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Rebecca, Page 3

Daphne Du Maurier

  The lift stopped with a jerk. We arrived at our floor. The page boy flung open the gates. "By the way, dear," she said, as we walked along the corridor, "don't think I mean to be unkind, but you put yourself just a teeny bit forward this afternoon. Your efforts to monopolize the conversation quite embarrassed me, and I'm sure it did him. Men loathe that sort of thing."

  I said nothing. There seemed no possible reply. "Oh, come, don't sulk," she laughed, and shrugged her shoulders; "after all, I am responsible for your behavior here, and surely you can accept advice from a woman old enough to be your mother. Eh bien, Blaize, je viens..." and humming a tune she went into the bedroom where the dressmaker was waiting for her.

  I knelt on the window seat and looked out upon the afternoon. The sun shone very brightly still, and there was a gay high wind. In half an hour we should be sitting to our bridge, the windows tightly closed, the central heating turned to the full. I thought of the ashtrays I would have to clear, and how the squashed stubs, stained with lipstick, would sprawl in company with discarded chocolate creams. Bridge does not come easily to a mind brought up on Snap and Happy Families; besides, it bored her friends to play with me.

  I felt my youthful presence put a curb upon their conversation, much as a parlor-maid does until the arrival of dessert, and they could not fling themselves so easily into the melting pot of scandal and insinuation. Her men-friends would assume a sort of forced heartiness and ask me jocular questions about history or painting, guessing I had not long left school and that this would be my only form of conversation.

  I sighed, and turned away from the window. The sun was so full of promise, and the sea was whipped white with a merry wind. I thought of that corner of Monaco which I had passed a day or two ago, and where a crooked house leaned to a cobbled square. High up in the tumbled roof there was a window, narrow as a slit. It might have held a presence medieval; and, reaching to the desk for pencil and paper, I sketched in fancy with an absent mind a profile, pale and aquiline. A somber eye, a high-bridged nose, a scornful upper lip. And I added a pointed beard and lace at the throat, as the painter had done, long ago in a different time.

  Someone knocked at the door, and the lift-boy came in with a note in his hand. "Madame is in the bedroom," I told him but he shook his head and said it was for me. I opened it, and found a single sheet of notepaper inside, with a few words written in an unfamiliar hand.

  "Forgive me. I was very rude this afternoon." That was all. No signature, and no beginning. But my name was on the envelope, and spelled correctly, an unusual thing.

  "Is there an answer?" asked the boy.

  I looked up from the scrawled words. "No," I said. "No, there isn't any answer."

  When he had gone I put the note away in my pocket, and turned once more to my pencil drawing, but for no known reason it did not please me anymore; the face was stiff and lifeless, and the lace collar and the beard were like props in a charade.


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

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

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

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

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

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

  "I don't mind," I said, "it doesn't matter a bit. I'm all alone."

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

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

  I looked up in confusion. "Oh, no," I said, "I couldn't possibly."

  "Why not?" he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  I hesitated a moment before replying.

  "I think because of Manderley," I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "I looked up the word 'companion' once in the dictionary," I admitted, "and it said 'a companion is a friend of the bosom.' "

  "You haven't much in common with her," he said.

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

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

  "Haven't you any family?"

  "No--they're dead."

  "You have a very lovely and unusual name."

  "My father was a lovely and unusual person."

  "Tell me about him," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "I'll drive you there in the car," he said, and would not listen to protests.

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

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

  "Has something annoyed you?" he said.

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

  "Well?" he said smiling, "wasn't your picture true?"

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

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

  "I think you've made a big mistake," he said, after a moment.

  "In refusing that hundred francs?" I asked, revolted.

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

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

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

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

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