Abby Ch. 35byKezza67©
James was shocked! Abby gone? Where? Why? His first thought was that she had somehow found out what happened to her mother? The second thought dismissed that idea. He knew that Sam would not say anything, and Woody after keeping this secret for over thirty years was unlikely to break another promise after only a few hours. It could not be that. He looked around seeking Sam, if anyone knew it would be Sam. Abby would confide in him, wouldn't she? Sam was not there. He was sitting at home watching the television. Mavis couldn't understand why he was there and not at the Inn as usual. She had asked him in an oblique way and had an oblique answer, so she tackled him head on. "Why are you still here this evening? Most unusual for you."
Sam ruminated, trying to find the right words to answer her. He decided to elicit Mavis' support, but without telling her the complete truth. "Abby has gone."
He looked at his wife, confirming the news. "Abby packed her case and left this afternoon." He stopped himself from saying that it was because of her and Mary's gossip.
"Is she coming back?" Mavis was extremely worried.
Sam shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I saw her leave and all she said was that she was going off. I asked her where and for how long but she didn't answer, just drove off towards Paverton. She didn't look happy."
Mavis immediately phoned Mary, who didn't know any more than Sam. "I caught sight of her putting her case in the car, and she was away before I could get out to ask what she was doing. She had left a cheque for her account on the bar for me. Paid up everything. There's some of her clothes still in the room, but in her note she said she would send for them later. Mr. James was just here, and he seemed most upset about it."
Mavis decided on some action. "Mary. I am coming up. We'll go through everything she has left to see if there is something that will tell us what she is about." Not for one moment did Mavis consider that she would be invading Abby's privacy.
Mavis rarely drove although she had a licence. This was important so she borrowed Sam's Land Rover and drove to the Inn. As she did another Land Rover passed her going in the opposite direction. She was so concerned that she didn't realise it was Mr. James, nor did he notice that it was Sam's Land Rover that was travelling towards the Inn. James had tried Abby's mobile phone five times, it rang and rang without answer, and Abby would appear to have turned the message service off. Sam sat counting the minutes. He knew that Mr. James would arrive very shortly. He got up and put the kettle on. Perhaps he would need some tea, and was quite sure that Mr. James would also.
James did arrive very shortly, just as the kettle boiled. Sam let him in, James was breathless and flustered. "You look as if you could do with a cup of tea, Mr. James."
"Yes, I know, but would you like a cup of tea?"
"Well I have made some tea anyway, so I'll pour one for you."
"Sam, this is important. Abby's gone away."
"Yes I know, Mr. James. Mavis was just on the phone to Mary, and I heard."
"You see to be remarkably calm about it."
"What's to get all hot and bothered about? If she's gone, she's gone. It's sad, but it's her decision. If she comes back, it's her decision as well. So sit down and drink the tea."
"Why? Because I have just made it."
"No, Sam. Why has Abby gone?"
Sam looked at James witheringly before answering him. "Mr. James. You of all people should understand why." He replied witheringly.
James was shocked into silence. Then said feebly. "But I haven't done anything, or said anything."
"Exactly, Mr. James. I told you only a few days ago, that your lack of action would send Abby away, and now it would appear that you have succeeded. Well done!"
James sat miserably. He didn't taste the tea, it was just warm liquid trickling over his tongue and slipping down to his stomach, where it joined the growing knot that his stomach had become. After a while he roused himself to ask Sam. "Do you know where she's gone?"
"Why would I know that? I didn't even know she had gone until a few moments ago." A little lie, but Mr. James would not know that. He went on. "I don't know if it would help but perhaps you could have a look around her office. Possibly she has left something lying around that would give some indication. If I know Abby, she will not have gone without making arrangements. See if she has left a clue."
"Yes. That's right." James clasped the straw in desperation. "She would do that. Let's go now."
"Oh no, Mr. James. I could not do that. It would be wrong for me to go looking around her personal things. But you as her landlord so to speak can. You'll have to do it yourself."
James converted himself from abject misery into the man of action. "Right. I'll go and do that now. I'll let you know if I find anything." James got up to leave.
"Aren't you going to finish your tea?" Asked Sam. James didn't hear him.
Sam heard the Land Rover start and the scrubbing tyres as James viciously let in the clutch. He pulled out his mobile phone and searched the memory and dialled the number.
"Hello Sam." Abby's voice held a hint of amusement.
"He's on his way to your office as we speak, Abby. Will it be easy for him to find?"
"No, Sam. He will have to search quite thoroughly. If I made it too easy, he may suspect a conspiracy."
Sam laughed. "Well it is a conspiracy, really. But you're right."
"He's called about five times, you know."
"I'm not surprised, Abby. He's frantic."
"Good." There was silence for a moment. "I am doing the right thing, aren't I, Sam."
"Yes, Abby. If you had seen him here, you would not doubt his feelings for you. The man just needs a kick to make him do something. He'll find you. I'll know when he sets off and I'll let you know."
"Thanks, Sam. How was Mavis?"
"Mavis and Mary will be ransacking your room as we speak. Now if I know those two, they will put everything away tidily, and do a lot of washing and ironing for you. Serves then right! I got so angry with the pair of them, all their manoeuvrings and plots. Now take care, Abby. I'll phone whenever I can without being overheard." Sam was well aware of the irony; it was he and Abby who were making plots at the moment.
"Ok, Sam. I owe you a drink."
At the Combe Inn, Mary and Mavis had finished their search, and found nothing to suggest why Abby had left, or where she had gone. They now sat in the lounge with their heads together, examining the likely implications raised by Abby's departure. As in all such pubs, where the same clientele would gather invariably most evenings there was an undercurrent of concern. It was not about who was there, but rather who was not. The fevered quiet conversation that Mary and Mavis were having sparked interest, and the absences were noted. So at least three new rumours for the valley were born, to be digested, rejected and resurrected over the course of the next few days.
James had started his investigation in the Estate office. At first he felt guilt for this, reasoning that this was now Abby's office and that he shouldn't be going through her papers. If he had realised that Abby had anticipated this and had not left anything too personal for him to find it would have made him feel better. James would not know this until Abby and Sam's plan had either succeeded or collapsed irretrievably. There was little pattern to his search and as a result he found nothing that evening. He retired to eat a late hasty meal before taking to his bed. It was not a comfortable night for him. The meal eaten quickly lay heavily on a stomach that was already uneasy and his mind, full of dismay and anger at the situation would not allow sleep. Even the bed reminded him of what he had had lost, as every time he turned over Abby's perfume, her invisible presence, teased his nostrils. It did have one benefit though. At some time an insidious thought crept into his head that he was the sole cause of this discomfort. He mentally kicked himself for not having the courage to declare his feelings to Abby. If he had done that Abby would either have accepted him or not. If she had rejected him he would at least know why she had gone away, misery would have been his world for a long time, but at least he would know. If she had accepted him...well happy would be the least adjective to describe his life.
The next morning he was back in the office. It was only just light when he started as he had given up on sleep around five, when the first tendrils of light were creeping through the curtains. He had decided on a more methodical approach to the task. He cleared a space on the desk, and took each file out from the cabinets one by one, replacing it when he had finished examining it. He worked the day through, pausing only to make some coffee. By seven that evening he had discovered nothing. Frustrated, angry and very hungry he returned to the house to make a sandwich. His head was aching badly, a result of too much coffee, nothing to eat, and a sleepless night. He was planning on going back to the office when his army training brought him to his senses. "Don't be a fool, man," He told himself, "take a bath, and get a good night's sleep and then start again fresh in the morning."
Sam was coming under a lot of pressure from Mavis. She felt that he didn't seem to show the same concern as others about Abby's departure. No one else would notice this, but they had lived together for over fifty years and if anyone knew Sam, it was Mavis. "You know something, don't you?" She tackled him the next day.
"After eighty years on this Planet, yes my Love, I suppose I do know some things."
"Don't start trying anything with me, Sam Perry. I'm talking about Abby, and you know something about why she's gone."
Sam sighed heavily. "I know no more than you or Mary or even Mr. James for that matter. But if I were asked if I had thoughts on it, I would say that Abby has left because she realised that she was going nowhere with Mr. James. Now that is just a thought. I cannot say if it is right or wrong."
Mavis and Mary had come to that conclusion also. "That silly man!" Mavis was bitter. "The right woman for him, right in front of him and he couldn't see it." Mavis had tears in her eyes at that point. "Such a lovely girl, now she's gone off, all alone, just like her mother. My heart is breaking for thinking about her." She stopped to wipe her eyes. "Is there nothing we can do, Sam?"
"The only one who can do anything is Mr. James. He came down here after you had gone to the Combe. I suggested he had good look in Abby's office to see if she had left something, anything that could give him a clue to where she's gone."
"I'll go up and help him look." Mavis was determined, but Sam was equally determined.
"No you will not." He had that tone of voice that Mavis recognised as the one that she dare not ignore. "If it is as we think then it's Mr. James who has to find her, if she can be found. He has to make the running now and prove to himself and to Abby that he does care for her. The man's got to realise what he could lose."
The next morning the man in question went back to his task. Repeating his actions of the previous day. He had found nothing yesterday and similarly he discovered no clue to Abby's whereabouts this day. Frustrated and angry he returned to the house and sat morosely over a quick meal. Damn the woman! Why did she have to go away? Couldn't she see what she meant to him? Sam's words kept coming back to haunt him, that it was his own reticence in declaring his love that was the problem. The anger died and misery set in. He headed towards another sleepless night.
He returned to his task again on the third morning, casting round the office for any bit of paper he hadn't examined. The morning was spent fruitlessly searching; the methodical approach abandoned as he frantically sought for something, anything that could give him a lead. Finally he spotted a box file under the desk. He wasn't sure anymore at this point if he had gone through it or not, none the less he got it onto the desk and prepared to investigate. It was then that purely by chance he got a breakthrough. Abby had always kept a spiral bound note pad on the desk for jotting down quick notes. The top page was clean and James had ignored it, until he accidentally knocked it on the floor when he placed the box file on the desk. As it fluttered to the floor the pages opened up, and he noticed the previous pages covered with jottings. He picked it up and carefully read. Much of it was about market prices and he could recognise those as the wording was so familiar to him. There were lots of scribbling concerning the station and the house, from telephone conversations with George Walker. Then there was a telephone number with the initials B H next to the number, the area code was one he recognised as relatively local. He could spend time checking through the directory, but took the course of direct action. He picked up the phone and called it.
"Bay Hotel." James was thrown for a moment and didn't say anything; he considered putting the phone down when the voice came again.
"Bay Hotel, can I help you?"
"Eh, yes. Do you have a Miss Tregonney staying with you?"
"One moment." James waited impatiently. He heard the phone being picked up.
"Miss Tregonney is not taking calls at the moment. Is there a message?"
"No, no message. I'll call again. Thank you."
People say you always find things in the last place you look; the obvious reason is that you stop looking at that point. The other truism is that you overlook the obvious; James kicked himself for not looking through the notepad before. It had been there on her desk all the time! If Abby were there she would have congratulated herself. Leaving the clue in relatively plain sight, counting on James not seeing the obvious.
An instinct had told him not to leave a message, but to go and see Abby. He checked the code with the directory; it was Blue Anchor in West Somerset. From what he knew, Blue Anchor was simply a promenade with one road running back from the coast. The Bay Hotel should not be hard to find. He looked at his watch. He had time to shower, shave and dress appropriately. He left Lyney House at just after two in the afternoon; he thought he would be there by three fifteen easily.
Sam had taken to walking his pastures again, yet only those pastures that gave him a view of the road going up to Paverton. When James' Land Rover roared by leaving a cloud of blue smoke, he knew that James had found the clue. He phoned Abby. "I think he's found it, and he's on his way. Mind, Abby the way he's thrashing that motor he may not make it." He heard Abby chuckle.
"Well I am pretty sure he phoned the hotel about two hours ago. I am going out, Sam. I don't want to be here as if I was waiting for him. I'll let him cool his heels for a while."
"Good idea, Abby." They broke the connection.
James made good time, and found the hotel without trouble, after all the name itself gave an indication of where it could be discovered. He parked and went in. There was no one in reception so he pressed the plunger on the Brass bell. A young lady came from the rear office. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, I wonder if I could see Miss Tregonney. I believe she is staying with you." The receptionist checked the key board.
"Her key is here so I would imagine she is out at the moment. Was she expecting you?"
"No. I just hoped that I might catch her. May I wait?"
"Of course, Sir. The Lounge is just through the door there. Would you like some tea or coffee?"
"Coffee would be good, thank you."
"I'll bring it through for you." James wandered into the Lounge. He had chosen coffee as he imagined he may need the caffeine boost when he confronted Abby. Then he thought. Was it a confrontation? No it wasn't, not really. He was going to beg Abby to come back.
The preserved West Somerset Railway ran very close to the sea at Blue Anchor, and the arrival and departure of the trains was very evident to anyone in the vicinity, especially when the level crossing gates were closed to road traffic. James did not hear the arrival, nor the departure of the train from Minehead. All he was hearing was the voice in his head telling him how to manage the conversation he was about to have with Abby.
Abby had taken a quick return trip to Minehead purely to give James time to think, and as she walked back from Blue Anchor station saw James' Land Rover parked at the hotel. He was so bound up with his own thoughts that he didn't see Abby arrive. Abby was standing in the doorway when James looked up and saw her. All his planned words were forgotten.
"Abby. Thank God I found you." Abby was quite amused at this as she had intended to be found anyway. He had got up when he saw her, now she came over and took a seat near to him.
"Why? James. I wasn't lost."
He sat down again. "Eh. No of course not, but we all worried when you went off without telling anyone."
"I didn't realise that I had to tell anyone if I was going away for a few days. I did leave a note for Mary."
"Well no. But Mary, Mavis and Sam have been quite concerned."
"So! You can tell them when you get back that I am fine."
"You're not coming back then?"
"I shall be back for the blessing of the station, then......" Her voice trailed off.
"Then? He repeated.
"I have to give it some thought."
"Why? Abby. We thought you were going to settle in the station house."
"That was my intention, but I have been having second thoughts. At this moment I don't know what I will do, or where I will go. If someone made an interesting offer, that could shape my plans."
"Oh." He sounded disappointed. "You mean a Bank or something?"
"But you could go back to London?"
"Again, not necessarily."
James seemed to grow in stature then, as he took a deep breath and summoned his courage. "Abby, we, no I mean I, don't want you to go away. I want you with me, I need you. Damn it! Abby I love you." He slipped forward in the chair and knelt in front of her. "I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me? Please?"
Abby's heart pounded but kept her serene countenance. "Wow! That's bit sudden, James. Where did that come from?" She smiled inwardly at the contradiction of those words.
"It's my fault, Abby. I should have told you how I feel long ago. But I thought...I felt...Perhaps you would have thought...Oh Shit! I don't really know why I didn't say anything. I do love you, Abby. Please say yes. Life wouldn't mean anything if you go away." He was still on his knees. Abby made no answer.
She had thought about this on quite a few occasions, and in her mind had decided to accept. But James prevarications should not be resolved so easily. "I need to think about this, James. I am not sure if I would make a good wife to you. I can't cook, I am hopeless at housework, and I certainly would not be a meek and subservient wife."
James shook his head vehemently. "I don't need a meek and subservient wife. I need an Abby. The Abby who challenges me, make me laugh, argues with me, cuts me down to size when I get too pompous, and thrills me with her presence every day." The last sentiment thrilled Abby as well. That last phrase was the most important, if anything he had said would make her accept that was the one. But she was determined not to give in as easily as that. The receptionist came into the room at that point and noting James kneeling before Abby realised that she had interrupted something. She gave Abby a quick smile and left, closing the door behind her. James hadn't noticed. Abby gestured to him to get up.