My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

Philip wakes from his illness in May. Spring has come, and his beard has grown. He cannot understand and does not remember everything. Philip thinks he and Rachel were married on March 31, "though I had no clear vision of the church, or of the ceremony."

Rachel nursed Philip while he was ill, instructing the doctors to drain his spine and giving him an herbal remedy the doctors called poison, but which worked to save him. She tends him as his strength returns slowly. Philip rationalizes they are keeping their marriage secret from the servants until the proper mourning period of 12 months has passed, out of respect for Ambrose. When he eventually goes outside, Philip notices the laburnum in bloom. Tamlyn speaks of moving the trees because the branches "lean down too far to the field, and the seeds will kill the cattle." Even a man would be at risk, such as the "fellow the other side of St. Austell who died eating these." Philip recalls the same kind of tree in the villa courtyard. Tamlyn says Rachel plans to return there. Philip is surprised and asks her. She says she does not need to sell or rent the villa now because she can afford to keep it. Gradually Philip's confusion is clarified, and Rachel confirms "we are not married, Philip dear." Philip weeps profusely, saying, "It would have been better ... had you let me die."

Rachel tells Philip he will have plenty of money for the running of the estate, and she will not question his decisions. Other money she will take to Florence for her own needs. Rachel says his life will go on as before. Philip concludes "She must believe me happy, to have peace of mind." But, it is only trading his fantasy for her own: "Two persons ... could not share a dream." He asks her to stay a few more weeks.

Analysis

When Philip recovers from his illness, his memories are jumbled into the belief he and Rachel are married. For a sweet interlude, Philip is happy while Rachel stays nursing him, once again assuming a maternal role, until he gets well. To Philip, Rachel's presence and attention indicate all has progressed happily and their love has come to fruition. But, he is not living in reality; only in his lingering state of delusion can he experience his fulfilled expectations.

Poison is finally mentioned again in reference to an herbal remedy Rachel administered "letting into your blood stream a serum made from the juice of herbs. [Doctors] called it poison." She also instructed doctors to drain Philip's spine, having seen meningitis in Italy. Meningitis is a potentially fatal disease involving inflammation of tissue around the brain and spinal cord—symptoms include headache and stiff neck. So her advice was sound, and Philip recovered. If she were indeed trying to kill Philip, she did not do a good job of it. All she would have needed to do was leave his illness in the hands of the English doctor, who knows nothing of the disease and how to treat it. At this point readers must infer, therefore, her intention is not to poison Philip or cause him harm.

The next reference to poison comes shortly after Philip is up and around enough to speak with Tamlyn in the garden. The laburnum is in bloom, and Tamlyn wants to move the trees so the seeds do not poison the cattle. He even knows of a man who died from them. Philip recalls "the drooping tree in the little courtyard in the Italian villa, and the woman from the lodge taking her broom, sweeping the pods away;" but, in his addled state, he is not yet making a conscious connection between the poisonous laburnum and Ambrose's death. Readers might, however.

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