Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 18

It was just after dawn and Alfred was sitting by himself in the shop, perplexed. Something had occurred the previous afternoon he could not make sense of.

He’d been alone in his shop when Mrs Darrowby, the wife of George, had called for a few items.

Alfred had been packing half a dozen eggs into her basket when the door had opened and Miss Bassett entered.

Mrs Darrowby was a kindly woman and a great talker, and it was only after making extensive enquiries about Alfred’s health, and that of his mother, that she’d left with her provisions.

“I’m sorry you were kept waiting, miss,” Alfred had said to Miss Bassett when they were alone. “My mother is out.”

“Not at all,” she replied with a winsome smile. “I am in no hurry.”

“And how may I help you?” he asked. “Did you require something in particular?”

“There is such a variety,” Delia replied, looking about. “One would hardly know what to choose. I must say, Mr Hapstall – Alfred – your little emporium seems full to capacity.”

“Yes, I only wish I had more space,” Alfred agreed.

Delia continued to browse about the counters.

“How I shall miss this dear little shop when I am gone.” She sighed.

“Really, miss?” Alfred was shocked to hear this.

Most families of wealth and consequence had already gone from the town. If the Bassetts left Datcherford, he wondered where it would end.

“I am to visit my aunt, Alfred,” she explained. “I shall be absent for several weeks. I so wish it were otherwise, but one must fulfil obligations, however tiresome.”

“Oh, now I understand,” Alfred replied, feeling a great sense of relief that the Bassetts were not leaving permanently.

Delia’s expression, however, seemed to require some sympathetic gesture.

“You’ll be missed,” he said, reasoning that her parents were bound to feel her absence keenly.

“What a kind sentiment,” she replied. “It will make my departure more bearable to know that someone is missing me.”

“And there is always the reunion to look forward to,” he added, wondering if she required some small item for the journey.

He had some quality linen handkerchiefs in stock, though he feared they might be too plain for Miss Bassett’s taste.

“Yes,” she said, “and the anticipation will sustain me. But now I must go. The pain of parting worsens when it is drawn out. Will you shake hands with me, Alfred?”

Alfred looked down at the hand she was offering and hesitated. It seemed uncommonly gracious of her to take leave this way, but his own hands were dusty from the straw.

Out of politeness he touched her fingers, but Delia grasped his hand and held it. At that moment the doorbell rang and there on the threshold stood Rose.

“Rose! Welcome!” he said, delighted to see her.

Delia must have released his hand, though he couldn’t recall.

“Are you ladies acquainted?” he began.

“Yes,” Delia replied, and there was no mistaking the irritation in her voice. “We must be leaving now; we are already very late.”

“It’s been a pleasure to see you again, Mr Hapstall, however briefly,” Rose told him quickly, as she followed Delia out.

A carriage arrived outside the shop and one of the occupants, Mrs Jameson, was leaning out of the side, appearing to be extremely displeased with Rose.

“I am not accustomed to being kept waiting, Bryson,” she said.

Alfred bridled to hear Rose addressed thus, and might well have spoken out, but he was interrupted by Mrs Bassett, the other occupant of the carriage.

“Delia! I have been so concerned,” she called out. “Mrs Jameson was ready to go home and we were obliged to come looking for you.”

Sturgess climbed down to help Miss Bassett inside the carriage, while Alfred offered his arm to assist Rose up to the front.

“Drive on, Sturgess,” Mrs Jameson commanded, and as the carriage departed Alfred was aware that both Mrs Bassett and Mrs Jameson were regarding him with a suspicious look.

Alfred was at a loss to know how he’d offended the women. But that was of less consequence to him than their treatment of Rose.

Whatever had occurred, it appeared that the three, including Miss Bassett, were blaming her, and the injustice he felt on Rose’s behalf rankled him so that he hardly closed his eyes throughout the night.

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.