They say the sea will claim its own in the end. So you tell yourself over and over as the steel spike drives through the wooden planks and the icy, briny Atlantic surges in. Her staring eyes--you cannot close them, try as you might; even in death, she spites you--meet yours, the red-painted smile persisting, the echo of her laughter caught and thrown in the howl of the wind. Not for much longer. The fish and worms and creatures of the deep will make short work of her, and the world will somehow go on.
When she was a little girl, the old women of the village would warn the young men to beware of the morgen. They did not sing as did Homer's Sirens; it was a morgen's eyes that bewitched all that looked upon her, for they held within them all the wildness and promise of the sea itself.
It was as the gossip columns of the Standard pointed out when word of their engagement reached London: Maximilian de Winter didn't stand a chance; who could? Even the name Rebecca de Winter sounded perfect. It was the romance of the Season, between the quiet, withdrawn heir to once-glorious Manderley--he had kept to himself even before the war, but was now barely seen in public and in dire need of a wife and heir--and reckless, dazzling Rebecca Morvan, about whom--according to her devoted Danny--in some more civilised age, young men would have written screeds of poetry.
To that, Rebecca herself only vouchsafed laughter. "Only if they were good poems, Danny. I should be ashamed to inspire dull verse."
That prompted a string of desperate protests, insisting that nothing written about her could ever be dull---
"Oh, Danny, that's quite enough." Rebecca peered into the mirror and applied a dark line of kohl to her eyelids. Against that black frame, her eyes were the grey of the waves that crashed below Manderley. Morgen eyes, the more superstitious in the village claimed.
Her favourite story as a child had been the tale of the Lost City of Ys, the most beautiful city in the world until it disappeared one night beneath the rushing waves. Some said it had never existed; others that a woman's folly had hastened its end. Rebecca wondered if it had not been folly at all, but an innate sense that perfection was fleeting.
Perhaps she ought to have taken heed when the first thought she had upon seeing Manderley--her Manderley--was that it would be her Ys.
The halls of Manderley have always been haunted, but you did not see the ghosts until now. Pale shadows at the corner of your vision, the scent of azaleas that still lingers in every room. It's hers now, just as she said. The entire house--your inheritance, your legacy--has become a mausoleum where prayers are sung in perpetuity for the soul of Rebecca de Winter. Your beloved, tragic, irreplaceable wife. There isn't a corner of the house that hasn't drawn some tiny spark of life from her presence; from the fresh, cream-coloured roses in the morning room to the much-thumbed copy of Shakespeare's Complete Works tucked carefully into one of the drawers of the escritoire in the morning room, every room seems to hold its breath as if she might enter at any second. The servants are whispering. They hear you pacing back and forth in the small hours of night, waiting for the seemingly inevitable knock, the eyes that refuse to meet yours, the low, embarrassed murmur, I'm afraid we've found something in the bay. The drawing room begins to fill with bouquets of lilies and notes of condolence. Everybody loved Rebecca, it seems, just as they'd planned, just as she'd promised on that faraway day as another ocean crashed below them. If you'd only killed her then, how much simpler it all would have been.
In the tale, it was the Princess Dahut whose sin had brought about the fall of glorious Ys. She was no sweet and virginal maid, but a temptress who wandered the city masked and cloaked, in search of the fairest young men. What she did with them in the scented corners of her bower, one could only guess, but they were always found dead the next morning, in the aptly named Baie des Trepassés.
Only one had survived for more than a single night; a knight clad from head to toe in red. His hair was the colour of burnished copper; his lips like Proserpina's pomegranate seeds. Some versions claimed he was the Devil himself, sent to punish Ys for the Princess' sins. Rebecca wondered if he was a brave young man from the depths of the city who knew its beauty was overripe and overladen, who knew as all storytellers did that the only way to achieve immortality was to take it upon oneself to write the ending.
There was only one time when Rebecca faltered, and it was on the Haut Corniche overlooking the Mediterranean--its exquisite aquamarine-blue a far cry indeed from the white-flecked grey of Douarnenez Bay. Of course, this sea had its own stories. Atlantis was not so very different, after all, from Ys.
She had thought for a brief moment that Max might understand, had forgotten the world from which he came. The disgust on his face, the contempt in his eyes, had chilled her blood even beneath the Riviera sun. For a moment, she could see murder in his eyes. Now could I do it pat--- Even Hamlet had been driven to murder eventually. A few bare inches and her foot--in fashionable heels unsuited for cliff-side promenades--would slip.
"Darling Max." She could hear the quaver in her voice--like a string tuned to the point of breaking--and thought of the one thing she knew he loved. "I'll make you a deal. I'll reinvent your precious Manderley."
It was barely a pause, but Rebecca seized it.
"I'll make it the most famous showplace in the county. And people will visit us, and envy us, and talk about us; they'll say we are the luckiest, happiest, handsomest couple in all England."
Manderley. The one thing he cared for more than his own conscience.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the questions fade away. The newsmen stop coming round, the many thousands of artists and artisans and collectors who relied on Rebecca for commissions and introductions, and, eventually, those much-neglected friends, driven away by walls of sullen silence. But you still dream of the sea rushing through those holes, the eyes--what was it she used to call them?--studying you in triumph. So you run. Let Manderley slumber in its wooded confines. First, Paris, where you hear her laughter in the warren of ancient streets in the Quartier Latin; Lyons and Lausanne, off the beaten Society track, but attracting submerged memories of a different sort, of forests and ditches and tangling vines of barbed wire. And so you turn to the sea again, to that glittering city of chance and charade, Monte-Carlo.
She had first come across the painting while exploring the attics in search of objets d'art. Wrapped in burlap, its frame perfectly intact, someone had shoved it behind a ghastly Victorian armoire and there it had stayed, for how long Rebecca couldn't have thought. The name on the small gilt-painted panel was Lady Caroline de Winter.
Max didn't notice that she'd hung it in the front hall until the two of them had been accosted by several elderly antiquarians on the street in Kerrith with a barrage of questions about the scandalous case of Lady Caroline de Winter. Although Rebecca stood her ground on the portrait's not being returned to the attic, Max refused to countenance anything on the main floor, and they compromised on the minstrel's gallery.
"Why does she trouble you so much, Max?" she'd asked him that night at dinner. When the mumbled answer he gave her proved unsatisfactory, she called on the most impassioned of their three pursuers and offered him half an hour's consultation of the portrait at Manderley in exchange for all the information he had gathered about Lady Caroline de Winter.
Lady Caroline, it seemed, had committed the cardinal sin of getting caught in flagrante delicto. But not before presenting her husband with three heirs whose parentage, though never officially questioned, remained in doubt throughout their lives.
Perhaps it was appropriate that, two weeks after she began to suspect, she decided on her costume for the annual masquerade ball. The tradition she had initiated during the first year of her marriage to Max, that Cornwall and London society both were content to pretend had existed since the dawn of time itself.
By the evening of the ball, all of their guests had heard through the remarkable instrument that is Kerrith gossip about Rebecca's having permitted the eminent Doctor Smith from Oxford to examine the famous--or, indeed, infamous--portrait of Lady Caroline de Winter. So, when she descended the grand staircase into Manderley's Great Hall in a cloud of white organza, dark ringlets teasing her bare shoulders, they all knew who Lady Caroline was. Max, she could tell without even looking, was livid.
And yet, he couldn't take his eyes off her. Every time she danced with another man, she could feel the gaze, could almost hear the question aloud: Is he the one? Unable to resist the urge to goad him just a little more, she flirted more than usual with Cousin Jack, until Max tapped her on the shoulder and led her to the dance floor, his grip on her fingers tight enough to crush them.
"You were making a fool of yourself," he hissed, before nodding pleasantly to Colonel Julyan as he and his wife spun past. "Favell."
"Do you think my taste so disappointing, Max?" She leant close to pitch the words directly into his ear. To her satisfaction, she could feel his shoulders tense beneath her hand. "This, darling, was specially for you."
She pretended she did not see what her mind's eye insisted was a glint of red in his eyes.
Every woman you see has her face, if only for the first split-second, enough that your heart jumps and your nerves twitch. She's calling from the sea, a Siren--no, something else, what did she call it? Morgen. Like Morgan le Fay. You hear her laughter in the waves below, low and intimate as it was on the night of the masquerade until you smothered it with kisses. Come with me, Max. You can't live without me, I'm in your blood like a virus; all it takes is one step, one step--and you suddenly see Manderley below the surface of the water, glittering with light and life, and it's just one tiny step over the edge---
The sea will claim its own in the end. And the sea will defend them.