Lamb to the Slaughter!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Sometimes standing back. minding your own business, you see little dramas unfold.

Submitted: January 13, 2017

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Submitted: January 13, 2017



When running a tree nursery, it’s important to get the propagation underway on time because if the plants are not up to speed by winter, which is the time everyone wants to plant, they won’t sell and the cost of carrying them over to the next season is not good for the cash flow.  Henry would take on casual staff, to make sure production was rolling along satisfactorily.

Harriet was among the seasonal crew he took on and because she showed aptitude, he kept her on for longer than the rest. Other than a handful of permanent workers, Henry depended on the casuals but the turnover was always high because for most, the work was a stop-gap and whenever they found something better or that paid more, they were off. It was something that he learned to live with. He didn’t have much flexibility with the hourly rate paid because of the end product price.

He found the best way to keep production ticking along was to work together with his staff, which was not always possible because of the phone and orders, but by setting the example and with a little cajoling, he was usually happy with the output. The younger members had their own lingo of chat, the subject matter was always a revelation to Henry. Especially Monday mornings when the exploits of Friday and Saturday nights were retold, no hold barred. He wasn’t judgemental, but after a time he would increase the volume of the radio because he didn’t want to know any more!

Harriet, he overheard, lived with her solo mother in the countryside, the area where the ‘alternative’ lifestylers’ seemed to have settled. Her mother apparently had a law degree but was currently unemployed. They were reasonably new to the area but Harriet at least had wide experience working in a number of manually-taxing jobs such as shearing gangs and on seagoing fishing boats.

Mitch was one of Henry’s permanent workers who usually drove the nursery tractor. From time to time Henry roped him into other work, he was a handy bloke to have around. Henry knew Mitch’s family connections and considered him a reliable member of the team. There was plenty talk in the smoko room about Mitch and his weekend escapades. Given that he was a nursery worker, it was fair to say he focused more on orgasms that he did on organics! But all that just sat in the back of Henry’s mind, because Mitch’s work ethic was really all that interested him.

Henry needed to take the whole crew, Mitch included, away from the nursery to collect some hazel cuttings, so Mitch asked for a couple of days off before their two night trip away. His parents were apparently moving overseas so they had signed ownership of their house over to him. He just needed time off to formalise the handover.

Hazelnuts were the current buzzword at the time! Fliberts if you happen to be in the US. They were the new crop and the variety ‘Whiteheart’ is what all the growers wanted because the chocolate manufacturers preferred their large and even-sized nut. Henry had eaten some of those flash, round, wrapped chocolates and the hazelnuts inside were tiny wizened things, about the size one of Methuselah’s testicles! Anyway the idea was to grow these Whiteheart Hazels, from cuttings, to be more certain of the clone specifications and cuttings will always fruit years earlier than seedlings.

There was a university lecturer who sent down instructions about the optimum way of doing these cuttings, and it just so happened that he grew stock-plants on his own property, and was prepared to sell the cuttings. The key, he reckoned was to make the cuttings and set them in their trays as quickly as possible, then sit them under mist and on heat for at least three months. The method was hopeless, a ten percent strike after a huge cost! The logistics were that Nino, the nursery handy-fellow-cum–truck driver, transport the trays filled with a special prop-mix, the rooting hormone and all the other gear on the four hour journey, while Henry transported the workers. They were to camp the couple of nights at the local hotel there. Easy enough but expensive logistics.

Henry gave his crew plenty of notice that they would be away for a couple of nights, because everyone has a life outside work! The day before they were to depart, Henry and Harriet were pricking out Eucalyptus seedlings together. Not long into the day, Harriet told Henry that she was uncomfortable working with, or anywhere near Mitch. She related a number of seedy incidents that she had heard about on the grapevine, stories Henry was totally unaware of. It was obvious she didn’t like Mitch one little bit! Henry promised to keep them apart as much as possible during a reasonably confined work environment.

Not much surprises Henry, but his eyebrows raised when he went to pay the bill at the hotel. Harriet and Mitch had spent the two nights in the hotel’s luxury double room so had privately paid the difference between their two single rooms. They didn’t mention a thing to Henry! He had seen it all before, and gave it not much thought but the word was soon out among the rest of the crew. There was no extra cost, and folks are folks, and it’s all too high to eat grass! Shortly later, Harriet moved in with Mitch and Henry gave her no further thought after she left for another job.

Three years later, Mitch came to Henry with a lawyer’s letter. Harriet had left and gone back to live with her mother. According to Mitch, there had been no quarrel or animosity, she just wasn’t there one day when he arrived home from work. The lawyer’s letter was a claim under the Property (Relationships) Act, after living in a defacto relationship for three years Harriet was claiming half the value of the house be turned over to her! The case went to court, and Henry was asked to produce a character reference for Mitch. The court awarded Harriet a substantial sum, not half the value of the house, but of course Mitch did not have the money to cover the value, so he was forced to sell it!

There was nothing surer, Henry concluded, Mitch was set up like a lamb to the slaughter! Done up like a dogs dinner! So with nothing to hold Mitch in the area, he left and Henry had to find and train a new tractor driver!

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