Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 11

“Good afternoon, miss,” Mariah said as Delia squeezed through the tiny gap. “I am sorry for the state of our shop. My son is increasing our stock and we’ve not yet had time to store it away.”

“Indeed,” Delia replied, brushing flour from her skirt. “Your establishment seems to be undergoing great changes. Is Mr Hapstall not here?”

“He’s out on a delivery. Can I help you?”

“I have this order for goods from my mama,” Delia replied, gripping the list in her gloved hand. “Will Mr Hapstall be a long time?”

“Two hours, I reckon,” Tom put in.

“Very well,” Delia said, handing over the paper reluctantly. “I will leave it with you, Mrs Hapstall. Good afternoon.”

Mariah signalled Tom to clear a path so that Delia could walk out safely.

She stepped over boxes to reach the counter and began to check the list.

“Here’s some space on the counter top, Tom,” she said, noticing a gap. “Could you stack the treacle here?”

“No, Mrs Hapstall. Mr Alfred said to leave that space for something special.”


“Yes. It’s in this box.” Tom handed her a neat package.

Mariah, not recognising the name on the label, reached for scissors, cut it open and folded back the lining paper.

Her eyes widened as she picked out an item and held it up.

“Well, I never!” Tom exclaimed when he saw what was inside.

“Indeed,” Mariah agreed. “What is Alfred thinking of? We have never sold such a thing!”

*  *  *  *

The great clock in the hall of Cross Roads House was chiming a quarter to five as the two women ascended the curved stairway.

“Be sure to close the curtains fully, Bryson,” Mrs Jameson said over her shoulder. “A chink of sunlight disturbed my rest yesterday.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rose replied as they entered the large bedroom.

She turned down the silk counterpane, smoothed the pillows, then closed the heavy brocade curtains. As she left, she shut the door quietly behind her.

The house was still as Rose descended the stairs, tiptoed across the slate hallway and entered the kitchen.

“Away early today, isn’t she?” the cook hissed.

Rose nodded and went outside. An old fallen tree at the end of the garden was where she liked to sit and contemplate, away from the rooms she found so oppressive.

There was no joy in living at Cross Roads House; the place reflected its dour mistress.

Rose looked back at the building. While I have debts to pay, she thought, I can’t leave this friendless place.

She thought back to the day Mr Fell’s letter had arrived, asking her to marry him, with all the promises of wealth and comfort. She had stood in her room, clenching the letter tightly, as minutes ticked by.

She’d considered the wretchedness of her present existence, the months of poverty and isolation she might have to endure, and weighed all against being the wife of Mr Fell.

With that, she had taken his letter and torn it into shreds. She’d cast the pieces out of the window and watched them being carried away on the breeze.

“For what,” she’d whispered to herself, “could be more wretched than a loveless marriage?”

Suddenly there was a clatter of wheels and hooves on the path. The noise stopped, only to be replaced by firm footsteps.

Whoever is that, Rose thought in alarm. They mustn’t wake Mrs Jameson.

A young man appeared from around the corner. He was carrying a sack of flour and whistling loudly.

“Good afternoon,” he called cheerfully.

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.