Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 09

Delia Bassett stared into her dressing mirror, a frown spoiling the otherwise flawless brow and her pretty mouth turned down.

Her birthday ball had been a triumph and the exuberance of it all had lasted for days. But that was a month ago.

Now the dress had been wrapped in scented muslin, the gifts had lost their novelty and she was feeling more miserable than ever.

Someone tapped softly at the door and a slender, graceful woman entered the room.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, taking a seat next to Delia. “The maid said you refused breakfast. Are you unwell?”

“No, Mama,” Delia answered with an exaggerated sigh.

“Then why won’t you come down?”

“It’s this,” Delia replied, flourishing a letter. “It came this morning from Augusta.”

Her mother took it and read aloud.

“The engagement is announced between Augusta Havers, daughter of Colonel and Mrs Havers of Datcherford, and Mr Simon Penshire.

“Aren’t you pleased for Augusta?”

“Delighted, Mama,” Delia answered testily. “Just as I was to hear that Lydia is to marry Richard Graine. Both proposals were made at my birthday party!”

“They are your friends,” Mrs Bassett reminded her.

“And I am extremely fond of them, but they are engaged to be married, along with every other girl I know. What does that makes me? An old maid.”

“Don’t cry, my darling,” Mrs Bassett said. “You will make your nose red.”

“What does it matter? No-one wants me however I look.”

“Delia,” Mrs Bassett said, “there is no question of your being an old maid. You are just twenty.

“Also,” she added, “both those young men made overtures to you at one time. You rebuffed them.”

“Rightly so,” Delia agreed, peering in the mirror. “Richard Graine is so dry a character, just like his father. He will doubtless make an excellent banker, too. And Simon Penshire is so opinionated. Perhaps that is why he suits Augusta.”

“One day,” Mrs Bassett said, “the right man will come along for you, too. We must not give way to despondency. Besides, you have a call to make this morning.”

“Do I?” Delia looked surprised.

“Of course. You must call on Augusta with your congratulations. It will be expected. So dry your tears and tidy your hair.”

“I suppose I must, however I am feeling,” Delia agreed with a martyred air.

Mrs Bassett, relieved that the threatened tantrum had been averted, stood up.

“There is something you might do for me,” she said as she reached the door.

“The list of foodstuffs we require needs to be handed in at Hapstall’s shop and you will pass by on your way.”

“Very well, Mama,” Delia replied.

Alone, she tidied the coils of her hair and walked into her dressing closet to pick out a hat. Her low spirits had not gone away.

Whatever Mama said, there was no young man in Datcherford for her, she lamented, while trying one hat after another and throwing each to the floor in turn.

Who was there to notice what she wore? She and Augusta would drink tea with scarcely a word and then she would come home, encountering no-one else all day except Mrs Hapstall and Alfred Hapstall.

Alfred Hapstall.

Despite her mood, Delia could not help but smile, recalling their meeting at the dressmaker’s.

Since then she’d noticed Alfred each Sunday, escorting his mother to church. He’d tipped his hat to her, but they’d never spoken again.

He was very agreeable, she mused, and courteous. Clever, too, and handsome. Not that Delia would be interested, of course; she and Alfred moved in very different circles.

With more interest than previously, she picked the most flattering hat and studied her appearance in the long mirror.

Her mother was waiting as Delia descended the stairs.

“I’m ready, Mama,” she said. “Do you have the list?”

“Here it is,” Mrs Bassett answered, handing her a sheet of paper. “How much better you look now – back to your prettiest.”

“Yes, Mama.” Delia nodded. “I have decided to take your advice.”

“My advice?”

“I will not give way to despondency,” she assured her.

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.