And then the letter arrived.
When Bob got to the part of the story where he introduced Bernice, I thought I had things fairly well worked out and that the story would go something like this. Lou and Len developed a huge crush on Bernice, she, in turn, plays them off against each other. The boys filled with jealousy end up becoming mortal enemies and the rest, as they say, is history.
That’s not what happened.
The world was a very different place when Bernice arrived on the farm. Peter Fraser was the Prime Minister, George the VI was king, and the population of New Zealand was only 1.8 million. Marriage was for life and divorce was something that only happened in licentious books. When Bob told me these facts I found it a bit of a distraction, but as the story unfolded they helped to make more sense of what happened.
As I mentioned earlier, Len was passionate about pigs. Passionate is probably not a strong enough adjective. After the farm, pigs were his life. Everything about pigs fascinated him, and his best friend in the whole world after Lou was a sow called Lily. Ignored by her mother, and bullied by her brothers and sisters, she was found by Len, nearly dead, in a dark corner of the pig pen. Len (10 at the time) rescued Lily and smuggled her into his bedroom, gave her his hot water bottle and smuggled the very best cream from the cowshed to feed her. At first, the cream didn’t agree with her, and she developed a bad case of diarrhoea, this almost killed her and left a terrible mess for Len to clean up. But Len managed to nurse her back to health, losing a lot of sleep in the process.After a couple of weeks, Lily was discovered by Lens mother and was unceremoniously evicted from the house. By then, however, she was the picture of health and Len saw to it that she wanted for nothing. The friendship they formed was unshakable.
When Len got home from school each afternoon, Lily, squealing with delight would charge around her pen with excitement. Len, equally excited, would greet her with a dog biscuit (her favorite treat) and a long back scratch.
As she got older, she was allowed to follow Len around the farm as he did his chores. On weekends she would spend the entire day with boys as they entertained themselves on the farm.
All the animals on the farm had to earn their keep and Lily was no exception. So each year they bred from her, and it was Lens job to look after her progeny, a task which Len carried out with joy until the time came to sell the offspring. He found it very hard to parted with his charges and refused to take part in the slaughter of any of them. He even gave up eating bacon, though the smell of it cooking still tantalized him.
After much pleading from Len, Lily was granted the right to live out her days on the farm and die the dignified death of the aged. By the time Bernice arrived at the farm, Lily had gained gargantuan proportions and was a sight to behold, though in Bernice’s eyes she was a monster to be avoided at all costs.
Bernice’s arrival was a life changing event on the farm. The boys, taken in by her good looks quickly developed a huge crush on her and found it very hard to concentrate on much else. Neither of them was a great talker, but when they did talk she was always at the forefront of their brief discussions.
They knew they were both in love with her, but this didn’t cause jealousy, just confusion as their bond for one another was far too deep for resentfulness.
Terrified by Lily (she even had nightmares about Lily breaking into the house and eating her alive) and repulsed by the sights and sounds of the farm, Bernice refused to leave the safety of the house. At first, this wasn’t a major problem as everyone thought she would eventually get sick of being cooped up and would venture outside. But as the days turned into weeks, it became evident that she was a very stubborn young woman, and nothing would compel her to step out into the sunshine.
The house became a Mecca for the boys, and they would make a beeline for it when they finished work each day, eager to be around Bernice. She simply found the boys amusing and strung them along more from boredom than maliciousness. Unfortunately, the boys wanted to believe that it was possible for Bernice to fall in love with them and every alluring remark she made fueled this fantasy.
So, in a way, life was not so bad on the farm. Yes, Bernice had created feelings inside the boys that she no intention of fulfilling, yet she had also given them hope (false as it was) which put a spring in their steps and made each day seem brighter than it was.
And then the letter arrived.