Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 43

Mariah was thankful there were no customers in the shop when Alfred came home. Her heart felt heavy when she saw the taut look on his face.

Alfred gave her a wan smile as he sat down; he didn’t object when she locked the shop door and lowered the shutter. For once, Hapstall’s would close early.

“Well?” she asked, unable to wait any longer.

“I scarcely know where to begin, Mother,” he replied. “I’ve been a fool and it has led to such mischief.”

Mariah’s face fell.

“How so?” she asked.

“It concerns Miss Bassett, Mother. You’ll never believe it when I tell you.”

“You mean she has designs on you? I suspected as much. I thought there was more to her invitation than tea. I’m sorry to say, but that lady is a flirt – there’s no other word for it.”

“It has gone much further than that,” Alfred said. “She had an engagement and marriage in mind.”

Mariah sat down as he explained.

“I had no inkling of her intent. Her father invited me into his study and all the time I was explaining my plans for the assembly building, Mr Bassett thought it was to prove my worthiness to be his son-in law!”

“Oh, Alfred! What did you do?”

“I made it clear there had been a misunderstanding. I accepted my part of the blame, then I gathered up my papers, thinking it best to leave.”

“How awful,” Mariah said sadly. “You had such hopes for that meeting. Was Mr Bassett very angry?”

“I think he was more shocked than angry. Then he said he was sorry.”

“What had he to apologise for?” Mariah asked.

“That’s the astonishing thing about all this, Mother. Mr Bassett went on to say he was sorry I had no intentions towards his daughter. He said he’d only agreed to see me at Miss Bassett’s pleading.

“But having listened to my plans for the future, I’d impressed him and . . .” Alfred’s face reddened. “He would have been pleased to welcome me into his family.”

“What a tribute!” she exclaimed. “But there’s nothing to be done. I can see how bewildering this has been for you.”

“But that’s not the end of it, Mother,” Alfred went on. “I can still scarcely believe what came next.

“‘Mr Hapstall,’ Mr Bassett said to me. ‘We have started out at cross purposes, but as a man of business I know a good proposition when I hear one.

“‘I want you to return on Monday when you and I will discuss your plans in more detail.’

“I was so astounded I hardly knew how to answer!” Alfred admitted. “I only managed to say thank you.”

“So you are to have the assembly building after all?” Mariah cried, her face filled with joy.

“Yes,” Alfred answered, jumping from his seat and drawing her to her feet. “I can hardly believe it, but yes, Hapstall’s shop will grow and you shall have your house with a garden as I promised.”

Mariah wiped away a tear.

“As long as you’re happy, Alfred. That’s all I want.”

“I think we’ll have a short holiday,” he suggested. “And celebrate our good fortune with tea and toasted bread.”

“I’ll prepare the feast,” Mariah said with a smile. “I’ll say this for you, Alfred, you will always have your feet firmly on the ground.”

Alfred set about making the shop ready for the next day, just as he did every evening. He was smiling to himself as he climbed the stairs to their living-room.

“Do you know, Mother,” he said as he sat down by the fire, “there’s someone else I’ll like to share my good news with.”

Mariah looked up from the table.

“Would that be Rose Bryson, by any chance?”

“That’s right. Rose showed a lot of interest in my plans for the shop, I’m sure she’d like to hear of this. Why are you smiling?”

“Alfred,” his mother said with a sigh. “You thought Miss Bassett was only interested in your plans for the shop.”

“What are saying, Mother?”

“Are you making the same assumption with Rose Bryson?”

“No, Mother, not at all. Rose is . . . I mean, we don’t know each other that well.”

“Yet she’s the person you want to share your news with. Here’s your tea.”

Alfred sat sipping his tea with a thoughtful expression on his face as Mariah continued to make their meal, a smile on hers.

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.