Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 12

Rose waved frantically and put her finger to her lips.

“Please don’t make a noise,” she hissed. “My mistress is taking her afternoon rest and she’s a light sleeper.”

“What?” the young man whispered back. “Is it five o’clock already?”

“I see you know the ways of Cross Roads House.”

“I’ve a shop in Datcherford and I deliver goods here every month or so,” he replied. “I’m Alfred Hapstall. You must be the latest companion to Mrs Jameson.”

The young man did indeed know about Cross Roads House.

“I’m Rose Bryson,” she told him. “I’ll open the door for you. That sack looks very heavy.”

They entered the kitchen and Rose was pleased to find it empty.

“Will you take some refreshment, Mr Hapstall?” she asked, still careful to keep her voice low. “You’ve driven some distance.”

“Call me Alfred,” he said. “Yes, a cold drink, if you please. I’ll fetch the rest of the goods.”

Rose brought lemonade from the cold store while Alfred carried in more sacks and boxes, piling them on the kitchen table.

“Mrs Dee will return soon,” Rose said, hoping it would not be too soon. It was a pleasant change to have someone to talk to.

“She’ll want to look over what I’ve brought,” Alfred said, wearing a rueful expression. “Does she still bark at the maid?”

“I’m afraid so,” Rose confided. “She seems cross with everyone. Except Mr Biggins, of course.”

“Oh, yes, they have an understanding,” Alfred said.

“You seem to know a great deal about us. Have you been coming here a long time?”

“Ever since I was a boy, helping my late father,” Alfred explained. “I recall there was an understanding even then.”

“They seem an unlikely couple,” Rose ventured.

The door from the hall opened and Molly scurried through.

“Mrs Dee’s on her way,” she said to Alfred. “I hope nothing’s been forgotten, Mr Hapstall, because her mood is black today.”

Mrs Dee bustled in and proceeded to scrutinise the goods he had brought. Alfred winked at Rose, who stood looking as serious as she could manage.

When Mrs Dee was satisfied, she carefully counted out the payment.

“I shall require a receipt,” she said.

“As always, ma’am,” Alfred replied. “Miss Bryson, may I ask a favour? I have all these heavy baskets to carry back to the cart. If you would be so kind as to bring this one, I’ll manage it in one journey.”

Having effortlessly carried in the loaded baskets, Alfred made a great show of carrying out the empty ones. Rose duly followed him outside with the smallest.

“I cannot believe how heavy these empty baskets are,” she teased.

“I’m glad to see you smile properly, Rose,” he said as they reached the cart. “I think you haven’t done so for a while.”

Rose sighed.

“You’re right. The days here pass slowly.”

“It’s a dull place,” Alfred agreed. “Mrs Jameson isn’t well liked so has few callers, and her only relatives are the Bassetts.

“What a shame you’ve no better company. I suppose the others are guarded in what they say for fear you’ll tell tales.”

“I’m afraid so. Except Molly, that is. She’s friendly and the opposite of discreet.

“But all this won’t be for ever,” Rose added with a determined smile.

“I’m pleased to hear it,” Alfred replied. “Though I hope you’ll still be here when I call again, Rose.”

It occurred to Rose he might be flirting with her.

No, she thought, I’ve only just met him. He’s just what he appears to be – honest and open-hearted.

“I hope so, too, Alfred,” she said.

She watched as the cart rumbled along the drive and turned into the lane. It seemed to her the day had lightened.

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.