Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 25

“The original plans of the assembly building,” Mr Lampton said with due solemnity, unfolding large sheets of age-dried paper. “As you can see, there is an imposing entrance hall with four sizeable rooms on the ground floor, and then the staircase – a magnificent structure, quite famous in its day, leading to upper floors, with further rooms of extensive dimensions.

“There are also a number of smaller offices and a second staircase to the rear,” he finished.

“It’s perfect,” Alfred said, mesmerised by the drawings before him.

In his imagination, the pencilled lines became walls covered in fine paper, the shaded floors were softened with rich carpeting and the sketched staircase shone with the reflected light of a chandelier.

A slight cough from Mr Lampton brought him back to the present.

“I think you might find it rather less than perfect, Mr Hapstall,” he cautioned. “The assembly building has endured years of abandonment.”

“Even better,” Alfred said with enthusiasm. “That must increase my chances of buying it. Which brings me to my next question, Mr Lampton. Who owns the assembly building?”

“The same gentleman who owns many properties hereabouts,” Mr Lampton said. “It belongs to Mr Bassett, of Datcherford Manor.”

*  *  *  *

The day had begun like any other at Cross Roads House, the servants going about their business in quiet order, mindful that their mistress was a late riser.

At nine o’clock the hush was broken by Molly, the scullery maid, running into the kitchen.

“There’s a big carriage coming down the driveway!” she cried.

Biggins, the groundsman, sprang from the chair and began fumbling into his coat, at the same time being shooed out of the room by Mrs Dee, the cook.

“Be quick,” she urged. “If you’re not there to meet the carriage, Mrs Jameson will question why you weren’t in the garden.

“Has anyone told her there’s a visitor?” she asked Molly as the panic-stricken Biggins fled.

“The mistress is still in her room,” Molly replied. “Shall I tell her?”

“It’s not your place, you foolish girl,” Mrs Dee barked. “Find Rose Bryson.”

Rose was already watching the carriage from an upstairs window.

“Whoever is calling at this time?” Baines, the housemaid, said, hearing the commotion. “We hardly ever see visitors.

“Mrs Jameson doesn’t like anyone disturbing her routine. I tell you, Miss Bryson, this is more than a courtesy call.”

Rose had recognised the carriage and she’d come to the same conclusion.

She knocked on Mrs Jameson’s door.

“What is it?” the answer came.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” she called. “A carriage is just arriving.”

Mrs Jameson appeared, wearing her dressing robe and clearly displeased at the disturbance.

“I believe it is Mrs Bassett,” Rose added.

“At this hour? How thoughtless! Bryson, go down and receive Mrs Bassett. Baines will help me finish dressing.”

With a fearful look, Baines followed Mrs Jameson, while Rose descended the stairs and went outside.

Biggins, breathless from running round to the front of the house, was holding the horse as Mrs Bassett was assisted from the carriage.

“Good morning, ma’am,” Rose said pleasantly. “Mrs Jameson is slightly detained and asks if you will wait in the morning room.”

“Very well,” Mrs Bassett muttered in an agitated manner, too preoccupied to recognise Rose.

She followed Rose inside, declining the offer of refreshments.

Rose stood waiting for several awkward minutes until the door opened and Mrs Jameson swept in.

“Dear Olivia,” she said, greeting Mrs Bassett with a cold embrace. “What a pleasure! Do sit down. Bryson, bring tea, will you.”

Mrs Bassett did not wait for Rose to go before she began talking.

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.