Abby Ch. 36


Abby had expected a third degree cross examination upon arrival back at the Combe Inn. But all Mary asked was. "Did you enjoy your few days away; the sea air must have been nice." Alerting Abby to the fact that James must have told at least one person where she was. In the bar that evening she saw Sam, who surreptitiously winked. Abby discreetly nodded, acknowledging his part in the conspiracy. She then gave her attention to Mr. Brasher who had arrived that day.

She and Mr. Brasher went to the station the day before the blessing. The building was pristine, looking just as it should, not new, but as an old building which had been cared for. He stood on the track bed, now devoid of weeds, with sleepers and ballast taking their place, just looking, saying nothing, his face revealing his feelings. He nodded his head. "This Abby, is how a station should look. Great Western, through and through." They had discussed the informative signs and pictorials that would go into the station. He had obtained official and unofficial photographs and had these blown up and printed on board. From the cavernous boot of the Rolls Royce he now produced them. One of George Walker's men carried them into the station. Covered by transparent acrylic sheet they would last for years. They went round the station deciding where the hoardings should go, for each one he produced a printed explanation of what the photo showed and what work the men were doing. They too had been enlarged and sealed under an acrylic coat. George Walker came over to see what they were doing, and immediately called the man back.

"Mark these up, drill and plug. We'll get these up straight away, Miss Abby." He turned back to his workman. "Use mirror screws, and don't over tighten. If you crack the acrylic I shall have your guts for garters!" He had a smile on his face as the man hurried off. "Best to warn them of their fate before they do it wrong."

Mr. Brasher had kept the best until last. He produced the blown up photo of Thomas Tregonney standing on his platform. Then the chronology of Thomas's career in the service of the Great Western Railway. "In his office, I believe, Abby. Would be the best place?" Abby nodded too full of emotion for words. Each hoarding was left against the wall it would be fixed to. Mr. Walker promising that they would be affixed properly or he would know the reason why.

As Abby and Mr. Brasher left the station building he apologised that the hoardings for the goods shed were not ready. The printer, though, had promised that he would deliver within three days. "I shall stay until then, Abby. I would like to make sure the placement is correct and to your satisfaction."

"My satisfaction?" Abby queried. "I will be happy with whatever you suggest. After all, you are the expert." Mr. Brasher acknowledged her compliment with a little smile. Abby then raised the subject of payment for all this work.

He shook his head. "Please don't mention it, Abby it was little enough, and my pleasure in contributing something to this work is more than sufficient thanks."

They were leaving through the wicket gate when Abby noticed the old sign, the one that she had seen broken and thrown amongst the weeds on the track. It was now whole and affixed to the diagonally slatted fence. She looked at Mr. Brasher.

"Did you organise this?"

He shook his head. "No, Abby. Nothing to do with me." Abby returned to the office building and found Mr. Walker, who was standing over his workman making sure he understood what was required of him.

"Mr. Walker. The old sign about tickets. Did you get it repaired?"

"Yes. Miss Abby. Ms. Eaton noticed it and told me that it had to be repaired and fixed as you see it. Evidently it was shown in one of the old photographs, so she included it in her specification. I found the bits and had them welded then repainted." He looked worried. "Why? Is there a problem?"

"No problem at all. I was surprised, that's all."

Now that she was seeing her project coming to completion, she was grateful for James' good advice. Restoring the station was an emotional step for her, but she recognised that having a purpose for the station was just as, if not more important. Everything she had learned from Sam and particularly Mr. Brasher had indicated that this building, delightful as it was, was a tool designed to do a job. Granddad was merely the operator of the tool.

The re-dedication had been set for eleven-thirty. It was one of those spring days when the sun shone but with little warmth, the saving grace was no wind to chill. Even so it was wise to wrap up a little. Abby arrived just after James, and was astonished to see the station approach full with cars, mainly Land Rovers, the standard mode of transport in the valley. She recognised most. James' battered and scarred vehicle, Mary and Jack, Sam, of course and his family, Harry, Nat and Susan Gaunton, Abe Stone's Land Rover was easy to spot, it was the only clean one there! Then of course the elegant Rolls Royce announced the presence of Mr. Brasher. She noted a Lexus and had to wonder who owned that. James had waited for her by the wicket gate and his eyes asked for the answer to his proposal. "Later, James." She told him. She was prepared for a good turnout but when they got on the platform she was surprised at the numbers. Seeing Sir Richard and Lady Margaret, answered the question of the Lexus, then the sight of a small squad in Khaki standing on the gravel of the track bed surprised her.

She turned to James and in a voice as cool as the air asked."What is the Army doing here?"

"Oh, I believe they are going off with the Reverend Hopkins to another function. I said it would be fine if they stopped here, swelling the numbers a bit." Abby's face told him she wasn't too sure whether to believe him of not.

James led Abby along the platform towards the newly glazed porch where the Reverend Hopkins waited, dressed in a white Surplice, bible in hand. Abby had to welcome many of the gathering, stopping and having a few words with most as they made their way. Abby was surprised when after the greetings were done, James started the proceedings.

"Sir Richard, Lady Margaret, Reverend Hopkins, Ladies and Gentlemen. No one was more surprised than I when Miss Tregonney asked to take over this station and house. To all intents and purposes the buildings were almost derelict, yet Miss Tregonney saw in them something more than a cursory examination would reveal. She saw something that no one else would ever see, no matter how hard they looked. She saw her Family." He paused to let that sink in. "That's an important concept, family. All of us here take for granted our mothers, fathers, siblings. They are there. We laugh with them, we quarrel with them, fall out with them, yet we can always return to the loving familiarity of the familial embrace, for comfort and for support. We can trace our families back through three, four or more generations, that knowledge grounds us, we know who we are." He paused again. "Miss Tregonney had none of those experiences, so this station where her grandfather worked, the house where he lived with her grandmother and where her mother grew up, assumed an importance that many of us could not understand. I think now we do understand. Re-building the past is a way of finding ourselves, and I believe that Miss Tregonney has done that. At the same time Miss Tregonney has found something else, friends as well as a family. Abby now belongs here, she is one of us." He turned to Abby. "Abby. You came here and offered friendship and courtesy to all of us and have become an essential part of this village and the valley, we want you to stay; you are part of us now, part of this little community. If you ever go away, you will leave a vacuum here that nothing will ever fill." He smiled, and looked at the Reverend, who cleared his throat and began the blessing of the station.

He started by making reference to the peculiar relationship that the clergy seemed to have with the steam railway, which bought a smile to their faces. "Many see the Church in the same light as the steam railway. Dinosaurs that have little reference to modern life. Indeed the Great Western Railway, known often by just its initials was humorously referred to as God's Wonderful Railway, and disparagingly as the Great Way Round. I think that if God had indeed designed a railway, it would have been the Great Western he used as a prototype. There was much similarity between the Church and the railway, both gave service to a community, the one spiritual, the other practical. We could see this station as the equivalent of the church, always open to serve those who had need of our help and succour. From this place some would set out to pursue fame, fortune or a new life. Others left to do service for their country. Yet the station was here to welcome them back, and many would have seen Thomas Tregonney, sending them on their journey and facilitating their return. In the midst of so much turmoil, Thomas Tregonney and his station were beacons of stability, much as we hope the Church could be seen. We will give thanks for his life, the service he gave us, and bless this building as a symbol of all he did."

This, for most was mercifully a short service, not so for Abe Stone who felt it was far too short, but for the others standing there was quite sufficient. The service ended with the Lord's Prayer, and James gestured to Abby to come inside the porch. She looked enquiringly at him, but his smile re-assured her. On the wall between the door to the booking office and the door to the waiting room there was a draped Union Flag.

The Reverend, Sam and others followed them in. There was insufficient room for everybody so those who could not crowd in watched through the glazed partition. "Abby." Asked James. "It would give us a great pleasure if you would pull away the Flag?" Abby gave him a questioning look. He nodded and gestured for her to go ahead. She did, revealing a grey Slate plaque fixed to the wall. Engraved on the plaque were the words.




1938 - 1966

Abby stood there silently, emotion causing a lump in her throat. Tears came to, and then overflowed her eyes.

At that moment from outside they heard the drums tap, once, then twice, then three times. Graham Boyce moistened his lips, raised the Trumpet and blew, hitting perfectly, the first three notes of Aaron Copland's 'Fanfare for the Common man'; the notes hung hauntingly, bright crystals on the still clear air. Everyone turned to watch as Graham finished the first refrain, then the drum beat again and the other trumpets and bugles joined in mirroring the notes but one beat behind. James smiled to himself; the band had practiced almost without pause to get this right. He turned to Abby who was crying silently, tears cascading down her cheeks.

He took the step that brought him to her side and put his arm round her. "Are you alright, Abby"

She nodded against his chest. "Thank you, thank you so much, James. I think granddad would be proud and even have moisture in his eyes now." He gave her his handkerchief, and she dried her eyes, looking up and smiling. "Now I know why you were so insistent that we had this ceremony."

James grinned. "You had me worried when you seemed so set upon doing nothing really, and I wanted this to be a surprise."

"Well it was definitely that." They walked around, James was very interested in the large photographs, and took time to study them and read the explanations.

"It comes as a shock to realise that all this work was going into making the railway work. Most people then and now would only look at the superficial, the trains and the locomotives. Few would realise how many men were involved in getting that train with its engine to the station and from there safely to its destination. It makes you stop and think."

Abby agreed with him. "Yes. I didn't give it a thought until I started to read up on it. I only wanted to know about granddad. He was the stationmaster, and for a while I thought that was all he was, then as I read, and talked with Mr. Brasher I realised that though isolated, he was an important part of a huge commercial enterprise." They wandered through into the office, where they were greeted with the photo of Thomas.

James grinned. "Just as I remember him. Fearsome. No one would dare lark around on his platform."

Abby was just enjoying the moment, ambling through the station and hearing his memories. She decided to put him out of his misery. "Oh, by the way James. The answers yes." she said quietly.

"Sorry, what did you say?"

"You heard. Yes, I will marry you."

James stopped and stared at her with a stupefied expression. "You mean it?"

Abby's smile widened. "You lovely, silly man, I only went away so you would come and find me, and ask that question. Of course I mean it. James! I don't know when I fell in love with you. It may have been the Ball; it may have been when we rode together. But I do love you, and want to be married to you more than anything else. So set the date, Mr. Comberford."

"How long do you need to prepare?"

"Not long at all. I am sure that Mary and Mavis have been making plans for this from almost the first moment I stepped into the valley. But don't leave it too long, we don't want the bump showing."

"What bump?"

"The bump your baby will make, I'm pregnant!" Abby had an unsettled stomach and slight nausea for a while. Whilst not particularly indisposing, the fact that it went on for a week or two alerted her to the possibility of her condition. The Doctor had confirmed her suspicion. At first she had debated whether to tell James. Then the spectre of taking the same course as her mother filled her with despair. No, she thought, any child that she had would grow up here, knowing whence it came and where it belonged. To his credit, not for one moment did James think that he may not be the father of this child.

As the initial shock faded he found his voice. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"If I had, you would have rushed me to the altar in no time, but it would be because of the baby. I wanted you to marry me for me, just me."

"I must grab the Reverend before he goes. Arrange for the Banns to be read." Then he suddenly remembered something that Abby said.

"Did you say that you went away just so that I would come and find you and propose?"

Abby nodded with a little smile on her face. "You see, James, I will not be a meek and dutiful wife at all, I'll argue and anger you, I will also try to twist you around my little finger, but only because I love you and to get you to do the things I want."

He seemed shocked at first then grinned. The grin that had Abby go weak inside. "I told you I wanted an Abby. Any Abby within two feet of me now will do. Don't change, Abby. I need you just as you are. I'll go and speak to Reverend Hopkins."

Abby turned back to the photograph of her grandfather. What would he think she wondered? His granddaughter marrying into the Comberford family. She grinned. Definitely shocked, she thought and also of the belief that she could be getting above her station.

Sam was chatting with Mr. Brasher when he saw James hurry away. He came to find Abby. "Mr. James was in a hurry."

"He's gone to find the Reverend Hopkins."

"Is it what I suspect?"

Abby nodded smiling. "Yes to get the Banns read, Sam. I told James yes. Now I have another favour to ask of you. You have been like a father to me, ever since I came here, and not having any male relatives I need someone to give me away. Would you do me the honour of giving me away?"

Sam's face was a picture. "Abby! It will give me much pleasure to do that. Of course I will Girl."

When Sam told Mavis she wanted to go and congratulate Abby immediately, but hesitated before going and came back to Sam and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

"There Sam. When I suggested all those months ago that Abby needed a dad to look after her, I knew you would do a good job. And you have." Tears came to her eyes as she continued. "And now, just as if she was our own daughter you are going to give her in marriage." She turned to go and find Abby, then turned back again. Her expression, soft before had hardened. "You know more about this than meets the eye, Sam Perry. We are going to have words soon. Depend on it." As always Mavis had to have the last word.


Authors postscript: I hope you have enjoyed this tale. For some time I did consider a sequel. However I have rejected that idea. Abby took me five years to write when I was relatively healthy and could sit and write (and re-write) for eight hours or more every day. Unfortunately these days I am not able to write for more than an hour or two. Therefore a sequel would likely take me far more than the original five years.

For those readers who would like to know more I note my ideas for Abby's future.

Yes. Abby and James do marry and she gives birth to a girl. James registers the child while Abby is still in the maternity unit and calls his daughter Tregonney. His reasoning is that as Abby is now a Comberford it would be right to have a Tregonney in the valley. An unusual name for a girl but it works for me. Abby and James argue this but the deed is done. Tregonney or Comberford is immaterial, Abby is always known by everyone in the valley as Miss Abby

Abby lives in her family home for just two months, before returning to the Combe Inn from where she is married.

Gwen takes it upon herself to invite her friends from Berkshire to the wedding. She is horrified when she understands that Abby has invited all of James' tenants and rescinds her invitations to her friends as she could not ask them to sit down with the lower classes. Some months later she asks James for an increase in her allowance. He tells het that he cannot afford to give her more whereupon she tells him to get the money from Abby. Gwen is astonished when Abby says no. A rather heated row ensues when Abby does that which ends with Gwen storming off and not being seen in the valley for quite some time. Abby does buys a good used Range Rover for James and consigns the rattletrap Land Rover to a well deserved retirement.

By a convoluted rumour ex-Sergeant 'Spade' Diggins heard that Captain Comberford was getting married and arrived in Combe Lyney with as many of the Captains' company he could find. It was therefore a surprise to James and Abby that an impromptu Guard of Honour greeted them as they left the Church. Later Abby spoke to Diggins, "call me Spade, Ma'am. Everybody does." She learned a lot more about James' service and why he was awarded the DSO. Spade had brought his wife, Linda who mentioned that the Bed and Breakfast business they managed was closing down. Learning that Linda had cooked and cleaned for the business a total of ten bedrooms and usually the same number of occupants Abby asked if she would like to do the same at Lyney House. Spade and Linda fitted in seamlessly. Linda was happy to be cook/housekeeper for them and was welcomed by Mary at the Combe Inn whenever she was stretched. Spade became a very useful gardener and quickly tamed the rather overgrown garden. Seems quite appropriate, a Spade to garden! They moved in to the top floor at Lyney House.

Mr. Brasher finds a use for the station when a small preservation group are given notice to quit their site for a Supermarket development. He talks to Abby and James and they agree to have them occupy the station and track bed. The preservation group have rescued and re-built a GWR locomotive, a pannier tank. Together with their collection of goods trucks, vans, and guard vans they show the station in a very authentic guise. With the first eight hundred yards of track laid and the goods shed once more connected by rail, they are able to re-enact much of the shunting and movements that Thomas Tregonney would have known so intimately. School trips to the station were met by one of the members of the group (who actually was a teacher) dressed in a detailed replica of a GWR stationmaster's uniform. He would conduct the group around and explain how the station worked. The highlight for the school group was when the Pannier tank appeared, apparently from South Molton, pulling two guards vans. The children were allowed to board the vans and were treated to a short trip up and back.

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