One only time our gaze then met, with the lustrous fixedness (I believe I am correct in imputing that character to it?) of the well-known Basilisk. The decisive moment had arrived.
With a tolerable steady hand, though with humility, I laid The Proofs before him.
"Gracious Heavens!" he cries out, leaping up, and catching hold of his hair. "What's this? Print!"
"Sir," I replied, in a calming voice, and bending forward, "I humbly acknowledge to being the unfortunate cause of it. But I hope, sir, that when you have heard the circumstances explained, and the innocence of my intentions--"
To my amazement, I was stopped short by his catching me in both his arms, and pressing me to his breast-bone; where I must confess to my face (and particular, nose) having undergone some temporary vexation from his wearing his coat buttoned high up, and his buttons being uncommon hard.
"Ha, ha, ha!" he cries, releasing me with a wild laugh, and grasping my hand. "What is your name, my Benefactor?"
"My name, sir" (I was crumpled, and puzzled to make him out), "is Christopher; and I hope, sir, that, as such, when you've heard my ex--"
"In print!" he exclaims again, dashing the proofs over and over as if he was bathing in them.--"In print!! O Christopher! Philanthropist! Nothing can recompense you,--but what sum of money would be acceptable to you?"
I had drawn a step back from him, or I should have suffered from his buttons again.
"Sir, I assure you, I have been already well paid, and--"
"No, no, Christopher! Don't talk like that! What sum of money would be acceptable to you, Christopher? Would you find twenty pounds acceptable, Christopher?"
However great my surprise, I naturally found words to say, "Sir, I am not aware that the man was ever yet born without more than the average amount of water on the brain as would not find twenty pounds acceptable. But--extremely obliged to you, sir, I'm sure;" for he had tumbled it out of his purse and crammed it in my hand in two bank-notes; "but I could wish to know, sir, if not intruding, how I have merited this liberality?"
"Know then, my Christopher," he says, "that from boyhood's hour I have unremittingly and unavailingly endeavoured to get into print. Know, Christopher, that all the Booksellers alive--and several dead--have refused to put me into print. Know, Christopher, that I have written unprinted Reams. But they shall be read to you, my friend and brother. You sometimes have a holiday?"
Seeing the great danger I was in, I had the presence of mind to answer, "Never!" To make it more final, I added, "Never! Not from the cradle to the grave."
"Well," says he, thinking no more about that, and chuckling at his proofs again. "But I am in print! The first flight of ambition emanating from my father's lowly cot is realised at length! The golden bow"--he was getting on,--"struck by the magic hand, has emitted a complete and perfect sound! When did this happen, my Christopher?"
"Which happen, sir?"
"This," he held it out at arms length to admire it,--"this Per-rint."
When I had given him my detailed account of it, he grasped me by the hand again, and said:
"Dear Christopher, it should be gratifying to you to know that you are an instrument in the hands of Destiny. Because you _are_.