Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 41

Mr Bassett took his place behind a massive oak desk, ominously reminding Alfred of his unsuccessful meeting with the banker.

“Pleasantries are out of the way, Mr Hapstall,” Mr Bassett began, indicating to Albert to be seated. “Now let us discuss the real reason for your visit.”

“I will be glad to, sir,” Alfred replied with relief, placing the plans on the table. “I’ve come here with a proposal in mind and I want to convince you of the soundness of my plans for the future.

“Ever since I inherited Hapstall’s shop I’ve been expanding. I sell a wide range of goods and I have increased the business three-fold. But I’m restricted. I need larger premises.

“It’s my ambition to open a store with departments offering everything the townspeople might conceivably require.”

“In Datcherford?” Mr Bassett asked. “This is a quiet town. You do well to make a living from the few customers available to you.”

“True.” Alfred nodded. “But at present Datcherford people travel to the city to buy things that I could supply. I want a store that keeps them shopping here and attracts people from outside the area.

“This town could be what it once was,” he continued. “And one successful business would encourage others to start up. But Datcherford is asleep.”

“Asleep,” Mr Basset repeated, nodding. “Yes, that’s the right word. But you surprise me, Mr Hapstall. I expected fanciful sentiment, but it seems you’re a practical man.

“If you want to convince me of your worthiness, you may try. You’ve brought papers, I see.”

“Yes,” Alfred said excitedly, spreading the plans, figures and projections across the desk.

“The shop I have can’t be expanded, and I don’t have enough money to build anything of the size I need. But there is somewhere I believe could be converted into the kind of store I want. It’s the assembly building.”

Mr Bassett looked astonished.

“Do I understand you right?” he asked. “You want to convert that huge old place into a shop?”

Alfred could see him wavering between curiosity and incredulity, and knew he had to seize his chance.

“Not right away,” he went on quickly. “I’m asking you to sell me part of the building, say one or two of the ground floor rooms.

“I would start with one department, and then, with the profits I made, I could buy more space until I had the whole.”

Mr Bassett made no answer, so Alfred continued.

“The building has been empty for years and is deteriorating fast. I could take it off your hands. I can’t afford a great deal, but I would be responsible for the repairs.

“I can make this plan succeed, Mr Bassett; all I need is your agreement.”

Alfred paused, anxiously awaiting a response.

Mr Bassett rocked back and forth on his chair for some moments, before stopping to ring a hand bell at the side of his desk.

By the time Bannerman appeared at the door a minute later, Alfred was convinced he was to be shown out.

“Bring us something to eat and drink, will you, Bannerman?” Mr Bassett said. “We may be here some time and I can’t discuss business on weak tea and biscuits. Go on, Mr Hapstall, I’m listening.”

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.