Abby Ch. 04


Sam was cautious at first, as he didn't want to upset the girl anymore than he had already, but with Abby's reassurance that she was fine, he was more at ease. "I had long known that I was illegitimate." She told him. "That doesn't upset me. What did upset me was realising that Mum had just walked away from here when she had a family who could have helped her."

Sam nodded. "I was just as upset. Your mum running away was one thing, but realising that she was with child when she did, really angered me. We all knew your mum, and knowing that she couldn't confide in any of us, especially her dad, made me very sad. I just wish that... Oh well it's no good going over that, it won't help at all, too many years have passed." Abby wondered what he was going to say, but didn't press the point knowing that as Mary had said, when they don't want to tell, they won't say anything.

She decided to bring the conversation around to her grandfather. "What was my grandfather like?"

Sam smiled affectionately at her. "To tell the truth girl, I don't really know how to describe him. I won't describe him physically, my missus reckons she has a photo of him somewhere, and she started turning the house upside down at eleven o' clock last night. But don't worry, if it's there, she'll find it. Apart from that I suppose I would say your grandfather acted as though his job was the most important thing in the whole wide world. I never knew him once to appear anywhere without his uniform, and it was always cleaned and pressed like he was going on parade in the army. You knew when he was around; his uniform always carried the faint smell of mothballs."

"Excuse me Sam, but what are mothballs?"

Sam chuckled "Mothballs were small pellets which you hung in the wardrobe. Supposedly the aroma, it was Camphor, kept the moths away, don't know if it worked too well though, most of our clothes had small holes where the Moth had been." He carried on. "His boots, you could see your face in them. He was brought up in the traditions of the Great Western Railway, and although every other railwayman was pleased when Nationalisation happened, not him. That was the blackest day of his life, and he refused to give up the styles and trappings of the Great Western. To the day he died he still wore that funny pillbox cap with the initials on the front, and his frock coat. Everything that British Railways did was wrong, because it was not Great Western, and he told them too, no wonder he never got any further than Combe Lyney. I don't know if he applied for promotion, if he did, well he didn't get anywhere, I don't even know if he was disappointed, if he was he never showed it, not your grandfather, he still did his job every day as if the District Manager was watching him constantly, and for him, there was only one way, by the book, perfectly!"

Sam paused to take a long drink from the pint that had appeared as if by magic at his elbow, brought by Jack who nodded to Abby letting her know that it was paid for. "He wouldn't accept any standard but the best, from himself, and particularly from the porters, strewth; he could, and did, make their lives a misery."

Abby listened intently, building a picture of this martinet, who was now coming to life. "Was he born here, in the village?"

Sam shook his head. "No, he was a Cornishman, don't know exactly whereabouts, but he was certainly Cornish. Tregonney, you know, Cornish name." Abby could have kicked herself, she wasn't thinking straight.

"So when did he come to Combe Lyney?" she asked.

Sam had to think about this. "Before the War it was, now was it before or after the abdication, yes after, I'm sure after, so that would put it about '37 or '38," he thought a little bit more then stated confidently. "Nineteen thirty-eight. That was it. I was still a lad at the time, he would have been in his late thirties, and even then he acted as if he was late fifties. How he managed to get that lovely girl to marry him I shall never know, she came with him, stationmasters had to be married you see. Mind she looked frail even then, not surprised she was taken early."

Abby interrupted. "Taken early, she died?"

Sam looked at her with sympathy. "Yes, girl, she died, Pneumonia it was, would have been about Nineteen fifty-eight, she never was very healthy." Here he stopped again and his eyes grew cloudy as he wandered back into a past that was gone forever.

Abby waited patiently, wanting to ask about her mother, but not wishing to disturb his thoughts. Sam roused himself, and as if he had read her thoughts continued. "You'll want to know about your mum. Lively girl, had your granddad's colouring, very little of your grandma in her. Had a lot of spirit, right little tomboy as I recall. After your grandma died she was left very much to herself, didn't get into trouble though, always interested in what was going on. She came into the milking parlour one afternoon, and insisted on being shown how to milk, got it right too, Cow's are very sensitive to who's milking them, and if it's not right will get quite vexatious, and won't milk freely. She would come most afternoons after that and help, then her father found out and put a stop to it."

"Why?" asked Abby.

"Because his daughter was going to be better in life than a farmer's wife," replied Sam, "don't ask me why being able to milk a cow, automatically made her into a farmer's wife, but that was how he thought, he was a bit mazed about it. Same as when the signalman, Purvess his name was, showed her how to pull the levers, and answer the bells. Your grandfather really carpeted him, and no mistake. Funny thing, he could have had him sacked, if the District Superintendent had found out about it he would have been, but according to Purvess it never even went into the weekly report."

Abby digested that; it seemed so out of character with the man that Sam had been describing. "Why would he do that?" she asked.

"Don't know,' replied Sam, "some would say, it would have reflected badly upon him, allowing his daughter to run around the station yard, unchecked. But I think the real reason was because he might have felt guilty that he wasn't giving his daughter the attention she should have, anyway nothing more was ever said about it. He was strange in some ways, your granddad. He seemed determined that your mum should better herself in life, but never did anything about it. Oh, she went to school, I don't know how she did there, must have been alright though, she always had a way with words, but your granddad never seemed to spend time with her. It was the job, porters worked shifts, signalman had plenty of time to relax during the day, stationmaster, well he was on duty from first train in the morning until last train at night, and then he would be in his office, balancing the book, writing letters. I reckon your mum brought herself up." Abby was entranced, this was not only her family Sam was talking about, and he was also talking about a way of life that had vanished. She was hungry for more, but realised that Sam came into the pub for relaxation with his friends, and not to tell her the story of her family. She gave him the opportunity to leave it for a while by excusing herself to go upstairs.

When she came down Sam was in the bar part of the pub, talking with some of his friends. Abby went straight past, not wishing to take him away but Sam caught her eye and indicated that he would join her in the Lounge shortly.

It was little more than two minutes before Sam followed her and sat himself down, prepared to talk as long as Abby wished. He was quite happy talking about those times, the more he spoke the more he remembered. Abby was concerned that she was selfishly monopolising his time, and said as much. "Don't you worry about that girl; the talk in there is all about the weather, the grazing, livestock, and the bloody Government. It was the same last night, and it will be the same tomorrow night. I get to sit down and chat with a pretty young lady, and it seems I don't have to buy me own drinks either. If you and Jack are in cahoots you can leave off now. I'm enjoying myself; I don't need free beer to persuade me to something I enjoy."

Abby laughed delightedly, she quite like being called Girl, it was a long time since she had thought of herself as that. "Tell me, Sam, you seem to have known my grandfather reasonably well, yet you must have been of quite different ages, how was that?"

Sam took another drink before replying, "Well I was working for me dad on the family farm, and as I said earlier the milk run was one of my jobs. Those days you didn't have a tanker come round and collect the milk. You had to get it to the station, for the train. One collection early in the morning, and the other late in the afternoon. I used to take it down in churns, at first in a cart with a horse, and later we got a small Jowett van for the job."

Abby interrupted here. "Jowett, what make was that? I've never heard of them."

Sam chuckled. "I'm not surprised. Made a little utility van, with an air-cooled, horizontally opposed engine, more like a motorcycle engine. Got no power, struggled up hills when empty, put any sort of load in it and you would have to get out and push. They made a car too, called the Javelin, very smart design for the time, looked fast, but it had the same engine, so the looks were all it had. Don't know when they went out of business, must have been the mid-fifties some time."

Sam returned to the milk business. "I had to get to the station twice a day, and got to know your grandfather reasonably well. He was always there, didn't matter what time of day; he was there. I can remember well the first time I went down with the churns, I was well pleased with myself, having unloaded the cart, and got all these churns on the platform, near to the edge, so that the porter wouldn't have far to turn them. Suddenly this voice put the fear of God in me, he didn't shout, but his voice would stop anyone in his or her tracks. 'What do you think you are doing,' he says. I said something about making it easier for the porter, and back he comes, 'I'll decide whether to make life easier for my porters, and as they are lazy excuses for what porters should be I'll make life as hard for them as I wish. Now, while we are about placing churns on the platform, would you pray tell me how my passengers are to get past the obstacle you have erected for them?'

My first thought was to say that at half past five in the morning, there was little likelihood of passengers, but I thought better of it, mind you he didn't wait for an answer, and went on to ask. 'Perhaps you would also tell me what is going to happen to your milk, if the train were to be delayed, which it will not be as this is the Great Western Railway, but if it were, your churns will be sitting there in the Sun, warming nicely, would they not?' I could see immediately what he was getting at, and started to move them back under the platform awning. The next thing I know he is there beside me, moving churns faster than I have seen, he just pulled the top slightly toward himself, and then rolled them on the bottom rim. In no time at all, seven churns moved into the shade. That's what was sometimes difficult to understand about your Grandfather. He would rip you off, and make you feel a complete idiot one minute, and then he was helping you. I never made that mistake again."

Sam drank deeply of his beer. "I reckon I made that trip to the station hundreds, no thousands of times. As I grew older I got to know him better but not well, I don't think any of us got to know him well. In those days everything and everyone who arrived here came by train, and everything that went out went by train, so the station was an important place for all of us, and we all knew Thomas Tregonney, who he was and what he was, and we all had dealings of some kind or another with him, but that was as far as it went. He would come in here for his lunch most days, still dressed up in his frockcoat, and that cap, a bit like a French General's, but could never socialise. The porters could be in the bar, so that stopped him having his snap in there, because he was their boss, and obviously couldn't socialise with them, he probably thought they would take advantage. If the Lounge was empty he would come in here and sit down with his drink, but if anyone like old Mr. Comberford was here then he was stuck. He sort of hovered just inside the main door, neither one thing nor the other. It was better for him in the good weather, as then he could take his drink outside and sit on one of the benches."

Abby was fascinated. Sam was talking about a social code that had vanished. She could and did socialise with her subordinates, with no problems at all. It amazed her that her grandfather was bound by a system that put him in a social no-man's land. "Why couldn't he drink here when Mr. Comberford was in?"

Sam considered her question, wondering how to answer. It was a question like the one about mothballs, it was to do with time, none of his contemporaries would dream of asking such a thing, the answer was part and parcel of their life, you instinctively knew about class. Who was your peer group, who was lower than you in the order, and those you would consider your betters. "It's difficult to give you a reason," he began, "Mr. Comberford was the Landowner around here, and would be the best customer that the railway had. Your grandfather would know that whilst on the surface, Mr. Comberford was happy to do business with him and be civil, although he had little option, as there was no other way of moving goods in and out, he would not be happy about sharing the lounge with someone who he considered to be of the lower classes."

Abby was a little indignant about this, her grandfather! "Lower class!"

Sam sensed her feelings and carried on quickly, trying to explain. "Anyone who didn't own Land was of a lower class to Mr. Comberford. All of us who were around then were lower class to Mr. Comberford."

"But surely you weren't," said Abby, "you had a farm?"

Sam shook his head "No, girl, my family were tenants, Mr. Comberford owned our land, and we paid him rent. So my dad drank in there."

This was getting confusing for Abby. "So, he didn't have a problem with the porters?"

"No, but then he wasn't their immediate superior. In fact I'm sure your grandfather could have taken a drink quite easily in there, the porters would have moved away to the other end of the Bar, and given him space. They wouldn't have a problem, other than they couldn't moan about their stationmaster. The problem was Thomas Tregonney's. He must have felt that he couldn't associate in any way, because of his position."

Abby was still angry. "Just wait until I see that Mr. Comberford again, I'll tell him what to do with his class."

Mary laughed. "Oh don't go giving Mr. James a hard time. It wasn't him, it was his Father." Abby stopped, of course it couldn't have been him, and Sam was talking about a time fifty years ago.

She had realised that Sam once started would have talked on at length, but she felt guilty all the same, so decided that she would leave him to enjoy his drink in peace with his friends. She had surreptitiously looked at her watch and it just past eleven. "Sam, it has been so interesting listening to you, but I am really tired, it must be the air around here, not to mention Mary's wonderful meals. Would you excuse me? I should get to bed now."

Sam looked at his watch, a wonderful pocket watch, the plating highly polished from years of use. "God bless you Girl, look at the time, I must be away myself or the missus will give me hell. You sleep well, and I'll be happy to see you tomorrow night, that is if I haven't bored you too much."

Abby told him that she would love to talk some more, and on impulse leaned over and kissed his cheek. Sam went a bright Scarlet, but the broad smile on his face left her in no doubt that he was delighted. Some of the other patrons, who were leaving noticed, and cheered bawdily. "Just you wait until I tell your missus, Sam." cried one, "She won't half give you what for." Abby walked back through the bar to a chorus of Good nights from those remaining. Happy, she returned their greetings and made her way to her room.

With Abby gone, Mary turned to Sam. "So, when are you going to tell her?" The happy smiling face was gone, and the tragedy that Sam had told her about was giving her great trouble.

"I don't know, Mary," replied Sam, "it just don't seem right to just come out with it. I'll find a way."

Mary's expression didn't alter. "You can't leave it forever, she'll have to know, and you'll have to make it soon. I don't want her going back to London with that piece of news awaiting her if she comes back."

Sam nodded his head miserably. "Yes you're right, Mary, I'll tell her tomorrow

Abby awoke to the sound of rain hammering on the window. Rising she walked over and looked out on a Grey, squally day, of great clouds billowing up the valley from the West, driven by a wind, which bent the trees of Huish Coppice with its force. In many ways Abby was relieved that the weather was bad, otherwise she would be tempted to walk down to the Station and immerse herself in its atmosphere, but this time in brighter colour imbued with greater knowledge of her grandfather. But she remembered the Solicitor, she had promised to see him at ten o' clock. Looking at her watch she was relieved to see that it was just past seven, an hour which had rarely featured in her life in London. So it gave her time to conduct a more leisurely introduction to the day than she would normally enjoy.

Mary was bustling around as usual when Abby came down to breakfast, and greeted her with that beaming smile. "What would you like for breakfast this morning?" she asked, "and don't tell me just toast."

Abby laughed. "To tell you the truth, Mary, I do feel quite hungry this morning. Could I have some scrambled egg on toast?' Mary seemed quite pleased that at last Abby was going to eat properly, and went off to her kitchen humming. The scrambled egg when it arrived looked like a great yellow mountain, steaming, and running with little rivulets of butter. Alongside were two rashers of Bacon, grilled crisp. Abby would have protested, but the delicious aromas kicked her salivary glands into gear, and she attacked the plate with delight. In short order the two rashers had been consumed and half the mountain, when the full sign went up and Abby pushed the plate away. Thus fortified she could contemplate the day ahead. Wondering what revelations this day would bring, after all, every day so far had brought her nearer to her grandfather, whose existence hitherto was only a biological fact, and also to her mother, who she now realised had once been a young, carefree, girl.

The rain was easing when she left the Combe Inn, enough to make driving a little easier, but not enough to avoid her getting soaked running round to the back of the Inn, where the car had been parked. The wipers swished steadily as she drove the road to Paverton, soon clearing the road film from the screen; their steady arc sporadically interrupted as droplets of rain, shaken from the trees by the gusting wind bombed the car, and spattered the windscreen like bullets. Her initial thoughts that the rain was easing were dashed upon reaching the moorland at the top of the valley. Here the elements ruled absolutely, the wind hurling slabs of rain horizontally across the road, whipping the gorse, bracken and occasional Beech into a moving undulating mass, more akin to a stormy sea than open country. Even the sheep had sense to take cover, as she had a fleeting glimpse of a small flock huddled into what appeared to be three walls of a ruined cottage. Abby would later find out that this enclosure and others like it were specifically built for this purpose.

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