Rebecca Chapter 4

The morning after the bridge party Mrs. Van Hopper woke with a sore throat and a temperature of a hundred and two. I rang up her doctor, who came round at once and diagnosed the usual influenza. “You are to stay in bed until I allow you to get up,” he told her; “I don’t like the sound of that heart of yours, and it won’t get better unless you keep perfectly quiet and still. I should prefer,” he went on, turning to me, “that Mrs. Van Hopper had a trained nurse. You can’t possibly lift her. It will only be for a fortnight or so.”

I thought this rather absurd, and protested, but to my surprise she agreed with him. I think she enjoyed the fuss it would create, the sympathy of people, the visits and messages from friends, and the arrival of flowers. Monte Carlo had begun to bore her, and this little illness would make a distraction.

The nurse would give her injections, and a light massage, and she would have a diet. I left her quite happy after the arrival of the nurse, propped up on pillows with a falling temperature, her best bed-jacket round her shoulders and be-ribboned boudoir cap upon her head. Rather ashamed of my light heart, I telephoned her friends, putting off the small party she had arranged for the evening, and went down to the restaurant for lunch, a good half hour before our usual time. I expected the room to be empty—nobody lunched generally before one o’clock. It was empty, except for the table next to ours. This was a contingency for which I was unprepared. I thought he had gone to Sospel. No doubt he was lunching early because he hoped to avoid us at one o’clock. I was already halfway across the room and could not go back. I had not seen him since we disappeared in the lift the day before, for wisely he had avoided dinner in the restaurant, possibly for the same reason that he lunched early now.

It was a situation for which I was ill-trained. I wished I was older, different. I went to our table, looking straight before me, and immediately paid the penalty of gaucherie by knocking over the vase of stiff anemones as I unfolded my napkin. The water soaked the cloth, and ran down onto my lap. The waiter was at the other end of the room, nor had he seen. In a second though my neighbor was by my side, dry napkin in hand.

“You can’t sit at a wet tablecloth,” he said brusquely; “it will put you off your food. Get out of the way.”

He began to mop the cloth, while the waiter, seeing the disturbance, came swiftly to the rescue.

“I don’t mind,” I said, “it doesn’t matter a bit. I’m all alone.”

He said nothing, and then the waiter arrived and whipped away the vase and the sprawling flowers.

“Leave that,” he said suddenly, “and lay another place at my table. Mademoiselle will have luncheon with me.”

I looked up in confusion. “Oh, no,” I said, “I couldn’t possibly.”

“Why not?” he said.

I tried to think of an excuse. I knew he did not want to lunch with me. It was his form of courtesy. I should ruin his meal. I determined to be bold and speak the truth.

“Please,” I begged, “don’t be polite. It’s very kind of you but I shall be quite all right if the waiter just wipes the cloth.”

“But I’m not being polite,” he insisted. “I would like you to have luncheon with me. Even if you had not knocked over that vase so clumsily I should have asked you.” I suppose my face told him my doubt, for he smiled. “You don’t believe me,” he said; “never mind, come and sit down. We needn’t talk to each other unless we feel like it.”

We sat down, and he gave me the menu, leaving me to choose, and went on with his hors d’œuvre as though nothing had happened.

His quality of detachment was peculiar to himself, and I knew that we might continue thus, without speaking, throughout the meal and it would not matter. There would be no sense of strain. He would not ask me questions on history.

“What’s happened to your friend?” he said. I told him about the influenza. “I’m so sorry,” he said, and then, after pausing a moment, “you got my note, I suppose. I felt very much ashamed of myself. My manners were atrocious. The only excuse I can make is that I’ve become boorish through living alone. That’s why it’s so kind of you to lunch with me today.”

“You weren’t rude,” I said, “at least, not the sort of rudeness she would understand. That curiosity of hers—she does not mean to be offensive, but she does it to everyone. That is, everyone of importance.”

“I ought to be flattered then,” he said; “why should she consider me of any importance?”

I hesitated a moment before replying.

“I think because of Manderley,” I said.

He did not answer, and I was aware again of that feeling of discomfort, as though I had trespassed on forbidden ground. I wondered why it was that this home of his, known to so many people by hearsay, even to me, should so inevitably silence him, making as it were a barrier between him and others.

We ate for a while without talking, and I thought of a picture postcard I had bought once at a village shop, when on holiday as a child in the west country. It was the painting of a house, crudely done of course and highly colored, but even those faults could not destroy the symmetry of the building, the wide stone steps before the terrace, the green lawns stretching to the sea. I paid twopence for the painting—half my weekly pocket money—and then asked the wrinkled shop woman what it was meant to be. She looked astonished at my ignorance.

“That’s Manderley,” she said, and I remember coming out of the shop feeling rebuffed, yet hardly wiser than before.

Perhaps it was the memory of this postcard, lost long ago in some forgotten book, that made me sympathize with his defensive attitude. He resented Mrs. Van Hopper and her like with their intruding questions. Maybe there was something inviolate about Manderley that made it a place apart; it would not bear discussion. I could imagine her tramping through the rooms, perhaps paying sixpence for admission, ripping the quietude with her sharp, staccato laugh. Our minds must have run in the same channel, for he began to talk about her.

“Your friend,” he began, “she is very much older than you. Is she a relation? Have you known her long?” I saw he was still puzzled by us.

“She’s not really a friend,” I told him, “she’s an employer. She’s training me to be a thing called a companion, and she pays me ninety pounds a year.”

“I did not know one could buy companionship,” he said; “it sounds a primitive idea. Rather like the Eastern slave market.”

“I looked up the word ‘companion’ once in the dictionary,” I admitted, “and it said ‘a companion is a friend of the bosom.’ ”

“You haven’t much in common with her,” he said.

He laughed, looking quite different, younger somehow and less detached. “What do you do it for?” he asked me.

“Ninety pounds is a lot of money to me,” I said.

“Haven’t you any family?”

“No—they’re dead.”

“You have a very lovely and unusual name.”

“My father was a lovely and unusual person.”

“Tell me about him,” he said.

I looked at him over my glass of citronade. It was not easy to explain my father and usually I never talked about him. He was my secret property. Preserved for me alone, much as Manderley was preserved for my neighbor. I had no wish to introduce him casually over a table in a Monte Carlo restaurant.

There was a strange air of unreality about that luncheon, and looking back upon it now it is invested for me with a curious glamour. There was I, so much of a schoolgirl still, who only the day before had sat with Mrs. Van Hopper, prim, silent, and subdued, and twenty-four hours afterwards my family history was mine no longer, I shared it with a man I did not know. For some reason I felt impelled to speak, because his eyes followed me in sympathy like the Gentleman Unknown.

My shyness fell away from me, loosening as it did so my reluctant tongue, and out they all came, the little secrets of childhood, the pleasures and the pains. It seemed to me as though he understood, from my poor description, something of the vibrant personality that had been my father’s, and something too of the love my mother had for him, making it a vital, living force, with a spark of divinity about it, so much that when he died that desperate winter, struck down by pneumonia, she lingered behind him for five short weeks and stayed no more. I remember pausing, a little breathless, a little dazed. The restaurant was filled now with people who chatted and laughed to an orchestral background and a clatter of plates, and glancing at the clock above the door I saw that it was two o’clock. We had been sitting there an hour and a half, and the conversation had been mine alone.

I tumbled down into reality, hot-handed and self-conscious, with my face aflame, and began to stammer my apologies. He would not listen to me.

“I told you at the beginning of lunch you had a lovely and unusual name,” he said. “I shall go further, if you will forgive me, and say that it becomes you as well as it became your father. I’ve enjoyed this hour with you more than I have enjoyed anything for a very long time. You’ve taken me out of myself, out of despondency and introspection, both of which have been my devils for a year.”

I looked at him, and believed he spoke the truth; he seemed less fettered than he had been before, more modern, more human; he was not hemmed in by shadows.

“You know,” he said, “we’ve got a bond in common, you and I. We are both alone in the world. Oh, I’ve got a sister, though we don’t see much of each other, and an ancient grandmother whom I pay duty visits to three times a year, but neither of them make for companionship. I shall have to congratulate Mrs. Van Hopper. You’re cheap at ninety pounds a year.”

“You forget,” I said, “you have a home and I have none.”

The moment I spoke I regretted my words, for the secret, inscrutable look came back in his eyes again, and once again I suffered the intolerable discomfort that floods one after lack of tact. He bent his head to light a cigarette, and did not reply immediately.

“An empty house can be as lonely as a full hotel,” he said at length. “The trouble is that it is less impersonal.” He hesitated, and for a moment I thought he was going to talk of Manderley at last, but something held him back, some phobia that struggled to the surface of his mind and won supremacy, for he blew out his match and his flash of confidence at the same time.

“So the friend of the bosom has a holiday?” he said, on a level plane again, an easy camaraderie between us. “What does she propose to do with it?”

I thought of the cobbled square in Monaco and the house with the narrow window. I could be off there by three o’clock with my sketchbook and pencil, and I told him as much, a little shyly perhaps, like all untalented persons with a pet hobby.

“I’ll drive you there in the car,” he said, and would not listen to protests.

I remembered Mrs. Van Hopper’s warning of the night before about putting myself forward and was embarrassed that he might think my talk of Monaco was a subterfuge to win a lift. It was so blatantly the type of thing that she would do herself, and I did not want him to bracket us together. I had already risen in importance from my lunch with him, for as we got up from the table the little maître d’hôtel rushed forward to pull away my chair. He bowed and smiled—a total change from his usual attitude of indifference—picked up my handkerchief that had fallen on the floor, and hoped “mademoiselle had enjoyed her lunch.” Even the page boy by the swing doors glanced at me with respect. My companion accepted it as natural, of course; he knew nothing of the ill-carved ham of yesterday. I found the change depressing, it made me despise myself. I remembered my father and his scorn of superficial snobbery.

“What are you thinking about?” We were walking along the corridor to the lounge, and looking up I saw his eyes fixed on me in curiosity.

“Has something annoyed you?” he said.

The attentions of the maître d’hôtel had opened up a train of thought, and as we drank coffee I told him about Blaize, the dressmaker. She had been so pleased when Mrs. Van Hopper had bought three frocks, and I, taking her to the lift afterwards, had pictured her working upon them in her own small salon, behind the stuffy little shop, with a consumptive son wasting upon her sofa. I could see her, with tired eyes, threading needles, and the floor covered with snippets of material.

“Well?” he said smiling, “wasn’t your picture true?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I never found out.” And I told him how I had rung the bell for the lift, and as I had done so she had fumbled in her bag and gave me a note for a hundred francs. “Here,” she had whispered, her tone intimate and unpleasant, “I want you to accept this small commission in return for bringing your patron to my shop.” When I had refused, scarlet with embarrassment, she had shrugged her shoulders disagreeably. “Just as you like,” she had said, “but I assure you it’s quite usual. Perhaps you would rather have a frock. Come along to the shop sometime without Madame and I will fix you up without charging you a sou.” Somehow, I don’t know why, I had been aware of that sick, unhealthy feeling I had experienced as a child when turning the pages of a forbidden book. The vision of the consumptive son faded, and in its stead arose the picture of myself had I been different, pocketing that greasy note with an understanding smile, and perhaps slipping round to Blaize’s shop on this my free afternoon and coming away with a frock I had not paid for.

I expected him to laugh, it was a stupid story, I don’t know why I told him, but he looked at me thoughtfully as he stirred his coffee.

“I think you’ve made a big mistake,” he said, after a moment.

“In refusing that hundred francs?” I asked, revolted.

“No—good heavens, what do you take me for? I think you’ve made a mistake in coming here, in joining forces with Mrs. Van Hopper. You are not made for that sort of job. You’re too young, for one thing, and too soft. Blaize and her commission, that’s nothing. The first of many similar incidents from other Blaizes. You will either have to give in, and become a sort of Blaize yourself, or stay as you are and be broken. Who suggested you took on this thing in the first place?” It seemed natural for him to question me, nor did I mind. It was as though we had known one another for a long time, and had met again after a lapse of years.

“Have you ever thought about the future?” he asked me, “and what this sort of thing will lead to? Supposing Mrs. Van Hopper gets tired of her ‘friend of the bosom,’ what then?”

I smiled, and told him that I did not mind very much. There would be other Mrs. Van Hoppers, and I was young, and confident, and strong. But even as he spoke I remembered those advertisements seen often in good class magazines where a friendly society demands succor for young women in reduced circumstances; I thought of the type of boardinghouse that answers the advertisement and gives temporary shelter, and then I saw myself, useless sketchbook in hand, without qualifications of any kind, stammering replies to stern employment agents. Perhaps I should have accepted Blaize’s ten percent.

“How old are you?” he said, and when I told him he laughed, and got up from his chair. “I know that age, it’s a particularly obstinate one, and a thousand bogies won’t make you fear the future. A pity we can’t change over. Go upstairs and put your hat on, and I’ll have the car brought round.”

As he watched me into the lift I thought of yesterday, Mrs. Van Hopper’s chattering tongue, and his cold courtesy. I had ill-judged him, he was neither hard nor sardonic, he was already my friend of many years, the brother I had never possessed. Mine was a happy mood that afternoon, and I remember it well. I can see the rippled sky, fluffy with cloud, and the white whipped sea. I can feel again the wind on my face, and hear my laugh, and his that echoed it. It was not the Monte Carlo I had known, or perhaps the truth was that it pleased me better. There was a glamour about it that had not been before. I must have looked upon it before with dull eyes. The harbor was a dancing thing, with fluttering paper boats, and the sailors on the quay were jovial, smiling fellows, merry as the wind. We passed the yacht, beloved of Mrs. Van Hopper because of its ducal owner, and snapped our fingers at the glistening brass, and looked at one another and laughed again. I can remember as though I wore it still my comfortable, ill-fitting flannel suit, and how the skirt was lighter than the coat through harder wear. My shabby hat, too broad about the brim, and my low-heeled shoes, fastened with a single strap. A pair of gauntlet gloves clutched in a grubby hand. I had never looked more youthful, I had never felt so old. Mrs. Van Hopper and her influenza did not exist for me. The bridge and the cocktail parties were forgotten, and with them my own humble status.

I was a person of importance, I was grown up at last. That girl who, tortured by shyness, would stand outside the sitting room door twisting a handkerchief in her hands, while from within came that babble of confused chatter so unnerving to the intruder—she had gone with the wind that afternoon. She was a poor creature, and I thought of her with scorn if I considered her at all.

The wind was too high for sketching, it tore in cheerful gusts around the corner of my cobbled square, and back to the car we went and drove I know not where. The long road climbed the hills, and the car climbed with it, and we circled in the heights like a bird in the air. How different his car to Mrs. Van Hopper’s hireling for the season, a square old-fashioned Daimler that took us to Mentone on placid afternoons, when I, sitting on the little seat with my back to the driver, must crane my neck to see the view. This car had the wings of Mercury, I thought, for higher yet we climbed, and dangerously fast, and the danger pleased me because it was new to me, because I was young.

I remember laughing aloud, and the laugh being carried by the wind away from me; and looking at him, I realized he laughed no longer, he was once more silent and detached, the man of yesterday wrapped in his secret self.

I realized, too, that the car could climb no more, we had reached the summit, and below us stretched the way that we had come, precipitous and hollow. He stopped the car, and I could see that the edge of the road bordered a vertical slope that crumbled into vacancy, a fall of perhaps two thousand feet. We got out of the car and looked beneath us. This sobered me at last. I knew that but half the car’s length had lain between us and the fall. The sea, like a crinkled chart, spread to the horizon, and lapped the sharp outline of the coast, while the houses were white shells in a rounded grotto, pricked here and there by a great orange sun. We knew another sunlight on our hill, and the silence made it harder, more austere. A change had come upon our afternoon; it was not the thing of gossamer it had been. The wind dropped, and it suddenly grew cold.

When I spoke my voice was far too casual, the silly, nervous voice of someone ill at ease. “Do you know this place?” I said. “Have you been here before?” He looked down at me without recognition, and I realized with a little stab of anxiety that he must have forgotten all about me, perhaps for some considerable time, and that he himself was so lost in the labyrinth of his own unquiet thoughts that I did not exist. He had the face of one who walks in his sleep, and for a wild moment the idea came to me that perhaps he was not normal, not altogether sane. There were people who had trances, I had surely heard of them, and they followed strange laws of which we could know nothing, they obeyed the tangled orders of their own subconscious minds. Perhaps he was one of them, and here we were within six feet of death.

“It’s getting late, shall we go home?” I said, and my careless tone, my little ineffectual smile would scarcely have deceived a child.

I had misjudged him, of course, there was nothing wrong after all, for as soon as I spoke this second time he came clear of his dream and began to apologize. I had gone white, I suppose, and he had noticed it.

“That was an unforgivable thing for me to do,” he said, and taking my arm he pushed me back towards the car, and we climbed in again, and he slammed the door. “Don’t be frightened, the turn is far easier than it looks,” he said, and while I, sick and giddy, clung to the seat with both hands, he maneuvered the car gently, very gently, until it faced the sloping road once more.

“Then you have been here before?” I said to him, my sense of strain departing, as the car crept away down the twisting narrow road.

“Yes,” he said, and then, after pausing a moment, “but not for many years. I wanted to see if it had changed.”

“And has it?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “No, it has not changed.”

I wondered what had driven him to this retreat into the past, with me an unconscious witness of his mood. What gulf of years stretched between him and that other time, what deed of thought and action, what difference in temperament? I did not want to know. I wished I had not come.

Down the twisting road we went without a check, without a word, a great ridge of cloud stretched above the setting sun, and the air was cold and clean. Suddenly he began to talk about Manderley. He said nothing of his life there, no word about himself, but he told me how the sun set there, on a spring afternoon, leaving a glow upon the headland. The sea would look like slate, cold still from the long winter, and from the terrace you could hear the ripple of the coming tide washing in the little bay. The daffodils were in bloom, stirring in the evening breeze, golden heads cupped upon lean stalks, and however many you might pick there would be no thinning of the ranks, they were massed like an army, shoulder to shoulder. On a bank below the lawns, crocuses were planted, golden, pink, and mauve, but by this time they would be past their best, dropping and fading, like pallid snowdrops. The primrose was more vulgar, a homely pleasant creature who appeared in every cranny like a weed. Too early yet for bluebells, their heads were still hidden beneath last year’s leaves, but when they came, dwarfing the more humble violet, they choked the very bracken in the woods, and with their color made a challenge to the sky.

He never would have them in the house, he said. Thrust into vases they became dank and listless, and to see them at their best you must walk in the woods in the morning, about twelve o’clock, when the sun was overhead. They had a smoky, rather bitter smell, as though a wild sap ran in their stalks, pungent and juicy. People who plucked bluebells from the woods were vandals; he had forbidden it at Manderley. Sometimes, driving in the country, he had seen bicyclists with huge bunches strapped before them on the handles, the bloom already fading from the dying heads, the ravaged stalks straggling naked and unclean.

The primrose did not mind it quite so much; although a creature of the wilds it had a leaning towards civilization, and preened and smiled in a jam-jar in some cottage window without resentment, living quite a week if given water. No wildflowers came in the house at Manderley. He had special cultivated flowers, grown for the house alone, in the walled garden. A rose was one of the few flowers, he said, that looked better picked than growing. A bowl of roses in a drawing room had a depth of color and scent they had not possessed in the open. There was something rather blowzy about roses in full bloom, something shallow and raucous, like women with untidy hair. In the house they became mysterious and subtle. He had roses in the house at Manderley for eight months in the year. Did I like syringa, he asked me? There was a tree on the edge of the lawn he could smell from his bedroom window. His sister, who was a hard, rather practical person, used to complain that there were too many scents at Manderley, they made her drunk. Perhaps she was right. He did not care. It was the only form of intoxication that appealed to him. His earliest recollection was of great branches of lilac, standing in white jars, and they filled the house with a wistful, poignant smell.

The little pathway down the valley to the bay had clumps of azalea and rhododendron planted to the left of it, and if you wandered down it on a May evening after dinner it was just as though the shrubs had sweated in the air. You could stoop down and pick a fallen petal, crush it between your fingers, and you had there, in the hollow of your hand, the essence of a thousand scents, unbearable and sweet. All from a curled and crumpled petal. And you came out of the valley, heady and rather dazed, to the hard white shingle of the beach and the still water. A curious, perhaps too sudden contrast…

As he spoke the car became one of many once again, dusk had fallen without my noticing it, and we were in the midst of light and sound in the streets of Monte Carlo. The clatter jagged on my nerves, and the lights were far too brilliant, far too yellow. It was a swift, unwelcome anticlimax.

Soon we would come to the hotel, and I felt for my gloves in the pocket of the car. I found them, and my fingers closed upon a book as well, whose slim covers told of poetry. I peered to read the title as the car slowed down before the door of the hotel. “You can take it and read it if you like,” he said, his voice casual and indifferent now that the drive was over, and we were back again, and Manderley was many hundreds of miles distant.

I was glad, and held it tightly with my gloves. I felt I wanted some possession of his, now that the day was finished.

“Hop out,” he said. “I must go and put the car away. I shan’t see you in the restaurant this evening as I’m dining out. But thank you for today.”

I went up the hotel steps alone, with all the despondency of a child whose treat is over. My afternoon had spoiled me for the hours that still remained, and I thought how long they would seem until my bedtime, how empty too my supper all alone. Somehow I could not face the bright inquiries of the nurse upstairs, or the possibilities of Mrs. Van Hopper’s husky interrogation, so I sat down in the corner of the lounge behind a pillar and ordered tea.

The waiter appeared bored; seeing me alone there was no need for him to press, and anyway it was that dragging time of day, a few minutes after half past five, when the normal tea is finished and the hour for drinks remote.

Rather forlorn, more than a little dissatisfied, I leaned back in my chair and took up the book of poems. The volume was well worn, well thumbed, falling open automatically at what must be a much-frequented page.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed slopes I sped

And shot, precipited

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong feet that followed, followed after.

I felt rather like someone peering through the keyhole of a locked door, and a little furtively I laid the book aside. What hound of heaven had driven him to the high hills this afternoon? I thought of his car, with half a length between it and that drop of two thousand feet, and the blank expression on his face. What footsteps echoed in his mind, what whispers, and what memories, and why, of all poems, must he keep this one in the pocket of his car? I wished he were less remote; and I anything but the creature that I was in my shabby coat and skirt, my broad-brimmed schoolgirl hat.

The sulky waiter brought my tea, and while I ate bread and butter dull as sawdust I thought of the pathway through the valley he had described to me this afternoon, the smell of the azaleas, and the white shingle of the bay. If he loved it all so much why did he seek the superficial froth of Monte Carlo? He had told Mrs. Van Hopper he had made no plans, he came away in rather a hurry. And I pictured him running down that pathway in the valley with his own hound of heaven at his heels.

I picked up the book again, and this time it opened at the title page, and I read the dedication. “Max—from Rebecca. 17 May,” written in a curious slanting hand. A little blob of ink marred the white page opposite, as though the writer, in impatience, had shaken her pen to make the ink flow freely. And then as it bubbled through the nib, it came a little thick, so that the name Rebecca stood out black and strong, the tall and sloping R dwarfing the other letters.

I shut the book with a snap, and put it away under my gloves; and stretching to a nearby chair, I took up an old copy of L’Illustration and turned the pages. There were some fine photographs of the chateaux of the Loire, and an article as well. I read it carefully, referring to the photographs, but when I finished I knew I had not understood a word. It was not Blois with its thin turrets and its spires that stared up at me from the printed page. It was the face of Mrs. Van Hopper in the restaurant the day before, her small pig’s eyes darting to the neighboring table, her fork, heaped high with ravioli, pausing in mid-air.

“An appalling tragedy,” she was saying, “the papers were full of it of course. They say he never talks about it, never mentions her name. She was drowned you know, in the bay near Manderley…”