Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 57

Nervous look — The bookseller’s wife — The last stake — Terms — God forbid! — Will you come to tea? — A light heart.

On arriving at the bookseller’s shop, I cast a nervous look at the window, for the purpose of observing whether the paper had been removed or not. To my great delight the paper was in its place; with a beating heart I entered, there was nobody in the shop; as I stood at the counter, however, deliberating whether or not I should call out, the door of what seemed to be a back-parlour opened, and out came a well-dressed lady-like female, of about thirty, with a good-looking and intelligent countenance. ‘What is your business, young man?’ said she to me, after I had made her a polite bow. ‘I wish to speak to the gentleman of the house,’ said I. ‘My husband is not within at present,’ she replied; ‘what is your business?’ ‘I have merely brought something to show him,’ said I, ‘but I will call again.’ ‘If you are the young gentleman who has been here before,’ said the lady, ‘with poems and ballads, as, indeed, I know you are,’ she added, smiling, ‘for I have seen you through the glass door, I am afraid it will be useless; that is,’ she added with another smile, ‘if you bring us nothing else.’ ‘I have not brought you poems and ballads now,’ said I, ‘but something widely different; I saw your advertisement for a tale or a novel, and have written something which I think will suit; and here it is,’ I added, showing the roll of paper which I held in my hand. ‘Well,’ said the bookseller’s wife, ‘you may leave it, though I cannot promise you much chance of its being accepted. My husband has already had several offered to him; however, you may leave it; give it me. Are you afraid to intrust it to me?’ she demanded somewhat hastily, observing that I hesitated. ‘Excuse me,’ said I, ‘but it is all I have to depend upon in the world; I am chiefly apprehensive that it will not be read.’ ‘On that point I can reassure you,’ said the good lady, smiling, and there was now something sweet in her smile. ‘I give you my word that it shall be read; come again tomorrow morning at eleven, when, if not approved, it shall be returned to you.’

I returned to my lodging, and forthwith betook myself to bed, notwithstanding the earliness of the hour. I felt tolerably tranquil; I had now cast my last stake, and was prepared to abide by the result. Whatever that result might be, I could have nothing to reproach myself with; I had strained all the energies which nature had given me in order to rescue myself from the difficulties which surrounded me. I presently sank into a sleep, which endured during the remainder of the day, and the whole of the succeeding night. I awoke about nine on the morrow, and spent my last threepence on a breakfast somewhat more luxurious than the immediately preceding ones, for one penny of the sum was expended on the purchase of milk.

At the appointed hour I repaired to the house of the bookseller; the bookseller was in his shop. ‘Ah,’ said he, as soon as I entered, ‘I am glad to see you.’ There was an unwonted heartiness in the bookseller’s tones, an unwonted benignity in his face. ‘So,’ said he, after a pause, ‘you have taken my advice, written a book of adventure; nothing like taking the advice, young man, of your superiors in age. Well, I think your book will do, and so does my wife, for whose judgment I have a great regard; as well I may, as she is the daughter of a first-rate novelist, deceased. I think I shall venture on sending your book to the press.’ ‘But,’ said I, ‘we have not yet agreed upon terms.’ ‘Terms, terms,’ said the bookseller; ‘ahem! well, there is nothing like coming to terms at once. I will print the book, and give you half the profit when the edition is sold.’ ‘That will not do,’ said I; ‘I intend shortly to leave London: I must have something at once.’ ‘Ah, I see,’ said the bookseller, ‘in distress; frequently the case with authors, especially young ones. Well, I don’t care if I purchase it of you, but you must be moderate; the public are very fastidious, and the speculation may prove a losing one after all. Let me see, will five — hem — ’ he stopped. I looked the bookseller in the face; there was something peculiar in it. Suddenly it appeared to me as if the voice of him of the thimble sounded in my ear, ‘Now is your time, ask enough, never such another chance of establishing yourself; respectable trade, pea and thimble.’ ‘Well,’ said I at last, ‘I have no objection to take the offer which you were about to make, though I really think five-and-twenty guineas to be scarcely enough, everything considered.’ ‘Five-and-twenty guineas!’ said the bookseller; ‘are you — what was I going to say — I never meant to offer half as much — I mean a quarter; I was going to say five guineas — I mean pounds; I will, however, make it up guineas.’ ‘That will not do,’ said I; ‘but, as I find we shall not deal, return me my manuscript, that I may carry it to some one else.’ The bookseller looked blank. ‘Dear me,’ said he, ‘I should never have supposed that you would have made any objection to such an offer; I am quite sure that you would have been glad to take five pounds for either of the two huge manuscripts of songs and ballads that you brought me on a former occasion.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if you will engage to publish either of those two manuscripts, you shall have the present one for five pounds.’ ‘God forbid that I should make any such bargain!’ said the bookseller; ‘I would publish neither on any account; but, with respect to this last book, I have really an inclination to print it, both for your sake and mine; suppose we say ten pounds.’ ‘No,’ said I, ‘ten pounds will not do; pray restore me my manuscript.’ ‘Stay,’ said the bookseller, ‘my wife is in the next room, I will go and consult her.’ Thereupon he went into his back room, where I heard him conversing with his wife in a low tone; in about ten minutes he returned. ‘Young gentleman,’ said he, ‘perhaps you will take tea with us this evening, when we will talk further over the matter.’

That evening I went and took tea with the bookseller and his wife, both of whom, particularly the latter, overwhelmed me with civility. It was not long before I learned that the work had been already sent to the press, and was intended to stand at the head of a series of entertaining narratives, from which my friends promised themselves considerable profit. The subject of terms was again brought forward. I stood firm to my first demand for a long time; when, however, the bookseller’s wife complimented me on my production in the highest terms, and said that she discovered therein the germs of genius, which she made no doubt would some day prove ornamental to my native land, I consented to drop my demand to twenty pounds, stipulating, however, that I should not be troubled with the correction of the work.

Before I departed, I received the twenty pounds, and departed with a light heart to my lodgings.

Reader, amidst the difficulties and dangers of this life, should you ever be tempted to despair, call to mind these latter chapters of the life of Lavengro. There are few positions, however difficult, from which dogged resolution and perseverance may not liberate you.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51