Disclaimer: I do not own GREAT EXPECTATIONS. That belongs to Dear Mr. Dickens.
Great Expectations through Estella's Eyes: We Are Not Free
I graced Pip with a carefully constructed wave of my hand as our carriage soon pulled up before him. Miss Havisham had wished that I should do so, and so I did, and for no other reason. That was always my way with Pip, and I calculated that it always would be my way with him: carefully constructed.
Before descending the carriage, I decided to take a good look at my old playmate, the playmate that had been forced upon me at an unnatural old woman's whim. It had been several years, and I admitted to myself that Pip had grown up into a fine young man. He wasn't so course and common as I had once thought. He was very much a gentleman, and yet he was still Pip. He was still the good and naïve creature that I had sprang a trap for, so many year ago at Miss Havisham's bidding. By the twinkle that had recently settled in his eyes, and by the dog-like expression that had come to overwhelmed his features, I could tell the poor thing was still trapped.
I stepped out of the carriage, all the while feeling an oppressive shadow standing over me, as though Miss Havisham was peering at me through those faded fiery eyes of hers, and was watching my progress.
I flashed a winsome smile at the man, applying all of my best charms and airs that I had picked up in France, so as to further draw him in. This type of game had repulsed me at first, snaring men the way a spider entangles insects, but it was all I knew, and I had learned to grow cold to it. Rather, I treated the whole scheme as an art now, an art that I had mastered and perfected as none could. Oh, I was a radiant creation of a crafty woman—Miss Havisham's creation.
The man started to lead me toward the inn, when I stopped him. I pointed a finger toward my luggage but he remained immobile, staring at me as a bird stares at a snake. It took him several minutes for him to recover himself, but I awaited him patiently. I had already anticipated Pip's every move, from his stammered greeting to his obvious lack of interest for anything excepting myself. It was all going according to Miss Havisham's plan, so I did not feel inconvenienced in the least.
As soon as he had given the order to collect my luggage, and we had entered the inn, the man commented on how I had not yet revealed to him my destination. I decided to lay it all out for him then and there, like a chart man, explaining to the helmsman, the course that had been chosen by the captain. "I am going to Richmond," I told him, "Our lesson is that there are two Richmonds, one in Surrey and on in Yorkshire, and that mine is the Surrey Richmond. The distance is ten miles. I am to have a carriage, and you are to take me. This is my purse," I held it out to him, "and you are to pay my charges out of it. Oh, you must take the purse," I insisted, when I saw the words of protestation rise to Pip's parted lips. "We have no choice, you and I, but to obey our instructions. We are not free to follow our devices, you and I."
I said the last part slightingly, as I handed the young man my purse. We were not free. Pip wouldn't be free as long as he took an interest in me, and I would never be free.
I am certain that I would've felt differently if it had been my choice to continue Pip's acquaintance, or better yet, if I had chosen it of myself, in the natural scheme of things. But it was not my place to make the choices; it was but my place to obey. I had never made a single choice in all of my years, and my mind ever continued to harp in the monotonous mechanic motions of how I might further carry out the plans of my forcibly adopted mother.
"I carriage will have to be sent for Estella," I heard the man say, not failing to catch the disgusting note of devotion with which he pronounced my name, "Will you rest here a little?"
Rest? There was no rest, not for me. I was ever thinking, ever calculating how I was to carry out my orders, how I was to inflict a careless wound in this direction or that. Not a single man would ever understand this sort of turmoil within my soul, and I would never degrade myself in trying to explain it. Thus, I acceded to the man's supplications, and added that I was to drink some tea, and be in his care for the time being. That seemed to please him in a way that I couldn't understand, so I had done, and didn't pursue the manner further.
Instead, I went on with my proceedings. I drew my arm through Pip's, as it must be done, while Pip requested a private sitting room from our rather distracted waiter. Upon that, he pulled out a napkin, as though he had drawn a concise map of the place previously, so as to prevent confusion for himself as he led the two of us up the stairs to the black hole of the establishment. It was a rather dingy room, hardly acceptable to high society, being small in proportions, and gaudy in decorum. Pip objected to this contemptible retreat, so we made our way to another room, which contained a table of such great breadth, that it reminded me very much of Miss Havisham's grand wedding table.
It was in this place, and at this moment, that my fancy -or perhaps it was Miss Havisham's power over me—deceived my sight. As I stood gazing at that table, a table that probably seemed perfectly regular to any other person standing in the room, I saw Miss Havisham's tarnished figures stretched out over it, just as she said she would one day be laid out, when her time on this earth had been squandered. She was much as I had always seen her, arrayed in all of her jewels and faded, shriveled trimmings, and her single yellow shoe, only she was not at peace; rather, she was looking at me intensely, as though she required something from me. Feeling a little unnerved, though not wanting to others to know of it, I turned my gaze to Pip, who suggested that we have a seat. I acquiesced and looked up again, finding no figure there.
I returned to observing Pip, as he ordered some tea for me, and as he continued to watch me with his both expectant and discouraged eyes. I could tell he was torn: torn between his ridiculous infatuation for me, and discouraged by my cold reception of it. That was where the trap truly laid (as I had been very early taught): in a man's divided affections. Was it not the saying: divided and conquer?
"Where are you going to Richmond?" the man asked me.
"I am going to live," I answered him plainly, "at a great expense, with a lady there, who has the power—or says she has—of taking me about, and introducing me, and showing people to me and showing me to people."
"I suppose you will be glad of variety and admiration?" he ventured.
"Yes, I suppose," was my short answer. After all, what did I know of gladness? I only knew that I was being shown around, according to Miss Havisham's wishes. I was but carrying out her machinations. I didn't really care so much about what they entailed in one direction or the other.
"You speak of yourself as if you were someone else," he observed to me. I suppose the man had been hoping for a more elaborate reply. I pitied him, for Miss Havisham had meant for me to disappoint him.
"Where did you learn how to speak of others? Come, come," I returned, brandishing a delightful smile, "you must not expect me to go to school to you; I must talk in my own way. How do you thrive with Mr. Pocket?" I craftily turned the subject in another direction, setting another subtle trap for the poor man. Miss Havisham did not fail to inform me how Pip had suffered while I was absent from him, and she meant me to exploit that truth to my fullest advantage.
"I live quite pleasantly," he started, "at least—"
"At least?" I repeated, encouraging him to continue while still managing to remain aloof.
"As pleasantly as I could anywhere, away from you."
He had said it, just as I had been told he would. Pip had played his part; not it was my turn. "You silly boy," I replied quite composedly, "how can you talk such nonsense?" Then, turning the tables on the poor boy again, I went on as though the previous conversation had never existed. "Your friend Mr. Matthew, is superior to the rest of his family?"
"Very superior indeed. He is nobody's enemy—"
"—Don't add but his own," I interposed, inadvertedly sparing the name of Matthew Pocket from being tarnished in my opinion," for I hate that class of men. But he really is disinterested, and above small jealousy and spite, I have heard?"
"I am sure I have every reason to say so," was the man's confident reply.
"You have not every reason to say so of the rest of his people," I said, and as I did so, my expression changed. It turned into a grave and hard, though ever composed shell, over my torrid contempt for Miss Havisham's pretentious and conniving relatives. "For they beset Miss Havisham with reports and insinuations to your disadvantage. They watch you, misrepresent you, write letters about you (anonymous sometimes), and you are the torment and occupation of their lives. You can scarcely realize to yourself the hatred those people feel for you."
"They do me no harm, I hope."
To that last, I could not answer, so beset was I by laughter. Laughter, at his extreme naivety to pose such a question, but the more, because, in truth, Sarah Pocket, Camilla, and all of those miscreants, whose names I was loathe to pronounce, were making no progress in influencing Miss Havisham's opinion of Pip, and I was delighting in every moment of their failure. In fact, it was one of the few things I delighted in.
When I had done, Pip seeming a little uncomfortable, put the question to me, "I hope I may suppose that you would not be amused if they did me any harm?"
"No, no, you may be sure of that," I assured him, "You may be certain that I laugh because they fail. Oh, those people with Miss Havisham, and the tortures they undergo!" I laughed again, in spite of myself, much to the further confusion of Pip. Seeing this, I decided to clarify things. "It is not easy for even you," I began, "to know what satisfaction it gives me to see those people thwarted, or what an enjoyable sense of the ridiculous I have when they are made ridiculous. For you were not brought up in that strange house from a mere baby—I was. You had not your little wits sharpened by their intriguing against you, suppressed and defenseless, under the mask of sympathy and pity and what not that is soft and soothing—I had. You did not gradually open your round childish eyes wider and wider to the discovery of that imposter of a woman who calculates her stores of peace of mind for when she wakes up in the night—I did.
I wasn't laughing now, or indulging in any feelings of delight. It had all been swallowed up in my hate. The mere calling upon these loathsome memories that were ever carved into my mind and engraved upon my frozen heart, never ceased to stoke up my eternal scorn for those people that surround Miss Havisham.
"Two things I can tell you," I continued, upon reining in my stray emotions and arranging myself in composure. "First, notwithstanding the proverb that constant dropping will wear away a stone, you may set your mind at rest that these people never will—never would in a hundred years—impair your ground with Miss Havisham, in any particular, great or small. Second, I am beholden to you as the case of their being so busy and so mean in vain, and there is my hand upon it."
I placed my hand upon his in a playful manner, as a token of my assertion. As I did so, Pip's features grew ever more noticeable shrouded in his absurd obsession over me. I watched disinterestedly as the young man, with exaggerated slowness, closed his hand over mine and raised it to his lips.
"You ridiculous boy," I scolded, "will you never take warning? Or do you kiss my hand in the same spirit in which I once let you kiss my cheek?"
"What spirit was that?" the man asked, his eyes slowly glazing over in embarrassment at my reproof.
"I must think a moment," I told him. Of course I remembered the past event as if it had happened merely moments before, but it was my design to conceal that truth. I sat coolly in my seat, with a pretended look of recognition, then turning to Pip, I resumed. "A spirit of contempt for the fawners and plotters."
"If I say yes, may I kiss the cheek again?"
I sighed inwardly. I truly believed now that the man sitting across from me must be a very dense or stubborn idiot. Would he never learn? Would he never understand? I had given him so many warnings, so as to save him from the painful fate I have been designed to inflict upon him. I starred at childish and generous heart that lay within Pip's bosom, and hesitated to crush it, even if it was Miss Havisham's bidding. No, there was no hope for me, I knew, but I held my breath for Pip. If I could just convince that silly boy to heed my warnings, he'd be safe; he'd be one less man to bite the dust at Miss Havisham's hand through mine.
"You should have asked before you touched the hand," I told him, forcing rigid flippancy to give performance yet again, "but, yes, if you like."
I inclined my cheek toward the man, remaining very still, so as to give the notion that I was wrought of stone. (In truth, such a notion would not be far off.) I glided away from him the very instant I felt his lips upon my skin, then carried on with Miss Havisham's plans, that ever rode before my waking eye as a steel sledge upon hard ice. "Now, you are to take care that I have some tea, and you are to take me to Richmond." We were not free to do else.
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