Abby Ch. 31


"That's very generous of you, Mr. Walker. Why?"

"Miss Tregonney, there's a lot of work here. Keep me going for a few months, and you pay promptly. I will make a good profit out of you anyway, so no point in being greedy." What he didn't say was that he had heard the gossip around here about this lady and Mr. Comberford and thought that there was a good chance that he would get work on Lyney House at some time. Keep Miss Tregonney sweet, he thought.

Abby had no hesitation now. She smiled. "Let's do that."

Abby was happy as she mentally ticked off the things she had to do. She felt worthwhile again. The next most important job was to meet the co-operative. She had calculated roughly what turnover the Club could provide, and its value. It was actually worth more than she originally thought, having not understood how many meals they would serve, that surprised her. She drove up to Lyney House where she saw both Gwen's Jaguar, and James' Land-Rover. Abby was piqued, there were things that she should have noticed, but it was only now, after talking with Richard and Maggie, that the significance of the two cars became clear. James drove around in a battered old Land-Rover. Gwen enjoyed the comfort and luxury of a relatively new, top of the range Jaguar. She drove round the stable yard without announcing her presence. Her second line had been connected so she was straight onto the internet to check the latest prices.

She was working on her ideas for building the business when James put his head round the door. "Hey Miss Wheeler-Dealer, Tea and cake is on the table. Mother says to come and join us."

Abby grinned. "Who made the cake?'

"Who else, but this chief cook and bottle washer that you see before you."

"I'm on my way. Before you go, James. There is something I would like to run past you." He entered the office and waited. Abby got out the list of requirements for the Club. Walking round the desk, she held her face up for a kiss. Only after that greeting would she get to the nub of her query.

"Look at this list; do you think this is possible?"

He scanned the list quickly. "Every week?"

"No, about every ten days."

"The Lamb and Pork, they could certainly do, but the beef I reckon will be at a push."

Abby then showed him the price per kilogram she had agreed.

"Good grief! That's good. A fair increase on what they get now."

"Yes, well don't forget we have to pay for transport. I have costed in the prices the abattoir quoted me, but Richard has offered me a deal sharing his transport. That will ease the burden." She put the papers back in the file, and smiled up at James. "Lead me to the tea please, James."

Gwen was as friendly as ever. "Sit down Abby, the tea's freshly made; I'll pour you a cup. James tells me you have become very busy of late, and you haven't been to see me. It won't do you know, you have to relax sometime."

"Sorry Gwen. There is a lot to do at the moment; hopefully soon I will have more time."

"How's your little house getting along?" Gwen asked sweetly, hoping that Abby would make the comparison with Lyney House. Now Abby understood Gwen's character and her devious mind, the comment did not upset her, and she determined to serve like for like.

"Oh there's such a lot of work still to be done. Every time I go down there Mr. Walker seems to coax me into spending more money. The bathroom suite I chose will not go up the stairs, so it has to go through the window, and then I end up agreeing to replace all the windows with UPVC double glazing." Gwen would have loved to ask how much money Abby was spending, but her upbringing and dignity would not allow. Instead she murmured, "I see." Abby had mentioned the money as she was aware of Gwen's pre-occupation with wealth.

"Oh well, I am sure you will be quite comfortable in your cottage, and it will have been worth it." James was aware that something was going on, but for the life of him he could not fathom what. He invited Abby to taste some his cake.

"Yes please, James." Abby was happy to move away from the sparring with Gwen. With her mouth full of cake it absolved her from making a reply to Gwen's last sally. With her mouth finally empty of the delicious cake she turned to James.

"That cake is wonderful, full marks, James. Now I have to have a meeting of the members of the co-operative. Would you have any objection if we had it in the Estate office?"

"None at all, it's your office now."

Gwen wasn't too happy about this. Even though it wasn't actually in the house, it was close enough, and it rankled, having the people she thought of as inferior class in her home. "Will there be enough room?" She queried, hoping that James would say no. James had little doubt.

"I would think so; most of them seemed to crowd in on Quarter day when father was alive."

Abby agreed. "Yes, I shall push the desk back against the wall; I think that will give us enough room for all the chairs." For Gwen the world had gone mad. They were going to be invited to sit as well. The next day she was gone again, not wishing to be there when all these farmers came to her house, and sat down!.

The meeting was quite lively. Abby, with James' help had pushed the big desk against the wall, so that she would be sitting with them rather than addressing them from behind the desk. Geoff Corliss came a little early so that he could discuss with Abby how he could be part of the co-operative. He seemed pleased with her answers. With all in attendance she outlined her proposals, once more. Then asked. "You have all had time to think about it. Later you will have the chance to air any problems. In the meantime these are the requirements that the Club has." She handed round copies of the list to everyone. "And these are the prices they will pay." Again copies were handed round. Even Nat was disposed to lighten his countenance when he saw these. Abby continued.

"But you will not get those prices. The co-operative will buy from you at your normal local price per kilo deadweight."

Harry was immediately on the attack. "But that's not right!"

Abby calmed him down. "You will all trade at present prices. That means that Mr. Stone will sell yearlings as present, you Roger, Harry, Nat and Geoff, will sell to the co-op at existing rates. The co-op will sell to new customers at these higher prices. There will be a full accounting kept, and every six months, all members of the co-op; and that means all of you; will receive a dividend based on the difference, less operating expenses. The dividend will be based upon the number of your stock which is moved this way. We can use the animal's passport as a way of checking what has been sold through the co-op, and pay dividends accordingly. Mr. Stone will receive his dividend based upon the number of yearlings sold on for fattening which pass through the co-ops system. This is a Partnership, so you are still self-employed and dividends have to be declared as earnings. This system may not be perfect. It may well be that we have to fine tune it later. What we have is basically a marketing arrangement; in the future we can expand it to cover purchases of feed etc. to get better deals. If it all works well, and we get more customers it may be necessary to get our own cold-store and transport, but that is a long way in the future. Let's start small and see how it goes."

Questions then came fast and furious, and Abby was able to answer most of them to the general satisfaction. She then went on to ask her big question. "You have seen the list of requirements. Can this be done?" Abby did not get an immediate answer. Heads were put together as farmers who are notoriously secretive suddenly found that they had to reveal facts to their neighbours. Sam, who had listened and watched quietly, eventually stopped all the discussion by answering the question. "Yes, Abby it can be done. There's enough finished stock in this valley, if you include Bullocks, Beeflings and Baby Beef to see us through. It may become a problem if there are other outlets taking similar quantities, so it may be an idea if Abe gets his Bull to run with the cows a little more." Abe was quite happy and therefore laughed at Sam's suggestion. Abby had resolved all his doubts, as he would share equally with the others the profit based upon what was sold on to the co-op.

He did have one question which the others seemed to have overlooked. "Now tell me, Miss Abby. This all seems a very good thing for us, but I would imagine that it is going to need some capital to set it up. Where's that money going to come from?" There was a sudden silence. Taking profit from this new deal was good, but finding money to start the ball rolling was not anticipated.

Abby was not surprised that it would be Abe who asked this question. "Well so far it hasn't cost much at all. Mr. James will not charge the co-op for the use of this office, as he believes this venture will be good for all. The capital as such is working capital, to pay bills for slaughter, storage and transport. I don't think it right either, for you having sold to the co-op to have to wait for your money. If you will allow me, I shall cover the initial expenses myself, and recover on a six month basis over time." The silence was total. Harry and Nat were now feeling very guilty. It was they who had pressed Abby to do this, but they hadn't expected her to have to fund the thing as well.

Harry cleared his throat. "Miss Abby, I don't know what to say. This is very good of you, but I don't think it right that you should have to put money into it. Perhaps it will be best if we drop the whole idea. We managed before, and will go on managing." There was a general agreement amongst them all. This was too much to ask.

Abby held up her hands. "Harry, I appreciate your sentiment, but let me say this. Ever since I arrived here, I have been given help without stint. I am making this valley my home, but I have to do something to earn my place in your community. This is the way I can give something back to all of you, who have made me welcome here, and shown me friendship."

Abe Stone was moved by these words. "Miss Abby this is an example of the best Christian attitude." He clasped his hands together in a gesture of worship. "I shall pray to the Lord, and give thanks to Him for sending you amongst us. I will say one thing though. The Lord approves of Labour, and also approves of the Labourer being worthy of his hire. We, who will benefit from this work, should forgo part of our profit in order that you should receive your entitlement." There were nods and words of agreement from all of them. Abby kept the smile off her face with difficulty. This was something she had thought about, but had not found a way of implementing. Abe Stone had neatly resolved her problem. Before the meeting descended into too much sentimentality, Abby wanted to move on.

"I have registered a Brand for all products marketed through the co-op. It is simply Combe Lyney Produce. I shall market Combe Lyney products as a superior quality in all respects, and worthy of a premium price."

"Does this mean that we can all use the Brand for everything we sell?" This was Harry, looking for an edge again.

"No, only those products sold through the co-op can use the brand. After all the meats can be traced back through the passports and Slap marks. For our own reputation we have to be absolutely sure of the product we sell." Abby's researches were paying off now. Harry had not been too certain that Abby would know about Slap marks, the edible dye numbering applied to a carcass to identify the source. "I shall arrange for each carcass to bear the Brand name as well." Harry to do him credit smiled now. He had been trumped.

The meeting had been going on for two hours now, and so Abby asked if there was any other business. There was none. Abby did have other business though. "Before you go, I want you to read and understand this agreement." She handed everyone a copy. "This is the partnership agreement, so before you sign it, you must understand what it entails. Take it away with you and give it consideration. Any problems, phone me, any misgivings, phone me, anything you don't understand, phone me." Taking their copies they split up to go their own ways. Thanking Abby on the way out for all her hard work, and for what she was going to do for them. Abe promised to pray for her, and Nat said how right he had been to suggest she should run the enterprise.

She escaped to the house, and made herself some coffee, realising as she did so, that she ought to have offered them some refreshment. A mental note was made to get a kettle and mugs in for the office. James' arrival was not altogether unexpected.

"I thought you would be around once the meeting was over." She welcomed him. He bent over and kissed her.

"How did it go?"

"It went well. I am surprised though that I didn't get a rougher time from them. I mean some of the conditions could have ruffled a few feathers."

"I'm not surprised at all. They are somewhat in awe of you."


"Well you have come here with this mysterious background. Working in the City. That means you understand business and finance. If you say this is how it should be done, they are not going to argue. They are farmers. The closest they ever get to high finance is calculating the income for the milk," He sat down with a coffee for himself. "I am glad mother has gone. Did she upset you?"

Abby shook her head. "No. I don't think she can understand why I am settling into the valley, when she can't wait to get away." Abby waited to see if that explanation would suffice. It obviously did as James then said.

"Would you like to come up for a meal on Saturday?"

"Are we talking Lunch or Dinner?"

"We are talking Dinner." He agreed.

"Is breakfast included?" Abby asked.

"What do you like for breakfast?" He answered her question.

"I accept. Do I have to dress?" Abby immediately noticed the gleam in James' eyes and waited for the glib remark.

"Now that you mention it," his voice tailed off, and a wicked smile creased his lips. Abby smiled too.

"Another cold shower?" She asked.

"In all probability, at least once a day until Saturday." The gleam was still in his eye. "Then you can be as outrageous as you wish."

"Well I hope it isn't too cold then."

Abby was going to get back to her office, and then remembered something Sam had mentioned. "James. What is a Beefling and a Baby Beef?" .

"What brought that up?"

"Sam did. He was reassuring me that we could cope with the order from the Club."

"Oh I see. Well a Beefling is a young beast usually about eighteen months old. It won't have reached its full weight, but is still viable for slaughter. That's what we call them here, but it can vary around the country and other parts of the world."

"I see. And a Baby Beef?"

"That's a beast which is a bit younger. They are quite light, but as the meat is very tender, it makes up in value what it loses in weight. Why didn't you ask Sam?"

Abby looked a little sheepish. "Well I didn't want Harry to realise that I hadn't gone too deep with my research. I find him easier to handle, when he thinks I know more than I actually do."

James was grinning as she said this. "You're learning, Miss Tregonney you're learning."

Abby gave him a quick kiss as she left. "Perhaps I will learn some more this weekend?" Her eyes twinkled, and a naughty smile hovered around her lips. James for once was stuck for words.

To be continued

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