This short story was written in response to the Daily Post’s prompt Evasive Acton.
What’s the most significant secret you’ve ever kept? Did the truth ever come out?
I had been reading Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca again this week. I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers so I wrote from her perspective, the secret being kept is hers.
Last night I went to Manderley again. The padlock on the chained iron gates snapped opened despite years of dormant sentry. Nature had encroached from the surrounding forest and reduced the once neatly edged gravel drive to a ribbon, twining it’s way towards the silent grey mansion.
The majestic rhododendrons had grown wild, their once welcoming blood-red heads drooped, blackened and crisp in the late autumn night. No groundsmen remained to tend their seasonal wilt and a parasitic ivy weaved through their foliage, binding them together.
At the end of the drive the house loomed into view, as secretive and proud as it always had been. It’s charred, empty windows staring mournfully towards the end of the lawn and the sea that rolled beyond hypnotically, unaffected by time or drama. I wondered sadly if the cottage in the cove remained intact but could not linger on its memory. She favoured that place above every other. My graceful, flawless Mrs De Winter.
I arrived at Manderley when she was a bride, she needed no introduction, her poise and grace singled her out as a great Lady, born for this life. We spent hours of every day together, her telling me of glamorous parties she had attended, the men who hung on her every word and the women who wanted to be her. We planned her own parties, each one more extravagant than the last and she was always the belle of the ball. ‘Danny’ she would say to me, ‘I don’t know how I would manage without you. Don’t you ever leave me.’ I never would, of course, but in the end it was she who left me. The eighteen months after her death are gouged on my heart, the lies they told as I stood and listened. My Mrs De Winter would never commit suicide. She hated to be cold but still they recovered her little boat and frail body from the sea bed as, rooted to the spot, I was unable to look away from that scene. I hugged my coat tightly around me as the memory of that night clawed at my chest.
Mr De Winter remarried a mere year after her death. She was no more that a simpering girl, an inferior replacement for the lady who had once commanded the halls of this great house. She had no right to be here, she was not a wife to show off. How could that young, inexperienced slip hope to compare to the exquisite hostess his guests were used to? She was not born to be mistress of Manderley, she had no idea how a woman in her position should behave but she was, of course, curious about the woman whose shoes she was filling. I watched her recoil at every mention of Rebecca De Winter, she was sewn into the fabric of the house and impossible to ignore. Her monogram was everywhere, even her pen and personal stationary remained on the writing desk. I made sure of that. It wasn’t my job to like her, only to manage the house the way it had always been run. It suited everyone that way.
Her arrival tainted the pristine character of my Mrs De Winter. How many times was I forced to listen silently as lies of her infidelity and wild lifestyle were spoken of as truth? Again and again her diary was laid bare for all to see while the imposter pretended to be a shy and uncomfortable observer. I was not blind to her as the others were, they were pawns in her game of chess. Piece by piece Maxim’s ever-present love for my Rebecca was broken away and quashed underfoot until he could no longer bear to hear her name spoken. I will never forgive that, ever.
She had died of a gunshot wound, self inflicted they said but I know the truth and the walls of Manderley will forever run with the spilled blood of my mistress. Her exquisite laugh will be heard in the corridors and her face will be seen in the mirrors as I saw it when I brushed her hair. Rebecca could never be replaced by her. She didn’t belong here, her awkward walk was no comparison for the swanlike glide of my mistress. Her plain figure and absent fashion sense no match for the grace and beauty of the real Mrs De Winter.
I looked up at the hauntingly empty windows, a torn voile snapping through a broken pane in a room less touched by the fire. It had only taken the tipping of a few candles for the heavy curtains to engulf the room in flames. The ornate plaster ceilings had crackled and popped as the fire spread upstairs and brought the roof down in a shower of sparks that mingled with the salty wind. There could only ever be one mistress of Manderley.