This month we published two of Daphne du Maurier‘s best-loved and most spine-tingling short story collections as Virago Modern Classics designer hardbacks. Both The Birds and Don’t Look Now come with covers by award-winning textiles designer Neisha Crosland – find out more about them on the gorgeous Selvedge blog.
Du Maurier is the queen of the terrifying short story, and we’ve been rifling through our archives for the perfect seasonal treat (or trick).
In the end we decided to give you this short story, ‘The Doll’, which went unpublished for over 70 years after it was lost and rediscovered by a bookseller in 2011. It’s ghostly, ghastly, a little risqué, and guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. Happy Halloween.
The following pages were found in a shabby pocket book, very much sodden and discoloured by salt water, tucked away between the crevices of a rock in —Bay.
Their owner has never been traced, and the most diligent enquiries have failed to discover his identity. Either the wretched man drowned himself near the spot where he hid his pocket book, and his body has been lost at sea; or he is still wandering about the world trying to forget himself and his tragedy.
Some of the pages of his story were so damaged by exposure as to render them completely illegible; thus there are many gaps, and much of it seems without sequence, including the abrupt and unsatisfactory termination.
I have placed three dots between sentences when words or lines were undecipherable. Whether the wild improbabilities of the story are true, or whether the whole is but the hysterical product of a diseased mind, we shall never know. My sole reason for publishing these pages is to satisfy the entreaties of many friends who have been interested in my discovery.
Signed. DR E STRONGMAN.
—BAY, S ENGLAND.
I want to know if men realise when they are insane. Sometimes I think that my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror – too great a despair.
And there is no one; I have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this? . . . Vomit forth the poison in my brain.
For I am poisoned, I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face . . . If only it had been a dream, something to laugh over, a festered imagination.
It’s easy enough to laugh, who wouldn’t crack their sides and split their tongues with laughing. Let’s laugh till the blood runs from our eyes – there’s fun, if you like. No, it’s the emptiness that hurts, the breaking up of everything inside me.
If I could feel, I should have followed her to the ends of the earth, no matter how she pleaded or how she loathed me. I should have taught her what it is to be loved by a man – yes – a man, and I would have thrown his filthy battered body from the window, watched him disappear for ever, his evil scarlet mouth distorted . . .
It’s the hot feeling that has filled me, the utter incapacity to reason.
And I am deceiving myself when I say she would have come to me. I did not follow her because I knew that it was hopeless. She would never have loved me – she will never love any man.
Sometimes I can think of it all dispassionately, and I pity her. She misses so much – so much – and no one will ever know the truth. What was her life before I knew her, what is it now?
Rebecca – Rebecca, when I think of you with your pale earnest face, your great wide fanatical eyes like a saint, the narrow mouth that hid your teeth, sharp and white as ivory, and your halo of savage hair, electric, dark, uncontrolled – there has never been anyone more beautiful. Who will ever know your heart, who will ever know your mind?
Intense, restrained, and soulless; for you must be soulless to have done what you have done. You have that fatal quality of silence – of a tight repression that suggests a hidden fire – yes, a burning fire unquenchable. What have I not done with you in dreams, Rebecca?
You would be fatal to any man. A spark that lights, and does not burn itself, a flame fanning other flames.
What did I love in you but your indifference, and the suggestions that lay beneath your indifference?
I loved you too much, wanted you too much, had for you too great a tenderness. Now all of this is like a twisted root in my heart, a deadly poison in my brain. You have made of me a madman. You fill me with a kind of horror, a devastating hate that is akin to love – a hunger that is nausea. If only I could be calm and clear for one moment – one moment only . . .
I want to make a plan – an orderly arrangement of dates.
It was at Olga’s studio first, I think. I can remember how it rained outside, and the rain made dirty streaks on the window-pane. The room was full, a lot of people were talking by the piano – Vorki was there, they were trying to make him sing, and Olga was screaming with laughter.
I always hated the hard thin reed of her laugh. You were sitting – Rebecca was sitting on a stool by the fire.
Her legs were twisted under her, and she looked like an elf, a sort of boy.
Her back was turned to me, and she wore a funny little fur cap on her head. I remember being amused at her position, I wanted to see her face. I called out to Olga to introduce me.
“Rebecca,” she said, “Rebecca, show yourself.” . . . flinging off her cap as she turned. Her hair sprung from her head like a savage, her eyes opened wide – and she smiled at me, biting her lip.
I can remember sitting down on the floor beside her, and talking, talking – what does it matter what I said, dull stuff, nonsense of course, but she spoke breathlessly, with a sort of constrained eagerness. She did not say much, she smiled . . . eyes of a visionary, of a fanatic – they saw too much, demanded too much – one lost oneself in them, and became incapable of resistance. It was like drowning. From the moment I saw her then I was doomed. I left her, and came away, and walked down the embankment like a drunkard. Faces spluttered up at me, and shoulders brushed me, I was aware of dim lights reflected on wet pavements, and the hazy throb of traffic – through it all were her eyes and her wild impossible hair, her slim body like a boy . . . all coming clear now, I can see each event as it happened, each moment of the game. I went to Olga’s again and she was there.
She came right up to me and said “Do you care for music?” gravely, like a child. Why did she say this, I don’t know, there was no one at the piano – I answered vaguely, and noticed the colour of her skin, pale coffee, and clear, clear as water.
She was dressed in brown, some sort of velvet I think, with a red scarf round her neck.
Her throat was very long and thin, like a swan’s. I remember thinking how easy it would be to tighten the scarf and strangle her. I imagined her face when dying – her lips parted, and the enquiring look in her eyes – they would show white, but she would not be afraid. All this in the space of a moment, and while she was talking to me. I could drag very little from her. She was a violinist apparently, an orphan, and lived alone in Bloomsbury.
Yes, she had travelled much, she said, and especially in Hungary. She had lived in Budapest for three years, studying music. She did not care for England, she wanted to go back to Budapest. It was the only city in the world.
“Rebecca” someone called, and she glanced over her shoulder with a smile. How much could I write about Rebecca’s smile! It was so vivid, so intensely alive, and yet apart, unearthly, it had no relation to anything one said. Her eyes would be transfigured as if by a shaft of silver.
She left early that day, and I crossed the room to ask Olga about her. I was in an agony of impatience to know everything. Olga could tell me little. “She comes from Hungary,” she said, “no one knows who were her parents, Jewish, I imagine. Vorki brought her here. He found her in Paris, playing the violin in one of those Russian cafes. She won’t have anything to do with him though, she lives entirely alone. Vorki says her talent is marvellous, if she only goes on there will be no one to touch her. But she won’t work, she doesn’t seem to care. I heard her at Vorki’s flat – it sent cold shivers down my spine. She stood at the end of the room, looking like something off another planet – her hair sticking out, a sort of fur bush round her head, and she played. The notes were weird, haunting, I’ve never known anything quite like it, it’s impossible to describe.”
Once again I left Olga’s studio in a dream, with Rebecca’s face dancing before my eyes. I too could see her playing the violin – she would stand straight and firm as a child, her eyes wide open, her lips parted in a smile.
She was to play at Vorki’s flat the following evening, and I went to hear her. Olga had not exaggerated, with all her palpable, shallow insincerity. I sat like a drugged man, incapable of movement. I don’t know what she played, but it was shattering – stupendous. I was not aware of anything but that I and Rebecca were together – out of the world, away, lost – lost in unutterable bliss. We were climbing, then flying, higher – higher.
At one time the violin seemed to protest, and it was as if she were refusing me, and I were pursuing her – then there came a torrent of sound, a medley of acceptance and denial, a confusion of notes in which were mingled desire and sweetness, and intolerable pleasure. I could feel my heart beating like the throb of some mighty vessel, and the blood pounded in my temples.
Rebecca was part of me, she was myself – it was too much, it was too glorious. We had reached the summit, we could go no farther, the sun seemed to strike into my eyes. I looked up – Rebecca was smiling at me, the violin broke on a note of exquisite beauty – it was fulfilment.
I leant back exhausted on the sofa, my senses swimming – it was too wonderful, too wonderful. Three minutes passed before I came fully conscious again. I felt as if I had plunged in the black abyss of eternity to sleep – and had come awake once more.
No one had noticed me, Vorki was handing round drinks, and Rebecca was sitting by the piano turning over some music. When they asked her to play again, she refused, she was tired, she said. They implored her so she took up her violin and played once more – something quite short, but very lovely and pure, like a child’s prayer.
Later in the evening she came and sat beside me, for a few moments I was too moved to speak. Then I cursed myself for a fool, and turned to her, and looked into her face.
“You gave me a marvellous sensation when you played,” I told her, “it was beautiful, intoxicating, I shall never forget it. You have a rare – no – a very dangerous talent.” She was silent, and then spoke in her restrained, breathless little voice. “I played for you,” she said, “I wanted to see what it was like to play to a man.” Her words bewildered me, they seemed utterly inexplicable. She was not lying, her eyes looked straight into mine, and she was smiling.
“What do you mean?” I asked her. “Have you never played for anyone before, do you use your gift just to satisfy yourself? I don’t understand.”
“Perhaps,” she said slowly, “perhaps, it’s like that, I can’t explain.”
“I want to see you again,” I told her, “I’d like to come and see you alone, where we can talk, really talk. I’ve thought about you ever since I saw you in Olga’s studio, you knew that, didn’t you? That’s why you played to me tonight, wasn’t it?”
I wanted to drag the answer from her lips, I wanted to force her to say yes. She shrugged her shoulders, she refused to be definite, it was exasperating.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I don’t know.” Then I asked for her address, and she gave it to me. She was busy, she would not be able to see me until the end of the week. The party broke up soon after and she disappeared.
The days that passed seemed interminable, I could not wait to see her again. I thought about her ceaselessly.
On Friday I could stand it no longer, so I went to her. She lived in an odd sort of a house somewhere in Bloomsbury. She rented the top floor as a flat. The outlook was dull and dreary, I wondered how she could bear to live there.
She opened the door to me herself, and took me into a large bare room like a studio, with an oil-stove burning. I was struck by the cheerlessness of it, but she did not seem to notice anything, and made me sit down in a shabby armchair.
“This is where I practise,” Rebecca told me, “and have my meals. It’s a bright room, don’t you think?” I said nothing to this and then she went to a cupboard and brought out some drinks, and a few stale biscuits. She took nothing herself.
I found her strange, detached – she seemed bored at my being there. Our conversation was forced and there were pauses. I found it impossible to say any of the things I wanted to say. She played to me for a while, but they were all classical things that I knew, and quite different from what she had played that evening at Vorki’s.
Before I left she showed me round her tiny flat. There was a little scullery place she used for a kitchen, a poky bathroom, and her own small bedroom which was furnished like a nun’s cell, quite plain and bare. There was another room leading from the studio, but she did not show me this. It was obviously a fair-sized room, as I saw the window from the street afterwards, and watched her draw the heavy curtains across it . . .
(Note. Here some pages were completely illegible, covered with blots, and discoloured. The narrative appears to continue in the middle of a sentence. Dr Strongman.)
. . . “not really cold,” she insisted, “I’ve tried to explain to you that I’m odd in some ways, I’ve never met anyone to care for, I’ve never been in love. I’ve always disliked people rather than been attracted by them.” “That doesn’t explain your music.” I broke in impatiently. “You play as if you knew everything – everything.”
I was becoming maddened by her indifference, it was not natural but calculated; she always gave me the impression of concealment. I felt I should never discover what was in her mind, whether she was like a child asleep, a flower before it has blossomed – or whether she was lying to me throughout, in which case every man would have been her lover – every man.
I was tortured by doubt and jealousy, the thought of other men was driving me insane. And she gave me no relief, she would look at me with her great pale eyes, pure as water, until I could swear that she was untouched – and yet, and yet? A look, a smile, and back would come my torture and my misery. She was impossible, she evaded everything, and yet it was this fatal quality of restraint that tore at me and broke at me, until my love for her became an obsession, a terrible driving force.
I asked Olga about her, asked Vorki, asked everyone who knew her. No one could tell me anything, anything.
I’m forgetting days and weeks as I write this, nothing seems to have any sequence for me, it’s like rising from the dead, it’s like being reincarnated from dust and ashes to live it again, to live my whole cursed life again – for what was my life before I loved Rebecca, where was I, who was I?
I had better write that Sunday now, Sunday that was really the end; and I didn’t know it, I thought it was the beginning. I was like someone walking in the dark, no, walking in the light with his eyes open and not seeing – deliberately blinding himself.
Sunday, day of hollow and mistaken happiness. I went to her flat about nine in the evening. She was waiting for me. She was dressed in scarlet – like Mephistopheles, odd strange clothes that only Rebecca could wear. She seemed excited, intoxicated – she ran about the room like an elf.
Then she sat down at my feet with her legs tucked under her, and held out her thin brown hands to the stove. She laughed and giggled childishly, she reminded me of a mischievous child planning some naughtiness.
Then all at once she turned to me, her face pale, her eyes strangely alight. She said, “Is it possible to love someone so much, that it gives one a pleasure, an unaccountable pleasure to hurt them? To hurt them by jealousy I mean, and to hurt oneself at the same time. Pleasure and pain, an equal mingling of pleasure and pain, just as an experiment, a rare sensation?”
She puzzled me, but I tried to explain to her what was meant by Sadism. She seemed to understand, and nodded her head thoughtfully once or twice.
Then she rose and went slowly across the room to the door I had never yet seen opened. She looked oddly pale as she stood there, her mass of queer savage hair springing from her head, her hand on the knob of the door. “I want to introduce you to Julio,” she said. I left my chair and went towards her, I had no idea of what she was talking about. She took my hand and then opened the door. I saw a low round-shaped room, whose walls were draped with some sort of velvet hangings as if to deaden any sound, and long thick curtains were drawn across the window. There was a log fire, but it had burnt very low. Near the fireplace was a divan, covered with cushions thrown anyhow, and the only light came from a small shaded lamp, thus leaving the room in a half darkness.
There was one chair in the room, and this was facing the divan.
Something was sitting in the chair. I felt an eerie cold feeling in my heart, as if the room were haunted. “What is it?” I whispered.
Rebecca took the lamp and held it over the chair. “This is Julio,” she said softly. I stepped closer, and saw what I took to be a boy of about 16, dressed in a dinner jacket, shirt and waistcoat, and long Spanish trousers.
His face was the most evil thing I have ever seen. It was ashen pale in colour, and the mouth was a crimson gash, sensual and depraved. The nose was thin, with curved nostrils, and the eyes were cruel, gleaming and narrow, and curiously still. They seemed to stare right through one – the eyes of a hawk. The hair was sleek and dark, brushed right back from the white forehead.
It was the face of a satyr, a grinning hateful satyr.
Then I was aware of a strange feeling of disappointment, a helpless sensation of not understanding, of dumb incredulity.
There was no boy sitting in the chair. It was a doll. Human enough, damnably lifelike, with a foul distinctive personality but a doll.
Only a doll. The eyes stared into mine without recognition, the mouth leered foolishly. I looked at Rebecca, she was watching my face.
“I don’t see,” I said, “what’s the point of all this? Where did you get this loathsome toy? Are you having a joke with me?” I spoke sharply, I felt uneasy and cold. The next moment the room was in darkness, she had turned out the lamp. I felt her arms round my neck, and her mouth upon mine.
“Now shall I tell you I love you?” she whispered, “shall I?”
A hot wave of something swept over me, the floor seemed to swing beneath my feet. She clung to me and kissed my throat, I could feel her fingers at the back of my neck. I let her hands wander over my body, and she kissed me again. It was devastating – it was madness – it was like death.
I don’t know how long we stood there, I don’t remember anything, words, or thoughts, or dreams – only the silence of that dark room, the feeble glow of the fire, the beating of my heart – the singing in my ears – and Rebecca – Rebecca—. When, – and whether hours had passed or years I cannot tell – when I raised my eyes above her head I looked straight into his eyes – his damned doll’s eyes.
They seemed to squint at me and leer, one eyebrow was cocked, and his crimson treacherous mouth was twisted at the corner. I wanted to leap at it, and smash its beastly grinning face, trample on its sordid human body. Was Rebecca mad to keep such a toy, what was her motive, where had she found it? But she would not answer my questions.
“Come away,” she said, and dragged me from the room, back once more into the hard glaring light of the bare studio. “You must go now,” she said breathlessly, “it’s late – I had forgotten.” I tried to take hold of her, once more, I wanted to kiss her again and again, she surely did not mean me to go now.
“Tomorrow,” she said impatiently, “I promise you tomorrow, but not at the moment. I’m tired and bewildered – don’t you see? Let me alone just for tonight, it’s been too strong, I can’t realise anything.”
She stamped her foot with impatience, she looked ill. I saw it was hopeless. I took my things and went – and walked, and walked – all night I think.
I watched the dawn break on Hampstead Heath, grey and sunless; heavy rain fell from a leaden sky.
My body was cold, but my brain was on fire. Once more I was certain that Rebecca had lied to me – from the moment she kissed me I knew that she had lied to me.
She had known five, 10, what matter the number, 20 lovers – and I was not one of them.
No, I was not one of them.
I found myself near Camden Town, buses rumbled along the streets; it was still raining, people straggled past me, their figures bent under umbrellas.
I found a taxi somewhere, and went home. I got into bed without undressing, and slept. I slept for hours. When I awoke it was dark once more; it must have been about six in the evening. I remember washing mechanically, and then once more walking in the direction of Bloomsbury.
I reached the flat and rang at her bell.
She let me in without a word, and then sat down in the studio before the oil stove. I told her I was going to be her lover. She said nothing. There were red rims under her eyes as if she had been crying, and thin lines round her mouth. I bent towards her to kiss her, but she pushed me away.
She began to speak rapidly.
“You must forget what happened last night. Today I realise I made a mistake. I’m not well, I haven’t slept. All this has worried me considerably. You must leave me alone.”
I tried to seize her, and break down her iron restraint. It was like hammering at an iron wall. She lay cold and still in my arms. Her mouth was icy. I left her in despair. Then followed a week of doubt and torture. Sometimes she sat apart from me without a word, sometimes I could have sworn that she loved me. And she would not let me touch her, she was not in the mood she said. I must wait until she wanted me again. I must wait in suspense, in agony. She never mentioned Julio. We never went into that room again. I asked her what she had done with him. I wanted to know what was at the back of it all. She would answer evasively and change the subject. It was useless to press her. She was maddening. She was intolerable.
And yet I could not keep away from her. I could not live without her.
One evening she would be gentle and affectionate. She would sit at my feet and talk about her music, about her future plans. She was always changing. She was never the same.
I felt hopeless. My position was ridiculous – but what was I to do? She had become a madness to me – an obsession.
I’ve now come to the last evening, the very last. Then crash – blankness – the depths of hell – and desolation – utter desolation.
Let me get it clear – when was it, what time was it? Seven, eight perhaps. I can’t remember. I was leaving the flat and she came to the door with me.
She suddenly put her arms round me and kissed me . . . There have been men in arid deserts where the sun has so disfigured them that they have become things of horror – parched and blackened, twisted and torn. Their eyes run blood, their tongues are bitten through – and then they come upon water.
I know, because I was one of their number.
Laugh at all these comparisons, call me a madman, but the laugh is on my side.
There are women – but you have not kissed Rebecca, you cannot know.
You are a fool asleep. You have never begun to imagine. . .
(Note. Much of this seems completely unintelligible, and the quarter page that follows consists of nothing but broken sentences and half-formed ideas. Then the narrative continues.)
It was shattering. She let me kiss her again and again. I took her face in my hands and looked down into her eyes.
“Who were your lovers?” I said. “How often did you kiss them like that? Who taught you to kiss them like that? Who was the first, the very first? Tell me.”
A haze of fury was before my eyes, my hands shook.
“I swear to you that you are the first man I have ever kissed. I swear to you there has been no man before you. Never. Never.”
She looked straight at me. Her voice was firm. I saw that she was speaking the truth.
“Now you must go,” she said, “tomorrow you shall come, and then we shall have so much to tell each other, so much.”
She smiled at me. I saw right through her wall of restraint, right through ice to the flame, the hidden fire.
I remember leaving the flat, and having dinner somewhere. My head was on fire. I seemed to walk among the gods. It was incredible that Rebecca should love me, it was incredible that I should know such happiness. I wanted to shout. I wanted to chuck myself off a roof.
I went home, and paced up and down the room. I couldn’t sleep, every nerve in my body seemed alive.
Then suddenly, at midnight, I could stand it no longer. I had to go to Rebecca, I had to.
I felt my love for her was so strong that she would know. She would wait for me. She would understand. She would have to understand.
I don’t know how I got to her flat. Seconds seemed to flash by, and I was standing outside in the street, gazing up at the windows.
I persuaded the night porter to let me in, he was half asleep and he let me pass upstairs. I listened outside her door – not a sound came from within. It might have been the entrance to a tomb.
I put my hand on the door knob, and turned it slowly. To my surprise it was not locked – Rebecca must have forgotten to turn the key after I left.
I stepped inside, everything was in darkness. “Rebecca”, I called softly, “Rebecca”. No answer.
The door of her bedroom was open, there was no one inside.
Then I went into the kitchen and the bathroom, both were empty.
Then I knew. Something gripped my heart, cold, clammy fear.
I looked towards that other room – his room – Julio’s room.
I knew that Rebecca was in there, with the doll – with Julio.
I felt my way across the room and beat against the door. It was locked. I kicked against the panel, and tore at it with my nails. It gave way beneath my weight. I heard a cry of fury from Rebecca, and she turned on the lamp.
Oh! Christ, I shall never forget her eyes, the terrible light – the unholy rapture in her eyes, and her ashen – ashen face.
I saw everything – the room, the divan – I knew everything. I was seized with deadly sickness – a terrible despair.
And all the time his vile filthy face was looking at me. His eyes never left me, staring with a lifeless, glassy immobility. The wet crimson mouth was sneering – the sleek dark hair hung in streaks across his cheek. He was a machine – something worked by screws – he was not alive, not human – but terrible, ghastly.
And Rebecca turned to me. Her voice was cold – apart – unearthly.
“And you expect me to love you. Don’t you see that I can’t – I can’t? How can I care for you, or any man? Go away, leave me. I loathe you. I loathe you all. I don’t need you. I don’t want you.”
Something cracked inside my heart. I turned away. I left them. I left them alone. I ran into the street – tears were pouring down my face – I sobbed aloud – I shook my fist at the stars . . .
And that is all, there is no more to say, no more to tell. I went the next day and she had gone, they had both gone. No one knew where she was. I asked everyone I saw – no one could tell me.
Everything is dim, everything is useless. I shall never see Rebecca again – no one will see her again. It will always be Rebecca and Julio. Days will come, and nights, and nothing – they will haunt me – I shall never sleep – I’m cursed. I don’t know what I’m saying, what I’m writing. What am I going to do? Oh! God, what am I going to do? I can’t live – I can’t cope . . .