- 47. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 47
- 48. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 48
- 49. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 49
- 50. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 50
- 51. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 51
- 52. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 52
- 53. Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 53
Still clasping the letter, Mariah paced up and down the street outside the shop. Her gaze was fixed on the corner where, at any moment, she hoped to see Tom returning with Alfred. But minutes went by and the church clock chimed the quarter hour.
A customer arrived and Mariah went inside to serve her. From there she heard the clock chime the half hour and still Alfred and Tom hadn’t returned.
Another customer came, then another, but she scarcely heard their pleasantries. She was conscious only of the clock striking the last quarter as she weighed out tea and flour and packed their baskets.
She followed the last customer into the street.
“What can I do?” she muttered, still clutching the now crumpled envelope.
One o’clock chimed. She had just a slight hope Tom had found Alfred and they’d set off to the post house, but this was the main thoroughfare to the post road and she would surely have seen them pass by.
She stood for some minutes looking at the assembly building opposite, the chill wind making her wrap her shawl more tightly.
“Why are you outside in this cold wind, Mother?”
Mariah spun around to see Alfred strolling up the street.
“Alfred! Where have you been?”
“I called on George Darrowby but he wasn’t at home so I went to see Mr Lampton, the town clerk. He opened up his office for me on a Saturday! I had a few questions but he does love to talk and –”
“You’re too late.”
“Too late for what?”
Mariah gave him the letter.
“It’s from Rose Bryson,” she said.
Alfred opened it, his smile fading as he read the short message.
“Rose is leaving,” he said in disbelief. “I must get to her. It won’t do to wait until tomorrow.”
“She’s already gone, Alfred. I’m so sorry.”
“She’s on the one o’clock coach. She’d heard you were marrying Miss Bassett and I suppose she felt there was no point in remaining.”
“How do you know all this?” Alfred asked.
“A maid from Cross Roads House brought the letter, hoping you could find Rose in time. I sent Tom to look for you at Mr Darrowby’s house.”
“If only I hadn’t been so impatient to see Mr Lampton,” Alfred reproached himself, pacing the street in frustration. “I might have come straight home. Perhaps I could still get there. Which direction did you send Tom? If I had the cart . . .”
“Tom will be searching the whole of Datcherford for you. And you know the post coach has never been late,” she said sadly.
“Then I’ll follow her. Mrs Jameson must know where Rose has gone. When Tom returns, I’ll ride out to Cross Roads House. Whatever it takes, I’m going to find Rose and ask her to come back.”
“Here’s Tom now,” she said, looking over Alfred’s shoulder. “But whatever’s happened to the cart?”
“I’m really sorry, Mr Hapstall,” Tom called out as he approached.
The reason was all too apparent. Twigs and grass were stuck to the mud on the wheels, the newly painted sign was hanging on by a single nail and a great gash has been scored into the side.
Only Lissip seemed none the worse; head high, she was trotting towards them.
“I couldn’t find you,” the red-faced Tom said, pulling the cart to a halt. “I thought if I took a short cut I might be able stop the post coach and speak to the lady myself. I gave Lissip her head and she seemed keen, but I’d forgotten how narrow the lane is and we went into the hedgerow.
“I didn’t see the old stone wall because it was overgrown with ivy and that’s what damaged the sign.”
“I can’t be angry with you, Tom,” Alfred replied, looking up and smiling broadly. “What’s important is that you found her.”
He stepped forward and held out his hand to Tom’s passenger.
“I’m so glad you came back, Rose,” he said.