Abby Chapter Twenty-five, a short story by texrep. Date added: 2011-05-16. Times viewed: 886.
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- Intro: Abby searches for her roots and finds a fascinating story and romance.
ABBY CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
Abby drove Mr. Brasher down to the station the next day, leaving him to wander around at his own pace. It was some time before he returned to her with a smile on his face. “I always get emotional when I see a place such as this. It looks so forlorn and neglected now, its purpose forgotten. But it was once an essential part of an economy that boosted this Country’s wealth and social standards to be the envy of the World. Knowing that it will be restored is a source of great happiness for me.” Abby agreed with him, but her emotion stemmed from a different source.
“For me it is all about my family. Even though they are all dead, I come here and connect with them. My emotion is finding a family when I grew up not having any.” Mr. Brasher was understanding of her emotions.
“I had a family, but rarely saw them. My father was a Diplomat, the scion of an old family, always away somewhere in the Empire. My mother consigned me to a Nanny from an early age, then to Boarding school, then to Cambridge. I think that in all those early years I never saw my mother for more than ten minutes at a time some half a dozen times a year. I doubt that she saw my father much more than that. I saw less of him than her. They were both killed in a bombing raid in nineteen forty-one. Ironic really, after being apart for most of their lives, they were together when the bomb fell.” These few words convinced Abby of her suspicion that Mr. Brasher came from a privileged background. However it would seem that all that privilege had given him less affection than she. No wonder he had become an eccentric, without warmth in his life, just a fascination for this railway.
The arrival of George Walker in his van spared them further embarrassment. Abby introduced them. Immediately after the introductions George cast about with a worried look. “Is she not here yet? Typical of her, I have never known her to be on time anywhere.” His complaining was cut short as Ms. Eaton drove into the yard the very next minute. Mr. Brasher reverted to his previous uncomfortable mode, and produced the photographs, which Ms. Eaton and the builder examined carefully. She seemed to be relieved as they showed so much detail, and declared that as far as she was concerned this was the specification she wanted. George was a little more diffident. The photos showed Barge boards on the gables carved in a very ornate fretted style. These were no longer present, obviously as some time being replaced by plain boarding.
“I can’t do that without proper drawings.” He declared. Mr. Brasher rummaged in his bag and produced diagrams that showed them exactly. George examined them, nodding his head and humming all the while.
“Yes, I know a Carpenter who can do that.” He said finally. Abby opened the doors to the booking office and waiting room. Pleased that she had mastered the knack that Reg had demonstrated. Ms. Eaton looked around fussily, and made various demands of George Walker. He told her that he had already made an inspection and let her know that he would be removing the plaster, but would re-plaster with Lime.
She then demanded that the place was re-painted with colours as they saw. Mr. Brasher who had also come in coughed. They looked at him.
“I don’t believe these are the original colours. It had been changed at some time.” George looked exasperated then turned to Mr. Brasher.
“You seem to be well-informed. Can you tell me what colours they used?’ Mr. Brasher again delved into his bag.
“All woodwork was painted Brown and the walls a dull cream.’ He was flicking through papers as he spoke, then lifted two up, looked briefly at them and pulled them out completely. “Here is an official colour photo showing the scheme, and here,” he sounded triumphant, “is the names of paint manufacturers who have the original recipes for the colours.” George fell upon these with delight.
“Well that will save us a lot of time.” Ms. Eaton was even happier. All her problems were resolved it would seem without her having to do the research herself. She was prepared to leave it all in other’s hands. However Abby did not want her to get away so easily. Reminding herself of what Mr. Brasher had said last night. She took Ms. Eaton out onto the platform and asked about Grants towards the cost of restoration.
Ms. Eaton’s face blanched. She hadn’t expected this.
“Well I would have to look into this. It’s not as if it was a Public Building is it?”
“I was not aware that it had to be. The station is a listed building and isn’t being restored as a home. The intention is to create an area, where people can see how the station worked, what the station master and porters were expected to do, and how the station was a part of the local economy. We are going to place old photos and explanatory notices, so that people can come here and understand.”
“Oh I see. An educational site. Best thing you can do is let me have a full costing when Mr. Walker can work it all out. Then we can have a meeting with the Museum and Heritage committee, and the Education Department. They will be interested too. Have you thought about putting in an application to the Heritage Fund of the National Lottery?” Abby hadn’t even thought about that, but wasn’t about to let Ms. Eaton of the hook.
“Yes. One will be made, when I get the quotation. But as you well know they seem to like wasting that money on all sorts of politically motivated schemes.” Ms. Eaton agreed with that. Wishing that more of that money came to local schemes like this, which in turn would not dent her Authority’s budget so badly.
“When you have the final costing. Let me know, and I will be happy to help with the application. They do like bureaucratic jargon you know.” They agreed that that was the best way to proceed. Ms. Eaton gave Abby her card.
“That’s a direct line to my desk. Call me anytime.”
Mr. Brasher and George Walker had been engrossed in discussion. And George was now satisfied that he could do as complete a restoration as any he had done. Abby re-joined them, and with confidence that there would be grants available, asked George if he would consider the Goods Shed as well for the work.
“I will, but cannot look at it now. I am expected at another job. Can I come down later this week and have a look?” Abby agreed. He went on to re-assure her about the station. “When I am finished it will look exactly like those photos.” He declared. Mr. Brasher was happy that it would be. First Ms. Eaton departed, and then George left. Mr. Brasher was still happy to walk around the site. Abby stood there looking at the Goods Shed. She would ask James and Sam, if they would help her over her nerves tomorrow. She was startled when Mr. Brasher suddenly spoke behind her.
“That was where your grandfather met his end?” Abby just nodded. “It is brave of you to consider that. I think some would have just wanted it knocked down.”
“I am going to go in there tomorrow. I shall ask Mr. Perry and James Comberford to go with me though.” He nodded his head.
“I understand. Obviously I would like to see inside myself, but I shall wait for another day.”
“Oh no, Mr. Brasher. Please come. After I have got over the first bit, I would be very keen to have you tell me all about it.”
“Very well, Abby. But I shall make myself scarce for a while. If you could let me have the key to the station I would very much like to immerse myself in the atmosphere a little more.” She was pleased that he understood the emotion.
Abby brought the topic round to Mr. Brasher's long conversation with Sam. “You seemed to get on well with Mr. Perry last night.”
“Yes I did. It shouldn’t be surprising, although we are from different backgrounds, we are of the same generation, and had much in common to reminisce about. I gather that he has taken you under his wing, so to speak?” Abby smiled.
“Yes. Sam has been good to me. I quite look upon him as a surrogate grandfather.”
“I believe he looks upon you as a surrogate granddaughter. It would give me pleasure if you were to view me as a sort of great-uncle.”
“Why! Mr. Brasher, I would happy to do that.” He smiled something that didn’t seem a normal expression for him. Abby locked the doors and they walked towards the car.
“May I bring up something else, Abby?” She looked at him.
“I was very impressed with the quality and flavour of the beef last night. I spoke to Sam about it, but thought I would ask you before proceeding, in case it embarrassed you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I have not for years tasted beef like that. My Club, where I dine most days, gets the best available, but cannot compare at all. Would you see me as presumptuous if I asked to buy some and take it back for the Chef to try as well?” Abby could empathise with his comments about the food.
“I have been similarly impressed, and no. I don’t think it presumptuous. I am sure that Mary would be happy to provide you with a joint or two. I would suggest that the Lamb and Pork here is in the same league.” Abby laughed inwardly, she was starting to reflect his style of language. He was shaking his head.
“Perhaps a joint or two would be sufficient to start, but later I would suggest a good size cut would be appropriate, a whole lamb and a side of pork if that would be possible. I am on the catering committee at the Club. I have no doubt they will consider the meat to be as good as I think. They may well ask if regular supplies could be obtained. I think they will be happy to pay a premium for meats such as that.” Abby‘s brain was working overtime. She had considered the food at the Inn to be very good, but her thoughts had gone no further than that. Now as if by chance there could be an opportunity. If Mr. Brasher’s Club were to want regular supplies, who else in a selective market could be approached? A niche market for the finest meat would bring in a valued extra income for the farmers of the valley. This she had to discuss with Sam and James.
“I am not too sure of the supply position. I shall have to talk to people about this. But I am sure that something could be done, if only on a restricted basis.”
“I understand. Perhaps we could discuss this further. If my committee are as pleased as I have been, I shall get in touch with you.”
That afternoon Mr. Brasher opted to go to a preserved railway known as the South Devon Railway. Abby questioned him about this and decided that it would be well worth a visit at some time, as from his description it reflected more closely the sort of railway that had existed here in the valley. She wanted to talk to James about the opportunity that Mr. Brasher’s comments had suggested. She telephoned Lyney House and having no answer decided that he was probably out and about on Cassie. An impish smile crept over her face, as she thought that if she were to drive down to the station again, he would probably turn up. She was right. It was soon after she got there that she saw him riding along the track from the direction of Huish Coppice. His smile told her how glad he was to see her. Having dismounted he came close, but made no further move to greet her. Abby was not going to allow this. She moved up and raised her face to meet his lips.
“I thought we were not going to do this.”
“I don’t care.” She replied. “Now kiss me properly.” After a few minutes when neither of them could speak as their mouths were otherwise pleasantly engaged. James stepped back.
“Whew! You meant that.” Abby had a very happy smile on her face.
“We are a very close brother and sister.” this was said with laughter in her voice. “I did want to see you, so I thought that if I came here alone, you may well have turned up.”
“I see. Am I that predictable then?”
“Oh no. Well only when I want you to be. I just think about you and you get a message.”
“You witch.” He grinned as he said this. Abby had a secret smile.
“Am I?” He nodded. “How nice. I never thought I could be a witch.”
“Yes. A witch and a hussy. You deserve a good spanking.”
“Ooh! That might be nice. I may let you do that, one day.” They both laughed at the thought.
“Now why did you send me the message?” He enquired.
Abby explained what Mr. Brasher had said about the beef. “He thought that if his committee agreed they would want regular supplies. Could that be done?” James gave this some thought.
“Most of the regular slaughter is taken up by butchers in the area, but I would think that they could increase production. But you had best talk to Roger, Harry, Nat, and Abe about it. They really are the ones who would be involved.”
“Would they want to talk about it?”
“They would, but it is going to be difficult for you. Farmers are stubborn, independent blokes. You are a relative newcomer to the valley. Roger and Harry would be alright. But I think that Nat and Abe may not want to listen.”
"Nat and Abe?" Abby queried.
"Nathaniel Gaunton and Abe Stone."
“Well you could talk with them, couldn’t you?” He shook his head.
“No. I am the landlord. They would view it as interference from the Squire. They have to be persuaded. Your best bet would be to talk to Sam first of all, then try and get Roger and Harry on your side. If they then chat to the others, it will not look so much as if you are interfering.”
Abby could see the sense of his thought. “I was going to talk to Sam anyway. If he doesn’t come in tonight, I will drive down to Gallow Farm and see him.”
“I wouldn’t wait until tonight. Go down and see him now, he’ll be around the farm somewhere.” She agreed.
“I’ll go down now.”
“Right, I’ll ride that way as well. I won’t get involved, but if I can add anything I will be there.”
Abby found Sam without difficulty. He took her into the cottage, where Mavis, ever pleased to see Abby made tea. Sam nodded his head wisely as Abby explained.
“I wondered why he questioned me so much about the farming here. Now it all falls into place.”
“What do you think, Sam? I spoke to James and he said he would not get involved.”
“Well we would be fools if we didn’t explore any avenue that could give us a better income.” He drank some tea before continuing.
“Let me get Roger in, see what he thinks.” He went off to find his son. Mavis had listened carefully to what Abby had to say.
“Men! Always have to have a conference. It sounds like a great chance to me. But they will have to talk about it, look at it every way, and take so long that it will be months before they do anything.” She was dying to ask Abby how she and James were getting along, but mindful of the talk that Sam had with her, she held her tongue. Sam had said nothing about the chat that he and Abby had. Preferring to let her think, like Mary, that any gossip now was likely to upset Abby.
Roger took little convincing. Even so he looked to his father for his agreement. “I like the idea, Abby. What should we do next?” Abby waved her hands defensively.
“Oh no. It’s nothing to do with me. Mr. Brasher spoke to me about it and I am merely passing the message on.” Roger didn’t agree.
“You have to get involved, Abby. I like the idea, and I am happy to talk to the others. But we are all independent businesses. That’s no good for your Mr. Brasher. He needs one point of contact. You are the obvious person.” Abby shook her head again.
“But I know nothing about selling beef, and I would imagine that lamb, pork and chicken would also come into it. I don’t know what prices should be charged, how the stuff is shipped, whether we have to go through a wholesaler, what certificates are needed, nothing.”
“That’s no problem, we sell direct to butchers in the area, so there is little difference to selling to what to all intents and purposes is a catering establishment. The slaughter house in Paverton is registered, so all carcasses are certificated. Prices? Well I don’t know what they are paying in London, but I am willing to bet that it is more than we get around here. I reckon that Farmers Weekly will be a good guide though.” Abby wondered if she should protest again, then thought that she would make a concession.
“Well I am not saying I will do it, but I will have a look to see if I can access the information, and think about it. But I am new here. It doesn’t seem right that I should interfere.” Out of the corner of her eye, Abby saw Sam smile. He was a wily old fox, and saw that Abby was making them come to her, rather than being seen as a newcomer trying to organise everyone. Roger promised to talk to the other farmers as soon as possible. Abby asked him if he thought that Mr. Brasher could have a joint or two to take with him.
“That’s no problem; I’ll get a couple of Top and Hips down from the Cold Room in Paverton.” He turned to Mavis.
“I’ll have a quick cup of coffee, Mum, then I shall have to be off.” Abby took her leave, giving Mavis a kiss on her cheek, and walked outside to see James just arriving.
Sam, who walked out with Abby to see her off, greeted James. “Hello again, Mr. James. If you came for the conference, you’re too late. It’s all settled. But Roger is trying to persuade Abby to be our contact with Mr. Brasher. She’s reluctant, so you will have to convince her.” James dismounted and murmured to Sam.
“Sam, if you continue to talk with your tongue in your cheek, you are going to bite it off!” Sam grinned.
“Abby played a blinder.” He turned to Abby. “But you are going to have to keep it up. Nathaniel and Abe will be the difficult ones.”
James agreed with Sam's assessment. “We will have to be careful with them. Try and make it look as if it’s their idea. Are you leaving now, Abby?”
“Yes. But before I go, can I ask you both something? Is there any chance that you could be with me tomorrow? I have decided to open the Goods Shed, and I would appreciate you both being there.” For neither one was there a conflict. Nothing would have kept either away.
Abby drove down to the station with Mr. Brasher, arriving just a few moments after Sam. Abby had already given Mr. Brasher the keys to the station, and after greeting Sam in his normal courteous manner, he went off to browse around the platform and station building wallowing in nostalgia. Sam’s first words to Abby confirmed that Harry Webster was all for the idea of selling to Mr. Brasher's Club.
“He reckons we can get a much better price per carcass. Roger has gone to see Abe, and Harry is going to put the idea to Nathaniel. It seems to me that we are going to need your business brain before too long.” Abby demurred.
“I don’t know Sam. My business brain as you put it was trained in a very different business than farming.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself, Abby. Commerce is commerce, whatever the product may be. Roger and Harry will talk the others round, and we will need someone slightly detached from us to handle the organisation, else there will be arguments galore.” They were diverted by the arrival of James in his battered old Land Rover.
“Morning.” He smiled, and without thinking gave Abby a kiss. Sam had the biggest smile on his face, so pleased that they felt they had no reason to hide their feelings from him. It didn’t concern him at all that their parentage was in question. As far as he was concerned there was no possibility that they were brother and sister.
“I have brought some tools. I noticed that the door had been boarded up.”
“Well I am glad the Army taught you to think ahead, Mr. James.” Sam wanted to keep this a light as possible for Abby’s sake.
“Yes, but it didn’t teach me to keep my boots polished. Did it Abby?’ This was lost on Sam, until Abby explained about the porter at her flat, and his comment to James. Sam understood the joke, and immediately compared his boots with those of James.
“Well it would appear that I didn’t learn that lesson either, but then it was sixty years ago, so I claim old age as an excuse.”
They strolled casually over towards the shed, passing the station house on the way. Sam and Harry had fenced off a large area, installed a five bar gate, and gravelled the enclosed area. Abby was impressed.
“That looks good Sam, thank you very much.” Sam nodded.
“Does look a bit better. We cleared away right up to the Well, and where the Septic tank was, so George will have no trouble getting to them.” Harry and he had quite enjoyed doing this work as a change from their normal occupation, easily finding loads of gravel at the Quarry. Sam was pleased despite the growing feeling in his mind that Abby would never actually live there.
As they approached the goods shed, James had moved ahead, and used a big claw hammer to ease the wooden battens away from the small door. Sam was standing next to Abby watching this, and could feel her tremble. As the last batten came off, he suggested to James that he, Sam, should get in first, and whispered to him.
“Look to Abby.” James looked across, and could see the concern on Abby’s face. He went to her and put his arm around her shoulder as Sam pushed the door inwards. She looked up at him and, moved a little closer. Sam entered. He was mainly concerned that the rope that Thomas had used, had been removed, he seemed to remember that it had, but wanted to make sure. It had gone. Either rotted away or been taken down by the Police He emerged.
“Phew! It pongs a bit in there. Dead Pigeons all over the place. Come in, Abby, if you think you can stand the smell.” Abby hung back a bit, and James removed his arm around her shoulders and took her hand instead.
“I’ll be with you, don’t worry.” Reluctantly she moved towards the small door, as Sam smiled at her and vanished into the interior once again. As they ducked to go through, James caught a whiff of the interior, and quickly dragged a handkerchief from his pocket.
“Here, hold this to your nose. The smell is disgusting.” Abby gladly accepted the handkerchief, and ducked through the door.
Whatever emotions she was expecting, vanished with the smell that assaulted her nostrils, even through the handkerchief. Sam was leading the way, kicking the carcasses of dead pigeons away making a path. The live pigeons up in the rafters looked down and ruffled and flapped wings at the intrusion, their soft cries echoing thought the large shed. The rails were still in place, mortared into the concrete floor. Light filtered weakly through the high windows, dirty with droppings and dust. Yet there was enough to see at the far end, a railway van, waiting at the platform to be loaded or unloaded. Abby could not believe that after all these years it would still be there. She looked to James in bewilderment, but he seemed just as surprised. Sam was also regarding the van.
“Well I don’t know at all. It was here before.” He carefully skirted around that time as it was when Thomas’s body was discovered. “But I would have thought they would have taken it away when they cleared everything else.” He approached the Van, the side doors were open, and quickly turned to Abby.
“Don’t get too close. It has been used by feral Cats, and a couple of them have died in there.” Abby summoned her courage.
“Sam. Where did you find granddad?’ He looked at her not really wanting to add to her emotions, but realised that it was pointless not to answer. He pointed to a rafter.
“He was there.” Abby nodded and moved to where Sam had indicated. It was an eerie, uncomfortable feeling as she stood for a moment on the spot where her grandfather had last stood on this earth. She looked up. The only sign was a small piece of rope wrapped around the rafter. She was still holding James’ hand, and she felt his grip tighten slightly, reminding her she was not alone, she returned the pressure and looked up to him with a wan smile on her face.
“I’m Ok, James, really.” He nodded.
A cough from the door got their attention and broke the moment. “Is it alright if I come in?”
“Of course Mr. Brasher, do.” If he was affected by the smell he didn’t show it, his eyes lit up as he too saw the Van.
“Good Lord! A ten ton Box-Van.” He followed the cleared path and joined them.
“What do you think it is doing here?” Asked Abby.
“Oh they left dozens of these all over the place. It was a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. In the hurry to lift the rails they marooned lots of trucks and other rolling stock in places like this. If BR ever discovered the loss, it would still cost too much to get it taken away by road, so they just wrote them off.” Abby stood with James, taking comfort in his closeness. Sam had wandered off and was now looking at the large doors. After a while he leaned his weight on the one leaf, and it moved a few inches. They heard his shout of surprise.
“Damn me, they were never locked!” Abby and James hurried over to join him, and with James adding extra weight, they managed to push the door open sufficiently to reveal a gap that a person could walk through.
“It’s still stuck a bit, but with a bit of releasing oil on the runners I reckon that Harry and me will be able to get these open all the way. We can get rid of all these dead birds, and disinfect thoroughly. Got to be careful with pigeons, they carry a bug that will lay you low.” Abby disagreed.
“No Sam. I’ll get some specialist cleaners in.” Sam laughed.
“What do you think Farmers are, if not Jack of all Trades? If you have spent your life cleaning out Cow sheds, and Barns, you have all the stuff you need for this little job. Don’t you worry, Abby. We can manage this.” James was nodding in agreement.
“Sam’s right, Abby. He and Harry have all the right equipment and disinfectants. I’ll come down and lend a hand.”
Mr. Brasher had joined them now. “I would like to come back when it has been done, if that’s alright with you, Abby? I would like to explore further, but I am afraid the smell in here is making me feel sick.” Abby, concerned, took him through the gap that Sam and James had opened saying
“I could do with some fresh air myself.” After taking a few moments to fill his lungs with air, Mr. Brasher turned to Abby.
“I shall write to you, giving you all the details of how the good sheds operated. I wouldn’t say it was complicated, but to an outsider it could be confusing at first sight.” One thing was bothering Abby.
“What will we do with that van?” Mr. Brasher didn’t have to think about that at all.
“Keep it. A little bit of carpentry, and a coat of paint, and I would think it would be ideal as an exhibit in your plans for the station. I can let you have photos of how they were lettered. Do remember that it was goods that were the most important factor in building the railway in the first place. Educating visitors in that aspect is vital.”
“Won’t BR want it back?”
“Bless you no. They don’t use trucks like that now, in fact if you want any more the only source could be preserved railways. Many were bought for pennies, but the enthusiasts cannot afford to restore them. So they are still there, sitting on a siding and rotting."
“Do you think any would consider selling to me?”
“I am sorry to say, Abby, but I doubt it. For them it is a question of ‘one day’ they will be able to do the work. That day may eventually come, but I suspect in many cases there will be little left to preserve.”
Sam and James had tried to close the door, but it adamantly refused to move. Rather than spring the screws holding the roller track they left it. “Won’t matter too much, Sam, at least it will let some air in.” James remarked. Sam nodded an agreement.
“I’ll be down here as soon as I can. Harry will like the challenge of the doors anyway. If we can get up to the rafters and clear all the nests, it may discourage the birds.” They followed Abby and Mr. Brasher over to the station forecourt. Mr. Brasher seemed to have a lot on his mind, and turning to Sam asked if he would allow him some conversation tonight at the Combe Inn.
“No problem. I shall be in about nine o’ clock.”
Abby tackled Mr. Brasher that evening. She had noticed that he seemed concerned about something.
“Am I taking on too much?” She asked.
“Oh, No, Abby. To be honest I have been having serious thoughts about my book.”
“In what way?”
“Well, I have been writing for quite some time, taking great care to get all my facts right, trying not to omit the smallest detail. Yet I have just been reminded that I have forgotten to include the most important part. It makes nonsense of all I have been trying to do.”
“I don’t understand, Mr. Brasher. You seem to have everything at your fingertips, and if not there, in your files. I cannot think of anything you have missed.” He had a wan smile on his face as he turned to her and said.
“I have missed out the people, Abby. The people. The railway was run by people to serve people. Just chatting with Sam and it came to me that this little branch, so insignificant to bureaucracy, was anything but insignificant to these farmers. It would not be too farfetched to say that the railway timetable was their timetable as well, and the services the railway offered influenced what they produced. I have to write a whole new chapter now to cover this topic. Indeed I now realise that it is so important that I may re-write my Foreword, to explain this.”
“But Mr. Brasher, surely you have done that. You were able to get out the details of my grandfather so easily.”
“No, no, Abby. That was just the pure facts. Just a few words with Sam, and talking to you, and your grandfather became a real person, not an item on the service record. I have to get closer, and tell about these people as they were, human.”
“Well in that case you really must talk to Reg Purvess.”
“Now he was the Signalman, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, and he knew my grandfather quite well.”
“In that case it is doubly important that I come down here again.”
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