Rebecca Chapter 9

When I heard the sound of the car in the drive I got up in sudden panic, glancing at the clock, for I knew that it meant Beatrice and her husband had arrived. It was only just gone twelve; they were much earlier than I expected. And Maxim was not yet back. I wondered if it would be possible to hide, to get out of the window, into the garden so that Frith, bringing them to the morning room, would say, “Madam must have gone out,” and it would seem quite natural, they would take it as a matter of course. The dogs looked up inquiringly as I ran to the window, and Jasper followed me, wagging his tail.

The window opened out onto the terrace and the little grass clearing beyond, but as I prepared to brush past the rhododendrons the sound of voices came close, and I backed again into the room. They were coming to the house by way of the garden, Frith having told them doubtless that I was in the morning room. I went quickly into the big drawing room, and made for a door near me on the left. It led into a long stone passage, and I ran along it, fully aware of my stupidity, despising myself for this sudden attack of nerves, but I knew I could not face these people, not for a moment anyway. The passage seemed to be taking me to the back regions, and as I turned a corner, coming upon another staircase, I met a servant I had not seen before, a scullery-maid perhaps; she carried a mop and pail in her hands. She stared at me in wonder, as though I were a vision, unexpected in this part of the house, and “Good morning,” I said, in great confusion, making for the stairway, and “Good morning, Madam,” she returned, her mouth open, her round eyes inquisitive as I climbed the stairs.

They would lead me, I supposed, to the bedrooms, and I could find my suite in the east wing, and sit up there a little while, until I judged it nearly time for lunch, when good manners would compel me to come down again.

I must have lost my bearings, for passing through a door at the head of the stairs I came to a long corridor that I had not seen before, similar in some ways to the one in the east wing, but broader and darker—dark owing to the paneling of the walls.

I hesitated, then turned left, coming upon a broad landing and another staircase. It was very quiet and dark. No one was about. If there had been housemaids here, during the morning, they had finished their work by now and gone downstairs. There was no trace of their presence, no lingering dust smell of carpets lately swept, and I thought, as I stood there, wondering which way to turn, that the silence was unusual, holding something of the same oppression as an empty house does, when the owners have gone away.

I opened a door at hazard, and found a room in total darkness, no chink of light coming through the closed shutters, while I could see dimly, in the center of the room, the outline of furniture swathed in white dust-sheets. The room smelt close and stale, the smell of a room seldom if ever used, whose ornaments are herded together in the center of a bed and left there, covered with a sheet. It might be too that the curtain had not been drawn from the window since some preceding summer, and if one crossed there now and pulled them aside, opening the creaking shutters, a dead moth who had been imprisoned behind them for many months would fall to the carpet and lie there, beside a forgotten pin, and a dried leaf blown there before the windows were closed for the last time. I shut the door softly, and went uncertainly along the corridor, flanked on either side by doors, all of them closed, until I came to a little alcove, set in an outside wall, where a broad window gave me light at last. I looked out, and I saw below me the smooth grass lawns stretching to the sea, and the sea itself, bright green with white-tipped crests, whipped by a westerly wind and scudding from the shore.

It was closer than I had thought, much closer; it ran, surely, beneath that little knot of trees below the lawns, barely five minutes away, and if I listened now, my ear to the window, I could hear the surf breaking on the shores of some little bay I could not see. I knew then I had made the circuit of the house, and was standing in the corridor of the west wing. Yes, Mrs. Danvers was right. You could hear the sea from here. You might imagine, in the winter, it would creep up onto those green lawns and threaten the house itself, for even now, because of the high wind, there was a mist upon the window-glass, as though someone had breathed upon it. A mist salt-laden, borne upwards from the sea. A hurrying cloud hid the sun for a moment as I watched, and the sea changed color instantly, becoming black, and the white crests with them very pitiless suddenly, and cruel, not the gay sparkling sea I had looked on first.

Somehow I was glad my rooms were in the east wing. I preferred the rose garden, after all, to the sound of the sea. I went back to the landing then, at the head of the stairs, and as I prepared to go down, one hand upon the banister, I heard the door behind me open, and it was Mrs. Danvers. We stared at one another for a moment without speaking, and I could not be certain whether it was anger I read in her eyes or curiosity, for her face became a mask directly she saw me. Although she said nothing I felt guilty and ashamed, as though I had been caught trespassing, and I felt the telltale color come up into my face.

“I lost my way,” I said, “I was trying to find my room.”

“You have come to the opposite side of the house,” she said; “this is the west wing.”

“Yes, I know,” I said.

“Did you go into any of the rooms?” she asked me.

“No,” I said. “No, I just opened a door, I did not go in. Everything was dark, covered up in dust-sheets. I’m sorry. I did not mean to disturb anything. I expect you like to keep all this shut up.”

“If you wish to open up the rooms I will have it done,” she said; “you have only to tell me. The rooms are all furnished, and can be used.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “No. I did not mean you to think that.”

“Perhaps you would like me to show you all over the west wing?” she said.

I shook my head. “No, I’d rather not,” I said. “No, I must go downstairs.” I began to walk down the stairs, and she came with me, by my side, as though she were a warder, and I in custody.

“Any time, when you have nothing to do, you have only to ask me, and I will show you the rooms in the west wing,” she persisted, making me vaguely uncomfortable. I knew not why. Her insistence struck a chord in my memory, reminding me of a visit to a friend’s house, as a child, when the daughter of the house, older than me, took my arm and whispered in my ear, “I know where there is a book, locked in a cupboard, in my mother’s bedroom. Shall we go and look at it?” I remembered her white, excited face, and her small, beady eyes, and the way she kept pinching my arm.

“I will have the dust-sheets removed, and then you can see the rooms as they looked when they were used,” said Mrs. Danvers. “I would have shown you this morning, but I believed you to be writing letters in the morning room. You have only to telephone through to my room, you know, when you want me. It would only take a short while to have the rooms in readiness.”

We had come down the short flight of stairs, and she opened another door, standing aside for me to pass through, her dark eyes questing my face.

“It’s very kind of you, Mrs. Danvers,” I said. “I will let you know sometime.”

We passed out together onto the landing beyond, and I saw we were at the head of the main staircase now, behind the minstrel’s gallery.

“I wonder how you came to miss your way?” she said, “the door through the west wing is very different to this.”

“I did not come this way,” I said.

“Then you must have come up the back way, from the stone passage?” she said.

“Yes,” I said, not meeting her eyes. “Yes, I came through a stone passage.”

She went on looking at me, as though she expected me to tell her why I left the morning room in sudden panic, going through the back regions, and I felt suddenly that she knew, that she must have watched me, that she had seen me wandering perhaps in that west wing from the first, her eye to a crack in the door. “Mrs. Lacy, and Major Lacy, have been here sometime,” she said. “I heard their car drive up shortly after twelve.”

“Oh!” I said. “I had not realized that.”

“Frith will have taken them to the morning room,” she said: “it must be getting on for half past twelve. You know your way now, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mrs. Danvers,” I said. And I went down the big stairway into the hall, knowing she was standing there above me, her eyes watching me.

I knew I must go back now, to the morning room, and meet Maxim’s sister and her husband. I could not hide in my bedroom now. As I went into the drawing room I glanced back, over my shoulder, and I saw Mrs. Danvers still standing there at the head of the stairs, like a black sentinel.

I stood for a moment outside the morning room, with my hand on the door, listening to the hum of voices. Maxim had returned, then, while I had been upstairs, bringing his agent with him I supposed, for it sounded to me as if the room was full of people. I was aware of the same feeling of sick uncertainty I had experienced so often as a child, when summoned to shake hands with visitors, and turning the handle of the door I blundered in, to be met at once, it seemed, with a sea of faces and a general silence.

“Here she is at last,” said Maxim. “Where have you been hiding? We were thinking of sending out a search party. Here is Beatrice, and this is Giles, and this is Frank Crawley. Look out, you nearly trod on the dog.”

Beatrice was tall, broad-shouldered, very handsome, very much like Maxim about the eyes and jaw, but not as smart as I had expected, much tweedier; the sort of person who would nurse dogs through distemper, know about horses, shoot well. She did not kiss me. She shook hands very firmly, looking me straight in the eyes, and then turned to Maxim. “Quite different from what I expected. Doesn’t answer to your description at all.”

Everyone laughed, and I joined in, not quite certain if the laugh was against me or not, wondering secretly what it was she had expected, and what had been Maxim’s description.

And “This is Giles,” said Maxim, prodding my arm, and Giles stretched out an enormous paw and wrung my hand, squeezing the fingers limp, genial eyes smiling from behind horn-rimmed glasses.

“Frank Crawley,” said Maxim, and I turned to the agent, a colorless, rather thin man with a prominent Adam’s apple, in whose eyes I read relief as he looked upon me. I wondered why, but I had no time to think of that, because Frith had come in, and was offering me sherry, and Beatrice was talking to me again. “Maxim tells me you only got back last night. I had not realized that, or of course we would never have thrust ourselves upon you so soon. Well, what do you think of Manderley?”

“I’ve scarcely seen anything of it yet,” I answered; “it’s beautiful, of course.”

She was looking me up and down, as I had expected, but in a direct, straightforward fashion, not maliciously like Mrs. Danvers, not with unfriendliness. She had a right to judge me, she was Maxim’s sister, and Maxim himself came to my side now, putting his arm through mine, giving me confidence.

“You’re looking better, old man,” she said to him, her head on one side, considering him; “you’ve lost that fine-drawn look, thank goodness. I suppose we’ve got you to thank for that?” nodding at me.

“I’m always very fit,” said Maxim shortly, “never had anything wrong with me in my life. You imagine everyone ill who doesn’t look as fat as Giles.”

“Bosh,” said Beatrice; “you know perfectly well you were a perfect wreck six months ago. Gave me the fright of my life when I came and saw you. I thought you were in for a breakdown. Giles, bear me out. Didn’t Maxim look perfectly ghastly last time we came over, and didn’t I say he was heading for a breakdown?”

“Well, I must say, old chap, you’re looking a different person,” said Giles. “Very good thing you went away. Doesn’t he look well, Crawley?”

I could tell by the tightening of Maxim’s muscles under my arm that he was trying to keep his temper. For some reason this talk about his health was not welcome to him, angered him even, and I thought it tactless of Beatrice to harp upon it in this way, making so big a point of it.

“Maxim’s very sunburnt,” I said shyly; “it hides a multitude of sins. You should have seen him in Venice having breakfast on the balcony, trying to get brown on purpose. He thinks it makes him better-looking.”

Everyone laughed, and Mr. Crawley said, “It must have been wonderful in Venice, Mrs. de Winter, this time of year,” and “Yes,” I said, “we had really wonderful weather. Only one bad day, wasn’t it, Maxim?” the conversation drawing away happily from his health, and so to Italy, safest of subjects, and the blessed topic of fine weather. Conversation was easy now, no longer an effort. Maxim and Giles and Beatrice were discussing the running of Maxim’s car, and Mr. Crawley was asking if it were true that there were no more gondolas in the canals now, only motorboats. I don’t think he would have cared at all had there been steamers at anchor in the Grand Canal, he was saying this to help me, it was his contribution to the little effort of steering the talk away from Maxim’s health, and I was grateful to him, feeling him an ally, for all his dull appearance.

“Jasper wants exercise,” said Beatrice, stirring the dog with her foot; “he’s getting much too fat, and he’s barely two years old. What do you feed him on, Maxim?”

“My dear Beatrice, he has exactly the same routine as your dogs,” said Maxim. “Don’t show off and make out you know more about animals than I do.”

“Dear old boy, how can you pretend to know what Jasper has been fed on when you’ve been away for a couple of months? Don’t tell me Frith walks to the lodge gates with him twice a day. This dog hasn’t had a run for weeks. I can tell by the condition of his coat.”

“I’d rather he looked colossal than half-starved like that halfwit dog of yours,” said Maxim.

“Not a very intelligent remark when Lion won two firsts at Cruft’s last February,” said Beatrice.

The atmosphere was becoming rather strained again, I could tell by the narrow lines of Maxim’s mouth, and I wondered if brothers and sisters always sparred like this, making it uncomfortable for those who listened. I wished that Frith would come in and announce lunch. Or would we be summoned by a booming gong? I did not know what happened at Manderley.

“How far away from us are you?” I asked, sitting down by Beatrice; “did you have to make a very early start?”

“We’re fifty miles away, my dear, in the next county, the other side of Trowchester. The hunting is so much better with us. You must come over and stay, when Maxim can spare you. Giles will mount you.”

“I’m afraid I don’t hunt,” I confessed. “I learned to ride, as a child, but very feebly; I don’t remember much about it.”

“You must take it up again,” she said. “You can’t possibly live in the country and not ride: you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. Maxim says you paint. That’s very nice, of course, but there’s no exercise in it, is there? All very well on a wet day when there’s nothing better to do.”

“My dear Beatrice, we are not all such fresh-air fiends as you,” said Maxim.

“I wasn’t talking to you, old boy. We all know you are perfectly happy slopping about the Manderley gardens and never breaking out of a slow walk.”

“I’m very fond of walking too,” I said swiftly. “I’m sure I shall never get tired of rambling about Manderley. And I can bathe too, when it’s warmer.”

“My dear, you are an optimist,” said Beatrice. “I can hardly ever remember bathing here. The water is far too cold, and the beach is shingle.”

“I don’t mind that,” I said. “I love bathing. As long as the currents are not too strong. Is the bathing safe in the bay?”

Nobody answered, and I realized suddenly what I had said. My heart thumped, and I felt my cheeks go flaming red. I bent down to stroke Jasper’s ear, in an agony of confusion. “Jasper could do with a swim, and get some of that fat off,” said Beatrice, breaking the pause, “but he’d find it a bit too much for him in the bay, wouldn’t you, Jasper? Good old Jasper. Nice old man.” We patted the dog together, not looking at one another.

“I say, I’m getting infernally hungry. What on earth is happening to lunch?” said Maxim.

“It’s only just on one now,” said Mr. Crawley, “according to the clock on the mantelpiece.”

“That clock was always fast,” said Beatrice.

“It’s kept perfect time now for months,” said Maxim.

At that moment the door opened and Frith announced that luncheon was served.

“I say, I must have a wash,” said Giles, looking at his hands.

We all got up and wandered through the drawing room to the hall in great relief, Beatrice and I a little ahead of the men, she taking my arm.

“Dear old Frith,” she said, “he always looks exactly the same, and makes me feel like a girl again. You know, don’t mind me saying so, but you are even younger than I expected. Maxim told me your age, but you’re an absolute child. Tell me, are you very much in love with him?”

I was not prepared for this question, and she must have seen the surprise in my face, for she laughed lightly, and squeezed my arm.

“Don’t answer,” she said. “I can see what you feel. I’m an interfering bore, aren’t I? You mustn’t mind me. I’m devoted to Maxim, you know, though we always bicker like cat and dog when we meet. I congratulate you again on his looks. We were all very worried about him this time last year, but of course you know the whole story.” We had come to the dining room by now, and she said no more, for the servants were there and the others had joined us, but as I sat down, and unfolded my napkin, I wondered what Beatrice would say did she realize that I knew nothing of that preceding year, no details of the tragedy that had happened down there, in the bay, that Maxim kept these things to himself, that I questioned him never.

Lunch passed off better than I had dared to hope. There were few arguments, or perhaps Beatrice was exercising tact at last; at any rate she and Maxim chatted about matters concerning Manderley, her horses, the garden, mutual friends, and Frank Crawley, on my left, kept up an easy patter with me for which I was grateful, as it required no effort. Giles was more concerned with food than with the conversation, though now and again he remembered my existence and flung me a remark at hazard.

“Same cook I suppose, Maxim?” he said, when Robert had offered him the cold soufflĂ© for the second time. “I always tell Bee, Manderley’s the only place left in England where one can get decent cooking. I remember this soufflĂ© of old.”

“I think we change cooks periodically,” said Maxim, “but the standard of cooking remains the same. Mrs. Danvers has all the recipes, she tells them what to do.”

“Amazing woman, that Mrs. Danvers,” said Giles, turning to me; “don’t you think so?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Mrs. Danvers seems to be a wonderful person.”

“She’s no oil painting though, is she?” said Giles, and he roared with laughter. Frank Crawley said nothing, and looking up I saw Beatrice was watching me. She turned away then, and began talking to Maxim.

“Do you play golf at all, Mrs. de Winter?” said Mr. Crawley.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” I answered, glad that the subject had been changed again, that Mrs. Danvers was forgotten, and even though I was no player, knew nothing of the game, I was prepared to listen to him as long as he pleased; there was something solid and safe and dull about golf, it could not bring us into any difficulties. We had cheese, and coffee, and I wondered whether I was supposed to make a move. I kept looking at Maxim, but he gave no sign, and then Giles embarked upon a story, rather difficult to follow, about digging a car out of a snowdrift—what had started the train of thought I could not tell—and I listened to him politely, nodding my head now and again and smiling, aware of Maxim becoming restive at his end of the table. At last he paused, and I caught Maxim’s eye. He frowned very slightly and jerked his head towards the door.

I got up at once, shaking the table clumsily as I moved my chair, and upsetting Giles’s glass of port. “Oh, dear,” I said, hovering, wondering what to do, reaching ineffectively for my napkin, but “All right, Frith will deal with it,” said Maxim, “don’t add to the confusion. Beatrice, take her out in the garden; she’s scarcely seen the place yet.”

He looked tired, rather jaded. I began to wish none of them had come. They had spoiled our day anyway. It was too much of an effort, just as we returned. I felt tired too, tired and depressed. Maxim had seemed almost irritable when he suggested we should go into the garden. What a fool I had been, upsetting that glass of port.

We went out onto the terrace and walked down onto the smooth green lawns.

“I think it’s a pity you came back to Manderley so soon,” said Beatrice, “it would have been far better to potter about in Italy for three or four months, and then come back in the middle of the summer. Done Maxim a power of good too, besides being easier from your point of view. I can’t help feeling it’s going to be rather a strain here for you at first.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” I said. “I know I shall come to love Manderley.”

She did not answer, and we strolled backwards and forwards on the lawns.

“Tell me a bit about yourself,” she said at last; “what was it you were doing in the south of France? Living with some appalling American woman, Maxim said.”

I explained about Mrs. Van Hopper, and what had led to it, and she seemed sympathetic but a little vague, as though she was thinking of something else.

“Yes,” she said, when I paused, “it all happened very suddenly, as you say. But of course we were all delighted, my dear, and I do hope you will be happy.”

“Thank you, Beatrice,” I said, “thank you very much.”

I wondered why she said she hoped we would be happy, instead of saying she knew we would be so. She was kind, she was sincere, I liked her very much, but there was a tiny doubt in her voice that made me afraid.

“When Maxim wrote and told me,” she went on, taking my arm, “and said he had discovered you in the south of France, and you were very young, very pretty, I must admit it gave me a bit of a shock. Of course we all expected a social butterfly, very modern and plastered with paint, the sort of girl you expected to meet in those sort of places. When you came into the morning room before lunch you could have knocked me down with a feather.”

She laughed, and I laughed with her. But she did not say whether or not she was disappointed in my appearance or relieved.

“Poor Maxim,” she said: “he went through a ghastly time, and let’s hope you have made him forget about it. Of course he adores Manderley.”

Part of me wanted her to continue her train of thought, to tell me more of the past, naturally and easily like this, and something else, way back in my mind, did not want to know, did not want to hear.

“We are not a bit alike, you know,” she said, “our characters are poles apart. I show everything on my face: whether I like people or not, whether I am angry or pleased. There’s no reserve about me. Maxim is entirely different. Very quiet, very reserved. You never know what’s going on in that funny mind of his. I lose my temper on the slightest provocation, flare up, and then it’s all over. Maxim loses his temper once or twice in a year, and when he does—my God—he does lose it. I don’t suppose he ever will with you, I should think you are a placid little thing.”

She smiled, and pinched my arm, and I thought about being placid, how quiet and comfortable it sounded, someone with knitting on her lap, with calm unruffled brow. Someone who was never anxious, never tortured by doubt and indecision, someone who never stood as I did, hopeful, eager, frightened, tearing at bitten nails, uncertain which way to go, what star to follow.

“You won’t mind me saying so, will you?” she went on, “but I think you ought to do something to your hair. Why don’t you have it waved? It’s so very lanky, isn’t it, like that? Must look awful under a hat. Why don’t you sweep it back behind your ears?”

I did so obediently, and waited for her approval. She looked at me critically, her head on one side. “No,” she said. “No, I think that’s worse. It’s too severe, and doesn’t suit you. No, all you need is a wave, just to pinch it up. I never have cared for that Joan of Arc business or whatever they call it. What does Maxim say? Does he think it suits you?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “he’s never mentioned it.”

“Oh well,” she said, “perhaps he likes it. Don’t go by me. Tell me, did you get any clothes in London or Paris?”

“No,” I said, “we had no time. Maxim was anxious to get home. And I can always send for catalogues.”

“I can tell by the way you dress that you don’t care a hoot what you wear,” she said. I glanced at my flannel skirt apologetically.

“I do,” I said. “I’m very fond of nice things. I’ve never had much money to spend on clothes up to now.”

“I wonder Maxim did not stay a week or so in London and get you something decent to wear,” she said. “I must say, I think it’s rather selfish of him. So unlike him too. He’s generally so particular.”

“Is he?” I said; “he’s never seemed particular to me. I don’t think he notices what I wear at all. I don’t think he minds.”

“Oh,” she said. “Oh, well, he must have changed then.”

She looked away from me, and whistled to Jasper, her hands in her pockets, and then stared up at the house above us.

“You’re not using the west wing then,” she said.

“No,” I said. “No, we have the suite in the east wing. It’s all been done up.”

“Has it?” she said. “I didn’t know that. I wonder why.”

“It was Maxim’s idea,” I said, “he seems to prefer it.”

She said nothing, she went on looking at the windows, and whistling. “How do you get on with Mrs. Danvers?” she said suddenly.

I bent down, and began patting Jasper’s head, and stroking his ears. “I have not seen very much of her,” I said; “she scares me a little. I’ve never seen anyone quite like her before.”

“I don’t suppose you have,” said Beatrice.

Jasper looked up at me with great eyes, humble, rather self-conscious. I kissed the top of his silken head, and put my hand over his black nose.

“There’s no need to be frightened of her,” said Beatrice; “and don’t let her see it, whatever you do. Of course I’ve never had anything to do with her, and I don’t think I ever want to either. However, she’s always been very civil to me.”

I went on patting Jasper’s head.

“Did she seem friendly?” said Beatrice.

“No,” I said. “No, not very.”

Beatrice began whistling again, and she rubbed Jasper’s head with her foot. “I shouldn’t have more to do with her than you can help,” she said.

“No,” I said. “She runs the house very efficiently, there’s no need for me to interfere.”

“Oh, I don’t suppose she’d mind that,” said Beatrice. That was what Maxim had said, the evening before, and I thought it odd that they should both have the same opinion. I should have imagined that interference was the one thing Mrs. Danvers did not want.

“I dare say she will get over it in time,” said Beatrice, “but it may make things rather unpleasant for you at first. Of course she’s insanely jealous. I was afraid she would be.”

“Why?” I asked, looking up at her, “why should she be jealous? Maxim does not seem to be particularly fond of her.”

“My dear child, it’s not Maxim she’s thinking of,” said Beatrice; “I think she respects him and all that, but nothing more very much.

“No, you see,”—she paused, frowning a little, looking at me uncertainly—“she resents your being here at all, that’s the trouble.”

“Why?” I said, “why should she resent me?”

“I thought you knew,” said Beatrice; “I thought Maxim would have told you. She simply adored Rebecca.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, I see.”

We both went on patting and stroking Jasper, who, unaccustomed to such attention, rolled over on his back in ecstasy.

“Here are the men,” said Beatrice, “let’s have some chairs out and sit under the chestnut. How fat Giles is getting, he looks quite repulsive beside Maxim. I suppose Frank will go back to the office. What a dull creature he is, never has anything interesting to say. Well, all of you. What have you been discussing? Pulling the world to bits, I suppose.” She laughed, and the others strolled towards us, and we stood about. Giles threw a twig for Jasper to retrieve. We all looked at Jasper. Mr. Crawley looked at his watch. “I must be off,” he said; “thank you very much for lunch, Mrs. de Winter.”

“You must come often,” I said, shaking hands.

I wondered if the others would go too. I was not sure whether they had just come over for lunch or to spend the day. I hoped they would go. I wanted to be alone with Maxim again, and that it would be like we were in Italy. We all went and sat down under the chestnut tree. Robert brought out chairs and rugs. Giles lay down on his back and tipped his hat over his eyes. After a while he began to snore, his mouth open.

“Shut up, Giles,” said Beatrice. “I’m not asleep,” he muttered, opening his eyes, and shutting them again. I thought him unattractive. I wondered why Beatrice had married him. She could never have been in love with him. Perhaps that was what she was thinking about me. I caught her eye upon me now and again, puzzled, reflective, as though she was saying to herself “What on earth does Maxim see in her?” but kind at the same time, not unfriendly. They were talking about their grandmother.

“We must go over and see the old lady,” Maxim was saying, and “She’s getting gaga,” said Beatrice, “drops food all down her chin, poor darling.”

I listened to them both, leaning against Maxim’s arm, rubbing my chin on his sleeve. He stroked my hand absently, not thinking, talking to Beatrice.

“That’s what I do to Jasper,” I thought. “I’m being like Jasper now, leaning against him. He pats me now and again, when he remembers, and I’m pleased, I get closer to him for a moment. He likes me in the way I like Jasper.”

The wind had dropped. The afternoon was drowsy, peaceful. The grass had been new-mown; it smelt sweet and rich, like summer. A bee droned above Giles’s head, and he flicked at it with his hat. Jasper sloped in to join us, too warm in the sun, his tongue lolling from his mouth. He flopped beside me, and began licking his side, his large eyes apologetic. The sun shone on the mullioned windows of the house, and I could see the green lawns and the terrace reflected in them. Smoke curled thinly from one of the near chimneys, and I wondered if the library fire had been lit, according to routine.

A thrush flew across the lawn to the magnolia tree outside the dining room window. I could smell the faint, soft magnolia scent as I sat here, on the lawn. Everything was quiet and still. Very distant now came the washing of the sea in the bay below. The tide must have gone out. The bee droned over us again, pausing to taste the chestnut blossom above our heads. “This is what I always imagined,” I thought, “this is how I hoped it would be, living at Manderley.”

I wanted to go on sitting there, not talking, not listening to the others, keeping the moment precious for all time, because we were peaceful, all of us, we were content and drowsy even as the bee who droned above our heads. In a little while it would be different, there would come tomorrow, and the next day, and another year. And we would be changed perhaps, never sitting quite like this again. Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die; the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned. This moment was safe though, this could not be touched. Here we sat together, Maxim and I, hand-in-hand, and the past and the future mattered not at all. This was secure, this funny fragment of time he would never remember, never think about again. He would not hold it sacred; he was talking about cutting away some of the undergrowth in the drive, and Beatrice agreed, interrupting with some suggestion of her own, and throwing a piece of grass at Giles at the same time. For them it was just after lunch, quarter past three on a haphazard afternoon, like any hour, like any day. They did not want to hold it close, imprisoned and secure, as I did. They were not afraid.

“Well, I suppose we ought to be off,” said Beatrice, brushing the grass from her skirt; “I don’t want to be late, we’ve got the Cartrights dining.”

“How is old Vera?” asked Maxim.

“Oh, same as ever, always talking about her health. He’s getting very old. They’re sure to ask all about you both.”

“Give them my love,” said Maxim.

We got up. Giles shook the dust off his hat. Maxim yawned and stretched. The sun went in. I looked up at the sky. It had changed already, a mackerel sky. Little clouds scurrying in formation, line upon line.

“Wind’s backing,” said Maxim.

“I hope we don’t run into rain,” said Giles.

“I’m afraid we’ve had the best of the day,” said Beatrice.

We wandered slowly towards the drive and the waiting car.

“You haven’t seen what’s been done to the east wing,” said Maxim.

“Come upstairs,” I suggested; “it won’t take a minute.”

We went into the hall, and up the big staircase, the men following behind.

It seemed strange that Beatrice had lived here for so many years. She had run down these same stairs as a little girl, with her nurse. She had been born here, bred here; she knew it all, she belonged here more than I should ever do. She must have many memories locked inside her heart. I wondered if she ever thought about the days that were gone, ever remembered the lanky pig-tailed child that she had been once, so different from the woman she had become, forty-five now, vigorous and settled in her ways, another person…

We came to the rooms, and Giles, stooping under the low doorway, said, “How very jolly; this is a great improvement, isn’t it, Bee?” and “I say, old boy, you have spread yourself,” said Beatrice: “new curtains, new beds, new everything. You remember, Giles, we had this room that time you were laid up with your leg? It was very dingy then. Of course Mother never had much idea of comfort. And then, you never put people here, did you, Maxim? Except when there was an overflow. The bachelors were always dumped here. Well, it’s charming, I must say. Looks over the rose garden too, which was always an advantage. May I powder my nose?”

The men went downstairs, and Beatrice peered in the mirror.

“Did old Danvers do all this for you?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I think she’s done it very well.”

“So she should, with her training,” said Beatrice. “I wonder what on earth it cost. A pretty packet, I bet. Did you ask?”

“No, I’m afraid I did not,” I said.

“I don’t suppose it worried Mrs. Danvers,” said Beatrice. “Do you mind if I use your comb? These are nice brushes. Wedding present?”

“Maxim gave them to me.”

“H’m. I like them. We must give you something of course. What do you want?”

“Oh, I don’t really know. You mustn’t bother,” I said.

“My dear, don’t be absurd. I’m not one to grudge you a present, even though we weren’t asked to your wedding!”

“I hope you did not mind about that. Maxim wanted it to be abroad.”

“Of course not. Very sensible of you both. After all, it wasn’t as though…” she stopped in the middle of her sentence, and dropped her bag. “Damn, have I broken the catch? No, all is well. What was I saying? I can’t remember. Oh, yes, wedding presents. We must think of something. You probably don’t care for jewelry.”

I did not answer. “It’s so different from the ordinary young couple,” she said. “The daughter of a friend of mine got married the other day, and of course they were started off in the usual way, with linen, and coffee sets, and dining room chairs, and all that. I gave rather a nice standard lamp. Cost me a fiver at Harrods. If you do go up to London to buy clothes mind you go to my woman, Madame Carroux. She has damn good taste, and she doesn’t rook you.”

She got up from the dressing table, and pulled at her skirt.

“Do you suppose you will have a lot of people down?” she said.

“I don’t know. Maxim hasn’t said.”

“Funny old boy, one never quite knows with him. At one time one could not get a bed in the house, the place would be chock-a-block. I can’t somehow see you…” she stopped abruptly, and patted my arm. “Oh, well,” she said, “we’ll see. It’s a pity you don’t ride or shoot, you miss such a lot. You don’t sail by any chance, do you?”

“No,” I said.

“Thank God for that,” she said.

She went to the door, and I followed her down the corridor.

“Come and see us if you feel like it,” she said. “I always expect people to ask themselves. Life is too short to send out invitations.”

“Thank you very much,” I said.

We came to the head of the stairs looking down upon the hall. The men were standing on the steps outside. “Come on, Bee,” shouted Giles. “I felt a spot of rain, so we’ve put on the cover. Maxim says the glass is falling.”

Beatrice took my hand, and bending down gave me a swift peck on my cheek. “Goodbye,” she said; “forgive me if I’ve asked you a lot of rude questions, my dear, and said all sorts of things I shouldn’t. Tact never was my strong point, as Maxim will tell you. And, as I told you before, you’re not a bit what I expected.” She looked at me direct, her lips pursed in a whistle, and then took a cigarette from her bag, and flashed her lighter.

“You see,” she said, snapping the top, and walking down the stairs, “you are so very different from Rebecca.”

And we came out onto the steps and found the sun had gone behind a bank of cloud, a little thin rain was falling, and Robert was hurrying across the lawn to bring in the chairs.