Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 02

Rose had never questioned why Mrs Jameson offered her the position even though she had no experience.

“Have you been at Cross Roads House long, Mr Biggins?” she enquired.

“Longer than anybody,” he replied. “I has privileges. Who else would do what I do, out in all weathers, miles from anywhere?”

“Is that it?” Rose asked. “No-one likes working at Cross Roads House because it’s isolated?”

“Datcherford is the nearest town,” he said sullenly. “A dull place.”

“Are there many visitors to Cross Roads House?”

“Mistress don’t encourage visitors.” He looked at Rose. “If you has a follower, he’d better keep his distance.”

“I haven’t,” she replied. “Does Mrs Biggins work at Cross Roads House?”

“There’s no Mrs Biggins,” he replied. “But I has an understanding with the cook.”

Biggins began to whistle and Rose decided to ask nothing more. But she wished he had not mentioned a follower.

That’s all behind me now, she tried to assure herself.

She had begun her journey before daybreak, and the strain of this day was taking its toll. Not even the pitching and rolling of the cart could prevent her eyes from closing.

“We’re here,” Biggins said, waking Rose with a jolt. “Cross Roads House.”

Rose looked up as they approached a driveway.

It was an old house, well maintained but plain, its high windows and chimneys built with such symmetry that it reminded Rose of a fortress.

Garden beds on either side were arranged for neatness rather than beauty, and rows of uniform trees marked the boundary.

Closer in, Rose saw broad stone steps, pristine white and leading up to a heavy oak door. It was closed.

“Will you set me here, please?” she asked Biggins. “I suppose there’s someone to help with my trunk?”

“Steady!” he admonished. “The front door’s not for servants. You ought to know that.”

Biggins was right. She was a servant now, and couldn’t set herself above the others. She had a great deal to learn.

And yet, if she’d chosen differently, she would be mistress of such a house. How easy it would have been. And how very wrong.

* * * *

“Tom, where are you?”

Tom Liversedge clattered down the stairs into the kitchen to find his mother breathless from running.

“What is it, Ma?”

“Go and wash your hands and face,” she told him, throwing off her shawl. “Then put on your Sunday coat and your cap.”

“But today is Tuesday,” Tom said.

“Do as I say, and be sharp about it.”

Tom obeyed and within a few minutes returned to the kitchen where she waited.

“You’re to go right away to Hapstall’s shop,” she said, pulling him this way and that to tidy his hair and straighten his clothes.

“I passed by and young Alfred Hapstall was putting a notice in the window. A smart boy is required. I expect they’ve been busy with only the two of them since Mr Hapstall senior passed away. Mrs Hapstall and her son will see you at ten o’clock.”

“But, Ma,” Tom argued, squirming to get away. “Am I not to be apprenticed as a stonemason alongside our John?”

“No, there’s not enough work in Datcherford.” She continued her attempts to flatten Tom’s unruly hair. “You’re fourteen and this is a good opening. I told Mrs Hapstall how clever you are with numbers.”

She stood back to look at the result of her efforts.

“That’ll do,” she said with a sigh. “Now, when you get there, remember to take off your cap.”

“Yes, Ma.”

“Don’t speak unless you’re asked a question. Just listen to what you’re told. There are few jobs in Datcherford and other boys will be after this one.”

“Yes, Ma.”

Tom was out of the door before she could fuss any more.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.