This links to The Mine of Mac of the Hills with some changes.
When Le Roux called next morning at The Criterion, he found to his disgust that Mrs O’Connor had left early on a sightseeing trip with Morag and Reginald (MacGregor).
“It was made up on the spur of the moment,” explained Mr O’Connor from the warm comfort of his bed. “Jock Anderson (the mining commissioner) was thinking maybe Miss McDonald would like to see a gold mine and my wife thought an extra day or two in town would not be hurting myself or the ranch.”
“They’ll be back tonight then?” inquired Le Roux trying to conceal his vexation. “Tomorrow more likely. We’re catching the 6 p.m. and there’s nothing to interest Mrs O’Connor in Bulawayo. Trot away Gerald it’s grieved I am at your missing them but it’ll be more vexed I’d be if I myself was to lose the chance of sleeping past the sun.”
Realising there was nothing to be done Le Roux left mentally cursing Mrs O’Connor and all friends of hers. But whilst Le Roux liverish at the unaccustomed hour of rising was consigning her to perdition Mrs O’Connor was at peace with all things.
The early spring splashed the veld with masses of colour, the morning air crisp and fresh filled her with the joy of homecoming, best of all her protégées happy and brimful of laughter were safe under her wing speeding to what the experienced Anderson had assured her would kill the mining nonsense forever.
“Great things cars are,” the mine owner remarked, “In the old days we’d have spent from a fortnight to a month on a trip we’ll do comfortably in two days now.” And to Morag’s delight, he began to reel off tale after tale of pioneering days.
“No roads, no bridges and no shops – living by the rifle in a country of sullen unconquered foes, the veld one’s butcher shop, wild beasts and fever always threatening. But you’ll see quite a lot of the old life at the ranch yet, won’t they Mrs O’Connor?”
“I hear lions are pretty troublesome down young Mick Osmond’s way?”
“So Dennis was saying but it’s wild country all over the ranch. We’ve even elephants – no bathing either Morag for the rivers are swarming with crocs. You’ll have to be careful with Rory (Morag’s Highland Collie dog), crocodiles love dogs.”
“Reminds me,” said Anderson and again came the recital of frontier tales. Four hours sped by through open Savannah country.
“It’s mostly ranching land” the mine owner explained “rather uninteresting but we’re following the railway on a sort of Hogsback. This is the main watershed and a few miles either side the country begins to drop off into terraces then you’re in real Rhodesian scenery and the lower the altitude the more tropical the climate. We’ll soon turn off and you’ll see some wild looking country.”
“How did Uncle get his name Mac o’ the Hills?” asked Morag suddenly, “was it because he was so very Highland?”
Anderson grinned, “He was pretty wild and Woolly from what I remember, most of us were, but it was some theory about gold formation that really gave him the name. We all went more or less by nicknames such as Mickey the Goose, and the like.”
“Whereabouts is Taba Mhlope?” Mrs O’Connor broke in “Our company’s got a big ranch down here somewhere – in fact, Dennis thinks there’s a likelihood of our being shifted to it.”
“Oh, I do hope you are Mollie! Is their Ranch near where Uncle was prospecting Mr Anderson?” Morag cried excitedly.
“I’m not sure,” answered the mining man, “Taba Mhlope’s on some big ranch maybe it’s the Zambezi Pioneering Company’s. It’s years since I was down there and the country wasn’t taken up then. How about brekker Mrs O’Connor, dso we stop or eat as we go?”
“As we go, Jock I think, I’ve two thermos and bags of sandwiches.”
At last Anderson pulled up at the little Frontier station with its usual surroundings of trading stores, hotel and cattle loading ramp.
“Well here’s Mapeta where we branch off. Stretch your legs youngsters while I make enquiries about roads and Mrs O’Connor fills the thermos. “Care for a drink, Lumsden, the beer won’t hurt you.”
As the men disappeared into a native trading store housed in the same building signboards proclaimed as an hotel and bar, Morag alive with interest decided to give her a collie a run and utilise the opportunity to see something of the hamlet she presumed would be her headquarters.
Not even the glamour of frontier life could make Mapeta a place of desire. The centre for many big cattle ranchers and several mining enterprises what comprised Mapeta was mostly dust. A few doleful ragged eucalyptus trees heavily burdened with quantities of Mapeta’s outstanding product (the dust?) grew bravely round the stationmaster’s tiny garden, a tiny oasis in a pan of thick red powder.
An American windmill creaked and groaned for lubrication behind the crumbling bricks of what buildings weren’t of unpainted corrugated iron. Old tins that had once contained beef of other ranching countries, broken paraffin tins, disused jam tins lay scattered everywhere and starved dogs slunk curlike by or scratched for fleas. A few natives in what appeared the diseased rags of scarecrows looked with unemotional incurious eyes after the girl, pot-bellied naked picaninnies scurried to their mother’s rags.
Morag felt her spirits fail. Such desolation she had never believed could exist. Swiftly that curse of the Celtic race – the reaction to atmosphere descended like clammy mist swirling about her heart. Was it an omen of the future she wondered looking about for Rory who had gone in hot pursuit of a starving mongrel?
The clatter of galloping hooves and a wild chorus of barks in Rory’s voice dispelled the gloom. Down came a whirling torrent of dust, a horse shied violently across the road, a wild-looking man cursed freely as swinging his mount around he hauled it on its haunches. Rory barking ferociously sprang at the horse and whistling him Morag darted forward. “Morag by all that’s Holy” shouted the dust-covered rider “Down Rory! Down! or you’ll have me off, Whoa! Ginger Whoa!”