Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 24

Later, when Tom had left for home, Alfred returned.

“I’ve walked all round it, Mother,” he said. “The brickwork is in good repair so the interior cannot be so bad.”

“Come and eat your supper,” she replied. “It will help you think clearly.”

“I’ll eat later,” he said, putting his arm around her. “I have never been clearer about anything in my life.”

Late into the night, a light flickered in a room above Hapstall’s shop and the only sound was the scratching of pen on paper as Alfred wrote away into the early hours.

By morning he had the outline for his enterprise.

With his mother left to mind the shop, he marched up the street, bristling with excitement, stopping only to gaze at the assembly building.

The sight spurred him on, and at eight o’clock he arrived at the office of Mr Lampton – Datcherford’s town clerk for as long as anyone could remember.

It was closed.

*  *  *  *

After an anxious five minutes, Alfred saw Mr Lampton approaching, dressed in his black coat and leaning on his walking cane. He seemed surprised to find Alfred waiting there.

“Good morning,” he said, extending his hand. “It’s Mr Hapstall, isn’t it?”

After so many years as town clerk, there was little Mr Lampton did not know about Datcherford and its people.

“Yes, sir,” Alfred replied. “I’ve come to seek your help.”

“My help?” Mr Lampton repeated, looking incredulous.

“About a property in the town.” Alfred was eager to get on. There was so much to accomplish that day.

“Come in, Mr Hapstall,” Mr Lampton said, taking out his key fob.

“It is fortunate you came today,” he remarked as he pushed against the door and led the way inside. “For some time, the town clerk’s office has opened only on Tuesdays. There is not the demand, I’m afraid.

“To tell the truth, on most Tuesdays no-one calls at all,” he said, taking his place at a dusty desk. “How can I be of service?”

Alfred pulled up one of the rickety chairs.

“I’m here about the assembly building, sir,” he began earnestly.

“The assembly building,” Mr Lampton echoed with a wistful smile. “Oh, such times we had there – music, plays, dancing. Mrs Lampton and I were introduced in that very place, many years ago.”

“Actually,” Alfred said, fidgeting on the edge of his chair, “it’s the building itself I’m interested in.”

“Ah, yes, the building. A handsome structure and the pride of our little town in its heyday. Somewhat worn now, of course. I sense a certain stagnation about the town, do you not agree, Mr Hapstall?”

“That’s part of the reason I’m here, Mr Lampton,” Alfred continued. “This town needs rejuvenating and the only way that can happen is if trade increases and employment can be found, so that people have a reason to come here.”

“An interesting notion.” Mr Lampton nodded. “But what has that to do with the assembly building?”

“I want to buy it,” Alfred stated. “Open it up again.”

“As a place of entertainment?” Mr Lampton was astonished. “I’m not sure if there would be enough patronage –”

“No, sir. I want to use it as a shop. A large shop.”

Mr Lampton stared.

“That’s my plan,” Alfred affirmed.

“A large shop?” the polite Mr Lampton repeated. “It is the strangest thing I have ever heard. But I suppose you know what you are about, Mr Hapstall.”

His expression betrayed him; he clearly thought the opposite.

“In order to proceed, I need information,” Alfred continued, undaunted.

“So you are here to look at the documents we hold – plans and so forth?”


Mr Lampton rose from his desk and walked to a cupboard against one wall of the office.

From his efforts to wrench it open, it was clear that the cupboard had not been searched for some time.

The doors finally gave way with a loud creak and a shower of dust, revealing shelves full of yellowing paper files – there seemed to be hundreds of them.

But Mr Lampton knew his business. Without hesitation, he pulled out a package of papers, placed it on his desk and carefully untied the red string.

Alfred, with a mounting sense of excitement, sat forward in his chair.

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.