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Spanning nearly three quarters of a century, The du Mauriers is a saga of artists and speculators, courtesans and military men. From England to Paris and back again, their fortunes varied as wildly as their ambitions. An extraordinary family of writers, artists and actors they are…The du Mauriers.
“Daphne du Maurier creates on the grand scale; she runs through the generations, giving her family unity and reality . . . a rich vein of humor and satire . . . observation, sympathy, courage, a sense of the romantic, are here.”-The Observer
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FAMILY TREE OF THE DU MAURIERS
On a cold spring day in 1810 a little sallow-faced girl of twelve leant with her nose pressed against the windowpane of a tall house in Westbourne Place. She was in the servants' bedroom because the other rooms in the house were being stripped of their furniture, and strange men she had never seen before were strolling backwards and forwards through the two drawing-rooms pointing to the chairs and tables, feeling the legs of the little gilt boudoir couch with coarse dirty hands, running inquisitive fingers up the rich brocaded curtains. She had watched them for a time earlier in the day, and no one had noticed her; she had been free to wander through the rooms and passages and see the severe-looking gentleman in the dark coat put numbered tickets on the dining-room chairs. Then he went away, and in a few minutes came back again with two workmen who wore aprons and had their shirt sleeves rolled above their elbows, and he told the men to take the chairs away.
The room held an air of odd surprise when the chairs had gone. Then another man came and laid out all the best glass and china on a side-table, and, when he had arranged them to his satisfaction, he carried them through to the drawing-room and put the table against the wall. The chairs had been placed back to back in a long row, and the pictures had been taken down from their hanging-rails and stacked in a pile on the floor.
The callous indifference of these men towards her mother's possessions was, to the child, like a little stab of pain. She had known for some time that Westbourne Place was to be sold, and she and her mother would move to another home, but she had not understood that the chairs and the tables, the glass and china, the very plate off which they ate, would be theirs no longer. One by one the familiar things were touched and tested by unfamiliar hands, and a dreary procession formed itself like a line of mourners at a funeral, bearing from the house a succession of little corpses that could not say farewell. When the gold timepiece was lifted from his place above the stairs the child could stand no more, and she turned away with tears in her eyes and crept upstairs to the servants' bedroom at the top of the house.
That clock had been a friend to her in the many lonely hours. He had a singing chime every quarter that she would listen for when she lay awake in bed, and that note of reassurance had never failed her yet. Now she would never hear him again. And he would go perhaps to people who would care nothing for him, who would forget to dust his smiling face, and let his chime rust and ring false. As she knelt with her nose and chin smudged against the window, she felt for the first time a little sting of bitterness against her mother, who permitted these things to happen.
Ever since last year her world had been changed and insecure, and that daily life that every child imagines will continue into eternity had suddenly ceased to be. No longer did she ride in the phaeton every morning, with her mother at her side, up and down Hyde Park in a procession of carriages, or sometimes out to Richmond to drink porter with Lord Folkestone, who used to measure her with his riding-crop to see if she had grown. And, while her mother laughed and chatted, teasing Lord Folkestone in her own inimitable way, whispering oddities to him behind her hand that made him shout with laughter, the child Ellen sat silent, like a little sallow mouse, watching the play between them with a strange inborn sense of disapproval. If this was how grown-up people spent their time, she had little use for them; for herself she preferred books and music, having a thirst for knowledge of all kinds that her mother declared to be positively wearisome in a child not yet thirteen.
'You see,' she would say to her friends, with a tiny shrug of her shoulders and a shadow of mock despair in her eyes, 'my children have outgrown me already. It is monstrous. I am too young for them; they consider me irresponsible and giddy. Master George must lecture me from school like an old professor, and Ellen here, clasping solemn hands, asks "May I learn Italian, m'am, as well as French?" ' At this there would be much laughter at Ellen's expense, and the child would flush uncomfortably until they had forgotten her again.
Yet driving in the Park or at Richmond was a pleasure, for there were so many things to see, and so many people to watch, and even at ten or twelve Ellen must consider herself a student of human nature.
She was old beyond her years because she had never had the companionship of other children. George, her only brother, and an idol, had been sent early to school, and was now so much taken up by his new companions, the horses he had learnt to ride, and the talk of his future military career, that the conversation of a small sister was something to be heard with impatience.
Ellen had to depend upon herself. Books became her friends then, and music, when her mother had money enough for a master; but she must understand, her mother would say, that living as they did amongst such elegance, keeping the table they did, and with the carriage and horses, there was little over for such fads as music-lessons and an Italian master. 'I will see if it can be arranged,' she would say vaguely, waving her hand in the air; and, smiling that brilliant smile that meant she was thinking of something else, would pull the bell for the servant to discuss the dinner-party for the evening.
There was such profusion of good things, such abundance of fruit and cake and wine, such glitter of glass upon the table, such smooth white napery, that it seemed hard the pound or two necessary for the music-master had to be given over to that extra bunch of grapes. A child's nature is such that she accepted it as inevitable, and later in the day would hear from the privacy of her own room the clatter of the party below—that peculiar parrot sound, strained and shrill, that distorts the human voice when men and women come together.
Such was her home, and she was contented with it, having known nothing else but this funny superficial brilliance as far back as she could remember. A season or two at Weymouth and Brighton, and then London—Park Lane, Gloucester Place, Bedford Place, Westbourne Place, a succession of town houses following one upon the other; and all was froth, and entertainment, and show; her mother coming in with a new ring on her second finger as pleased as a kitten with a ball of string, laughing over her shoulder to the puppy-faced officer in his scarlet tunic who followed at her heels, his slow mind stumbling awkwardly in pursuit of her swift brain.
'This is my babe, Captain Venning, my little Ellen, so shy and solemn, so unlike her silly mother.' And with a trill of laughter she had passed into the drawing-room, having first signalled with her eyes to her daughter that she might run away to her own room. And Ellen, climbing the stairs sedately with her mouth pursed, caught sight of herself in the tall mirror and hovered an instant, staring at her own reflection, struck by her mother's words.
She wondered whether it mattered very much to be born without beauty. The contour of her face was lean and angular, in contrast to her mother's rounded cheeks and dimpled chin. Her chin was sharp and the prominent nose curved to her narrow mouth, adding severity to the solemnity that was already there—for all the world, the child told herself, like a pair of German nut-crackers; and she stroked the high bridge of her nose with her fingers, thinking of the tip-tilted, provocative feature that was perhaps one of her mother's greatest charms. Their eyes and their hair were alike in colour—a soft warm brown—but there all resemblance ended; for the child's eyes were deep set, lacking lustre, and the crimped hair had difficulty in curling.
Her mother's eyes would change with every mood. One moment they would sparkle with gaiety, bright and clear like cut amber turned to the light, and the next moment they would be swimmy, clouded, more alluring even than before, full of that lovely blindness peculiar only to near-sighted persons.
Her hair, too, curled softly round her forehead, dressed as it was in the new style with her ears showing, drawn away from the white column of her neck, leaving this white and free and sloping without shadow to the superb shoulders. Ellen's hand wandered slowly from her nose to her pale sallow cheeks, and thence to her own small rounded shoulders—so rounded, in fact, that a servant once, in an ill-tempered mood, had called her 'Hunch-back'. The child had never forgotten this, and she flushed now at the memory. Then, with a shrug of these same despised shoulders, she turned from the mirror towards her room, the sound of her mother's voice, quick and eager, coming up to her from the drawing-rooms below.
Well, those days were over now. There had been no parties for more than a year. The officers in their bright tunics came no more; even Lord Folkestone had gone abroad, and of course His Royal Highness, who used to visit them so often when they had lived in Park Lane, had not been near them now for four years. Ellen had almost forgotten him. Other people began coming to the house—tradespeople; she recognised them, dressed as for Sunday in their dark clothes, and, when her mother refused to see them, they would shout rudely at the servant, as though it was his fault.
One day there had been quite a crowd of them at the front door, and they had pushed their way in and forced themselves into her mother's presence. They had not remained for long. Her mother had listened to their complaints, shaking her head gently at them, letting them exhaust themselves with talk, and then, when the ringleader, an upholsterer from Lamb Street, near by, drew breath, expecting her to eat out of his hand, she left fly at him with a string of gutter-words, well chosen, that struck him and his companions in such confusion that they were left without weapons of retaliation.
They had stared at her, open-mouthed, and she had swept them from the room before they could recover, and she was left then, her cheeks scarlet and her eyes flashing, mistress of the field.
That day was followed by days and weeks of insecurity, when her mother was never at home, or when she was she would have no time for Ellen but an impatient hug, and 'Run away to the servants, child; I have not a moment,' closeting herself at once with a strange visitor; and the two would talk away in the boudoir for hours, the low murmur of their voices going on and on. There was a tense atmosphere about the house, sinister and disturbing to a child who was used to the normal continuity of things, and she longed for an explanation that was never given. If she found her way to the kitchen, the servants stopped talking when she approached, and the silly footman giggled behind his hand, thrusting a pamphlet into his breeches pocket. George remained at school for Easter and did not come home. When Ellen wrote to him, he did not reply. The child was tortured by the fear he might be ill, or that this was to be a permanent separation. Her mother gave her half-answers to her repeated questions. One morning, before she left the house she found Ellen hovering behind her like a shadow. 'Be finished, child,' she said impatiently, 'plaguing me as you do. I have told you a hundred times your brother is well.'
'Then why does he not return home?' said Ellen, setting her narrow mouth.
'Because it is better for him to stay there for the moment,' came the reply.
'What is the reason, then, for all these changes? Surely I am old enough to know? I am not a baby, to be pacified with fairy tales. The servants gossip in corners. People come to the street and stare up at the house. Yesterday some boys threw a stone at me when I looked from the window. You can see where the stone has shattered the pane. Why was I followed when I took my walk in the Square, and pointed at, like a monkey in a cage, and why did a strange gentleman, winking to his friend, stop me on the step and say, "And who was your father, little maid, the duke or the dustman?" '
She spoke with passion, her eyes blazing, her small face white and tense.
The mother looked at her uncertainly, her hand fidgeting with her kid glove, her poise shaken momentarily by these questions flung at her by a little girl of twelve.
'Listen, Ellen,' she said swiftly. 'Your mamma has enemies—never mind why. People who would see us all flung penniless on the streets like dogs. They would like to have me crawl to them for bread, beg for it in the gutter. They were pleased enough to dine at my table once, but that's over now. I've got to fight 'em for our future, yours and mine and George's. I've no money and no friends. Only my wits. They have served me before and they will serve me now. Whatever happens, and however much dirt they fling at me, remember one thing—that I am doing it for your sake, for you and for George, and so to hell with 'em.' She waited a moment, as though she would say more; and then, thinking better of it, she laid one finger on the child's cheek, smiling an instant, and was gone, leaving behind her the little trail of perfume that was part of her. On the parquet was a piece of paper, torn in two. It must have fallen from her hand unwittingly. Ellen stooped to pick it up that she might put it with the waste letters. She saw that it was a lampoon, vulgar and splodged, sold by some hawker in the street. Her mother had torn it right across, but Ellen could see the four last lines smirking up at her like a leer.
And when I strove to chaunt my Mrs Clarke
With rhyme, confused, I knew not which was which,
But, as I went on fumbling in the dark,
I set down bitch for Clarke and Clarke for bitch.
The child threw the paper away so that she could see no more, and went quickly to the door; but, seeing the footman there with his foolish, vacant face, she went back again, and kneeling beside the paper-basket, she took from it the discarded paper, and tore it piece by piece until it was in shreds.
A year had come and gone now since Ellen Clarke had found the lampoon against her mother. She had seen many more during the twelve months that had followed. Old copies of the Gazette, left open by the servants, taught her in bold black print what she had not known before. Loyal and passionate, she would have defended her mother against the world that blackened her, but she was only a child, a powerless, ridiculous figure, shut away at the top of a house like a small bird in a cage. There had been a great trial—so much she understood—and her mother had been chief witness in this trial, bringing charges against His Highness the Duke of York, who only a few years ago had been their dearest friend. What these charges were Ellen did not know, but because of the trial the world had turned against her mother. All the scurrilous gossip of the day came to her ears and turned to poison. At twelve years of age her eyes were opened to all that was base and ignoble in a sordid world. She began to understand how they had lived during the years that had passed.
A hint here, a word there, a pamphlet thrust under the door, servants talking behind a screen, and the string of her own little recollections going back to babyhood, totalled a sum that could not be ignored. She remembered how they had never lived long in one house, and how the circle of her mother's friends had changed with her position. Snatches of forgotten scenes swam home to her memory once more. She saw herself a toddling baby again, with George a few years older, peering through railings to a dirty pavement in Flask Walk at Hampstead, and how they had left in the middle of the night and gone to Worthing to stay with Sir Charles Milner, and Sir Charles had given George a spaniel puppy and herself a china doll. There were gaps then in her memory, and a forgetting of Sir Charles, and suddenly they were living in a big house in Tavistock Place, and a gentleman called Uncle Harry came to see them every day. Her mother must have quarrelled with him, for one evening Ellen heard him shouting at her in the drawing-room, and, peeping through the crack in the door, the child had seen her mother, cool and sweet, listening to him with her chin in her hand and yawning in his face as though fatigued.
They went from Tavistock Place a week later, and spent the summer in Brighton, and Ellen and George drove up and down in a little carriage with two grey ponies. The following winter they had a fine house in Park Lane, and their mother gave dinner-parties four times a week. Ellen remembered coming to the drawing-room hand in hand with George, and seeing His Highness standing on the rug before the fire. A giant of a man he seemed, with great bluff red face and bulging eyes, and he bent down to them and swung them on his shoulder. 'So you'd be a soldier, eh, would you?' he said to George, pulling his ear, 'and go to France to fight Boney? Well, a soldier you shall be.' And he laughed, turning to their mother, and, flourishing an enormous handkerchief, he made rabbit's ears for Ellen.
During the three years that followed, His Highness came every evening to the house, when he was in Town, and he chose the school for George and bought him a pony too. Ellen, shutting her eyes, could see him now, striding into the house and bellowing for her mother, swinging his ponderous belly before him, thrusting snuff with finger and thumb up the left nostril of his prominent nose. And now the Duke was fallen and disgraced, because Ellen's mother had spoken against him at the trial.
'Whatever I do, I do for you and George,' she had said; and, with a sting of shame at her own disloyalty, Ellen wondered what man or woman had ever known her mother or had guessed what lay behind those changeable brown eyes. In November of that year the street-boys had burnt her effigy instead of Guy Fawkes's. From her bedroom window Ellen had heard them singing at the corner of the street:
'Mary Anne, Mary Anne,
Cook the slut in a frying-pan,'
and they had run with flares through the foggy night, with a fat turnip, in a lace night-cap and pink ribbon, perched sideways on a pike.
Now it was spring again, and these vile memories behind them, but the old continuity of life had been broken and nothing could ever be the same again. Her face smudged against the window, Ellen saw a carriage drive to the door of the house, and out of it stepped her mother, and her mother's friend, Lord Chichester. She supposed that they had come to see how the sale of the furniture progressed. A curiosity almost morbid in its intensity came over the child to watch how her mother would behave. Once again she crept downstairs to the reception-rooms, and she found that the crowd of inquisitive strangers had gone now, the floors and the walls were stripped, and in the centre of the little bare room stood her mother and Lord Chichester, ticking off prices with a sour-faced clerk.
'A hundred and four guineas for the drawing-room suite!' she was saying. 'But when I tell you that those chairs were fifty pounds apiece—'
'Yes, but you never paid for them,' observed his lordship drily.
'That is neither here nor there. My boudoir couch, forty-nine guineas—a monstrous bargain they have gained indeed! Ninety guineas I gave for that couch, scarcely four years ago, and they now fling bare fifty in my face.'
'A good price, in its condition, madam,' said the clerk. 'The surface was badly worn and stained, and one leg cracked.'
'That couch had seen some service,' murmured Lord Chichester.
She looked at him, her tongue in her cheek, and fluttering her lashes.
'The sort of service which should make it of double value to the purchaser,' she said. 'A glass of wine, a little imagination, a room discreetly lit—my dear Chichester, you should have bought the couch yourself! It might have fanned the flame that burns so seldom in you nowadays.'
'Ah, we are none of us as young as we were, Mary Anne.'
'Precisely. That's why you would have found the couch so useful. A hundred and eighteen guineas for my glass. That is not badly done. The best I have kept. Fifty pounds for the clock with the silver chimes! How often he has brought me to my senses when it was too late! I am not sorry to see him go; he had an inquisitive note. Five guineas for a miniature of the Duke! Five fiddlesticks and they'd be right…. Why, Ellen, what are you doing at the door? The child becomes more like a gnome every day.'
'How old are you, Ellen?' said Lord Chichester.
'Barely eight,' said her mother.
'Twelve and a half,' said the child.
His lordship laughed. 'You can't make a fool of your own daughter, Mary Anne,' he said, and he remembered the expression she had used during the trial. 'My babies,' she had said: 'my little girl, scarcely out of the cradle'; and he saw again the pitiful tremor of her mouth, the tear beneath her lashes, the rather helpless shrug of her lovely shoulders. What an actress the woman was, and how completely unscrupulous in every way! She would sell her best friend for money, and her own soul too; but she did not desert her children. But neither does a vixen in her burrow desert her cubs…. The boy's future was secure; she had seen to that; the remainder of his schooling would be paid and a commission bought for him in a regiment of the line. As for this child, the annuity would come to her when her mother died. Lord Chichester wondered what use she would make of it; with those sharp features and those round shoulders she would hardly follow in the footsteps of Mary Anne. She had no charm at the moment, none of her mother's gutter loveliness, impudent, provocative, the more alluring because it was ill bred.
But Mary Anne, who, rakish and disgraceful, faced life like an urchin in the street, her finger to her nose, had not fared too badly since her separation from the Duke, for all her pretended poverty. Folkestone had seen to that. And paid her debts into the bargain. That was her trouble, of course; money trickled through her hands. She would have to reduce her scale of living if she proposed existing on the Duke's settlement. A thousand pounds would be nothing to her.
He followed her now into the boudoir, bare of its furniture, the walls stained and blackened where her pictures had hung. The room had a dissolute, untidy air; boxes half packed with her belongings were piled on top of one another on the floor. A case of trinkets sprawled on a one-legged stool, partly covered by an embroidered shawl, and here and there were scattered beads that had broken loose from their knotted silk, a book or two, a miniature, a sheet of music; and, amidst them all, panting, a gold collar encircling his gross pleated throat, a ridiculous lap-dog, like an over-fed toy, who yapped and spluttered at their approach. The room smelt heavily of dog and stale perfume. The windows were tightly closed. Lord Chichester raised an eyebrow, and put his cambric handkerchief to his nose. The room was a betrayal of its mistress, and, smiling drily, he pictured the origins whence she had sprung—the coarse lodging-houses of her youth, ill kept and dirty; beds that were never made; half-eaten breakfast rotting on an unwashed plate, and bawling from the street below a drunken father with shrill gutter cry. He saw Mary Anne as she must have been at twelve—the same age as this little microbe here—full-bosomed, impudent, and curly-haired, full of a premature vulgarity. Red-lipped and calculating, she would watch men from the corners of her eyes, making a note of their stupidities, and, fully aware of her pernicious charm, she had flung herself, with deliberate abandon, into that walk of life that suited her.
No word of that early life escaped her now. Actress and prostitute she may have been; wife, too, at seventeen of some wretched tradesman at Hoxton, so rumour ran; but in her present position as late mistress of the Duke of York she did not welcome enquiries into the past.
Lord Chichester smiled again, thinking of her sharp tongue and ready wit, and how she had set the court into fits of laughter at the trial by her quick answer to the learned judge. As she played now with her trinkets in the boudoir, and fondled her fat dog, he narrowed his eyes and conjured again the memory he had of her in the witness-stand, a vision in a blue silk gown, dressed as though for an evening party, a white veil on her head, her small hand playing carelessly with her ermine muff. He watched again the demure expression on her face, belied by that pert tip-tiled nose, her head a little on one side, as the judge bent down to her with infinite condescension, pausing a moment, a half-look to his audience as though to warn them he would make her writhe, and saying, 'Under whose protection are you now, Mrs Clarke?' And quick as a rapier-thrust came the reply: 'I thought, m'lord, that I was under yours.' What a titter had escaped the court; turning to broad laughter at his lordship's flush, and, while he fumbled stupidly with his pen and groped for his papers, she had waited for his next question, cool and unmoved, the point of her tongue just showing between her teeth!
He would be sharp indeed who bettered Mary Anne! She had all the low cunning of her sex, all the base qualities. Greedy, avaricious, faithless, and a liar, she had passed from petty triumph to petty triumph, using her lovers as a purse to prosperity, and yet—and yet—Lord Chichester looked at her again—the white throat, the curve of her chin, the loose, rather petulant mouth—and he shrugged his shoulders and forgave her everything.
'What are your plans?' he said abruptly.
She turned to him with vague, untroubled eyes, fingering the bracelet on her wrist. 'Plans?' she echoed. 'I never make any plans beyond to-morrow. Have you ever known me live otherwise? I have taken your advice about quitting the country. Ellen and I leave for France on Saturday. Beyond that—who knows? The future can take care of itself.'
The child, who had been watching her intently, seized upon her words.
'Are we to go from England?'
Her mother made a pretence of emotion, and, drawing her towards her, covered her with kisses. 'My poor baby, they are hounding you from home. We must be outlaws in a foreign land; friendless and unwanted. We shall wander from country to country, seeking a shelter for our weary heads, no one to—'
'With a thousand pounds in the bank, beside your nest-egg from Folkestone, and all your jewels and your plate intact,' interrupted Chichester, 'you will live like a queen if you can keep from gambling. You have not forgotten the terms of the contract?'
'Am I likely to?'
- On Sale
- Dec 17, 2013
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown and Company