Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 47

“For goodness’ sake, girl, stop snivelling. She’s left and that’s an end to it.”

“But I liked Rose, Mrs Dee.” Molly sobbed. “She was the only real friend I ever had.”

“I doubt she’ll give you another thought,” Mrs Dee snapped back. “You can’t trust these lady companions; they think they’re above the likes of us. Now, get on with your work.”

“Yes, Mrs Dee,” Molly replied, listlessly mopping the floor. “But I won’t forget Rose. She was kind and you could trust her. She never told tales to the mistress, did she? Not even about Mr Biggins eating in the kitchen when he’s not supposed to.”

Molly froze, shocked at her own daring in speaking out, but the dreaded reprimand didn’t come.

She risked a glance at Mrs Dee. The cook was absently stirring the pudding, deep in thought, so Molly carried on with her task.

“Biggins has been fortunate,” Mrs Dee acknowledged. “He gets away with a great deal. If Mistress had ever found him out, he’d have been sent packing.”

Molly listened in amazement. Never before had she heard Mrs Dee say a word against Biggins. After all, it was known to all the staff at Cross Roads House that the two of them had an understanding.

“I think Mr Biggins is too clever to get caught,” Molly ventured.

“Clever?” Mrs Dee replied. “Sly, more like. But he’ll overstep himself one of these days and it will all come out.”

“I hope not, for your sake, Mrs Dee,” Molly said awkwardly.

“What do you mean by that?”

Molly realised from Mrs Dee’s dark look that this time she really had gone too far.

“I mean that, if Mr Biggins was caught eating his meals where he’s not supposed to, whoever served him those meals might get into trouble as well.”

This was the first time Molly had ever seen Mrs Dee lost for words. It didn’t last for long.

“That mop won’t move itself,” Mrs Dee snapped and began stirring the batter more vigorously than before.

Molly, thankful not to have earned a telling off, bent to the task, but no sooner had she finished than Biggins came in by the garden door, carrying a box of produce.

“Last of the carrots till next season,” he announced, dropping the box on to the pristine kitchen table. “A cold morning for a man to be out gatherin’. My fingers was already froze from holding on to Mrs Bassett’s carriage horse.”

On that pretext, he made straight for the armchair by the range, his boots leaving a trail of mud across the newly washed floor, and began to warm his hands.

“’Tis well she didn’t stay longer.”

“I know why Mrs Bassett called,” Miss Baines said, flouncing into the kitchen just at that moment. “It was to tell the mistress her good news. I was listening all the time I served them tea, though I made a show of clattering the cups and pretending I couldn’t hear.”

“Very wise,” Mrs Dee muttered.

“It seems,” Miss Baines went on in a conspiratorial whisper, “Mrs Bassett’s daughter was planning an unsuitable engagement and Mrs Bassett has been beside herself with worry. And do you know who the young man was?”

Molly and Mrs Dee waited to hear, but Biggins, who’d already lost interest in the story, turned his chair away towards the fireside.

“It was that shopkeeper from Datcherford,” Miss Baines disclosed. “The one who delivers here. Mr Alfred Hapstall.”

Molly gave a little gasp of surprise.

“What was her objection?” Mrs Dee asked. “He’s a man of business, isn’t he? I’d think he was a catch for any Datcherford girl.”

“Not good enough for Miss Bassett, evidently. But the funny thing is,” Miss Baines added with a wicked grin, “it all appears to have been a mistake.

“Everything came to a head yesterday when the young man denied interest in engaging Miss Bassett,” she explained. “Now she’s to go off to Paris for some months, much to her mother’s relief. Did you ever hear the like of it?”

“You’d better take care, Miss Baines,” Mrs Dee said. “Don’t let the mistress hear you spreading gossip.”

“I wouldn’t tell a soul!” Miss Baines protested. “Anyway, it’s settled now.”

“No. It isn’t settled! This changes everything!”

Everyone turned to look at Molly.

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.