Abby Ch. 28


Abby had got used to the easy pace of life in the valley. It came as a surprise therefore when she realised that now there were very few days when there wasn't something or other demanding her attention. She went to Paverton to see the Solicitor, instructing him to handle the sale of the flat, and leaving with him the deeds. Visits were needed down to the house, as George Walker got on with the work, and phoned often to ask some question of her. She finally got to see the goods shed, when Harry and Sam deemed it safe. She went in with Sam, no longer needing James as the emotions of what had happened there no longer assailed her. The stench of all those rotting birds had indeed gone, and she was able to see the place properly. The windows had been washed down and both sets of doors were open so that daylight had once more come to the interior. Harry had manoeuvred his tractor in, and had lifted the Box Van on one side, freeing the wheel.

"Is that safe, Harry?" She asked.

"Well I expect the Health and Safety Inspector would have a fit, but I am quite confident. Anyway I am not going under the van. I don't reckon that the wheel is seized, there just doesn't seem to be any grease in the bearing." He was straining at the nuts holding the axle box cover. "If I can get this greased up well, then it should move. Probably need a bit of persuading, but we are used to that."

"Typical Harry." Sam laughed. "If it's meant to open then Harry will open it whatever. If it's meant to close then he will close it. I remember him opening a window once. He did open it eventually, took the whole damn frame with it as well, he'd forgotten he had nailed it shut years before, because of the draughts."

Harry looked up ruefully. "Trust you to remember that."

Abby was smiling. It was always a happy experience being with these two. "Why do you think there were two sets of doors?"

Sam had already thought about that. "If I remember rightly when they had finished with one van, they would just push it through, rather than having to pull it out and then push in the next one to be unloaded. The rails rejoined with the siding loop the other side. What do you think, Harry?' Harry stood and stretched his back.

"I think you're right there, Sam. Reg Purvess will know. Better ask him when he's next here."

"He phoned the other day." The mention of the name had triggered Sam's memory. "He said he would be over soon. I told him that Mr. Brasher would really like to chat with him. I am to call him next time he comes down." He stopped for a moment then turned to Abby. "Meant to tell you earlier. He's sorry it took so long but he can't get any rails for you. They had all gone. But his mate the ganger says you can have as many old sleepers as you like. He thought it would make it look a little bit like a railway anyway. You will need to pay for transport though, but the gangers are quite happy to come over and put them down. What do you think?"

"I'm delighted with anything they can do. You are right; it would make it look more like a railway. Do I have to organise the transport?"

"No, Reg will do that. Knows a guy who will do it on a Sunday for cash." he winked.

"I see, cash no invoice, no Income tax, no V.A.T." She sang a few bars of the introduction music from a popular comedy show.

Sam grinned. "Good voice you've got there. We'll have to get you into the Church Choir."

"I didn't know there was a Church Choir."

"There isn't, that's why you would have a good voice for it."

Abby got the joke. She smiled broadly. "Are you saying that I cannot sing?"

Harry's muffled voice came from the depths of the Van. "Sam's singing stops the cows giving milk. Compared to him, Abby, you are Lesley Garrett. Gotcha!" His cry signalled that he had got the bolts free on the Axle Box.

He withdrew the bolts and with a sharp tap the cover fell to the ground. "Just as I thought. No grease left at all. Sam! Could you hand me that grease gun. I'll give the bearing some directly, and then fill it up when I have cleaned the nipples." Abby was about to leave when a thought came to her.

"Sam, will you be in the Combe tonight?"

"Yes I shall pop in, anything in particular?"

"I will need to know a lot more about rearing beef cattle; do you think you could give me a quick run-down?" Sam looked at Harry who nodded.

"We'll both be there, and then you can get a much better picture of how it happens." Abby smiled her thanks and happily left them to their labours.

Over at her house there was great activity. All the windows were open, and clouds of white dust billowed out. Men wearing protective clothing and masks were barrowing loads of the white plaster out of the door and carefully emptying it into large Polythene bags. Abby decided not to approach as she felt sure that she would be a hindrance. Remembering also that Harry and Sam had warned her away when they had been similarly attired. No doubt the work was a little hazardous. They seemed to be working very hard, and she did not understand why George had told her that the house would not be ready for her occupation until the New Year. However she was comfortable at the Inn, and could wait.

It was to the Inn she now returned. With so many strangers around she couldn't enjoy the peace the station had given her. In any case she needed to decide on a wardrobe for tomorrow, the Lunch with Richard and Maggie. Notwithstanding James' comment about being casual, she was not going to let herself into the trap of dressing down too much. She considered it disrespectful to arrive looking as if you hadn't taken care of your appearance. Mary automatically assumed that Abby had to be fed when she arrived, and it took quite a lot of persuading before she would agree that no food was required. She rumbled off complaining that the girl would starve to death soon. Abby went to her room with a smile on her face to decide on an outfit.

James came in that evening, and without thinking kissed Abby on the cheek. Mary could not hide her expression of delight for a split second, and then her face returned to normal. Abby acted as if this was nothing out of the ordinary, but was secretly pleased. If anyone else in the Bar noticed no comment was made. What Abby didn't know was that the news would be disseminated throughout the Valley, and would give rise to the same talk that had followed the intrigues of Valerie, Roger, Reg and Gladys all those years ago. Time may move on, the names would be different, but the gossip was still the same. Later Abby settled down with Harry and Sam for her lesson in animal rearing.

"We rear our beef cattle in what is known as suckler herds." Sam started. "Abe Stone has a good breeding herd. Got a very good South Devon Bull. The cow suckles her calf until it is about nine months old and weaned. After that it is known as a yearling. We buy yearlings from Abe, and fatten them. The herds are out to grass for most of the year, and only come in when the ground is too wet for them."

"So they are grazing all the time?"

"Yes." Said Harry. "But we have to supplement, with Oats and Cattle-cake, you will see the troughs in the fields. If we bring them in we feed silage." Abby was taking this in.

"James told me that years ago the farms would grow oats and barley, but not now. Where do you get those from?"

Sam came up with the answer this time. "There's a merchant down South Molton where we buy the cereals. He has supplies that are chemical fertiliser free. Same for cattle-cake. Contains the nutrients without introducing artificial substances."

"So at what stage do you send the beef to slaughter?"

"Usually about two years."

"So you buy all your yearlings for fattening from Abe Stone?" Sam shook his head.

"Buy most, but have to put our own cows in calf; otherwise they will stop producing milk." Abby understood that answer, it was obvious.

"So you have your own Bull's?"

"No. We use artificial insemination."

"Why do that? Surely you could use Mr. Stones Bull."

Harry was really pleased that Abby was asking these questions. It showed she was considering this co-operative seriously. "Well," he explained, "it depends on what you are wanting. If you want beef cattle Abe's bull will give you good offspring South Devon's have a good reputation for beef. If however you are looking for dairy cattle, then you have to have the right pedigree of bull. Use A.I. and you have a wide choice of semen to use. Usually Jersey or Friesian." Abby was finding all this of great interest, but it was not as simple as it seemed.

"But surely you cannot guarantee the sex of the calf?"

"No we can't. Any bulls born will be castrated after they have been weaned for beef production, we call those Bullocks others call them Steers. Some breeds do not make good beef, so the castrated calves of those will go to slaughter at twelve months. We call those baby beef."

"Therefore you have both beef and dairy cattle on your farms?"

"Yes," said Sam, "That way you are getting a regular income from the milk and the bonus when you slaughter."

"Are you organic?"

Sam looked at Harry, who shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose so; we rotate the animals on the pastures, so they don't get worms or other parasites. The only fertiliser we use is natural. The supplements are natural as well, so I reckon, yes, we are organic."

Abby was happy for the moment and insisted on buying the next round. "Be prepared though," she said, "I shall be back to ask some more."

Sam was easy with that. "No problem, Abby. You remember what I once said to you, you keep asking questions, it's those who assume without asking that gets me angry."

Abby had assumed that they would use her car to go to Coolton Grange, and it would appear that James believed the same. He suggested that he arrived at the Inn about eleven-thirty. Abby agreed happily. That would give her plenty of time to get ready. James may have thought that she didn't have to dress up, but even for a girl to look casual, it still took a lot of time and thought to achieve the effect.

When they had driven to Coolton Grange before, for the Ball, Abby had not taken too much notice of the way they went. At the time she was too nervous to be able to take in the directions for the journey. There were no nerves today, and she sat and committed the journey to memory, certain that one day she may have to make the drive on her own. The road to Paverton she was familiar with, but just after leaving the valley, James took a left turn. She had noticed the turn before, but it had no significance then. They followed the lane for three miles across moorland, and then took another left, which descended into another, but broader valley. The drive up to Coolton Grange she remembered as being quite long. They drove over a cattle grid which rumbled and vibrated the car, the track crossed pasture before wending its way through Rhododendrons and another cattle grid to the sweep before the house. Maggie was waiting at the door, and greeted Abby with a smile and a kiss on the cheek. It wasn't a showy air-kiss, but one of good friendship.

"It's so nice to see you again, Abby. Come inside. I saw you turn into the drive. Richard is opening some wine. Hello James! Turning up in style these days I see."

James grinned. Abby awaited the humorous response. "Well I like to drive a Lady in comfort, particularly when it is the Lady who provides the transport, and the style."

It had been, Abby had to admit, a very pleasant day. Maggie was not in Jeans and Sweater, as James had promised, but had dressed similarly to Abby, in slacks and a blouse. A cool Chardonnay before and during an excellent meal of salmon served with a large salad set Abby's appetite at the replete mark. She wondered how she would be able to persuade Mary later on that she would not want a meal that evening. James and Richard wandered off discussing farming problems, and Maggie took Abby in hand, leading her through to the conservatory, to sit and drink coffee.

"You are doing everyone a lot of good around here." She said without preamble.

"Me? What do you mean?" Abby was astonished.

"You are putting a bit of excitement back into their lives." Maggie was smiling.

"I don't know how you reach that conclusion."

"You are giving them a new topic to talk about. That's excitement around here. Makes a change from the normal conversation."

Abby shrugged her shoulders. "What is there to talk about? All I am doing is having the station restored, and making the house liveable."

'Well that is just it. Restoring that old station, means that lots of them are dredging their memories, dragging up anecdotes from the past. You will find that as the work goes on, there will be quite a few visitors who will tell your builder what he has done right, but more likely, what he has done wrong. And then, of course, there is you and James."

Abby smiled inwardly. Maggie it would seem had got around to the topic that she had really wanted to cover. "What about James and me?"

"Oh, come on Abby. It's plain to see that James is very taken with you. Else he wouldn't have brought you to the Ball. Now that is important. Not just to his tenants, but also to others. I must say that it surprised one or two people, not always happily either. Within five minutes of your coming into the Ballroom, most of the ladies had priced your dress to the nearest fifty pounds, and then turned the same colour as your Gown, only with envy. That upset some, as they knew they couldn't compete. Others were upset because you were with James." Abby grinned.

"Yes, I met one who didn't seem happy to see me there with James."

Maggie smiled in agreement. "I think I know who you are talking about." She looked at Abby. "You weren't upset though?'

"No. If you are tough enough to put up with all the barbed comments you get from a male dominated City, that was a mere trifle compared."

"Richard thought you fitted in very well." Maggie told her. "He likes James a lot, you know."

"I gathered that. He was very attentive, making sure that I was looked after."

"Of course he did. He likes you as well. We both do. He was saying later that you two could make the perfect couple."

Abby laughed delightedly. "Not you as well?"

"How do you mean? Not us as well."

"There is so much match-making going on at Combe Lyney that anything that James and I do together would appear to be headline news." Maggie had a broad smile on her face.

"Well that's the country for you. Do you mind?"

Abby shook her head. "No, not really. In fact it is amusing. Anyway..." Abby stopped.

Maggie's head came up in unspoken query. "Anyway what?"

"There may be some grounds for the assumptions." She didn't clarify anymore, but raised her cup to her lips with a secretive smile on her face.

"Abby! Don't stop there. What has happened? Tell me more." Abby took a deep breath. She felt that Maggie would be a good friend. Someone in whom she could confide. She decided to do that as she didn't have anyone else to talk to.

"I am very taken, as you put it, with James. We have got close, but there is a problem."

Maggie was immediately concerned. "Whatever you say stays here, you know that, Abby."

That convinced Abby. "As you may know, I do not know who my father was. No one who knew my mother can offer any ideas. But Gwen Comberford has suggested that my father could possibly be Charles Comberford."

Maggie sat there stunned for a moment. "Complete and utter nonsense." She said vehemently. "Absolute rubbish." She looked around, and changing the tone of her voice said.

"Let's get our coats and take a walk in the garden."

James had promised Abby that the gardens were worth seeing, and even at this late time of the year they were magnificent. With their coats to keep out the chill, Maggie and Abby wandered easily along paths cloaked with shrubs and trees. Coolton faced down the valley, so from the house you had an uphill view. Abby thought that Lyney House with the gardens looking down into the valley could present a vista superior to this should they ever have a caring hand to tend them. They strolled silently for a while with Maggie pointing out interesting specimens from time to time. Eventually she asked.

"On what basis does Gwen make that assumption?" Abby thought for a moment.

"She realised that with her absences from the valley, James' father had opportunity to stray. She just wondered if my mum was one with whom he strayed."

"And how old was your mother at the time?"

"She would have been sixteen." Maggie didn't take long to consider.

"Well in that case I am sure that Charles was not your father."

"How can you be so certain?"

"Well I shall have to put this carefully, and for Heaven's sake don't let James know. It was common gossip that Charles did have affairs. But he was very careful to conduct them away from the valley. The most notable thing was that he enjoyed the company of ladies who had reached certain ages, whose husbands had become indifferent, and who were of a cushioned build. That meant I was safe on all counts." Abby could scarcely suppress a giggle; Maggie giggled too and went on. "I would say your mother was the wrong age, she was too close to home and if your mother was built like you, then she was unsuitable to Charles on all counts." Abby was now laughing happily.

"How do you know all this?"

"I know one or two of the ladies with whom he dallied. In fact one of them was at the Ball, not that you would think it of her now."

Abby was happy to hear this, although it didn't bring James and her closer. She would still have to await the results of the tests.

"I think that James does know his father strayed."

"Does he?" Maggie was astonished. "How does he know?"

"I am not positive, but I think Gwen knew. No, she as good as admitted it, and I would suppose she had to say something to James to back up her suspicion that I could be his sister."

Maggie didn't appear surprised. "So Gwen knew all along. I shouldn't be too surprised though, a lot of us felt that she was not exactly faithful when she was away. It must have been that kind of marriage."

"You mean a marriage of convenience?"

Maggie didn't reply for a minute as they strolled contentedly. "Yes, I would imagine something along those lines. I suppose that a lot of couples marry for more involved reasons than simply love. Position, money, land, and to ensure that there is an heir to those lands. Having done their duty so to speak, they are free to amuse themselves discreetly. Not for me though. If Richard were to cheat on me, there would be hell to pay."

"You mean divorce?"

"If necessary. But I am sure there would be other ways to make him suffer." Maggie had a laugh in her voice.

For Abby there was no such course. "If James and I were to marry, and he cheated I would kill him."

Maggie's laugh brought her back. "Don't be so dramatic, Abby. Anyway James would never cheat on you. He has this rock-hard core of integrity and fidelity running through him. He will marry for life. You would never feel threatened with him." Their walk had taken them around the garden, most of which Abby had not really noted, so intent had she been on Maggie's revelations, and they now approached the house again.

"Time for some tea I think."

"A cup of tea would go down well." Abby agreed.

James and Richard came into the Conservatory just as Abby and Maggie entered. "Saw you coming up the garden and thought we would join you. Is there any tea going?" asked Richard.

Maggie gave a resigned shrug. "Typical man. He could have asked Josie himself, but he will leave it to me."

"Ah, but my dear. You do it so well." was Richards's rejoinder. Maggie gave him an unbelieving look and hurried off to see about the tea. Abby sat down.

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