Tension before lunch

"The West Wing, of course," said Rebecca, not turning her head.  "All of it."

"Naturally," I replied, realising that my hands were trembling like leaves in a strong wind.  "The rooms there are larger, but the rooms elsewhere are lighter.  I am sure that such an arrangement will suit both of us."

"Absolutely.  Especially as I am still having your things burned.  Come, Mrs. Danvers."  Rebecca left, sweeping out of the room in a way that shouldn't be possible without a dress with a train, and I sat down in one of the wing-backed chairs.  It squirmed beneath me.

I gathered my thoughts and let the shaking subside.  I had no idea how Rebecca had come to return to Manderley, though I was certain it was she.  Mrs. Danvers had clearly recgonised her and her allegiance was already declared.  If I her were to have any chance of mounting a successful defence against her now, I'd need to have some of the other staff on my side.  Max, sadly, was away in Monte Carlo this week, so I couldn't simply have him throw her out... and I wondered, secretly, if indeed he would.

I rose from the seat and was leaving the library when the telephone rang.  I paused, and then returned to answer it.  A voice on the other end asked for Mrs. de Winter.

"Mrs. de Winter has been dead this past year," I replied carefully.

"Mrs. de Winter is returned and well," said the voice immediately.  "I was however after the usurping Mrs. de Winter, the Queen Rat sat in her fortress consolidating her ill-gotten gains."

"Who is this?" I said, startled by the vehemence in the voice.

"Does it matter?  Does it really matter?  You may call me the ratcatcher."  The phone went dead.

I laid the receiver back down on the black, bakelite base, and then a thought occurred to me.  Still pondering who the ratcatcher might be, I lifted the receiver again, and dialed 0 for Mrs. Danvers.  She answered promptly: I had never known her let the phone ring more than three times before she answered it.

"May I help you?" she said, and I pulled the received away from my head.  Ice was riming the earpiece.

"Ah, I was calling to let you know that I've not seen the menu for lunch yet," I said.  "Normally I would have approved it by now."

"Mrs. de Winter has approved it," said Mrs. Danvers with an arctic chill in her voice.  "Lunch will be served at one; it will be a barbecue fuelled by the usurper's belongings."

I put the phone down again, and sighed.  First the return of a woman I had been told had had her back broken by a fall from a horse, and had then been washed out to sea to drown in the most ferocious coastal storm this century; now a mysterious ratcatcher who appeared to hate me almost as much Rebecca did.  What next?

I sighed again, mostly because I liked the way it made me sound, and decided to locate the gardener and see if he could be won over to my side before Rebecca got to him.

The End

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