tagNovels and NovellasEleven Orphan Daughters Ch. 06

Eleven Orphan Daughters Ch. 06

bymangrove jack©

Mary was waiting when John reached the markets. She pointed down an alley to three men drinking coffee. "Some cadres are waiting for you," she whispered, "what have you done?"

He looked at Mary she was a tough old fighter. She had changed dramatically since he started to help her daughter and her friends. She used to be his greatest critic. Now if any one said a word against him she jumped to his defense.

He embarrassed her by kissing her on the cheek. "Don't worry, we have nothing to hide." She followed him down and stood close by as he joined the cadres and ordered coffee. The youngest one welcomed him. "Hi my English name is Charles. My colleagues Bao and Duc don't have English names but they understand English."

"We want to talk to you about cooperatives. We have read a lot about co-ops overseas and like what we have read. We understand that they have brought great benefits to farmers in some countries."

"In the past we have suggested to the ministry that we trial co-ops in our rural area but all of our recommendations have been ignored. They say co-ops won't work here because there were some bad experiences in the past."

"We had given up and had forgotten about co-ops when your Provincial Party Secretary Mr. Treet contacted our research institute looking for officers who were interested in cooperatives. Because of our previous recommendations our director has seconded us to Mr. Treet's staff."

"We arrived here a few days ago and have spent some time talking to local officials. They tell us you support co-ops and have a few farmers who want to buy cattle working at your feedlot." John looked around at Mary who had edged closer. He took her hand and drew her into the circle. "You should talk to Mary she will tell you what her daughter and her friends are doing."

John sat back as they talked in Vietnamese. He had dropped the co-op idea after the Peoples congress meeting. Working on the basis that the provincial program would lend farmers money to buy dairy cattle he concentrated on showing farmers the pitfalls of not providing creature comfort and good food.

The few farmers that had joined Mary's daughter on the first morning had grown to twenty-two after some intervention from Rose. She had walked in one day when the farmers were eating lunch with her staff.

She stood with her hands on her hips and demanded to know what their families were eating at home. Dissatisfied with their answers she told them to bring the whole family to the feedlot in future. "We'll provide a meal for them all."

That night as they walked home she explained. "Most farmers have to work every day to scratch out a living and enough food for the family. When they are here learning from you they are not producing anything. They would have been happy for a while and then they would have started to worry and leave."

"Everyone watches what you do. If they all leave, people will say you have failed. If they do not learn everything, you will know we have failed. It will cost very little to feed their families but will bring benefits as they will all learn something."

When the cadres finished talking to Mary, he drove them down to the feedlot to meet the farmers and inspect the whole operation. "Bring them back to the amenities room for lunch," he told Kim as she led them away.

At lunch, they talked to the farmers and their families before asking John how could they help him set up a co-op. He was ready for the question having thought about it while they inspected the farm. "I think a full blown co-op is beyond us at the moment. Until I met you this morning I thought it was a dead duck now I think we may have a chance."

"We will have to take it a step at a time. I can buy heifers in calf in Queensland at a price that will land them in Vietnam for $AUD 1400 per head. The province is prepared under their current plans to lend that amount to each farming family. The families will have to spend more money making provision for the cows well being. The cow will not milk until after she calves, so there will be no money coming in for a while."

"I think that is too big a load for many families. I have thought it over. To help reduce their repayments I could personally help finance the purchase of twenty-five cows for the current twenty-two farmers working here."

"I would want them to borrow half the landed cost of that cow. I will lend the co-op the rest of the money. The co-op will own half of each cow and use the returns from milk to build up a fund to help farmers in need."

"We would have to ask the province to agree and not charge interest until the cow starts to milk. You three young ones will have to draw up a business plan. We need contracts for the farmers and for both the province and myself."

"The farmer's contracts with the co-op would have to commit them to deliver milk to the co-op and accept payment in both money and sustenance for their cow. If they will not sign that then we cannot make it work. It would be no different to what is happening down south."

"You will have to talk to each family and convince them to join the co-op. I think they will listen to you .They might not trust a foreigner. So go to it. I'm off to Halong Bay for the weekend. I expect you to have the business plan and draft contracts when I get back."

Shauna had booked the best cabin on the paddle wheel steamer plying world heritage listed Halong bay. "Remember you promised me you would slip away when I let you go and meet your lady-friend," she whispered down the phone as he felt a stirring in his pants.

Sitting on their private balcony while the attendant remade their bed he admired Shauna's magnificent body. She was full of fun and mischief. "I have given them a good tip and told them we are here to make a baby." She had said when she closed the cabin door and stripped off her clothes.

She laughed at the surprised look on his face. "Don't worry my love, I am on the pill and don't want any snotty nosed brats. My little white lie will ensure our complete privacy for the weekend."

All day Saturday, they made love in their room or on their secluded balcony. Their tiny Vietnamese maid brought fresh seafood and salads when they missed lunch. When they missed dinner, she brought more food and aromatic oils and spices indicating that he should rub them all over Shauna.

When he finished their long romantic massage, she strode out on to the balcony and stood nude in the moonlight. The oil glistened on her breasts and shone on her buttocks as she twisted and swayed in an erotic dance. "Make love to me," she whispered as she transferred more oil to her buttocks.

They stayed in their cabin when the boat stopped to let guests visit the cave. Shauna keeping him in bed with the most incredible oral sex he had ever experienced. On Monday morning the crew clapped when they appeared on deck for the first time. They laughed when he patted Shauna's stomach and gave them each a large tip for the baby.

Back at the markets next morning, Charles and his colleagues were waiting. "Bad news," they cried. "Most farmers don't want to join your co-op. They don't like the idea of only owning half of their cow. Some are against co-ops. They want to know who owns the cows if your co-op fails. They all have reasons or excuses but only five will sign."

Mary had been standing close by. She poured John a coffee. "They will do it if you ask," she growled. "Not me," he replied. "If they won't listen to their own people why would they listen to me? Anyway if I become involved it could stir up my opponents in the government and hurt Rose and her family."

That evening as he walked Rose home she asked him to sit outside the house and talk. "Your old friend Mary came to see me at lunchtime. She tells me you have troubles. Why didn't you tell me?" John was embarrassed he hugged her and started to offer an explanation, but she stopped him.

"Mary tells me you are worried about involving me and your family. Well don't. Our family would have nothing if it weren't for you. Anything you do or want to do must involve us." She blushed, "We love you."

"The farmers will join your co-op. We talked to them today. I have told them we will run the co-op from our feedlot. They can choose their cows from our existing three hundred stock. We will employ another Vet to work for the co-op and make the decision on their returns. I told them I was so sure that you would make it work that we would give them their cows and they wouldn't have to pay the other half if we fail."

"You're wonderful," he exclaimed when he finished. "Very generous but wonderful just the same." He kissed her hard taking her breath away. "Behave," she whispered as she looked around to see if anyone was watching. "I have told them that we will make Georgia a member of the co-op. She will borrow and pay her half like the others. She will meet the same rules and be our representative on the co-op management team."

John arranged a meeting with Mr.Treet and took Rose and Mary along to explain what they had done. He questioned them at length calling Charles in to answer questions. In the end, he was satisfied.

"You have been very generous. We will not jeopardize the scheme by asking for repayments before the cows start milking. I will appoint Charles as my man on the board you should ask the Chairman to appoint someone to represent him."

The day set aside for farmers to choose their cows turned into a family festival. Relatives came from all over the province. Some came from as far away as Danang and Dalat to see their relative's first cow. John had never been thanked so often in his life. The children hugged him calling him Uncle. The women folk kissed him on the cheek. The men shook his hand and bowed.

During the evening when the families started to drift home, Glen rang from Australia. "A couple of old dairy farmers like yourself have been talking to me about you and Vietnam. I think they will come over and help if you can arrange free accommodation and tucker."

John was so excited he yelled down the phone. "Bloody hell mate they would be a great help right now. We are setting up our own small co-op and need all the help we can get. There's just one small problem I can't guarantee rooms at the Hotel because The TAFE people from back home are running hospitality training courses and use up a half dozen rooms. The pub is full most of the time. It has become the top spot to stay and eat in the Northern provinces."

"Tell the boys not to worry. I will talk to Rose to see what we can offer and ring you back." Within the hour, he rang back. "Tell them to pack their bags. Rose has some young widows who will jump at the chance to make room for a boarder."

"Tell them we will cover their in-Vietnam costs. All food and lodgings will be on us and we will arrange for some family members to show them Vietnam." Rose took the phone and spoke to Glen, "if any of your friends want to trade their work experience for a Vietnam holiday we need another teacher."

John listened as Rose and Glen talked about contacts. Rose surprised him when he heard her say." You must remember Pansy she drove you to that provincial hotel and looked after you on your last visit. Ring her in the feedlot office if you want anything. The phone there is more reliable." She hung up the phone and sat back. "Pansy liked Glen she will be a good contact when you're busy."

John listened to Ruby Kim and Lelani as they selected the widows that would provide a room for the retired farmers. Rose agreed to pay their rent and added money for their food. She offered to use John's construction team to paint and refurnish any room selected.

John smiled Glen would have thought he was kidding when he talked about young widows looking after the visitors. The selection was not based on the available rooms but based on which widows the three women thought would make a good match.

Pansy spoke daily to Glen and obtained details of the men and their history. Both were in their fifties. They had recently sold large dairy farms and were rich by Australian standards. In turn, that made them extremely wealthy by Vietnamese standards. Both were single, slim and available.

The women settled on two young widows in their thirties. They were enrolled in Sarah Button's oral English classes and immediately booked into Lelani's beauty salon. Almost as an after thought, the rooms were painted and refurbished.

John and Rose grew closer as they watched the preparations for Glen's visitors. One night as they sat together in the moonlight Mick and Ronnie approached them. Mick was nervous as he started to speak." Ronnie and I would like to become engaged. Under Vietnamese traditions, I should not be doing this. I would normally appoint some family friends, generally a happily married couple to represent me and make representations to Ronnie's family."

He looked at John. "I suppose you know Henri and Sarah are living together. We know that you will partner Rose in any ceremony so I have asked them to be my sponsors. Normally they wrap gifts in red. Things like betel leaves, areca fruit, wine, tea, sticky rice and something called a husband and wife cake."

"Those gifts are presented to you when they ask for permission for us to be engaged. If you agree, we roast a pig, pray at a family altar and exchange a ring. He looked at Rose, "I think that's all. Now I need to know what you want me to do."

He licked his lips and spoke again, "I love Ronnie and want to stick as close as possible to her customs. If you agree, we thought that we could book the hotel patio on the night the visitors arrive and try to follow as much tradition as possible."

Rose was over-joyed. She cried, "That would be lovely. It is nice to know you respect our customs. I am sure the gods will bless you" She turned and hugged John, "Ronnie will be the first of our family to marry. We have to settle a dowry. Can we make Mick General Manager of the Grand Hotel he does most of that job now. Let's give Ronnie a rise in salary as Manager of the ornamental gardens and the orchard?"

The rest of the family had waited on the stairs while Mick spoke. Now they flooded in to offer their congratulations. John pulled Rose close and kissed her, ignoring her protests and the cheers of the family.

Preparations for the engagement and the arrival of the visitors from Australia kept the women busy over the next few days. Pansy reported that a young woman teacher would travel with the men on the trip. She would stay for a month and help Sarah at the school then return home to tell her colleagues about her impressions. "Glen says a few teachers might visit our school during their vacations."

John looked at the two widows selected to care for his mates. "When they see how beautiful they are, my mates will be recommending a visit to all their bachelor friends," We'll have a flood of men wanting to help," he said with a laugh.

John took Rose down to Hanoi for a few days shopping for things for the engagement before they met the plane. Each night he escorted her to the door of her room and kissed her thoroughly. Rose would respond to his kisses then pull away and slip inside. He went to bed each night frustrated.

They dropped around to visit her old friends selling fruit. He whistled to himself when he compared her with the others. She was so beautiful. He told her so as they left. "They would look beautiful too," she blushed, "if they didn't have to work all day in the sun and sat in an air conditioned office like me."

At the Airport, he was surprised when Glen marched out with the others. "What are you doing here?" he asked as they loaded the bags in the bus. Glen looked around to make sure Rose was not near.

"I came over to see Pansy. I liked her when we were here before. We have become good friends on the phone. She is smart and a lot of fun. I have never been much interested in settling down with one woman. I have stayed single. When I talk to you, I can tell how happy you are over here. So I thought I might give it a try."

On the way home, he talked to Jack and Austin the two ex dairy farmers. Jack was fifty he had been a Shearer in his younger days before returning to the family farm when his folks retired. Austin was a little older at fifty-five. He had worked in the city on a number of jobs before buying a farm and moving to the country. They both were free to stay as long as they liked.

John warned them, "The girls have selected two lovely widows to care for you. They have tried to make you comfortable. They want you to stay."

Lesley the young schoolteacher sat up and asked, "What about me?" John laughed "Don't worry you will be a hit tonight at our engagement party. The young men of our village rarely have the opportunity to dance with a tall blonde beauty. You'll have more offers of moonlit rides on their motor bikes than you have ever had before."

Rose stopped him. "Don't tease her," she whispered. "We have made a room available for you at our house. Ronnie will move up to the hotel. My daughters will look after you."

The engagement ceremony was conducted with a quiet dignity that impressed the visitors. One after the other Glen Austin and Jack waltzed by with their partners giving him the high sign and offering their congratulations to Mick and Ronnie. As he had predicted Lesley was swamped by dance partners the young local men mooning over her pearly white skin and blonde beauty.

Early in the evening Glen slumped down beside John. "I need some advice," he moaned as he stared at Pansy across the room. "I'm not very good at this. I have never wanted a woman like I want her. She is half my age and Vietnamese. I don't know what to do. I don't want to stuff it up but I don't want one of these young bucks to win her."

John laughed, "Do I look like a bloody marriage counselor. Jack has already been over to ask me about Vietnamese culture he has only been here twenty hours and he has the hots for Ly. Austin looks as though he will be next he has not let go of Anh all night."

He turned and looked Glen in the eye. "I'm the last one you should ask. I have stuffed up my relationship with Rose a dozen times in the last twelve months. If I knew what to do I'd do it." Lelani was passing and could not help hearing John's words. She smiled as she went looking for Kim.

The three new men made an immediate difference. They visited each farm and inspected the facilities prepared for the new cows. They helped prepare and mix the fodder, checked the computer records, then advised and counseled each farm family on the needs of their particular animal.

At first, the workplace was stiff and formal but they ignored it. They had those who could speak English working overtime as they met each worker and showed a genuine interest in her family and her life. It was not long before the women started to bring family pictures and books to work so they could talk about their life and especially their kids.

Their attempts to learn sufficient Vietnamese to talk to the workers had the whole place laughing. Glen was the ringleader. His jokes became a little more suggestive each day as he flirted openly with them all.

Kim realizing that he could go too far and cause embarrassment let it be known that he had set his eyes on Pansy. She made sure a family member worked with him and invited them to join the workers for lunch in the amenities room.

"Our cook is an old local woman. She makes what we think is the best traditional Pho in Vietnam. She went on to explain, "Pho is a national dish. Pho Ga or Pho Bo is based on chicken noodle soup or beef noodle soup." Glen jumped in to tell her chicken noodle soup was available everywhere back home.

They laughed when Kim translated his words. "They're laughing because you have not tasted Pho. Our cook makes Pho with extras such as little strips of well-done muscle tripe flank or brisket. We think it is very special."

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