I did not believe one word of this, nor did Madeleine, who drew her reluctant sister away; and when we got her into the open air, rebuked her for doing what their father would not approve. Gabrielle looked inclined to defend herself, and make a joke of it. However, a great bell began to clang so near us as to drown her voice; people were pushing past us into church, and we found ourselves going against the stream, and made the best of our way out of it, and back to our quarters. My father and M. Bourdinave were standing at the door, conversing with my uncle, and when they saw us they smiled, and my father said, with unwonted softness in his tone, “Well, children, are you come back? Have you enjoyed yourselves?” and looked earnestly at Madeleine, whose eyes sank under his.
My uncle Nicolas kept a mercer’s shop, and his shelves and counters were now so laden with goods that it was difficult to steer our way through them to the steep stair which led to the floor above; and that, too, was converted, for the time, into a kind of warehouse; but above that was the living-room, and above that, again, numerous bedrooms with sloping sides, and small windows piercing the steep roof. My aunt Jeanne was good and hospitable to excess. She would not let M. Bourdinave and his family return to their lodging till they had supped with her, though there were other guests; so we were jammed rather closely around the table with little elbow-room. Then ensued clinking of glasses, clatter of plates, dishes, knives, forks, the buzzing of many tongues, savory smells of hot viands, and much helping and pressing of one another; much talk of the price of silks, velvets, and serges; of the credit of such and such a house; of the state of trade; of the court; and of the country. I, wedged between Madeleine and her sister, had the opportunity of giving her many tender looks, though few words passed between us. Among the strangers at table was a strangely unpleasant Englishman, who prefaced every speech with “I want to know—” and would not be satisfied with a short answer. At length my father mildly said—
“Sir, you seek to know trade secrets. You know there are secrets in all trades.”
“That is precisely why I want to know them,” said he, laughing.
“But a good reason why we should not tell them,” said my father; who then turned from him, and addressed some one else. Gabrielle whispered, “I shall call that man Monsieur I-want-to-know.”
“Ah, well, I know already what I chiefly want,” pursued the Englishman, who, had he not been drinking more freely than was good for him, would probably have been less communicative. “I’ve been to Italy, and have seen the Italian machinery for throwing silk, and shall carry back a pretty good idea of the process.”
“That man shall never carry anything back,” whispered a vindictive-looking Italian, whose eyes glittered like fire.
“Hush! he is only an empty boaster.”