Abby Chapter six, a short story by texrep. Date added: 2011-03-14. Times viewed: 988.
- Please SEND FEEDBACK - Writers love hearing from you. You can view the Authors profile here
- Intro: Abby searches for her roots and finds a fascinating story and romance.
ABBY CHAPTER SIX
Coming back to the office on a Wednesday, when her plan had been not to return until Monday, was not too unusual. When things broke it was understood that it didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing, you got yourself into the office, it was why the job was so well paid, and the bonuses were so good. Andy her deputy was right, this was a big one. A holding that she had bought some time ago, a position she had to defend on a number of occasions was starting to boil; already the Bank had trebled its original stake.
“If I hadn’t heard from you I was going to sell,” Andy had informed her. Abby’s gut feeling was to hold on for another twenty-four hours.
“Even if they drop a point or two, we are still way ahead, but I reckon that they will go a little bit higher.” She was right, the following Monday the quoted price showed a further increase. “O.K. sell,” she made the decision. The holdings were snapped up in next to no time, she had just made eighty million pounds for her Bank; the bonuses on this deal were going to be very good.
As she expected, within a few days she was asked to drop in to the Directors office. Steve was all smiles.
“Great coup, always knew you were going to pull it off. There’s going to be a very nice share out of the profits, and I’ll make sure the board know who masterminded the whole operation.” Abby smiled cynically, Steve had been the one who had put her under pressure to pull out of the position. Now of course he would tell the board that the whole thing was done under his direction. This was typical of Steve, smiling Steve, smooth Steve, permatanned Steve, Teflon coated Steve; who viewed all women in the office as tethered game for his hunt; who had seduced Abby with ease, she falling for his promises, and naively believing his glib words; that is until she found out that his marriage was not on the point of collapse, and that Steve only perceived their relationship as an excitement, an interlude between the periods of hustle and chaotic office atmosphere.
He went on. “The reason I have asked you in, is to chat about Andy. He’s done a good job with you, but I feel he needs some experience elsewhere, so I would like to put him in Futures for a while, possibly send him to New York, get the feel of the place. What do you think?” Abby made the right noises; she knew the decision was already made. Within a year or so Andy would return, but this time as her boss. The Glass Ceiling had finally arrived, it had always been out there somewhere, but she had never hit it before. Now here it was, her face pressed up to it, looking at the power and prestige the other side, but never to be able to join that party. Skirts and the City didn't mix. When she left Steve’s office, the feelings that Combe Lyney had engendered returned. Only a few months ago she would have fought tooth and nail to defend her position; but now other considerations had entered the equation. Yes, she did have to consider her future. Her job here was probably safe for another year or two, maybe three or four, but she had to acknowledge that one day she would be burnt out, the pressures and stress getting to her so that she would miss things, and mess up on deals. Then the call to the Directors office; and it would probably be Andy then; would be for reasons of her resigning.
That night back at her flat in Knightsbridge, Abby sat and gave the question her undivided attention. Financially she was secure, the profit sharing scheme the bank operated had given her a very nice nest egg, all invested wisely, if safely. She could spread her portfolio a little wider to take in some of the more volatile investments, which with careful management would mean an income at least the equal of her present salary. Her flat, which had taken a huge chunk of capital to buy, would now fetch at least three quarters of a million. She didn’t need to work any longer, she worked because it was a challenge, gave her a buzz. What could she do though, if she moved down to Combe Lyney, she couldn’t see herself milking cows?
Since she had been home she had not had the time to look through her grandfather's papers. Deciding that the questions she was asking herself did not, at this moment, have an answer; she turned her mind to her inheritance. The Will was a fairly standard document; it assumed that her mother would be still alive, although the phrase, which Mr. Brooks had inserted “present whereabouts unknown”, indicated his anticipation of the actuality. There was also the usual clause regarding the possible demise of the beneficiary, with the estate coming to her issue. Was that a hint that her grandfather may have been aware of such a situation occurring? No, it was a pretty standard clause, inserted into most Wills. Abby turned to the other papers in the file. The first that she picked up was on old, cheap, paper yellowing and musty. The heading was simply GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY, nothing ornate, no coats of arms, dated 13th. November 1938. The letter appointed Thomas Tregonney as Stationmaster at Combe Lyney. The letter went on to require him to take up his new post by the 1st. December. Having heard from Sam how important this job was to grandfather; she was not surprised that he had kept this letter. A pocket-sized card came next, an identification card issued by the railway, the neat, Art Deco style, GWR logo in a circle on the top left corner. The card authorised the holder to be on the lines and premises of the Great Western Railway Company in the execution of his duty. The name Thomas Tregonney was written in Copperplate, with his grade Stationmaster, underneath. It was signed, carefully, the signature fully legible, by her grandfather. The card seemed to have no reason, but Abby caught a clue from the printing at the bottom of the page, which required the card to be produced at any time by request, and also that a signature may be required as proof of identity. Perhaps this had something to do with the War?
There were other letters, one dated March 1966, from British Railways, Western Region, addressed “Dear Tregonney,” concerning his impending retirement from the Commission’s service, and advising him that he would need to quit the station house within seven days of his retirement. The other was a printed card, acknowledging his retirement on the 30th April 1966, and thanking him for his fifty-one years of service. The card was pre-printed with just the date and length of service to be filled in by the typist. At least, thought Abby, they addressed him as Mr. Tregonney this time.
She turned to the diary, or rather that which she supposed to be a diary, for it wasn’t, at least the sort of diary that Abby would expect. The pages were filled with what she now realised was her grandfather's own writing, the beautiful Copperplate letters so carefully formed, that anyone could read without difficulty, and appreciate the time it would take to write in such a way. It could more properly be described as a daily journal, not detailing his life, and that of his family, but the daily minutiae of his work. She read that on the 23rd. August 1949, the 6.18 a.m. was three minutes late on arrival, the name of the driver, Albert Perring, recorded for posterity. Also recorded were the number of empty churns to be unloaded, and the number of full ones to be loaded. The passenger figures for each train of the day, often woefully small, and sometimes none at all. Some entries made little or no sense at first glance, until she realised that this tome served as a record of traffic, which could be used as a reference for future requirements, thus the entry regarding the number of cattle trucks for 3rd. October 1953, ‘three cattle trucks for South Molton Market insufficient, four will be required in future,’ there was one entry on 14th. May 1949, which defied her deductive process, ‘Milk traffic increasing, order four Siphons for both early and late Milk trains,’ Abby realised that to read all of this would give her an insight into the working of the Station, and the railway, but no more awareness of her Grandfather than she possessed already. The thought suddenly entered her head that perhaps she never would. Remembering Sam’s words, ‘we all knew Thomas Tregonney, who he was, what he was, we all had conversation of some kind or another with him, but that was as far as it went.’ If the only people still alive, and who remembered her grandfather, couldn’t throw any more light on him, then did she have any hope at all? Possibly the trick of knowing him was in the railway he served, and his own writing, terse as that may be.
She picked up the little book ‘The Railway to Paverton’ and started to read. Her first impression of the book was indeed correct. It was quite typical local Historian stuff, heavily tinged with sycophantic references to the local powers that were at that time, with their names worked in whenever it was possible. It did give the framework, and explained the position of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, as an independent Company, so closely aligned to the Great Western Railway, that its nominal independence was in reality a myth. It shared the great Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and the reality became official on the 1st January 1876, when the G.W.R. took over the Bristol and Exeter.
The line to Paverton was a branch; in effect a branch off a branch, as the Taunton to Barnstaple line was regarded as just that. It was constructed in 1874, just two years before the G.W.R. took over, and was made to Brunel’s broad gauge of seven feet and a quarter inch. Abby had read about this gauge, supposedly the smoothest and fastest, yet doomed from infancy as standard gauge or narrow gauge, as the Great Western derisively referred to it, covered the rest of the country.
Abby was interested to read that the Lyney Valley route was not the initial choice for the railway, but the Comberford family lobbied forcefully for the railway to come up their valley. No doubt, she thought, that if his family were as unscrupulous as James would have her believe, there was a pay-off for them somewhere along the line. There was little further reference to the valley after that, Combe Lyney was mentioned as an intermediate stop, and there was also reference to another stop, known as Lills Platform together with a siding, but no indication of where this was. Abby wondered if this could be the site of the quarries mentioned early on in the tract. The book was mainly concerned from then on with the arrival of the railway in Paverton, and the festivities enjoyed by all and sundry, a six course Luncheon for the worthies, an Ox-roast for the navvies, beer flowing freely, and a dance for all in the market square that night. This gave the author even more opportunity for the mentioning of names. Abby presumed that the Names of 1874 would probably be the family names, still important in 1937, when the book was written. The next major step forward was when the line was converted to Standard Gauge. This was on the 14th. May 1881, and the work was completed within the day. Abby marvelled at this undertaking, thinking that it wouldn’t be done nowadays, the Unions, and the jobs worth from the Health & Safety KGB would see to that.
From that day forward the author had trouble filling his pages, as nothing else extraordinary happened at all. It was as if the railway went to sleep. There were details of the services that were offered; from just three trains each way a day in 1874, increasing to the maximum ten trains each way in 1908, but no service on Sunday. The service declined in 1922 to seven trains each way, and that is where it stayed, certainly until 1937, but somehow or other a Sunday service was now in place. Abby realised that the author was writing about passenger services. Goods trains it appeared were not timetabled, although they were regular; at least the morning Goods always ran, and the Milk trains always ran. Quarry traffic ran ‘as required.’
Of course the book did not say anything about the closure. In 1937 such a thing would have been impossible to contemplate. She could imagine the behind the scenes manoeuvring when the Beeching Report, (she was sure it was about this time), recommended closure. How the local Bus Company would assure the Traffic Commissioners that it could provide a service equal to, if not better, than the train. Abby wondered about this, as in the time she had been in the village, she had never even seen a bus! The little book was interesting. It was she had no doubt, accurate on dates, but short on the detail that Abby wanted. It told her little about what the railway did, and the characters who played their part. Serious research was required.
As she lay in bed that night, Abby’s mind returned to the question of her future. She was convinced that now there was no future for her at the Bank. She was unconvinced that she wanted a future at the Bank. Should she go back to Combe Lyney? Somehow she had felt a belonging in the place, at any rate if not permanent it would be a good place to consider her plans. Her mind decided, wait until the bonuses are paid, and then resign. Mary would allow her accommodation for as long as she wanted, Abby was certain of that, and she could then take stock and come to a decision.
The next few weeks passed in a blur, Abby had little time to give even a minute’s thought to her dilemma, with the pressure of work now that Andy had departed for New York. Her workload had increased by having to train the new recruit to the team, and watch constantly to salvage something out of the losses he was about to incur. Eventually at the beginning of July, with the holiday season eroding the activities of all the major exchanges, Abby could once more contemplate some time off and a renewal of her research. Steve had warned her that the bonus would be ‘pretty good,’ and the arrival of the statement, together with a payment slip confirmed that. A pay cheque not far short of a million Pounds was not unusual in the trading fraternity, and amongst people, who were used to dealing in hundreds of millions every day, did not represent the same values as it would to someone who slaved all year for a modest twenty five thousand pounds. The tax deductions were frightening, but still left her with a capital sum which invested with the acumen she had shown up to date, would keep her comfortably for some time. The thinking was all done, without a moment’s hesitation she wrote out her resignation and left it on Steve’s desk. If he was going to make a fuss she would soon hear about it, in the meantime she had other things to do.
On her way home she stopped off and called at a bookshop in Knightsbridge. Abby was amazed at the number of books published about the G.W.R. References to the Bristol and Exeter were scattered liberally through a number of them, so selecting those in which the index indicated the most mentions she walked to the pay desk with seven publications in her arms. The young male cashier was momentarily taken aback by this purchase; on a subject that he would classify as solely a male interest; by this lady, and made some small talk.
“You seem to have got yourself a lot of reading here.” Abby would not normally have made too much conversation in this situation, but reminded herself that Toni had been a good fount of information, decided that discussing the topic may not do any harm.
“Yes, there’s a little branch line that I need to research, I’m hoping that these will help.” The young man paused, his conversation exhausted, customers did not normally reply quite so readily.
Luckily for him a manager was standing by at the time and was able to pick up.
“You could do with talking to Mr. Brasher, he is an absolute mine of information about the Great Western Railway. He’s writing the definitive history, it’s only taken twenty years so far, but if he does not have the information you want, then no-one else will be able to help you.” Abby nodded, wondering what Mr. Brasher would be like.
“He does sound like the person who could help me; do you know if it would be possible to speak to him?” She gave her credit card to pay for the purchases as the manager thought for a moment and offered.
“He comes into the store most Mondays, he uses us as a reference library, and we cannot really refuse as he has spent a lot of money here. Tell you what, give me your number, and I’ll ask him when he next comes in, and let you know.” Abby signed the credit slip for the books, and wrote down her mobile number on a piece of scrap paper, which she passed to him.
“Thank you, I live quite close, so I can get here within ten or so minutes, if that is convenient.” The manager read the number and nodded,
“Leave it with me; I’ll do what I can.”
Abby spent the weekend immersed in the history of the Bristol and Exeter, and then the Great Western Railway. She slouched on her sofa, the books scattered around, opened at pages, which had relevant chapters, so that she could refer back quickly. Coffee cups, some half full of cold liquid, abandoned as her interest quickened, a dirty plate or two, the remains of a snatched meal, straight from the freezer, micro-waved, and hurriedly eaten, but only when the pangs of hunger became so great that she was forced to put down her books. Some of the histories were simply a chronological fact sheet, devoid of human interest, with lists of tonnages carried, and coal burned. locomotives built, allocated to various sheds, re-built, serviced, and finally condemned and cut up. Authors of some of the books tried to get into the minds and characters of the men who were the Company Servants, this she found more interesting. These were men like her grandfather, who took on a job for life, and gave unstinting and poorly rewarded service. A breed of men who did not watch the clock for any reason other than to keep the trains running on time. She was gratified to learn that her grandfather was not alone in being something of a solitary person. It would appear that most stationmasters were neither fish nor fowl. Their job set them apart from other railwaymen, who would have been their natural companions, yet they could never integrate into the society of the town or village they served, partly because they were rarely locally born; unlike the porters and signalman who were; and because they were men who had gained their promotion from the lower orders and after years of diligent labour, had been placed in authority over the men from whose ranks they had risen. The Railway pursued a policy of promotion from within, and it was likely that a stationmaster would be moving on within a few years to another slightly more prestigious post, again a situation that didn’t encourage integration. Abby felt slightly better upon reading this, as she had previously thought that this aloof attitude was a personal characteristic of her grandfather.
One constant theme, which ran through these books, was the attitude of superiority that the Great Western exhibited towards other railways, as if the Company was in the vanguard of development and service, almost a religion whose High Priest was at Paddington. Paddington seemed always to be referred to in hallowed terms, from whose portals the word was spread like a liturgy throughout the system. This was exemplified by the daily ritual of keeping the Company telephone lines clear of traffic and open at ten o’ clock each morning when a tone would be broadcast from Paddington to enable all stations to synchronise all watches and clocks.
The Company would never buy in a service or product that it could provide or manufacture itself, and even those items that it had to bring in from the outside world, like Whisky, were given Great Western labels, and then marketed as superior to all other brands. Even the success of the L.M.S. in later days was claimed to have originated with the G.W.R. as the man responsible, Mr.Stanier, learned his job at Swindon. Abby admired how the Company sold itself and its services to the nation, exuding an aura of dignity and stability, yet ever alert to the chance of new and increased business, creating demand with clever advertising, where demand had not previously existed. It had style, but was never so grand that it forgot the grass roots, with as much attention paid to the running of the humble branch passenger train, as to the imperious passage of the famous named expresses. In its dealings with others it impressed with its presentation, the best notepaper, heavily embossed with a grand heading, internally the cheapest paper would do. Prestige and parsimony hand in hand.
She was amused at the ceremony which accompanied the departure of all trains, the manner in which the station staff would stand and indicate by the raising of the arm that their section of the platform was clear and safe, how the stationmaster or leading porter would, when all these indications were correct, turn and raise his arm, and blow a whistle to the guard, who self importantly blew his whistle, and raised his green flag for the train to depart. He didn't wave the flag, he displayed it, holding it open so that there could be no misunderstanding. Finally the driver would give a short whistle, which Abby learned was known as a 'pop' confirming what Sam had said; and no locomotive would ever move without this warning, and then open the regulator starting the train on its journey.
The lore and traditions of the Great Western amused and enthralled her, so much so that she had to remind herself from time to time of the main reason for buying these books, grandfather’s branch. She didn’t realise it at the time but she now thought of her grandfather in a more possessive way, and the line up the Lyney valley as his branch. It was in this area that Abby was disappointed. The branch from Taunton to Barnstaple attracted a lot of mention, from its inception by the Bristol and Exeter, when it was known as the Devon and Somerset Railway. Capital problems beset the enterprise from the start, entailing the interruption of construction work at least once. The line up the Lyney valley received little notice, except for an odd sentence in two of the books, which mentioned the quarries as the reason for its building. Abby was gratified to find that her thoughts on the matter were borne out, Paverton was served as a by-product of the intended quarry business, as it required little extra capital expense to extend the line there. There was no other history mentioned, and Abby could only assume that the branch, which in effect was a branch off a branch, lived and died according to the fortune of the main branch. Disappointing though this was Abby was thoroughly absorbed by the books, as they gave her a tremendous insight into the world that her grandfather knew. The ethic of service that was the Great Western ran through from the lowliest ganger, to the superintendent of the Line, and obviously infected her grandfather. If he was made the same as others mentioned in these books, then this service was his dues to the society in which he lived, notwithstanding that same society could treat him with uncaring disdain.
The parallels of their lives was ironic, all the hard work over the years, which counted for nought as expediency took priority. True she was financially secure, which her grandfather could never have been, but she was surplus to requirements, as he had been, she had been treated uncaringly, as he had been and she was without family, as he had been. Tears of self-pity welled in her eyes, as for the second time she mourned for a family she had never had.
On Sunday the half expected call from Steve came.
“Abby, what is this rubbish you left on my desk. I cannot believe that you did this. Who are you going to? What have they offered you? Come and see me tomorrow, I’m sure we can negotiate a new package for you.” Steve’s agitation was obvious in his voice, and it was some time before Abby could reply to the barrage of questions aimed at her.
“Steve, I am not, repeat not, going to another Bank. I am taking a sabbatical if you like to assess my life and where I want to go. You know as well as I, that I have no future at the Bank, except to do what I am doing now. And that is because I wear a skirt. In twelve months time Andy will be back from New York, and will to all intents and purposes be my superior, with a better package, even though he’s not half as good at the job as I am. But then he’s a bloke, and I’m not. That’s the way it works, Steve, and it doesn’t matter how much you deny it, I know the writing is on the wall. At this moment I am undecided about taking action against the Bank for constructive dismissal. I am sure that there are lawyers out there who would love to take the case; and would love even more the fees they will get out of it.” There was a silence at the other end of the phone. Too many of these actions had succeeded, and the Banks were very nervous. Abby had spoken without thinking, but her tack was right, and gave her some pleasure, handled carefully this was a chance to pay Steve back for his treatment of her.
Eventually Steve spoke again carefully, as he was also aware that his treatment of the female staff could be part of any action.
“Abby, you know that we appreciate your work immensely, there was no suggestion that you were going to be passed over, we just wanted Andy to gain more experience.” Abby interrupted him.
“So why did you not ask me if I would like to go to New York?” There was another silence, broken by Steve, who changed direction.
“Look, Abby, if you are determined to do this, I will accept your resignation, but let’s not have any more talk about lawyers and actions. Tell you what, if you would put in writing that you will not be joining a competitor, either now, or in the future, then I am sure that I can talk the Directors into a little severance payment for you, how’s that sound?”
“Well,” she said, drawing it out as if she was making a difficult decision, “I could go along with that, but what sort of extra Bonus would we be looking at? Restricting my options for the future is a little unethical to say the least, there would have to be compensation for my agreeing to that.” Steve was happier now, back on ground with which he felt comfortable.
“I would think they would be happy with fifty K.” Abby laughed aloud. She had to haggle; otherwise Steve would not be able to tell his co-Directors how he had whittled down her extortionate demands. But fifty K was ridiculous.
“I bet they would be happy, Steve, you know damn well that a court would take my past earnings into account, which includes this year, and my future potential, and your wish to handcuff me, and other things which I am sure you would not want mentioned in court. An action could cost the Bank five to six hundred K. Plus the costs, which would be astronomical. In addition you are asking me to sign a voluntary restriction of trade. This signature has to be worth a lot more than that. I’ll tell you what, I’ll save you the costs; just pay me the million, and that will be that.” For the next three quarters of an hour the negotiations continued, until at last they agreed a figure just over six hundred thousand.
Having agreed Abby was content to write the letter he wanted. “Steve, you will get your letter.”
He had other ideas. “No, Abby, for this sort of money there will be an exchange of letters; I want you to acknowledge the agreement we have. When I have that I will write confirming our acceptance.”
“No Steve, you put our agreement in writing first, you can make it conditional if you wish, but I want that offer in writing before I sign away my rights.” He grumbled about this, saying didn’t she trust him, but agreed.
“Oh, and Abby, I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come into the office again, I wouldn’t like others to get to know the details of our agreement.” That suited Abby well; the thought of working three months notice with Steve being snide at every opportunity did not enthral her one little bit. She put the phone down, and found she was shaking. She hadn’t really expected a pay-off, but with the first inkling that one could be available; her playing of the hand sounded a lot cooler than she felt. Now she had burned her boats. Suddenly she punched the air and yelled ‘yippee’.
She spent the rest of the day absorbing the financial pages of the Sunday papers, and collating their information with her own. Working in the City gave access to all kinds of rumours and tips. Acting on those tips could be construed as insider trading, a notoriously difficult charge to prove. Now however, as she was no longer inside, so to speak, Abby felt quite happy to plan her investments, which took into account some of the information she had gleaned. With something like two million pounds to use, she put together a well-balanced portfolio balancing secure Gilts, with long-term growth, and reliable income stocks with some wild card risks. Tomorrow she would see a friend, Peter Adams, a Stock Broker whom she knew she could trust, who would make all the arrangements for her.
- Use for below to send feedback to author - View the Authors profile here
- The following form will send feedback to the author about this short story, please enter your e-mail if you wish a reply (which is obviously at the authors own discretion)