Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 23

“What a fine girl Rose is, eh?” Alfred mused aloud.

Lissip twitched her ears at the sound of his voice and plodded homewards.

“She’s brave and honest,” Alfred added. “Proud, too.”

Alfred’s mood was mellow and he allowed Lissip to take her time on the return journey.

“At least she didn’t lose her position. But she’s an educated lady and she deserves better. If only I could be of some help to her. But all in good time.”

He smiled to hear himself say the familiar expression.

“I hardly know Rose but, except for Mother, she’s the only person I’ve told about my dream. When will it all happen, eh, Lissip?”

That question had been on Alfred’s mind for so long. It might be years until he could realise his ambition, but he had never doubted he’d achieve it.

It was his firm belief that if one such enterprise succeeded, others would follow and the little town could be what it once was.

The light was fading as they reached Datcherford.

“Good evening, Mr Hapstall,” a voice called.

Mr Darrowby and his son George were making their way home, carrying their ladder between them, with buckets and hammers and other paraphernalia of their trade.

“Good evening, Mr Darrowby. George.” Albert returned the greeting.

Seeing them reminded him of the times he’d worked alongside his own father.

Whatever happened, Alfred determined, there would always be a Hapstall’s store in Datcherford.

Ahead of him was his shop, hemmed in on one side by the bakery and on the other by the cottage where Mrs Maloney and her young daughter ran their dressmaking business.

Alfred looked about him in the deserted street.

Suddenly, he pulled on the reins and stood straight up in the cart.

“That’s it!” he cried.

Lissip pricked up her ears. Alfred sat down and hurried her on.

Scarcely taking the time to tie up the cart, he ran into the empty shop.

“Mother, come here quickly!” he cried.

“Alfred, what is it?” she asked, scurrying down the stairs.

“Look, Mother,” he said, leading her to the doorway. “What do you see there?”

“Nothing,” she replied.

“Look again. My new store. It’s been there all the time!”

Mariah was at a loss to understand Alfred’s excitement.

“Look, Mother!” he said triumphantly as they stood in the doorway of Hapstall’s little shop.

She scanned the empty street again and shrugged.

“I see only cobbles and shops and cottages. And the old assembly building.”

“Exactly,” Alfred said. “No-one sees the assembly building any more. It has stood there for a hundred years, but it’s the place I’ve been looking for and it was here all the time. It’s big, it has upper floors and a magnificent staircase. It would make a perfect department store.”

“Alfred,” she said sternly. “The assembly building is very old and the staircase will have rusted and birds are nesting in the roof.”

“But think, Mother,” he persisted. “Now it’s fallen into disrepair, the owner will probably sell it cheaply. It’s the place I’ve always wanted and it’s here already!”

Bewildered, Mariah sat down while Alfred paced around outside the shop, stopping every minute to take another look at the assembly building.

“There’s so much to do,” he said excitedly. “I must find out the owner’s name, then I must see about how to pay for it and then –”

“Are you all right, Mr Hapstall?”

“Yes, Tom,” Alfred said.

He hadn’t noticed Tom washing the shop window.

“Then,” Alfred continued, “I must make plans. How to stock it, how to find staff, and fixtures. I’ll need more people as it grows.”

Unable to keep still, Alfred strode across to the building. He looked up at the once grand portico, imagining the name of Hapstall’s painted across it in letters so tall that they could be seen from the end of the street.

He wished he could look inside, but Mr Darrowby had been very thorough in fixing the shutters.

“No matter,” he called cheerfully to his mother and Tom, who were staring at him from across the street.

“What’s Mr Alfred talking about?” Tom whispered to Mariah.

“He wants a bigger shop,” a worried-looking Mariah explained. “But keep it a secret. I’m not sure where this is all going to lead.”

Tom was quiet for a moment.

“If Mr Alfred had a bigger shop, then he’d be busier than ever, wouldn’t he, Mrs Hapstall?” he asked.

“I expect so, Tom,” she replied absently, wishing that Alfred would come inside before the neighbours saw his odd antics.

“In that case,” Tom said, beaming, “he’s bound to want me to drive the horse and cart.”

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.