Rebecca Chapter 17

Clarice was waiting for me in my bedroom. She looked pale and scared. As soon as she saw me she burst into tears. I did not say anything. I began tearing at the hooks of my dress, ripping the stuff. I could not manage them properly, and Clarice came to help me, still crying noisily.

“It’s all right, Clarice, it’s not your fault,” I said, and she shook her head, the tears still running down her cheeks.

“Your lovely dress, Madam,” she said, “your lovely white dress.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Can’t you find the hook? There it is, at the back. And another one somewhere, just below.”

She fumbled with the hooks, her hands trembling, making worse trouble with it than I did myself, and all the time catching at her breath.

“What will you wear instead, Madam?” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t know.” She had managed to unfasten the hooks, and I struggled out of the dress. “I think I’d rather like to be alone, Clarice,” I said, “would you be a dear and leave me? Don’t worry, I shall manage all right. Forget what’s happened. I want you to enjoy the party.”

“Can’t I press out a dress for you, Madam?” she said, looking up at me with swollen streaming eyes. “It won’t take me a moment.”

“No,” I said, “don’t bother, I’d rather you went, and Clarice…”

“Yes, Madam?”

“Don’t—don’t say anything about what’s just happened.”

“No, Madam.” She burst into another torrent of weeping.

“Don’t let the others see you like that,” I said. “Go to your bedroom and do something to your face. There’s nothing to cry about, nothing at all.” Somebody knocked on the door. Clarice threw me a quick frightened glance.

“Who is it?” I said. The door opened and Beatrice came into the room. She came to me at once, a strange, rather ludicrous figure in her Eastern drapery, the bangles jangling on her wrists.

“My dear,” she said, “my dear,” and held out her hands to me.

Clarice slipped out of the room. I felt tired suddenly, and unable to cope. I went and sat down on the bed. I put my hand up to my head and took off the curled wig. Beatrice stood watching me.

“Are you all right?” she said. “You look very white.”

“It’s the light,” I said. “It never gives one any color.”

“Sit down for a few minutes and you’ll be all right,” she said; “wait, I’ll get a glass of water.”

She went into the bathroom, her bangles jangling with her every movement, and then she came back, the glass of water in her hands.

I drank some to please her, not wanting it a bit. It tasted warm from the tap; she had not let it run.

“Of course I knew at once it was just a terrible mistake,” she said. “You could not possibly have known, why should you?”

“Known what?” I said.

“Why, the dress, you poor dear, the picture you copied of the girl in the gallery. It was what Rebecca did at the last fancy dress ball at Manderley. Identical. The same picture, the same dress. You stood there on the stairs, and for one ghastly moment I thought…”

She did not go on with her sentence, she patted me on the shoulder.

“You poor child, how wretchedly unfortunate, how were you to know?”

“I ought to have known,” I said stupidly, staring at her, too stunned to understand. “I ought to have known.”

“Nonsense, how could you know? It was not the sort of thing that could possibly enter any of our heads. Only it was such a shock, you see. We none of us expected it, and Maxim…”

“Yes, Maxim?” I said.

“He thinks, you see, it was deliberate on your part. You had some bet that you would startle him, didn’t you? Some foolish joke. And of course, he doesn’t understand. It was such a frightful shock for him. I told him at once you could not have done such a thing, and that it was sheer appalling luck that you had chosen that particular picture.”

“I ought to have known,” I repeated again. “It’s all my fault, I ought to have seen. I ought to have known.”

“No, no. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to explain the whole thing to him quietly. Everything will be quite all right. The first lot of people were arriving just as I came upstairs to you. They are having drinks. Everything’s all right. I’ve told Frank and Giles to make up a story about your dress not fitting, and you are very disappointed.”

I did not say anything. I went on sitting on the bed with my hands in my lap.

“What can you wear instead?” said Beatrice, going to my wardrobe and flinging open the doors. “Here. What’s this blue? It looks charming. Put this on. Nobody will mind. Quick. I’ll help you.”

“No,” I said. “No, I’m not coming down.”

Beatrice stared at me in great distress, my blue frock over her arm.

“But, my dear, you must,” she said in dismay. “You can’t possibly not appear.”

“No, Beatrice, I’m not coming down. I can’t face them, not after what’s happened.”

“But nobody will know about the dress,” she said. “Frank and Giles will never breathe a word. We’ve got the story all arranged. The shop sent the wrong dress, and it did not fit, so you are wearing an ordinary evening dress instead. Everyone will think it perfectly natural. It won’t make any difference to the evening.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. “I don’t care about the dress. It’s not that at all. It’s what has happened, what I did. I can’t come down now, Beatrice, I can’t.”

“But, my dear, Giles and Frank understand perfectly. They are full of sympathy. And Maxim too. It was just the first shock… I’ll try and get him alone a minute, I’ll explain the whole thing.”

“No!” I said. “No!”

She put my blue frock down beside me on the bed. “Everyone will be arriving,” she said, very worried, very upset. “It will look so extraordinary if you don’t come down. I can’t say you’ve suddenly got a headache.”

“Why not?” I said wearily. “What does it matter? Make anything up. Nobody will mind, they don’t any of them know me.”

“Come now, my dear,” she said, patting my hand, “try and make the effort. Put on this charming blue. Think of Maxim. You must come down for his sake.”

“I’m thinking about Maxim all the time,” I said.

“Well, then, surely…?”

“No,” I said, tearing at my nails, rocking backwards and forwards on the bed. “I can’t, I can’t.”

Somebody else knocked on the door. “Oh, dear, who on earth is that?” said Beatrice, walking to the door. “What is it?”

She opened the door. Giles was standing just outside. “Everyone has turned up. Maxim sent me up to find out what’s happening,” he said.

“She says she won’t come down,” said Beatrice. “What on earth are we going to say?”

I caught sight of Giles peering at me through the open door.

“Oh, Lord, what a frightful mix-up,” he whispered. He turned away embarrassed when he noticed that I had seen him.

“What shall I say to Maxim?” he asked Beatrice. “It’s five past eight now.”

“Say she’s feeling rather faint, but will try and come down later. Tell them not to wait dinner. I’ll be down directly, I’ll make it all right.”

“Yes, right you are.” He half glanced in my direction again, sympathetic but rather curious, wondering why I sat there on the bed, and his voice was low, as it might be after an accident, when people are waiting for the doctor.

“Is there anything else I can do?” he said.

“No,” said Beatrice, “go down now, I’ll follow in a minute.”

He obeyed her, shuffling away in his Arabian robes. This is the sort of moment, I thought, that I shall laugh at years afterwards, that I shall say “Do you remember how Giles was dressed as an Arab, and Beatrice had a veil over her face, and jangling bangles on her wrist?” And time will mellow it, make it a moment for laughter. But now it was not funny, now I did not laugh. It was not the future, it was the present. It was too vivid and too real. I sat on the bed, plucking at the eiderdown, pulling a little feather out of a slit in one corner.

“Would you like some brandy?” said Beatrice, making a last effort. “I know it’s only Dutch courage, but it sometimes works wonders.”

“No,” I said. “No, I don’t want anything.”

“I shall have to go down. Giles says they are waiting dinner. Are you sure it’s all right for me to leave you?”

“Yes. And thank you, Beatrice.”

“Oh, my dear, don’t thank me. I wish I could do something.” She stooped swiftly to my looking glass and dabbed her face with powder. “God, what a sight I look,” she said, “this damn veil is crooked I know. However it can’t be helped.” She rustled out of the room, closing the door behind her. I felt I had forfeited her sympathy by my refusal to go down. I had shown the white feather. She had not understood. She belonged to another breed of men and women, another race than I. They had guts, the women of her race. They were not like me. If it had been Beatrice who had done this thing instead of me she would have put on her other dress and gone down again to welcome her guests. She would have stood by Giles’s side, and shaken hands with people, a smile on her face. I could not do that. I had not the pride, I had not the guts. I was badly bred.

I kept seeing Maxim’s eyes blazing in his white face, and behind him Giles, and Beatrice and Frank standing like dummies, staring at me.

I got up from my bed and went and looked out of the window. The gardeners were going round to the lights in the rose garden, testing them to see if they all worked. The sky was pale, with a few salmon clouds of evening streaking to the west. When it was dusk the lamps would all be lit. There were tables and chairs in the rose garden, for the couples who wanted to sit out. I could smell the roses from my window. The men were talking to one another and laughing. “There’s one here gone,” I heard a voice call out; “can you get me another small bulb? One of the blue ones, Bill.” He fixed the light into position. He whistled a popular tune of the moment with easy confidence, and I thought how tonight perhaps the band would play the same tune in the minstrel’s gallery above the hall. “That’s got it,” said the man, switching the light on and off, “they’re all right here. No others gone. We’d better have a look at those on the terrace.” They went off round the corner of the house, still whistling the song. I wished I could be the man. Later in the evening he would stand with his friend in the drive and watch the cars drive up to the house, his hands in his pockets, his cap on the back of his head. He would stand in a crowd with other people from the estate, and then drink cider at the long table arranged for them in one corner of the terrace. “Like the old days, isn’t it?” he would say. But his friend would shake his head, puffing at his pipe. “This new one’s not like our Mrs. de Winter, she’s different altogether.” And a woman next them in the crowd would agree, other people too, all saying “That’s right,” and nodding their heads.

“Where is she tonight? She’s not been on the terrace once.”

“I can’t say, I’m sure. I’ve not seen her.”

“Mrs. de Winter used to be here, there, and everywhere.”

“Aye, that’s right.”

And the woman would turn to her neighbors nodding mysteriously.

“They say she’s not appearing tonight at all.”

“Go on.”

“That’s right. One of the servants from the house told me Mrs. de Winter hasn’t come down from her room all evening.”

“What’s wrong with the maid, is she bad?”

“No, sulky I reckon. They say her dress didn’t please her.”

A squeal of laughter and a murmur from the little crowd.

“Did you ever hear of such a thing? It’s a shame for Mr. de Winter.”

“I wouldn’t stand for it, not from a chit like her.”

“Maybe it’s not true at all.”

“It’s true all right. They’re full of it up at the house.” One to the other. This one to the next. A smile, a wink, a shrug of the shoulder. One group, and then another group. And then spreading to the guests who walked on the terrace and strolled across the lawns. The couple who in three hours’ time would sit in those chairs beneath me in the rose garden.

“Do you suppose it’s true what I heard?”

“What did you hear?”

“Why, that there’s nothing wrong with her at all, they’ve had a colossal row, and she won’t appear!”

“I say!” A lift of the eyebrows, a long whistle.

“I know. Well, it does look rather odd, don’t you think? What I mean is, people don’t suddenly for no reason have violent headaches. I call the whole thing jolly fishy.”

“I thought he looked a bit grim.”

“So did I.”

“Of course I have heard before the marriage is not a wild success.”

“Oh, really?”

“H’m. Several people have said so. They say he’s beginning to realize he’s made a big mistake. She’s nothing to look at, you know.”

“No, I’ve heard there’s nothing much to her. Who was she?”

“Oh, no one at all. Some pick-up in the south of France, a nursery gov., or something.”

“Good Lord!”

“I know. And when you think of Rebecca…”

I went on staring at the empty chairs. The salmon sky had turned to gray. Above my head was the evening star. In the woods beyond the rose garden the birds were making their last little rustling noises before nightfall. A lone gull flew across the sky. I went away from the window, back to the bed again. I picked up the white dress I had left on the floor and put it back in the box with the tissue paper. I put the wig back in its box too. Then I looked in one of my cupboards for the little portable iron I used to have in Monte Carlo for Mrs. Van Hopper’s dresses. It was lying at the back of a shelf with some woolen jumpers I had not worn for a long time. The iron was one of those universal kinds that go on any voltage and I fitted it to the plug in the wall. I began to iron the blue dress that Beatrice had taken from the wardrobe, slowly, methodically, as I used to iron Mrs. Van Hopper’s dresses in Monte Carlo.

When I had finished I laid the dress ready on the bed. Then I cleaned the make-up off my face that I had put on for the fancy dress. I combed my hair, and washed my hands. I put on the blue dress and the shoes that went with it. I might have been my old self again, going down to the lounge of the hotel with Mrs. Van Hopper. I opened the door of my room and went along the corridor. Everything was still and silent. There might not have been a party at all. I tiptoed to the end of the passage and turned the corner. The door to the west wing was closed. There was no sound of anything at all. When I came to the archway by the gallery and the staircase I heard the murmur and hum of conversation coming from the dining room. They were still having dinner. The great hall was deserted. There was nobody in the gallery either. The band must be having their dinner too. I did not know what arrangements had been made for them. Frank had done it—Frank or Mrs. Danvers.

From where I stood I could see the picture of Caroline de Winter facing me in the gallery. I could see the curls framing her face, and I could see the smile on her lips. I remembered the bishop’s wife who had said to me that day I called, “I shall never forget her, dressed all in white, with that cloud of dark hair.” I ought to have remembered that, I ought to have known. How queer the instruments looked in the gallery, the little stands for the music, the big drum. One of the men had left his handkerchief on a chair. I leaned over the rail and looked down at the hall below. Soon it would be filled with people, like the bishop’s wife had said, and Maxim would stand at the bottom of the stairs shaking hands with them as they came into the hall. The sound of their voices would echo to the ceiling, and then the band would play from the gallery where I was leaning now, the man with the violin smiling, swaying to the music.

It would not be quiet like this anymore. A board creaked in the gallery. I swung round, looking at the gallery behind me. There was nobody there. The gallery was empty, just as it had been before. A current of air blew in my face though, somebody must have left a window open in one of the passages. The hum of voices continued in the dining room. I wondered why the board creaked when I had not moved at all. The warmth of the night perhaps, a swelling somewhere in the old wood. The draft still blew in my face though. A piece of music on one of the stands fluttered to the floor. I looked towards the archway above the stairs. The draft was coming from there. I went beneath the arch again, and when I came out onto the long corridor I saw that the door to the west wing had blown open and swung back against the wall. It was dark in the west passage, none of the lights had been turned on. I could feel the wind blowing on my face from an open window. I fumbled for a switch on the wall and could not find one. I could see the window in an angle of the passage, the curtain blowing softly, backwards and forwards. The gray evening light cast queer shadows on the floor. The sound of the sea came to me through the open window, the soft hissing sound of the ebb tide leaving the shingle.

I did not go and shut the window. I stood there shivering a moment in my thin dress, listening to the sea as it sighed and left the shore. Then I turned quickly and shut the door of the west wing behind me, and came out again through the archway by the stairs.

The murmur of voices had swollen now and was louder than before. The door of the dining room was open. They were coming out of dinner. I could see Robert standing by the open door, and there was a scraping of chairs, a babble of conversation, and laughter.

I walked slowly down the stairs to meet them.

When I look back at my first party at Manderley, my first and my last, I can remember little isolated things standing alone out of the vast blank canvas of the evening. The background was hazy, a sea of dim faces none of whom I knew, and there was the slow drone of the band harping out a waltz that never finished, that went on and on. The same couples swung by in rotation, with the same fixed smiles, and to me, standing with Maxim at the bottom of the stairs to welcome the latecomers, these dancing couples seemed like marionettes twisting and turning on a piece of string, held by some invisible hand.

There was a woman, I never knew her name, never saw her again, but she wore a salmon-colored gown hooped in crinoline form, a vague gesture to some past century but whether seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth I could not tell, and every time she passed me it coincided with a sweeping bar of the waltz to which she dipped and swayed, smiling as she did so in my direction. It happened again and again until it became automatic, a matter of routine, like those promenades on board ship when we meet the same people bent on exercise like ourselves, and know with deadly certainty that we will pass them by the bridge.

I can see her now, the prominent teeth, the gay spot of rouge placed high upon her cheek-bones, and her smile, vacant, happy, enjoying her evening. Later I saw her by the supper table, her keen eyes searching the food, and she heaped a plate high with salmon and lobster mayonnaise and went off into a corner. There was Lady Crowan too, monstrous in purple, disguised as I know not what romantic figure of the past, it might have been Marie Antoinette or Nell Gwynne for all I knew, or a strange erotic combination of the two, and she kept exclaiming in excited high-pitch tones, a little higher than usual because of the champagne she had consumed, “You all have me to thank for this, not the de Winters at all.”

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.” I can feel now the stiff, set smile on my face that did not match the misery in my eyes. I can see Beatrice, dear friendly tactless Beatrice, watching me from her partner’s arms, nodding encouragement, the bangles jangling on her wrists, the veil slipping continually from her overheated forehead. I can picture myself once more whirled round the room in a desperate dance with Giles, who with dog-like sympathy and kind heart would take no refusal, but must steer me through the stamping crowd as he would one of his own horses at a meet. “That’s a jolly pretty dress you’re wearing,” I can hear him say, “it makes all these people look damn silly,” and I blessed him for his pathetic simple gesture of understanding and sincerity, thinking, dear Giles, that I was disappointed in my dress, that I was worrying about my appearance, that I cared.

It was Frank who brought me a plate of chicken and ham that I could not eat, and Frank who stood by my elbow with a glass of champagne I would not drink.

“I wish you would,” he said quietly, “I think you need it,” and I took three sips of it to please him. The black patch over his eye gave him a pale odd appearance, it made him look older, different. There seemed to be lines on his face I had not seen before.

He moved among the guests like another host, seeing to their comfort, that they were supplied with drink, and food, and cigarettes, and he danced too in solemn painstaking fashion, walking his partners round the room with a set face. He did not wear his pirate costume with abandon, and there was something rather tragic about the side-whiskers he had fluffed under the scarlet handkerchief on his head. I thought of him standing before the looking glass in his bare bachelor bedroom curling them round his fingers. Poor Frank. Dear Frank. I never asked, I never knew, how much he hated the last fancy dress ball given at Manderley.

The band played on, and the swaying couples twisted like bobbing marionettes, to and fro, to and fro, across the great hall and back again, and it was not I who watched them at all, not someone with feelings, made of flesh and blood, but a dummy-stick of a person in my stead, a prop who wore a smile screwed to its face. The figure who stood beside it was wooden too. His face was a mask, his smile was not his own. The eyes were not the eyes of the man I loved, the man I knew. They looked through me and beyond me, cold, expressionless, to some place of pain and torture I could not enter, to some private, inward hell I could not share.

He never spoke to me. He never touched me. We stood beside one another, the host and the hostess, and we were not together. I watched his courtesy to his guests. He flung a word to one, a jest to another, a smile to a third, a call over his shoulder to a fourth, and no one but myself could know that every utterance he made, every movement, was automatic and the work of a machine. We were like two performers in a play, but we were divided, we were not acting with one another. We had to endure it alone, we had to put up this show, this miserable, sham performance, for the sake of all these people I did not know and did not want to see again.

“I hear your wife’s frock never turned up in time,” said someone with a mottled face and a sailor’s pigtail, and he laughed, and dug Maxim in the ribs. “Damn shame, what? I should sue the shop for fraud. Same thing happened to my wife’s cousin once.”

“Yes, it was unfortunate,” said Maxim.

“I tell you what,” said the sailor, turning to me, “you ought to say you are a forget-me-not. They’re blue aren’t they? Jolly little flowers, forget-me-nots. That’s right, isn’t it, de Winter? Tell your wife she must call herself a ‘forget-me-not.’ ” He swept away, roaring with laughter, his partner in his arms. “Pretty good idea, what? A forget-me-not.” Then Frank again hovering just behind me, another glass in his hand, lemonade this time. “No, Frank, I’m not thirsty.”

“Why don’t you dance? Or come and sit down a moment; there’s a corner in the terrace.”

“No, I’m better standing. I don’t want to sit down.”

“Can’t I get you something, a sandwich, a peach?”

“No, I don’t want anything.”

There was the salmon lady again; she forgot to smile at me this time. She was flushed after her supper. She kept looking up into her partner’s face. He was very tall, very thin, he had a chin like a fiddle.

The Destiny waltz, the Blue Danube, the Merry Widow, one-two-three, one-two-three, round-and-round, one-two-three, one-two-three, round-and-round. The salmon lady, a green lady, Beatrice again, her veil pushed back off her forehead; Giles, his face streaming with perspiration, and that sailor once more, with another partner; they stopped beside me, I did not know her; she was dressed as a Tudor woman, any Tudor woman; she wore a ruffle round her throat and a black velvet dress.

“When are you coming to see us?” she said, as though we were old friends, and I answered, “Soon of course; we were talking about it the other day,” wondering why I found it so easy to lie suddenly, no effort at all. “Such a delightful party; I do congratulate you,” she said, and “Thank you very much,” I said. “It’s fun, isn’t it?”

“I hear they sent you the wrong dress?”

“Yes; absurd, wasn’t it?”

“These shops are all the same. No depending on them. But you look delightfully fresh in that pale blue. Much more comfortable than this hot velvet. Don’t forget, you must both come and dine at the Palace soon.”

“We should love to.”

What did she mean, where, what palace? Were we entertaining royalty? She swept onto the Blue Danube in the arms of the sailor, her velvet frock brushing the ground like a carpet-sweeper, and it was not until long afterwards, in the middle of some night, when I could not sleep, that I remembered the Tudor woman was the bishop’s wife who liked walking in the Pennines.

What was the time? I did not know. The evening dragged on, hour after hour, the same faces and the same tunes. Now and again the bridge people crept out of the library like hermits to watch the dancers, and then returned again. Beatrice, her draperies trailing behind her, whispered in my ear.

“Why don’t you sit down? You look like death.”

“I’m all right.”

Giles, the make-up running on his face, poor fellow, and stifling in his Arab blanket, came up to me and said, “Come and watch the fireworks on the terrace.”

I remember standing on the terrace and staring up at the sky as the foolish rockets burst and fell. There was little Clarice in a corner with some boy off the estate; she was smiling happily, squealing with delight as a squib spluttered at her feet. She had forgotten her tears.

“Hullo, this will be a big ’un.” Giles, his large face upturned, his mouth open. “Here she comes. Bravo, jolly fine show.”

The slow hiss of the rocket as it sped into the air, the burst of the explosion, the stream of little emerald stars. A murmur of approval from the crowd, cries of delight, and a clapping of hands.

The salmon lady well to the front, her face eager with expectation, a remark for every star that fell. “Oh, what a beauty… look at that one now; I say, how pretty… Oh, that one didn’t burst… take care, it’s coming our way… what are those men doing over there?”… Even the hermits left their lair and came to join the dancers on the terrace. The lawns were black with people. The bursting stars shone on their upturned faces.

Again and again the rockets sped into the air like arrows, and the sky became crimson and gold. Manderley stood out like an enchanted house, every window aflame, the gray walls colored by the falling stars. A house bewitched, carved out of the dark woods. And when the last rocket burst and the cheering died away, the night that had been fine before seemed dull and heavy in contrast, the sky became a pall. The little groups on the lawns and in the drive broke up and scattered. The guests crowded the long windows in the terrace back to the drawing room again. It was anti-climax, the aftermath had come. We stood about with blank faces. Someone gave me a glass of champagne. I heard the sound of cars starting up in the drive.

“They’re beginning to go,” I thought. “Thank God, they’re beginning to go.” The salmon lady was having some more supper. It would take time yet to clear the hall. I saw Frank make a signal to the band. I stood in the doorway between the drawing room and the hall beside a man I did not know.

“What a wonderful party it’s been,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.

“I’m so glad,” I said.

“Molly was wild with fury at missing it,” he said.

“Was she?” I said.

The band began to play Auld Lang Syne. The man seized my hand and started swinging it up and down. “Here,” he said, “come on, some of you.” Somebody else swung my other hand, and more people joined us. We stood in a great circle singing at the top of our voices. The man who had enjoyed his evening and said Molly would be wild at missing it was dressed as a Chinese mandarin, and his false nails got caught up in his sleeve as we swung our hands up and down. He roared with laughter. We all laughed. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot,” we sang.

The hilarious gaiety changed swiftly at the closing bars, and the drummer rattled his sticks in the inevitable prelude to God Save the King. The smiles left our faces as though wiped clean by a sponge. The Mandarin sprang to attention, his hands stiff to his sides. I remember wondering vaguely if he was in the Army. How queer he looked with his long poker face, and his drooping Mandarin mustache. I caught the salmon lady’s eye. God Save the King had taken her unawares, she was still holding a plate heaped with chicken in aspic. She held it stiffly out in front of her like a church collection. All animation had gone from her face. As the last note of God Save the King died away she relaxed again, and attacked her chicken in a sort of frenzy, chattering over her shoulder to her partner. Somebody came and wrung me by the hand.

“Don’t forget, you’re dining with us on the fourteenth of next month.”

“Oh, are we?” I stared at him blankly.

“Yes, we’ve got your sister-in-law to promise too.”

“Oh. Oh, what fun.”

“Eight-thirty, and black tie. So looking forward to seeing you.”

“Yes. Yes, rather.”

People began to form up in queues to say good-bye. Maxim was at the other side of the room. I put on my smile again, which had worn thin after Auld Lang Syne.

“The best evening I’ve spent for a long time.”

“I’m so glad.”

“Many thanks for a grand party.”

“I’m so glad.”

“Here we are, you see, staying to the bitter end.”

“Yes, I’m so glad.”

Was there no other sentence in the English language? I bowed and smiled like a dummy, my eyes searching for Maxim above their heads. He was caught up in a knot of people by the library. Beatrice too was surrounded, and Giles had led a team of stragglers to the buffet table in the drawing room. Frank was out in the drive seeing that people got their cars. I was hemmed in by strangers.

“Good-bye, and thanks tremendously.”

“I’m so glad.”

The great hall began to empty. Already it wore that drab deserted air of a vanished evening and the dawn of a tired day. There was a gray light on the terrace, I could see the shapes of the blown firework stands taking form on the lawns.

“Good-bye; a wonderful party.”

“I’m so glad.”

Maxim had gone out to join Frank in the drive. Beatrice came up to me, pulling off her jangling bracelets. “I can’t stand these things a moment longer. Heavens, I’m dead beat. I don’t believe I’ve missed a dance. Anyway, it was a tremendous success.”

“Was it?” I said.

“My dear, hadn’t you better go to bed? You look worn out. You’ve been standing nearly all the evening. Where are the men?”

“Out on the drive.”

“I shall have some coffee, and eggs and bacon. What about you?”

“No, Beatrice, I don’t think I will.”

“You looked very charming in your blue. Everyone said so. And nobody had an inkling about—about the other things, so you mustn’t worry.”


“If I were you I should have a good long lie tomorrow morning. Don’t attempt to get up. Have your breakfast in bed.”

“Yes, perhaps.”

“I’ll tell Maxim you’ve gone up, shall I?”

“Please, Beatrice.”

“All right, my dear. Sleep well.” She kissed me swiftly, patting my shoulder at the same time, and then went off to find Giles in the supper room. I walked slowly up the stairs, one step at a time. The band had turned the lights off in the gallery, and had gone down to have eggs and bacon too. Pieces of music lay about the floor. One chair had been upturned. There was an ashtray full of the stubs of their cigarettes. The aftermath of the party. I went along the corridor to my room. It was getting lighter every moment, and the birds had started singing. I did not have to turn on the light to undress. A little chill wind blew in from the open window. It was rather cold. Many people must have used the rose garden during the evening, for all the chairs were moved, and dragged from their places. There was a tray of empty glasses on one of the tables. Someone had left a bag behind on a chair. I pulled the curtain to darken the room, but the gray morning light found its way through the gaps at the side.

I got into bed, my legs very weary, a niggling pain in the small of my back. I lay back and closed my eyes, thankful for the cool white comfort of clean sheets. I wished my mind would rest like my body, relax, and pass to sleep. Not hum round in the way it did, jigging to music, whirling in a sea of faces. I pressed my hands over my eyes but they would not go.

I wondered how long Maxim would be. The bed beside me looked stark and cold. Soon there would be no shadows in the room at all, the walls and the ceiling and the floor would be white with the morning. The birds would sing their songs, louder, gayer, less subdued. The sun would make a yellow pattern on the curtain. My little bedside clock ticked out the minutes one by one. The hand moved round the dial. I lay on my side watching it. It came to the hour and passed it again. It started afresh on its journey. But Maxim did not come.