Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 06

“It is a secret. Neither of you must breathe a word of what you are about to see.”

Miss Delia Bassett spoke over her shoulder to the two young ladies following. The trio were walking down the cobbled main street of Datcherford as quickly as decorum allowed.

“Remember, Lydia, and you, Augusta, not a word to anyone.”

“Honestly, Delia, it’s only a dress we’re going to look at,” Augusta said.

“It is not only a dress! It is an exquisite evening gown and no-one must have an inkling about it before I make a grand appearance at my party.”

“I wonder you didn’t have your dress made in the city, Delia,” Lydia said with a meaningful glance at Augusta.

“Indeed,” Miss Bassett replied. “But Mama says she has not the time to take me for fittings and I could not go unchaperoned. But what a find is Mrs Maloney!

“One would never think it from the appearance of her establishment, but her skill is unsurpassed.

“Here, we have arrived.”

Before them was a little cottage, squeezed between a grocer’s and a bakery.

The door opened; clearly someone had been looking out for them.

“Good morning, ladies,” a neat little woman said from the tiny hallway.

“Good morning, Mrs Maloney,” Delia greeted her. “I have brought my friends. They are desperate to take a look at my new gown, but they have both been sworn to secrecy.”

The other girls looked at each other in exasperation.

“Of course, Miss Bassett,” Mrs Maloney replied. “Will you all step this way?”

They followed the dressmaker into a room that comprised almost the whole floor of the cottage.

While they seated themselves on mismatched chairs, Mrs Maloney pulled forward a wooden frame covered in a white cloth.

“It is almost complete, Miss Bassett,” she said quietly. “If you will try it on, I can make any necessary adjustments.”

She swept away the white cloth to display the gown below. The girls gasped their admiration.

Fashioned from the palest blue silk and its folds shimmering in the light, the garment was a feat of understated elegance.

“Don’t you think it needs a little beading around the neckline?” Lydia suggested.

“No,” Mrs Maloney said firmly.

“Look at the tiny stitches!” Delia cried. “You are an artist, Mrs Maloney. How did you find thread to match so well?”

“The stitches are the work of my daughter, Winifred,” she informed her. “She is still training, but I allowed her to work on this. As for the thread, you may thank Hapstall’s for that.”

“You mean the grocer’s shop next door? Surely not. That is where Mama orders our provisions.”

“There have been changes since young Alfred took over the shop,” Mrs Maloney returned. “It seems there’s nothing he cannot obtain.”

“Perhaps we should call in on our way home,” Lydia suggested, feeling quite bored. “There may be other treasures amongst the soap and cabbages.”

“Enterprise should not be mocked,” Augusta admonished her.

“I want to try on my gown,” Delia declared.

Mrs Maloney smiled and indicated a private room. Carrying the gown carefully, she followed Delia inside.

While they waited, Lydia amused herself by sifting through a box of beads, but Augusta’s face showed that she thought an afternoon spent looking at a dress was a waste of time.

Both girls turned with a start as the door opened and a man strode in, his face obscured by the basket of logs he was carrying.

“Here’s your wood, Mrs Maloney,” he called. “Shall I carry it up to your kitchen as usual?”

When there was no reply, he put down the basket.

At that moment, Miss Bassett stepped out of the fitting-room, wearing the gown.

“I beg your pardon, ladies,” the man said. “I didn’t know there was anyone else here.”

“That is all right, Mr . . .?” Delia began.

“Hapstall, miss. Alfred Hapstall.”

“Now you, too, know the secret of my new gown, Mr Hapstall,” she went on. “I hope I can rely on your discretion.”

“Absolutely, miss,” Alfred replied. “And may I say that is a wonderful dress? I’ve never seen the like.”

“Do you think it needs some beading about the neck?” Delia asked rather daringly.

Lydia giggled but Augusta appeared quite shocked.

Alfred surveyed the gown for a few moments.

“No, miss,” he replied. “True elegance requires no embellishment.”

“You display good taste, Mr Hapstall,” Delia replied, enjoying the moment.

“Perhaps you might leave the wood there, Alfred,” Mrs Maloney intervened with timely tact. “Carry it up later if you have time.”

“I will,” Alfred said. “Good afternoon to you all, ladies.”

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.