Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 10

Mariah Hapstall hurriedly tied on her shop pinafore.

Alfred should have woken me, she thought anxiously. He was thoughtful to have insisted she take a rest in the afternoon, but she must have slept too soundly. It was past four o’clock.

She opened the door that separated their living quarters from the shop below and went down.

At the bottom of the staircase she stopped, unable to step any further because the shop floor was covered with a mass of crates and sacks.

“This is what must have roused me,” she muttered as she tried to pick a way through. “I see my son has been ordering more stock.”

“Yes, Mrs Hapstall,” a voice said from among the piles of goods.

“Tom,” she greeted him. “I didn’t see you there.”

“Mr Alfred said to put away as much as I could,” Tom replied, pulling out a sack of flour. “But it defeats me where I am to find space.”

“I know. We’re almost full to the rafters as it is. What is that rope for?” she asked, pointing to a coil of hemp and a set of tools.

“Mr Alfred say he is going to rig up a pulley so that he can hang goods from the beams.”

Mariah gave a great sigh.

“How will customers move about the shop? There’s scarcely room to place a foot already.”

“I can’t tell you, Mrs Hapstall,” Tom said, his face flushed from effort. “But you know what Mr Alfred always says.”

“Yes, I do. ‘The more items we sell, the more custom we will attract’.”

I wonder, Mariah thought, where my son’s ambitious nature comes from. His father had been content to make a modest living, and his grandfather before that.

“Well, Tom,” she said aloud, “I wonder what the folk of Datcherford will think when they see goods hanging above their heads.”

“They do come in greater numbers now,” Tom pointed out. “Mr Alfred says the shop is flourishing.”

Mariah could not deny it. Their shop had never been so busy. Yet she sensed a restlessness in Alfred.

Secretly, she wished her son would find a nice girl to marry. Surely a wife and family was the best way to make a man settle, and Alfred was a good catch for any Datcherford girl. He was diligent, amiable, and a smart-looking young man, too.

“Where is Alfred?” she asked.

“He’s gone to Cross Roads House to make a delivery,” Tom answered from behind a pile of crates.

“He said he would be away two hours or more and that I was to fetch you if we got busy.”

“Mrs Jameson is a good customer, but it’s a long way to Cross Roads House.”

“I asked Mr Alfred again if I might go instead,” Tom muttered. “I know I could drive the cart and horse if he gave me a chance, Mrs Hapstall.”

“And you will, Tom. One day.” She glanced at the wiry lad. “It is a big cart and Lissip can be obstinate, for all her age. Best leave it a while longer, I think.”

Tom was dragging the flour sack across the floor.

“Mr Alfred said to put the flour and oatmeal away from the door where it’s dry,” he explained. “And I’m to stack the treacle on the high shelf. Once that’s done, we shall have more space to move about.”

Before it could be accomplished, the sound of footsteps could be heard on the cobbles outside. Someone was pushing at the door and a face appeared at the glass.

“It’s Miss Bassett!” Mariah exclaimed.

Tom sprang up, clambered over the packages and pulled open the door to admit 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.