On the first Sunday that Les came for a meal, he was dressed in the only set of clothes he owned. He’d scrubbed both them and himself with his precious supply of soap, but Rebecca could tell he was uncomfortable about his appearance. Henry didn’t pay any attention, he was too busy reading a copy of the Aussie, and left Rebecca to make conversation with Les. While Peter played with a set of blocks, she and Les struggled along, talking about the weather, vegetable gardening and life on the farm. Rebecca did most of the talking as Les’ stutter embarrassed him and made speaking a chore. For lunch, they ate the best meal Les had eaten in over a decade, and though Henry all but ignored him, he had a splendid time. That afternoon as he left the cosy home to return to his cold, damp, whare, he had a spring in his step. That night Les decided to spend some of his life savings on a new set of clothes. He started the walk to town the following day, it was a 3-day return trip. Les didn’t like the village as people often stared at him, and off course because of his stutter, which was always worse when he was under pressure. But he was determined to look respectable when he went for Sunday lunch and bit the bullet to make his first visit to town in over 4 years. At that time in New Zealand’s history, there was no pension or social security. The money Les saved for his old age was literally a matter of life and death and buying new clothes was no small decision. Les had no family as he had been put in an orphanage as a baby, probably because of his deformed back. His life had always been hard, and he had been treated mercilessly as he grew up. But Les was not bitter, just very shy, and the kindness that Rebecca and Henry had shown him was first he had experienced in many, many long years. The trip to town was without incident and by the time he got back to his whare he was exhausted but happy. That Sunday when he turned up for lunch with some freshly dug potatoes and his new clothes, he stood taller than he had done in years and even Henry took notice. Les wasn’t sure if it was his new threads, but Henry chatted to him over the midday meal as if he was a peer not just the farm lackey. And so began the second of many more Sunday lunches. They were a beacon of light in Les’ otherwise very lonely and austere existence.
Little Peter was four and had a brother and sister when Henry’s brother George turned up for a visit. Rebecca had started writing to Henry’s parents not long after they were married, and though she had never met them had become firm friends with his mum through their mutual correspondence. Daphne (Henry’s mum) had repeatedly asked George to visit his brother until at last, he agreed to go and see him just to get her off his back. George was four years younger than Henry and unlike his older brother was doing very well for himself. He was a car salesman and a very good one at that. George had taken up the opportunity to invest his earnings back into the dealership he worked for, and It wasn’t long before George was making money hand over fist. The trip from Auckland to Te Kuiti was a long one and George had planned to make a grand entrance on the farm in his 1928 Model A Ford, but he didn’t get anywhere near the farm due to the sorry state of the track. When he finally walked the many miles to the house clutching his suitcase, he was covered in mud, bathed in sweat, and none too happy.
Things didn’t get off to a good start, nor did they get any better over the 3 days he stayed at the farm. Success had gone to Georges' head, and he made no bones about the money he earned. This went down like a lead balloon with Henry who was so close to bankruptcy it wasn’t funny. It rained heavily on the second day of his visit, turning the landscape into a sea of mud, ash and stumps. George was appalled at how basic the house was and the terrible state of the so-called farm. He tried to persuade Henry to chuck it in and join him up in Auckland, nearly getting punched for his trouble. By the time they left on horseback to get back to his car, they were barely on speaking terms. But despite everything, George loved his brother, and after they had managed to get the car started and unstuck, he did his best to make things right. “Henry.” he said, “If you ever need a cash injection just write me a letter, the money’s just sitting in the bank and your welcome to borrow some.”
Henry looked daggers at him, his lips a thin white slit. Seizing the reigns of George’s mount, he spun round and rode off without so much as a word.
They were hard times, and things were about to get worse. But more on that in the next blog.