Abby Ch. 34


New Years Eve was again very busy at the Combe Inn, and Abby once more made herself useful, collecting empties and washing them for Jack to refill. As Midnight approached she found herself unthinkingly at James' side. Jack had tuned the Radio to the BBC and as the gongs of Big Ben rang out. He kissed her and whispered. "Happy New Year, Abby." Abby didn't realise that the cheers were more about James kissing Abby, than the New Year that dawned. With that indication of Abby's and James feelings for each other, the news was disseminated throughout the valley quite quickly. Most eagerly awaited the announcement of an engagement and when that failed to come questions were asked. Worried minds debated this with other worried minds. They could not understand the turmoil that was going on in James' mind, who had the most worried mind of all.

As before when he came back from the Falklands, James went to see Sam. Mavis had gone to Paverton, so they had the cottage to themselves. Sitting at the big table with mugs in front of them, Sam waited for James to start. After a few minutes of silence, Sam prodded James. "Was there something special you wanted to talk about?" He asked. James was still silent, so Sam had another go. "Or perhaps someone special you wanted to talk about." James nodded. But apart from that said nothing. "Would it be Abby?" Sam pushed a bit more. James nodded again. Sam took a sip from his mug. "Well it's a good conversation we are having." He paused for a moment waiting for a response. There was no response. "What about Abby?" He persevered.

At last James said something. "I don't know what to do about her."

"Ah, we have speech. But I don't understand, is she upsetting people, or poking her nose in where it isn't wanted?"

James' demeanour denied that. "No, it's nothing like that; it's about Abby and me."

Sam nodded gravely. "So, it's got to that stage has it?"

James looked up questioning the statement. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, Mr. James, that Abby is fond of you, and you are fond of Abby. That's the stage I am talking about."

"Yes Sam, but what do I do about it?" Sam laughed out loud.

"Oh, Mr. James, from the gossip I would say you are doing something about it."

James let a small grin come to his face. "No no, I am not talking about spending time together, but what do I do about keeping her here. My mother said that Abby had hinted that she had other things to do, and just the other day, Abby said something to the effect that she could move away from here."

Sam shook his head in amazement. "Mr. James. Listen to me for a moment. First of all, do you think that Abby would be spending all that money on the house and station, if she was thinking of moving on? Do you think that she would be doing all this work and putting money into the co-operative if she was thinking of moving on? And do you think she would be spending time with you, and becoming close, if she was thinking of moving on?"

"I accept that, but I don't know where to go from here."

"I can't believe I am hearing this." Sam shook his head sorrowfully. "Mr. James Comberford, who has run this estate for getting on fifteen years, Captain Comberford DSO. The bold and decisive officer and you don't know where you go from here. Well I will tell you what you should do. Ask Abby to marry you. Simple!" James was shocked, not so much because Sam had made that suggestion, but the tone of voice he used.

"I...I couldn't do that."

"Why? Don't you love her?" He was pleased that James did not have to think about that.

"Yes, I do."

"So why can't you ask her to marry you?"

"Because I don't know how she feels about me."

Sam with a little anger decided it was time to be blunt. "Damn you man! She sleeps with you. Do you think that Abby would do that unless she was in love with you? I certainly don't."

James went white in the face. He never thought that Sam would refer to that or even acknowledge that he knew about Abby's and his weekends. "But she's never said that she loves me."

"Have you told her that you love her?"

"Well, not sort of." Sam could not believe that James was this stupid.

"Well, not sort of." He threw James' words back at him. "I suggest that you tell her very quickly, and that you follow that up with a proposal. You say you are worried that Abby might leave. All I can say is that the way you are going on is the way to make certain that she does leave. For God's sake man! Get a grip. Talk to her, tell her how you feel."

In the face of Sam's diatribe James shook his head. "She will probably think I am asking her because she is well off, I can't have her believe that of me."

"Abby will not believe that of you at all. I know."

"I don't understand. How do you know?"

"James, I have been here on this earth and in this valley for eighty years." Sam's voice went up an octave as he spoke. " In that time I have learned a thing or two about people. I have watched you grow up, and become the man you are today. An honest man. A man of integrity and values. You have this failing though; you don't act when sometimes you should. In the short time Abby has been here she has recognised those values in you, and understanding that, she could never believe for a moment that you would ask her to marry for any other reason than your love for her. Now go away and think about that, but don't take too long, because I want to see your wedding; and if Abby were to ask me; give her away. But I am eighty, and I don't know if I have the time left for you to dally around. So jump to it Captain Comberford!"

James left Gallow Farm having received a shock. Sam had never spoken to him in such a way before. He had gone to see Sam expecting him to understand and sympathise with the problem. Instead Sam had not sympathised, and could see no problem at all. To cap it all it appeared that Sam had lost some respect for him. Never in all these years had Sam addressed him other than as Mr. James. Now to be called just James was not; as in most cases; a sign of friendship, but more a reflection of Sam's loss of respect. It didn't matter what Sam had said, James could not believe that the solution was a simple as all that. He was certain that if he asked Abby would refuse him. There were no solid reasons for this belief, it was something that had come into his head without reason some time ago, and the passing of weeks and months had done nothing to change that idea. So entrenched was this notion that Sam's words could not convince him otherwise.

January rolled into February, cold, damp and misty. Abby felt guilty about the men who worked on the station, they had some shelter from the cold rain that fell so frequently, but with no heating, bar the small grate in the Waiting Room, the station was at best a cheerless place, how could her grandfather have put up with it? But George's workmen seemed a cheerful lot and always greeted her warmly when she went down to view the progress. Then as if by magic, at the end of February a most significant change came over the station. The new flagstones for the platform had been delivered and were down. The plastering and painting had been completed, and there in a long, plastic-wrapped package were the Barge Boards. Some of the crew had gone over to the Goods Shed and were busy stripping long-neglected paint; others were chipping out powdered mortar and re-pointing. The metamorphosis from dry chrysalis to butterfly was almost complete.

The small parcel that arrived for Abby one day was of little interest to Mary, who was surprised when Abby seemed very excited about it. The post mark was Taunton. The covering letter was from the photographic processor who explained that much of the film was beyond saving. However they had managed to rescue some thirty minutes of footage and that had been transferred to the DVD enclosed. Abby ate breakfast hurriedly, eager to get to the Estate office where she had left her lap top computer.

The first pictures were taken in a field, which Abby recognised as the one behind the Combe Inn. Tents were being erected and a small stage. Then the scene changed suddenly to one where the same field was full of people. A flickering image of a much younger Sam, Mavis and Harry were evident. Harry had a woman with him who Abby supposed was his dead wife. A tear came to her eye as it was obvious by Harry's attention that he had loved his wife with deep affection. Then there was a tall handsome man standing on the stage making a speech. He had the look of James about him. It must be Charles Comberford! She flipped back to the start of the scene and studied the people closely. Yes! There was James, a small boy. A happy smile came to her face, her James as a seven or eight year old boy...Oh, how sweet! She let the scene play on. Her finger darted quickly to the pause button frequently as faces appeared that she could identify. Then the now easily recognisable figure of her grandfather appeared in a pan shot, with a girl beside him, dressed in a pink and yellow Gingham dress. Mum! Abby tried to work it out. Her mother would have been about fourteen or fifteen at the time, but still gave the appearance of a young girl. Yet in the very short space of two years she would be giving birth to Abby. It was so hard to believe, she seemed so young and innocent. The decision to run away when she was little more than a girl was so courageous or was it a courage born of desperation?

Abby let the film run a little more, studying the people, especially the young men. Did any of them take more notice of her mum than others? Was one of those boys or young men her father? There were no clues to be gained from the thirty minutes of film, as none of those young men seemed to take an interest in the young Marion. Abby was again left with no answers. She ran the film again and again, seeking some sign, a gesture from someone that would indicate a partiality. There was nothing!

She was no closer to the truth, yet she felt that one of those men in the film had to be her father, it stood to reason that if her mum had a teenage crush it would be with someone local, but who? She had never wondered about a father too much until she came to Combe Lyney. Getting to know more about her family did encourage speculation, but if Sam and Mavis could not tell her who her father was, how could she discover his identity from these flickering faded images? Resignedly she was now putting that question once more to the back of her mind.

Early in March the windows of the house had all been removed and a large gap had appeared in the roof. Men were pouring concrete into foundations adjacent to the front door and a huge delivery from the wholesalers was being craned off their lorry. Wrapped in protective corrugated cardboard and plastic, Abby knew that it could be nothing else but her bathroom. George Walker was there running around calling instructions, it appeared to be total chaos, but an order was found as the suite was placed gently on the ground, and other items of piping and drainage were also taken off the lorry. George noticed her, and once he was satisfied that no one was going to damage the fittings came over to see Abby. "You came at the right time, Miss Abby. We'll get the bathroom fittings in within the next three days; the bricky's will get the low walls in for the Veranda, they will be dressed rock, the same as the house, and all the windows will be in by next week."

"That's excellent, Mr. Walker. When do you think it will be habitable?"

He hummed for a moment or two. "Give me three weeks. We need to get all the plumbing connected, the gas supply tank will come tomorrow, there are lots of little things to do, and I would want to test everything before handing over. Three weeks should do it. Now I wanted to see you to ask about tiling the Bathroom. Do you want it all tiled, or just the splash areas?"

Abby was not sure. "Can I go and look; I will get a better idea there." He agreed that would be better.

George led the way in; there was a board down to cross the foundations. With all the windows out, the place felt quite cold, but Mr. Walker and his workmen seemed not to notice. Abby was encouraged to see all the electrical points fitted, and the walls painted a soft buttery cream. She had to agree that it did make the place look lighter. She inspected the bathroom with Mr. Walker and decided that two walls would be tiled, the one behind the shower cabinet, and the one where the hand basin and Bidet would go. He showed Abby some floor tiles, which looked in keeping with the style and age of the house, but were non-slip. More expense thought Abby, but agreed that it should be right from the start, rather than wishing later that it should have been done.

She left with the good news that the station would be complete, subject to final inspection by Ms. Eaton within a week. Abby had made application for grants, and had not heard anything. She felt it was time to put pressure on Ms. Eaton, so asked George if he would let her know when Ms. Eaton would be inspecting.

Abby had been in regular correspondence with Mr. Brasher, keeping him informed of the progress, and also listing questions that he alone seemed able to answer. With the news that the station building would be ready towards the end of March, he decided that he would pay another visit. Abby had not thought about a ceremonial re-opening of the station until James suggested that it would be fitting. "I think it would be right to make it a bit special. I know it will be to you, Abby, but it will be special also to the people here, especially those who remember the days when the railway operated. Perhaps I could have a word with the Reverend Hopkins, make it a sort of re-dedication ceremony. What do you think?" Abby disagreed, this was being done for her personal reasons, and her first thought was a selfish one, keeping this to herself.

"No, James. I wanted this to be private. It's my project and I am doing this for my family."

James argued. "Your grandfather ran that station to offer a service to the people of this valley. He saw it as his duty, and took pride in doing that. To me it seems fitting that the people of this valley should pay him respect in this way. You told me that he was religious, so having this blessing would be appropriate, I would have thought."

She looked at him beseechingly. "Are you really sure?"

He nodded. "Ask Sam if you are unsure. I am certain that he would think it right."

Abby did ask Sam, and he having been forewarned by James agreed. "I think it would be respectful. We let your grandfather down. I think there's a few here, not just me, who would appreciate the chance to mark the occasion properly, and in some way to say sorry for our neglect, of him, and of course your mother." Abby accepted that.

James had plans. He wanted to mark the occasion with something special for Abby's sake. As part of his plans he had enlisted the help of the Paverton Army Cadet Force, to parade with their Band. He spoke particularly to one Graham Boyce, who blew a trumpet better than any he had heard. Then he tackled Reverend Hopkins, at first the Reverend was disinclined to bless an old railway station and was persuaded to officiate upon being reminded that he had missed Combe Lyney on his circuit on many occasions, and the Diocese would not be happy about that.

Ms. Eaton came and went, approving all that had been done, yet leaving with a flea in her ear from Abby, as the Local Authority were dragging their feet over the grant. The Heritage Fund had turned them down, not surprisingly, they had more important projects to support, but locally there were grants, and Abby would not let them get away. The date was set for the third of April. Mr. Brasher had confirmed that he would be there, and Mavis had made sure that most residents of the valley would be there as well, or she would know the reason why!

Sam rarely walked the fields now. The farm had been handed over to Roger some ten years ago, and Sam had no quarrels with his methods, the management was in essence the same way that the land had been used for seventy or eighty years. Indeed he thought, if Sam's grandfather was walking with him he would not notice any great changes. However he did from time to time like to take a walk around the farm, strolling casually through Lower Penny acre; which actually was far larger than its name would suggest; the Water Meadow, Upper Penny and Lydcott Straight. He didn't know why these fields were named so; his father had used these names and probably his grandfather as well, the reasons lost in the timeless pattern of country lore. It was at the top end of Lydcott Straight that he encountered Woody; who appeared as he usually did, seemingly out of nowhere. "Good morning, Mr. Perry. It's a good day for walking the pasture."

"It is indeed, Woody. I don't often see you here though."

"I have been watching for you for some days now. May I ask first what would seem a strange question? I have seen Miss Tregonney down at the old station quite often, but I haven't seen Miss Marion. Is she not here with Miss Abby?"

"No Woody." Sam was disquieted. "I thought you knew. I am sorry to tell you, but Miss Marion is dead. She died about fifteen years ago. No one knew until Abby came here." The news affected Woody dramatically. His lifestyle of being invisible and incommunicado worked against him as well as for him. His head went down, and to Sam it appeared that he was muttering something, possibly a prayer.

"I am deeply upset to hear that."

He stopped and Sam got the feeling that he was struggling with a dilemma. Eventually he straightened and took a deep breath. "Mr. Perry, that being so I have information that rightly should be given to Miss Tregonney directly, but I must confess that I am not well enough acquainted with her to do so, nor am I equipped with sufficient courage. This information should rightly come from someone who knows her well, possibly you or perhaps Mr. James."

Sam was intrigued, what could Woody know that others in the valley could not. "Go on, Woody."

Woody hesitatingly started to tell Sam what he knew. "When Miss Marion went away, I was aware that no one knew why, even Mr. Tregonney. However I believe that I did. I had reason to believe that she could be pregnant." Sam was shocked and angry. At first he wondered if it was Woody who impregnated Marion, then cast the thought aside.

"If you knew that Woody, why the bloody hell didn't you say something. We might have had a chance of keeping her here, giving her the support she needed. Damn you Woody, Damn you!"

Woody winced, shaken by Sam's angry outburst. "I am sorry, Mr. Perry. Your condemnation of me is well deserved. I have castigated myself often enough, but I couldn't say anything. Miss Marion had made me promise that I wouldn't. I had broken one promise before with terrible consequences, I wouldn't betray another."

Sam eventually calmed down, and needed to know why Woody could have come to this conclusion. "What made you believe that?"

"I was in Higher Huish Wood one day when I heard screams. It took me some time to discover the reason. It was Miss Marion who screamed, she was dishevelled, and bleeding from a private place. I knew enough to understand that she may have been assaulted. When I looked to see if the aggressor was still around I noticed that gentleman who came to stay from time to time at Lyney House. I never knew his name, but he was hurrying away, making for Huish."

"Was he of big build with dark hair?" Woody agreed that the man was.

"I knew him, not a nice person at all. He was the son of one of Mrs. Comberford's friends." Sam told Woody. "He only came down here to escape the problems of his life. Debts I assume. I think his name was Gore, Ralph Gore. You think he raped Marion?"

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