"Estella?" Herbert looked up, inhaling sharply as the colour drained from his face. Clara shot a worried glance to him across the dinner table, feeling a sudden chill sweep through the room.
"That's right," Pip smiled, oblivious to the change in his friend's humour "after all these years, what are the chances I would find her back at the old house?"
"I heard about the fate of that husband of hers," Clara said in an effort to keep conversation going "What ghastly business."
"Ghastly business indeed," Pip nodded gravely, before brightening and turning to Herbert "I hope you don't mind my inviting her over for tea– while we're here I thought we could catch up, perhaps reminisce about the old days," he laughed cheerfully "When you challenged me to a gentlemen's duel, all the time with her watching, thinking she was perfectly hidden from view!"
"Oh yes, what larks," Herbert replied bitterly, staring at his plate "Tell me, was this before or after she reduced you to tears?"
"But Herbert," Pip stared at his friend, dumbfounded "Why, so very much has changed since then!"
"So she says," Herbert looked up, wearing an expression of uncharacteristic gravity "But the validity of that statement very much remains to be seen."
"Herbert," Pip stared at him, hurt, eyes wide "Why this sudden anger?"
"Because I- " he stopped himself, blushing furiously "Because she's a bad influence!"
At that very moment, Estella sauntered into the dining room, as though she had been choosing the perfect moment to enter.
Speak of the devil, they say.
As usual, she was all cool smiles, but there was a hint of something in her eyes that Pip couldn't quite identify. It was like a mix between amusement and sharp, solid ice.
"Well, I didn't get into a fist-fight with him upon our very first meeting, Mr. Pocket. Most people would have just said 'hello'. Perhaps you're the bad influence."
Herbert narrowed his eyes, arching his back like an angry cat. Clara looked on from her seat, a worried expression slowly spreading across her face.
"You..." he hissed, gritting his teeth.
"When I first met Pip," Estella continued, circling the dinner table (in a manner not unlike a shark, Pip mused), inspecting her nails nonchalantly "We played a nice game of cards."
Pip didn't recall it being very nice, but wasn't inclined to argue.
"... and then he said that I was very pretty." She glanced sideways at Herbert, who looked very much like he had just been slapped.
For a split second, the suggestion of a smile flashed across Estella's lips.
"Clara," Herbert stood up suddenly from his chair, his gaze still fixed on Estella "Get your coat. We're leaving." and with that, stormed out of the room.
"Oh dear." Clara looked helplessly at Pip before sprinting out after her husband.
Pip and Estella were now alone, only the uncomfortable silence left by the Herbert's departure to keep them company.
"Some people just have no manners," Estella said cooly, before sitting down beside Pip "What's for dinner, anyway?"