Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 38

William Bassett shuffled about in his chair, glancing impatiently at the antique French carriage clock.

He was hungry. Dinner should have been served at seven o’clock – twenty minutes ago.

Though not born wealthy, Mr Bassett had been clever and purposeful throughout his youth, and now, in his middle years, he owned the best house in the town.

His wife was a handsome woman from a good family and she had, he freely admitted, polished off his rough edges.

And there was his pretty daughter, Delia, on whom it pleased him to lavish all of life’s good things. He had every reason to be happy.

But he was not a happy man this evening.

His wife and his daughter had quarrelled. It seemed Delia wanted to invite some young man to tea and Mrs Bassett was refusing. Neither would give way and it had fallen on him to settle the argument.

Mrs Bassett and Delia were now sitting, stony-faced, on either side of the table, awaiting his decision.

William Bassett had learned long ago it was impolitic to contradict his beloved wife, since she could, in so many subtle ways, make his life very uncomfortable if she were thwarted.

But how, he wondered, do I take her side and risk upsetting little Delia?

The door opened and their butler enquired anxiously if he should serve dinner yet.

“Presently,” Mrs Bassett said, without taking her eyes off her husband’s face.

The butler withdrew, but it was enough for Mr Bassett. He decided he must give his judgement and have done with it. Conflict was one thing, but cold soup and overcooked beef he would not tolerate.

“So,” he began, deliberately avoiding the two pairs of penetrating eyes. “Delia, you have met a young man called Alfred Hapstall. You are quite taken with him and you say he has shown an interest in you and you want to bring him to tea.

“However, you, my dear wife, object because we know nothing of him. Nothing, that is, except he is a small shopkeeper. A respectable situation, but apparently socially inferior to Delia’s.”

Both ladies made to speak, but Mr Bassett put up his hand.

“No,” he said firmly. “Allow me to finish. I would never want to refuse my precious daughter anything, but Alfred Hapstall is not the kind of suitor I’d hoped for.”

Mr Bassett risked a pause. His careful mix of concern and flattery seemed to be having the desired effect.

He pressed on.

“I can understand your mother’s concern, Delia. You are heiress to our fortune and many a young man has had his head turned by such a prospect.

“However,” he added, glancing at them both, “I will meet your Mr Alfred Hapstall, but if I suspect he’s a fortune hunter, he’ll be sent packing. And now I’d be obliged if you’ll ring for dinner.”

As he turned to his wife with this request, Mr Bassett gave her the briefest nod, a gesture so discreet that no-one else in the room would have noticed.

It was a nod that left her in no doubt that he was in agreement with her on this matter.

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.