Rebecca Chapter 6

Packing up. The nagging worry of departure. Lost keys, unwritten labels, tissue paper lying on the floor. I hate it all. Even now, when I have done so much of it, when I live, as the saying goes, in my boxes. Even today, when shutting drawers and flinging wide an hotel wardrobe, or the impersonal shelves of a furnished villa, is a methodical matter of routine, I am aware of sadness, of a sense of loss. Here, I say, we have lived, we have been happy. This has been ours, however brief the time. Though two nights only have been spent beneath a roof, yet we leave something of ourselves behind. Nothing material, not a hairpin on a dressing table, not an empty bottle of Aspirin tablets, not a handkerchief beneath a pillow, but something indefinable, a moment of our lives, a thought, a mood.

This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. Today we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again. Even stopping for luncheon at a wayside inn, and going to a dark, unfamiliar room to wash my hands, the handle of the door unknown to me, the wallpaper peeling in strips, a funny little cracked mirror above the basin; for this moment, it is mine, it belongs to me. We know one another. This is the present. There is no past and no future. Here I am washing my hands, and the cracked mirror shows me to myself, suspended as it were, in time; this is me, this moment will not pass.

And then I open the door and go to the dining room, where he is sitting waiting for me at a table, and I think how in that moment I have aged, passed on, how I have advanced one step towards an unknown destiny.

We smile, we choose our lunch, we speak of this and that, but—I say to myself—I am not she who left him five minutes ago. She stayed behind. I am another woman, older, more mature…

I saw in a paper the other day that the Hôtel Côte d’Azur at Monte Carlo had gone to new management, and had a different name. The rooms have been redecorated, and the whole interior changed. Perhaps Mrs. Van Hopper’s suite on the first floor exists no more. Perhaps there is no trace of the small bedroom that was mine. I knew I should never go back, that day I knelt on the floor and fumbled with the awkward catch of her trunk.

The episode was finished, with the snapping of the lock. I glanced out of the window, and it was like turning the page of a photograph album. Those rooftops and that sea were mine no more. They belonged to yesterday, to the past. The rooms already wore an empty air, stripped of our possessions, and there was something hungry about the suite, as though it wished us gone, and the new arrivals, who would come tomorrow, in our place. The heavy luggage stood ready strapped and locked in the corridor outside. The smaller stuff would be finished later. Wastepaper baskets groaned under litter. All her half empty medicine bottles and discarded face-cream jars, with torn-up bills and letters. Drawers in tables gaped, the bureau was stripped bare.

She had flung a letter at me the morning before, as I poured out her coffee at breakfast. “Helen is sailing for New York on Saturday. Little Nancy has a threatened appendix, and they’ve cabled her to go home. That’s decided me. We’re going too. I’m tired to death of Europe, and we can come back in the early fall. How d’you like the idea of seeing New York?”

The thought was worse than prison. Something of my misery must have shown in my face, for at first she looked astonished, then annoyed.

“What an odd, unsatisfactory child you are. I can’t make you out. Don’t you realize that at home girls in your position without any money can have the grandest fun? Plenty of boys and excitement. All in your own class. You can have your own little set of friends, and needn’t be at my beck and call as much as you are here. I thought you didn’t care for Monte?”

“I’ve got used to it,” I said lamely, wretchedly, my mind a conflict.

“Well, you’ll just have to get used to New York, that’s all. We’re going to catch that boat of Helen’s, and it means seeing about our passage at once. Go down to the reception office right away, and make that young clerk show some sign of efficiency. Your day will be so full that you won’t have time to have any pangs about leaving Monte!” She laughed disagreeably, squashing her cigarette in the butter, and went to the telephone to ring up all her friends.

I could not face the office right away. I went into the bathroom and locked the door, and sat down on the cork mat, my head in my hands. It had happened at last, the business of going away. It was all over. Tomorrow evening I should be in the train, holding her jewel case and her rug, like a maid, and she in that monstrous new hat with the single quill, dwarfed in her fur-coat, sitting opposite me in the wagon-lit. We would wash and clean our teeth in that stuffy little compartment with the rattling doors, the splashed basin, the damp towel, the soap with a single hair on it, the carafe half-filled with water, the inevitable notice on the wall “Sous le lavabo se trouve une vase,” while every rattle, every throb and jerk of the screaming train would tell me that the miles carried me away from him, sitting alone in the restaurant of the hotel, at the table I had known, reading a book, not minding, not thinking.

I should say good-bye to him in the lounge, perhaps, before we left. A furtive, scrambled farewell, because of her, and there would be a pause, and a smile, and words like “Yes, of course, do write,” and “I’ve never thanked you properly for being so kind,” and “You must forward those snapshots,” “What about your address?” “Well, I’ll have to let you know.” And he would light a cigarette casually, asking a passing waiter for a light, while I thought, “Four and a half more minutes to go. I shall never see him again.”

Because I was going, because it was over, there would suddenly be nothing more to say, we would be strangers, meeting for the last and only time, while my mind clamored painfully, crying “I love you so much. I’m terribly unhappy. This has never come to me before, and never will again.” My face would be set in a prim, conventional smile, my voice would be saying, “Look at that funny old man over there; I wonder who he is; he must be new here.” And we would waste the last moments laughing at a stranger, because we were already strangers to one another. “I hope the snapshots come out well,” repeating oneself in desperation, and he “Yes, that one of the square ought to be good; the light was just right.” Having both of us gone into all that at the time, having agreed upon it, and anyway I would not care if the result was fogged and black, because this was the last moment, the final good-bye had been attained.

“Well,” my dreadful smile stretching across my face, “thanks most awfully once again, it’s been so ripping…” using words I had never used before. Ripping: what did it mean?—God knows, I did not care; it was the sort of word that schoolgirls had for hockey, wildly inappropriate to those past weeks of misery and exultation. Then the doors of the lift would open upon Mrs. Van Hopper and I would cross the lounge to meet her, and he would stroll back again to his corner and pick up a paper.

Sitting there, ridiculously, on the cork mat of the bathroom floor, I lived it all, and our journey too, and our arrival in New York. The shrill voice of Helen, a narrower edition of her mother, and Nancy, her horrid little child. The college boys that Mrs. Van Hopper would have me know, and the young bank clerks, suitable to my station. “Let’s make Wednesday night a date.” “D’you like Hot music?” Snub-nosed boys, with shiny faces. Having to be polite. And wanting to be alone with my own thoughts as I was now, locked behind the bathroom door…

She came and rattled on the door. “What are you doing?”

“All right—I’m sorry, I’m coming now,” and I made a pretence of turning on the tap, of bustling about and folding a towel on a rail.

She glanced at me curiously as I opened the door. “What a time you’ve been. You can’t afford to dream this morning, you know, there’s too much to be done.”

He would go back to Manderley, of course, in a few weeks; I felt certain of that. There would be a great pile of letters waiting for him in the hall, and mine among them, scribbled on the boat. A forced letter, trying to amuse, describing my fellow passengers. It would lie about inside his blotter, and he would answer it weeks later, one Sunday morning in a hurry, before lunch, having come across it when he paid some bills. And then no more. Nothing until the final degradation of the Christmas card. Manderley itself perhaps, against a frosted background. The message printed, saying “A happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year from Maximilian de Winter.” Gold lettering. But to be kind he would have run his pen through the printed name and written in ink underneath “from Maxim,” as a sort of sop, and if there was space, a message, “I hope you are enjoying New York.” A lick of the envelope, a stamp, and tossed in a pile of a hundred others.

“It’s too bad you are leaving tomorrow,” said the reception clerk, telephone in hand; “the Ballet starts next week, you know. Does Mrs. Van Hopper know?” I dragged myself back from Christmas at Manderley to the realities of the wagon-lit.

Mrs. Van Hopper lunched in the restaurant for the first time since her influenza, and I had a pain in the pit of my stomach as I followed her into the room. He had gone to Cannes for the day, that much I knew, for he had warned me the day before, but I kept thinking the waiter might commit an indiscretion and say: “Will Mademoiselle be dining with Monsieur tonight as usual?” I felt a little sick whenever he came near the table, but he said nothing.

The day was spent in packing, and in the evening people came to say good-bye. We dined in the sitting room, and she went to bed directly afterwards. Still I had not seen him. I went down to the lounge about half past nine on the pretext of getting luggage labels and he was not there. The odious reception clerk smiled when he saw me. “If you are looking for Mr. de Winter we had a message from Cannes to say he would not be back before midnight.”

“I want a packet of luggage labels,” I said, but I saw by his eye that he was not deceived. So there would be no last evening after all. The hour I had looked forward to all day must be spent by myself alone, in my own bedroom, gazing at my Revelation suit-case and the stout holdall. Perhaps it was just as well, for I should have made a poor companion, and he must have read my face.

I know I cried that night, bitter youthful tears that could not come from me today. That kind of crying, deep into a pillow, does not happen after we are twenty-one. The throbbing head, the swollen eyes, the tight, contracted throat. And the wild anxiety in the morning to hide all traces from the world, sponging with cold water, dabbing eau-de-Cologne, the furtive dash of powder that is significant in itself. The panic, too, that one might cry again, the tears swelling without control, and a fatal trembling of the mouth lead one to disaster. I remember opening wide my window and leaning out, hoping the fresh morning air would blow away the telltale pink under the powder, and the sun had never seemed so bright, nor the day so full of promise. Monte Carlo was suddenly full of kindliness and charm, the one place in the world that held sincerity. I loved it. Affection overwhelmed me. I wanted to live there all my life. And I was leaving it today. This is the last time I brush my hair before the looking glass, the last time I shall clean my teeth into the basin. Never again sleep in that bed. Never more turn off the switch of that electric light. There I was, padding about in a dressing gown, making a slough of sentiment out of a commonplace hotel bedroom.

“You haven’t started a cold, have you?” she said at breakfast.

“No,” I told her, “I don’t think so,” clutching at a straw, for this might serve as an excuse later, if I was over-pink about the eyes.

“I hate hanging about once everything is packed,” she grumbled; “we ought to have decided on the earlier train. We could get it if we made the effort, and then have longer in Paris. Wire Helen not to meet us, but arrange another rendezvous. I wonder”—she glanced at her watch—“I suppose they could change the reservations. Anyway it’s worth trying. Go down to the office and see.”

“Yes,” I said, a dummy to her moods going into my bedroom and flinging off my dressing gown, fastening my inevitable flannel skirt and stretching my homemade jumper over my head. My indifference to her turned to hatred. This was the end then, even my morning must be taken from me. No last half hour on the terrace, not even ten minutes perhaps to say goodbye. Because she had finished breakfast earlier than she expected, because she was bored. Well then, I would fling away restraint and modesty, I would not be proud anymore. I slammed the door of the sitting room and ran along the passage. I did not wait for the lift, I climbed the stairs, three at a time, up to the third floor. I knew the number of his room, 148, and I hammered at the door, very flushed in the face and breathless.

“Come in,” he shouted, and I opened the door, repenting already, my nerve failing me; for perhaps he had only just woken up, having been late last night, and would be still in bed, tousled in the head and irritable.

He was shaving by the open window, a camel-hair jacket over his pajamas, and I in my flannel suit and heavy shoes felt clumsy and over dressed. I was merely foolish, when I had felt myself dramatic.

“What do you want?” he said. “Is something the matter?”

“I’ve come to say good-bye,” I said, “we’re going this morning.”

He stared at me, then put his razor down on the washstand. “Shut the door,” he said.

I closed it behind me, and stood there, rather self-conscious, my hands hanging by my side. “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked.

“It’s true, we’re leaving today. We were going by the later train, and now she wants to catch the earlier one, and I was afraid I shouldn’t see you again. I felt I must see you before I left, to thank you.”

They tumbled out, the idiotic words, just as I had imagined them. I was stiff and awkward; in a moment I should say he had been ripping.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” he said.

“She only decided yesterday. It was all done in a hurry. Her daughter sails for New York on Saturday, and we are going with her. We’re joining her in Paris, and going through to Cherbourg.”

“She’s taking you with her to New York?”

“Yes, and I don’t want to go. I shall hate it; I shall be miserable.”

“Why in heaven’s name go with her then?”

“I have to, you know that. I work for a salary. I can’t afford to leave her.” He picked up his razor again, and took the soap off his face. “Sit down,” he said. “I shan’t be long. I’ll dress in the bathroom, and be ready in five minutes.”

He took his clothes off the chair and threw them on the bathroom floor, and went inside, slamming the door. I sat down on the bed and began biting my nails. The situation was unreal, and I felt like a lay figure. I wondered what he was thinking, what he was going to do. I glanced round the room, it was the room of any man, untidy and impersonal. Lots of shoes, more than ever were needed, and strings of ties. The dressing table was bare, except for a large bottle of hair-wash and a pair of ivory hair-brushes. No photographs. No snapshots. Nothing like that. Instinctively I had looked for them, thinking there would be one photograph at least beside his bed, or in the middle of the mantelpiece. One large one, in a leather frame. There were only books though, and a box of cigarettes.

He was ready, as he had promised, in five minutes. “Come down to the terrace while I eat my breakfast,” he said.

I looked at my watch. “I haven’t time,” I told him. “I ought to be in the office now, changing the reservations.”

“Never mind about that, I’ve got to talk to you,” he said.

We walked down the corridor and he rang for the lift. He can’t realize, I thought, that the early train leaves in about an hour and a half. Mrs. Van Hopper will ring up the office, in a moment, and ask if I am there. We went down in the lift, not talking, and so out to the terrace, where the tables were laid for breakfast.

“What are you going to have?” he said.

“I’ve had mine already,” I told him, “and I can only stay four minutes anyway.”

“Bring me coffee, a boiled egg, toast, marmalade, and a tangerine,” he said to the waiter. And he took an emery board out of his pocket and began filing his nails.

“So Mrs. Van Hopper has had enough of Monte Carlo,” he said, “and now she wants to go home. So do I. She to New York and I to Manderley. Which would you prefer? You can take your choice.”

“Don’t make a joke about it; it’s unfair,” I said; “and I think I had better see about those tickets, and say good-bye now.”

“If you think I’m one of the people who try to be funny at breakfast you’re wrong,” he said. “I’m invariably ill-tempered in the early morning. I repeat to you, the choice is open to you. Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.”

“Do you mean you want a secretary or something?”

“No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”

The waiter came with the breakfast, and I sat with my hands in my lap, watching while he put down the pot of coffee and the jug of milk.

“You don’t understand,” I said, when the waiter had gone; “I’m not the sort of person men marry.”

“What the devil do you mean?” he said, staring at me, laying down his spoon.

I watched a fly settle on the marmalade, and he brushed it away impatiently.

“I’m not sure,” I said slowly. “I don’t think I know how to explain. I don’t belong to your sort of world for one thing.”

“What is my world?”

“Well—Manderley. You know what I mean.”

He picked up his spoon again and helped himself to marmalade.

“You are almost as ignorant as Mrs. Van Hopper, and just as unintelligent. What do you know of Manderley? I’m the person to judge that, whether you would belong there or not. You think I ask you this on the spur of the moment, don’t you? Because you say you don’t want to go to New York. You think I ask you to marry me for the same reason you believed I drove you about in the car, yes, and gave you dinner that first evening. To be kind. Don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“One day,” he went on, spreading his toast thick, “you may realize that philanthropy is not my strongest quality. At the moment I don’t think you realize anything at all. You haven’t answered my question. Are you going to marry me?”

I don’t believe, even in my fiercest moments, I had considered this possibility. I had once, when driving with him and we had been silent for many miles, started a rambling story in my head about him being very ill, delirious I think, and sending for me and I having to nurse him. I had reached the point in my story where I was putting eau-de-Cologne on his head when we arrived at the hotel, and so it finished there. And another time I had imagined living in a lodge in the grounds of Manderley, and how he would visit me sometimes, and sit in front of the fire. This sudden talk of marriage bewildered me, even shocked me I think. It was as though the King asked one. It did not ring true. And he went on eating his marmalade as though everything were natural. In books men knelt to women, and it would be moonlight. Not at breakfast, not like this.

“My suggestion doesn’t seem to have gone too well,” he said. “I’m sorry. I rather thought you loved me. A fine blow to my conceit.”

“I do love you,” I said. “I love you dreadfully. You’ve made me very unhappy and I’ve been crying all night because I thought I should never see you again.”

When I said this I remember he laughed, and stretched his hand to me across the breakfast table. “Bless you for that,” he said; “one day, when you reach that exalted age of thirty-six which you told me was your ambition, I’ll remind you of this moment. And you won’t believe me. It’s a pity you have to grow up.”

I was ashamed already, and angry with him for laughing. So women did not make those confessions to men. I had a lot to learn.

“So that’s settled, isn’t it?” he said, going on with his toast and marmalade; “instead of being companion to Mrs. Van Hopper you become mine, and your duties will be almost exactly the same. I also like new library books, and flowers in the drawing room, and bezique after dinner. And someone to pour out my tea. The only difference is that I don’t take Taxol, I prefer Eno’s, and you must never let me run out of my particular brand of toothpaste.”

I drummed with my fingers on the table, uncertain of myself and of him. Was he still laughing at me, was it all a joke? He looked up, and saw the anxiety on my face. “I’m being rather a brute to you, aren’t I?” he said; “this isn’t your idea of a proposal. We ought to be in a conservatory, you in a white frock with a rose in your hand, and a violin playing a waltz in the distance. And I should make violent love to you behind a palm tree. You would feel then you were getting your money’s worth. Poor darling, what a shame. Never mind, I’ll take you to Venice for our honeymoon and we’ll hold hands in the gondola. But we won’t stay too long, because I want to show you Manderley.”

He wanted to show me Manderley… And suddenly I realized that it would all happen; I would be his wife, we would walk in the garden together, we would stroll down that path in the valley to the shingle beach. I knew how I would stand on the steps after breakfast, looking at the day, throwing crumbs to the birds, and later wander out in a shady hat with long scissors in my hand, and cut flowers for the house. I knew now why I had bought that picture postcard as a child; it was a premonition, a blank step into the future.

He wanted to show me Manderley… My mind ran riot then, figures came before me and picture after picture—and all the while he ate his tangerine, giving me a piece now and then, and watching me. We would be in a crowd of people, and he would say, “I don’t think you have met my wife.” Mrs. de Winter. I would be Mrs. de Winter. I considered my name, and the signature on checks, to tradesmen, and in letters asking people to dinner. I heard myself talking on the telephone: “Why not come down to Manderley next weekend?” People, always a throng of people. “Oh, but she’s simply charming, you must meet her—” This about me, a whisper on the fringe of a crowd, and I would turn away, pretending I had not heard.

Going down to the lodge with a basket on my arm, grapes and peaches for the old lady who was sick. Her hands stretched out to me, “The Lord bless you, Madam, for being so good,” and my saying, “Just send up to the house for anything you want.” Mrs. de Winter. I would be Mrs. de Winter. I saw the polished table in the dining room, and the long candles. Maxim sitting at the end. A party of twenty-four. I had a flower in my hair. Everyone looked towards me, holding up his glass. “We must drink the health of the bride,” and Maxim saying afterwards, “I have never seen you look so lovely.” Great cool rooms, filled with flowers. My bedroom, with a fire in the winter, someone knocking at the door. And a woman comes in, smiling; she is Maxim’s sister, and she is saying, “It’s really wonderful how happy you have made him; everyone is so pleased, you are such a success.” Mrs. de Winter. I would be Mrs. de Winter.

“The rest of the tangerine is sour, I shouldn’t eat it,” he said, and I stared at him, the words going slowly to my head, then looked down at the fruit on my plate. The quarter was hard and pale. He was right. The tangerine was very sour. I had a sharp, bitter taste in my mouth, and I had only just noticed it.

“Am I going to break the news to Mrs. Van Hopper or are you?” he said.

He was folding up his napkin, pushing back his plate, and I wondered how it was he spoke so casually, as though the matter was of little consequence, a mere adjustment of plans. Whereas to me it was a bombshell, exploding in a thousand fragments.

“You tell her,” I said; “she’ll be so angry.”

We got up from the table, I excited and flushed, trembling already in anticipation. I wondered if he would tell the waiter, take my arm smilingly and say, “You must congratulate us, Mademoiselle and I are going to be married.” And all the other waiters would hear, would bow to us, would smile, and we would pass into the lounge, a wave of excitement following us, a flutter of expectation. But he said nothing. He left the terrace without a word, and I followed him to the lift. We passed the reception desk and no one even looked at us. The clerk was busy with a sheaf of papers, he was talking over his shoulder to his junior. He does not know, I thought, that I am going to be Mrs. de Winter. I am going to live at Manderley. Manderley will belong to me. We went up in the lift to the first floor, and so along the passage. He took my hand and swung it as we went along. “Does forty-two seem very old to you?” he said.

“Oh, no,” I told him, quickly, too eagerly perhaps. “I don’t like young men.”

“You’ve never known any,” he said.

We came to the door of the suite. “I think I had better deal with this alone,” he said; “tell me something—do you mind how soon you marry me? You don’t want a trousseau, do you, or any of that nonsense? Because the whole thing can be so easily arranged in a few days. Over a desk, with a license, and then off in the car to Venice or anywhere you fancy.”

“Not in a church?” I asked. “Not in white, with bridesmaids, and bells, and choir boys? What about your relations, and all your friends?”

“You forget,” he said, “I had that sort of wedding before.”

We went on standing in front of the door of the suite, and I noticed that the daily paper was still thrust through the letterbox. We had been too busy to read it at breakfast.

“Well?” he said, “what about it?”

“Of course,” I answered, “I was thinking for the moment we would be married at home. Naturally I don’t expect a church, or people, or anything like that.”

And I smiled at him. I made a cheerful face. “Won’t it be fun?” I said.

He had turned to the door though, and opened it, and we were inside the suite in the little entrance passage.

“Is that you?” called Mrs. Van Hopper from the sitting room. “What in the name of Mike have you been doing? I’ve rung the office three times and they said they hadn’t seen you.”

I was seized with a sudden desire to laugh, to cry, to do both, and I had a pain, too, at the pit of my stomach. I wished, for one wild moment, that none of this had happened, that I was alone somewhere, going for a walk, and whistling.

“I’m afraid it’s all my fault,” he said, going into the sitting room, shutting the door behind him, and I heard her exclamation of surprise.

Then I went into my bedroom and sat down by the open window. It was like waiting in the anteroom at a doctor’s. I ought to turn over the pages of a magazine, look at photographs that did not matter and read articles I should never remember, until the nurse came, bright and efficient, all humanity washed away by years of disinfectant: “It’s all right, the operation was quite successful. There is no need to worry at all. I should go home and have some sleep.”

The walls of the suite were thick, I could hear no hum of voices. I wondered what he was saying to her, how he phrased his words. Perhaps he said, I fell in love with her, you know, the very first time we met. We’ve been seeing one another every day.” And she in answer, “Why, Mr. de Winter, it’s quite the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.” Romantic, that was the word I had tried to remember coming up in the lift. Yes, of course. Romantic. That was what people would say. It was all very sudden and romantic. They suddenly decided to get married and there it was. Such an adventure. I smiled to myself as I hugged my knees on the window seat, thinking how wonderful it was, how happy I was going to be. I was to marry the man I loved. I was to be Mrs. de Winter. It was foolish to go on having that pain in the pit of my stomach when I was so happy. Nerves of course. Waiting like this; the doctor’s anteroom. It would have been better, after all, more natural surely to have gone into the sitting room hand in hand, laughing, smiling at one another and for him to say “We’re going to be married, we’re very much in love.”

In love. He had not said anything yet about being in love. No time perhaps. It was all so hurried at the breakfast table. Marmalade, and coffee, and that tangerine. No time. The tangerine was very bitter. No, he had not said anything about being in love. Just that we would be married. Short and definite, very original. Original proposals were much better. More genuine. Not like other people. Not like younger men who talked nonsense probably, not meaning half they said. Not like younger men being very incoherent, very passionate, swearing impossibilities. Not like him the first time, asking Rebecca… I must not think of that. Put it away. A thought forbidden, prompted by demons. Get thee behind me, Satan. I must never think about that, never, never, never. He loves me, he wants to show me Manderley. Would they ever have done with their talking, would they ever call me into the room?

There was the book of poems lying beside my bed. He had forgotten he had ever lent them to me. They could not mean much to him then. “Go on,” whispered the demon, “open the title page; that’s what you want to do, isn’t it? Open the title page.” Nonsense, I said, I’m only going to put the book with the rest of the things. I yawned. I wandered to the table beside the bed. I picked up the book. I caught my foot in the flex of the bedside lamp, and stumbled, the book falling from my hands onto the floor. It fell open, at the title page. “Max from Rebecca.” She was dead, and one must not have thoughts about the dead. They slept in peace, the grass blew over their graves. How alive was her writing though, how full of force. Those curious, sloping letters. The blob of ink. Done yesterday. It was just as if it had been written yesterday. I took my nail scissors from the dressing-case and cut the page, looking over my shoulder like a criminal.

I cut the page right out of the book. I left no jagged edges, and the book looked white and clean when the page was gone. A new book, that had not been touched. I tore the page up in many little fragments and threw them into the wastepaper basket. Then I went and sat on the window seat again. But I kept thinking of the torn scraps in the basket, and after a moment I had to get up and look in the basket once more. Even now the ink stood up on the fragments thick and black, the writing was not destroyed. I took a box of matches and set fire to the fragments. The flame had a lovely light, staining the paper, curling the edges, making the slanting writing impossible to distinguish. The fragments fluttered to gray ashes. The letter R was the last to go, it twisted in the flame, it curled outwards for a moment, becoming larger than ever. Then it crumpled too; the flame destroyed it. It was not ashes even, it was feathery dust… I went and washed my hands in the basin. I felt better, much better. I had the clean new feeling that one has when the calendar is hung on the wall at the beginning of the year. January the 1st. I was aware of the same freshness, the same gay confidence. The door opened and he came into the room.

“All’s well,” he said; “shock made her speechless at first, but she’s beginning to recover, so I’m going downstairs to the office, to make certain she will catch the first train. For a moment she wavered; I think she had hopes of acting witness at the wedding, but I was very firm. Go and talk to her.”

He said nothing about being glad, about being happy. He did not take my arm and go into the sitting room with me. He smiled, and waved his hand, and went off down the corridor alone. I went to Mrs. Van Hopper, uncertain, rather self-conscious, like a maid who has handed in her notice through a friend.

She was standing by the window, smoking a cigarette, an odd, dumpy little figure I should not see again, her coat stretched tight over her large breasts, her ridiculous hat perched sideways on her head.

“Well,” she said, her voice dry and hard, not the voice she would have used to him. “I suppose I’ve got to hand it to you for a double-time worker. Still waters certainly run deep in your case. How did you manage it?”

I did not know what to answer. I did not like her smile. “It was a lucky thing for you I had the influenza,” she said. “I realize now how you spent your days, and why you were so forgetful. Tennis lessons my eye. You might have told me, you know.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She looked at me curiously, she ran her eyes over my figure. “And he tells me he wants to marry you in a few days. Lucky again for you that you haven’t a family to ask questions. Well, it’s nothing to do with me anymore, I wash my hands of the whole affair. I rather wonder what his friends will think, but I suppose that’s up to him. You realize he’s years older than you?”

“He’s only forty-two,” I said, “and I’m old for my age.”

She laughed, she dropped cigarette ash on the floor. “You certainly are,” she said. She went on looking at me in a way she had never done before. Appraising me, running her eyes over my points like a judge at a cattle show. There was something inquisitive about her eyes, something unpleasant.

“Tell me,” she said, intimate, a friend to a friend, “have you been doing anything you shouldn’t?”

She was like Blaize, the dressmaker, who had offered me that ten percent.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.

She laughed, she shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, well… never mind. But I always said English girls were dark horses, for all their hockey-playing attitude. So I’m supposed to travel to Paris alone, and leave you here while your beau gets a marriage license? I notice he doesn’t ask me to the wedding.”

“I don’t think he wants anyone, and anyway you would have sailed,” I said.

“H’m, h’m,” she said. She took out her vanity case and began powdering her nose. “I suppose you really do know your own mind,” she went on; “after all, the whole thing has been very hurried, hasn’t it? A matter of a few weeks. I don’t suppose he’s too easy, and you’ll have to adapt yourself to his ways. You’ve led an extremely sheltered life up to now, you know, and you can’t say that I’ve run you off your feet. You will have your work cut out as mistress of Manderley. To be perfectly frank, my dear, I simply can’t see you doing it.”

Her words sounded like the echo of my own an hour before.

“You haven’t the experience,” she continued, “you don’t know that milieu. You can scarcely string two sentences together at my bridge teas, what are you going to say to all his friends? The Manderley parties were famous when she was alive. Of course he’s told you all about them?”

I hesitated, but she went on, thank heaven, not waiting for my answer.

“Naturally one wants you to be happy, and I grant you he’s a very attractive creature but—well, I’m sorry; and personally I think you are making a big mistake—one you will bitterly regret.”

She put down the box of powder, and looked at me over her shoulder. Perhaps she was being sincere at last, but I did not want that sort of honesty. I did not say anything. I looked sullen, perhaps, for she shrugged her shoulders and wandered to the looking glass, straightening her little mushroom hat. I was glad she was going, glad I should not see her again. I grudged the months I had spent with her, employed by her, taking her money, trotting in her wake like a shadow, drab and dumb. Of course I was inexperienced, of course I was idiotic, shy, and young. I knew all that. She did not have to tell me. I suppose her attitude was deliberate, and for some odd feminine reason she resented this marriage; her scale of values had received a shock.

Well, I would not care, I would forget her and her barbed words. A new confidence had been born in me when I burned that page and scattered the fragments. The past would not exist for either of us; we were starting afresh, he and I. The past had blown away like the ashes in the wastepaper basket. I was going to be Mrs. de Winter. I was going to live at Manderley.

Soon she would be gone, rattling alone in the wagon-lit without me, and he and I would be together in the dining room of the hotel, lunching at the same table, planning the future. The brink of a big adventure. Perhaps, once she had gone, he would talk to me at last, about loving me, about being happy. Up to now there had been no time, and anyway those things are not easily said, they must wait their moment. I looked up, and caught her reflection in the looking glass. She was watching me, a little tolerant smile on her lips. I thought she was going to be generous after all, hold out her hand and wish me luck, give me encouragement and tell me that everything was going to be all right. But she went on smiling, twisting a stray hair into place beneath her hat.

“Of course,” she said, “you know why he is marrying you, don’t you? You haven’t flattered yourself he’s in love with you? The fact is that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent he nearly went off his head. He admitted as much before you came into the room. He just can’t go on living there alone…”