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Chapter 31

On our arrival in Denmark, we found the king and queen of that
country elevated in two arm-chairs on a kitchen-table, holding a
Court. The whole of the Danish nobility were in attendance;
consisting of a noble boy in the wash-leather boots of a gigantic
ancestor, a venerable Peer with a dirty face who seemed to have
risen from the people late in life, and the Danish chivalry with a
comb in its hair and a pair of white silk legs, and presenting on
the whole a feminine appearance. My gifted townsman stood gloomily
apart, with folded arms, and I could have wished that his curls and
forehead had been more probable.

Several curious little circumstances transpired as the action
proceeded. The late king of the country not only appeared to have
been troubled with a cough at the time of his decease, but to have
taken it with him to the tomb, and to have brought it back. The
royal phantom also carried a ghostly manuscript round its
truncheon, to which it had the appearance of occasionally
referring, and that, too, with an air of anxiety and a tendency to
lose the place of reference which were suggestive of a state of
mortality. It was this, I conceive, which led to the Shade's being
advised by the gallery to "turn over!" - a recommendation which it
took extremely ill. It was likewise to be noted of this majestic
spirit that whereas it always appeared with an air of having been
out a long time and walked an immense distance, it perceptibly came
from a closely contiguous wall. This occasioned its terrors to be
received derisively. The Queen of Denmark, a very buxom lady,
though no doubt historically brazen, was considered by the public
to have too much brass about her; her chin being attached to her
diadem by a broad band of that metal (as if she had a gorgeous
toothache), her waist being encircled by another, and each of her
arms by another, so that she was openly mentioned as "the
kettledrum." The noble boy in the ancestral boots, was
inconsistent; representing himself, as it were in one breath, as an
able seaman, a strolling actor, a grave-digger, a clergyman, and a
person of the utmost importance at a Court fencing-match, on the
authority of whose practised eye and nice discrimination the finest
strokes were judged. This gradually led to a want of toleration for
him, and even - on his being detected in holy orders, and declining
to perform the funeral service - to the general indignation taking
the form of nuts. Lastly, Ophelia was a prey to such slow musical
madness, that when, in course of time, she had taken off her white
muslin scarf, folded it up, and buried it, a sulky man who had been
long cooling his impatient nose against an iron bar in the front
row of the gallery, growled, "Now the baby's put to bed let's have
supper!" Which, to say the least of it, was out of keeping.

Upon my unfortunate townsman all these incidents accumulated with
playful effect. Whenever that undecided Prince had to ask a
question or state a doubt, the public helped him out with it. As
for example; on the question whether 'twas nobler in the mind to
suffer, some roared yes, and some no, and some inclining to both
opinions said "toss up for it;" and quite a Debating Society arose.
When he asked what should such fellows as he do crawling between
earth and heaven, he was encouraged with loud cries of "Hear,
hear!" When he appeared with his stocking disordered (its disorder
expressed, according to usage, by one very neat fold in the top,
which I suppose to be always got up with a flat iron), a
conversation took place in the gallery respecting the paleness of
his leg, and whether it was occasioned by the turn the ghost had
given him. On his taking the recorders - very like a little black
flute that had just been played in the orchestra and handed out at
the door - he was called upon unanimously for Rule Britannia. When
he recommended the player not to saw the air thus, the sulky man
said, "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 on
every one of these occasions.

But his greatest trials were in the churchyard: which had the
appearance of a primeval forest, with a kind of small
ecclesiastical wash-house on one side, and a turnpike gate on the
other. Mr. Wopsle in a comprehensive black cloak, being descried
entering at the turnpike, the gravedigger was admonished in a
friendly way, "Look out! Here's the undertaker a-coming, to see how
you're a-getting on with your work!" I believe it is well known in
a constitutional country that Mr. Wopsle could not possibly have
returned the skull, after moralizing over it, without dusting his
fingers on a white napkin taken from his breast; but even that
innocent and indispensable action did not pass without the comment
"Wai-ter!" The arrival of the body for interment (in an empty black
box with the lid tumbling open), was the signal for a general joy
which was much enhanced by the discovery, among the bearers, of an
individual obnoxious to identification. The joy attended Mr. Wopsle
through his struggle with Laertes on the brink of the orchestra and
the grave, and slackened no more until he had tumbled the king off
the 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 we
had sat, feeling keenly for him, but laughing, nevertheless, from
ear to ear. I laughed in spite of myself all the time, the whole
thing was so droll; and yet I had a latent impression that there
was something decidedly fine in Mr. Wopsle's elocution - not for old
associations' sake, I am afraid, but because it was very slow, very
dreary, very up-hill and down-hill, and very unlike any way in
which any man in any natural circumstances of life or death ever
expressed himself about anything. When the tragedy was over, and he
had been called for and hooted, I said to Herbert, "Let us go at
once, or perhaps we shall meet him."

We made all the haste we could down-stairs, but we were not quick
enough either. Standing at the door was a Jewish man with an
unnatural heavy smear of eyebrow, who caught my eyes as we
advanced, 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 the
honour."

"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 and
asked, "How did you think he looked? - I dressed him."

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

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

I modestly assented, and we all fell through a little dirty swing
door, into a sort of hot packing-case immediately behind it. Here
Mr. Wopsle was divesting himself of his Danish garments, and here
there was just room for us to look at him over one another's
shoulders, 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 know
you in former times, and the Drama has ever had a claim which has
ever been acknowledged, on the noble and the affluent."

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

"Skin the stockings off, Mr. Waldengarver," said the owner of that
property, "or you'll bust 'em. Bust 'em, and you'll bust
five-and-thirty shillings. Shakspeare never was complimented with a
finer 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 fallen
over backward with his chair, but for there being no room to fall
anyhow.

I had been afraid until then to say a word about the play. But
then, 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 insist
upon 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 ground
against the wall at the time, and holding on by the seat of the
chair.

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

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

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

"Did you observe, gentlemen," said Mr. Waldengarver, "that there was
a man in the gallery who endeavoured to cast derision on the
service - 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 would
see 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 both
ceremonies very slowly. "You must have observed, gentlemen," said
he, "an ignorant and a blatant ass, with a rasping throat and a
countenance expressive of low malignity, who went through - I will
not say sustained - the role (if I may use a French expression) of
Claudius King of Denmark. That is his employer, gentlemen. Such is
the profession!"

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

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



Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction - English literature
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