- 31. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 31
- 32. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 32
- 33. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 33
- 34. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 34
- 35. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 35
- 36. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 36
- 37. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 37
As the carriage drove down Datcherford’s main street, she sat forward, looking at the few townspeople going about their business. The face she hoped to see was not among them. Nor was anyone about as they passed by Hapstall’s shop.
I will see him tomorrow for certain, she thought with a thrill of anticipation.
She knew she must be cautious. But hadn’t the signs been too marked to be mistaken? Even on that first occasion, in Mrs Maloney’s establishment, when she’d appeared in her new gown, he had called her elegant.
Then there were those welcoming smiles each time she entered his quaint little shop. And when she had told him she was going away, he had seemed so distracted. He spoke of missing her and of the pleasure of a reunion.
For a moment she had thought he might declare his feelings for her there and then.
It can only be the difference in our backgrounds that is holding him back, she decided.
Alfred Hapstall may be only a shopkeeper at present, but his sensitivity and his reserve marked him out as a gentleman.
She was worried her mother might have concerns at first, because of Alfred’s situation, but as she herself admitted, Papa wasn’t wealthy when they’d met and they received help from their families.
She peered out of the carriage window to see a flurry of activity at the front door of Datcherford Manor. One of the housemaids came scurrying out, followed by Mrs Bassett.
“My darling girl, whatever has happened?” Mrs Bassett called out as she hurried down the stone steps. “Why are you back so soon? Is your aunt unwell?”
“No, Mama,” Delia replied while being helped out of the carriage. “I left her in the best of health.”
“Then why –”
“As I said in my letter, I simply had to return, Mama,” Delia answered, composing her features into a winsome smile. “I was homesick.”
“I see,” Mrs Bassett said. “We missed you, too. But you must have started out very early.”
Delia lowered her eyes, suppressing the insistent pang of guilt. This was not a good beginning.
As the maids and the driver made a fuss of unloading her luggage, she followed her mother into one of the sitting-rooms.
“Now you mustn’t think of having your clothes unpacked yet,” Mrs Bassett began as they waited for refreshments to be brought. “Let yourself be revived with tea and a little rest.”
“Of course, Mama,” Delia answered obligingly. “But then I have some visits to make.”
“Visits?” Mrs Bassett repeated, her eyes narrowing.
“I must call on Augusta, and Lydia,” Miss Bassett explained. “I have neglected my friends shamefully.”
Mrs Bassett waited for the maid to withdraw.
“Delia,” she asked. “Are you sure there is nothing wrong?”
“No, Mama. There is nothing wrong with me. On the contrary, my little trip has given me time to reflect.”
“Yes. I feel that I have been drifting without aim. I have had no useful occupation, no sense of fulfilment. Being away from home has forced me to see that. But now I have returned with a renewed sense of purpose.”
“My dear girl, if your visit really has been so beneficial then I am rejoiced to hear it.
“Before you went away, Delia, you appeared quite withdrawn. I even thought you might have succumbed to some fanciful idea.
“But this is wonderful news!” her mother continued. “I see I have been worrying over nothing,” she said. “Welcome home.”