The sun was setting over the hills in the distance and a quiet mist was gracing the ground as my carriage pulled up to the gate. I simply sat for a moment pondering the land where the house once stood. The looming garden wall – now crumbling – was the only standing remnant of my time here. The house and the brewery were only ghosts on this barren land – memories of those who knew them – and cared to remember. Stepping down from my carriage I told the coachman to return in two hours – I wanted to be alone here – with my memories. I watched the carriage fade into the distance before turning to the house.
How I had longed to return to this place over the years. My memories of my years here were not memories one normally holds for a childhood home – they were cold and hollow. Though I am not sure if I believe it wholly, it has been said – time heals – for I hold these sad and bitter memories close to me. They are all I have left of my innocent life before my awakening to the cruelty of the world and – the awakening – of my heart. These memories are all I have left of Miss Havisham – and my dear Pip – who opened his heart so easily to me only for me to stab it with my ignorance.
Though I have not returned since my leaving, I walked the grounds from shear memory – stopping here and there – as memories unfolded. Standing on the ground where the front steps once stood – I remembered Pip crying as I brought him his food on our first day together – how weak I had thought him then. And there – the front gate – where I first met him – how young we both were.
My left hand tracing over the bark of a tree my other hand drifted unconsciously to my face – exploring the wrinkles of pain and sadness my life had caused after I took leave of Pip on that cold day so many – many years ago.
I had married – as was only proper. But if I was to be honest with myself – which I have been forced to be over the years – I had been glad to wash my hands of caring for Miss Havisham. Though the thought still burns me – I knew the woman had few years left – I had needed to marry before I lost what was left of her influence. I had deserted her – the woman who had raised me the only way she could – in her last days of need. I didn't return for the funeral. My husband had wanted to make an appearance – for business sake – but you see I refused to dirty Miss Havisham's memory in such a way.
My marriage had not been as I had imagined. Though Pip had begged and pleaded with me not to marry Bentley for fear of his cruelty and mistreatment – I had not listened. I – believing I knew better – that I was unbreakable – had ignored him – and quite in spite of him took the name Drummle. Those years changed me greatly. Though I grimaced as I thought of my husband, cursing myself for soiling this precious place with his memory, I owed him something I can claim to owe no other. He gave me my heart. Those years of abuse had not hardened me – for I could have been hardened no more – instead softened the walls Miss Havisham had constructed around my heart. I had been free of Bentley Drummle for two years, ever since his horse, Jade, bucked him off – breaking his neck. I still lived alone in our house, visiting Jade in the barn everyday, being certain to give him an apple or a sugar cube.
Knowing my time was quickly coming to an end; I made my way along the garden trail. This one place had not changed. Though the flowers were dead, the weeds over grown and tree branches littered the path – this is how it had always been – how it was supposed to be – and it brought me peace to stand here. The years blurred – fading away as I stood – where I had stood as a child.
Through the rising mist, my younger eyes saw a boy come up to the gate. He stood for awhile surveying the ruin. Finding the gate open he stepped in. I watched him walk a path similar to my own – stopping before the front steps as I had done. I stepped back in fear – for as I saw the boy's face, the years flooded back to us – this was Pip.
He had turned then and saw me standing in the garden. I had wanted to run – wanted to flee from this man who I had wronged so many times. I turned to go, but could not. The truth was I wanted to see him. I had come to make peace with my past, what better way to take leave of my guilt then to lie to rest the pain between us. As he approached, I called out his name at the same moment my name graced his lips.
"I am greatly changed. I wonder you know me." My hands he took in his own and I dared not meet his eyes. You see my beauty was gone – no longer the woman he knew. I feared he would recoil in disgust. Raising my face to meet his gaze, his eyes held the same look of wonder they had in youth – and I stared back. This man was very much the Pip I had known, yet nothing like him. Those once innocent eyes – that welled at my mere word, had hardened slightly – no longer the trusting eyes of youth. This older – wiser Pip had known the world and it had made its mark on him.
He led me to a bench and we sat hand in hand, "After so many years, it is strange that we should thus meet again, Estella, here where our first meeting was! Do you often come back?"
"I have never been here since."
We sat – content, but I knew I must speak before he became lost to me again. "I have very often hoped and intended to come back, but have been prevented by many circumstances." Looking around at the bare earth where the once grand house stood, I cursed myself, for its condition was the fault of no one but me. "Poor, poor old place!" I cried out, tears spilled down my face – I turned away in shame.
Composing myself I faced Pip again, "Were you wondering, as you walked along, how it came to be left in this condition?"
"Yes Estella." My name on his lips almost made me cry out again.
"The ground belongs to me. It is the only possession I have not relinquished. Everything else has gone from me, little by little, but I have kept this. It was the subject of the only determined resistance I made in all the wretched years."
"Is it to be built on?"
I sighed sadly, "At last it is. I came here to take leave of it before its change. And you, you live abroad still?"
"Still," he said.
"And do well, I am sure?" Though I was then unsure how, he had run into money problems – leaving him with nothing. I wondered who Pip's benefactor had been and how he could have deserted Pip so horribly.
"I work pretty hard for a sufficient living, and therefore – yes, I do well!"
"I have often thought of you," I said.
If he only knew how true that was. I had taken to writing him letters over the years, pouring – as I discovered it – my heart into them – those letters my only companion and only sense of joy. How I longed to voice all I had written but only whispered, "There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth, but those times are past."
Pip smile sadly at me, "You have always held your place in my heart."
Those words hung in the air between us, neither of us daring to speak. My departure eminent, I spoke quickly, "I little thought, that I should take leave of you in taking leave of this spot. I am very glad to do so."
"Glad to part again Estella? To me, parting is a painful thing. To me, the remembrance of our last parting has been ever mournful and painful."
His words stung me to my core, for he imagined me unchanged. I could see him retreating – back into himself – afraid of my injuring words. Tears fell down my face, but I cared not, "But you said to me 'God bless you. God forgive you!' And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now – now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape. Please be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends."
"He reached up – wiped a tear from my face and stood, helping me to my feet, "We are friends."
"And will continue friends apart," I said sadly, understanding his meaning.
He took my hand in his and we went out of the ruined place. Out of the fading mist, carriage wheels could be heard. I knew – was I to part with him then, I would not see him again.
Having waved the coachman still, Pip opened the carriage door himself, letting go of my hand, allowing me to step into the carriage. I sat in darkness as he closed the door, I whispered, "Pip…"
His hand stilled, "Yes Estella?"
"If you are not previously engaged, travel with me, our guest quarters are quite pleasing."
He stood unsure.
Looking down at my gloved hands, prepared for his rejection, I whispered, "I don't receive many visitors."
He stepped into the carriage and took my hands, "There are no other engagements."
As the carriage drove off into the darkness we watched our shared past fade into the mist. I smiled for the first time all evening. Our future lay ahead – I knew not what it held, but the pressure of his hands on mine showed no shadow of another parting with him – and I was glad.