Abby Ch. 31


Later that week Abby took a day off to drive over to Coolton Grange. She wanted to pick Richard's brains a little, and felt that time with Maggie would give her some relaxation.

Richard was a mine of information about many things, but what gave Abby great hope was his mention of refrigerated transport. The slaughter house in Paverton could do the transport, but at a huge cost as Abby would be using the lorry for a whole day with only a small load. Richard mentioned that he was using transport once a week, with a hired vehicle and an agency driver. There would be space on the lorry, for Abby to use, and it would be at proportional rates. "The wagon is going anyway." He told her. "So what space you use will help with the hire and labour cost. Helps me, and helps you." His reaction when she told him that she applied to register Combe Lyney as a brand was very positive. "That's a damn good idea! Branding will help you establish your produce as upmarket, get you better prices."

Maggie couldn't wait to get Abby away from Richard and settle down with a drink and hear all her news. Abby immediately told her that James and she were not related.

"Oh well, we knew that anyway." Maggie sounded unsurprised. "It was confirmed when you and James went away for the weekend. James is far too honourable to do that if there was anything dodgy about it."

Abby laughed. "Well in that case there is nothing else to tell, you seem to know it all anyway." She paused for a moment. "How did you know?"

Maggie shrugged her shoulders. "I told you once before. You are of great interest to everyone around here. What you say and do is soon spread along the grapevine. But it is especially of interest when James Comberford, whose name has never been seriously linked to any girl around here, goes off with this newcomer. Eyebrows were raised, tongues wagged, and there was many an 'Ooh' and 'I see' spoken with a nod and a wink." She smiled broadly. "I won't ask if it was good, it obviously was, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting there with that beaming smile on your face."

Abby started laughing, and put her cup down in case she spilt it. "Let's just say we were very compatible, and leave it at that."

"So when's the wedding?"

"Don't you start. I have had enough of Gwen Comberford going on about that."

"I can imagine. She was on the phone to Richard, pumping him about your financial state. Richard, bless him, didn't say a thing. Be careful with Gwen, Abby, she sees you as the answer to her problems."

"You mean with James never having married."

"No. I mean that Gwen would like to spend her old age without money trouble. You, she thinks, could assist with that."

Abby was startled. "Are you sure?"

"I'm pretty sure. Richard thinks the same. Gwen has lived quite well, what with her friend in Berkshire. She had the insurance money when Charles died, but it's anybody's guess what she did with that, but I am certain that James saw none of it. I also understand that James gives her a very good allowance from his income. Richard reckons that is the reason he has never been able to improve the Estate. You know that some of the cottages need a lot of work on them. James cannot afford to do the work, so as compensation he has kept the rents low. Because the rental income is inadequate that means he can't live as he would want."

"That seems unlikely for Gwen." Abby mused. "She gives the impression of being quite organised..." She stopped as a sudden recall came to her, of Gwen wanting to employ a cook and gardener, and of James insisting that they could not afford that.

Maggie looked at her curiously. "What were you going to say?"

"I have remembered something Gwen said to James, it would appear that Gwen does not seem to have too much of a grasp of economic reality."

"You have to realise, Abby that Gwen was brought up in a society, where girls were not expected do anything except ride horses, decide on menus, look decorous and have babies, but never, ever to have any dealings with something as sordid as money. Men administering their estates, investments and property made the money, the ladies spent it. She moves in a world of good country houses, social dinners, horse racing, and limousines. She came from that world, and has never been able to leave it. She would have no more idea of budgeting than fly in the air, she was never taught how."

"That's positively Victorian. Surely those days are long gone."

Maggie had to smile. For all her success in this world, Abby was still somewhat naïve. "Oh it still exists. Times have changed but there are still families like that, and Gwen's family was one of them."

They were interrupted by Josie the help. "Lady Margaret, Sir Richard will be joining you soon. Will you want another pot of tea?"

"Good idea. Would you like another cup, Abby?" with Abby's affirmation Maggie turned to Josie.

"Yes please Josie, and if there is any of that cake left, will you bring that?" Josie nodded and left. Maggie mused somewhat.

"It must be you being here. She never calls me Lady Margaret as a rule. Makes us sound like Gwen Comberford's lot."

When Richard arrived, he had hardly sat down when Maggie announced. "Gwen Comberford is after Abby's money."

"Thought so!" He turned to Abby. "What do you think about that?"

For Abby the answer was simple. "Not a chance!"

"Good." Richard seemed pleased.

Abby had been thinking about this for some time, and was quite aware that if, and at the moment it was only if, she and James got together, she would have to help him build the estate back to where it had once been. The news that James was contributing to Gwen's extravagant lifestyle was not entirely a revelation. But she would be damned if she was going to contribute as well. "None of this comes totally as a surprise. I suspected that something was going on. Even I could work out that the rents for acreage let, should have given James a better standard of living than he has. It hasn't been spent on Lyney House, that's for certain, so unless he is an irresponsible gambler, money was going elsewhere." She paused and then said slowly. "I don't think that James is a gambler." This was said with a smile as her two companions looked ready to refute that idea. They subsided.

Richard had something to say. "Abby, from what I have learnt from talking to you, and what others have said, I am certain that you are astute. I am not going to ask questions of you, because I don't want to know, but I am sure that what capital you have is invested wisely. My advice, and I am sure you don't need it, is keep it well invested, and never let slip control of your accounts. For heaven's sake don't start subsidising Gwen, you will find that a drain that is never full. James likes you, because it is you, and for no other reason. He's too bloody upright to have any ulterior motive."

Abby smiled at them."I know." Then something that Richard had said stopped her smile. "What others."


"What others have talked about me?"

She was a little angry. If others had been talking about her behind her back she was going to sort it out. Richard relaxed. "The chap you sold your flat to, Bernard."


"Well he is quite a high-flyer, and has dealings with a number of City Institutions, amongst them your ex-employer. When he mentioned that he was buying your flat the Chairman was interested and mentioned a couple of things. Bernard gathered that you were very well thought of, and sorely missed. He gave me to understand that the chap who allowed you to leave, has, as they put it, reached his ceiling." Abby's smile was involuntary, but spread slowly across her face.

"Oh good. Steve's been rumbled."

"Is that the chap who allowed you to leave?"

"He didn't have a choice. At least he thought he didn't. He dared not make waves as I let him believe that I was about to hit the Bank with the Tribunal. He would have been history after that, and he knew it, so he had little option." Maggie had listened and with women's intuition understood that Abby had left after scoring one for her side. One thing she didn't understand.

"What do they mean by reached his ceiling?"

Richard answered for Abby. "No chance of promotion, no chance of a better package, bonuses at the absolute minimum, and no point in complaining. If he doesn't like it, he can go and try elsewhere, if they will have him."

Abby nodded in agreement. "It's like a slow death in the City, where you are rated according to the last bonus you got. If your bonus doesn't increase or drops, then you are seen as un-bankable and on the way out."

Maggie shrugged her shoulders. "Sounds like boys competing to see how high they can piss up the wall if you ask me." Richard and Abby were in fits of laughter, with Abby a little shocked that Maggie would say such a thing in company.

Richard turned to Abby. "Now I have told you this, you aren't going to go back, are you?"

"It's nice to know that you are missed, but no, Richard, I am not going back. I have got my teeth into a new challenge here."

Later after Abby had left, Maggie returned to the subject of Abby's acumen. "She was good at her job, was she?"

Richard slowly nodded his head. "Yes. Bernard let on more than I mentioned to Abby. It would appear that as soon as she left her department suffered quite a reversal of fortune. The main board couldn't understand it, as this bloke Steve had always put in reports to the effect that he was responsible for the success. Consequently when bonuses were handed out he got the lion's share. As the profits tumbled they started asking questions of everyone in that department, and they realised that it had been Abby who did the business, and this man had been manipulating things to claim the glory. I imagine that Abby was aware of this, hence the outcome. I suspect she hit them for a tidy sum as well."

"She was that good then?"

"I would think she was, and even though she didn't get paid what she was due, I am sure she has got a tidy bit of capital tucked away, more than anyone would think. She's a cute girl and make no mistake."

"If James doesn't ask her to marry him then he needs his head examined."

"Ah, but will Abby say yes if he did

Maggie set her mind to this question. "I think she will, but it will be on her terms. I am glad we put her straight on Gwen though."

"Yes I am as well. Though having said that I somehow suspect that Abby would not be a fount of cash for Gwen anyway. She may help James with the estate, God knows it needs it, but as you say it will be on her terms, and I believe that it will benefit his tenants first. She said something when we were talking earlier, and she has this urge to do something to contribute to the community. This co-operative is a start. That will need some capital to get it going, and I think that Abby intends to provide it. James won't be disappointed about that, you know he always puts the tenants first."

Once Abby had got all her facts together, she wrote to Mr. Brasher informing him of the price per kilo they would ask for the supplies, and shortly after that the Club Chef, Tony Donaldson, arrived. Roger took him up to Paverton to see the Abattoir and cold storage facilities and he found nothing to fault there. He returned to the Combe Inn, and then upset Mary by wandering into her kitchen. He was forgiven only when he set to, helping Mary prepare lunch.

"I never feel comfortable out front," he explained, "here, I am in the world that I know." Mary was completely mollified when he showed her how to prepare a special Roux sauce with Herbs to go with chicken portions. The flavour was superb.

When he was introduced to Abby he took the opportunity to tackle her about the prices she was charging. They were in the Combe Inn at the time, and Abby had no wish to talk about business there, so she drove to the office at Lyney House. He followed in his own car. Abby made coffee and they sat down.

"What is the problem Mr. Donaldson?"

"It's the prices, Miss Tregonney. You're a little bit over the top on price." Abby had done her research well, and was not going to move on this at all. The price reflected the latest auction prices for the South East in general, with transport costs added, she knew that whilst a little higher than they would have paid before, it was still a fair price for what had to be described as superlative meats. She said as much. Donaldson was taken aback as Abby quoted confidently, without reference the latest prices for beef, lamb, pork and poultry.

"So you see Mr. Donaldson I cannot consider any easing of my prices, although I will track according to the market. You will have the best meats in London, in texture and taste. I am sure that would reflect very quickly on the reputation of the Club, and on your own skills as a Chef." Donaldson had to withdraw. He had already been told by the chairman of the catering committee that the prices were acceptable, but he had hoped to impress his employers with a better deal.

The next thing he had to discuss with her was the quantities he would need on a weekly basis. Abby was taken aback by these. She had not realised that a Club could get through so much provender.

"How many covers to you serve each day?" she asked in astonishment.

"We would usually have one hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty for Lunch, and probably about the same for Dinner. That's weekdays of course. At the weekends quite a lot less." Abby's mind worked furiously to understand this apparent anomaly. The answer when it came was simple. The Club members like the city traders were not there at the weekends.

"Would you want this amount delivered every week, or do you have storage sufficient for more than that?'

"I can at a push, store sufficient for three weeks, a little longer hanging has never harmed any meat."

Abby nodded. "So if we were to deliver roughly every ten days you would be happy with that?"

"That would be fine, unless I get an unexpected high demand. How quickly could you deliver in an emergency?"

Abby had no idea, and decided to bluff. "Within reason I would think that we could get most of your requirements within three days. But I will warn you that in that case I would probably be sending a refrigerated van half empty. An extra charge may have to be considered if it happened too frequently." He seemed unsure about that, no other suppliers had threatened an additional delivery charge for emergency supplies.

His next question was. "When can you commence deliveries?"

"I will contact you very soon about that. You are buying a Brand which can only be produced in this valley. I will not be getting carcasses from anywhere else to fill a gap. It takes months for the animals to grow, but we won't keep you waiting that long I can assure you. I would think sometime in the next four weeks should bring our initial delivery." He left with an impression of Abby as a clever business woman, a reputation which he would eventually filter through to other Chefs and other Clubs. Abby felt rather pleased with herself. Having got into a new trade, she seemed to have held her own with someone who had been in it for years.

It seemed now that everyone was clamouring for her attention. George Walker caught her at the Inn. Abby knew he had phoned a couple of times, but had not found the time to get back to him as yet. "I could do with seeing you down at the house if possible. See where you will want the power points upstairs." Abby felt guilty, and shamefaced told him she would be there this afternoon if that suited him.

"That will be fine. I've got to look at another job later this morning, but I shall be there about two-thirty." Abby could not argue and agreed to meet him then. "Now I have got some catalogues here of Bathroom stuff. Would you like to look through them and let me know what you would like?"

Abby flicked quickly through the first catalogue. "I'll let you know this afternoon, but from the look of it I shall be able to choose easily." That mollified George, rarely do clients make up their mind so quickly.

He then handed her a brown envelope. "We did agree stage payments, didn't we? That lists the work done so far. If you are happy with that, there is an interim invoice enclosed."

"That's fine, we did agree. I'll look through and let you have a cheque." A thought struck her. "Will there be room for all the bathroom fittings, I mean bath, Hand-basin and toilet?"

"Plenty of room. We can put you a separate shower in. Better than having one over the bath. Don't worry, there's plenty of room." Making a decision was not difficult for Abby, She had only turned four pages of the catalogue when she found exactly what she was looking for. An Edwardian style suite with a free-standing roll-top bath. The bath was cast iron, just what she wanted. She turned to the invoice. Mr. Walker had listed all the work done to date. As Abby had been down to the house so frequently, she could have written the list herself, his list coincided with her mental estimate exactly. She wrote a cheque to cover the invoice value. That was easy, the next item on her agenda was to arrange another meeting with the members of the co-operative. Armed with the knowledge of how much the Club would need, she now wanted to know if they could fulfil the demand. She would go and see Roger after settling with Mr. Walker.

George Walker was very pleased for the cheque, beaming at Abby as he said. "That's the fastest payment I have ever had. Pity there aren't more like you around."

Abby laughed. "Well I thought I would do it straight away, I know I have been difficult to contact lately. I have looked through the catalogue and decided that this suite," she pointed it out to him, "is exactly what I want." George read the specification and measurements, and looked worried.

"Just a moment Miss Tregonney." and he stalked off, taking his long tape out his pocket, humming all the while. After a few minutes he returned, and the worry was now deeply etched into his face.

"Sorry to say Miss, but as I thought, that bath won't go up the stairs."

"Oh no, are you sure?"

"Yes. I measured a couple of times just to be certain."

"Damn! I had set my heart on that as soon as I saw it."

"Well..." his voice tailed off.

Abby looked at him with a question on her face. "Did you think of something?" She asked, knowing that the answer would probably cost her a bit.

"I could do it, but the window will have to be taken out. It would go through there, no problem."

"Well that's what we'll do." George was humming again, and Abby waited for the inevitable.

"Cost a bit more. Have to be very careful taking it out, and it will all have to be set in properly after."

Abby was determined. "Do it that way, Mr. Walker." The humming didn't stop with her answer though. He walked away a couple of steps then turned back to her. Abby waited.

"About the windows." He said tentatively.


"If we are taking that one out, it seems silly to put the old frame back. Would you not like some new double glazed fitments? I could get some very good ones fitted. UPVC, sash windows like you have, couldn't really tell the difference, but you will never have to have them painted." Now Abby had to think. It would appear that the costs were going up all the time. She could see the benefit of having double glazed windows, and they would be sympathetic with the Victorian veranda.

"What do you think they will cost?"

Hum, hum again. "Roughly, I reckon you are looking at fifteen hundred."

"What? That's far less than I would have thought."

Mr. Walker looked a little sheepish. "I get a glazing company to do that work for me; they'll do the veranda as well. They charge me trade price, and that's what I will invoice you for."

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