Abby Chapter one, a short story by texrep. Date added: 2011-03-04. Times viewed: 1299.
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- Intro: Abby searches for her roots and finds a fascinating story and romance
ABBY CHAPTER ONE
Abby had little difficulty in getting to this point, on the B3227 from Taunton heading towards South Molton, and guessed that somewhere on this road she should see a sign indicating her turn. Yet as she drove further and further into Devon she became uneasy that no such sign had revealed itself. Navigation became more of a problem as she drove deeper into the countryside, signposts, when you could find them; indicated a destination which then received no further mention at all upon succeeding signs. High banks on either side of the road meant that she had little clue as to where she was, the only point of reference was the ribbon of road unwinding ceaselessly and vanishing under the bonnet of her car and the occasional signs for some oddly named village or hamlet. As she passed through villages such as Wiveliscombe and Bampton she wondered if she had gone wrong, and seeing the sign that said South Molton was just five miles further on, decided that indeed she had gone wrong. Swearing mildly under her breath Abby was giving thought to turning round and retracing her path.
Suddenly she caught that breath, there was the sign. Leaning gently against the high banks that enclosed the road with a vigorous growth of Ivy as camouflage, she would have missed it had she not been driving slowly looking for a place to turn. It was a peculiar sensation, and her heart was beating furiously as she made the turn. A name that had previously existed only in hearsay and on a map was now fact. Her mother had mentioned the name a few times without thinking, but would not be pressed on its significance. When her mother had died, Abby was nineteen, there was no reference at all to the name in her personal effects, which were few, there was no birth certificate, and the only official document she could find was an out of date Passport, giving the birth area as South Molton. Abby's history consisted of just her Mother's death certificates, and her own birth certificate. Abby now realised that she could have obtained a copy of her mother’s birth certificate, but as is the way of things she had not thought logically at the time. She would repair this oversight as soon as possible. She wondered why her mum had a passport, as she had never travelled abroad.
Combe Linney, as Abby spelt it was not even marked on her road map, and she had to resort to the Ordinance Survey to discover the location, again there was no place spelt Linney, but there was a Combe Lyney, near South Molton, and she assumed that this had to be the place. Its sum total consisted of two black oblongs, and a round dot with a cross on top, presumably indicating a church. There were no A or B roads that ventured anywhere near the place. If this wasn’t the back of beyond, then it was pretty close to it.
The mystery could not be investigated immediately as Abby had after her mother’s death, to consider the business of life, a job, somewhere to live. Her mother had left her little, but a stubborn trait that helped Abby survive the numerous jobs she took in the financial and insurance trade; making tea and coffee for surly men and women who viewed her simply as the office gofer; they would have been surprised if they had known that Abby did not merely put their drinks in front of them, but closely studied what they were doing. They didn’t know because Abby was invisible, unimportant, not even missed when she left to go to a better job, using all she had learned to pack her C.V. She was twenty-five when she started in the City as a proprietary equity trader, the years of watching and learning standing her in good stead. She would not say that she was a brilliant Trader, there were many more that could turn Sixpences into Sovereigns at the drop of a hat, but she was intuitive, and with no family to call upon her time was content to work all hours to achieve her goal. In a business where employers counted the hours almost as important as the success, she was regarded highly.
The commitment to her work had left a gaping hole in the rest of her life, particularly the social side. Starting early, and rarely getting back before nine or ten p.m. left her too exhausted to explore the nightlife that abounded about her. The one indulgence was her flat, a rather luxurious two bed roomed apartment in a block in Kensington; reasoning that with all the hard work and hours she put in, she deserved a base where she could relax comfortably. A fleeting affair with a co-worker that fizzled quickly when his wife became suspicious, was the extent of her forays into anything that could be called a social life; but then the skills that she needed for a social life could not be described as highly developed, lacking the experience that would enable her to discern those who would care for her, from those who would simply use her. Her closest friend was Roz, a glamorous woman who lived in the same flats, who described herself as an Escort. Abby could guess what that euphemism concealed, but not being judgmental thought none the less of her for that. Roz had been helpful to Abby, advising her on dress and make-up to fill the void left by Abby’s mother; a woman who had little knowledge of these feminine arts herself, but then holding down three cleaning jobs would have given her little time to acquire, or require, these talents. Roz’s advice and Abby’s chequebook helped her to assume a confidence she didn’t always feel. She was quite tall for a woman at five foot eight, and had inherited a slim figure, which seemed to maintain itself no matter what junk food she consumed during the hectic working day. Light brown hair that she described as Mousy, but Roz insisted was dark Blonde, cut short for ease of maintenance, level brown eyes, and a full mouth, that smiled easily. She would never describe herself as beautiful, and most days her looks were secondary to working efficiency, but on the couple of occasions that she had been out with Roz to parties, and under Roz’s tutelage had put on the ‘Glam’, she had been subject to lots of male attention. The problem was her social skills could not stretch to flirting, and with the appropriate responses not given the man soon lost interest, and she returned to her flat alone, with no prospect of that situation changing. She lived and worked in one of the most vibrant cities, yet stood on the outside, an onlooker, unknowing of the rules that would let her join.
This situation did not bother her too much, although sometimes she looked wistfully at those who seemed to have so much going on in their lives. If she had ever been part of the social whirl, and was then excluded it might have given her some pain, but what you have never had, you do not miss. Spare time, the little that she had, was spent reading, usually books about the Industrial revolution which had become her hobby, and watching the Discovery channel on Sky. Holidays had been a luxury she could do without in her need to pursue a career, consisting usually, as in this case, of a few snatched days, alone and exploring some place that had been significant in the industrial past, the mobile phone ever to hand in case she had to return. It had taken all those years before she finally decided to try and resolve the conundrum. Now she was just a few miles from somewhere that could be very important or of no consequence at all. As she drove a prick of fear came to her mind. Was she doing the right thing? The old adage was now forefront in her head. Be careful what you wish for, as your wishes may sometimes become true. Was she about to turn over a stone that had something ugly underneath? Hesitancy and fear almost overwhelmed, and she let fate make her decision. If there was somewhere she could turn round easily, she would do it and forget this obsession. If there was no chance of turning then she would go on.
The road was so narrow that any vehicle coming in the opposite direction would involve one or the other reversing in difficult circumstances for some distance; she hoped it would be the other. It wound its way tortuously between high banks, never letting her have a sight of anything more than fifty yards ahead, until it emerged on an embankment just a few feet above a marshy area. Another of those old road signs declared that the embankment was unsafe for any vehicle over 30 cwt. Abby could just remember from her schooldays what cwt. meant, one and a half tons! The embankment rose to a bridge spanning a river, dropping back down the other side to a few more yards of embankment; then plunging back into the high banks and starting to climb. Just before her view was cut off she noticed to the left, a series of brick arches, carrying some other form of transport across the marsh. Beyond the banks was a forest of mixed trees, some deciduous, some conifers of unknown types, she recognised Beech grown so tall that it arched over the road, creating a tunnel of foliage. The road was obviously used but rarely; with a detritus of mud thrown from the corrugated tyres of tractors covering the crown; that rich soil supported a good growth of grass that brushed the underside of her car. Streams seemed to prefer the road to their normal courses as her tyres splashed through water almost every yard of the way. The lane climbed gradually, ascending into a valley she could not see. Then out of the trees a rock built abutment reared at the side of the road, another set back a little could be seen on the other side, no deck connected them, the railway, for she felt sure it would have been a railway, long gone. Possibly, she thought, the reason for the low viaduct she had glimpsed across the marsh. The road continued to climb, but more steeply now climbing out of the forest, although the high banks still hemmed the road. Occasionally, a gateway to a field would afford her views of the stupendous Devon countryside, with irregular small fields lying seemingly at random over hills of varying height as if a patchwork quilt had been thrown carelessly over an unmade bed. To the southwest they stretched away to the foothills of Dartmoor, and to the northeast to Exmoor, only fleetingly glimpsed.
She drove carefully not wishing to rush headlong into any problems the way might present. The lane continued to twist and turn, passing even narrower lanes, which vanished between the hedgerows within the space of a few yards, unmarked on her map, and unsigned by the local council, as if their purpose was a secret, known to only those who had business in these parts. She felt she should have reached somewhere by now, and pondered the comments that had been made to her that West Country miles are longer than miles measured elsewhere in England, possibly she wasn’t in England any more. As she drove round yet another tight bend she caught her breath, for suddenly the vista of the Valley opened before her, and equally as suddenly the lane disappeared from in front of her car. She braked urgently. The lane now descended, at an impossible angle, so steeply that Abby felt it would be safer to abseil down. An ancient road sign leaning, drunkenly into the hedgerow, its black and white pole pitted with rust, the sign at its top, surmounted with a once red triangle informed her that the hill was one in four. 'That’s never one in four,’ she informed the sign, ‘that’s vertical.’ Locking the automatic into low gear, she tentatively started the descent. The whine of the engine rose to a crescendo, dying away as she used the brakes and then rising again as she let the car run against the brake of the engine. At the very least, she thought, anyone approaching the hill from the bottom would hear her, and not attempt the climb until she came past. At last she reached the bottom and broke out of the hedgerows and trees, onto the valley floor. There had been nowhere to turn at all, so fate had decided for her.
The lane followed the valley for some distance, passing a few small Cob cottages, each attended by barns and outhouses. The small, undulating fields upon which cattle grazed, seemingly unfazed by the passing of her car, just merely lifting their heads for a moment to look incuriously, and then returning to their patient cropping of the grass. The banks were not so high now allowing a better view of the surrounding country. The Valley was not flat, but undulated smoothly, rising to small coppices, and hillocks that fell gently down to the river which flowed at the valley bottom. The road and the river kept a sort of company, the road having more sense of direction although it still could not be called straight, as it traversed many small hills and side valleys, while the river meandered. Sometimes it was completely out of sight and then abruptly returned those same small hills and side valleys brushing it aside in its journey along the valley bottom. Another of those old road signs with the red triangle appeared, this time warning her of a junction. Negotiating yet another bend she came upon the junction. No white lines in the road to observe, just another lane of presumably equal importance, or equal unimportance joining. The road seemed to veer to the right so she went that way, at the last minute noticing a faded sign showing left for Combe Lyney, one and a half miles. She couldn’t believe it, all that way and only two and a half miles covered! The stories were true; West Country miles were longer than English miles. As she was committed to the right hand road she carried on and immediately drove over a slight hump. On top of the hump set into the road were railway lines, once covered by road stone, but now revealed by the traffic, which over the years had thumped across them wearing away the tar and grit surface. Abby had been very interested in History at school, particularly the Industrial revolution and the urge to explore such artefacts of the industrial past was never far away. Impulsively she determined to have a look at this one, stopping where the lane seemed a little wider and switching off the engine.
Leaving the car she took her first breath of the Devon air, her head swirled with its effect and she almost staggered, a glorious rich soup of scents enriched with oxygen assailed her senses and as she breathed deeply filling her lungs with the potent mixture she felt as if she had grown an inch. At first she was astonished by the silence, but as the engine noise which had accompanied her for the last two hundred odd miles faded from her ears, she realised that the silence was punctuated, no accompanied by the gentle rustle of the river and the chatter and flurry of birds. The day was typical of late March. The sun was there but often hidden by the clouds, which hurried over the valley. When they broke for a moment, she could feel the warmth that the sun promised, but too soon the clouds ganged up and became overcast once more. The birds that she heard seemed to time their chatter and flight to coincide with the sun’s brief appearances, as if they were unsure whether it was the right time to be nest building. Most confusing for them she thought. Getting out of the car had also brought their bluster to a momentary halt, and as she moved a scatter of small birds burst out of the hedgerow into a brief flight, only to disappear just as suddenly back into the hedge, a few yards further away.
She walked back to the level crossing. The rails ended abruptly either side of the road; presumably the scrap men didn’t want the cost of resurfacing the road to recover just a few pounds of scrap steel. At one side stood a weather-beaten solid post, easily one foot square, the remnants of white paint still clung stubbornly to its side, yet gaping regular holes in the face proclaimed another purpose. Abby reasoned that this must have been the post for the level crossing gate, and searched for its twin on the other side, but that was nowhere to be seen. Where the lines had been though, was easy to spot. No one had bothered to reclaim the land here, unlike the more urban areas, where the price of land made such a task economical. Westwards the line had curved away, following the valley. Eastward the railway bed became much wider, as if there was something more important for the railway to do, and about four hundred yards away were some old buildings. There was no gate to prevent her so Abby wandered along the way, uneasily at first as if she expected someone to come out and shout at her for trespassing, but more confidently as she made progress and no such challenge came. The way was almost choked with Bramble and Nettles, and footing was sometimes hard to find. She discovered that the bed was a series of undulations about fifteen inches apart, and wondered why, until she stepped on to an old and crumbling piece of wood, which was where one of the dips should be. She then realised that the undulations were the result of the old rails and sleepers being lifted from the ballast. The way was becoming more difficult now, and after almost tripping over a loop of wire half buried in the old ballast she decided to retrace her steps. Warm from her walk, she opened her car thankfully and turned on the air-conditioning. Shortly her temperature returned to comfortable, and she drove on, finding a place to turn around and then following the sign for Combe Lyney. The lane was now allowing her a much gentler route, without the sharp bends of earlier, and she could take more notice of her surroundings.
This was lucky, as otherwise she may have missed the overgrown lane leading off to the right, and the small finger sign, which announced STATION. In two minds whether to explore or not, she stopped the car. Again impulsively she decided to investigate and ventured up the approach. It was only short, and soon she found herself in a small yard. She gazed around. The yard would have once been cobbled, but now all that remained was some evidence of the hard-core, cratered and broken, with weed and brush that sprang through the cracked cobbled top helping to complete the task of reducing the top surface to gravel. The station stood forlorn in front of her, a single storey building, built with rugged local rock. The building consisted of two gabled ends, joined by a single storey building running between them. The gables contained a single window each, whilst the joining part contained just two windows and two doors. The windows were all barred with planks nailed across. Next to the window in the left-hand gable hung a Board with the heading “GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY”. Below was a space, which Abby assumed from the tattered remnants of paper pinned to it, would have been for notices. To the left of this gable was a double wicket gate, hanging open, set in a diagonally slatted fence that extended off to the left for ten or so feet before vanishing into overgrown shrubs and bushes. To the right of the station building about one hundred yards away was a house, built in the same style as the station, but two storied, with a steep roof. Projecting from the roof was a chimney; the bricks laid in a twisted style like Barleycorn legs on an antique table, and topped with tall terracotta chimney pots. Abby was certain that this house would have been for the stationmaster, who obviously lived on the job. Like the station, all the windows were boarded up. Beyond this house the remnants of a gravelled track lead off towards some more buildings about two hundred yards away, these she recognised as those she had seen from the level crossing.
Abby locked her car and walked slowly toward the gate, she looked round cautiously for anyone who would question her presence here, but the place was deserted. Emboldened she negotiated the hanging gate which half blocked the entrance and walked onto the platform. The platform side of the building was very different. The Gables were deeper and the gable ends had shallow bays with three narrow windows. Between the gables there was a large porch. She didn’t venture in as the winds, rain and the seasons had combined to fill the place as a natural lee with piles of rotting leaves. There was also the suggestive rank smell of animals. To the right as she stood facing the station building, and beyond the wicket gate was a simple wooden structure more like a large garden shed, but with an awning stretching out over the platform. There was only the one platform, yet there had obviously been two tracks. The track bed was only partially obscured by weed, the ballast she could see clearly stained black with oil, which presumably had prevented the weed invasion. Looking to the east, the line had run through a small cutting, partially choked with vegetation but for a track, beaten out by foot, which wound its way through the brush, and the occasional small tree.
Westward the weed had again taken possession, and all she could see was a crude buffer stop, made from old sleepers set in a sea of Brush, Gorse, and bramble. She walked the length of the platform, which was quite short, much shorter than those she could remember from the odd times she had travelled by rail. Some of the paving remained, but much was missing. Also missing were the items that old pictures of stations had told her should be here, benches, cast iron lighting standards, enamelled advertising boards, and the Signs. Returning she caught sight of one sign, which had survived. It was close by the wicket gate, but seemingly thrown down into the track bed, and broken in two. She could just make out some of the lettering - All Passengers MUST shew - the rest was indecipherable. She pondered the ramifications of the capital letters, and the spelling of 'show'. This was obviously a railway company with a sense of importance.
The day was drawing in now, with the sun no longer able to show from behind the clouds. It was time to find some accommodation. Wistfully leaving the station, she turned right onto the road to Combe Lyney, and drove the mile and a half, West Country miles again, until she found the village. It was a scattered collection of old Devon Cob cottages with some later half- timbered additions. There was also a small estate of the concrete system-built houses so beloved of the Councils, placed seemingly without thought on the road leading to a bridge over the river, and spoiling one of the beauty spots of the area. Abby found the Combe Inn easily just opposite the squat Norman church. Elsewhere this would now be a theme pub, she thought, with a silly name, and mock beams to replace the real beams that were the structural frame of this building. There was a little car parking space, enough for two or three cars in front, but at this hour of the day it was empty, the Inn also seemed deserted.
She walked into what would appear to be the Pub’s only bar, to find no one, except for a dog, which lay on its side before a slumbering fire. It looked up, thumped its tail once against the flags, and unperturbed carried on dozing. The Bar was low-ceiling with beams which were without doubt the real thing, various small chairs, table, and settles were set around none of which were part of the set and stereotyped pub furniture seen everywhere else. Indeed they, for the most part appeared one-offs in every way, as if they had been bought by succeeding generations, trying to copy the style of the previous, but adding their own unique touches. Around the walls were old photographs, Men in uniforms of various kinds, Group scenes, Cricket teams, Football Teams, many of which contained the same personnel, and others that had no obvious purpose. The room was divided into two distinct sections by the Bar itself. To the left as a patron entered the furniture was plain, without frills. Wooden seating extended along two of the walls, with tables placed about three feet apart standing in front. Upon the third wall hung the inevitable Dartboard, with a very washed-out Blackboard to one side. The Blackboard had seen much use, and was scored and pitted from those Darts that had missed their target. No longer completely Black, with chalk ingrained into the surface, the scores of the last game to be played overlaid the scores of previous games, which were still visible. Abby wondered how any player could be really sure of where they were in the game. To the right of the Bar, the furnishings were much improved, upholstered chairs and stools clustered around polished tables. Abby approached the Bar.
“Hello,” she called. Allowing a few minutes for whoever was in charge to come to the bar, she called again. “Hello. Is anyone there?” She accompanied her call with a couple of sharp slaps on the counter. There appeared to be a response this time for movement could be heard as if from the depths of the earth. Eventually through the door at the back of the Bar, came a plump woman in her fifties, clothed simply, and wearing a flowered pinny! Abby had not seen one of those for years, except when a nostalgia programme on T.V. showed old adverts from the fifties. The face was unlined and healthy, with a broad smile.
“Hello my dear,” the woman said, “how can I help you?” The accent was a slow, easy burr.
Abby smiled back. “I was wondering if you have some accommodation for a few days? A single if you have one.” The woman’s smile grew even broader, if that were possible.
“Of course we have, although we don’t often get visitors this early. The place may look old but we are up to date. En-suite bathrooms and such like. How long will you be staying?” The mention of en-suite bathrooms cheered Abby considerably; she had had visions of cold night trips to a cheerless communal bathroom.
“Oh, I would think about four or five days.” The woman nodded her head as if in conversation with herself and then upon reaching agreement addressed the visitor.
“Right, well I’ll put you in the back room, nice view over the valley, and away from the noise here in the front. You’ll have to give me a few minutes to get it made up. Breakfast comes with the accommodation, but will you be wanting an evening meal?” Abby thoughts had not extended that far, but decided that it might be better to say yes and be sure, rather than trying to find a meal elsewhere, she hadn’t seen anywhere for the last few miles that might offer dinner.
Again the woman nodded her head in her conversation with herself. “Would twenty-five pounds a night be alright?” She asked cautiously.
Abby took her turn to nod. “Yes that would be fine, how much for the evening meal?"
The woman’s smile returned. “Oh bless you my dear, that’s included.” Her smile widened at the look on Abby’s face. “I cannot promise you a wide menu at this time of year, but if there’s anything you would like particular, I’m sure we can do something. Now let’s get you a cup of tea, and you take a seat. Oh, and I’ll get you the book to sign. Sit yourself down, and make yourself comfortable, and if that dog makes a nuisance of himself, just tell him to Bugger off.” With that she was gone.
Abby wandered through into the Lounge, and selected for herself the chair that looked most comfortable. She wondered if she would be expected to eat down here. Normally she would only feel comfortable eating alone in her room, or going out to some anonymous restaurant, where the prospect of others trying to engage her in conversation would be minimal. That concern she set aside as the warmth of the fire cheered her, the day was now almost gone, with a chill setting in. The dog looked up and deciding that there was no point in making a nuisance of himself, got up, turned around a couple of times and then lay down in exactly the position he had been in before. Presently the Landlady bustled in with a tray of tea.
“Ah, there you are.” As if expecting that her guest may have decided to go elsewhere. “That dog isn't making a nuisance of himself?” And without waiting for a reply, shouted at the dog. “Gorn, bugger off.” The dog raised himself and with the expression so truly described as hang-dog slunk away, no doubt wondering once again at the peculiarity of Humans. “Now I’m sure I’ve brought anything, yes milk, sugar, and strainer. You enjoy your tea. Oh and here’s the book. Perhaps you could fill in the details, no hurry.” She bustled away saying, “I’ll get your room ready.”
Abby sat and pondered the tea. A strainer! That meant leaf tea. She hadn’t used anything but a tea bags for years, in fact she never had. Her mother had used leaf tea when Abby was a little girl. Carefully she lifted the lid on the pot, yes leaf tea. Now should she stir it? Probably a stir would do no harm. She then poured the tea through the strainer; it was a dark rich brown in colour, adding milk, and half a teaspoon of sugar she drank. God! It was wonderful. How could it taste so different? It was a completely different drink to the hurried bag in a cup with hot water poured on that she was used to. She would have a second cup, now that was very unusual. Picking up the book, Abby then filled in the normal details.
There had been no entries since October last year, how do they keep going, she asked herself. She was finishing her second cup, when the Landlady bustled back into the bar.
“All ready for you, Oh good you’ve signed the book.” Picking it up she read Abby’s details. “Did you enjoy...” Her voice trailed off as she read Abby’s name. “Tregonney, now that’s an unusual name. I’m sure someone here has mentioned that name, but I can’t recall when, or for why, but that was years ago, I’ve never heard of anyone else with that name, and you from up London, that’s peculiar, do you have any relations hereabouts?”
Abby was slightly embarrassed, but agreed with the Landlady. “I have never heard of anyone with the name, and there’s none in the phone book. I believe my family originally came from around here, and I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’ve come down here.” The Landlady had her secret conversation with herself and agreed on a conclusion.
“I’ll ask Sam when he comes in, he’s in his eighties but still knows everything about Combe, every village has got one like Sam, and he’ll know if any of your family are still around. Oh I forgot to ask, would you like to eat in your room, or down here?”
It took a great effort for Abby to say in none too firm a voice. “I think I’ll eat down here, if that’s all right?”
The landlady nodded her head in confirmation. “Now let’s get your bag in from your car.” She bustled outside with no doubt that Abby would be behind her. Abby got outside to see the Landlady staring contemplatively at her car. She looked up as Abby approached and said.
“If you don’t mind I’ll get Jack to put your car round the back. I wouldn’t like any damage to happen while you’re here.”
Abby was taken aback. “Damage? Here?”
The Landlady looked at Abby. “This may seem like the peaceful and Law-abiding countryside to you, and it is in the main. But we still have some silly devils about.” and her head moved jerkily sideways, indicating a direction, which Abby felt may have been in the general direction of the few Council houses, but couldn’t be sure. She unlocked the car with the remote control, and flipped up the boot. She had but one case, which she pulled out, only to have it taken off her by the Landlady.
“I’ll carry this for you.” she stated firmly, “and if you leave the keys with me, Jack will move your car.” Abby would have protested, but too late as the other woman had set off briskly back into the Pub. Locking the car Abby followed. The woman was waiting for her by a door at the back of the lounge. “Do I call you Miss, Mrs, or Ms. Tregonney?” she asked pleasantly.
“Well actually its Miss, but do call me Abby.” The smile flashed on the face like a Lighthouse beacon.
“Oh that’s good; I can’t get on with all these fancy terms now. Please call me Mary, and my husband's name is Jack, well it isn't, not really, his actual name is Arnold, which he can’t stand, so he tells everyone its Jack. Now you watch these stairs.” She changed the conversation without taking breath. The door opened to reveal a small lobby. To the left was the back wall to the Bar. This was home to various charts and a large board with cup hooks running down vertically, all the hooks but one had keys hanging from them. Opposite this panel was the stairs and alongside the stairs a hallway, which Abby presumed would lead through to the kitchen.
Mary lifted a key off the wall and took the stairs “We may have modernised a lot of the facilities, but we cannot change the stairs. Whole place would fall down if we did.” Abby could see what she meant; the stairs had undergone a metamorphosis over the years and had been repaired piecemeal. Whilst the general trend was upwards, the risers and steps sloped indifferently to the vertical direction, even at times giving the impression that the climber had stepped downwards instead of upwards. The corridor on the upper floor had obviously suffered the same fate. Abby made forward movements, but the changing angle of the floor sent her bouncing from one wall to the other, much like a Pinball machine. Mary managed without problem, the years of practice enabling her to adjust her balance for each variation, walking the corridor much like a sailor negotiating the deck of a ship in heavy seas. The Bedroom she showed Abby, was in complete contrast.
“Mind the little step,” Mary said as she opened the door. Here the floor was flat, and close carpeted. Abby could walk quite normally. She said as much to Mary.
“Well we couldn’t have guests crashing around in the middle of the night,” Mary replied, “so we had a false floor put in. You’ve come at the right time when it’s relatively peaceful, before we get busy, now you get yourself sorted and have a rest, and we’ll see you later.”
Abby unpacked her bag, hanging her few clothes in the spacious wardrobe, and setting out the contents of her wash-bag in the bathroom. She examined the controls of the shower, and tried them carefully. A spray of freezing cold water, which after a few moments became boiling hot, rewarded her. Adjusting the temperature control seemed to have little immediate effect, but patience finally presented her with a suitable temperature. Leaving it to run she went back into the bedroom and undressed. Feeling considerably refreshed from her shower Abby dressed in slacks and a simple blouse, recognising that the Combe Inn was not a dressy place. She sat for a while and considered the day. Not a bad start, only five minutes in the place and definite confirmation that someone with her family name had lived in the locality, perhaps her mother? Even if that proved to be a red Herring, then she had an old railway to explore, so it would not be a completely wasted journey.
At five past seven she re-entered the Bar, and Mary gave her that engaging broad smile.
“I’ve set a place for you close to the fire, would you like a drink first?”
“That would be good; could I have a White Wine Spritzer please?” Mary nodded her secret agreement to this request simply asking if Abby would like Tonic or Lemonade as the mixer, and sat Abby down.
“I’ll bring it through to you. Now I’ve got some nice soup, would you like some with a roll?” This was asked in such a way that Abby thought Mary would be seriously dismayed if she refused so agreed to the suggestion. The table had been laid for a gargantuan banquet, judging by the numbers of knives forks, spoons, and utensils waiting her use. As she would normally microwave a supermarket frozen meal the only utensil that Abby would usually wash was a fork or spoon. The cutlery set out here would last her for days! Abby looked up as a man of medium height approached bearing her glass.
“Hello,” he said, “you’ll be Abby; I’m Jack, Mary’s husband. Nice to have someone staying here this early.” He handed Abby the keys to the car, “I’ve moved your car round to the back, nice cars those BMW’s. Mary says your family came from round here.” Like his wife Jack seemed to have the facility of talking of two different subjects scarce taking breathe, nor with a change of tone, and all seemingly within the course of one sentence. Abby smiled, it seemed so easy to smile at people in this place.
“Yes, well I believe so, but I don’t know much about my family.” A look of consternation passed over Jack’s face.
“How can that be?” He asked. “Have you not got any?” A question that in the city would be viewed as an invasion, but down here was asked with genuine concern.
“I was an only child, and my mother didn’t talk about her family. She died when I was nineteen, so I have no real knowledge of any relatives.” At that moment Mary arrived with what seemed like a gallon of soup, and immediately scolded her husband for his impertinence.
“Leave the child be, and let her eat.” placing this huge bowl of soup in front of Abby she ushered her Jack away.
Abby broke a bread roll and spread some butter on it, she popped it into her mouth and picked up the spoon, which was quite heavy, turning it over she could just make out faded Hallmarks, and the name “ELKINGTON”, a name she had never heard of, but who obviously made good cutlery. She stopped as the flavour of the bread and butter attacked her taste buds. It was so good, the bread light yet with none of the floury sogginess of the bread she would buy supposedly fresh from the supermarket, the butter with a wonderful creamy taste with just a hint of saltiness. The soup was also superb, yet she could not identify what kind of soup it was. Realising how hungry she was, Abby spooned the soup and ate the rolls with enthusiasm, only stopping when reason told her not to satisfy her appetite, or else she would not be able to eat any of the pie that Mary had promised. Relaxing in her chair she looked around at the now occupied bar. There was no one on the posh side, but the other side had gained a few customers. They sat and stood in little groups, talking and drinking, with occasional bursts of laughter, their eyes sometimes straying toward her, as a curiosity, and averting sharply if they thought she was looking. Abby smiled inwardly to herself, supposing that yes, a stranger at this time of year would be the subject of questions. Mary came rushing back.
“Oh you haven’t finished your soup; I’ll come back again shortly.” Abby forestalled her.
“No, I have finished, it was very good, but if I had had any more I would not be able to eat another thing.” Mary was nonplussed.
“Well most of them round here would be complaining that I hadn’t given them enough.” .
“What was the soup?" Abby thought to ask. " It was delicious.”
“Leek, Potato and Onion,” replied Mary.
“Oh yes, I’ve seen that in the supermarket, I shall have to get some when next I go.”
Mary laughed. “You’ll not get that in the supermarket, made right here in my kitchen that was, fresh vegetables this morning.” Abby blushed, frightened that she may have offended Mary.
“No, you're probably right, I don’t think I shall be able to buy anything as good as that in the supermarket.”
Mary smiled contentedly. “I’ll be back in a minute with your pie.”
The pie was as generous as the soup, golden crust of pastry that melted on the tongue, steak and kidney that dispersed flavours both subtle and rich. Potatoes and vegetables lightly covered with the aromatic gravy that leaked from the pie. Abby had consumed a facsimile of this meal before, which could be classified merely fuel for the body. Those meals could not be compared to this in any way. Mary was again upset that Abby did not eat all that was put in front of her, imagining that the food was not to her liking.
“I can get you something else.” Again Abby had to reassure her that such portions were well beyond her capacity. “Well if you sure then,” Mary gave in, “would you like some Coffee or Tea?” Abby opted for Coffee, which she drank slowly, wondering if she would be welcome at the Bar. In London she could have gone into a Pub and ordered herself a drink. She could have, but rarely did, her lack of social confidence precluding her, but here she felt older attitudes would prevail, and didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, least of all herself. Mary came to the rescue, bustling in to clear the table and leaning down whispered.
“If you would like a drink, Jack won’t mind bringing it to you here. It's a lot more comfortable than the Bar.” The problem was resolved so simply and diplomatically, allowing Abby a choice, but at the same time indicating that her presence in the Bar might discomfort the other customers.
Jack brought the Whisky and water she had ordered and lingered awhile asking if she had enjoyed her meal. He was as relieved as his wife to learn that Abby had indeed enjoyed the meal, but that the quantities had defeated her. He went on to again ask about her family. Abby was happy to talk, as after all this was partially the reason she had come to the area.
“I was an only child, and as far as I know there are no cousins, aunts, and uncles whatever. Mum was vague about her past, and even after her death I was not able to find much to help. There was no personal correspondence, Solicitors letters or anything like that. I found an old passport, and all that told me was that she was born near South Molton.” Jack mused.
“And your name is Tregonney. Was that your Mother's name as well?” Abby nodded her head in confirmation.
“Tregonney.... Tregonney, wait a minute.” and he disappeared round to the other side of the bar. He was back in a minute dragging an embarrassed man with him. “This is Will.” Will nodded his head.
“Evening Miss,” he muttered.
Jack went on. “Will has lived around here for getting on thirty years, if any one knows something it will be him, apart from Sam, Sam Perry, whose been here all his life.” Will perked up because his local knowledge was being sought.
“The only one who knows more than Sam is his missus, who knows everything, can’t even turn over in bed without ‘er knowing.” Jack turned to Will.
“This is Miss Tregonney, who thinks her family may have once lived here about.” Will didn’t need to think long.
“Tregonney, why that could be the Tregonney who was Stationmaster, hang on I’ll tell you his name, what was it now? Yes,” he exclaimed with pride, “it was Tom, yes that was him Tom Tregonney, mind you I didn‘t know him, I didn‘t come here until nineteen sixty eight, but I heard his wife had died, and I believe there was a daughter.” He shook his head in puzzlement. “Don‘t know what happened to her.” Will finished his little speech with a broad smile on his face, pleased that he could recall these details so quickly. Abby was elated, her Grandfather, it had to be her Grandfather, and he had been the Stationmaster! No wonder she had felt an affinity for the place. She knew then that she would go back to the station tomorrow, to explore more, and see the place that her Grandfather had worked, and possibly where her Mum had spent time as a little girl.
Jack ushered Will away, and returned straight away.
“You have just given them all something to talk about. They’ll be dredging their memories now. Come tomorrow evening and you could have enough to write a book. Do you think that Tom Tregonney is related?” Abby nodded.
“Yes it has to be, as Mary said it’s not a common name. He could be my grandfather” She thought for a moment.
“Please tell Will thanks for me, and do you think I could buy him a drink? She rummaged in her bag, and came up with a five-pound note, which she proffered to Jack.
“Put your money away, I’ll give Will another pint, even though he’s had enough already, and charge it to your Bill. If they thought you was buying drinks for anyone who could tell you something about your family, they would be making up stories from now until Mid-Summer.”
Abby sat with her thoughts for a while, and drank a little. Eventually she picked up the book she had brought down with her and settled down to read. A quiet but firm ‘ahem’ startled her and looking up she saw Will peering round from the Bar. He lifted a pint glass, and nodded his head in thanks, Abby smiled at him and he withdrew, flustered. The book proved difficult, as she couldn’t concentrate, and when she found herself reading the same page for the third time, gave it up. Mary came to join her at her usual bustling pace, and for once sat down.
“It’s memory lane round there. Jack’s ears are flapping like he’ll take off in a minute. Lumme, they say women talk, they’ve never heard this bunch, mind you a lot of its quite fanciful, but that’s country folk for you, a good tale can always be improved with a bit of embroidery. By the way you have been adopted. Jack says you think this Tregonney could be your grandfather. That makes you as good as a local.” Abby had to smile; it gave her a good feeling in a way, as she had never really belonged anywhere before. She said as much to Mary.
“Mary I’ve been here for what? Six hours. It's silly, I know, but I feel at home already. Probably because for the first time I know where my family came from, I know it was years ago, but I have found out something about me, and who I am.”
Mary regarded her guest with affection, and patted her arm. “I reckon you’ll find out a lot more before too long.” She got up and seeing that Abby’s glass was empty asked if she would like another. Deciding that she may not sleep too easily tonight Abby thought she would have another. Mary brought this for her and also brought a glass of Sherry for herself. “Jack’s coping easily tonight; so if you don’t mind I’ll sit awhile with you.” Abby was happy to have her company, and they sat chatting comfortably, Mary in the manner of most women asking innocuous questions that filled in her knowledge of what Abby did for a living, was there a special man in her life, where she lived, and could eventually give a fairly accurate guess as to how well off she was. She would be shocked later when she realised that she had seriously underestimated that aspect. Mary, being a woman, was now convinced that fate had brought Abby to this valley for a purpose; she was also fairly sure what that purpose was.
Abby for her part was quietly pleased with herself when she eventually retired to bed. Not just because she had found a link to her family; her logical brain told her that it was only a possibility, but her emotions crying out for sustenance would not admit anything but that it was a fact: The other reason for satisfaction was that for the first time she could recall in many years she had spent a whole evening in company, talking easily about everything and anything, and it had been simply done, none of the uncomfortable pauses as she searched for something to say, no asking fatuous questions to maintain a conversation. It all happened so naturally and easily. What was different this time? Why, here, was she relaxed and to an extent outgoing? Whatever the reason it didn’t matter, the evening had been enjoyable and Abby relaxed into the bed with a sense of accomplishment.
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