In the End

"'But you said to me,' returned Estella, very earnestly, '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. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.'" -Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Reader, I married her in due time.

Our obligations to our relations having been lessened considerably, obstacles to our union failed to present themselves. Though she never told me so in words, Estella had grown weary in her way of life. The selling of her final worldly possession, and all those memories associated with it, had, I suspect, been her final step. If Providence had not found me treading the familiar grounds of Satis House, she would have been beyond my reach forever.

Gone was the quick, flashing eye that irritated my sensibilities and quickened my heart when we were younger. Her beauty had faded into a shadow of her brilliance during those winter nights in society. That evening on the hallowed grounds of our meeting place, she picked her steps slowly, content to leave her hand in mine. Her gaze was melancholy, solemn. They were worldly eyes. They had seen a darker side of existence.

"I am afraid of what comes after we leave this place forever," she said, her tread hesitating for an instant. The insects trilled in the twilight, ignorant of our fates that had been so long intertwined with one another's for more than half our lives. Ahead loomed the gloomy gate that would never be erased from my memories. Years later, with her slumbering beside me, I would dream of Estella approaching me from the other side of it, the ring of keys securely in her hand, as she had done dozens of times over in our childhood.

Pressing her hand over my breast, I answered, "We heal. Imagine the bad away, and reflect on the little fortunes we have left. And above all, live in peace with ourselves, Estella."

"Pip," she breathed, smiling sadly at me. "In years past, my only response to such a fancy would be scorn. I would retort that you are unworthy of me. But now, I see it is the reverse."

"Nonsense," I chided quietly. "You are the only one who has made me feel whole. Long have these years been, but you were never forgotten. In my thoughts you have remained my anchor and my undoing all at once. I only wished you well."

She brought our joined hands to her face and held my hand to her fair, ivory cheek. "And I, you," she murmured. "As I grew to learn what I had thrown away, the memory of our last parting grew stronger and stronger in my mind. You were too generous, Pip, after I had dismissed you with such disdain. I am mortified to think of my conduct toward you that day." Her gaze dipped downward and her eyes closed as she leaned farther into my hand.

Encircling her waist with my other arm, I dropped a chaste kiss on her forehead. "Dearest, dearest Estella."

"I am yours, if you would take me," she whispered, looking up at me through the thick dark lashes that had captivated me in my youth. They were heavy with moisture.

"I am yours, if you would have me," said I. And so it was done.

It cannot be said that our union attracted curious gazes. Joe, Biddy, and little Pip, ever my faithful kin, were all happiness at my conjugal felicity. Gone was the shame I would have felt in my youth if Estella had met Joe. Now she received him civilly and without any affectation of class, and it was evident that she and Biddy would have been confidants had they been brought up in equal circumstances. To little Pip, she offered her cheek in a softer, kinder manner than she did to me that day I knocked Herbert down in the courtyard of the old great estate.

But what of my dearest friend's regards? Herbert and Clara sent a lovely letter in such a congenial style of writing as to make me suspect that their sensibilities had not undergone a single whit of surprise at the news of my marriage to Estella. As Clarriker's House expanded, and Herbert was at liberty to bring his small family back to England to join me at the main office, our days as colleagues were interspersed with periods of leisure in which we thought on our pasts together, laughed over recollections of our poor habits of economy, and discussed our views on what the future held for us. "I cannot imagine a more content version of yourself, Handel," he said one day, refilling his newly bought pipe carefully. "Clara always knew she would never get you married to a fellow countrywoman out East, but heavens, did she try!"

Our lives being established, Estella and I lived in content. It can be no surprise that her years under continuous torment from Bentley Drummle had left her timid, and the first time she gave herself to me wholly, it was evident that she had been subjected to brutality. With time, however, we developed relations that surpassed the more conventional married couples' ideas of a happy marriage. The air of melancholy began to vanish, until what was left of Estella was, I suspect, the purest form of her.

In a word, lovely.

Author's Notes: Just finished re-reading my copy of Great Expectations in anticipation of seeing the new movie directed by Mike Newell. Of course I had to write something beyond the last chapter! Please review!