Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 42

In the afternoon room, Delia sat pensively pulling at the lace on her gown.

“He is a smart man, I will allow,” her mother said. “Though I think he is not used to much society.”

Delia did not reply. She’d been in a state of high excitement over Alfred’s visit, but now something was making her anxious.

This had not gone unnoticed by Mrs Bassett. Having no qualms when it came to preserving whatever she believed to be in her family’s interest, she saw an opportunity to pour doubt into Delia’s mind.

“I wonder what he and your father are discussing,” she said airily. “I seems to me that Mr Hapstall isn’t in a hurry to leave his shop.

“Still, it must be a cosy place for two people, or even three. I’m sure Mrs Hapstall is a good woman and would welcome help.”

“Help, Mama? What do you mean?” Delia asked.

“Well, I don’t suppose they have a servant in such a tiny house. And there is always sweeping and dusting and so forth. Whoever marries Alfred Hapstall will need to be adept at such things.”

Delia turned to her, eyes widening.

“Mama, surely you don’t imagine that I would ever live in a small cottage without servants?”

Mrs Bassett shrugged her shoulders.

“You must bear in mind, Delia, if you step outside your own circle, there may be consequences you did not expect.”

“Oh, but Papa would not allow that to happen. He would help for certain.”

“But if he did not agree with your choice of husband he might be less inclined to assist.”

“Nonsense, Mama,” Delia replied emphatically. “That would never happen.”

*  *  *  *

In the office a few yards away, Alfred had finished speaking. He’d explained to Mr Bassett how he would convert the rooms at the assembly building, and shown the costs to stock, advertise and staff the new venture.

His calculations were sound, he was in no doubt. But what he hoped to convey to Mr Bassett was his drive and determination to succeed.

Mr Bassett had not spoken the whole time. Now he sat back in his chair and surveyed Alfred.

“This is quite the most extraordinary plan I’ve heard,” he said at last. “But you haven’t mentioned the thing that concerns me most.

“Your plans are not without risk and, even if you succeed, it may take a long time. What of my daughter in the meantime?”

“Your daughter?” Alfred repeated.

“How will you support her while you build up your business?” Mr Bassett asked.

“Support?” Alfred murmured, bemused.

“I know how headstrong my daughter is. She won’t be content to remain engaged for years.”

Alfred stared at Mr Bassett for a moment, trying to make sense of what he was hearing.

He glanced in the direction of the room where Delia and her mother waited and the awesome truth struck him.

Those odd remarks she’d made, the coy glances, small and insignificant at the time, now came to mind with dreadful clarity. Miss Bassett had been flirting with him! And unknowingly, he’d allowed it continue.

He gripped the edge of the table to steady himself.

So this was the reason for her invitation, he thought.

“Mr Bassett,” he began. “There’s been a misunderstanding. I do not have any intentions regarding Miss Bassett, and if I’ve given the impression that I did, I sincerely apologise.”

“What?” Mr Bassett said in a louder voice than he’d so far used. “You’re not attached to my daughter? Then how did she come to think you were? Why did she invite you here?”

“I’m responsible for this error,” Alfred said without conviction. “I mistook Miss Bassett’s meaning. I thought she was expressing an interest in my plans for the shop.

“When I mentioned I wanted to speak to you and she invited me here, I never imagined there was any other reason.”

There was nothing else he could add in the silence that followed.

“So this is a mistake,” Mr Bassett said, looking just as numbed as Alfred felt. “I only agreed to meet you because I thought you wanted to engage my daughter.”

Alfred stood up. His hopes were in tatters and his great chance had been nothing more than a stupid error. He wouldn’t wait to be asked to leave.

Mr Bassett looked at the plans strewn over the desk, then at Alfred.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

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.