Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 05

Now, a tear escaped as Rose recalled her father’s sudden illness and passing.

She’d been obliged to search through his papers and, among the jumble of sketches and old letters, she’d discovered an unpaid bill. Then another, and another.

He’d meant to pay, she was certain, but money had always fallen through his hands like water.

If her mother had lived, she might have been a steadying hand. It was only due to her foresight that money had been set aside for Rose’s education. But the income from her father’s paintings had never matched his spending.

Rose had scarcely had time to mourn him before the creditors came knocking. Worst of all, rent was owed and she’d gone to appeal to the landlord for more time.

Mr Fell was a tall, plainly dressed man whose sober bearing made him appear older than his thirty years.

Even now, Rose gave a little shiver at the memory of their first meeting and of his cold handshake.

“I have no money, Mr Fell,” she told him as they sat in his office. “I only recently completed my schooling. If you allow me time, I will work and return your money by instalments.

“I know it’s your right to evict me from the lodgings, but if you do, I’ll have nowhere to go,” she added.

Mr Fell listened in silence, his cold, stern gaze making her fear the worst.

“Your intention to discharge your father’s debts is commendable,” he answered. “I recommend you take cheaper lodgings.

“There is nearby a boarding house for single women, run by a lady of impeccable character. Also, I know of a vacancy for a junior teacher. Your education qualifies you for the post.”

Rose remembered the wave of relief she’d felt. Mr Fell, who might have made her homeless, had shown her a way ahead.

“These are practical solutions,” he said, brushing aside her thanks.

The teaching post had not been well paid. She’d had to darn her stockings and blacken her shoes to disguise the worn-out leather, and though the lodgings were inexpensive, the meals were frugal.

But with careful economy she’d managed to pay Mr Fell a monthly instalment and took consolation in retrieving her father’s good name.

Then the day had finally arrived when Rose was able to take the last instalment to Mr Fell’s office. As usual he’d been coldly polite.

“So the first of your father’s debts is paid, Miss Bryson,” he remarked as he wrote the receipt.

“Yes,” she replied, anxious to leave. “I hope to clear the rest in a year. Fortunately, my other creditors are prepared to wait.”

There had been something in his expression then, Rose remembered, a mere flicker of the eyes. She realised the truth.

“Mr Fell,” she began in astonishment, “have you intervened on my behalf?”

“I must add astuteness to your other qualities, Miss Bryson,” he replied. “Yes, I have standing among the business community and your other creditors sought my opinion. I told them I felt sure you would honour your promises.

“But now,” he continued, “you may cease to think of me as your creditor. You have fulfilled your promise and I have received excellent reports of your conduct at the school. Reputation is everything, Miss Bryson.”

He straightened his neckcloth.

“My own name is well respected. I am a man of wealth and property and have recently acquired a substantial dwelling-house.

“I lack nothing but a life companion, though I had despaired of finding anyone suitable. Until now.

“And so, Miss Bryson, I ask you to be my wife.”

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.