It was best that she should be as little noticed as possible; nor, indeed, had good Noemi many visitors. The sad and sorrowful woman had always shut herself up with her Bible and her meditations, and sought no sympathy from her neighbours, nor encourage gossip in her shop. In the first days, when purchasers lingered to ask if it were true that Maitre Gardon had brought his daughter-in-law and grandchild, her stern-faced, almost grim answer, that ’la pauvre was ill at ease,’ silenced them, and forced them to carry off their curiosity unsatisfied; but it became less easy to arrange when Eustacie herself was on foot again—refreshed, active, and with an irrepressible spring of energy and eagerness that could hardly be caged down in the Widow Laurent’s tiny rooms. Poor child, had she not been ill and prostrate at first, and fastened herself on the tender side of the good woman’s heart by the sweetness of an unselfish and buoyant nature in illness, Noemi could hardly have endured such an inmate, not even half a Huguenot, full of little Catholic observances like second nature to her; listening indeed to the Bible for the short time, but always, when it was expounded, either asleep, or finding some amusement indispensable for her baby; eager for the least variety, and above all spoilt by Maitre Gardon to a degree absolutely perplexing to the grave woman.
He would not bid her lay aside the observances that, to Noemi, seemed almost worship of the beast. He rather reverted to the piety which originated them; and argued with his old friend that it was better to build than to destroy, and that, before the fabric of truth, superstition would crumble away of itself. The little he taught her sounded to Noemi’s puzzled ears mere Christianity instead of controversial Calvinism. And, moreover, he never blamed her for wicked worldliness when she yawned; but even devised opportunities for taking her out for a walk, to see as much life as might be on a market-day. He could certainly not forget—as much as would have been prudent—that she was a high-born lady; and even seemed taken aback when he found her with her sleeves turned up over her shapely-delicate arms, and a thick apron before her, with her hands in Veuve Laurent’s flour, showing her some of those special mysterious arts of confectionery in which she had been initiated by Soeur Bernardine, when, not three years ago, she had been the pet of the convent at Bellaise. At first it was half sport and the desire of occupation, but the produce of her manipulations was so excellent as to excite quite a sensation in La Sablerie, and the echevins and baillis sent in quite considerable orders for the cakes and patties of Maitre Gardon’s Paris-bred daughter-in-law.
Maitre Gardon hesitated. Noemi Laurent told him she cared little for the gain—Heaven knew it was nothing to her—but that she thought it wrong and inconsistent in him to wish to spare the poor child’s pride, which was unchristian enough already. ‘Nay,’ he said sadly, ’mortifications from without do little to tame pride; nor did I mean to bring her here that she should turn cook and confectioner to pamper the appetite of Baillis La Grasse.’