`You silly boy,' said Estella, quite composedly, `how can you talk such nonsense? Your friend Mr Matthew, I believe, is superior to the rest of his family?'
`Very superior indeed. He is nobody's enemy--'
`Don't add but his own,' interposed Estella, `for I hate that class of man. But he really is disinterested, and above small jealousy and spite, I have heard?'
`I am sure I have every reason to say so.'
`You have not every reason to say so of the rest of his people,' said Estella, nodding at me with an expression of face that was at once grave and rallying, `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 the occupation of their lives. You can scarcely realize to yourself the hatred those people feel for you.'
`They do me no harm, I hope?'
Instead of answering, Estella burst out laughing. This was very singular to me, and I looked at her in considerable perplexity. When she left off - and she had not laughed languidly, but with real enjoyment - I said, in my diffident way with her:
`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,' said Estella. `You may be certain that I laugh because they fail. Oh, those people with Miss Havisham, and the tortures they undergo!' She laughed again, and even now when she had told me why, her laughter was very singular to me, for I could not doubt its being genuine, and yet it seemed too much for the occasion. I thought there must really be something more here than I knew; she saw the thought in my mind, and answered it.
`It is not easy for even you.' said Estella, `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 defenceless, 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 impostor of a woman who calculates her stores of peace of mind for when she wakes up in the night. - I did.'
I was no laughing matter with Estella now, nor was she summoning these remembrances from any shallow place. I would not have been the cause of that look of hers, for all my expectations in a heap.
`Two things I can tell you,' said Estella. `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 hundred years - impair your ground with Miss Havisham, in any particular, great or small. Second, I am beholden to you as the cause of their being so busy and so mean in vain, and there is my hand upon it.'
As she gave it me playfully - for her darker mood had been but momentary - I held it and put it to my lips. `You ridiculous boy,' said Estella, `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?' said I.
`I must think a moment A spirit of contempt for the fawners and plotters.'
`If I say yes, may I kiss the cheek again?'
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