a_t_rain (a_t_rain) wrote in femgenficathon,
a_t_rain
a_t_rain
femgenficathon

Star; Great Expectations; PG (Part 2/2)

Link to Part 1



Molly disappeared into the fog before she had gone a dozen paces, and I attempted to retrace my steps to the comparative safety of Gerrard Street, but realized almost at once that it was a fool’s errand. The afternoon was already dark as night, and I was lost, and I did not particularly care that I was lost. I realized that I was well and truly drunk for the first time in my life, and I now understood why Bentley had so often felt the need to throw glasses about and smash the crockery when he was in such a state. If I had had anything to smash, I would certainly have done so.

I do not know how long I wandered there. I know that I was beginning to feel the chill, and to notice an incipient headache, and to be a little frightened, so I suppose the effects of the gin were starting to wear off. After some time I stumbled into the halo of a gas-light, and found myself face to face with the last man I would have wished to see in my present state of degradation.

“Estella! What are you doing here?”

Well might he ask; I suspected there were very few reasons why a respectable woman would venture into such a neighborhood. “I suppose you wouldn’t believe me if I said charity work,” I said, I think without slurring any of the words over-much; but then I had to choke back a wild, bitter laugh. “You know too well that I have never been – charitable! You know what I am – but you don’t know who – and it’s too, too funny, but you won’t find it so. And I mocked you for being coarse and common, and a blacksmith’s boy!”

“Don’t speak of it, Estella; it’s all right.” Pip had taken me by the arm, and was steering me toward a cheap-looking tea-shop, where he ordered a pot of strong tea and asked the waiter to show us to a private room. “The lady’s had a shock.”

“I haven’t had a shock,” I said. “Ladies have shocks. I’ve had about a pint of gin punch, which is not the same thing at all.”

If he was disgusted by this, he gave no sign. “Strong tea will help with that, too. Also some of those cakes” (these were garishly frosted, and seemed to be all the shop offered in the way of nourishment). “You may not think you want them, but you do.”

Had I been capable of clear thought, this proof that he was well-experienced in handling drunken people might have alleviated some of my shame; as things were, it only enhanced it.

“You may as well know,” I said, when I had gulped down some of the tea, “that I was a coarse, common girl all along, and you were as far above me in birth as I thought I was above you.”

“It was long ago, Estella, and it makes no matter now.” He hesitated a moment. “I have known who your parents were for some time, and I believe now that I should have told you long ago. Mr. Jaggers persuaded me that revealing the truth would be to no one’s advantage, least of all yours.”

“Oh! Mr. Jaggers persuaded you, did he?”

Pip laughed. “Estella,” he said, “I wouldn’t be Mr. Jaggers just now for twenty thousand pounds.”

I did not laugh. “I wouldn’t either. Will you take me to him?”

“Yes. After you’ve had something to eat. There’s no hurry; we are not five hundred yards from his house now.”

I must, I supposed, have been wandering in circles. “What are you doing here? Herbert said that you meant to stay with your friends in Kent until the new year.”

“I was looking for you,” said Pip simply. “Herbert sent for me.”

I blinked. I was still a little drunk, perhaps, but I could make no sense of the idea that Herbert had sent for Pip to look for me in Soho.

“Clara told him she had overheard you asking Mr. Jaggers’s other servants about Molly, and he guessed that you were searching for information about your parents. So he wrote to me and asked me to come and speak with you, because he thought your father’s story was my story to tell and not his. Herbert, you know, seems such a good-natured, lazy, amiable fellow, but I should advise you never to underestimate his intelligence. When I came, you were nowhere to be found; Clara said that you had gone to Richmond, but Herbert thought you were more likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of Gerrard Street, and sent me there to look for you.”

Herbert knows who my parents were?” Here I had been wandering all over London, I thought, when it seemed that there had been no reason to leave my cousin’s house at all. I wondered if everyone knew who my parents were but me.

“He does, but as I said, he felt the secret was not his to tell. I suppose it is mine if it is anyone’s. I knew your father rather well.”

“What was my father? I know he deserted Molly for another woman and he was once arrested for stealing a pair of boots, and that is all.”

“He was a convict,” said Pip, “a transport to New South Wales, who was later condemned to death for returning to England, but died in prison before the sentence could be carried out.”

“Better and better!” I replied. “What next? Have I a forger for an uncle, and an opium-fiend for an aunt, and a den of thieves for cousins?”

“Of your aunts, uncles, and cousins – if you have any – I know no more than you. Of your father, I can say that he became an honest man in Australia, and a sheep-rancher, and very wealthy, and – my benefactor!”

I stared at him. “That,” I said feebly, “is a rather strange coincidence.”

“Perhaps not so strange. I think when he saw me first he thought of you, the child he had lost, and it made him want to do something for me.”

“Molly spoke of him as if he had cared for me.”

“He did. I wish you had known him, Estella. He may have treated Molly badly – I daresay he did – but he was an extraordinary man. He loved you very much.” Pip toyed with his tea spoon, seeming to drift off into a sort of reverie. “The last words I said to him,” he added after a moment, “were of you.”

“Oh?” I asked. “Did you tell him I had been educated to be an instrument of revenge, and that I had grown into a cruel, cold creature who would scarcely have had a word to fling at a convict if she had met him?”

“I told him you lived and found powerful friends, that you had grown into a lady, and that you were very beautiful.”

“Nothing more?”

“Nothing more.”

I finished my tea and cake. I felt – I will not say wholly recovered, but certainly steady enough to know my own mind, and imbued with resolution. “You said you would take me to Mr. Jaggers’s house.”

“And so I will.” Pip signaled to the waiter for the bill. “Estella – I have no doubt that what you intend to say to Mr. Jaggers will be well deserved, and I’ve no intention of dissuading you. But I do believe that when he left you in Miss Havisham’s care, he had no notion what she would become, nor any thought more selfish than saving one child from the misery and despair in which he saw so many live and die.”

“If that is so,” I said, “I had rather hear it from his own lips. Let us go.”

* * *

We were, as Pip had said, no more than a few minutes’ walk from Gerrard Street, and another minute brought us to Mr. Jaggers’ door. I rang the bell.

“Would you like me to go with you?” Pip asked, and I felt the pressure of his hand upon my glove.

“No,” I said – feeling, like Molly, that what I had come to do I had better do alone. “Wait for me.”

As the door swung open, I thought I heard him murmur, “Always.”

I started when I saw that it was Molly who had let me in – though I do not know who else I was expecting. “I’ve come to see Mr. Jaggers, on a matter of business. Is he at home?”

Molly bowed, and turned away. After a moment she returned, and said that he was at home, and would see me. Her face gave no sign that she recognized me, or was surprised to see me; only I thought her a little paler than before. If her blood was still heated by drink, she likewise gave no sign of it.

Mr. Jaggers rose and offered me a chair when I entered his study. “You have come to renew your inquiries, I suppose?”

“I have no need to. Pip has told me all.” I thought it best to shield Molly. “He also told me that you had dissuaded him from telling me the truth years ago.”

“I stand by that decision. There were others besides yourself who might have been hurt by the truth.”

“My mother?” I said. “I hardly think you care whether she is hurt or not. You keep her here as another trophy of one of your famous cases, I suppose. A living one. May I remind you, Mr. Jaggers, that it is no great accomplishment to get a woman acquitted for a murder that was never committed in the first place.”

Almost as these words were spoken, I regretted them, and wondered what had possessed me to speak so vehemently on Molly’s behalf. I hardly knew her, I did not think that I liked her, and I felt as if I had just all but admitted that I had heard her story from her own lips, a fact which I was anxious to conceal. But Mr. Jaggers had something in his nature, I believe, which induced people to make rash admissions in his presence.

Mr. Jaggers tilted his head quizzically, unperturbed. “Are you very certain, Mrs. Drummle, that you know the full story?”

“I have heard enough of it. Why did you not produce the evidence? I mean, produce me.”

“Was it not the case that I had already provided a home for you? A home where you might never know violence, or poverty, or ignorance – where you had every comfort, and the prospect of a good education, and a life free from the misery and neglect into which you were born. Should I have taken you from that home and displayed you before the court? Should I have left your fate up to the indifferent wisdom of the judge – let me see, it would have been old Stephenson at the time, who would have been as like as not to insist that you be given up to your natural mother?”

“Yes,” I said. “You should have done, rather than let a woman you knew to be innocent face the gallows.”

“There was never any question of that, Mrs. Drummle. You misunderstand: I may as well tell you that it was not for your murder that Molly was tried. Your absence acquitted her; your presence would have done her case immeasurable harm, and perhaps she would have ended on the gallows after all.”

What?” I had not anticipated this, and I sat staring at Mr. Jaggers.

“Molly was tried for the murder of another woman, a woman found dead in a barn, after a violent struggle. A woman who had led a rough, tramping sort of life, as Molly herself had, and who had aroused her jealousy. There were marks upon Molly’s hands, said to be the marks of fingernails; the prosecution would have it that she had destroyed her child, as proof of the violence of her jealousy; yet they were forced to own that she was not being tried for that child’s murder, and if she had killed her own child, they were as likely to be the marks of the child’s nails as the woman’s. You see that the child’s presence would scarcely have helped her case.”

“Was she guilty, Mr. Jaggers?”

“Why, you know that already. Of course she was Not Guilty, else she would hardly be living, and a free woman.”

“You know that is not what I mean.”

But I could get nothing more from Mr. Jaggers; he was not one to make rash admissions, even years after his client had been acquitted. It came to me, however, that Molly was certainly not a free woman, whatever the jury had determined, and that the hold her master had over her seemed a certain proof of her guilt.

Perhaps Mr. Wemmick had been right, after all. The more questions I asked, the less I cared for any of the answers.

“Good night, Mr. Jaggers.”

“Good night, Mrs. Drummle. Molly will show you out. I rather think she will not be far.”

So I surmised that Molly must have been listening at the keyhole; and though she was already halfway down the corridor when Mr. Jaggers opened the door of the study, her guilty start confirmed this.

* * *

I remember almost nothing of how Pip and I returned to Herbert’s house, or of dinner that night, although I suppose we must have had it. I fell into a numb and weary sleep soon afterwards, from which I did not wake until the morning was well advanced.

I expected that Herbert would have already left for Clarriker’s, but to my surprise, he and Pip were still sitting at the breakfast table, deep in consultation over the morning newspapers.

“Poor man!” Clara was saying as I entered the room.

“Who?” I asked, helping myself to coffee and hoping that it would clear some of the fog from my head.

“Mr. Jaggers,” said Herbert. “Estella, something’s happened. He was struck over the head with a blunt object of some sort. He hasn’t regained consciousness. It was an apparent burglary, according to the Times.”

“That is very sad,” I said, without much conviction.

“It’s also very strange,” said Pip. It seemed to me that he was looking unwell, almost feverish. “Mr. Jaggers never locked his doors or windows at night. He was known for it. That’s mentioned in the Times as well.”

“Foolish of him,” I remarked, thinking at the same time that it seemed unlike Mr. Jaggers to be foolish.

“The point is that he knew his house was as safe as a fortress. There wasn’t a burglar in London who would have dared to touch it. It was as much as their lives were worth.”

“Perhaps it was a burglar from out of town,” I said. “One who didn’t know the great Mr. Jaggers lived there.”

“They all know,” said Herbert.

“Every burglar in England?”

“Yes.”

I found this hard to believe, and the burglary still did not strike me as more than a mildly curious coincidence, until Pip added, “It says in the papers that his housekeeper hasn’t been seen since he was found. She’s supposed to have gone out of the house late last night or early this morning, and she hasn’t returned.”

I started. “Do the police suspect her?”

“No, they don’t,” said Herbert. “Not yet. First of all, the doors and windows were unlocked, so the burglar would hardly have needed any help from anyone on the inside. Secondly, nothing was taken but a few articles of plate, and the housekeeper would have known that they were worthless. Britannia metal, all of them. He was too canny to keep silver in the house. Thirdly – as one of the bobbies was so obliging as to mention to the press – it’s not likely that a woman could have struck such a blow, unless she was uncommonly strong in her hands and wrists.”

Something Molly had said the day before came back to me. “Always making me show my wrists to gentlemen at his table, as a curiosity...” I had been able to make nothing of it at the time. “Was Molly uncommonly strong?”

“Yes. And Mr. Jaggers was in the habit of showing off her strength to his guests. And now that it’s in the papers, it’s only a matter of hours before someone will remember.”

We have to find her first,” said Pip, in a strained voice. “Before they come looking for her.”

* * *

“This way, I think.”

I was far from sure that I knew where Molly had led me; one alley looked very like another, and all of the wretched dwellings the same. But I tried to remember – for there was little doubt in my mind that she knew the district well, and that it was here that she would go to ground.

The inhabitants of these streets looked at us curiously: old Irishwomen with pipes in their mouths; dirty, half-naked children; hulking boys who loitered and grinned. No one seemed to have any particular occupation. Pip attempted to question some of them, but no one would admit to having seen a woman of Molly’s description. It seemed to me highly improbable that anyone here was in the habit of admitting to anything.

“She turned left here, I think. I remember that pawn-shop, or one very like it. No, this can’t be right. It was a wider street than this.”

“Handel, old chap,” said Herbert quietly, “it can’t be very nice for Estella, being dragged through St. Giles like this. Don’t you think we had better take her home, and you and I can come back later –”

No,” said Pip. “It wouldn’t be very nice for Estella to see her mother hanged or transported, either.”

“It is also not particularly nice for Estella to be talked about in the third person, and not consulted in decisions that concern her.”

Pip and Herbert both looked abashed. “Right,” said Herbert. “What do you say, Estella?”

“I say we keep on.” This was, I must own, more for Pip’s sake than Molly’s. I thought our chances of finding Molly were slim; but I had by now heard a little of my father’s history from Pip and Herbert, in snatches, and I gathered that Pip would never forgive himself if he failed to save yet another of my wayward parents from self-destruction. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that he cared more about my parents than I did.

We had come, by now, to another little pawn-shop almost identical to the first, and another street that led off to the left. I turned, and turned again, and then we were standing before a door that read LADY’S SALOON BAR.

Unlike most of the houses on this street, the gin-shop had glass in the windows instead of paper and rags stuffed in to keep out the cold; and at one of the upstairs windows I saw a flicker of movement, and knew our search was over.

* * *

We had some difficulty persuading the proprietor of the gin-shop to allow us to see his new lodger; at first he denied that there was anyone upstairs, and then declared firmly that she had given orders not to let anyone in. He was not, however, proof against the sum of money that Pip offered him, and at last we were shown upstairs.

Molly was sitting on the edge of the bed, making a motion with her fingers which was like knitting, though she had no needles and no yarn. I feared, for a moment, that she had gone mad; but Pip and Herbert seemed to notice nothing unusual about her demeanor, and I learned later that this movement was a constant habit of hers.

She positively refused to leave her wretched lodgings, even when we had represented her danger to her in the strongest terms that we could. She seemed, indeed, not to care that she might be tried and hanged for Mr. Jaggers’s murder. It was only when she realized that it might not be a case of murder – that the man was still alive, and for all we knew, might already be conscious – that she started and looked up, one hand fluttering about her heart. She shrank away from us, as if she suspected us of being his agents.

Pip, guided by I know not what instinct, sat beside her and laid certain points before her: that the lawyer was no doubt intimately acquainted with these streets, and this house, as he was with all of the seamier parts of London; that she had come here on foot, and come twice in the space of two days, and there might well be witnesses who had noticed her; that the owner of the gin-shop had yielded to our bribery, and would very likely yield again. He introduced all of these ideas with so much gentleness that Molly did not take fright again, but began to look at him with something like trust.

She must, he said at last, be far away before Mr. Jaggers came to his senses, and this time she seemed to understand.

“Far from London,” I added, remembering what she had said about the stars on the heath, “somewhere out in the open country, I think.”

Slowly, Molly rose and reached for her cloak. Herbert had meanwhile gone out to find a hackney-coach; as soon as he returned, we left for Herbert and Clara’s house, which we judged to be a safe enough refuge for the moment. There was no one, save Mr. Jaggers, who could connect Molly with any of us; we were not known in the neighborhood, and if the police managed to trace Molly to the gin-shop, the proprietor could give them nothing more than a general description of our appearance, which might have applied equally well to a thousand people in the city.

I have said little of Clara, thus far; she had struck me as a kind hostess and a thoroughly conventional little woman, chiefly absorbed in her home and children, and consequentially not very interesting. I was rather surprised when she accepted the news that we were going to be hiding a suspected criminal with perfect composure, and welcomed Molly into her house without seeming to notice anything odd about her person or manners. I learned later that this was not the first time she had assisted Herbert in concealing a fugitive from justice, and that she had been brought up in a grim little waterfront district, by a father whose chief occupations were drinking and swearing.

Somehow this upbringing seemed to have made her more of a lady, if one were to judge by her manner to Molly, than mine had, though I had been educated with the sole aim of becoming one. I can find no way to resolve this paradox, save to conclude that the world’s definition of a lady is very far from the true one.

* * *

Herbert offered to buy Molly a ticket on the night train to Bristol, which at that time was about as far away as you could get without changing trains. Molly seemed to approve; she had been there as a young woman, she said, and liked the idea of going back.

Clara had been looking dubious all the while these preparations were made, and, at Herbert’s urging, she spoke up. Molly had surely never been on a train before; she had not left London in thirty years; the modern world must seem as alien to her as it did to Rip Van Winkle, and her own unfamiliarity with it must be apparent to all who saw her. Besides, she had no friends there, and no means of support. I was inclined to agree with Clara, for nothing I had seen of Molly, so far, convinced me that she had wits or sense enough to make her own way in the world. Pip and Herbert acknowledged the force of these objections; Molly herself did not. To Bristol, she declared, she would go; and even Clara was forced to admit that she had no better ideas.

In the afternoon, I went out to buy a few necessities for her journey, as well as some henna, which had been a favorite preparation of Mrs. Brandley’s. It has the useful property of turning one’s hair a violent and unnatural shade of red, and thereby diverting attention from one’s face.

In the shops people talked of nothing but the attack on Mr. Jaggers. The news I heard was not particularly encouraging, save for the fact that he was alive, so there was as yet no question of murder. Almost every shopkeeper and passer-by seemed to have a theory, and they all seemed to involve the vanishing housekeeper in some way. She had been the confederate of the mysterious burglar and had fled with him. She had been drugged and stolen from the house for some dark and unspeakable purpose. She had been in love with Mr. Jaggers for years, and upon seeing him, as she thought, dead, she had gone quietly out and drowned herself in the Thames. She had been assisting him in some experiment, perhaps involving the recreation of a crime, and had accidentally injured him and fled in a panic, taking a few articles of plate as a blind. At any rate, the police were searching for her, and were certain to find her.

I took some slight comfort in the fact that nobody, as yet, seemed to have hit upon the theory that she had deliberately attacked her employer in revenge. But they did not yet know the motive for revenge that she had, nor had her extraordinary strength become common knowledge. By the time I had finished my shopping, I was inclined to agree with Pip and Herbert that she must leave London at once.

As I stepped into the hall of Herbert’s house with my parcels, I heard a burst of song: “Finches of the grove are we, we sing in perfect harmony ...”

The song broke off as I entered the sitting-room. Herbert was lying on the sofa, giggling feebly; Pip, who seemed to be in slightly better form, was standing by the window with a wine-glass in his hand. Molly was leaning against the far wall, taking her wine from a large tumbler.

“What,” I demanded, “is the meaning of this?”

Pip was still sober enough to look embarrassed. “Well, ah – it was like this. Herbert asked Molly if he could offer her some refreshment, like any good host, and she said she’d take a glass of gin. Well, he hadn’t any gin, as it happens, but there was wine, several bottles of it in fact, so she said she’d take some of that.”

“And when Molly drinks,” Herbert added, “everyone drinks. She made a point of it, and she can be very ... er, persuasive.”

“I’d noticed.”

“Wine?” offered Pip.

“Thank you, I will. Perhaps it will make your behavior somewhat less unfathomable. Have you forgotten that Molly has a train to catch?”

“Not for many hours yet,” said Herbert carelessly, filling my glass.

“Let’s have another song!” cried Molly. “Don’t you know any more?”

When I went to Lunnon town, sir,” Pip sang experimentally, “too rul loo rul... No, confound it, I know all twenty verses off by heart, but I never heard the tune in my life. Estella! You play the piano, don’t you? How about ‘Old Clem’?”

“You can’t play ‘Old Clem’ on the piano,” I said positively. “It hasn’t got a tune.”

“On the contrary, that is the only kind of song I can play on the piano. I’ll play it, and you help sing.”

“Yes, let’s have ‘Old Clem,’” said Herbert. “I’ve no idea what it is, but it sounds intriguing.”

Pip began to play the piano – which he did by doubling his fists up, and hammering on the loudest keys as if they were an anvil. “Hammer boys round, Old Clem! With a thump and a sound, Old Clem! Beat it out, beat it out, Old Clem! With a clink for the stout, Old Clem!

I don’t know what had possessed him, or what possessed me to sing along – I only know that I remembered the tune because it had been a favorite of Miss Havisham’s, and that I felt as though we were laying her bitter ghost to rest.

Blow the fire, blow the fire, Old Clem! Roaring dryer, soaring higher, Old Clem!

“Hush!” Clara came into the room. “You’ll wake the baby!”

Pip blushed scarlet. “Sorry, Clara.”

Clara was looking at us as if she thought we had taken leave of our senses; Pip and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, I hardly know why.

* * *

Clara and I then went to work on Molly, staining her streaming hair with henna and rinsing it out. While she sat drying it by the nursery-room fire, she amused the older children with a number of weird tales about her younger days – all about ghosts she had seen while spending the night in a churchyard, and highwaymen, and a murder she claimed to have witnessed. She seemed half a ghost herself, I thought, some wayward visitor from a violent elder world.

But once we had bound her hair into a knot, and used a little rouge to conceal her natural pallor, she was wholly transformed. I dressed her in one of my own gowns, and Clara gave her a pair of gloves long enough to conceal the scars that were her most distinguishing mark. She looked, I thought, like any other semi-respectable lady of indeterminate age; indeed, I would have had a hard time telling the difference between her and Mrs. Brandley. When we led her back into the sitting room, Pip and Herbert positively applauded.

“But where will you go, Molly?” Clara asked. “How do you mean to live?”

“How do all old gypsy women live? Sixpence to tell your fortune?”

Herbert laughed, and offered her sixpence. Pip gave her another, and said, “Estella?” I shook my head, and said that I didn’t think I liked my fortune, and had rather not know any more of it.

Molly took Herbert aside into the hall – and informed him, as he told us when he returned, that he was shortly to become a father again. It seemed that Clara had not told him this yet, but it proved to be quite true; and amid the resulting hubbub, I scarcely noticed when Pip slipped off with Molly. He had a curious half-smile when he returned.

“Well?” I asked. “What’s your fortune?”

“I can’t tell it,” he said, “or it won’t come true.”

“Herbert did.”

“This one is different,” he said. “Besides, you said you didn’t want to know yours.”

“What has that got to do with anything?”

Pip said nothing. He hummed a line or two of “Old Clem.”

“You,” I said, “are infuriating. And I don’t believe she can tell fortunes at all. I don’t believe in people with supernatural powers, and that sort of thing.”

“I don’t, either. But I should say she’s a good observer. And good at telling people what they want to hear. I think she’ll be able to take care of herself in Bristol.”

* * *

We ate a hasty and late meal, consisting of cold roast beef and some rice pudding left over from the children’s supper in the nursery. Molly’s train was to leave from Paddington Station shortly before midnight. Pip and I escorted her there, and did our best to explain the mysteries of tickets and conductors. I am not sure how much of this she took in, but we helped her on board and settled her into a compartment, and as she did not have to change trains, I supposed she was bound to reach her destination.

Afterward, taking a cab back to Herbert’s house, we had a chance to talk over the extraordinary events of the day in private. I had been looking forward to this – for some unaccountable reason – but when the moment came, I found myself almost without words.

“Thank you,” I said. “I am sorry that – I mean, you’ve gone to such trouble to help her, and it’s kept you from your friends, and – and I am in your debt. That’s all.”

“It was no trouble at all. Besides, I liked her. Once you get her away from Jaggers, she’s rather fun. Don’t you think so?”

“No, I don’t,” I said frankly. “Have you forgotten that she’s committed one murder – most likely – and attempted another?”

“With some justification, I would say.”

“I wouldn’t. It was a brutal act, and a stupid one, and I haven’t much patience with people who are stupid and brutal. I have had enough of them for one lifetime.”

“Estella – did you not wonder why her resentment of him should have broken out in violence now, after half a lifetime in his service?”

“No.” It had not occurred to me to wonder why Molly did anything; she had not struck me as altogether sane. “Why? Do you know something?”

“I don’t exactly know, but I have an idea. You said, I think, that she started the first time you mentioned Drummle’s name.”

“Yes. What of it?”

“She was there when Mr. Jaggers spoke of your marriage, I am sure of it. I remember it as if it were yesterday, for it causes me pain yet. He said, as I recall, that – that a fellow like Drummle either beats or cringes, and if he should turn to and beat – well, you – he might possibly get the mastery on his side. He spoke of it as if he were weighing the odds at a horse-race.”

“Very like him. On which side did he place his bet?”

“On yours, I think.”

“Well! He’d have lost his wager, then.”

“I think not,” said Pip quietly.

I drew a slow breath, remembering that Bentley was, after all, dead; and Miss Havisham was dead; and even Mr. Jaggers might well be dying. I was alive, and free, and that was something.

“Anyway,” said Pip, “Molly heard it all, not knowing what she heard; and if she took her revenge on him when she did know, I cannot blame her.”

“I had rather she not do it in my name.”

“We cannot always choose what people will try to do in our names. But I think, if their motives were decent, it is worth considering them with as much charity as possible – I mean charity in the true sense of the word, not in the sense of filling Christmas baskets with a great many things you don’t want.”

“I think you have a greater capacity for charity than I do.”

Pip shook his head. “Hardly. But it can be learned, you know.”

It was by then very late; here and there a light still burned in one of the houses, and a few night-walkers clustered around the poor warmth of a coffee-stall. A man’s voice, not particularly tuneful, rose in a Christmas carol.

... And to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night ...

Drunk, I thought, or mad; no one in their right wits would go wassailing at this hour.

* * *

The morning post brought a letter for Pip from his friends in Kent, and the Times for Herbert, who tore it open in search of information about the attack.

“Well!” he announced. “It would appear that Mr. Jaggers is conscious, and expected to make a full recovery. He has described his assailant. It seems that everything we did yesterday was unnecessary.”

What?” said Pip, setting down his letter.

Herbert put the newspaper down on the table. “Read it for yourselves.” Pip, Clara, and I crowded around.

... Anyone having information about a boy some fifteen or sixteen years years of age, with fair hair and a Cockney accent, seen in or around Gerrard Street on the evening of the 19th inst., should notify the Metropolitan Police ...

“Why,” said Clara, “how extraordinary that she should be innocent after all. I wonder why she fled. Perhaps the sight of him, lying as if he had been murdered, alarmed her so much that she took fright.”

“Perhaps,” said Herbert. “And yet – I wonder.”

Something in Herbert’s voice made Pip and me both look up. It took me a moment to see the point. If Mr. Jaggers had deliberately set out to describe a person exactly the opposite of Molly, he could scarcely have done better. Could it be that the honest lawyer had told a positive falsehood for once in his life?

I began to wonder if I had misjudged him; but remembering the fear in Molly’s eyes when she spoke of him, I was inclined to think that if he had indeed taken it into his head to give my mother her freedom, it came a great many years too late.

“Well, Handel,” said Herbert, rising from the breakfast-table, “I suppose you mean to be off before I come home this evening, so, a merry Christmas to you. You’re to come to us again before you leave for foreign parts, mind.”

“You’re going back to Kent so soon?” I asked, feeling as though I should miss him.

“Yes. I promised the children I’d be with them at Christmas.” Pip hesitated a moment. “That reminds me, I have an invitation to convey to you. Biddy – Mrs. Joe Gargery, that is – wrote to tell me that she and Joe would be very pleased if you’d join us.”

I was rather bemused by this invitation, as I had not the slightest idea who Mr. and Mrs. Joe Gargery were; in all the years that I had known him, Pip had never spoken much of his people. Then I realized that it was, in all probability, my fault that he had never spoken of them to me, and blushed for the girl I had been.

He, I think, came to entirely the wrong conclusion about why I was blushing, and immediately stammered out an apology for his presumption.

“Why,” I asked, my eyes wide, “what presumption can there be in passing along an invitation from a third party? You, I trust, did not ask her to invite me; no blame can be attached to you.”

Pip went very red at this, and I enjoyed his discomfiture very much until I grew bored with tormenting him, at which point there was nothing for it but to accept the invitation. I must confess – if any confession is needed – that I did so without regret.

* * *

It was not the first time I had made the journey into our own country in Pip’s company, but it was the first time in many years. We talked idly of then and now, and of the great changes the railroads had made – of almost anything, except the events of the last few days or our intentions for the future.

The fog had cleared as we left the city, and a thin shaft of December sunshine pierced the window. There were boys dodging along the railway line, risking life and limb as boys will. Children always seem to find it a great game to put a penny along the tracks, and to wait for the train to come along and flatten it. It crossed my mind that I might destroy the leaden heart that way, and be entirely free of the past.

Idly, I took the token from my purse. It occurred to me, for the first time, that Miss Havisham must have named me for the sign upon it; the coincidence which had seemed so uncanny, and so sinister, was in fact no coincidence at all. I thought that I would not destroy it after all, for it was wholly mine, and it had guided me to the truth.

“What is that?” asked Pip. I told him, and he said, “May I see it?”

The tenderness with which he took it into his hand told what I had already suspected: that he honored the memory of the man who had made it, as I who had never known my father could not.

“Keep it,” I said.

He shook his head. “It’s yours.”

“You would value it.”

“Don’t you?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps I do. But I want you to keep it.”

“Very well, then. I will keep it for you.” He tucked it away in his coat-pocket, and, when he thought that I was not observing him, permitted himself to smile.
Tags: author: a_t_rain, character: estella, fandom: great expectations, femgen 2011, titles m-z
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