Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 35

“So you see, Mr Hapstall,” Tom Liversedge said, concluding his long petition, “if I drove the horse and cart, I could make all the deliveries in half the time I take on the bicycle, because I wouldn’t have to keep returning to the shop to fill up the basket.”

“Yes, Tom,” Alfred replied, though he’d scarcely heard a word.

His mind was occupied on how to persuade Mr Bassett to sell part of the assembly building. He’d already decided to write a letter to Mr Bassett, setting out his plans in brief and asking for a meeting to discuss them.

“So do you think I might try it, sir?” Tom asked.

“What? Oh, yes, Tom, very well. I’ll see about it the next time I have to make a large delivery.”

Tom went out beaming, leaving Alfred to wonder if he’d been talked into an unwise decision.

But if I’m successful in persuading Mr Bassett, and if I open the new store, he reasoned, I’ll scarcely have time to make deliveries myself.

The raw disappointment he’d felt when the bank manager refused him a loan had only made Alfred more determined.

The shop was quiet. Alfred fetched pen, ink and paper, arranged them on the counter and pulled up a high stool, but before he could begin the shop bell rang.

Sighing at the interruption, he put down his pen and looked to the doorway.

“Miss Bassett!”

Never dismissive of a customer, Alfred stood to greet her with a polite smile.

He couldn’t help observing the silk of her costume.

One day, he thought to himself, my store will cater for the tastes of people like Miss Bassett.

“Yes, here I am, Alfred,” she replied, noticing his appreciative glance. “I have returned from my aunt’s house.”

“Your aunt? Oh, yes, of course,” he replied, only just remembering Miss Bassett’s last visit to the shop. “I trust your stay was enjoyable.”

“I wish I could say it was,” Delia replied with a winsome smile. “But my heart was not in it.”

She lowered her eyes.

“I think my heart remained in Datcherford.”

“I understand,” Alfred replied conversationally. “Home is always best, where our loved ones are to be found.”

He would have liked to ask Miss Bassett where she’d bought her hat, but it seemed impertinent.

“Our loved ones,” Miss Bassett echoed in a whisper. “Yes, indeed.”

“How may I help you today, Miss Bassett?” he asked, carefully keeping the impatience out of his voice. “Have you brought a list from Mrs Bassett?”

“Not this time,” she said coyly.

Alfred, his mind on the letter, waited while she looked about her at the stacked shelves and tables.

“Is there anything you want to say to me, Alfred?” she enquired. “Have you been content during my absence?”

“Content? Well, the truth is,” he ventured, “I did experience some disappointment, but now I’m hopeful again.”

“Hopeful, Alfred?”

“Yes,” Alfred replied, unable to suppress his enthusiasm. “Something very important to me might be within my grasp soon.”

Miss Bassett face glowed with pleasure.

“Oh, Alfred,” she enthused. “I’m so pleased to hear you say that. Is there anything I might do to help you achieve what you yearn for?”

“You, Miss Bassett? I don’t think . . .” Alfred hesitated.

Miss Bassett was actually offering to help him! Would it be too forward, he wondered, to ask her to take the letter of introduction to her father?

“I-I will be frank with you, Miss Bassett,” he stuttered. “When you came in I was on the point of writing to your father. His consent is vital to my plans.”

“Writing to my father!” She gasped with a look of pure delight. “Consent? Alfred, there is no need to write to my father. No, you must meet him directly, and Mama also.”

“I should meet Mrs Bassett as well?” Alfred asked, scarcely able to keep pace with the turn of events.

“Of course,” she replied gaily. “If Mama likes you – and I know she will – then Papa is bound to be amenable. Come to tea on Friday. Oh, Alfred, what a happy day it will be.”

“I hope so,” he said, a little dazed.

“Until Friday, at three,” she breathed, then swept away, turning once at the door to bestow a parting smile.

Alfred stared after her.

Well, I never, he thought to himself as the door closed.

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.