As the 1920’s came to a close, life on the farm was tough and the great depression was about to make things worse. Henry was under constant stress, and Rebecca and the children were on edge whenever he was at home. Things came to a head when the government inspector came to the farm to check up on progress and no one was home. Henry had taken the family to town to buy some basic supplies with the last of their money, which proved to be a terrible mistake. One of the conditions for receiving government assistance was for someone to always be present and working on the farm. It was a cruel requirement as many families lived miles from town and no right thinking man would allow his young family to travel for days by themselves to get supplies. But the rules were the rules and the inspector duly recorded that they were absent when he visited and their government assistance was forfeited. The letter informing them of this bad news arrived on the same day as a letter from the bank which informed Henry he was in default of his loan and had a month to deposit the required funds or the bank would foreclose. They were completely broke and Henry was ready to explode.
When Les turned up for the highlight of his week, the Sunday lunch, he was warmly greeted by the delicious aroma of a mutton roast, but unlike the joint in the coal range, Henry was as cold as ice. While Rebecca flitted from the kitchen to the dining room, Henry pretended to read his dog-eared copy of the Aussie, not once making eye contact with Les. He was seething with rage as not being able to support his family was emasculating him. And as for Les, though Henry had grown to tolerate and almost like him, the thought of someone eating the little food his family had left, filled him with resentment. Knowing something was wrong, Les did his best to entertain the children, but his stutter betrayed him, adding to the powder keg atmosphere.
While Henry carved the roast, the children washed their hands as Rebecca served up the roast potatoes, swede and gravy. The potatoes were from Les’ garden. He didn’t tell them they were his last few spuds. A series of heavy frosts has decimated his vege patch, but Les wasn’t one to share bad news.
Once plates were filled they waited for Henry to start eating before the rest of them dared start on their meals. Apart from the sound of chewing and the clinking of cutlery on plates the room was silent. Rebecca glanced nervously at her husband and their guest, she could see Les felt unwelcome and it grieved her.
“We had some bad news, Les.” She said, not daring to look at her husband.
Les turned to face her, his forehead furrowed with concern.
“It looks like we may have to give up on the farm, we got a letter from bank and......”
Henry banged the table so violently the gravy jug bounced off and smashed on the floor.
“It's none of his business woman.” He bellowed, “And telling him won’t make a mite of difference.”
Rebecca’s eyes filled with tears and the two youngest children started crying. Les felt terrible and wanted to give them some hope.
“B-b-b-but if y-y-you t-t-t-tell G-G-G-od H-H-H-e m-m-m-might....”.”
Henry leapt to his feet, his face purple with rage.
“Where?” he screamed, “Was your God when we were being mown down like flies?” He advanced on Les, his fists clenched.
Rebecca pleaded “Henry, NO!”
Les stood up, his face a picture of sorrow but not fear.
Henry had control of voice his now, making the words cut like knives.
“Get out of my house and take your phoney religion with you, and don’t you dare darken my door again.”
As Les left, Rebecca caught a glimpse of his eyes, they were so filled with sorrow it broke her heart.
When the front door closed, Henry went back to his seat and finished his meal. No one spoke, words had become meaningless.