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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 38)


Upon my unfortunate townsman all these incidents accumulated withplayful effect. Whenever that undecided Prince had to ask aquestion or state a doubt, the public helped him out with it. Asfor example; on the question whether 'twas nobler in the mind tosuffer, some roared yes, and some no, and some inclining to bothopinions said "toss up for it;" and quite a Debating Society arose.When he asked what should such fellows as he do crawling betweenearth and heaven, he was encouraged with loud cries of "Hear,hear!" When he appeared with his stocking disordered (its disorderexpressed, according to usage, by one very neat fold in the top,which I suppose to be always got up with a flat iron), aconversation took place in the gallery respecting the paleness ofhis leg, and whether it was occasioned by the turn the ghost hadgiven him. On his taking the recorders - very like a little blackflute that had just been played in the orchestra and handed out atthe door - he was called upon unanimously for Rule Britannia. Whenhe recommended the player not to saw the air thus, the sulky mansaid, "And don't you do it, neither; you're a deal worse than him!"And I grieve to add that peals of laughter greeted Mr. Wopsle onevery one of these occasions.

But his greatest trials were in the churchyard: which had theappearance of a primeval forest, with a kind of smallecclesiastical wash-house on one side, and a turnpike gate on theother. Mr. Wopsle in a comprehensive black cloak, being descriedentering at the turnpike, the gravedigger was admonished in afriendly way, "Look out! Here's the undertaker a-coming, to see howyou're a-getting on with your work!" I believe it is well known ina constitutional country that Mr. Wopsle could not possibly havereturned the skull, after moralizing over it, without dusting hisfingers on a white napkin taken from his breast; but even thatinnocent and indispensable action did not pass without the comment"Wai-ter!" The arrival of the body for interment (in an empty blackbox with the lid tumbling open), was the signal for a general joywhich was much enhanced by the discovery, among the bearers, of anindividual obnoxious to identification. The joy attended Mr. Wopslethrough his struggle with Laertes on the brink of the orchestra andthe grave, and slackened no more until he had tumbled the king offthe kitchen-table, and had died by inches from the ankles upward.

We had made some pale efforts in the beginning to applaud Mr.Wopsle; but they were too hopeless to be persisted in. Therefore wehad sat, feeling keenly for him, but laughing, nevertheless, fromear to ear. I laughed in spite of myself all the time, the wholething was so droll; and yet I had a latent impression that therewas something decidedly fine in Mr. Wopsle's elocution - not for oldassociations' sake, I am afraid, but because it was very slow, verydreary, very up-hill and down-hill, and very unlike any way inwhich any man in any natural circumstances of life or death everexpressed himself about anything. When the tragedy was over, and hehad been called for and hooted, I said to Herbert, "Let us go atonce, or perhaps we shall meet him."

We made all the haste we could down-stairs, but we were not quickenough either. Standing at the door was a Jewish man with anunnatural heavy smear of eyebrow, who caught my eyes as weadvanced, and said, when we came up with him:

"Mr. Pip and friend?"

Identity of Mr. Pip and friend confessed.

"Mr. Waldengarver," said the man, "would be glad to have thehonour."

"Waldengarver?" I repeated - when Herbert murmured in my ear,"Probably Wopsle."

"Oh!" said I. "Yes. Shall we follow you?"

"A few steps, please." When we were in a side alley, he turned andasked, "How did you think he looked? - I dressed him."

I don't know what he had looked like, except a funeral; with theaddition of a large Danish sun or star hanging round his neck by ablue ribbon, that had given him the appearance of being insured insome extraordinary Fire Office. But I said he had looked very nice.

"When he come to the grave," said our conductor, "he showed hiscloak beautiful. But, judging from the wing, it looked to me thatwhen he see the ghost in the queen's apartment, he might have mademore of his stockings."

I modestly assented, and we all fell through a little dirty swingdoor, into a sort of hot packing-case immediately behind it. HereMr. Wopsle was divesting himself of his Danish garments, and herethere was just room for us to look at him over one another'sshoulders, by keeping the packing-case door, or lid, wide open.

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Wopsle, "I am proud to see you. I hope, Mr.Pip, you will excuse my sending round. I had the happiness to knowyou in former times, and the Drama has ever had a claim which hasever been acknowledged, on the noble and the affluent."

Meanwhile, Mr. Waldengarver, in a frightful perspiration, was tryingto get himself out of his princely sables.

"Skin the stockings off, Mr. Waldengarver," said the owner of thatproperty, "or you'll bust 'em. Bust 'em, and you'll bustfive-and-thirty shillings. Shakspeare never was complimented with afiner pair. Keep quiet in your chair now, and leave 'em to me."

With that, he went upon his knees, and began to flay his victim;who, on the first stocking coming off, would certainly have fallenover backward with his chair, but for there being no room to fallanyhow.

I had been afraid until then to say a word about the play. Butthen, Mr. Waldengarver looked up at us complacently, and said:

"Gentlemen, how did it seem to you, to go, in front?"

Herbert said from behind (at the same time poking me), "capitally."So I said "capitally."

"How did you like my reading of the character, gentlemen?" said Mr.Waldengarver, almost, if not quite, with patronage.

Herbert said from behind (again poking me), "massive and concrete."So I said boldly, as if I had originated it, and must beg to insistupon it, "massive and concrete."

"I am glad to have your approbation, gentlemen," said Mr.Waldengarver, with an air of dignity, in spite of his being groundagainst the wall at the time, and holding on by the seat of thechair.

"But I'll tell you one thing, Mr. Waldengarver," said the man whowas on his knees, "in which you're out in your reading. Now mind! Idon't care who says contrairy; I tell you so. You're out in yourreading of Hamlet when you get your legs in profile. The lastHamlet as I dressed, made the same mistakes in his reading atrehearsal, till I got him to put a large red wafer on each of hisshins, and then at that rehearsal (which was the last) I went infront, sir, to the back of the pit, and whenever his readingbrought him into profile, I called out "I don't see no wafers!" Andat night his reading was lovely."

Mr. Waldengarver smiled at me, as much as to say "a faithfuldependent - I overlook his folly;" and then said aloud, "My view isa little classic and thoughtful for them here; but they willimprove, they will improve."

Herbert and I said together, Oh, no doubt they would improve.

"Did you observe, gentlemen," said Mr. Waldengarver, "that there wasa man in the gallery who endeavoured to cast derision on theservice - I mean, the representation?"

We basely replied that we rather thought we had noticed such a man.I added, "He was drunk, no doubt."

"Oh dear no, sir," said Mr. Wopsle, "not drunk. His employer wouldsee to that, sir. His employer would not allow him to be drunk."

"You know his employer?" said I.

Mr. Wopsle shut his eyes, and opened them again; performing bothceremonies very slowly. "You must have observed, gentlemen," saidhe, "an ignorant and a blatant ass, with a rasping throat and acountenance expressive of low malignity, who went through - I willnot say sustained - the role (if I may use a French expression) ofClaudius King of Denmark. That is his employer, gentlemen. Such isthe profession!"

Without distinctly knowing whether I should have been more sorryfor Mr. Wopsle if he had been in despair, I was so sorry for him asit was, that I took the opportunity of his turning round to havehis braces put on - which jostled us out at the doorway - to askHerbert what he thought of having him home to supper? Herbert saidhe thought it would be kind to do so; therefore I invited him, andhe went to Barnard's with us, wrapped up to the eyes, and we didour best for him, and he sat until two o'clock in the morning,reviewing his success and developing his plans. I forget in detailwhat they were, but I have a general recollection that he was tobegin with reviving the Drama, and to end with crushing it;inasmuch as his decease would leave it utterly bereft and without achance or hope.

Miserably I went to bed after all, and miserably thought ofEstella, and miserably dreamed that my expectations were allcancelled, and that I had to give my hand in marriage to Herbert'sClara, or play Hamlet to Miss Havisham's Ghost, before twentythousand people, without knowing twenty words of it.

Chapter 32

One day when I was busy with my books and Mr. Pocket, I received anote by the post, the mere outside of which threw me into a greatflutter; for, though I had never seen the handwriting in which itwas addressed, I divined whose hand it was. It had no setbeginning, as Dear Mr. Pip, or Dear Pip, or Dear Sir, or DearAnything, but ran thus:

"I am to come to London the day after to-morrow by the mid-daycoach. I believe it was settled you should meet me? At all eventsMiss Havisham has that impression, and I write in obedience to it.She sends you her regard.

Yours, ESTELLA."

If there had been time, I should probably have ordered severalsuits of clothes for this occasion; but as there was not, I wasfain to be content with those I had. My appetite vanishedinstantly, and I knew no peace or rest until the day arrived. Notthat its arrival brought me either; for, then I was worse than ever,and began haunting the coach-office in wood-street, Cheapside,before the coach had left the Blue Boar in our town. For all that Iknew this perfectly well, I still felt as if it were not safe tolet the coach-office be out of my sight longer than five minutes ata time; and in this condition of unreason I had performed the firsthalf-hour of a watch of four or five hours, when Wemmick ranagainst me.

"Halloa, Mr. Pip," said he; "how do you do? I should hardly havethought this was your beat."

I explained that I was waiting to meet somebody who was coming upby coach, and I inquired after the Castle and the Aged.

"Both flourishing thankye," said Wemmick, "and particularly theAged. He's in wonderful feather. He'll be eighty-two next birthday.I have a notion of firing eighty-two times, if the neighbourhoodshouldn't complain, and that cannon of mine should prove equal tothe pressure. However, this is not London talk. where do you thinkI am going to?"

"To the office?" said I, for he was tending in that direction.

"Next thing to it," returned Wemmick, "I am going to Newgate. Weare in a banker's-parcel case just at present, and I have been downthe road taking as squint at the scene of action, and thereuponmust have a word or two with our client."

"Did your client commit the robbery?" I asked.

"Bless your soul and body, no," answered Wemmick, very drily. "Buthe is accused of it. So might you or I be. Either of us might beaccused of it, you know."

"Only neither of us is," I remarked.

"Yah!" said Wemmick, touching me on the breast with his forefinger;"you're a deep one, Mr. Pip! Would you like to have a look atNewgate? Have you time to spare?"

I had so much time to spare, that the proposal came as a relief,notwithstanding its irreconcilability with my latent desire to keepmy eye on the coach-office. Muttering that I would make the inquirywhether I had time to walk with him, I went into the office, andascertained from the clerk with the nicest precision and much tothe trying of his temper, the earliest moment at which the coachcould be expected - which I knew beforehand, quite as well as he. Ithen rejoined Mr. Wemmick, and affecting to consult my watch and tobe surprised by the information I had received, accepted his offer.

We were at Newgate in a few minutes, and we passed through thelodge where some fetters were hanging up on the bare walls amongthe prison rules, into the interior of the jail. At that time,jails were much neglected, and the period of exaggerated reactionconsequent on all public wrong-doing - and which is always itsheaviest and longest punishment - was still far off. So, felonswere not lodged and fed better than soldiers (to say nothing ofpaupers), and seldom set fire to their prisons with the excusableobject of improving the flavour of their soup. It was visiting timewhen Wemmick took me in; and a potman was going his rounds withbeer; and the prisoners, behind bars in yards, were buying beer,and talking to friends; and a frouzy, ugly, disorderly, depressingscene it was.

It struck me that Wemmick walked among the prisoners, much as agardener might walk among his plants. This was first put into myhead by his seeing a shoot that had come up in the night, andsaying, "What, Captain Tom? Are you there? Ah, indeed!" and also,"Is that Black Bill behind the cistern? Why I didn't look for youthese two months; how do you find yourself?" Equally in hisstopping at the bars and attending to anxious whisperers - alwayssingly - Wemmick with his post-office in an immovable state, lookedat them while in conference, as if he were taking particular noticeof the advance they had made, since last observed, towards comingout in full blow at their trial.

He was highly popular, and I found that he took the familiardepartment of Mr. Jaggers's business: though something of the stateof Mr. Jaggers hung about him too, forbidding approach beyondcertain limits. His personal recognition of each successive clientwas comprised in a nod, and in his settling his hat a little easieron his head with both hands, and then tightening the postoffice,and putting his hands in his pockets. In one or two instances,there was a difficulty respecting the raising of fees, and then Mr.Wemmick, backing as far as possible from the insufficient moneyproduced, said, "it's no use, my boy. I'm only a subordinate. Ican't take it. Don't go on in that way with a subordinate. If youare unable to make up your quantum, my boy, you had better addressyourself to a principal; there are plenty of principals in theprofession, you know, and what is not worth the while of one, maybe worth the while of another; that's my recommendation to you,speaking as a subordinate. Don't try on useless measures. Whyshould you? Now, who's next?"

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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