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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

On August 15 Philip arrives at his hotel in Florence, unimpressed with anything he has seen so far. He is unaccustomed to the noise and dirt of cities and hates the dryness and heat of Italy. The Arno River, beside his hotel, is brown and thick with sewage; in his excessive thirst Philip thinks of it as poison. A young woman with two small children begs for coins.

Settled into his hotel room, Philip wonders whether Ambrose's letters were a ruse and he will actually find him healthy and hosting a party. He wanders out into the bustling crowd and hails a carriage to take him to Villa Sangalletti, asking the driver to wait. A servant woman answers the door and calls to her husband Giuseppe, who speaks English. He says Ambrose died three weeks ago and Rachel left two weeks ago, perhaps for good.

The servants open the shutters of the villa and show Philip the courtyard with a laburnum and a fountain where Ambrose liked to sit. Giuseppe describes Ambrose's illness and death saying he was obstinate and violent at times, had pain in his stomach, then fell into a coma and died peacefully. Ambrose had been sad all winter, he said, not like when he first came to the villa. Giuseppe says Rainaldi, who handles business and money for Rachel, will rent or sell the villa. Philip wants to meet with him. The servants say Rachel took all of Ambrose's books, clothes, papers, and possessions but "one thing she has forgotten": Ambrose's straw hat, which Giuseppe gives to Philip.

Analysis

The beggar woman Philip sees in Florence is a precursor of Rachel. She is young but world weary and proud even while attempting to extract money from a wealthy tourist. Later, Philip looks down upon her from an elevated position—she is lowly and slinks away like a serpent, a symbol of evil not unlike the monster versions of Rachel he had imagined. At least this beggar woman asks for money directly, unlike what he suspects, and perhaps not wrongly, of Rachel.

Chapter 4 is the first time readers see the symbol of the laburnum, a yellow-flowering tree with big seeds in pods. The tree is not in bloom at this time, but Philip recognizes it. Although nothing is said about poison, the servant sweeps up the pods vigorously and scolds her child for touching them. The mention of poison is seemingly unrelated earlier in the chapter, when Philip with a traveler's thirst confronts the slow, brown Arno with its sucking sound and floating waste. Philip cannot believe Ambrose took comfort from the airless courtyard or the pathetic trickle of a fountain turned on and off when he was longing for the cool air and "blue estuary ... salty-fresh" of Cornwall, likely du Maurier's bias as well.

Philip's suspicions keep growing, as Giuseppe hands him his cousin's hat. Had Rachel loved his cousin or at least cared deeply for him, she would not have forgotten his hat—or she would have had it sent to Philip or asked the servants to give it to him. It is an item unique to Ambrose, too large to fit another and one with which Philip is familiar as something his cousin wore as protection from the sun. It did not protect him, however, in Italy. It is also odd the servants do not know where Rachel has gone or whether she will return. Perhaps there was trouble before she left.

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