Susana Bigglesworth is finally getting her Happy Ever After! Eventually, her story will be added to those of the other Desperate Daughters and those of you who purchased it earlier will receive the update!
17 December 1816
Leeds, West Yorkshire
“My dear Mrs. Martin, I really must insist that our gowns be completed in time for Lady Mersham’s Christmas Eve Ball. Your employee—I believe her name is Susan—quite unreasonably declines to assure me that this will be so.”
Mrs. Eddington’s outraged nostrils flared as she confronted the shop’s owner in the cramped but orderly back office.
Louise tucked a stray dark curl behind her ear and rose from her desk to face her customer.
“Her name is Susana, Mrs. Eddington—Miss Susana to you—and as you know, her superior skills are in great demand. Fanshawe & Sons has always been a haberdashery and not a modiste shop, and Miss Susana has graciously agreed to accommodate the needs of a select group of our clients. I am confident there are other establishments in town that can meet your requirements.”
“B-B-But my daughter wants her!” Mrs. Eddington’s shoulders slumped, her bravado having deserted her.
Louise moved from behind the desk to face her would-be attacker.
“Of course she does. As do a great many other ladies. Unfortunately, she is only one person and is tightly scheduled all the way through Twelfth Night.”
Mrs. Eddington wrung her hands. “Can you not take on more help for her? Give her her own shop? Because not just anyone can dress my Esme to advantage, and others have assured me that Miss Susana can do it.”
Louise sighed. Mrs. Eddington was right: Susana did deserve to have her own shop. Her husband Benoît was eager to plunge into the project. But Louise tended to err on the side of caution. It was true that Susana’s dressmaking attracted a sizable number of customers for the haberdashery, but business tended to decline during the winter and she wasn’t sure this was the time for laying out a significant amount of their modest nest egg to set up a new shop.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Eddington,” she commiserated as she took the woman’s arm and led her out of the office. “Perhaps Miss Susana can work you in after the holidays, create a lovely dress or two for Esme’s come-out in the spring. In the meantime,” she suggested as she handed the woman over to Benoît, behind the counter, “perhaps my husband can show you some of the new lace that came in this week, or possibly some kid gloves?”
“Well,” said Mrs. Eddington, mollified. “Esme did mention that she could use some coquelicot ribbon to adorn her new hat.”
Coquelicot! Louise shuddered at the thought of the plump young woman decked out in bright colors and frills. Passing by the small storeroom that served as Susana’s workroom, she peeked around the door jamb.
“I suppose you heard. Dear Susana, your popularity is keeping us all on our toes. Between my having to smooth disappointed customers’ ruffled feathers and my husband’s fawning all over them to make a sale, Fanshawe & Sons is getting more than our share of attention these days.”
Susana looked up and giggled. “Coquelicot indeed! I’ve seen that girl and she’s as pale as a ghost. Bright colors would wash out her face and accentuate her unfortunate figure.”
Louise shook her head. “I suppose her mother will insist on a multitude of colored flounces that will give her the look of a wedding cake. She is a sweet girl, though. I do hope you will find the time to contrive something more appropriate for her come-out, perhaps after the holidays.”
Susana grimaced and put down her sewing. “I hope so, but, as you know, my stepmother Patience has called us all to Starbrook for some sort of family rendezvous. On Twelfth Night, oddly enough.”
“Perhaps she needs assistance in taking down the Yule decorations,” suggested Louise. “Or she intends you all to bless the trees in the orchard with cider and bread.”
Susana grinned. “We have no orchard to speak of,” she replied, “only two apple trees, which wouldn’t require the entire band of Bigglesworths, even if Patience were the type to waste resources on such a useless endeavor.” She bit her lip. “I do wonder what it’s all about, though. Her letter gave no hint. If someone were ill, surely she wouldn’t hold off until January. I haven’t heard of any potential husbands presenting themselves to my sisters, so I don’t suppose a wedding is in the offing.” She took a deep breath. “The only thing that comes to mind is an unexpected expenditure. And that could be a real problem.”
Louise entered the room and closed the door behind her. “If it comes to that, dear Susana, perhaps Benoît and I can help you. A salary advance, perhaps? We don’t have a lot ourselves, especially with Benoît’s brother coming, but what we have we are quite willing to share with you.”
Hopefully Blaise would find a position and settle somewhere on his own, she thought. He could stay in his mother’s boarding house for a while. But no—not with Susana staying there. It wouldn’t be proper, even with Marie Françoise as a chaperone.
Susana shook her head. “Oh no, that is very kind of you, but I could not.” She picked up her needle and the length of sarcenet she was working on. “I doubt that is the problem. Patience is very frugal, and she knows we are all committed to keeping the family healthy and whole.”
Louise raised her eyebrows. “Oh that’s right. You and all of your sisters contribute to the household?”
“Not all of us.” Susana chuckled. “Emma, Merri, and Jane are still children. They do help Patience with the baking—she supplies bread for the local market—but I suspect they are more of hindrance. Merri and Jane, at least,” she added. “Emma just turned twelve. Not a child anymore. It seems only yesterday we were changing her nappies.” She sighed.
“The eldest sister, Bess, is an amateur historian, which doesn’t provide any income at present, although the project she is currently working on with Mr. Young of the London Royal Society may eventually do so. My sister Barbara gives music lessons, and Doro works for a hotel in Harrogate, catering and such. Josefina studies plants and provides herbs and such to the local apothecary. She’s learned a lot about medicines. Iris and Ivy—twins—are talented artists. Drawing and painting, mostly. But I heard they have been doing some pottery of late, to sell. And I—well, you know what I do.” She paused to thread a needle. “None of us earns a great deal, but what we do contribute adds up and manages to keep everyone fed and clothed.”
Louise nodded. “I am all admiration for the Bigglesworth sisters. Not all families would be so loyal. Particularly with so many different mothers and the last one so young, younger even than some of you.”
Susana snorted. “The same age as Doro, younger than the eldest three daughters. But you know,” she added as she reached for a pair of scissors, “Patience is quite mature for her age, a mother hen for all of her assorted stepdaughters. The constant parade of stepmothers—not to mention the virtual absence of our father—had the effect of bringing us closer together. Especially when it meant losing our own mothers at such young ages.”
“That is indeed tragic. Losing a mother at any age is a blow, particularly when you subsequently lose a succession of stepmothers.”
“Patience, at least, should be with us a good long time,” Susana said with authority. “Well, I’d best be getting on with Miss Delph’s morning gown. The wedding is in a week, and she’ll be needing her trousseau.”
Louise sighed. “I beg your pardon for taking so much of your time, Susana. I must get back to my inventory as well. Numbers must be counted and orders put in for the new year.”
She turned in the doorway. “Shall you come up for luncheon or would you prefer Molly to bring you down a tray?”
“A tray please, if Molly doesn’t mind the extra work. Our bride is coming for a fitting early tomorrow morning and I have a great deal to do before it gets dark.”
“As you wish.”
Louise closed the door and left Susana to her sewing.
Susana Ellis loves reading, writing, and sewing, but deadlines not so much. Besides being a part-time caregiver for her elderly mother, she enjoys her retirement and her kind and considerate author friends, particularly the Bluestocking Belles!