Abby Ch. 23


Abby and James left at nine-thirty that Sunday morning, Abby without thinking getting into the passenger seat so that James could drive. He took the road through Paverton and across the moor to Wheddon Cross and then down to Bishops Lydeard and Taunton. Abby was puzzled. "Why did you come this way?"

"There is a lot less traffic on this road. It's a bit longer, but easier so it takes about the same time as going down the valley." Once on the motorway James put his foot down. The car cruised effortlessly and he shocked himself when looking down he realised that they were doing ninety-five miles an hour. He relaxed his foot and slowed the car down to just less than eighty miles an hour. "It's a good thing I don't have one of these," he remarked, "I could lose my licence in no time." Abby laughed. She was very happy, the idea of having James' company for two days appealed tremendously, and she was very content just sitting there comfortably enjoying the journey. Apart from the road works at Bristol they made good time even allowing for a stop for coffee at Leigh Delamere services.

As they approached London, Abby asked James if he wanted directions. "I should be alright." He answered. "Should I make for Kensington High Street?"

"Yes. I am not too far from the station." Abby directed him from the station and then to the underground car park of her block of flats. She gave James the key-card that raised the barrier to the car park. Abby let them in to the entrance hall with her key and they were greeted by the porter, Michael, who had seen them drive into the garage on closed circuit television.

"Miss Tregonney, how nice to see you again, have you returned to us now?"

"Yes, but only for a couple of days, Michael. I am putting the flat on the market, and moving down to Devon permanently."

"I shall be sorry to see you go, Miss Tregonney." He looked at James. "Good afternoon Sir."

Abby hurried to make the introduction. "Oh Michael, this is James Comberford, a good friend. He has come up to help me pack my things."

"It is good to make your acquaintance, Sir." Michael didn't extend his hand as most men would do; rather he stood there at a sort of attention.

James summed him up in no time. "Good afternoon, Michael, not on parade now though." He grinned as Michael relaxed his face.

"Is it so obvious, Sir?"

"Only to someone who has also been in. Sergeant, or was it Sergeant Major?"

"Sarn Major, Sir. The Royal Green Jackets. I suppose it was standing to attention gave it away."

"No Sarn Major. It's the boots." He looked down. "Never forget that lesson do you?" Michael laughed, and kept the smile on his face as he looked down at James' footwear and said without rancour.

"I would put your Batman on a charge, Sir." Instinctively recognising officer material. James hugely enjoyed the joke. "If I may ask, Sir, what Regiment?"

"Two Para."

"Indeed Sir." this seemed to Abby to be said with respect. "I have an oppo who was in that lot. Name of Diggins, he made Sergeant."

"Not Spade?"

"That's what they call him behind his back. Yes Sir. Then you would be Captain Comberford?"


"In that case Sir, I am very pleased to meet you."

"All in the past Michael, all in the past."

"Yes Sir."

Abby had stood there dumbfounded as this male bonding process had gone along. In just a few moments, Michael had found out details it had taken Abby months to discover. Then she realised that the common bond of service would bridge any awkward gaps. She also noticed that Michael didn't need to ask James about his service in the Falklands, he knew, and was gently told not to mention it by James' words, 'all in the past.' She smiled inwardly as she felt a little jealousy creep into her mind. Perhaps she would try to seduce James whilst they were here.

She opened the door and let James into the flat saying. "It didn't take you long to sum up Michael. I have lived here for ten years and all I knew was that he had been in the army. Nothing else though."

"The army does things to a man, obvious to someone who can recognise the signs."

"Yes but you guessed his rank."

"That was easy. Once a man has made Sergeant, he changes and it stays with him. The way he addressed you and stood, that never goes away."

They walked into the flat, and James looked around with interest and a growing unease. There was no sign of the flat ever being a home, no touches that showed the place had been loved. A few ornaments and couple of pictures on the walls. A large couch, a club chair and a television completed the furnishings of the lounge. A few utensils in the kitchen. No evidence that Abby had ever tried to make this anything but a temporary refuge. The sadness he felt for her at that moment strengthened his feelings. He could not allow her to live like this once she got back to Combe Lyney, Abby needed a home, a proper home, and Combe Lyney would provide that.

Returning to Combe Lyney, the boot full of cases, and the back-seat piled with black bags and various hold-alls, Abby was very happy, not just that she and James had got closer over the last two days, but because she had now surrendered her previous life to history. She hadn't instructed an estate agent as yet. Michael was aware of the possible interest by Richard's acquaintance, and would allow him to view the flat when he called. She had left her mobile number and the number of the Combe Inn so that contact could be made. Tomorrow she would call the solicitors, Chorister Brooks and ask them to handle the sale for her. She looked over at James, driving. Their time together had been good, working together to clear the flat and eating together at a couple of the good restaurants that were close by. One was an Italian restaurant, and Abby had worn a dress that showed quite a lot of cleavage which James had found quite delightful. The waiters seemed to think that this was a romantic assignation and like all Italians to whom 'amore' was everything reacted by ensuring the candle on the table was always well placed to cast light on her eyes and a discreet shadow emphasising the cleft between her breasts, making unnecessary visits to top up their wines, and even singing Italian love songs whilst they served them. Abby and James had laughed together and been serious together and silent at times. It seemed not to matter that there were these pauses in the conversation, she enjoying the atmosphere and James enjoying looking at Abby. He had not objected too much when she was determined to pick up the bill for the meals, but had been adamant when she suggested she should pay for his hotel, saying vehemently "no way." Refusing even to discuss the matter. In her mind it was fate that it should be James taking her away from the old life and driving to a new.

Their arrival back at the Inn went mostly unnoticed. Mary appeared with a bland face to enquire if they had a good journey, and helped bringing in the cases and bags. She opened the room that she had set aside for the storage. "Just put them all in here, and sort them out later." Abby was half expecting a cross-examination, and was a little disappointed when none came, but realised that this probably would happen when James had gone home. This he did after the inevitable cup of tea, leaving Abby to face the interview. He winked as he left and Abby smiled giving him a kiss on the cheek saying.

"Thank you, James for helping, and everything." She knew she was teasing Mary. The lady in question was eager to prise out of Abby all the details, but bearing in mind Sam's anger at her and Mavis, decided to leave things for a while. Part of her mind recognised that things were going the right way anyway, so she could be patient. Abby for her part was surprised that there was no inquisition, unknowing that this was something else for which she could thank Sam.

If Abby thought that everything was moving along well, she was in for a surprise, although the problem came from an area she least expected. Another letter from Mr. Brasher confirming that he had obtained photographs of the station taken in nineteen thirty, and some architectural details which may not be evident from the station as it was today. He said he intended to travel down later that month, and asked if accommodation would be available for three days starting the twenty third. This was no problem. She had another meeting with George Walker at the station and the Conservation Officer came this time. This officer, introduced as Ms Eaton appeared at first to be rather out of her depth and was quite abrupt, but when Abby told her of the material that Mr. Brasher would be bringing she softened. Afterwards Abby got the idea that her abrupt manner was concealing the fact that she had not been able to turn up any photos or details from the council records. Typical of local officials. They list a building without any knowledge of how it should look. George told Abby that he would be sending in a crew the following Monday to start stripping out the house. "I'll take all the old furniture out, what do you want to do with it?" Abby had already thought about this.

"The table, chairs, dresser, I shall keep, oh and the big chair in the back room."

George nodded his head. "Ok. I'll get them all checked for worm, and have them cleaned up. Shall I take the range out?"

"Yes please, I'll let you know what I want to replace it with in a few days. What about the sink?"

"That is past its best, Miss Tregonney. I can get a new one, they are still made, and fit it into a work-top along that wall, with drawers and cupboards underneath if you wish."

"That will be fine."

"I will be down here quite often to check on my men, so as it goes along we can discuss the other bits and pieces." Everything was falling into place.

The bombshell exploded at Lyney House. Gwen Comberford returned to confront James. He was surprised to see her back so soon and also surprised that her manner was not as warm as usual. His mother tackled him as he was about to go out. "James, I understand that you have been to London with Miss Tregonney." James was immediately on his guard, when Abby was referred to as Miss Tregonney.

"Yes. She wanted to clear out her flat, and I went with her to help with the heavy items."

"Did you sleep with her, James?" The question, coming from his mother, was like a slap in the face. He would not deny to himself that he had been tempted to try, especially after that Italian meal, but his upbringing had forbad his making any move. Barely concealing the anger that was slowly boiling up he replied coldly.

"I do not propose to answer that question. You have no right to ask it. Indeed how dare you ask it."

"James, you must tell me. Did you sleep with her?" Gwen was also getting angry, not with James, but with the idea that she had to ask.

James got up and walked to the door, but then turned, his face white with anger. "Mother, you brought me up to be a gentleman, you taught me right from wrong, in addition my Army training taught me a lot about how a gentleman behaves, if you like the Officers code. If there is one thing that I learned from you and the Army is that a lady is deserving of respect, and that gossip about this aspect of her life is totally wrong. Abby is no different and on this subject I will not speak. Ever." He opened the door and left. Gwen called him.

He would have ignored her but a tone in her voice spoke of distress. He came back. "James, you are right, and I am pleased that you feel this way, but I would not ask the question without a very good reason. Please tell me."


"No, you didn't sleep with her?"

"No, I won't tell you. You say you have a very good reason for asking. Well I cannot conceive of any reason that would allow me to answer. But I will listen to your reason." Gwen had thought about this a lot, and the small seed of doubt had grown into a mountain, but she could not tell James the reason, as she felt she would be guilty of a kind of betrayal.

"I can't tell you the reason."

"Well then, that ends the matter."

"You must have slept with her, if you hadn't you would tell me straight away."

"Mother, I cannot answer your question one way or the other, because you have absolutely no right to ask it in the first place. You say you have a compelling reason to ask, but will not tell me what that reason is. I will not have the reputation of a very nice woman besmirched. You know well how the gossip around here can get out of hand." Gwen knew her son, with him in this mood, and getting pompous she would not get an answer by wheedling.

She had to give in. It was more important than her guilt. "If I give you the reason, will you tell me the truth?"

"I doubt it."

Gwen was beaten, now she had to get to James in a roundabout way. "You don't know who Abby's father was, neither do I. but perhaps you ought to give some consideration to the possibility that it could be your father. Abby could well be your sister." James was stunned. He felt total shock, his mind blank. He couldn't stay and with an angry mist clouding his eyes rushed out into the garden to think. Gwen didn't have her answer but thought she could read into his reaction an acknowledgement. She sat and waited, as miserable as her son would be at this moment.

Fifteen minute later James returned. He had been pacing up and down in the garden, trying to keep his temper in check and turning this possibility over in his mind. "I refuse to accept this; you are labelling my father an adulterer."

Gwen shook her head sadly. "I am labelling my husband an adulterer; that should hurt me more than it will hurt you." Her voice and face betrayed naked misery.

"What makes you think this?" His voice broke, choked with his emotion.

Gwen smiled sadly. "It was my fault. I left your father alone too much. He was a healthy man, there was enough evidence to suggest he had affairs, but I chose to turn a blind eye. We lived our lives in an expedient way, allowing each other a certain freedom. You knew your father, most of the time he was a bit of a bore but he could be most charming when he wanted something. There being no other apparent candidates for Abby's father, you have to consider there is a chance, an outside chance I agree, that it could be Charles. If he set his sights on Marion, then she would have been hardly able to say no." James shook his head. His eyes were being opened. Most children recognise their parents as being fallible in a gradual process, starting after the child comes to adulthood and culminating when the parent is elderly. It doesn't engender disappointment, more likely greater love. Charles Comberford had died just after James had entered the Army; his faults therefore were buried with him.

James was being forced to acknowledge the truth. That and revelations about his parent's marriage. "No Mother, I cannot believe this. I knew Marion as well, I don't think that she and my father ever exchanged more than two words together, and from what I remember, she wouldn't have been browbeaten."

"Darling, I understand how you feel about Abby." Gwen tried to placate her son. "Your reaction was enough to tell me that. If you really like her we shall have to make sure that she isn't your sister, we should try to get some DNA evidence. Perhaps you could get some of her hair. I believe that would be sufficient for a test." James could see the sense of that, but getting a sample from Abby without her knowledge would be wrong.

"You want me to go sneaking around to get a strand of her hair? I will not do that. I shall have to explain everything to Abby; she has as much right to know as we do. I am certain she will agree. It's this way or nothing."

Gwen had no option but to agree. "Very well. Perhaps you are right. Would you talk to her about it, perhaps ask her to come up here, I don't think it's the kind of thing you would want to talk about in the Combe Inn." He nodded agreement. "James, please answer my question. I don't want to spend the next few weeks worrying about that." James looked at his mother.

"Mother I will not answer. If." He said putting a lot of emphasis on the 'if', "we did, and it was incestuous, then talking about it won't make it undone. If we didn't then it doesn't matter." Gwen shook her head wearily. Part of her applauded James for his integrity, after all she wouldn't admit to any of her adventures, and she brought him up so he was only acting in the way she had taught him; the other part cursed him for being the stubborn fool.

James needed to find Abby as soon as possible. He dreaded telling her of the possibility that they were brother and sister, yet this couldn't be delayed. He had left his mother, with anger, hating her for the presumption she had made. He jumped in the Land Rover and drove viciously out of the grounds. He didn't stop at the junction, simply wrenching the steering wheel to go right, the tyres squealing, heading towards the station. The blaring horn brought him back to his senses. He waved to the driver of the small van he had nearly run off the road, to acknowledge his mistake, and drove on a little more slowly. The near accident cleared his mind. His mother was right; she had no other option but to mention it. Abby was not at the station, he got straight back in the Land Rover and drove back the way he had come to see if she was at the Combe Inn. Her car wasn't there either. He went in and spoke to Jack.

"Yes, Mr. James, she went out about an hour ago. I think she went to Gallow Farm." James thanked him and thought about what to do. He sat on a bench at the back of the Inn for about half an hour, Mary brought him some coffee, and he was rewarded when Abby's car turned into the drive. She flashed a smile when she saw him, and came over to join him at the table. She poured some more coffee from the pot.

"There isn't another cup, so you won't mind me sharing yours will you?" He had to grin at her cheek, and then the reason for his coming here took the grin from his face. Noticing the swift change of mood, Abby asked. "Is there something wrong?" He nodded with gloom written all over his face. "Tell me."

He found it difficult to know how to start. He had thought not to discuss this with Abby here, at the Inn. Now he wanted to unburden himself as quickly as possible. "Well a situation, no something has come up and I don't really know how to tell you."

"You're married."

He gave a hollow laugh. "No, no, nothing like that. That would be simple. Abby it's difficult so I will just say it. You could be my sister."

Her face went dead. "What?" she eventually managed.

"There is a chance that our fathers could be one and the same."

Abby looked at him, looked away, and then turned back quickly. "This is a joke, right?"

"No, no joke."

She then astounded him. She giggled. Then giggled some more when she saw the expression on his face. She leaned close and whispered. "Then it's a good job, that my amateurish attempts to seduce you didn't work."

The load lifted immediately from his shoulders. "You don't know how many cold showers I had to take when I got back to the hotel."

She laughed with him. "Well then you shouldn't have resisted." She smiled at him fondly. "I know neither the time nor the place." The giggle came again and she whispered. "But you know. Incest has a deliciously immoral ring to it."

"You're laughing at me."

"No James, just trying to see the funny side of it, or I could rant and rave if you wish, but that will not do any good. This is unusual by any stretch of the imagination, I can't get my head round it, tell me. If I were, how would you feel about having a sister?"

"If you are my sister, it will take some getting used to, but I suppose I could come to terms with it after a while. So long as you don't try to boss me about. But I would much prefer to have a lover."

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