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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Manderley Forever

A Biography of Daphne du Maurier

Tatiana de Rosnay; Translated by Sam Taylor

St. Martin's Press


Mayfair, City of Westminster, London

November 2013

There are usually crowds of people in Regent’s Park. Visitors come here to walk around and admire the flower beds, see Queen Mary’s rose garden, take boat trips on the lake. But on this very British gray and drizzly November morning, the park is deserted.

Queen Elizabeth was born in this upmarket district; Oscar Wilde lived here, as did Handel, Somerset Maugham, and Nancy Mitford. In place of the previous century’s patrician families, the elegant Georgian buildings are now home to luxury stores and fashionable restaurants, embassies, and five-star hotels. Impossible not to notice that the people who live here or frequent these places have money. There are fur coats on display everywhere, while only the priciest, flashiest cars are parked along the sidewalks. In the London version of Monopoly, Mayfair has been the most desired space on the board for more than eighty years.

To the east of the park are the Terraces, quiet residential streets so typical of London where rows of identical terraced houses stretch out toward the horizon, perfectly symmetrical. Chester Terrace is the longest, Clarence Terrace the shortest; Park Crescent is formed in a graceful semi-circle. The one I have come to see this morning is the most imposing of all: Cumberland Terrace. I read that it dates from 1826 and comprises about thirty houses. It is located between the Outer Circle, the street that borders the park, and Albany Street.

It’s not especially easy to find. Despite my map, I get lost several times before spotting its neoclassical façade from a distance. I walk through the rain toward it, impressed by its immense size and its famous Wedgwood blue pediment. I daren’t move any closer; I feel as if I am being watched. What could I say to one of the building’s inhabitants if they came out to ask me why I was taking photographs?

I could say, quite simply, that I am here for her, that I am following the footsteps of her life, and this is where my journey begins. Because it was here, at number 24, under these huge ivory columns, behind that white door, that Daphne du Maurier was born on May 13, 1907.

* * *

Leaving the park after going for a walk, the little girl has to pass under that gigantic-seeming arch, then climb the steps that lead to the house, on the right. The white front door matches the cumbersome pram, which Nanny cannot lift up on her own. They have to ring the doorbell so someone will come to help them. The little girl bickers with her sister Angela over who gets to press the copper-colored button first, and she has to stand on tiptoes in her Start Rite shoes in order to reach it.

Their childminder wears the same uniform, day after day. The little girl likes to look at it: the gray coat, the black hat, the veil covering her face. It is one of the maids who comes out to help Nanny with the baby carriage. She is wearing an apron and a white bonnet. They struggle to lift the pushchair with the baby inside it. From inside the carriage, Jeanne smiles, and the little girl notices the way everyone melts at her pink-cheeked sister’s smile.

Inside the long entrance hall, the little girl sees coats, stoles, and capes hung on pegs; she hears the hubbub of a conversation, peals of laughter coming from the living room, to her left; she sniffs out the whiff of an unfamiliar perfume. Her heart contracts. That means there are ladies invited to lunch, that she’ll have to go downstairs, later, after the meal in the nursery, to say hello. This does not bother Angela; in fact, she’s excited, already asking who is there with their mother. The little girl rushes upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, escaping while she can, and taking refuge in the large nursery on the top floor of the house, in that comforting warmth, near the doll’s house, of the toy cupboard with two shelves (one for Angela, one for her), of the treasure chest lined with cotton cloth, of the old armchair that transforms so easily into a shipwreck run aground on a beach. She moves toward the fireplace, where flames crackle behind the fire screen. The table is set for three—Nanny, Angela, and her—because the baby still sits in her high chair to eat. She looks out toward Albany Street, toward the army barracks. Nanny’s voice is raised and it pursues her, repeating her name several times over. It is telling her to wash her hands before lunch. Daphne doesn’t want to wash her hands, she doesn’t want to eat lunch. She wants to continue looking out of the window, watching the troop of Life Guards officers as they return from their morning patrol. Her father has explained that this is the oldest regiment in the British Army, its mission to protect the king and the royal buildings. There is no way she going to miss seeing the glint of their shining armor, the plume of feathers on their helmets, the red lightning flash of uniforms. Since she stopped sleeping with Jeanne and joined her older sister on the other side of the nursery, she is woken at dawn every day by the bugle call, but this doesn’t bother her at all.

During the meal, Nanny lectures Daphne about the need to finish her vegetables, and at dessert she orders her to eat every last morsel of her rice pudding. Daphne does not like rice pudding. Why must she always do what Nanny tells her? Because she’s only a four-year-old girl? And yet she likes Nanny; she sees her more often than she sees her own mother.

After lunch, the dreaded moment arrives. Nanny rubs Daphne’s face clean, brushes her hair. Angela admires herself in the mirror. The sisters wear identical embroidered mauve velvet dresses and pale pink pelisses; even the baby is dressed to match. They must walk downstairs, open the door of the dining room, and they must smile, in front of that sea of strange faces. Why doesn’t Angela suffer during this ordeal? Murmurs of approval. The ladies are elegant, they wear large hats. Mummy too. Daphne finds this odd: How can anyone eat lunch while wearing such a big hat? Nanny hands the baby to their mother; the baby gurgles, and everyone coos over her. Daphne wants to run away, back to the nursery; she hides behind Angela, who is prancing around in her velvet dress in front of the ladies. Their mother gives the baby lumps of sugar. When the ladies all stand up to move through into the living room, Daphne finds them too tall, too fat; they laugh too loud, cackling like hens, and not only that, but they all want to kiss her. It’s horrible. She hates it. Angela puts up with the kissing gracefully (how can she?), but not her, no way, no kissing. She scowls, bites her fingernails. The ladies laugh—they think she’s shy and sweet—but they notice the nail chewing, the naughty little thing. Her mother shoots her a reproachful look. We’ve tried everything with Daphne’s fingernails.… Thankfully, no one is paying any attention to her now; she is free to go back upstairs at last. It’s over. Until the next time.

She loves this view over the roofs of the city. Look, down there, that house painted red: Why is it red? Who lives there? How can she find out? It looks like that house is not friends with the house next to it; it’s different, separate. Daphne imagines living there, all alone. In that red house, no one would force her to finish her vegetables or her rice pudding, no one would order her to put on embroidered velvet dresses, no one would make her go downstairs to say hello to the guests. She would have a sword, like Peter Pan, whom she admires so much. She would love to be able to fly like him, over the chimneys.

It’s already time for lessons with Mrs. Torrance, the governess. Angela, who is three years older than Daphne, is far ahead of her. Daphne struggles with her capital letters. Why isn’t she able to master her Ss? She tries as hard as she can, leaning over the table, tongue between her teeth. You’re making lots of progress, Daphne; that’s very good. Have you written before? Daphne sits up proudly and gives the governess a haughty look. Yes, she has already written a book. Angela bursts out laughing, and says that Daphne can hardly write at all, she’s talking nonsense, she’s only four. Mrs. Torrance asks her, in a serious voice, what the title of her book is. Daphne replies, “John in the Wood of the World.” Deep down inside, Daphne knows that she is not telling the truth, that she has not written a book, that she just made up that strange-sounding title. The governess understands; kindly, good-naturedly, she smiles at the little girl. Daphne starts work on her capital letters again. Silence falls in the nursery. There is no sound but the crackling of flames in the hearth. Time passes slowly. She looks up at the window and starts to daydream.

Peter Pan is there, hidden behind the shutter. He’s come to fetch her, to take her to Neverland. Her, and no one else.

* * *

One day, Nanny leaves. The little girl asks her mother why. It’s because Jeanne is no longer a little baby, Angela is nearly nine, and Daphne will be six. They’re big girls now; they don’t need Nanny anymore. Daphne looks at Nanny, who is going away forever. Why are her eyes red? What is she doing with her handkerchief? She looks like she’s crying. Daphne is surprised: she didn’t know grown-ups cried, too. After Nanny, there is a succession of nurses that Daphne doesn’t like: a fat one who spends all her time eating snacks, another who hums annoying tunes, and yet another who scolds them constantly from morning till night. The walks in Regent’s Park last longer nowadays: they are no longer simple strolls along Broad Walk to the zoo, where little Jeanne gets excited at seeing the wild animals. Sometimes, they go around the lake. Daphne’s father tells her that a long time ago, before he was born, a tragic accident occurred here during one exceptionally severe winter. Back then, he explains, Londoners adored ice-skating. Despite being warned, hundreds of skaters went out onto the frozen lake. But the ice was too thin, and it cracked. Horrified, Daphne sees the tragic scene unfold as she listens to her father. She seems to hear the fatal creak and snap of the ice, the screams of fear. The skaters were wearing heavy Victorian clothes (wide, frilly skirts and thick, elegant fur coats, her father specifies) and it was difficult to fish the victims’ corpses out. About forty people drowned. Daphne can’t help thinking about this every time they walk around the lake, one hand resting on Jeanne’s pushchair.

One of the nurses prefers a large, private garden surrounded by a fence. They have to use a key to get in. The nurse meets up with her friends there, and they sit under cover with a Thermos of hot chocolate and some cakes and talk in low voices. The children are urged to play elsewhere, except for Jeanne, who stays close to them in her pushchair. Daphne thinks this unfair. She wants to stay under the roof and eat cakes, too. The nurse orders her to go farther off and enjoy herself. Daphne sulks, walking slowly down a path. There’s no one here to play with, and Angela’s having a lesson with Mrs. Torrance. Where have the other children gone? Suddenly Daphne sees that boy. Older than her, at least seven, maybe eight, blond hair cut very short, light-colored eyes, looking like a bit of a thug. She doesn’t like him at all; she’s seen him before at the park. He goes up to her and kicks her. She doesn’t say a word. She’s not going to cry in front of him. You’re the little Frenchy, aren’t you? Little French idiot. She doesn’t flinch. Go on; tell me your name. What’s your name, Frenchy? Another kick. She mumbles her first name. Your surname, you stupid girl! She stands up straight, looks him in the eye, and pronounces her full name. What did I tell you? That’s French, that is, du Maurier. Stupid Frenchy! Another boy appears, smaller, but looking just as mean. You’re going to listen to us now, Frenchy. We’re going to leave and you’re going to stay here. If you move, you’ll regret it. They walk away, sniggering. Daphne stands motionless, like a statue. How can she escape? Who could help her? The nurses are far off, at the other end of the garden. She doesn’t dare move a muscle, staying exactly where she is, numb, freezing, trembling with fear. After an eternity, the boys return. You moved, Frenchy. We were watching. We saw you. She denies this, but they start laughing, nastily, and the kicks rain down on her again. This time she doesn’t just take it; she kicks back at them. Her bonnet is askew, she’s out of breath, her cheeks are red, she’s hot. How stupid it is to wear a dress, to be a girl, not to be able to lift her leg up like a boy in pants.

Back at Cumberland Terrace, she is still trembling. That night, at bedtime, the nurse gasps when she sees Daphne’s bruises. Daphne says nothing. She doesn’t want to talk about those boys. The blond-haired one is her enemy, her worst enemy. She has to watch out for him, always be on her guard. But there is one thing she doesn’t understand. Why did he call her Frenchy? Is du Maurier really a French name? She decides to talk to Daddy about it. She asks him the question later, in the living room, when she’s sitting on his lap in front of the fireplace. Her father always smells nice; he is elegant, his blue eyes sparkle. He tells her that du Maurier is indeed a French name. His father, Daphne’s grandfather, was born in Paris. He was a great artist and a great writer, but he died before she could get to know him, alas. Daddy will show her his father’s drawings and his books. The look in Daddy’s eyes turns thoughtful. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, she’ll see. Daphne must never forget that she is one-fourth French and she should be proud of it. She feels reassured. She trusts Daddy; he’s always right. She doesn’t care about her enemy. He doesn’t have a famous grandfather.

Her father teaches her to pronounce their name correctly: she must say du Maurier, not dou Maurier. A sharp u, very French. As he strokes her hair, her father whispers that one day Daphne will learn to speak French fluently like her grandfather. He himself speaks it with an awful English accent. But he is certain, he knows for sure, that Daphne will speak it perfectly; she will be the most French of all his daughters. Sitting on her father’s lap, Daphne starts daydreaming about this grandfather she never knew, a writer, an artist, born in the most beautiful city in the world.

* * *

One winter morning, in the nursery, the black letters on the white page soar up and come to life. Amazed, Daphne starts deciphering word after word: she can read on her own, in her head. She devours the books of Beatrix Potter, fascinated by the adventures of Peter Rabbit. What a bore to have to go and eat dinner when she is dying to find out what the terrifying Mr. McGregor will do! How can she leave Tom Kitten and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle? Daphne has to explain to the nurse that what happens next in the story of Jeremy Fisher is far more important than taking her bath.

One story frightens her, even more than her blond enemy from the park. The Snow Queen. She is paralyzed with fear by the evil monarch who takes little Kay in her sleigh of ice, and by that shattered mirror, whose tiny splinters get stuck in the little boy’s heart and eyes. Thankfully, brave Gerda goes off to save him. Daphne is so frightened by this tale that one night, when she sees her mother climbing the staircase, she seems to have the beautiful and terrifying face of the evil queen. And yet Mummy is gentle and kind. Why is it only with her father that Daphne feels such a strong attachment? Why does she want to be with him all the time? He often watches her, proudly. He watches his two other daughters as well, but there is a special relationship between Daddy and her, a connection she could never describe, a strong and almost secret connection, and she knows that Mummy has noticed it.

In the mornings, Daphne and her sisters have to be careful not to make noise in the nursery, as their parents’ bedroom is just below. Daddy gets back late from the theater, never before midnight. And then he has to eat supper, so he doesn’t go to bed until two in the morning at the earliest. Daddy can’t bear noise, especially not the racket made by children laughing and jumping about. He doesn’t like the sound of a dog’s bark either, or a car engine backfiring, or a bird singing too loudly in the park. While she waits, Daphne reads. When she gets up, she walks on tiptoes, and so does Angela. They have to wait for the maid to take Daddy’s breakfast to him in bed. Her footstep on the stairs, her cheerful Good morning, sir: these are the signals that the girls can go and say hello to their father. He wears a green bathrobe over his silk pajamas, and Daphne loves the pleasant scent that floats around him. Daddy is never in a bad mood. She once got her bottom spanked, when she stuck her tongue out at Nanny, but that was a long time ago.

Daphne’s father is an actor. Every evening, he plays at being someone else, at the theater. To begin with, she doesn’t understand what this means: How can Daddy transform himself? It is only when she sees him onstage for the first time, in makeup and costume, that she grasps his mystery: Daddy is capable of being pompous Mr. Darling one moment and becoming scary Captain Hook the next. How does he manage to change his voice, his expressions, his mannerisms, even the way he walks, to such an extent? She is fond of the dusty smell of the theater, the bar she must push on the heavy door that leads backstage, the kindly stage manager, Bob, with his friendly winks. She enjoys watching these shadowy figures at work in the wings, the light show, the shifting backdrops, the last-minute details, the concentration in the eyes of Poole, the red-faced costumer who helps her father change his clothes. She never misses the chance to watch her father removing his makeup after the play is over. Daddy’s work is not like other people’s work. Her friends have daddies who go to the office each morning. Hers goes to the theater each evening. The theater is his life.

Mummy tells her daughters that she too, was an actress when she was younger. That was how she met Gerald, in 1902, when they were acting in the same play, The Admirable Crichton. Daddy was playing the role of Ernest Woolley, while Mummy was Lady Agatha. The man who wrote it would become a very close friend of theirs: James Matthew Barrie, known as Uncle Jim, the author of Peter Pan. Daphne has seen a photograph of Mummy in that role: she was a beauty back then, with her thick dark hair in a bun and her eyes accentuated by eye shadow and mascara. In the play, they fell in love, and in real life, too. Mummy’s name was Muriel Beaumont, her maiden name and her stage name. She took to the stage very young, but she decided to stop acting after her wedding. Angela asked her why, and Daphne could guess what her response would be. She had already understood that there was only a place for one actor in the du Maurier clan, one person only who would shine, one person only who would call the shots at Cumberland Terrace.

Gerald gets bored easily. He needs to be entertained; he needs a court. He likes to be applauded, admired, and Muriel knows exactly how to look after him, his house, his well-being, how to ensure he gets enough rest, the right meals, his afternoon nap. She invites lots of people, organizes outings, parties. She is the one who prepares his supper, in her bathrobe, late at night, when he comes home from the theater, starving; what he likes best is bacon and eggs, even at one in the morning. Everything revolves around Daphne’s father, and apparently it has been this way since he was born. When Daddy was a little boy, he was the favorite son of the du Maurier family, the last of five siblings, and his mother called him “ewee lamb.” Daphne finds it hard to imagine “Big Granny”—serious faced, imposing, always dressed in black—whispering “ewee lamb” to Daddy.

Every day, Daphne’s father gets up late, in no rush, and the household waits on him hand and foot. He takes his time choosing his shoes, his suit, and then goes off to the theater for rehearsals. He has lunch at the Garrick Club, not far from Leicester Square, and in late afternoon—before taking his quick nap, before the curtain rises—he returns to the house and always gives his daughters a hug in the nursery, a cigarette perpetually between his lips. Daphne looks forward impatiently to Daddy’s arrival. This is the hour of games and tales, and her father is funny, sparkling: he makes them howl with laughter when he imitates the next-door neighbor with her stiff-backed gait, her pouty fish lips, the way she holds her umbrella. He adores making fun of other people behind their backs, while being perfectly polite to their faces. Daddy is skillful, creative; with his help, the girls start to invent a personal jargon, a sort of code that they add to little by little, and which enables them to communicate without anyone else being able to guess what they’re really talking about. Sitting on a “hard chair,”* “see-me,”* “tell-him,”* all have other meanings.* Daddy encourages them to put on plays at home. He watches enthusiastically, applauds them, calls Muriel over so she can encourage them, too. Daphne always insists on being given the role of a boy. No way will she play a girl. Angela prefers to remain a girl. Besides, with her curves, it would be difficult for Angela to pass for a boy. How boring, to be a girl. Wouldn’t Daddy have preferred a boy? Daphne is sure of one thing: she would have made an excellent son.

One summer evening, Daddy turns up at the nursery along with a small man with intense eyes, a high forehead, and a big black moustache: the famous J. M. Barrie, the man who created Peter Pan, the author of several plays starring their father. Uncle Jim speaks with a rough Scottish accent. He is the legal guardian of their five cousins, the Llewelyn Davies boys, the sons of their aunt Sylvia, Daddy’s favorite sister. Daphne does not remember Aunt Sylvia, who died tragically of cancer when Daphne was only three. She doesn’t remember her uncle Arthur either, Sylvia’s husband, who also died of cancer, a few years before his wife. All Daphne knows is that Barrie adopted the five orphans and he is now raising them himself. It was for them that Uncle Jim invented Peter Pan, the adventure of a boy who didn’t want to grow up. The handsome and charming George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nico were his inspiration for the Lost Boys.

Sitting by the fire in the nursery, Uncle Jim asks the girls to perform his own play, Peter Pan. They know it by heart, performing it almost every night for their own pleasure, but they never tire of it. They are even capable of singing him the musical opening. Of course, Daddy will play both Captain Hook and Mr. Darling, as he’s done so brilliantly onstage many times. Angela plays Wendy and Mrs. Darling. Jeanne takes the roles of Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily. Daphne does all she can to make sure she plays Peter Pan; no way is she letting either of her sisters take “her” Peter! They leap from chair to chair, pretend to fly, wriggle on the floor in imitation of swimming mermaids, mimic perfectly the tick-tock of the crocodile that frightens Captain Hook so badly. It’s such a success that Gerald insists his daughters put on their plays for guests downstairs, in the living room. Daphne understands why her father loves becoming someone else: it’s true, she thinks, how intoxicating it is to put on a costume and change one’s appearance. She no longer feels shy at all when she acts in front of her parents’ friends. Mrs. Torrance, the governess, helps the sisters to rehearse. The guests clap and cheer. And what if life was, ultimately, about pretending? For Daphne’s father, this seems to be exactly the case, and he does it with such ease that she wonders if she might not manage it, too. As well as ridding herself of her shyness, she could, at last, be something more than a mere girl. She could become a boy.

Gerald looks so handsome in his makeup; she loves to watch him onstage in his various roles, season after season: Arsène Lupin, elegant and cunning, the audacious Raffles, Hubert Ware, sinisterly attractive, and Jimmy Valentine, the safecracker with the eventful life. Daphne notices the way the girls in the audience devour her father with their eyes. They seem to be in a trance from the moment he appears; they breathe differently, faster, as if they are in love with him.

One day, Daphne gets some sense of Daddy’s aura. It is Angela’s tenth birthday, and Gerald takes the family to lunch at the Piccadilly Hotel. On the sidewalk in front of the building, two passersby turn around. They look excited, thrilled. Inside the restaurant, it’s the same story: the insistent stares, the complicit smiles. Daphne reads their surname on everyone’s lips. Du Maurier. Du Maurier. She watches her father while he chooses his meal, the wine, while he leans down to reply to little Jeanne. Gerald is not really handsome, with his long, thin face and his large ears, but he has a godlike radiance that attracts the gaze of everyone near him. She observes the waiters’ obsequiousness, the bowing and scraping of the hotel manager who comes out to greet them, and, all the way through their lunch, the eyes of the other customers turned toward her father. Daphne is only seven, but for the first time she realizes how famous her father is, and how famous, too, is her French-sounding surname.

* * *

There is a word that sounds constantly in the mouths of the grown-ups, a word that Daphne dislikes. It is short and hard. It is the word “war.” They say it every day. Since when? She can’t remember, but she understands that something serious is happening in the outside world, far from Regent’s Park, far from this city where she was born. This word is like a cloud moving toward her, casting a shadow over her tranquil life. On the face of it, nothing changes: the walks in the park, the games, the reading, the meals, the lessons with Mrs. Torrance. What changes is the expression on the adults’ faces. It looks like fear. But why are they afraid? And why do people hate the Germans so much? What have they done? Around the table, during meals, with cousins, uncles, and aunts, everyone vehemently criticizes the Germans. She has to come to their defense. One evening, Daphne takes advantage of a pause in the lively conversation to proclaim in a loud, clear voice that she, personally, likes the Germans and that it would be wonderful if a German could come to tea at their house. All eyes turn to her. Icy silence. Muriel’s face is red as a brick. You stupid little girl, how dare you talk about things you don’t understand? Daphne falls silent, stares at her plate. The conversation resumes, the subject changes. She feels ashamed. But behind her embarrassment, she feels a new sense of pride. Because she has made the grown-ups notice her.

Soldiers appear all over the neighborhood. Daphne sees them each time she goes for a walk with the nurse. They are dressed in khaki uniforms, marching proudly along Albany Street, across Regent’s Park. The passersby applaud them, wave at them. One morning, the family accompanies Uncle Guy—Gerald’s older brother—to Waterloo train station. The platform is crowded with people. Uncle Guy is going off to war. She doesn’t know where the war is, but she notices the sadness in her father’s eyes, the sorrow and the fear, too. Big Granny’s face crumples when she embraces her son the soldier for the last time. When the train has left the station, when Uncle Guy’s waving hand can no longer be seen, Big Granny suddenly collapses on the ground. Daphne sees her dress and her cape spreading out beneath her like a huge black flower, her hat tipped sideways to reveal her white hair. Gerald and Muriel rush over, they fetch her a glass of water, and Big Granny regains consciousness, but the tears roll ceaselessly over her wrinkled cheeks.

The sadness stains each passing day. Big Granny falls sick and dies a few months later. Daphne’s cousin George, the eldest of the Llewelyn Davies boys, dies at the front. He was only twenty-one. And then there is that day in March, even darker, when, climbing the staircase in Cumberland Terrace, Daphne sees her sister standing outside her parents’ room, her eyes swollen and full of tears. Between sobs, Angela whispers that Uncle Guy has been killed, Daddy is inconsolable.

Daphne has to wear a black armband around her left arm. In the park, she is not the only child with an armband, but she is one of the few to have lost two members of her family; three, if you count her grandmother. The only thing that brightens up her days is the arrival of Jock, their first dog, a Westie. Jock likes Daphne more than her sisters—she is his mistress—and this makes her very proud. When she runs with him in the park, she becomes once again the carefree little girl she used to be; she forgets the war, the dead, the sadness of adults. She forgets her black armband.

The conflict rages, but in a family of actors the show must go on. Gerald performs to packed houses. The sisters’ allegorical plays in the nursery take on more importance. Daphne deigns to play a girl only if she is heroic and wears armor, like Joan of Arc. For The Three Musketeers Angela is Athos, Jeanne is Aramis, and Daphne takes the role of the bold d’Artagnan. Nobody wants to get stuck with gormless Porthos. Treasure Island becomes a favorite, with Daphne as Long John Silver or Jim Hawkins. They are inspired by William Harrison Ainsworth’s historical novels for children, gripping and stuffed full of fascinating details. It is Daphne who leads her sisters into her imaginary world, Daphne who hands out roles and directs scenes. Angela and Jeanne submit to her initiatives, but when Angela grows older and becomes more interested in her friends and in birthday parties Jeanne proves herself willing to take on any role her sister assigns her, never complains, and dies divinely at the hands of Daphne, dressed as an executioner with a bloody axe.

One October morning, when Daphne returns from a walk in the park with her sisters, Daddy is waiting for them, a smile on his lips. He spins Jeanne around like a top and, in a singing voice, announces that he has a surprise for his daughters. Daphne wants to know what it is. She pulls at his sleeve. The family is going to move to a new house. The girls are not babies anymore—they are twelve, nine, and five years old—so farewell Cumberland Terrace, Albany Street, Regent’s Park, farewell the nursery on the top floor. The girls are ecstatic, they jump up and down and applaud. But where is this house? Gerald looks dreamy, almost at peace. Their new house is large, beautiful, and it is located close to the place where he grew up. Its name is Cannon Hall.

Copyright © 2015 by Édition Albin Michel/Édition Héloïse d’Ormesson

Translation copyright © 2017 by Sam Taylor