Alfred’s Emporium – Episode 52

“Of course, he’s taken on too much for a young man.”

“Imagine going from a small shop to a place the size of the assembly building? It’s absurd.”

“He’s bound to fail. And then what will happen to him and his mother? They’ll be turned out, just you wait and see.”

Every morning for several weeks, a little coterie of Datcherford matrons had gathered to observe the works taking place on the assembly building and to prophesy doom upon Alfred Hapstall’s new venture. It was the best entertainment they’d had in many a year.

Alfred knew well what they were saying, because once or twice he’d caught their conversation as he passed by.

And they were not the only ones. His project was the greatest, or possibly the only, talking point in Datcherford for a generation and there were few who viewed it with optimism.

But Alfred had never doubted for a moment, and now his day had come. The cynics had been proven wrong.

By daytime he’d overseen his new shop as it rose from the decay of the assembly building, and on many a night, after the workmen had departed for their homes, he’d let himself in through the rear entrance, taken up a brush or hammer and worked on alone.

Now the dust, noise and chaos of the past weeks were gone and Alfred looked about him in the silence.

At present he owned just one room on the ground floor – though it was a vast space compared to his old shop – and the rest of the building was still boarded and out of his reach.

The magnificent staircase had been swept clean but as yet it led nowhere, and the crystal chandelier remained unlit.

One day, he’d promised himself, he’d have fine velvet curtains hanging at the tall mullioned windows. For now, though, his newly stocked counters and shelves had been fashioned from old timber and he couldn’t yet afford carpets for the wooden floor. But it didn’t matter.

This place, the beginning of his dream, was clean and ordered, and it bore the name of Hapstall’s in high letters that could be seen the length of the main street. At half past eight this very morning he would open the great front door and begin trading.

“Are you happy?”

Alfred hadn’t heard Mariah’s tread as she came in through the rear door.

“More than I can say, Mother,” he replied. “But you needn’t have risen so early. It’s barely light.”

“I couldn’t sleep any longer,” she said. “I’ve brought you breakfast. You’ve worked so hard, now you must stay strong.”

“I didn’t stay very late last night. I left Mr Darrowby to lock up.”

She opened the wicker basket she’d brought and Alfred set two chairs. They ate in contented silence until the rear door at the back of the shop opened again and Tom appeared.

“Morning,” he greeted them. “I thought it best if I came early, today being the grand opening and all.”

“Then you’re in time to share our breakfast, Tom,” Mariah offered. “Sit down.”

“Do you think we shall have much trade on the first day?” he asked.

“Alfred believes curiosity will work in our favour, Tom,” Mariah replied. “This is the biggest event in Datcherford for years.”

“You might say the only event,” Alfred added wryly. “But you’re right, Mother. Curiosity will draw them in and good service and a plentiful supply of quality merchandise will ensure they return.”

“Do you remember the day you brought the silk stockings to sell?” Mariah asked. “I confess, I thought you’d overreached yourself. But now look!”

She pointed to a counter in the far corner of the great room.

“Gloves and lace handkerchiefs and the like!”

“They look well, don’t they?” Alfred remarked. “Rose has a good eye for a display. Ah,” he said as the door opened once more. “And here she comes. It seems no-one wants to be late on our first day.”

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.