Estella was the next to break the silence that ensued between us.
“I have very often hoped and intended to come back, but have been prevented by many circumstances. Poor, poor old place!”
The silvery mist was touched with the first rays of the moonlight, and the same rays touched the tears that dropped from her eyes. Not knowing that I saw them, and setting herself to get the better of them, she said quietly,—
“Were you wondering, as you walked along, how it came to be left in this condition?”
“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?”
“At last, it is. I came here to take leave of it before its change. And you,” she said, in a voice of touching interest to a wanderer,—”you live abroad still?”
“And do well, I am sure?”
“I work pretty hard for a sufficient living, and therefore—yes, I do well.”
“I have often thought of you,” said Estella.
“Of late, very often. 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 since my duty has not been incompatible with the admission of that remembrance, I have given it a place in my heart.”
“You have always held your place in my heart,” I answered.
And we were silent again until she spoke.
“I little thought,” said Estella, “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.”
“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.”
“We are friends,” said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.
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