Chapter 4 Summary
Mrs. Van Hopper is sick with influenza and will be bedridden for two weeks; during that time, she will be under the care of a skilled nurse, leaving the girl free to pursue her own interests. After canceling her employer’s obligations for the fortnight, she feels lighthearted and liberated. She goes to the dining room a bit earlier than usual and is surprised to see de Winter already seated at his usual table next to her (she thinks perhaps he is dining early so he can avoid nosy Van Hopper).
The young girl is nervous and does the kind of thing she often does: she tips over the vase of flowers as she unfolds her napkin, spilling water all over the tablecloth and herself. De Winter gallantly asks if she would like to dine with him; when she demurs, he tells her he would have made the offer even if the vase had not spilled. He assures her they have no need to speak unless they “feel like it,” and there is no strain between them as they begin their meal.
Finally he asks about Van Hopper, apologizing again for his rude behavior yesterday. She explains that the older woman is too forward with anyone she considers to be important, and Manderley makes him important. De Winter is silent for a while before asking how the two women are related. The young girl explains that she is a paid companion-in-training at ninety pounds a year. Everyone in her family is dead and ninety pounds is a lot of money to her.
De Winter tells her she has a “lovely and unusual” name; she explains that she had a lovely and unusual father. She is usually reticent to talk about herself or her family, but he is a sympathetic listener and her “shyness falls away” as they dine. She shares her childhood secrets, pleasures, and pains, and he seems to understand. An hour and a half later, she realizes that she has done all of the talking and is embarrassed; de Winter assures her that he has enjoyed their time together as much as he has enjoyed anything for a long time, since for the last year, he has fought “despondency and introspection.” They are both alone in the world, though he does have a sister he rarely sees and an “ancient grandmother.”
During this two-week holiday, she wants to go sketch, and de Winter offers to drive her. Now that someone important has taken an interest in her, the girl suddenly receives deferential treatment from the servants and staff. The girl is mortified that she might be considered too bold (as Van Hopper suggested she was) if she accepts his offer, and de Winter teases her that she is too naive, honest, and trusting to be a companion. When he asks her age, she tells him and he laughs, remembering that no one could have taught him anything when he was her age. She finally feels happy and grown up, a “person of importance.”
(The entire section is 772 words.)