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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 38

Great Expectations

Chapter 38

If that staid old house near the Green at Richmond should ever come

to be haunted when I am dead, it will be haunted, surely, by my

ghost. O the many, many nights and days through which the unquiet

spirit within me haunted that house when Estella lived there! Let

my body be where it would, my spirit was always wandering,

wandering, wandering, about that house.

The lady with whom Estella was placed, Mrs. Brandley by name, was a

widow, with one daughter several years older than Estella. The

mother looked young, and the daughter looked old; the mother's

complexion was pink, and the daughter's was yellow; the mother set

up for frivolity, and the daughter for theology. They were in what

is called a good position, and visited, and were visited by,

numbers of people. Little, if any, community of feeling subsisted

between them and Estella, but the understanding was established

that they were necessary to her, and that she was necessary to

them. Mrs. Brandley had been a friend of Miss Havisham's before the

time of her seclusion.

In Mrs. Brandley's house and out of Mrs. Brandley's house, I suffered

every kind and degree of torture that Estella could cause me. The

nature of my relations with her, which placed me on terms of

familiarity without placing me on terms of favour, conduced to my

distraction. She made use of me to tease other admirers, and she

turned the very familiarity between herself and me, to the account

of putting a constant slight on my devotion to her. If I had been

her secretary, steward, half-brother, poor relation - if I had been

a younger brother of her appointed husband - I could not have

seemed to myself, further from my hopes when I was nearest to her.

The privilege of calling her by her name and hearing her call me by

mine, became under the circumstances an aggravation of my trials;

and while I think it likely that it almost maddened her other

lovers, I know too certainly that it almost maddened me.

She had admirers without end. No doubt my jealousy made an admirer

of every one who went near her; but there were more than enough of

them without that.

I saw her often at Richmond, I heard of her often in town, and I

used often to take her and the Brandleys on the water; there were

picnics, fete days, plays, operas, concerts, parties, all sorts of

pleasures, through which I pursued her - and they were all miseries

to me. I never had one hour's happiness in her society, and yet my

mind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the

happiness of having her with me unto death.

Throughout this part of our intercourse - and it lasted, as will

presently be seen, for what I then thought a long time - she

habitually reverted to that tone which expressed that our

association was forced upon us. There were other times when she

would come to a sudden check in this tone and in all her many

tones, and would seem to pity me.

"Pip, Pip," she said one evening, coming to such a check, when we

sat apart at a darkening window of the house in Richmond; "will you

never take warning?"

"Of what?"

"Of me."

"Warning not to be attracted by you, do you mean, Estella?"

"Do I mean! If you don't know what I mean, you are blind."

I should have replied that Love was commonly reputed blind, but for

the reason that I always was restrained - and this was not the

least of my miseries - by a feeling that it was ungenerous to press

myself upon her, when she knew that she could not choose but obey

Miss Havisham. My dread always was, that this knowledge on her part

laid me under a heavy disadvantage with her pride, and made me the

subject of a rebellious struggle in her bosom.

"At any rate," said I, "I have no warning given me just now, for

you wrote to me to come to you, this time."

"That's true," said Estella, with a cold careless smile that always

chilled me.

After looking at the twilight without, for a little while, she went

on to say:

"The time has come round when Miss Havisham wishes to have me for a

day at Satis. You are to take me there, and bring me back, if you

will. She would rather I did not travel alone, and objects to

receiving my maid, for she has a sensitive horror of being talked

of by such people. Can you take me?"

"Can I take you, Estella!"

"You can then? The day after to-morrow, if you please. You are to

pay all charges out of my purse, You hear the condition of your


"And must obey," said I.

This was all the preparation I received for that visit, or for

others like it: Miss Havisham never wrote to me, nor had I ever so

much as seen her handwriting. We went down on the next day but one,

and we found her in the room where I had first beheld her, and it

is needless to add that there was no change in Satis House.

She was even more dreadfully fond of Estella than she had been when

I last saw them together; I repeat the word advisedly, for there

was something positively dreadful in the energy of her looks and

embraces. She hung upon Estella's beauty, hung upon her words, hung

upon her gestures, and sat mumbling her own trembling fingers while

she looked at her, as though she were devouring the beautiful

creature she had reared.

From Estella she looked at me, with a searching glance that seemed

to pry into my heart and probe its wounds. "How does she use you,

Pip; how does she use you?" she asked me again, with her witch-like

eagerness, even in Estella's hearing. But, when we sat by her

flickering fire at night, she was most weird; for then, keeping

Estella's hand drawn through her arm and clutched in her own hand,

she extorted from her, by dint of referring back to what Estella

had told her in her regular letters, the names and conditions of

the men whom she had fascinated; and as Miss Havisham dwelt upon

this roll, with the intensity of a mind mortally hurt and diseased,

she sat with her other hand on her crutch stick, and her chin on

that, and her wan bright eyes glaring at me, a very spectre.

I saw in this, wretched though it made me, and bitter the sense of

dependence and even of degradation that it awakened - I saw in

this, that Estella was set to wreak Miss Havisham's revenge on men,

and that she was not to be given to me until she had gratified it

for a term. I saw in this, a reason for her being beforehand

assigned to me. Sending her out to attract and torment and do

mischief, Miss Havisham sent her with the malicious assurance that

she was beyond the reach of all admirers, and that all who staked

upon that cast were secured to lose. I saw in this, that I, too,

was tormented by a perversion of ingenuity, even while the prize

was reserved for me. I saw in this, the reason for my being staved

off so long, and the reason for my late guardian's declining to

commit himself to the formal knowledge of such a scheme. In a word,

I saw in this, Miss Havisham as I had her then and there before my

eyes, and always had had her before my eyes; and I saw in this, the

distinct shadow of the darkened and unhealthy house in which her

life was hidden from the sun.

The candles that lighted that room of hers were placed in sconces

on the wall. They were high from the ground, and they burnt with

the steady dulness of artificial light in air that is seldom

renewed. As I looked round at them, and at the pale gloom they

made, and at the stopped clock, and at the withered articles of

bridal dress upon the table and the ground, and at her own awful

figure with its ghostly reflection thrown large by the fire upon

the ceiling and the wall, I saw in everything the construction that

my mind had come to, repeated and thrown back to me. My thoughts

passed into the great room across the landing where the table was

spread, and I saw it written, as it were, in the falls of the

cobwebs from the centre-piece, in the crawlings of the spiders on

the cloth, in the tracks of the mice as they betook their little

quickened hearts behind the panels, and in the gropings and

pausings of the beetles on the floor.

It happened on the occasion of this visit that some sharp words

arose between Estella and Miss Havisham. It was the first time I

had ever seen them opposed.

We were seated by the fire, as just now described, and Miss

Havisham still had Estella's arm drawn through her own, and still

clutched Estella's hand in hers, when Estella gradually began to

detach herself. She had shown a proud impatience more than once

before, and had rather endured that fierce affection than accepted

or returned it.

"What!" said Miss Havisham, flashing her eyes upon her, "are you

tired of me?"

"Only a little tired of myself," replied Estella, disengaging her

arm, and moving to the great chimney-piece, where she stood looking

down at the fire.

"Speak the truth, you ingrate!" cried Miss Havisham, passionately

striking her stick upon the floor; "you are tired of me."

Estella looked at her with perfect composure, and again looked down

at the fire. Her graceful figure and her beautiful face expressed a

self-possessed indifference to the wild heat of the other, that was

almost cruel.

"You stock and stone!" exclaimed Miss Havisham. "You cold, cold


"What?" said Estella, preserving her attitude of indifference as

she leaned against the great chimney-piece and only moving her

eyes; "do you reproach me for being cold? You?"

"Are you not?" was the fierce retort.

"You should know," said Estella. "I am what you have made me. Take

all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all

the failure; in short, take me."

"O, look at her, look at her!" cried Miss Havisham, bitterly; "Look

at her, so hard and thankless, on the hearth where she was reared!

Where I took her into this wretched breast when it was first

bleeding from its stabs, and where I have lavished years of

tenderness upon her!"

"At least I was no party to the compact," said Estella, "for if I

could walk and speak, when it was made, it was as much as I could

do. But what would you have? You have been very good to me, and I

owe everything to you. What would you have?"

"Love," replied the other.

"You have it."

"I have not," said Miss Havisham.

"Mother by adoption," retorted Estella, never departing from the

easy grace of her attitude, never raising her voice as the other

did, never yielding either to anger or tenderness, "Mother by

adoption, I have said that I owe everything to you. All I possess

is freely yours. All that you have given me, is at your command to

have again. Beyond that, I have nothing. And if you ask me to give

you what you never gave me, my gratitude and duty cannot do


"Did I never give her love!" cried Miss Havisham, turning wildly to

me. "Did I never give her a burning love, inseparable from jealousy

at all times, and from sharp pain, while she speaks thus to me! Let

her call me mad, let her call me mad!"

"Why should I call you mad," returned Estella, "I, of all people?

Does any one live, who knows what set purposes you have, half as

well as I do? Does any one live, who knows what a steady memory you

have, half as well as I do? I who have sat on this same hearth on

the little stool that is even now beside you there, learning your

lessons and looking up into your face, when your face was strange

and frightened me!"

"Soon forgotten!" moaned Miss Havisham. "Times soon forgotten!"

"No, not forgotten," retorted Estella. "Not forgotten, but

treasured up in my memory. When have you found me false to your

teaching? When have you found me unmindful of your lessons? When

have you found me giving admission here," she touched her bosom

with her hand, "to anything that you excluded? Be just to me."

"So proud, so proud!" moaned Miss Havisham, pushing away her grey

hair with both her hands.

"Who taught me to be proud?" returned Estella. "Who praised me when

I learnt my lesson?"

"So hard, so hard!" moaned Miss Havisham, with her former action.

"Who taught me to be hard?" returned Estella. "Who praised me when

I learnt my lesson?"

"But to be proud and hard to me!" Miss Havisham quite shrieked, as

she stretched out her arms. "Estella, Estella, Estella, to be proud

and hard to me!"

Estella looked at her for a moment with a kind of calm wonder, but

was not otherwise disturbed; when the moment was past, she looked

down at the fire again.

"I cannot think," said Estella, raising her eyes after a silence

"why you should be so unreasonable when I come to see you after a

separation. I have never forgotten your wrongs and their causes. I

have never been unfaithful to you or your schooling. I have never

shown any weakness that I can charge myself with."

"Would it be weakness to return my love?" exclaimed Miss Havisham.

"But yes, yes, she would call it so!"

"I begin to think," said Estella, in a musing way, after another

moment of calm wonder, "that I almost understand how this comes

about. If you had brought up your adopted daughter wholly in the

dark confinement of these rooms, and had never let her know that

there was such a thing as the daylight by which she had never once

seen your face - if you had done that, and then, for a purpose had

wanted her to understand the daylight and know all about it, you

would have been disappointed and angry?"

Miss Havisham, with her head in her hands, sat making a low

moaning, and swaying herself on her chair, but gave no answer.

"Or," said Estella, " - which is a nearer case - if you had taught

her, from the dawn of her intelligence, with your utmost energy and

might, that there was such a thing as daylight, but that it was

made to be her enemy and destroyer, and she must always turn

against it, for it had blighted you and would else blight her; - if

you had done this, and then, for a purpose, had wanted her to take

naturally to the daylight and she could not do it, you would have

been disappointed and angry?"

Miss Havisham sat listening (or it seemed so, for I could not see

her face), but still made no answer.

"So," said Estella, "I must be taken as I have been made. The

success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together

make me."

Miss Havisham had settled down, I hardly knew how, upon the floor,

among the faded bridal relics with which it was strewn. I took

advantage of the moment - I had sought one from the first - to

leave the room, after beseeching Estella's attention to her, with a

movement of my hand. When I left, Estella was yet standing by the

great chimney-piece, just as she had stood throughout. Miss

Havisham's grey hair was all adrift upon the ground, among the

other bridal wrecks, and was a miserable sight to see.

It was with a depressed heart that I walked in the starlight for an

hour and more, about the court-yard, and about the brewery, and

about the ruined garden. When I at last took courage to return to

the room, I found Estella sitting at Miss Havisham's knee, taking

up some stitches in one of those old articles of dress that were

dropping to pieces, and of which I have often been reminded since

by the faded tatters of old banners that I have seen hanging up in

cathedrals. Afterwards, Estella and I played at cards, as of yore -

only we were skilful now, and played French games - and so the

evening wore away, and I went to bed.

I lay in that separate building across the court-yard. It was the

first time I had ever lain down to rest in Satis House, and sleep

refused to come near me. A thousand Miss Havishams haunted me. She

was on this side of my pillow, on that, at the head of the bed, at

the foot, behind the half-opened door of the dressing-room, in the

dressing-room, in the room overhead, in the room beneath -

everywhere. At last, when the night was slow to creep on towards

two o'clock, I felt that I absolutely could no longer bear the

place as a place to lie down in, and that I must get up. I

therefore got up and put on my clothes, and went out across the

yard into the long stone passage, designing to gain the outer

court-yard and walk there for the relief of my mind. But, I was no

sooner in the passage than I extinguished my candle; for, I saw

Miss Havisham going along it in a ghostly manner, making a low cry.

I followed her at a distance, and saw her go up the staircase. She

carried a bare candle in her hand, which she had probably taken

from one of the sconces in her own room, and was a most unearthly

object by its light. Standing at the bottom of the staircase, I

felt the mildewed air of the feast-chamber, without seeing her open

the door, and I heard her walking there, and so across into her own

room, and so across again into that, never ceasing the low cry.

After a time, I tried in the dark both to get out, and to go back,

but I could do neither until some streaks of day strayed in and

showed me where to lay my hands. During the whole interval,

whenever I went to the bottom of the staircase, I heard her

footstep, saw her light pass above, and heard her ceaseless low


Before we left next day, there was no revival of the difference

between her and Estella, nor was it ever revived on any similar

occasion; and there were four similar occasions, to the best of my

remembrance. Nor, did Miss Havisham's manner towards Estella in

anywise change, except that I believed it to have something like

fear infused among its former characteristics.

It is impossible to turn this leaf of my life, without putting

Bentley Drummle's name upon it; or I would, very gladly.

On a certain occasion when the Finches were assembled in force, and

when good feeling was being promoted in the usual manner by

nobody's agreeing with anybody else, the presiding Finch called the

Grove to order, forasmuch as Mr. Drummle had not yet toasted a lady;

which, according to the solemn constitution of the society, it was

the brute's turn to do that day. I thought I saw him leer in an

ugly way at me while the decanters were going round, but as there

was no love lost between us, that might easily be. What was my

indignant surprise when he called upon the company to pledge him to


"Estella who?" said I.

"Never you mind," retorted Drummle.

"Estella of where?" said I. "You are bound to say of where." Which

he was, as a Finch.

"Of Richmond, gentlemen," said Drummle, putting me out of the

question, "and a peerless beauty."

Much he knew about peerless beauties, a mean miserable idiot! I

whispered Herbert.

"I know that lady," said Herbert, across the table, when the toast

had been honoured.

"Do you?" said Drummle.

"And so do I," I added, with a scarlet face.

"Do you?" said Drummle. "Oh, Lord!"

This was the only retort - except glass or crockery - that the

heavy creature was capable of making; but, I became as highly

incensed by it as if it had been barbed with wit, and I immediately

rose in my place and said that I could not but regard it as being

like the honourable Finch's impudence to come down to that Grove -

we always talked about coming down to that Grove, as a neat

Parliamentary turn of expression - down to that Grove, proposing a

lady of whom he knew nothing. Mr. Drummle upon this, starting up,

demanded what I meant by that? Whereupon, I made him the extreme

reply that I believed he knew where I was to be found.

Whether it was possible in a Christian country to get on without

blood, after this, was a question on which the Finches were

divided. The debate upon it grew so lively, indeed, that at least

six more honourable members told six more, during the discussion,

that they believed they knew where they were to be found. However,

it was decided at last (the Grove being a Court of Honour) that if

Mr. Drummle would bring never so slight a certificate from the lady,

importing that he had the honour of her acquaintance, Mr. Pip must

express his regret, as a gentleman and a Finch, for "having been

betrayed into a warmth which." Next day was appointed for the

production (lest our honour should take cold from delay), and next

day Drummle appeared with a polite little avowal in Estella's hand,

that she had had the honour of dancing with him several times. This

left me no course but to regret that I had been "betrayed into a

warmth which," and on the whole to repudiate, as untenable, the

idea that I was to be found anywhere. Drummle and I then sat

snorting at one another for an hour, while the Grove engaged in

indiscriminate contradiction, and finally the promotion of good

feeling was declared to have gone ahead at an amazing rate.

I tell this lightly, but it was no light thing to me. For, I cannot

adequately express what pain it gave me to think that Estella

should show any favour to a contemptible, clumsy, sulky booby, so

very far below the average. To the present moment, I believe it to

have been referable to some pure fire of generosity and

disinterestedness in my love for her, that I could not endure the

thought of her stooping to that hound. No doubt I should have been

miserable whomsoever she had favoured; but a worthier object would

have caused me a different kind and degree of distress.

It was easy for me to find out, and I did soon find out, that

Drummle had begun to follow her closely, and that she allowed him

to do it. A little while, and he was always in pursuit of her, and

he and I crossed one another every day. He held on, in a dull

persistent way, and Estella held him on; now with encouragement,

now with discouragement, now almost flattering him, now openly

despising him, now knowing him very well, now scarcely remembering

who he was.

The Spider, as Mr. Jaggers had called him, was used to lying in

wait, however, and had the patience of his tribe. Added to that, he

had a blockhead confidence in his money and in his family

greatness, which sometimes did him good service - almost taking the

place of concentration and determined purpose. So, the Spider,

doggedly watching Estella, outwatched many brighter insects, and

would often uncoil himself and drop at the right nick of time.

At a certain Assembly Ball at Richmond (there used to be Assembly

Balls at most places then), where Estella had outshone all other

beauties, this blundering Drummle so hung about her, and with so

much toleration on her part, that I resolved to speak to her

concerning him. I took the next opportunity: which was when she was

waiting for Mrs. Brandley to take her home, and was sitting apart

among some flowers, ready to go. I was with her, for I almost

always accompanied them to and from such places.

"Are you tired, Estella?"

"Rather, Pip."

"You should be."

"Say rather, I should not be; for I have my letter to Satis House

to write, before I go to sleep."

"Recounting to-night's triumph?" said I. "Surely a very poor one,


"What do you mean? I didn't know there had been any."

"Estella," said I, "do look at that fellow in the corner yonder,

who is looking over here at us."

"Why should I look at him?" returned Estella, with her eyes on me

instead. "What is there in that fellow in the corner yonder - to

use your words - that I need look at?"

"Indeed, that is the very question I want to ask you," said I. "For

he has been hovering about you all night."

"Moths, and all sorts of ugly creatures," replied Estella, with a

glance towards him, "hover about a lighted candle. Can the candle

help it?"

"No," I returned; "but cannot the Estella help it?"

"Well!" said she, laughing, after a moment, "perhaps. Yes. Anything

you like."

"But, Estella, do hear me speak. It makes me wretched that you

should encourage a man so generally despised as Drummle. You know

he is despised."

"Well?" said she.

"You know he is as ungainly within, as without. A deficient,

illtempered, lowering, stupid fellow."

"Well?" said she.

"You know he has nothing to recommend him but money, and a

ridiculous roll of addle-headed predecessors; now, don't you?"

"Well?" said she again; and each time she said it, she opened her

lovely eyes the wider.

To overcome the difficulty of getting past that monosyllable, I

took it from her, and said, repeating it with emphasis, "Well! Then,

that is why it makes me wretched."

Now, if I could have believed that she favoured Drummle with any

idea of making me - me - wretched, I should have been in better

heart about it; but in that habitual way of hers, she put me so

entirely out of the question, that I could believe nothing of the


"Pip," said Estella, casting her glance over the room, "don't be

foolish about its effect on you. It may have its effect on others,

and may be meant to have. It's not worth discussing."

"Yes it is," said I, "because I cannot bear that people should say,

'she throws away her graces and attractions on a mere boor, the

lowest in the crowd.'"

"I can bear it," said Estella.

"Oh! don't be so proud, Estella, and so inflexible."

"Calls me proud and inflexible in this breath!" said Estella,

opening her hands. "And in his last breath reproached me for

stooping to a boor!"

"There is no doubt you do," said I, something hurriedly, "for I

have seen you give him looks and smiles this very night, such as

you never give to - me."

"Do you want me then," said Estella, turning suddenly with a fixed

and serious, if not angry, look, "to deceive and entrap you?"

"Do you deceive and entrap him, Estella?"

"Yes, and many others - all of them but you. Here is Mrs. Brandley.

I'll say no more."

And now that I have given the one chapter to the theme that so

filled my heart, and so often made it ache and ache again, I pass

on, unhindered, to the event that had impended over me longer yet;

the event that had begun to be prepared for, before I knew that the

world held Estella, and in the days when her baby intelligence was

receiving its first distortions from Miss Havisham's wasting hands.

In the Eastern story, the heavy slab that was to fall on the bed of

state in the flush of conquest was slowly wrought out of the

quarry, the tunnel for the rope to hold it in its place was slowly

carried through the leagues of rock, the slab was slowly raised and

fitted in the roof, the rope was rove to it and slowly taken

through the miles of hollow to the great iron ring. All being made

ready with much labour, and the hour come, the sultan was aroused

in the dead of the night, and the sharpened axe that was to sever

the rope from the great iron ring was put into his hand, and he

struck with it, and the rope parted and rushed away, and the

ceiling fell. So, in my case; all the work, near and afar, that

tended to the end, had been accomplished; and in an instant the

blow was struck, and the roof of my stronghold dropped upon me.

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