Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 22

Rose dabbed at her eyes and waited until her voice steadied.

She had never spoken of her troubles to anyone, but though she’d known him only a short time, she felt no qualms about sharing them with Alfred.

“A year and a half ago, I lost my father,” she began. “He was a good man who loved me, and my mother while she lived. But he was not a man of business.

“Money was spent as it was earned. Only a small legacy ensured there was enough aside to pay for my schooling. I’d just completed my schooling and returned when he became unwell.

“The end came swiftly but peacefully,” Rose continued. “But it was only a day or two later that I discovered the dire state of his affairs.

“Money was owed all over town. I had no resources nor property, and although I might have let the debts remain, I determined I would repay all.”

“You’re a brave woman, Rose,” Alfred returned, his face full of concern. “Was there no-one to help you?”

“I have no other relative. There was someone . . .” Rose hesitated.

“There was a gentleman,” she continued. “My father’s landlord. He offered his assistance at first, and then he offered me marriage.”

Out of respect for her feelings, Alfred lowered his gaze.

“I didn’t love this man,” she said, as though answering an unspoken question. “I refused him. In the end I felt I had to leave.

“An advertisement led me to Cross Roads House. The wages compensate in part for the onerous work, and I hope to clear my father’s debts, then I’ll be free to find other employment.

“Now you know all, Alfred. It’s a sorry tale, but let’s not discuss it. We have so little time to talk, let’s speak of happier things. Tell me about your shop.”

“Very well,” he replied. “I’m glad to say we’re busy, and I’m constantly looking out for new merchandise. Mother complains that there’s scarce room to move,” he said with a grin.

“If I had a bigger place, I could expand the business. That’s what I would like, Rose: a great store with departments, offering everything a customer desires under one roof.”

“What would you call your store?” she asked. “Hapstall’s Emporium, perhaps? Or Alfred Hapstall’s General Store?”

“Neither,” he replied. “It would be called Hapstall’s as it is now. Folk would travel from miles around to shop in Datcherford. Once that happened, other businesses would open, and the town might become prosperous again.”

For a moment, Alfred seemed lost in a place of his own, as he always did when thinking about his store. Then he smiled.

“There would be a doorman, in a uniform, ready to greet customers,” he said firmly. “And a grand entrance, with a great stairway to the upper floor.”

“I do hope it happens for you, Alfred,” Rose said sincerely. “It’s a wonderful thing to have a dream.”

They both started at the clatter of a hand-bell, followed by a shrill call.

“Bryson, where are you? I require you at once.”

“I must go.” Rose sighed. “But thank you for listening and for caring.”

“When will I see you?” Alfred asked urgently.

“When Mrs Jameson chooses to send another order for you to deliver.”

“I hope it will be soon.”

The bell rang again and Rose hurried away.

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.