Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 44

As he prepared the table for dinner, Bannerman could not shake off the feeling of unease that had dogged him for some days.

In all the years he’d been butler at Datcherford Manor, there had been unvarying order and routine.

He hated change – it unsettled him. But lately, unusual incidents had disrupted the household: raised voices had been heard, there had been unplanned arrivals and departures.

Miss Delia had gone off suddenly to visit her aunt, only to return early. On one occasion the discord between the mistress and Miss Delia had culminated in dinner being delayed by 20 minutes! Bannerman had been quite put out.

Most mysterious of all was young Alfred Hapstall’s arrival this afternoon.

Bannerman was used to Alfred making deliveries, but today Alfred had taken tea with the family. Then he’d spent over an hour with the master in his office!

And now here was Miss Delia come down to dinner and looking so fretful, Bannerman noted with concern. He was as fond of her, for all her faults, as he was the rest of the family.

“Good evening, miss,” he said. “Will you be seated?”

“No. I shall wait for my papa, Mr Bannerman. Although I don’t think I can eat dinner.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, miss. I trust you are not unwell. The master and mistress were speaking in the drawing-room. Here they come now.”

Bannerman held out Mrs Bassett’s chair while Mr Bassett took his usual place at the head of the table.

“How fortunate you’re here so promptly, Delia,” Mrs Bassett said. “Your father and I wish to speak to you.”

Bannerman walked to the end of the long table to serve Mrs Bassett.

“You don’t have to say it, Mama,” Delia said. “I know you and Papa think I was too hasty in my choice and upon reflection I –”

“Not a bit of it!” Mr Bassett said cheerfully. “Despite my misgivings, I was impressed with your Mr Hapstall.”

Bannerman’s expression was blank, but he almost dropped the soup tureen.

“I believe that man will go far,” Mr Bassett was saying. “Of course, he has several years of hard work ahead of him. I don’t wonder you were impressed, Delia.”

“I, too, found him quite personable,” Mrs Bassett said airily. “I am sure that, in time, he will be welcomed in the best of Datcherford society.”

“Mama, Papa, wait a moment,” Delia returned. “There is something I have to say. I have been thinking a great deal about it and I believe I may have misinterpreted my feelings towards Mr Hapstall.”

Bannerman turned and busied himself at the buffet table. It was a mark of the family’s trust in his discretion that they felt free to speak in front of him.

“What are you saying, my dear girl?” Mr Bassett asked. “Only yesterday you insisted there was an attachment between you.”

“Yes, Papa, I did, but . . .”

Mrs Bassett smiled reassuringly.

“Delia,” she said earnestly. “Your father and I only want your happiness. If you have found someone you care about and are prepared to make great sacrifices for, we would not wish to stand in your way.”

“Yes, Mama, but I would not be the best companion for Mr Hapstall. What do I know about the business of running a shop? I think I may have to disappoint Mr Hapstall.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” her mother replied. “But it would be best for you to let him down without delay.”

“Me? How shall I tell him?” Delia cried, her fists clenched in agitation.

Bannerman, standing statue-like by the dresser, witnessed the satisfied glances between Mr and Mrs Bassett.

“Think no more about it,” Mr Bassett said. “What is a father for, if not to save his daughter any distress? I will inform Mr Hapstall when I meet him that there has been a misunderstanding.”

“Is he coming here again, Papa?”

“Yes. We also discussed Mr Hapstall’s business plans. He had some sound proposals and I asked him to return on Monday.”

“I will be sorry for his sadness,” Delia said, looking grave.

“Of course you will. But console yourself. If I am able to assist him in his aims, it will be compensation to him for the disappointment.”

“Then everything will be all right again, Papa!” Delia cried. “How wonderful.”

Bannerman was busy at the buffet and so the family didn’t see that he, too, was smiling.

Yes, he thought to himself. Everything would be all right again.

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.