- 37. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 37
- 38. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 38
- 39. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 39
- 40. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 40
- 41. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 41
- 42. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 42
- 43. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 43
At five minutes to three on Friday afternoon, and for the first time ever, Alfred rang the bell to the imposing front entrance of Datcherford Manor.
After a few seconds, the door was opened by Bannerman, the butler. He and Alfred had exchanged pleasantries in the past when Alfred was delivering goods at the rear door.
“Good afternoon, Mr Hapstall,” Bannerman said, his face now a perfect blank. “The family is waiting in the afternoon room.”
“The family?” Alfred asked, surrendering his hat but keeping a firm grip on the sheaf of plans and figures he’d brought to discuss with Mr Bassett.
“Yes, sir,” Bannerman replied, leading him along a hallway wider than Alfred’s own shop front and into the largest and most lavishly furnished room he had ever entered.
A smiling Delia came forward to greet him.
“Mama, Papa,” she began, “this is Mr Alfred Hapstall.”
Alfred shook Mr Bassett’s hand, but as Mrs Bassett didn’t offer hers he nodded politely and sat on the chair she indicated.
Delia immediately took the seat next to him while her mother occupied the one to his right.
“You will have tea, Mr Hapstall?” Mrs Bassett enquired stiffly, holding aloft a teapot. “Lemon?”
“I prefer milk, thank you, Mrs Bassett,” he answered, and carefully balanced the tiny, paper-light cup and saucer on top of his plans.
Far from feeling overawed by either his surroundings or his hostess’s coolness, Alfred was only impatient to speak to Mr Bassett. So much depended on this meeting, but it seemed he would have to wait until the formalities were over.
William Bassett, sitting opposite, fixed Alfred with a hard stare.
“I understand your family has lived in Datcherford for generations,” Mrs Bassett said with not a trace of warmth in her voice.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “My great-grandfather worked on the land as a young man, but later began to trade in small goods. My grandfather opened the shop we have today.”
“It’s a dear little place,” Delia enthused, filling an awkward silence. “Alfred has great plans for the future.”
“I’m sure he has.” Mrs Bassett handed a cup of tea to her husband.
Alfred glanced hopefully at Mr Bassett, wondering when he might broach the subject of the assembly building, but his host’s expression gave nothing away.
Delia was still chattering gaily, and with some amusement, about the extensive range of goods Hapstall’s shop offered.
“One can find a parasol next to the oatmeal, and fine sewing thread stacked beside the tea. There is everything from cabbages to silk stockings. I’m sure, Alfred, you will miss the confusion when you have left it behind, will you not?”
“Left it behind?” Alfred replied, rather puzzled. “I would never turn my back on my business.”
“But Mr Hapstall,” Mrs Bassett said, “my daughter said you have ambitions, and are no longer content to be a small shopkeeper.”
“Not exactly, ma’am. My ambitions are to expand the business and –”
“But still to be a shopkeeper?” Mrs Bassett exclaimed with a glance at her daughter. “I understand you live above the establishment. Do you not find that arrangement rather cramped?”
“Not at all. Mother and I are quite accustomed to it. It has many advantages.”
There followed another quiet moment, but this time Delia did not speak.
Mr Bassett stood up.
“Mr Hapstall,” he said, “you and I should talk. I’m anxious to hear about these plans of yours. Excuse us.”
Mrs Bassett nodded her assent and with relief Alfred put down his cup and followed his host into Mr Bassett’s study.