Rebecca Chapter 8

I had never realized, of course, that life at Manderley would be so orderly and planned. I remember now, looking back, how on that first morning Maxim was up and dressed and writing letters, even before breakfast, and when I got downstairs, rather after nine o’clock, a little flurried by the booming summons of the gong, I found he had nearly finished, he was already peeling his fruit.

He looked up at me and smiled. “You mustn’t mind,” he said; “this is something you will have to get used to. I’ve no time to hang about at this hour of the day. Running a place like Manderley, you know, is a full-time job. The coffee and the hot dishes are on the sideboard. We always help ourselves at breakfast.” I said something about my clock being slow, about having been too long in the bath, but he did not listen, he was looking down at a letter, frowning at something.

How impressed I was, I remember well; impressed and a little overawed by the magnificence of the breakfast offered to us. There was tea, in a great silver urn, and coffee too, and on the heater, piping hot, dishes of scrambled eggs, of bacon, and another of fish. There was a little clutch of boiled eggs as well, in their own special heater, and porridge, in a silver porringer. On another sideboard was a ham, and a great piece of cold bacon. There were scones too, on the table, and toast, and various pots of jam, marmalade, and honey, while dessert dishes, piled high with fruit, stood at either end. It seemed strange to me that Maxim, who in Italy and France had eaten a croissant and fruit only, and drunk a cup of coffee, should sit down to this breakfast at home, enough for a dozen people, day after day probably, year after year, seeing nothing ridiculous about it, nothing wasteful.

I noticed he had eaten a small piece of fish. I took a boiled egg. And I wondered what happened to the rest, all those scrambled eggs, that crisp bacon, the porridge, the remains of the fish. Were there menials, I wondered, whom I should never know, never see, waiting behind kitchen doors for the gift of our breakfast? Or was it all thrown away, shoveled into dustbins? I would never know, of course, I would never dare to ask.

“Thank the Lord I haven’t a great crowd of relations to inflict upon you,” said Maxim, “a sister I very rarely see, and a grandmother who is nearly blind. Beatrice, by the way, asks herself over to lunch. I half expected she would. I suppose she wants to have a look at you.”

“Today?” I said, my spirits sinking to zero.

“Yes, according to the letter I got this morning. She won’t stay long. You’ll like her, I think. She’s very direct, believes in speaking her mind. No humbug at all. If she doesn’t like you she’ll tell you so, to your face.”

I found this hardly comforting, and wondered if there was not some virtue in the quality of insincerity. Maxim got up from his chair, and lit a cigarette. “I’ve a mass of things to see to this morning, do you think you can amuse yourself?” he said. “I’d like to have taken you round the garden, but I must see Crawley, my agent. I’ve been away from things too long. He’ll be in to lunch, too, by the way. You don’t mind, do you? You will be all right?”

“Of course,” I said, “I shall be quite happy.”

Then he picked up his letters, and went out of the room, and I remember thinking this was not how I imagined my first morning; I had seen us walking together, arms linked, to the sea, coming back rather late and tired and happy to a cold lunch, alone, and sitting afterwards under that chestnut tree I could see from the library window.

I lingered long over my first breakfast, spinning out the time, and it was not until I saw Frith come in and look at me, from behind the service screen, that I realized it was after ten o’clock. I sprang to my feet at once, feeling guilty, and apologized for sitting there so late, and he bowed, saying nothing, very polite, very correct, and I caught a flicker of surprise in his eyes. I wondered if I had said the wrong thing. Perhaps it did not do to apologize. Perhaps it lowered me in his estimation. I wished I knew what to say, what to do. I wondered if he suspected, as Mrs. Danvers had done, that poise, and grace, and assurance were not qualities inbred in me, but were things to be acquired, painfully perhaps, and slowly, costing me many bitter moments.

As it was, leaving the room, I stumbled, not looking where I was going, catching my foot on the step by the door, and Frith came forward to help me, picking up my handkerchief, while Robert, the young footman, who was standing behind the screen, turned away to hide his smile.

I heard the murmur of their voices as I crossed the hall, and one of them laughed—Robert, I supposed. Perhaps they were laughing about me. I went upstairs again, to the privacy of my bedroom, but when I opened the door I found the housemaids in there doing the room; one was sweeping the floor, the other dusting the dressing table. They looked at me in surprise. I quickly went out again. It could not be right, then, for me to go to my room at that hour in the morning. It was not expected of me. It broke the household routine. I crept downstairs once more, silently, thankful of my slippers that made no sound on the stone flags, and so into the library, which was chilly, the windows flung wide open, the fire laid but not lit.

I shut the windows, and looked round for a box of matches. I could not find one. I wondered what I should do. I did not like to ring. But the library, so snug and warm last night with the burning logs, was like an icehous now, in the early morning. There were matches upstairs in the bedroom, but I did not like to go for them because it would mean disturbing the housemaids at their work. I could not bear their moon faces staring at me again. I decided that when Frith and Robert had left the dining room I would fetch the matches from the sideboard. I tiptoed out into the hall and listened. They were still clearing, I could hear the sound of voices, and the movement of trays. Presently all was silent, they must have gone through the service doors into the kitchen quarters, so I went across the hall and into the dining room once more. Yes, there was a box of matches on the sideboard, as I expected. I crossed the room quickly and picked them up, and as I did so Frith came back into the room. I tried to cram the box furtively into my pocket, but I saw him glance at my hand in surprise.

“Did you require anything, Madam?” he said.

“Oh, Frith,” I said awkwardly, “I could not find any matches.” He at once proffered me another box, handing me the cigarettes too, at the same time. This was another embarrassment, for I did not smoke.

“No, the fact is,” I said, “I felt rather cool in the library, I suppose the weather seems chilly to me, after being abroad and I thought perhaps I would just put a match to the fire.”

“The fire in the library is not usually lit until the afternoon, Madam,” he said. “Mrs. de Winter always used the morning room. There is a good fire in there. Of course if you should wish to have the fire in the library as well I will give orders for it to be lit.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “I would not dream of it. I will go into the morning room. Thank you, Frith.”

“You will find writing paper, and pens, and ink, in there, Madam,” he said. “Mrs. de Winter always did all her correspondence and telephoning in the morning room, after breakfast. The house telephone is also there, should you wish to speak to Mrs. Danvers.”

“Thank you, Frith,” I said.

I turned away into the hall again, humming a little tune to give me an air of confidence. I could not tell him that I had never seen the morning room, that Maxim had not shown it to me the night before. I knew he was standing in the entrance to the dining room, watching me, as I went across the hall, and that I must make some show of knowing my way. There was a door to the left of the great staircase, and I went recklessly towards it, praying in my heart that it would take me to my goal, but when I came to it and opened it I saw that it was a garden room, a place for odds and ends: there was a table where flowers were done, there were basket chairs stacked against the wall, and a couple of mackintoshes too, hanging on a peg. I came out, a little defiantly, glancing across the hall, and saw Frith still standing there. I had not deceived him, though, not for a moment.

“You go through the drawing room to the morning room, Madam,” he said, “through the door there, on your right, this side of the staircase. You go straight through the double drawing room, and turn to your left.”

“Thank you, Frith,” I said humbly, pretending no longer.

I went through the long drawing room, as he had directed; a lovely room this, beautifully proportioned, looking out upon the lawns down to the sea. The public would see this room, I supposed, and Frith, if he showed them round, would know the history of the pictures on the wall, and the period of the furniture. It was beautiful of course, I knew that, and those chairs and tables probably without price, but for all that I had no wish to linger there; I could not see myself sitting ever in those chairs, standing before that carved mantelpiece, throwing books down onto the tables. It had all the formality of a room in a museum, where alcoves were roped off, and a guardian, in cloak and hat like the guides in the French châteaux, sat in a chair beside the door. I went through then, and turned to the left, and so onto the little morning room I had not seen before.

I was glad to see the dogs there, sitting before the fire, and Jasper, the younger, came over to me at once, his tail wagging, and thrust his nose into my hand. The old one lifted her muzzle at my approach, and gazed in my direction with her blind eyes, but when she had sniffed the air a moment, and found I was not the one she sought, she turned her head away with a grunt, and looked steadily into the fire again. Then Jasper left me, too, and settled himself by the side of his companion, licking his side. This was their routine. They knew, even as Frith had known, that the library fire was not lit until the afternoon. They came to the morning room from long custom. Somehow I guessed, before going to the window, that the room looked out upon the rhododendrons. Yes, there they were, bloodred and luscious, as I had seen them the evening before, great bushes of them, massed beneath the open window, encroaching onto the sweep of the drive itself. There was a little clearing too, between the bushes, like a miniature lawn, the grass a smooth carpet of moss, and in the center of this, the tiny statue of a naked faun, his pipes to his lips.

The crimson rhododendrons made his background, and the clearing itself was like a little stage, where he would dance, and play his part. There was no musty smell about this room, as there had been in the library. There were no old well-worn chairs, no tables littered with magazines and papers, seldom if ever read, but left there from long custom, because Maxim’s father, or even his grandfather perhaps, had wished it so.

This was a woman’s room, graceful, fragile, the room of someone who had chosen every particle of furniture with great care, so that each chair, each vase, each small, infinitesimal thing should be in harmony with one another, and with her own personality. It was as though she who had arranged this room had said: “This I will have, and this, and this,” taking piece by piece from the treasures in Manderley each object that pleased her best, ignoring the second-rate, the mediocre, laying her hand with sure certain instinct only upon the best. There was no intermingling of style, no confusing of period, and the result was perfection in a strange and startling way, not coldly formal like the drawing room shown to the public, but vividly alive, having something of the same glow and brilliance that the rhododendrons had, massed there, beneath the window. And I noticed then that the rhododendrons, not content with forming their theater on the little lawn outside the window, had been permitted to the room itself. Their great warm faces looked down upon me from the mantelpiece, they floated in a bowl upon the table by the sofa, they stood, lean and graceful, on the writing desk beside the golden candlesticks.

The room was filled with them, even the walls took color from them, becoming rich and glowing in the morning sun. They were the only flowers in the room, and I wondered if there was some purpose in it, whether the room had been arranged originally with this one end in view, for nowhere else in the house did the rhododendrons obtrude. There were flowers in the dining room, flowers in the library, but orderly and trim, rather in the background, not like this, not in profusion. I went and sat down at the writing desk, and I thought how strange it was that this room, so lovely and so rich in color, should be, at the same time, so businesslike and purposeful. Somehow I should have expected that a room furnished as this was in such exquisite taste, for all the exaggeration of the flowers, would be a place of decoration only, languorous and intimate.

But this writing-table, beautiful as it was, was no pretty toy where a woman would scribble little notes, nibbling the end of a pen, leaving it, day after day, in carelessness, the blotter a little askew. The pigeonholes were docketed, “letters unanswered,” “letters-to-keep,” “household,” “estate,” “menus,” “miscellaneous,” “addresses”; each ticket written in that same scrawling pointed hand that I knew already. And it shocked me, even startled me, to recognize it again, for I had not seen it since I had destroyed the page from the book of poems, and I had not thought to see it again.

I opened a drawer at hazard, and there was the writing once more, this time in an open leather book, whose heading “Guests at Manderley” showed at once, divided into weeks and months, what visitors had come and gone, the rooms they had used, the food they had eaten. I turned over the pages and saw that the book was a complete record of a year, so that the hostess, glancing back, would know to the day, almost to the hour, what guest had passed what night under her roof, and where he had slept, and what she had given him to eat. There was notepaper also in the drawer, thick white sheets, for rough writing, and the notepaper of the house, with the crest, and the address, and visiting cards, ivory white, in little boxes.

I took one out and looked at it, unwrapped it from its thin tissue of paper. “Mrs. M. de Winter” it said, and in the corner “Manderley.” I put it back in the box again, and shut the drawer, feeling guilty suddenly, and deceitful, as though I were staying in somebody else’s house and my hostess had said to me, “Yes, of course, write letters at my desk,” and I had unforgivably, in a stealthy manner, peeped at her correspondence. At any moment she might come back into the room and she would see me there, sitting before her open drawer, which I had no right to touch.

And when the telephone rang, suddenly, alarmingly, on the desk in front of me, my heart leapt and I started up in terror, thinking I had been discovered. I took the receiver off with trembling hands, and “Who is it?” I said, “who do you want?” There was a strange buzzing at the end of the line, and then a voice came, low and rather harsh, whether that of a woman or a man I could not tell, and “Mrs. de Winter?” it said, “Mrs. de Winter?”

“I’m afraid you have made a mistake,” I said; “Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year.” I sat there, waiting, staring stupidly into the mouthpiece, and it was not until the name was repeated again, the voice incredulous, slightly raised, that I became aware, with a rush of color to my face, that I had blundered irretrievably, and could not take back my words. “It’s Mrs. Danvers, Madam,” said the voice. “I’m speaking to you on the house telephone.” My faux pas was so palpably obvious, so idiotic and unpardonable, that to ignore it would show me to be an even greater fool, if possible, than I was already.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Danvers,” I said, stammering, my words tumbling over one another; “the telephone startled me, I didn’t know what I was saying, I didn’t realize the call was for me, and I never noticed I was speaking on the house telephone.”

“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Madam,” she said; and she knows, I thought, she guesses I have been looking through the desk. “I only wondered whether you wished to see me, and whether you approved of the menus for today.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, I’m sure I do; that is, I’m sure I approve of the menus. Just order what you like, Mrs. Danvers, you needn’t bother to ask me.”

“It would be better, I think, if you read the list,” continued the voice; “you will find the menu of the day on the blotter, beside you.”

I searched feverishly about me on the desk, and found at last a sheet of paper I had not noticed before. I glanced hurriedly through it: curried prawns, roast veal, asparagus, cold chocolate mousse—was this lunch or dinner? I could not see; lunch, I suppose.

“Yes, Mrs. Danvers,” I said, “very suitable, very nice indeed.”

“If you wish anything changed please say so,” she answered, “and I will give orders at once. You will notice I have left a blank space beside the sauce, for you to mark your preference. I was not sure what sauce you are used to having served with the roast veal. Mrs. de Winter was most particular about her sauces, and I always had to refer to her.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, well… let me see, Mrs. Danvers, I hardly know; I think we had better have what you usually have, whatever you think Mrs. de Winter would have ordered.”

“You have no preference, Madam?”

“No,” I said. “No, really, Mrs. Danvers.”

“I rather think Mrs. de Winter would have ordered a wine sauce, Madam.”

“We will have the same then, of course,” I said.

“I’m very sorry I disturbed you while you were writing, Madam.”

“You didn’t disturb me at all,” I said; “please don’t apologize.”

“The post leaves at midday, and Robert will come for your letters, and stamp them himself,” she said; “all you have to do is ring through to him, on the telephone, if you have anything urgent to be sent, and he will give orders for them to be taken in to the post office immediately.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Danvers,” I said. I listened for a moment, but she said no more, and then I heard a little click at the end of the telephone, which meant she had replaced the receiver. I did the same. Then I looked down again at the desk, and the notepaper, ready for use, upon the blotter. In front of me stared the ticketed pigeonholes, and the words upon them “letters unanswered,” “estate,” “miscellaneous,” were like a reproach to me for my idleness. She who sat here before me had not wasted her time, as I was doing. She had reached out for the house telephone and given her orders for the day, swiftly, efficiently, and run her pencil perhaps through an item in the menu that had not pleased her. She had not said “Yes, Mrs. Danvers,” and “Of course, Mrs. Danvers,” as I had done. And then, when she had finished, she began her letters, five, six, seven perhaps to be answered, all written in that same curious, slanting hand I knew so well. She would tear off sheet after sheet of that smooth white paper, using it extravagantly, because of the long strokes she made when she wrote, and at the end of each of her personal letters she put her signature, “Rebecca,” that tall sloping R dwarfing its fellows.

I drummed with my fingers on the desk. The pigeonholes were empty now. There were no “letters unanswered” waiting to be dealt with, no bills to pay that I knew anything about. If I had anything urgent, Mrs. Danvers said, I must telephone through to Robert and he would give orders for it to be taken to the post. I wondered how many urgent letters Rebecca used to write, and who they were written to. Dressmakers perhaps—“I must have the white satin on Tuesday, without fail,” or to her hairdresser—“I shall be coming up next Friday, and want an appointment at three o’clock with Monsieur Antoine himself. Shampoo, massage, set, and manicure.” No, letters of that type would be a waste of time. She would have a call put through to London. Frith would do it. Frith would say “I am speaking for Mrs. de Winter.” I went on drumming with my fingers on the desk. I could think of nobody to write to. Only Mrs. Van Hopper. And there was something foolish, rather ironical, in the realization that here I was sitting at my own desk in my own home with nothing better to do than to write a letter to Mrs. Van Hopper, a woman I disliked, whom I should never see again. I pulled a sheet of notepaper towards me. I took up the narrow, slender pen, with the bright pointed nib. “Dear Mrs. Van Hopper,” I began. And as I wrote, in halting, labored fashion, saying I hoped the voyage had been good, that she had found her daughter better, that the weather in New York was fine and warm, I noticed for the first time how cramped and unformed was my own handwriting; without individuality, without style, uneducated even, the writing of an indifferent pupil taught in a second-rate school.