Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca, 1938

 

 

She paused, her hand still resting on my arm.

“Everyone was angry with her when she cut her hair,” she said, “but she did not
care. ‘It’s nothing to do with anyone but myself,’ she would say. And of course short hair was much easier for riding and sailing. She was painted on horseback, you know. A famous artist did it. The picture hung in the Academy. Did you ever see it?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “No.”

“I understood it was the picture of the year,” she went on, “but Mr. de Winter did not care for it, and would not have it at Manderley. I don’t think he considered it did her justice. You would like to see her clothes, wouldn’t you?” She did not wait for my answer. She led me to the little ante-room and opened the wardrobes, one by one.

Chapter 16

In the evening, when I was changing for dinner, there was a knock at my bedroom
door. I called “Come in,” thinking it was Clarice. The door opened and it was not Clarice. It was Mrs. Danvers. She held a piece of paper in her hand. “I hope you will forgive me disturbing you,” she said, “but I was not sure whether you meant to throw these drawings away. All the waste-paper baskets are always brought to me to check, at the end of the day, in case of mislaying anything of value. Robert told me this was thrown into the library basket.”

I had turned quite cold all over at the sight of her, and at first I could not find my voice. She held out the paper for me to see. It was the rough drawing I had done during the morning.

“No, Mrs. Danvers,” I said, after a moment, “it doesn’t matter throwing that away. It was only a rough sketch. I don’t want it”

“Very good,” she said, “I thought it better to enquire from you personally to save any misunderstanding.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, of course.” I thought she would turn and go, but she went on
standing there by the door.

“So you have not decided yet what you will wear?” she said. There was a hint of derision in her voice, a trace of odd satisfaction. I supposed she had heard of my
efforts through Clarice in some way.

“No,” I said. “No, I haven’t decided.”

She continued watching me, her hand on the doorknob.

“I wonder you don’t copy one of the pictures in the gallery,” she said.

I pretended to file my nails. They were too short and too brittle, but the action gave me something to do and I did not have to look at her.

“Yes, I might think about that,” I said. I wondered privately why such an idea had never come to me before. It was an obvious and very good solution to my difficulty. I did not want her to know this though. I went on filing my nails.

“All the pictures in the gallery would make good costumes,” said Mrs. Danvers, “especially that one of the young lady in white, with her hat in her hand. I wonder Mr. de Winter does not make it a period ball, everyone dressed more or less the same, to be in keeping. I never think it looks right to see a clown dancing with a lady in powder and patches.”

“Some people enjoy the variety,” I said. “They think it makes it all the more amusing.”

“I don’t like it myself,” said Mrs. Danvers. Her voice was surprisingly normal and friendly, and I wondered why it was she had taken the trouble to come up with my discarded sketch herself. Did she want to be friends with me at last? Or did she realise that it had not been me at all who had told Maxim about Favell, and this was her way of thanking me for my silence?

“Has not Mr. de Winter suggested a costume for you?” she said.

“No,” I said, after a moment’s hesitation. “No, I want to surprise him and Mr. Crawley. I don’t want them to know anything about it”

“It’s not for me to make a suggestion, I know,” she said, “but when you do decide, I should advise you to have your dress made in London. There is no one down here
can do that sort of thing well. Voce, in Bond Street is a good place, I know.”

“I must remember that” I said.

“Yes,” she said, and then, as she opened the door, “I should study the pictures in the gallery, Madam, if I were you, especially the one I mentioned. And you need not think I will give you away. I won’t say a word to anyone.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Danvers,” I said. She shut the door very gently behind her. I went
on with my dressing, puzzled at her attitude, so different from our last encounter, and wondering whether I had the unpleasant Favell to thank for it.

. . . . .

When I had finished I went upstairs to the minstrels’ gallery to have a look at the pictures. I knew them well of course by now, but had never studied them with a view to reproducing one of them as a fancy dress. Mrs. Danvers was right of course. What an idiot I had been not to think of it before. I always loved the girl in white, with a hat in her hand. It was a Raeburn, and the portrait was of Caroline de Winter, a sister of Maxim’s great-great-grandfather. She married a great Whig politician, and was a famous London beauty for many years, but this portrait was painted before that, when she was still unmarried. The white dress should be easy to copy. Those puffed sleeves, the flounce, and the little bodice. The hat might be rather difficult, and I should have to wear a wig. My straight hair would never curl in that way. Perhaps that Voce place in London that Mrs. Danvers had told me about would do the whole thing. I would send them a sketch of the portrait and tell them to copy it faithfully, sending my measurements.

What a relief it was to have decided at last! Quite a weight off my mind. I began almost to look forward to the ball. Perhaps I should enjoy it after all, almost as much as little Clarice.

I wrote to the shop in the morning, enclosing a sketch of the portrait, and I had a very favourable reply, full of honour at my esteemed order, and saying the work would be put in hand right away, and they would manage the wig as well.

. . . . .

I did not recognise the face that stared at me in the glass. The eyes were larger surely, the mouth narrower, the skin white and clear? The curls stood away from the head in a little cloud. I watched this self that was not me at all and then smiled; a new, slow smile.

“Oh, Clarice!” I said. “Oh, Clarice!” I took the skirt of my dress in my hands and curtseyed to her, the flounces sweeping the ground. She giggled excitedly, rather embarrassed, flushed though, very pleased. I paraded up and down in front of my glass watching my reflection.

“Unlock the door,” I said. “I’m going down. Run ahead and see if they are there.” She obeyed me, still giggling, and I lifted my skirts off the ground and followed her along the corridor.

She looked back at me and beckoned. “They’ve gone down,” she whispered, “Mr. de Winter, and Major and Mrs. Lacy. Mr. Crawley has just come. They are all standing in the hall.” I peered through the archway at the head of the big staircase, and looked down on the hall below.

Yes, mere they were. Giles, in his white Arab dress, laughing loudly, showing the knife at his side, Beatrice swathed in an extraordinary green garment and hung about the neck with trailing beads, poor Frank self-conscious and slightly foolish in his striped jersey and sea-boots, Maxim, the only normal one of the party, in his evening clothes.

“I don’t know what she’s doing,” he said, “she’s been up in her bedroom for hours. What’s the time, Frank? The dinner crowd will be upon us before we know where we are.”

The band were changed, and in the gallery already. One of the men was tuning his fiddle. He played a scale softly, and then plucked at a string. The light shone on the picture of Caroline de Winter.

Yes, the dress had been copied exactly from my sketch of the portrait. The puffed sleeve, the sash and the ribbon, the wide floppy hat I held in my hand. And my curls were her curls, they stood out from my face as hers did in the picture. I don’t think I have ever felt so excited before, so happy and so proud. I waved my hand at the man with the fiddle, and then put my finger to my lips for silence. He smiled and bowed. He came across the gallery to the archway where I stood.

“Make the drummer announce me,” I whispered, “make him beat the drum, you know how they do, and then call out Miss Caroline de Winter. I want to surprise them below.” He nodded his head, he understood. My heart fluttered absurdly, and my cheeks were burning. What fun it was, what mad ridiculous childish fun! I smiled at Clarice still crouching in the corridor. I picked up my skirt in my hands. Then the sound of the drum echoed in the great hall, startling me for a moment, who had waited for it, who knew that it would come. I saw them look up surprised and bewildered from the hall below.

“Miss Caroline de Winter,” shouted the drummer.

I came forward to the head of the stairs and stood there, smiling, my hat in my hand, like the girl in the picture. I waited for the clapping and the laughter that would follow as I walked slowly down the stairs. Nobody clapped, nobody moved.

They all stared at me like dumb things. Beatrice uttered a little cry and put her hand to her mouth. I went on smiling, I put one hand on the banister.

“How do you do, Mr. de Winter,” I said.

Maxim had not moved. He stared up at me, his glass in his hand. There was no colour in his face. It was ashen white. I saw Frank go to him as though he would speak, but Maxim shook him off. I hesitated, one foot already on the stairs. Something was wrong, they had not understood. Why was Maxim looking like that? Why did they all stand like dummies, like people in a trance?

Then Maxim moved forward to the stairs, his eyes never leaving my face.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” he said. His eyes blazed in anger. His face was still ashen white.

I could not move, I went on standing there, my hand on the banister.

“It’s the picture,” I said, terrified at his eyes, at his voice. “It’s the picture, the one in the gallery.”

There was a long silence. We went on staring at each other. Nobody moved in the hall. I swallowed, my hand moved to my throat “What is it?” I said. “What have I
done?”

If only they would not stare at me like that with dull blank faces. If only somebody would say something. When Maxim spoke again I did not recognise his voice. It was still and quiet, icy cold, not a voice I knew.

“Go and change,” he said, “it does not matter what you put on. Find an ordinary evening frock, anything will do. Go now, before anybody comes.”

I could not speak, I went on staring at him. His eyes were the only living things in the white mask of his face.

“What are you standing there for?” he said, his voice harsh and queer. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”

I turned and ran blindly through the archway to the corridors beyond. I caught a glimpse of the astonished face of the drummer who had announced me. I brushed past him, stumbling, not looking where I went. Tears blinded my eyes. I did not know what was happening. Clarice had gone. The corridor was deserted. I looked about me stunned and stupid like a hunted thing. Then I saw that the door leading to the west wing was open wide, and that someone was standing there.

It was Mrs. Danvers. I shall never forget the expression on her face, loathsome, triumphant. The face of an exulting devil. She stood there, smiling at me.

And then I ran from her, down the long narrow passage to my own room, tripping, stumbling over the flounces of my dress.

Daphne du Maurier, 1907-1989              Rebecca, 1938.   (Chapter 15) 

Images:

Madame Yevonde, 1893-1975    Eileen Hunter (Mrs Ward-Jackson) as Dido, from, The Goddesses, 1935

Madame Yevonde, 1893-1975     Lady Dorothy Warrender as Cerces, from, The Goddesses, 1935

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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