Blaise Arquette has just returned from a position at the Home Office where he had served since Waterloo. Prior to that he served nearly two decades in the War with France, lately as an exploring officer with the Duke of Wellington. Just one day prior to this scene, he had met a lovely seamstress in his brother’s haberdashery shop. The rest of Blaise and Susana’s story, A Seamstress, a Soldier, and a Secret will appear in an updated version of Desperate Daughters, which you can get for free in January 2024 if you have previously purchased the ebook version.
You can meet Susana Bigglesworth here.
18 December 1816
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Blaise knew that finding work would not be an easy task; his time at the Home Office had shown him that. Soldiers and sailors trudging London streets desperately trying to feed their families, many reduced to begging in the streets. Those who returned without limbs had even less to hope for; they would end among the parish poor, no doubt in some workhouse or another. He always felt a flutter of guilt when he came upon them; wishing there were some way to help them but at the same time perceiving that, but for the grace of God, he might even now be among them.
He at least had his brother to fall back on, although he had no intention of remaining a hanger-on. He had no clear idea of what sort of position he might find; the skills he had mastered in the Army—namely marksmanship, horsemanship, map drawing, and writing—were not transferable to any sort of trade he could think of. The government was eliminating positions right and left as the post-war economy hurtled the country toward disaster, his own with the Home Office included.
That morning he rose early, determined to do a bit of reconnaissance in the neighborhood to assess the situation. The tradesmen he chatted with were impressed with his military service, but few were taking on employees, and even fewer—none actually—were the sort of jobs suitable for Blaise. Young boys who could be apprenticed to learn a trade without pay had more choices than he, he mused grimly. Returning to France to fight for his inheritance might be his only option.
Heading back to Fanshawe & Sons, he noticed a tradesman’s carriage harnessed to a pair of black Percherons, Macclesfield Silks painted on the side. Inside, he found his brother and Louise poring over ells of colorful fabric arrayed on the counter, a stranger—presumably the silk merchant—running his hand over the wares.
“Thomas Pemberton,” he introduced himself after Benoît had presented him. “Grandson of Joseph, founder of Macclesfield Silks.”
Pemberton was middle-aged, a few streaks of gray in his dark hair, hazel eyes, and a jovial manner. He regarded Blaise with new respect when he heard of his military career.
“Served with the duke, did you? This country is in your debt, sir.” He tilted his head and regarded Blaise with furrowed brows. “So, what does a soldier with your experience do with himself after the war is over?”
Blaise grinned wryly. “I’m still looking for the answer to that, Pemberton. There doesn’t seem to be much of a use for soldiers in peacetime.”
“Thomas. Do call me Thomas.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Look, I may have something that will suit. I’m short an assistant at present, a traveling man to demonstrate our wares to shops like your brother’s.” He blew out a puff of air. “This,” he said waving at the wagon in front of the shop, “isn’t my strong suit and I’m needed at the mill. Is this something you could consider, for the present, at least? I might have something better in the future.”
Blaise’s eyes widened. “Certainly,” he said slowly, unwilling to dismiss any possibility. “But I don’t know much about silk.”
Thomas laughed and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “That can be rectified,” he asserted. “Come and see me in Macclesfield after the holiday, and I’ll show you around the mill, introduce you to the weavers, give you a bit of an apprenticeship. If it’s not to your taste, you’ll at least come away with a better acquaintance with the textile industry.”
Benoît and Louise looked at him hopefully. Blaise chuckled. “I can see you are already anticipating the discount for silk wares for the shop.”
Turning to Thomas, he held out an arm. “I’m honored to accept the offer, sir.”
Louise squealed, and Susana, needle and thread in hand, peeked out of her “office” to investigate. “Oh, the silks are here,” she exclaimed, misunderstanding the situation. “I can’t wait to see them! I shall be out as soon as I finish the hem on Miss Delphi’s dinner dress. I expect her momentarily for a final fitting.” She rushed back into her workroom.
Thomas appeared momentarily stunned by her appearance. Noticing his interest, Louise said helpfully, “That’s Susana, Miss Bigglesworth. She’s our modiste.”
Running his hands through his hair, Thomas swallowed. “I beg your pardon, but she looks familiar. Although I can’t place her. Or the name.”
“She’s from Harrogate,” Louise offered. “Comes from a family of ten sisters.”
“Ten!” Thomas’s eyes widened. But then he shook his head. “Doesn’t bring back anything. It’ll come to me, I suppose.”
He straightened his back and offered his hand first to Benoît and then to Blaise, subsequently tipping his hat for Louisa.
“I thank you for your business, sir,” he said to Benoît, and then to Blaise: “I’ll write you soon, Mr. Arquette, er, Blaise. We’ll expect to see you in Macclesfield after the New Year.”
“I’ll look forward to hearing from you.” Blaise accompanied him out of the shop to the driver’s seat of the wagon, beginning to feel hopeful for the first time in a while.
This story was written for the readers of the original version of Desperate Daughters who expressed concern over the absence of Susana’s story, since she played a key part in the other sisters’ stories.
Her story deserves to be told.
Susana Ellis is a retired teacher, part-time caregiver, sewist, cook, and fashion print collector. Lifelong reading and a fascination with history led her to writing historical romances.
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