Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 13

“Alfred! Whatever were you thinking?” Mariah asked as soon as her son returned to the shop.

“What do you mean?” he replied, pulling off his coat.

“Silk stockings?” she went on, pointing to the pretty box nestling between jars of fish paste on one side and pickled walnuts on the other. “Hapstall’s has never sold such things!”

“Then it’s time we did, Mother,” Alfred replied, rearranging the cramped counter top to display the stockings more attractively.

“At one and sixpence a pair! Who will afford it?”

“There are still some in Datcherford with the means to buy them, Mother.”

“Alfred,” she persisted, “Datcherford folk buy sugar or soap and cabbages from us. Not silk stockings.”

“Wait and see,” Alfred told her. “I shall put a notice in our window. The more items we sell, the more custom we’ll attract.”

He looked around his shop, where each shelf was crammed with goods. Sacks and boxes were spilling on to the cobbles outside, despite the efforts of Tom to contain it all.

“If only we had more space.” He sighed. “The items we might stock.”

“Miss Bassett might be interested in silk stockings,” Mariah suggested. “She certainly has the means.”

“I suppose she does,” Alfred replied absently.

“She called with a list from the Manor House.”

“Really? I’ll offer two pairs for two and nine-pence,” Alfred said, writing out a price card. “It might encourage customers to make a purchase.

“If I’m right, they won’t think of going anywhere else for their stockings in future.”

By the following afternoon, word had spread and almost all the stockings had been purchased.

Even Alfred was surprised. He was standing behind the counter, writing out a further order, when the shop bell rang and Delia entered.

“I am here again, Mrs Hapstall,” she announced, flourishing a slip of paper. “Mama is so forgetful. She omitted an item from our list. And here is Mr Alfred Hapstall! Good afternoon.”

Delia’s silk dress rustled as she weaved her way among the boxes and sacks to where Alfred stood.

“Good afternoon, Miss Bassett,” Alfred replied, looking up briefly from a column of figures.

It seemed his mother had been right – Delia was peering at the remaining pair of silk stockings. She looked up and saw him smiling.

“I have heard of your latest enterprise,” she said. “Whatever next? Will you be selling hats and gloves instead of apples or cheese? Perhaps Datcherford ladies will buy our apparel from Hapstall’s in the future.”

“Nothing would please me more, Miss Bassett.” Alfred smiled, folding the order and tucking it into a pocket. “All in good time.”

“Yes, indeed,” she answered with a coy glance that Alfred was too busy to notice.

“Can we help you with anything else, Miss Bassett?” he enquired hopefully.

He would not be impolite, but he was anxious to post the order in time for the evening collection.

“I think not,” she replied. “Our household is Mama’s concern. I should not know what to purchase even if our cupboards were bare.”

“I’m always here at your service,” Alfred replied courteously.

Delia inclined her head and wished them both good afternoon before leaving.

“That young lady is rather forward,” Mariah said when the door closed. “I’m not sure her mother would approve. Young people are raised differently nowadays.

“Speaking of young people, Tom asked again when he might drive the cart. It would save you the journey to Cross Roads House. He’s very eager.”

“I think even Tom’s enthusiasm would be tested if he had to drive through a winter’s storm as I’ve had to do in the past.” Alfred smiled. “Although I didn’t mind being out there today. Still, I wish . . .”

“You wish what?” she asked.

“I wish more people came to Datcherford to buy their goods.”

“Yes, I remember when I was a girl,” Mariah mused. “There was the crush of people on market days and the shouts of the hawkers. Folk used to ride and walk here from miles about.”

“They don’t any more,” Alfred pointed out. “There’s nothing to attract them. If only there was some way I could expand. We could prove Miss Bassett right and sell hats and gloves and all manner of things.”

“You mean give up the grocery business, Alfred?” Mrs Hapstall was shocked. “It’s been in our family for three generations.”

“No, I mean it to grow. I want people to have a reason to come here to shop. Imagine if they could find everything they needed under one roof.”

Mariah looked aghast.

“You don’t intend to move the store upstairs, do you? Where would we live?”

“Not here,” he said, putting his arms around her. “A place ten times as big as this. We wouldn’t live above the shop, but in a fine house where you can have a garden.”

“Oh, Alfred,” she said. “You and your dreams. Us in a fine house, indeed!”

“All in good time,” Alfred replied.

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.