Colonel Julyan, the magistrate, to Dr Baker the gynaecologist: ‘Would you have any record of the visit in your files?’
Dr Baker: ‘The twelfth, did you say? At two o’clock? Ah!’
Mr de Winter is dining with Mr Crawley tomorrow, and R. is down in London. I have told Cook that there is no need to cook anything fresh for the house, the staff can have the cold meat from the party the other night. Frith asked for the afternoon off, but I wish to go into Kerrith and R. thinks that if we are both absent the holiday-makers will come in their swarms and cause havoc. I informed Frith of the decision; he was not best pleased. R. charmed him round to it though; after she had spoken to him you could see his eyes light and his chest puff up at the thought of being the last guard of Manderley. How we laughed about it later, that old dry-frog of a butler so convinced he was all that stood between us and ruin!
The house always feels so empty when she is away, like a clock that has stopped. It was quite a relief to get out to Kerrith, although the walk was a trouble, as the wind was gusting and squally. It is easy to lose track of the time with these long summer evenings, by the time I returned at nine thirty she had been and gone already. The maids had left her room in a most slovenly state, and stuffy with the summer heat. I opened the window to let the sound of the sea in, for R. always sleeps better when she can hear the sea. Then I put out her nightdress, and her dressing gown and slippers, for she can never bear the maids to handle her favourite things. ‘No, Danny, you do it, for you will do it right.’ It was quite dark by that time, and there was still no sign of Mr de Winter, so it will be an early night for me. I wish that wind would quieten.
Mr de Winter is smoking, cigarette after cigarette. He pulls on them with a blank grey look on his face, as though he does not taste them, yet reaches for the next as soon as one is finished. The phone has rung repeatedly all day, the coast-guard, the harbour master. No news, no news. And then in the afternoon, a life-buoy from her boat, washed up at Kerrith.
Eventually it grew dark, and the searching has been called off for the day. Mr de Winter has ordered the bedroom at the end of the corridor made up and has retired there for the night, but the light is still on.
I did not like to think of her coming home and finding no-one waiting for her. She would think it quite a jape, all the fuss and bother of the search, but still, there should be someone to meet her. So I write this from the chair next to her bed. If I close my eyes, I think I hear her breathing, but it is only the sound of the sea.
I should never have stayed late in Kerrith. If I had been home sooner, I could have told her of the wind, the squally weather. She’d have teased me for my nervousness, she who is nervous of nothing, but she’d have humoured me, stayed home… I should never have gone to Kerrith.
I went into the morning room today, for the first time since… The dust is thick already. She would never let anyone touch her treasures. I remember how pleased she was when each piece arrived, how she would turn them just so, to best catch the morning light, or to highlight a particular expression on a china face. ‘Danny, look! The poor shepherd is so lovelorn, but the shepherdess is distracted by the gallant soldier!’ Mr de Winter will not go in there, now. And the maids would break them as soon as look at them. It is not beneath me to do a little dusting. It was not beneath her. She would be most displeased to come home and find all had fallen away, dust to dust…
Mr de Winter does nothing but pace round the library. He is barely eating, and looks frightfully ill. He sees no-one, even Mr Crawley is sent away unspoken to. Manderley continues, I see to that, but tempers are short. The staff have passed from their initial shock and grief, and are beginning to tire of wasted work. The tea cools in the tea-pot untouched at breakfast, the cake and sandwiches return to the kitchen stale every afternoon. I have tried all the favourite dishes for lunch and dinner, but nothing tempts him to eat. How could they, when every meal is a reminder of the one who would choose the day’s menus with such taste and grace? Each morning I write out the menu and lay it on the blotter in the morning room, and the house echoes with the absence of her reply. What would I give for that daily telephone call, never satisfied, tweaking and amending until all was as it should be? But the telephone stands silent and the morning room is empty.
Still, it does not always feel that way. Yesterday I brought in the menu to find a breeze rustling the papers on the desk, and a scent of azaleas hanging on the air. There was a knowing look in the shepherdess’s eye, as though this mourning is all just a great joke. I changed the flowers for fresh, bringing in arm after arm of the last of the rhododendrons, yet when I was done the scent of azaleas was stronger than ever.
Mr de Winter has ordered the master bedroom emptied and put to dust sheets. ‘It has been a month, Mrs Danvers,’ he says. Such a little time. Such an unbearably long time. I have persuaded him that it is easiest for the clothes to stay there for now, and I have mothballed them, and put the room to bed. How dark and empty it seems! The clock on the wall now silent and no longer ticking. Drawing up the dust sheets over the golden bed coverlet, like a shroud. Yet still the sound of the sea comes in, relentless, ebbing and flowing, but never at peace.
I could not throw away all her things. I feared that if I left them, Mr de Winter would get Frith or Robert to dispose of them. So I have tidied her papers and her engagement book away, and locked them in my room for now. In case they are needed in future. So they are safe.
Whenever I stop for a moment I see her, turning over and over in the water, her face hidden by a cloud of dark hair. How she would laugh at me for my imaginings! ‘Danny, you old fool, I cut my hair over a year before I left, do you think it grew back as the boat went down?’ I thought my heart had broken the day she cut it. It had been ‘Come on, Danny, hair drill’ every day since she had come up to my waist. Except for those first few months of marriage, when she would simper, ‘Max, do my hair’. But she grew bored of him, she returned to me. She always returns to me. Twenty minutes a day, seven days a week, and she’d tell me everything while I brushed. Then without a warning it was gone, my R. with her soft dark clouds had been replaced by a boy with the face of an angel, and there was one more way in which she didn’t need me. It is good not to stop. There is much to be done.
It is very easy to be drawn down to the cove. The dogs need it. Their quiet and hopeless sympathy is enough to drive one mad. Each day they wait at the door at the same time, whining for R. to come and walk them down to the shore, spaniel ears a-droop. They have not stopped waiting. So I take them down to the beach, and watch the waves come in.
I find scraps there. Bits and pieces of the rigging, washed in with the tide. The tide washes everything in, eventually. Je Reviens. But the endless sea stretches on to the sky, and each night I sleep by her empty bed.
There was a call from the coroner at Edgecoombe today. A body, washed ashore. Mr de Winter took the call, but I listened in on the line in the morning room. How could I not, to news of my R. at last? They said she had been battered on the rocks. Her face, her angel’s face, all gone, and her arms torn off by the sea. They all desired her, even the sea would devour all it could, but the sea couldn’t keep her forever. No-one could keep her forever.
After I heard, I went to her room and lay there for many hours. It is ready for her return. The sea cannot keep her from me. I will dress her one last time, and I will brush her hair, and I will hold her in my arms again.
I will leave. Mr de Winter has made it perfectly clear that I am not welcome. I will leave, and then they will see that they needed us. Why, he thinks there is a spell on this place that keeps it in order. That there will always be scones for tea at four thirty, that the lilac will bloom each spring. She did that. There was no spell in it. There was intelligence, and drive, and vision, and a ruthless eye for all that was fine and lovely. She carved this garden of Eden out from the wild Cornish moors, and I was the labourer who worked to bring her masterpiece to life. Without R., all the warmth and life of Manderley would be nothing but cold dead ashes.
‘Mrs Danvers, your concern does you credit, but the funeral will be a private family affair. I have already made arrangements for the undertakers in Edgecoombe to make the necessary preparations.’ The necessary preparations! How could a stranger do such things to my R.? I, I who have dressed her each day since childhood, who knew every mole on her body, pushed aside from my final act of devotion. So some provincial undertaker, with his fat grubby fingers can poke and prod and paint. ‘You must understand, in the circumstances, there will be no lying in repose. It would be too upsetting for all concerned. Close family only, and a closed coffin ceremony, in the crypt tomorrow evening. The sooner this is over the better for us all.’
Close family only. Yes, sir; no, sir; know your place Mrs Danvers. Close family only. As though that would exclude me, I who had the care of her since she was a child, I who understood her like no other, I who shared her confidences, mothered her when she lost her mother, loved her through a loveless marriage. How she would have laughed at his ‘close family only’! ‘Danny, how he thinks he knows me! Oh, we are soulmates, Danny, as close as could be!’ She was so very beautiful when she laughed.
It was not so very much to ask, one last time to say goodbye. It would have been a very little kindness, to one who loved her so much.
Perhaps one day someone will have power over you, Mr de Winter, to deny you your final goodbyes to something you love. Then you will wish you had shown more mercy now.
I packed to leave. But every memory I have of her is here. I feel her everywhere. Her quick deft fingers have left their marks on every surface of Manderley. Her smile in the red of the rhododendrons. Her scent in the petals of the azaleas. I have lost so much, I will not walk away from the traces of her that remain. She is still here, woven into the house. She returns to me.
But I will not remain here with Mr de Winter. Not after how he has treated me. He came between us when he first married her, and she returned to me. Now he cannot keep us apart after her death. ‘Put her room to bed, Mrs Danvers.’ ‘Mr Favell is no longer welcome here, Mrs Danvers.’ He would tidy away all memories of her, but I will not let him. A gentle word to Mr Crawley, a suggestion to Mrs Lacy – ‘Mr de Winter is so very tired.’ ‘Mr de Winter is not well.’ ‘Mr de Winter would be recovering better somewhere where the winters are not so cold.’
And then he will no longer be between us, and the master bedroom will be aired again, her appointment book back in its place on her desk, and she will return to me.
She always returns to me.