Abby Ch. 32


The Inn that evening was buzzing with all of the co-op members, except of course Abe Stone, discussing the terms of the agreement. Sam who had declared early that as he was no longer the tenant of Gallow farm, and would therefore have no interest, nonetheless found himself in the position of mediator, helping to explain clauses, and soothing tempers when arguments broke out over the meaning of the clauses. Abby watched from the bar, chatting with Mary, but keeping an ear on the conversation to see which way the wind was blowing. Harry detached from the group and approached her. Abby was expecting a complaint, and was surprised when he held out to her some rolls of cine film. "I don't know if these will be of any interest to you, Miss Abby. But they were taken in nineteen sixty four. We used to have a Fete every year, and these were taken then. To be honest I reckon they will have perished by now, and for the life of me I can't find the projector, so I've no idea if they are any good. You may be able to get one though. They are Super Eight." Sam joined them.

Abby looked closely at the rolls. "I doubt that I could get hold of a projector, that's if they still make them? But any good photographic shop will be able to transfer them onto a DVD. I'll have to go to Taunton I think though. Is there anything on them of interest to you Harry?" Harry shook his head.

"No, not to Harry." Sam remarked. "But I think there will something of interest to you, Abby." Abby looked up in surprise as Sam went on. "If my memory is correct your Mum will be in some of the shots, and even possibly your grandfather." Abby was definitely interested.

"I thought I had got rid of them years ago," said Harry apologetically, "I was turning out some cupboards yesterday and found them. Meant to give them to you this afternoon." Abby's smile was all the thanks he needed.

Harry turned the conversation then to the co-op. "Miss Abby, I feel really bad about getting you involved, especially as it is going to be you who actually funds the thing. It doesn't seem right to me."

Abby put her hand on his arm. "Harry. I meant what I said this morning. Just think of all the things you and Sam have done for me. All that work putting a fence in, and getting the goods shed cleared out. I can't let that go by without giving something back. Sam said to me once that that is how it is here. A job needs to be done and everyone will help. Well this is a job that needs to be done, and I am determined that I will help. Anyway I will get the capital back once it is up and running, so don't give it anymore thought." She waited for argument but none came, Sam and Harry both nodding heads slowly as they thought about that.

Abby diverted away from what was obviously an embarrassing topic for Harry. "How is it going over there? Is the Agreement satisfactory? It can be modified as time goes on, if it doesn't suit the changing circumstances."

Sam answered. "I think that it's alright. The problem is that Farmers are not used to co-operating, and they are loathe to give up their independence. I have explained that they are still their own men, but the more they support the co-op, the more they will make out of it."

A little later Abby made herself scarce, as the discussion between Harry, Roger, Nat, and Geoff Corliss was obviously going on far into the night. She retired to her room and picked up one of the books she had bought; it concerned the run-down and closure of many of the branch lines.

Thomas Tregonney

The station that Thomas had joined all those years ago was now reduced to a simple, single line through the platform. The signal box had been closed last year, with Reg Purvess transferred away to another box near Exeter. The points, sidings, and signals that it had controlled had been isolated and clipped, leaving a desert of rusting rails and weed, marooning the goods shed in the process. Gone too were the steam engines that had left a reminder of themselves every time they called at the station with a heady smell of steam, hot oil and sulphur. Now a green, two coach diesel unit growled its way up and down the line, the service calling at inconvenient times so that even the last few regular passengers had given up and got their own transport. The driver a young man; who years ago would still be cleaning Locos, not driving one; slouched casually, Cap-less in his cab, not concerned at all if the train was running empty or early or late. The guards were still Metcalfe and Bird, their job hadn't changed, but their demeanour had. They were aware, as Thomas that time was running out. The railway that they knew and took pride in was vanishing.

Thomas had officially retired in the April of this year. No replacement was appointed, so he stayed on, in the house and at the station apparently rent free, but also wage free, apart from the measly pension that his years of service had brought. It was odd though, that British Railways never followed with notice to quit the house. He presented himself just as always, Frock coat, waistcoat, wing collar with neatly knotted black tie, and the cap. The service was so sparse that he had plenty of time on his hands to do the jobs he would once have delegated to Porters. He weeded the flower beds, polished the windows, doors and furniture, and kept the platform edge white as always. At the back of his mind was the horrifying thought that perhaps someday someone in authority would enquire into the situation, and give him his marching orders. Until that happened Thomas would maintain the standards, even though others appeared to have little time for them.

The train approached the crossing. The gates were never closed against the railway these days, yet still the horns sounded, the two tones jarring unpleasantly on his ears as he waited to meet the service. A dirty, blue-grey miasma hovered over the coaches, vanishing as the motors were shut down to coast into the platform. Thomas stepped forward to stand where the Guards compartment should stop, but the driver overran, so he had to walk to meet Mr. Metcalf the guard. As ever their greeting was correct. "Good Morning, Mr. Metcalf."

"Good Morning, Mr. Tregonney." They stood together on the platform awaiting any sign of movement that could indicate a passenger. There was none.

Thomas consulted his watch. "You are early. I shall have to hold you for three minutes."

Metcalf shrugged his shoulders. "It's that young idiot who's driving. Had the throttle wide open all the way up from the Junction. He ignores speed limits for turn-outs and curves. Thank heaven I had something to cling onto. It's good to stand here on something that isn't rocking and rolling all over the place. It's easy for him. He just sits there and pulls the lever a bit more." There was a hint of disgust in his voice Thomas was nodding and Metcalfe carried on. "No wonder the old steam drivers thought of themselves as something special." He stopped and thought for a moment. Then looked enquiringly at Thomas "Aren't you supposed to be retired now?" In all the years he had called at Combe Lyney, he had never dared to ask a personal question of Thomas.

He was therefore surprised when Thomas answered him. "Well they wrote and told me so, but as there doesn't seem to be any intention of sending a new stationmaster I am keeping things going until someone does arrive."

Metcalf shook his head. "They don't have stationmasters now. They are called Station Managers, and there is one who is supposed to look after all the stations from Tiverton to Barnstaple. I've never seen him, so I am not surprised you haven't. Anyway the word is that they are going to close this line and the Devon and Somerset." Railwaymen were if nothing else locked in the past, and Metcalf used the name of the line from Taunton to Barnstaple as it was described when originally planned and built. Thomas didn't need to ask, as habitually he used the same description.

He looked at his watch again. "Time to be away." The guard consulted his watch, and placed his whistle between his lips at the same time unfurling his green flag. He blew one short blast and displayed the green. The driver did nothing, just leaned out of his window and looked back.

Metcalf shrugged his shoulders. "I forgot, they don't show the flag now, I have to use the buzzer." He stepped back into his compartment, and pressed the button situated just over his door twice. The driver acknowledged the signal by repeating it. The engines surged and clouds of blue smoke hurled up from the exhausts, as the train got under way. The acrid exhaust smoke curled and billowed in its wake. It also got into Thomas's eyes and throat, and he coughed once or twice. No wonder people didn't like to travel in those things, he thought, that stuff would poison them.

As he turned away, he noticed the dishevelled figure standing by the goods shed. Thomas walked towards the end of the platform and called across to the figure. "Good morning, Woody."

Woody walked over the jungle of ballast and weeds towards the platform. "Good morning Mr. Tregonney. I trust you are well." The well modulated tones had no surprise for Thomas. Over the years the two had exchanged the time of day on many occasions, and respect had built between them. Whilst strange on the surface it sprang from the isolation that each experienced, albeit that one had chosen isolation, and the other had it imposed upon him.

"I am quite well thank you, Woody. I am glad to see you today. Please don't take offence but I have a uniform that does not suit me. It's good quality worsted. Would you accept it?"

Woody smiled wryly. "In my position, Mr. Tregonney, taking offence is an emotion wasted. I would be grateful. As you see, my present ensemble has lost the ability to keep the chill wind at bay."

"Come down to the house, if you will. I shall fetch it for you." They made their respective journeys to the house. Thomas went immediately to the back room where the British Railways uniform hung on a hanger, it had never been worn, and although by now over twenty years old was pristine although it bore, generously, the scent of mothballs. Woody had not entered the house, so Thomas took the suit out to him. "I am sorry that it smells so much of mothballs." He apologised.

Woody demurred. "A very sensible precaution, and out in the woods there is no-one to complain, mind you, the deer and rabbits will smell me coming, at least until it has aired through. I am most exceedingly grateful, thank you." He examined the cloth. "This is a fine suit, it will last well. It looks unworn though, are you sure you can let it go?"

"It has never been worn. I have always been much happier with these." He indicated the frock coat he wore. "It reminds me of the better times, when we ran a proper railway." He paused. "I was just going to make myself a cup of tea. Would you join me?"

"I am not keeping you from your duties?"

Thomas, sadly, shook his head. "There are so few trains now that I have little to do. I am in fact officially retired, but as they haven't appointed a new stationmaster, I carry on for the while." Woody had suspected that this upright man would be retired. Thomas went to put the kettle on the hob. Whilst he waited Woody looked around. "Do you take sugar?"

"No thank you, Mr. Tregonney." Woody laughed. "Sugar is one of life's toothsome pleasures I have learned to live without." He didn't add that tea was also one of those pleasures. Thomas brought out the steaming cups.

"Perhaps you would like to sit inside?"

"It's a fine day. Having Tea is an occasion for me, it wouldn't do to take too much enjoyment all at the same time." He sipped carefully at the hot liquid. "I do miss your trains. It was delightful to see those pretty green engines and the chocolate and cream coaches passing through the valley. They somehow completed this picture of sylvan content."

Thomas had joined the Great Western Railway when he was fourteen, so his education had been limited to just reading, writing and arithmetic, at which he achieved competently. He had never heard the word sylvan before, but agreed with Woody nonetheless. "Yes. The railway never seemed out of place then. We offered services to our customers, and fitted in. It was part of the community, but never intrusive."

Woody mused. "Tell me if you know. What will happen now?"

"I have nothing official, but from what I can gather the railway will be closed down."

"That is ridiculous. Why?" Thomas shrugged his shoulders.

"I understand that they intend to close the line from Taunton to Barnstaple. That means that this line will close as well. Someone in London has decided that they aren't necessary anymore." Thomas took the empty cups and went to rinse them under the tap. He came out and closed the door. Woody folded his new suit over his arm and prepared to vanish once more into the greenwood. As he walked away he turned back for a moment.

"I notice that your coal supply is low. When will you get more?"

Thomas looked unhappily at the small stock. "I used to get supplies allowed out of the station requisition. There hasn't been any for a few months. But as officially I have quit the house, I am not surprised. I doubt that there will be any more."

"Will your stove burn wood?"

Thomas had never considered the question, and had to give it a few moments thought. "Probably. It will burn much the same way I would imagine."

"Leave it with me, Mr. Tregonney. I will find some fallen branches for you. It will keep you going for a while."

"That's very kind of you, Woody. I shall pay you of course."

"You will not! A good service," he indicated the suit. "Deserves one in return." He didn't say that money was of very little use to him.

Thomas almost smiled for a moment. "Then when you bring the wood, you will join me in another cup of tea?"

"That will be a pleasure. Good day to you, Mr. Tregonney."

As he walked away, making for Huish Coppice, Woody was much troubled. He wanted to tell this lonely man, who had shown him kindness, what he knew about his daughter, but he could not. Marion had made him agree to say nothing to anyone about what he had seen. A promise was a promise. He had broken a promise years ago, and as a result was spending his life as a hermit, the only way to separate himself from the shame he had brought on his family. This was not too much to endure compared with the lady to whom he had made that broken promise. She was the one who would have spent a life of total misery, probably hating him every day of her existence. Woody would not ever break a promise again, and the assurance given to Marion he would keep safe, as long as she was alive. He hoped that Marion, wherever she was, was building a good life and that she had recovered from the shame of that day.

Thomas returned to his self imposed duties. The return service from Paverton would be here soon. This perhaps would be carrying passengers, as a few would be bound for Market Day in South Molton. He busied himself running a damp cloth over the windows of the station building. He had done this only two days before, so it was hardly necessary, but he would keep busy. It surprised him that they didn't get as dirty as before. He would never think the thought that this was because the Diesel trains were cleaner than the Steam engines.

The service had come and gone, there would not be another one for three hours, so he sat at his desk and wrote up his journal. This would occupy his time well. The ornate script he had learned as a small boy took time to form. In addition he had to give thought to the instances that should rightly be put in the journal. Few would arise with just one train every two to three hours. What he did put in was the need to increase the service early morning and evening, when he was certain that passengers would present themselves. This same entry had been written on many of the pages. He had written memorandums to District Office on this subject on numerous occasions. At first they thanked him for his observations, later they just ignored him. He had the sense not to write since his official retirement. It was best if they were unaware of his continued occupation of the station and house.

His days passed slowly, there was little to do. A few days after he had seen Woody, he was pleased to see him approach coming up from the direction of the old Mill Lane. He carried a large sack slung over his shoulder. Thomas walked to meet him, as Woody made directly for the house. "Good Morning Mr. Tregonney. I have got some firewood here for you."

"Good Morning Woody, that's extremely kind of you. You must come in and sit down for a while, that sack looks like quite a load. I'll make some tea."

"Well, I don't know if that would be appropriate, Mr. Tregonney."

"Nonsense, Man. Come in, I insist." Woody nodded his thanks, and after putting the sack down outside the door, followed Thomas indoors. He looked around strangely, almost fearfully. Thomas noted his apprehension and told him to make himself comfortable.

"I find it difficult, Mr. Tregonney; it is many years since I have been in a house. To you it is normal, but to me it is quite strange, almost discomforting." He felt the presence of Marion there. It was the way that items were placed, not regimented as a man would, but with an eye to turning everyday things into decoration as a woman would do. Thomas had never changed anything, sticking resolutely to Marion's placement, so that if she walked through the door tomorrow, she would feel at home immediately.

"I'll make the tea, and we will go and sit outside if that will make you feel more at ease."

Woody nodded. "I believe it will."

Thomas made the tea, and picked up one of the chairs. "Here, at least you can have the seat I promised."

Woody smiled and took another chair. "This will be as comfortable as any I have used." Outside it was cool but sunny. The coolness of the air bothered neither of them, indeed it would have to be close to freezing, before Thomas, used to standing on his platform in all weathers, would complain that it was a little chilly. Woody from years of living out in wind, rain, and even on occasion's snow, had developed an immunity to all weathers. His tattered rags in multiple layers acted as insulation, keeping him cool in summer and warm in winter. "Are you amenable to Rabbit?" Woody enquired of Thomas.

"Yes I am." Replied Thomas. "It was almost the only meat we had on the table when I grew up. So yes I am quite happy to eat rabbit. I believe the Gangers would trap them along the line, and sometimes, presumably when they had more than they needed, would leave a rabbit hanging on the porch. Marion learned to make a very tasty stew. Why do you ask?"

"I dine on rabbit frequently." Woody told him. "Like your gangers my traps are giving me more than I can use. I just wondered if you would accept one from time to time." Thomas hated accepting anything that he could class as charity, yet his pension was only a few pounds a week, and did not stretch to flesh every day. He collected his pension, travelling up the line to Paverton once a week to get to the Post office there. The Guards said little when he would climb into their compartment for the journey. He should not have taken advantage of free travel now, but why would they quibble? Their loyalty to the railway had vanished when they learned that they would be redundant within a few months anyway, so if Thomas took a free ride what did it matter? When Reg Purvess had left with the closure of the Signal box, Thomas had taken over the vegetable garden that Reg had cultivated along the line side. Reg had grown potatoes, cabbages, onions, and carrots, and kept himself, and Thomas, quite well supplied. Now Thomas used the plot to eke out his meagre pension. Grudgingly, he knew he would accept Woody's offer. But decided that he would return the favour.

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