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Chapter VI.: INVESTIGATIONS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 6 (Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek, The Loom and the Lugger Parts 1 & 2) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 6.
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While Mademoiselle was striving to employ herself diligently the next morning, during her brother's absence, three quarters of her acquaintance came to condole, or to enquire, or to use any pretence which might enable them to satisfy their curiosity. Of the remaining fourth part, some had the kindness to stay at home, and content themselves with a message of enquiry how the family found themselves after the alarm of the last evening; while others contented themselves with remaining at home, and not sending, dropping a hint at the breakfast-table that it would be time enough to take notice of past events when it should appear whether the Gaubions could clear themselves, and what would be thought of them henceforward. Mr. Culver left no orders, before he went out, as to what his young people were to do; and when the question was proposed by themselves, there was a difference of opinion. Nurse believed that foreigners were a bad set altogether, and that it would be better to have nothing more to do with any of them. Charlotte thought it would look rather odd to break off intercourse so suddenly; and Lucy offered to vouch for poor Adfele's having done nothing very bad about smuggling, however the case might stand with her brother. The girls agreed that it might be a kindness to take Adèle for the day; and even nurse was open to the argument that it would be very pleasant to hear the whole story of the riot from the very best authority. The debate ended in nurie and Lucy
–Lucy as being Adèle's special companion—setting off to bring her back with them;—an object less easy of accomplishment than they had imagined.
Being sent for to speak to them in the hall, Adèle appeared, to urge their proceeding to the dining-room.
“Every body is there,” said she, “and you will hear all about it, if you will come in. The room is almost full; but you know most of the people. We never thought of so many coming at once, but it would not do not to see them; it would make them think there is more the matter than there really is; and I am sure they all mean to be very kind. Do come in.”
In answer to the suggestion that they could hear every thing much more comfortably from her in Devonshire-square, the little French girl positively declined leaving home this day. She gave so many good reasons for her resolve, that there was nothing for it but following her into the parlour, if they wished to carry home any tidings.
“Such a pity, to be sure,” Mrs. Piggins was saying, “when you had painted and made all nice so lately. It is but a month, scarcely a month, I think, Betsy, since I got a daub of green paint on my cloak (all my own carelessness, ma'am; I'm sure I don't mean———) from your green wicket, and now it is pulled down and burned to ashes! and the smoke, I see, has blackened the cornice; so lately as it was painted! We just looked up before we knocked at the door, to find whether the front of the house seemed any-how different; and then Betsy pointed out to me that the cornice was blackened,”
“And so brutal it was of the people, Mademoiselle,” observed Miss Harvey, “to make you light the pile that was to burn your brother. I wonder how you ever did it,—only that I suppose you could not help yourself.”
“O, that is quite a mistake,” replied Mademoiselle, smiling. “They asked us for fire, and we told them our fires were out; that was all.”
“Well, to be sure!” cried Miss Harvey, looking at her sister, “we were told that they dragged you among them, and made you set the bonfire alight with a torch, and that you cried out loud, ‘ My hand but not my heart consents.’ So this is not true?”
Mademoiselle shook her head.
“Then it may not be true either—It is better to ask at once,” said the lady, in answer to her sister's wink and frown, “it may not be true either that M. Gaubion was handcuffed when he was fetched away to the Treasury.”
“What is that?” asked Mademoiselle, whose ear did not happen to have ever been met by the word ‘handcuffed’.”
By gesture, as well as explanation, the sense was made known to her; and then her laugh had as much of indignation as of mirth in it.
“You might have supposed that was false without asking,” said the younger Miss Harvey to her sister. “As it was not true that M. Gaubion had his right arm broken, and that Miss Adèle lay without hopes of recovery———”
“I!” exclaimed Adèle “they did nothing to me; they never thought about me at all.”
“So I find, my dear; but that is the way people will talk.”
“Now, Mademoiselle,” observed good, kind Mr. Belson, “if you are quite sure that neither my wife nor I can do any thing for you, I had better be going, instead of helping to fill your room when you cannot possibly be much disposed for entertaining company. You are very right, my dear,—quite right to open your doors, and let people see how little is to be seen; but there is no need for me to trouble you any longer. When you wish to see my wife, just send across to tell her so. and make any use you like of me. Good morning, ladies.”
More visitors came in, and Mademoiselle had again to begin the ten-times-repeated tale.
“And which window was it you first looked out of, ma'am? The first story, did you say? We were told the lower———”
“It is certainly a hackney-coach, Adèle,” cried Mademoiselle, who had started from her seat in the midst of that which was being said to her; “it is a hackney-coach with two gentlemen in it.”
And without ceremony the two young ladies ran out of the room, closing the door behind them, and leaving their visitors to look wondering and wise upon each other. Miss Harvey stepped to the window in time to see the tenants of the coach alight, whispering to her sister that Mademoiselle had not absolutely denied the story of the handcuffs, after all.
Free in respect of the hands, however, and apparently light of heart, the gentleman alighted, nodding to his sisters, but not entering the house till his slow-paced companion was ready to precede him. The coach was not discharged; the ladies did not at once re-enter the room; and the second person was certainly not a gentleman; but it was impossible to suppose that matters were going wrong, while M. Gaubion wore so cheerful a face. Thus decided the observers in the dining-room.
“Is it all over?—all well over?” whispered Mademoiselle, on meeting her brother.
“All brought to an issue which cannot fail,” he replied. “They will have my books; and my books are the best witnesses I could bring,—eloquent, silent witnesses of my innocence.”
“They do not believe you then?”
“The Board of Customs does, I am confident; but they cannot refuse to go to the bottom of the matter, now they have begun, and it is very well for me that it should be so; but I cannot stay now; I must not keep the officer waiting———”
“Yes; I asked for him. Do not look so frightened; I requested that he might come with me, that I might not be suspected of leaving some of my books behind, or destroying any papers. I did propose sending to you for the books; but I thought you might, in your hurry, omit something.”
“I am glad you came yourself.”
“So am I, as it will satisfy you that the affair must end well. Now that they have brought me to the proof, I am safe.”
Mademoiselle could not deny this; yet the thought of an officer being on the premises cast a shade over her face as she returned to her visitors.
One of the ladies proffered the consoling consideration that, if the worst came to the worst, the punishment would be nothing in comparison with what many gentlemen had undergone for treason, and such things. She supposed a fine would be all; and it could not be very difficult for M. Gaubion to pay a fine; and if there should be a short imprisonment added———
“I thought I had explained, madam, that there is no danger of any kind of punishment; there is not even a prosecution; and, if there were, my brother has clear proof to bring forward of the falsehood of the charge. My concern is only on account of its being imagined that he could be so false, so treacherous, as to come and seem to rely on the hospitality of a foreign nation, for the very purpose of injuring their trade. Let his acquittal be as honourable as possible,—as honourable as it will be,—still we can never forget that he has been suspected of this despicable offence against the society he lives in.”
As all was now known that could be known within the limits of a decent visit, one after another of the visitors dropped away; those who lingered in the street agreeing with those who overtook, that Mademoiselle was a very sweet creature, certainly, and probably perfectly delightful in her native society; but that she was rather high-flown for this sober country.
Mademoiselle had need of all her high-flown thoughts to sustain her this day. Her brother did not come home to dinner, nor appear at tea-time, nor arrive before the last moment to which Adèle was permitted to sit up, in hopes of his customary evening blessing. A little while before midnight he returned, languid,—whether only in body, or likewise depressed in spirits, his sister could not at first discover. He solemnly assured her that all was going on well; that his books had been minutely examined, and every transaction found to be regular, and every statement correct. The declaration of the amount of his stock was found to be consistent with the number of weavers whose English names stood in his books; and the work declared to be now in their hands tallied with the unfulfilled orders which were registered. Yet all was not over; it remained to send round to the houses which were set down as the abodes of his weavers, in order to discover whether those weavers really lived there, and were actually employed on the work declared to be in their looms. This was to be done to-morrow, and when it should have turned out favourably for the foreigner, it was difficult to conceive of any further pretence being found for doubting his word, or persecuting him as an enemy.
Yet Mademoiselle was certain that her brother was dejected—that his confidence was impaired; and she told him so. He admitted it, and ascribed the change in his spirits to the alteration which had taken place in the relative feelings of himself and his accusers. While it was merely that he, was not esteemed by them, his consciousness of, innocence was sufficient to bear him up. But they had, since morning, seen so much jealousy, heard so much cavilling, witnessed such unwillingness to relinquish each charge, and such extraordinary ingenuity in imagining methods of fraud which might possibly have been put in practice by him, that he felt he could no longer respect or esteem some among whom he had hoped to live in amity.
It was very painful, he observed, not to be esteemed by them; but not to be permitted to esteem them was an intolerable evil. He did not know what he could do but go away, after all.
“Wait; be patient till the more liberal policy has had time to work,” was his sister's advice. “If it be true that the former system made them subtle and jealous, the latter and better system may restore to them the attributes of that brotherhood which must some day prevail. If it is already too late for them to be thus wrought upon, there is hope from their children and successors. Let us remain to prove it.”
“It is folly,” he replied, “to expect that the blighting effects of a prohibitive system can be removed from the heart and mind, any more than from the fortunes, in the course of one generation, or of many generations; but if we can aid the work of amelioration by staying, let us stay, and convert into friends as many of our neighbours as we can.”
The next morning was rather a warm one for the work which M. Gaubion had to do. It is warm work on a freezing winter's day to have one's good faith questioned, and to listen to cross-examinations conducted with the express object of discovering discrepancies in one's statements, and under the certainty that every mistake detected is to be'accounted a lie. When to this is added the climbing the stair-cases of Spitalfields, in summer weather, the glare in the streets from long rows of burnished lattices, and the trippings and slippings on cabbage-stalks and leaves in the alleys, any degree of lassitude may be pardoned at the end of the excursion. The Frenchman had to take heed to his steps in more ways than one. He was careful not to dictate to the examiners in any way, and never to precede them in their walks and their clambering. They had with them a plan of Spitalfields, and he left it wholly to them to discover the abodes entered in his books, and to satisfy themselves that the persons named really dwelt there. He stood passive—(whether also patient was best known to himself)—while a consultation was held in the broiling sun whether they should turn this way or that, and how they should discover the right number when there was no visible sign of it. He followed up stairs merely to see that he had fair play, and then, for the first and last time in his life, could not condescend to speak to his own weavers.
Notwithstanding lungs, stomach, and head, Mrs. Ellis was still at work, and still able, by brandishing her brush, to raise clouds as instantaneously as Jupiter himself could cleave them with a motion of his armed right hand. Her locket still shone, only somewhat more coppery than before; and her hair was decidedly grown, its front ringlets now tickling her chin as they danced in the breath of her loom.
“A beautiful piece of velvet, indeed, Mrs. Ellis! Your name is Ellis, I think.”
“Alas! yes, sir; and the worse for me that I ever knew the name; much more took it. Such a life as I had with my husband———”
“Well, we did not come to hear about your husband, but about you. You are a person of much more Importance to us, Mrs. Ellis.”
The lady came out of her loom to make a more extensive curtsey than the space within its bench would allow.
“A beautiful figure that velvet has, to be sure, What house are you weaving it for?”
“Mr. Corbyn's, sir. We all weave fot Mr. Corbyn.”
The examiners looked at one another, and one of them was disposed to think she meant to say Culver, as there was no manufacturer of the name of Corbyn in the neighbourhood.
“Do you mean Mr. Culver or M. Gaubion, good woman?” asked an impartial examiner.
“Same's he they call Mounseer Go-be-hung,” Tom called out from behind.
“What, this gentleman?” and they made way for the Frenchman to show himself. At the sight of him, Tom reddened prodigiously, and poked over his work as if his life depended on his weaving half a yard an hour.
“What are you ashamed of, all in a moment?” asked one of the visitors. “I am afraid you had some hand in the riots the other night, like many an idle boy. Come, tell me; do not you like to light a bonfire?”
“Indeed I can't say that my Tom is any thing better than a middling boy,” observed Mrs. Ellis. “Would you believe it, gentlemen, he left his work a full quarter of an hour sooner than he had leave to do, the night of the riot; and when he came home, the skin was off the palm of his hand as clean as if it had been peeled, and he has never had the grace to seem sorry for it.”
“Indeed, I don't know who should be sorry for such a misfortune, if he is not,” observed a visitor, gravely. “Come, Tom, tell me how it happened. You had been pulling down shutters, or pulling up palings, I am afraid.”
“I hadn't though,” said Tom, attempting to set the treadles going, but being instantly deprived by his mother of his shuttle.
“Then I doubt you helped to carry the gibbet, and hang the effigy?”
“I didn't though,” answered Tom.
“Who hurt your hand so, then? It must have been somebody in a great passion.”
“No, ’twarnt; I got it done myself.”
“Well, I wonder at your taste. I would always keep a whole skin, if I could.”
Tom pulled his forelock respectfully, and went on with his work, his mother shaking her head, as if she thought his case desperate. Other people's leaving off speaking to him was the signal for M. Gaubion to begin.
“I think I saw you, Tom, the night of the riot.” Tom looked up.
“Was it not you that cut the rope, and tried to drag the effigy away?”
“What did you do next? I was obliged to go from the window then.”
“So you war there! I just crinkle-crankled myself up in the rope, so that they couldn't burn you without me too.”
“But they did not burn you, I hope?”
“Jist singed a bit; no more. This,” pointing to his hand, “comed of a great nail in the gibbet, that gived me a good hould as long as it lasted.”
“So you pulled it out.”
“We split the gibbet's self ’mong us; and then ’twar all over with me, and I corned home directly then.”
“Why did not you stay to see the sight, when once you found you could not help its going forward?”
“They put me in a rare passion, ‘mong ’em; and I didn't want to see nought of their sights.”
“What were you in a passion about? What had you to do with it?”
To this question no answer was to be got, but instead thereof an inquiry.
“For all they say, you won't think of going away for sich as they? They'll come round, when they see you don't go off in a huff.”
“And if I do go, you will easily get work, Tom. You weave well now, and Mr. Culver and many others will have work to give you.”
“No fear,” Tom said; but he did not seem to wish M. Gaubion to go away the more for that.
“Do ask her,” said one of the visitors to the Frenchman,—“you know her better than we do,—do ask her why, in times like these, she does not live in more comfort. The wonder is that she lets these looms at all in a room where a saucepan-full of cabbage-water stands in a corner, and her peppermint-bottle on the sill, and not a window open.”
M. Gaubion did not see that it was any business of his; but Tom overheard the remark, and gave assurance that his mother had so little appetite that she could not eat her breakfast without her little rasher and greens; and that she was so subject to sinking of her inside, that she was obliged to keep her peppermint-bottle beside her.
“And do you take any of it, boy?”
“Why, no, sir: my inside don't sink often till night; and then I go and garden.”
“That is better than taking peppermint, depend upon it. Mrs. Ellis, it seems to me a pity that you should bring up both these young folks as weavers. If you were to make this boy something else, there would be a better chance for you all when bad times come; and meanwhile, you could let his loom for half as much as he earns.”
Objections sufficient to knock down half-a-dozen such proposals were poured out on the instant, and re-urged so vehemently on the mention of bad times, that it was plain the widow did not anticipate bad times, but thought weaving the best occupation she could bring up her children to. She ended by saying, that to be pretty sure of work, at Tom's age, under such a master as M. Gaubion, was more than he could expect in any other employment; and that if there was any change, she thought she should have the benefit of it. Heaven only knew what she had gone through, from Tom's age till now—in her husband's time especially. She always thought, in her youth, that her's was a hard lot, so much at the loom as she was; but all that was nothing to the confinement afterwards. Her husband was of a jealous temper, God forgive him! and kept at home and within himself sadly; and he could not bear that her acquaintance should be so much more general than his; so that she had more trouble than enough if she moved three yards from her own door, to have a chat with a neighbour. Since she lost him, poor man! (which would have been a great relief but for her having such a family upon her hands,) she had had to work for bread, and for any little comforts which her weak health made necessary; and now, if anybody was to have rest, or any advantage, it should be herself, and not Tom, who was but just———
“But would you apprentice yourself to a gardener, or to learn any new business?” inquired M. Gaubion. “That was what I contemplated for Tom. If he could weave like you,—if this velvet were his work,—I should not propose the change.”
The widow laughed at the idea of her boy weaving as well as herself, but would not yet hear of any change. The examiners found that it was time to make a change in the scene of their inquiries; and declaring themselves satisfied that Mrs. Ellis was Mrs. Ellis, and that she lived and wove as declared, they left poor Tom to throw his shuttle amidst reveries of ranunculus, geranium, tulip, and hyacinth.
The names of Dickens and Rogers were down on the list; and it was therefore necessary to go to Cooper's, whesre their looms stood.
There was not a more cheerful house in all Spitalfields than Cooper's. Short had resumed his ancient song, and sat, with his grizzled hair hanging about his round shoulders, cheerily weaving his fiftieth last piece. Dickens and Rogers were no less busy, and, consequently, equally amiable. No dispute ever arose within these four walls, but when the comparative merits of the masters, English and French, were in question; or when, by chance, any old-world custom was brought into contrast with any new. On such occasions, Mrs. Cooper's good-humour presently charmed away strife; and she contrived, ultimately, to persuade each disputant to be content with his own opinion, as he was with his own species of work. Let him who weaves gros-de-Naples feel himself enlightened in his advocacy of what is modern; and let him who weaves velvet plume himself on his fidelity to what is ancient. Such was her philosophy, communicated in a timely smile, and a gentle word let drop here and there. Ichabod was an admirable auxiliary in restoring peace when his grown-up companions were ruffled. He could at any time be made to imitate the loom's smack and tick, or to look into Rogers's pocket to see what he could find there; or to stroke old Short's cheek, and rock upon his shoulders, regardless of the dusty coat-collar; or to stick a daisy into Dickens's button-hole; after any one of which feats he was blessed, and winked at behind his back, as the rarest child that ever was seen. If, on hot days, a pint of beer was wished for, Ichabod could bring it without spilling, provided it was in a quart pot. Surrounded by both arms, and tightly squeezed against his breast, it arrived safe, Mrs Cooper removing every stick and straw out of her child's path, that he might get credit and confidence, instead of disgrace and a panic. Cooper, meanwhile, worked away for his wife and boy, trusting to go on to do so, notwithstanding any temporary mischief caused by the speculations of throwsters, and when the discordant prophecies of those about him should have issued in acquiescence in the lasting benefits of an unrestricted commerce.
The examiners were even more tempted to forget their immediate object here than at Mrs. Ellis's. One walked straight up to the clear, bright window, to look out upon the patch of garden-ground behind; while the other took notice of a curious foreign clock (once belonging to Cooper's ancestors), which had been preserved as family property through all chances and changes of fortune. It was true that now either of the almost equally short hands might point as it happened, to six or twelve; that the machine, like other machines, sometimes went to sleep at night, and was now and then drowsy in the day; but the case was inlaid as curiously as ever, and the chimes set all the lively children who might be within hearing chiming, morning, noon, and night. Whatever might be Ichabod's destined education in other respects, he was sure to know enough of German text to read the name of the maker of this clock, and sufficient geography to be able to tell whereabouts on the earth's surface lay the Flemish town where it received its wondrous being.
“You should see my husband's other garden, out of doors, sir,” said Mrs. Cooper. “You seem to like this; but it is nothing to the one out of doors. I do not mean for size, but for the beauty of the flowers.”
“Ay,” observed Short,” he pays ten shillings a year for it; and he does not make half so much out of it as used to be made in my young days.”
“I get health and wholesome amusement out of it; and that is enough when one cannot get more. You see, gentlemen, ours is a bad occupation for the health and the nerves. You may see a sort of scared look, they say, that we weavers have, and bent backs, by the time we come to middle age; and even my hands shake so sometimes, at the end of a long day's work, that I should soon begin to feel myself growing old, if I did not turn out to breathe a little, and occupy myself in something pleasant. It is well worth while making a little less money than one might do, and to keep one's health.”
“Certainly; if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it.”
“Why, sir, our people here do mostly contrive to afford some fancy or another; either a garden like mine, or birds, or flute-playing, or drawing. Drawing for the most part requires a steadier hand than a weaver has; but we hear many a flute far and near in the summer evenings. There are few fancies that may not be found here and there among us: though there are not many men that, having but one child and a managing wife, are so free to afford them as I am.”
“The way to afford them is to make them pay,” observed old Short. “Folks understood that matter in my time. A root that Cooper here sells for eighteen-pence, used to bring five guineas. Those were the times to grow flowers in.”
“I had rather see a hundred roots of any beautiful tulip in a hundred gardens,” observed M. Gaubion, “that a hundred owners might enjoy its beauty, than have the single root from which the hundred sprang, even though it might make me envied by all my neighbours, and moreover be worth five or fifty guineas.”
“So had I, sir,” said Cooper: “for the same reason that I had rather see any useful or pretty article of manufacture growing cheap, and spreading over the world, than have it remain scarce, that I and a few others might have the sale of it to ourselves. My flowers answer their purpose better in giving pleasure to me and mine, than in being wondered at and snatched up for their rarity; and it is the same with things that are wrought by the hand of man. They must be scarce at the beginning; but that scarcity is a necessary fault, not a virtue, as far as their usefulness is concerned. But, as to making them more scarce than they need be, I would not be the man that had to answer for it!”
“Then you deserve the due and true reward of the liberal,—to have plenty while giving others plenty. I see you work for one master, and these neighbours of yours for another. You seem all to be busy enough.”
“Yes, sir. Thank God! M. Gaubion has had enough for his people to do; and we,—that is, I,”—nodding with a significant smile towards Short,—“cannot but improve by seeing what is all the same as French work going on under one's eyes. Our fabrics, sir, are quite another thing already to what they were three years ago.”
There was indeed a manifest difference between Short's piece (which might be taken as a specimen of what the English fabric had been five years before) and Cooper's, whose work was little, if at all, inferior to that which M. Gaubion's trained men were achieving with his improved apparatus.—That gentleman took no part while the comparison was being made; and when looked for, as his companions were about to leave the room, was found in a corner with Ichabod, cooking dinner in the kitchen of a baby-house which was the little lad's favourite toy. Twice had the jack been wound up, nine times had the goose revolved, and again and again had the lady inhabitant been brought down from her toilet to the kitchen fire, and led from the kitchen to her jointed table, before Ichabod would leave hold of M, Gaubion's right-hand cuff, and allow him to go about other business than his gallant cookery.
“Your little son has his fancy as well as you,” the gentleman observed with a smile. “Though far from the age of being worn and weary, Ichabod has his fancy;—the first fancy, I hope, of many.”
“It is as much Mr. Short's fancy as Ichabod's, or more,” replied Mrs. Cooper, “Mr. Short has been good enough to make the greater part of this toy with his own hands. These little chairs are cut with his own knife; and the looking-glass,—do look, sir, how nicely so small a bit of glass is framed,—this looking-glass is of his making; and so little time as he has now too!”
Short let his shuttle rest while he watched complacently how the grave men of business gathered round his baby-house, to admire one and another of its toys. He did not hear Cooper whisper that Mr. Short seemed to have more time now for the child than when he used to sit over the fire all day, moping because he had nothing to do. Now, it was a regular thing, on a Sunday morning, for the old man to take Ichabod on his knee, and turn over the big bible, that was brought down out of the cupboard, looking at the pictures, and at Short's great-grandfather's handwriting. And there was scarcely an evening that he was not about one little kind-hearted job or another, while the child was asleep, little thinking what treats were preparing for him.
“Well! long may we all be able to afford to keep a fancy!” said one of the visitors. “That is, if the fancy is of a better kind than that of accusing this gentleman here, because he is a foreigner, of practices which it is clear to me he never dreamed of.”
All present joined in the wish, and Rogers and Dickens desired no more than to be as free from care, if they lived to old age, as Short was now. He was sure, from his claim of long service, of work from a good master, as long as any work was to be had; and there was little doubt of this whenever the consequences of the first disorder, inevitable on the occasion of a change of system, should be surmounted, and speculation subside into its natural channels. This would soon happen now, and Short need not, they hoped, say any more that he had woven his last piece, till he should find his hand refuse to throw the shuttle, or his feet grow stiff upon the treadles.
M. Gaubion had a bow from the entire audience as he left the room, Short himself being propitiated by his act of winding up the jack.
Others of the gentleman's foes were not so easily won. He very simply supposed, and led his sisters to suppose, that all was well over when the haunts of his weavers had been examined, and his statements found correct. No such thing. Some one was wise enough to discern that this entire method of examination and verification might be a concerted plot;—concerted between the Treasury and the Frenchman.
What was to be done next?
Some proof must be afforded that M. Gaubion had no French goods in his possession.
“A proof easily afforded,” replied he. “Go to my warehouse; turn over every piece of silk it contains; and with the first article of foreign manufacture which you can thence produce, I will restore to you my esteem, and forfeit yours.”
One, and another, and another, declined the commission, on the plea of want of confidence in their own judgment and experience; though it was scarcely three years since any notable little girl of ten years old could tell a French from an English silk by a mere glance or touch. This new-born modesty was not allowed to be an obstacle to the experiment. M, Gaubion requested that the most acute detector of foreign fabrics on the Customs establishment should precede him to his warehouse, and try what could be found there. As it was impossible to devise a more searching trial of the foreigner's good faith than he had himself proposed, his plan was agreed upon.
Day after day, the inquiry was prosecuted; and M. Gaubion allowed the free range of his warehouse to all the parties concerned, except himself. He began to fancy, naturally enough, that he had mistaken his way on leaving home, and got set down in some country where the Inquisition still thrives, commerce being its subject instead of religion; silks its object instead of creeds; the fabrics of human hands instead of those of human heads. He could very confidently identify the working spirit.
He opposed an invincible patience to the workings of this spirit; and read with a calm eye the Report of the Custom House agent that thirty-seven pieces had been selected from among many hundred as undoubtedly French; and stood by with an unmoved countenance to witness their seizure; and followed with a steady step to the depôt, albeit greeted with insults at every turn, in the neighbourhood where he was known. Unassisted even by his own clerks, that no room might be afforded for a further charge of collusion, he made out from the books to which access was granted on his petition, a list of the weavers of these thirty-seven pieces; issued summonses to them, and went home to await the appearance of those who had to travel from Macclesfield to swear to their own work. His sisters had no more bitter jokes about handcuffs to amuse him with: but it was pretty evident to them, (though their neighbours were not so plain-spoken to the ladies as to their servants,) that it was thought not to look well that the matter was so long in hand; and that that which had been declared so easy of proof should be so tardily acknowledged. Mademoiselle was also quite of the opinion that all this did not look well. For whom it looked ill was another question.