Reports of the great victory reached London on Wednesday, when Major Percy laid a trio of captured French eagles at the Prince Regent's feet. The official dispatch appeared in the London Gazette as an Extraordinary edition on Thursday. Ned Tompkins, the banker's clerk, brought copies with him from London the next day. On Saturday the whole village of Caxby-on-Avon gathered to hear it read aloud, to many huzzahs for the triumph near the town of Waterloo, in Belgium. Services on Sunday were celebratory, in joy at Napoleon's resounding defeat, but solemn, as if knowing the joy must soon be overshadowed by the news of who had fallen in the battle.
On Monday morning Jane Barton arrived at Mrs. Lynch's dressmaking shop early. She let herself in with a word of greeting to her employer and went up the stairs to the workroom, Puck trotting at her heels as usual. She hung up her shawl and bonnet, and moved her chair from its prime position by the sunny back windows to a place near the front window overlooking the street. Puck stood by the hearth for a moment, his head cocked, then came to sniff the floor near the moved chair.
Mrs. Lynch noticed at once. She stopped short when she came up the stairs with the work for the day, but she said nothing, just brought the sketches for the riding habit Mrs. Bellows had ordered the previous day over to the wide worktable. Tamsin, the other seamstress, came up a few minutes later, and aside from an indrawn breath, also made no comment. Millie, the young apprentice, wasn't so tactful when she bounded up the stairs.
"Jane," she exclaimed. "What happened to your chair?"
Jane kept her voice calm even as her cheeks heated. "Nothing. I merely moved it."
"To the front? The light is dreadful there."
"It's not that bad," said Tamsin. "Will this jacket have the gold braid, Mrs. Lynch?"
"It's horrible by the front windows," Millie persisted. "Puck, you agree with me, don't you?" She leaned down to offer her fingers to the bulldog, who came trotting over to lick them.
"Does he agree with me that you're late today, Millicent Parker?" Mrs. Lynch fixed a stern eye on her. "Jane may set her chair anywhere she likes. And you may get on with your duties—you'd best be smart about it, too, if you want to be home for your dinner."
Millie gave Puck one more pat on the head and heaved a gusty sigh. "Yes, Mrs. Lynch." She hung up her bonnet and began setting out the spools of thread and other supplies Jane and Tamsin would need.
"We must have this completed by Thursday." Mrs. Lynch returned to the habit. "But Lady Finch will be after me about her daughter's trousseau, so Jane will do the cutting this morning, then you, Tamsin, can do the stitching. Mind you don't cut it too narrow; Mrs. Bellows likes her pudding, and we'll be letting it out before the end of the summer, mark my words. Millie can help with the skirt."
"Oh, may I?" Millie peered around Mrs. Lynch's elbow, her thin face alight with interest. "Is it to be out of that bolt of blue wool?"
"Indeed. Go fetch it, if you can't restrain yourself." Millie scampered off, clattering down the stairs. Puck followed her, his stubby tail wagging happily.
Mrs. Lynch paused a moment beside Jane as Tamsin went to fetch the pattern measures. "Have you heard anything—anything at all? Perhaps Mr. Campbell…"
Jane shook her head. She concentrated on fastening her pin cushion around her left wrist.
"Well, it's much too soon," said her employer comfortingly. "It's not even been a week, and I daresay the army has a great many things to do besides forward the post."
Jane smiled, trying not to think that one of the things the army was busy doing was compiling casualty lists. For the hundredth time since news of the great battle reached Caxby, she said a quick prayer that Ethan Campbell's name would not be on any of those lists. She didn't want any Caxby names to be on the lists, of course, but in her innermost heart, she selfishly thought she could bear any loss but that one.
Millie returned with the bolt of fine blue wool and unfurled it across the table. Jane bent herself to the task of marking and cutting, glad for the distraction work offered. It might be weeks, she told herself as she worked. He had written to her after previous battles, and in some cases it took a full month for the letter to arrive. And there was no guarantee the fighting was over; Wellington's dispatch had said Bonaparte was driven from the field, not captured. The duke meant to pursue him, which might mean weeks or even months more of war. Bonaparte had been beaten once before, and came back within three months.
But… perhaps this really was the end. Perhaps the soldiers would be returning, not on a brief furlough but to stay, to resume their lives, even to marry and raise families…
"Is this the skirt?" Millie's excited voice broke into her dangerous thoughts. "Mrs. Lynch said I might sew the skirt."
Jane snapped her scissors closed. "Yes, this is the skirt. Here is the front panel, cut the full width of the cloth, and here is the back. See here? The tapes will fasten at this mark." She draped the rich blue fabric over a rack. "Tamsin will mark the tucks for you, and mind you make them tight and straight."
"I will!" protested Millie with a wounded look. "I always do!"
"And knot the thread firmly, so they don't unravel," added Jane. Millie shut her mouth with a downcast look. She was only fourteen and had great enthusiasm, but also bouts of carelessness. The last time she'd been given something to stitch, she'd made only a single knot in the thread, and it had pulled right out during the customer's fitting. "I'll show you my trick of making knots that never pull out," Jane told her more kindly. "It will make your seams stay tight and flat."
Millie perked up. "Truly? Thank you, Jane!" She hurried off to get the extra pins with the usual spring in her step.
Tamsin brought over the measurements for the jacket. "Have you heard anything?" she asked softly.
Eyes trained on the fabric as she carefully laid out the pieces of the riding coat, Jane shook her head. Mrs. Bellows was a statuesque woman who liked her clothes to fit snugly, but Mrs. Lynch was right; they'd likely be letting this coat out by the end of the year. She marked an extra half inch on the bodice seams.
"Well, I'm sure it's much too early," Tamsin said after only a moment's pause. "Only a week, barely enough time for the official dispatches to arrive! I don't know why I even asked."
"I would ask, if I knew anyone who might have the answer." Jane shifted to better cut the darts in the bodice.
"Mr. Campbell?" ventured Tamsin after a moment.
"I don't think anyone in Caxby knows anything yet."
"No." Tamsin rallied a bright smile. "I'm sure it won't be long, though. Soon the regiment will be home, if they've truly beaten Bonaparte all the way back to France."
"It may be weeks before they do that, and weeks more before anything else is settled." In spite of herself Jane's voice wobbled. She managed to snip the last dart before closing her eyes. It was almost cruel, the hope that strained and beat within her heart, begging to be given rein. She hardly dared think that the war might finally be over, no matter how decisive or brutal the battle had been. It had been years… and might very well be years more.
"Jane." Tamsin's voice softened. "Let me finish the cutting. It's only the sleeves, I can manage it quite well. You finish Miss Finch's evening gown. Those puffs and slashes are dreadfully difficult, and you have such a hand at them."
Gratefully Jane stepped aside. "Yes. Mrs. Lynch did say Lady Finch would be asking about it soon. Thank you, Tamsin."
She got her workbasket and went to her chair in its new position. Puck followed her, but paused a few feet away, his head cocked to one side so that his bitten ear stood upright. It made him look quaintly puzzled, as if his ragged ear were listening particularly hard for something. Jane smiled and fished a small chunk of bacon from her pocket. Puck trotted right up, his tail wagging; he knew all about the little oilcloth that held the bacon in her pocket. He nipped the meat delicately from her fingertips and then crawled under her chair and settled down with a satisfied grunt. She shook her head fondly as she wiped her hands clean, then picked up a pale primrose sleeve and set to work on piping the edges of the slashes, so the undersleeve of white crepe would show through.
Puck wasn't her dog, of course. Everyone in Caxby seemed to think he was, but in her heart Jane knew he was still Ethan's. Ethan had been riding home from Bristol when he came across a group of boys tormenting a small, ragged dog with sticks. When he'd yelled at them, they said they were only training him to attack; they meant to fight him for money. Ethan gave them a shilling and the promise of a beating if he ever caught them thrashing a dog again, and brought the shivering puppy home in the pocket of his greatcoat. From the moment his wounds healed, Puck had been Ethan's loyal shadow, following him everywhere. When Ethan joined the regiment and went off to war, Mr. Campbell had had to shut the dog up in the kitchen to keep him from following Ethan all the way to Spain.
But Ethan had been gone three years. When Mr. Campbell had fallen ill with an ague last winter, he'd asked her to take the dog for him. "The poor beast has got peaked with only me for company," he'd told her when she visited him. "Ethan would approve." So Jane took the dog. She was only minding him until Ethan came home, after all, and her mother had agreed Puck could sleep in her room as long as she took him with her during the day. Mrs. Lynch had reluctantly allowed the dog into her workroom, but the seamstresses loved him. Tamsin had been known to bring bones from her father's butcher shop for Puck, and Millie was always ready and eager to take him out for a walk.
All that would change, though, when Ethan came home—hopefully soon. Jane's eyes drifted toward the window, even though she knew there was no chance at all his tall, broad-shouldered figure would be walking in the street below. He was in Belgium, by last report, and probably would be there for some time still. She told herself she would be an idiot to expect any word at all, either about him or from him, for a month at the earliest.
It would just be a very, very long month.