Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 03

What a turn up, he thought as he walked briskly along the lane.

He was all set to be a stonemason and now he might be a shop boy. Still, if he had a job and brought home a wage, perhaps Ma wouldn’t treat him like a little lad or tell him what to do all the time.

Tom knew where to find Hapstall’s; everyone in Datcherford bought their foodstuffs there.

He turned the corner into the main street, quickening his pace as the town clock struck ten. But as he approached the shop with its newly painted sign, he stopped and stared.

A horse was tethered in front of the shop and a young man was loading baskets into the cart.

I hadn’t thought of that, he realised, bristling with excitement. If he got this job, he might be driving the horse and cart.

He almost ran to the door of the shop.

“Mr Hapstall?” he said.

“Yes,” the man answered.

“I’m Tom Liversedge, sir. I’ve come about the job.”

“I see,” Alfred Hapstall replied, looking at Tom keenly. “Come inside.”

Tom remembered to take off his cap as he entered. There were no customers, but the shop was crammed so full of goods he didn’t see Mrs Hapstall at first. She was behind the wooden counter, weighing sugar.

“This young man wants to be our assistant, Mother,” Alfred Hapstall told her.

She stopped and peered over the counter at Tom.

“Mrs Liversedge said she would send him. He looks tidy enough, but rather slight for the lifting.”

“I’m stronger than I look, ma’am,” Tom said quickly, his mother’s instructions forgotten. “I chop and carry all the wood at home and I help Ma fill the copper for the washing. I’m sure if you were to give me this job I could lift anything in the shop.

“Oh, and though I’ve never driven a horse and cart before, I’m sure I could master it,” he finished.

Alfred Hapstall folded his arms and studied Tom.

“You seem to have plenty to say, Master Liversedge. Suppose a customer wanted to make a pie and she bought apples at a penny three farthings, and a sack of flour at fourpence ha’penny, as well as a basket of potatoes at sevenpence ha’penny, how much would you charge?”

“One shilling and a penny three-farthings,” Tom replied promptly. “But would she not also need lard for the pie crust?”

Mrs Hapstall gave a little cough and Alfred tried to suppress a smile.

“You seem to have the predisposition to be a shopkeeper,” he said. “But you’re fourteen. A grown assistant would expect to be paid six shillings a week. I wonder what you are worth.”

“You could pay me five shillings while I grow, sir,” Tom suggested, “and after a while I might be worth six shillings and sixpence.”

This time Alfred couldn’t stop the smile.

“Very well, Tom,” he said. “The job is yours. Come back tomorrow at seven o’clock.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be here!” Tom cried. “Thank you, Mr Hapstall.” He hurried to go.

“There is just one thing, Mr Hapstall,” he said as he reached the door. “How big do I have to be before I can drive the horse and cart?”

“Ask me in a year or two and we’ll see,” Alfred answered.

Tom closed the door behind him, jammed on his cap and set off down the main street, his head high.

Wait till Ma hears, he thought.

He was a man now; he’d be bringing home a wage. What’s more, in a year or so he’d be driving the horse and cart.

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.