brush it for her then. I’ve come into this room time and time again and seen him, in his shirt sleeves, with the two brushes in his hand. ‘Harder, Max, harder,’ she would say, laughing up at him, and he would do as she told him. They would be dressing for dinner, you see, and the house filled with guests. ‘Here, I shall be late,’ he would say, throwing the brushes to me, and laughing back at her. He was always laughing and gay then.” She paused, her hand still resting on my arm.

“Everyone was angry with her when she cut her hair,” she said, “but she did not care. ‘It’s nothing to do with anyone but myself,’ she would say. And of course short hair was much easier for riding and sailing. She was painted on horseback, you know. A famous artist did it. The picture hung in the Academy. Did you ever see it?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “No.”

“I understood it was the picture of the year,” she went on, “but Mr. de Winter did not care for it, and would not have it at Manderley. I don’t think he considered it did her justice. You would like to see her clothes, wouldn’t you?” She did not wait for my answer. She led me to the little anteroom and opened the wardrobes, one by one.

“I keep her furs in here,” she said, “the moths have not got to them yet, and I doubt if they ever will. I’m too careful. Feel that sable wrap. That was a Christmas present from Mr. de Winter. She told me the cost once, but I’ve forgotten it now. This chinchilla she wore in the evenings mostly. Round her shoulders, very often, when the evenings were cold. This wardrobe here is full of her evening clothes. You opened it, didn’t you? The latch is not quite closed. I believe Mr. de Winter liked her to wear silver mostly. But of course she could wear anything, stand any color. She looked beautiful in this velvet. Put it against your face. It’s soft, isn’t it? You can feel it, can’t you? The scent is still fresh, isn’t it? You could almost imagine she had only just taken it off. I would always know when she had been before me in a room. There would be a little whiff of her scent in the room. These are her underclothes, in this drawer. This pink set here she had never worn. She was wearing slacks of course and a shirt when she died. They were torn from her body in the water though. There was nothing on the body when it was found, all those weeks afterwards.”

Her fingers tightened on my arm. She bent down to me, her skull’s face close, her dark eyes searching mine. “The rocks had battered her to bits, you know,” she whispered, “her beautiful face unrecognizable, and both arms gone. Mr. de Winter identified her. He went up to Edgecoombe to do it. He went quite alone. He was very ill at the time but he would go. No one could stop him. Not even Mr. Crawley.”

She paused, her eyes never leaving my face. “I shall always blame myself for the accident,” she said, “it was my fault for being out that evening. I had gone into Kerrith for the afternoon and stayed there late, as Mrs. de Winter was up in London and not expected back until much later. That’s why I did not hurry back. When I came in, about half past nine, I heard she had returned just before seven, had her dinner, and then went out again. Down to the beach of course. I felt worried then. It was blowing from the southwest. She would never have gone if I’d been in. She always listened to me. “I wouldn’t go out this evening, it’s not fit,” I should have said, and she would have answered me “All right, Danny, you old fusspot.” And we would have sat up here talking no doubt, she telling me all she had done in London, like she always did.”

My arm was bruised and numb from the pressure of her fingers. I could see how tightly the skin was stretched across her face, showing the cheekbones. There were little patches of yellow beneath her ears.

“Mr. de Winter had been dining with Mr. Crawley down at his house,” she went on. “I don’t know what time he got back, I dare say it was after eleven. But it began to blow quite hard just before midnight, and she had not come back. I went downstairs, but there were no lights under the library door. I came upstairs again and knocked on the dressing-room door. Mr. de Winter answered at once, ‘Who is it, what do you want?’ he said. I told him I was worried about Mrs. de Winter not being back. He waited a moment, and then he came and opened the door in his dressing gown. ‘She’s spending the night down at the cottage I expect,’ he said. ‘I should go to bed if I were you. She won’t come back here to sleep if it goes on like this.’ He looked tired, and I did not like to disturb him. After all, she spent many nights at the cottage, and had sailed in every sort of weather. She might not even have gone for a sail, but just wanted the night at the cottage as a change after London. I said good night to Mr. de Winter and went back to my room. I did not sleep though. I kept wondering what she was doing.”

She paused again. I did not want to hear any more. I wanted to get away from her, away from the room.

“I sat on my bed until half past five,” she said, “then I couldn’t wait there any longer. I got up and put on my coat and went down through the woods to the beach. It was getting light, but there was still a misty sort of rain falling, although the wind had dropped. When I got to the beach I saw the buoy there in the water and the dinghy, but the boat had gone…” It seemed to me that I could see the cove in the gray morning light, feel the thin drizzle on my face, and peering through the mist could make out, shadowy and indistinct, the low dark outline of the buoy.

Mrs. Danvers loosened the pressure on my arm. Her hand fell back again to her side. Her voice lost all expression, became the hard mechanical voice of every day.

“One of the life-buoys was washed up at Kerrith in the afternoon,” she said, “and another was found the next day by some crabbers on the rocks below the headland. Bits and pieces of rigging too would come in with the tide.” She turned away from me, and closed the chest of drawers. She straightened one of the pictures on the wall. She picked up a piece of fluff from the carpet. I stood watching her, not knowing what to do.

“You know now,” she said, “why Mr. de Winter does not use these rooms anymore. Listen to the sea.”

Even with the windows closed and the shutters fastened I could hear it; a low sullen murmur as the waves broke on the white shingle in the cove. The tide would be coming in fast now and running up the beach nearly to the stone cottage.

“He has not used these rooms since the night she was drowned,” she said. “He had his things moved out from the dressing-room. We made up one of the rooms at the end of the corridor. I don’t think he slept much even there. He used to sit in the armchair. There would be cigarette ash all round it in the morning. And in the daytime Frith would hear him in the library pacing up and down. Up and down, up and down.”

I too could see the ash on the floor beside the chair. I too could hear his footsteps; one, two, one, two, backwards and forwards across the library… Mrs. Danvers closed the door softly between the bedroom and the anteroom where we were standing, and put out the light. I could not see the bed anymore, nor the nightdress case upon the pillow, nor the dressing table, nor the slippers by the chair. She crossed the anteroom and put her hand on the knob of the door and stood waiting for me to follow her.

“I come to the rooms and dust them myself every day,” she said. “If you want to come again you have only to tell me. Ring me on the house telephone. I shall understand. I don’t allow the maids up here. No one ever comes but me.”

Her manner was fawning again, intimate and unpleasant. The smile on her face was a false, unnatural thing. “Sometimes when Mr. de Winter is away, and you feel lonely, you might like to come up to these rooms and sit here. You have only to tell me. They are such beautiful rooms. You would not think she had gone now for so long, would you, not by the way the rooms are kept? You would think she had just gone out for a little while and would be back in the evening.”

I forced a smile. I could not speak. My throat felt dry and tight.

“It’s not only this room,” she said. “It’s in many rooms in the house. In the morning room, in the hall, even in the little flower room. I feel her everywhere. You do too, don’t you?”

She stared at me curiously. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor here, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick, light footstep. I could not mistake it anywhere. And in the minstrels’ gallery above the hall. I’ve seen her leaning there, in the evenings in the old days, looking down at the hall below and calling to the dogs. I can fancy her there now from time to time. It’s almost as though I catch the sound of her dress sweeping the stairs as she comes down to dinner.” She paused. She went on looking at me, watching my eyes. “Do you think she can see us, talking to one another now?” she said slowly. “Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?”

I swallowed. I dug my nails into my hands.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.” My voice sounded high-pitched and unnatural. Not my voice at all.

“Sometimes I wonder,” she whispered. “Sometimes I wonder if she comes back here to Manderley and watches you and Mr. de Winter together.”

We stood there by the door, staring at one another. I could not take my eyes away from hers. How dark and somber they were in the white skull’s face of hers, how malevolent, how full of hatred. Then she opened the door into the corridor. “Robert is back now,” she said. “He came back a quarter of an hour ago. He has orders to take your tea out under the chestnut tree.”

She stepped aside for me to pass. I stumbled out onto the corridor, not looking where I was going. I did not speak to her, I went down the stairs blindly, and turned the corner and pushed through the door that led to my own rooms in the east wing. I shut the door of my room and turned the key, and put the key in my pocket.

Then I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes. I felt deadly sick.