Tomorrow wasn’t better, and the rest of the month was no improvement. Several hard frosts rolled into the valley, destroying their vegetable garden and giving the children chilblains. Then the fog rolled in again, blotting out the life-giving sun and blanketing them in doom. As an act of defiance, Henry worked on the block from daylight to dusk, his silent rage taking vengeance on the rimu, rata and totara clad hillside. Rebecca waited for him fearfully, and silently thanked God when he returned each evening. Suicide was cruelly common in those hard, difficult times.
Desperate to delay the inevitable, Henry rounded up his breeding ewes and drove them into town on foot, he’d sold his horse to make their last mortgage payment, and the sheep were the only asset he had left. The turnout at the sale yards was disappointing, there looked to be more sellers than buyers, never a good sign. He’d long given up on miracles and told the stock agent to sell with no reserve before leaving to wander around town as he couldn’t face watching the sale. He spotted a few down and out looking fellows aimlessly wandering the streets. One of them struck up a conversation with Henry, it was a welcome distraction. The men were from a camp for the unemployed about 6 miles west of Te Kuiti on the Rangitoto Range. Boredom and despair had driven them into town and when the bloke he was talking to learned that Henry owned some land he pleaded for work. The look Henry gave him told the man all he needed to know, and his shoulders slumped as he left to continue his hopeless vigil.
Henry was a brave man, but anxiety had its talons deep in his chest as he made his way to the stockyards to pick up his cheque. Most of the farmers and animals were gone, only a couple of stock agents and the auctioneer remained.
When the agent saw Henry, he lowered his head, taking a sudden interest in his shoes.
“How did it go?” asked Henry. Despite his best effort his voice quavered, he knew what was coming.
“Not well Henry, times are tough and no ones buying unless someone’s giving stock away.”
He handed him a cheque and scuttled off before Henry could react.
Henry stared at the cheque in disbelief and almost tore it up. But his poverty wouldn’t allow him even that small concession.
The farm was gone, taking the few tatters of optimism the war hadn’t stolen from him. He walked in a daze to the Te Kuiti Club, he had never been a drinker, but he needed to do something, anything to dull the pain and anguish that was consuming him. It was a cold day, but he didn’t notice the warmth of the open fire as he stepped through the doors. Half a dozen men stood at the bar, and several others sat at tables, their voices merging into one.
A barman with a huge walrus moustache smiled at him “What’s your poison?”
“Whisky,” said Henry, fumbling in his pocket to find the cheque.
“You won’t be needing that.” said a familiar voice. “My shout.”
It was the bank manager, Henry stared at him in disbelief, unable to comprehend what was happening.
His bank manager paid the barman, passed Henry his drink and raised his glass.
“To better times.” he said.
Henry looked at him blankly, not sure if the man was taking the mickey.
“Nothing like a bit of good news in hard times Henry, and I don’t know how you did it, but well done.”
“Oh, I see, yes now, hmm, this is not the time nor the place. A bit unprofessional of me, just enjoy your drink.”
He left Henry with his whisky and wandered over to a table to enjoy his lunch.
As if in a dream, Henry left his untouched drink and made his way to the bank. Only one teller was on so he had to wait in the que for several agonising minutes before it was his turn to face the flustered clerk.
“I need to know my account balance.”
The teller looked up, sure thing Mr Needham. After digging out a ledger, he found the section with Henry’s account details, ran his finger down a column and said “Your available funds are £27.15d”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Mr Needham, you have those available funds.”
“But, are you certain?”
“Yes, your previous deposit was £87.30d. £60.15d was offset against your mortgage, leaving £27.15d in your current account.”
Henry thanked him and after buying a few supplies at the goods store started the long walk home, his mind a cauldron of thoughts. It was his brother, of that he was certain. But how did he know? It must have been Rebecca, she was always writing letters to his mother. The thought of them knowing about his failure embarrassed and humiliated him. But at least he still had the farm for another few months. He felt the cheque in his pocket and cursed, he'd all but given his breeding stock away. Hope and despair were his constant companions as he made the three-day journey home. When he finally arrived Henry knew what he was going to do. But more on that in the next blog.