My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

Philip checks the dregs of his and Rachel's drinks to compare. His tisana might be slightly different from hers but not enough to give certainty.

The next morning Philip and Rachel attend church. As Rachel, the Kendalls, and the Pascoes plan for dinner later, the foreman of the sunken garden project warns Philip to stay off the framework of the bridge over the garden, for it will not hold the weight of a person trying to cross. "Anyone ... could fall and break their neck."

Rachel rides with Nick, and Philip rides with Louise, as they had done 10 months before in September. Philip asks Louise if she knew laburnum was poisonous, but there is much more he wants to say and asks her to stay after her father leaves.

Rachel invites Philip and Louise to her boudoir for tisana. Louise mentions Rachel's abilities in preparing herbal cures. When Philip refuses his drink, Rachel pours it out the window.

Rachel suggests a walk, but Philip makes an excuse about showing Louise plans for her property. Rachel says she is going to out for a walk to consider putting a statue in the sunken garden. Philip tells her to take care; she pauses, and he tells her to mind the sun.

With Rachel out of the house, Philip asks Louise to help him find proof Rachel is poisoning him. Searching for Rainaldi's letter they discover a list of herbs and remedies and instructions for propagating plants, even laburnum, but nothing about poison. A note from Mr. Couch thanks Rachel for the return of the Ashley jewels, acknowledging her instructions to leave them for Philip. Finally, the letter from Rainaldi turns up, and it is written in English. It says he will do all she asks of him in Florence and "if you cannot bring yourself to leave that boy behind, then bring him with you." A drawing of Ambrose with the inscription "Remember only the happy hours" is the last item they find. Coming up with no evidence, Louise wonders, "Can we have misjudged her? About the poison? ... There is not any proof." There is still no certainty of her guilt or innocence, and Louise feels regret: "I wish now we had not meddled with her things."

Louise comments that Philip is staring toward the terrace steps and his voice sounds strange. He tells Louise to go ring the bell for help, for "there may have been an accident to Rachel." He runs to the garden, sees the broken bridge, and climbs down to Rachel. She calls him Ambrose and dies. The story ends as it begins: "They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not any more, though."

Analysis

Nothing directly supports or contradicts Philip's suspicions. The dregs of his drink may or may not be different from Rachel's. When Philip and Louise visit Rachel in her boudoir or sitting room for more tisana, Rachel's response to Philip's refusal to drink his is quite strange: she throws it out of the window. Why not just leave it on the tray? Her seeming to get rid of evidence looks as if she has something to hide. This is the beginning of the end of the theme of guilt versus innocence.

When Rachel leaves for her walk, Philip tells her to "Have a care" (meaning, "be careful"), setting up the expectation he will warn her about the weak bridge in the sunken garden. She asks for clarification and waits. He slowly and deliberately answers with no warning other than the sun. The characterization of Philip has developed from flawed and perhaps selfish to murderous in intent.

After Rachel leaves, Philip tells Louise, "I must have final proof. I think she tried to poison me and ... did the same to Ambrose." They scour her room to find Rainaldi's letter or other evidence. The letter reveals nothing, and lists and instructions about plants, including the important symbol laburnum, say nothing about poison. However, the lack of an instruction manual on poisoning does not determine one's innocence. Still Philip realizes he has no clear evidence. The seeds are gone, but were they in his drink?

Rachel's return of the jewels breaks the symbolic link with Philip, putting an end to his hopes for a union. They are now Philip's again to use as he wishes; Rachel will not be wearing these symbols of the Ashley name.

Surprisingly Rainaldi's letter refers to her affection for Philip; Rachel likely has indicated the difficulty of tearing herself away from England. Without evidence of Rachel's wrongdoing, Philip perhaps is coming to his senses and beginning to doubt his suspicions—maybe everything is just how it seems on the surface after all. Certainly Louise, initially his strongest supporter, is not convinced they were right to search Rachel's room. "If there is no proof ... you cannot condemn her ... If she is innocent, and you accused her ... you would be guilty then, not she at all." Louise, reflecting her father's legal advice, alludes to slander, which Nick warned Philip against previously.

Philip's emotions may be strong, no longer doubt but more regret for not warning Rachel about the weak planks. With his impetuosity and adolescent conviction of being in the right, he has ruined his life; he will never have peace, as he relates in Chapter 1. Nor will there be another woman: when he reveals foreknowledge of the weak bridge by saying Rachel may have had an accident, Louise's response is "What have you done?" With that one line, readers know Louise understands he did something unforgivable and will never trust him again, a unique twist on the theme of trust. The one woman who might have put up with Philip will never marry him now. Philip has a lonely life ahead of him to suffer with his guilt—much as Ambrose expressed in his last letter—Rachel will forever be his torment.

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