Climbing Taba Mhlope

From Romance and a Quest: Now and again glimpses had been caught as the car topped on one of the countless ridges which traversed the country but the realisation of the magnitude of her task came to Morag until Anderson stopping brought his arm round in a circular sweep.

“There’s Taba Bomvu Miss MacDonald – now somewhere on it or round it or about it, there’s an ancient fissure in the earth which has been filled with quartz. Thirty-five years ago old Mac O’ The Hills stumbled on a few white boulders pushed by earth movements out of the fissure. The boulders were rich in gold and he blasted a great hole into the hard rock contents of the fissure. Natives murdered him threw the body down the hole filled it in, removed all outcropping rock and made gardens on the site.

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During the years since then, the country’s gone back wild, big trees have grown up – now find the old mine. Where are you going to look, for what signs will you seek? It’d take you years to quarter the odd forty thousand acres of wild timber and bush and you might camp on top of the old mine and not see a sign of it.

Her chin resting in her cupped hands, elbows on the car’s side Morag stared at the hill, its slopes and the broken savage country about it. Ruarií whining softly crept against his mistress and the three men stole away.

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“Pretty brutal,” muttered Anderson “but it was the only way to convince her. Poor kid bit of a shock after off her dreams and seven thousand miles of travel.”

“She won’t chuck it,” said Mick.

“Well dash it all why should she?” asked Reggie wonderingly “We didn’t expect to come along and walk up to the blessed mine saying Hullo there.”

Anderson looked at Reg and raised his eyebrows, “Can’t you grasp the absolute futility of it Mr Lumsden? An experienced prospector studying the formation might gradually work to the likeliest spot for gold in the area. He’d stand chances of finding a dozen gold-bearing reefs all or any or none of which might prove good but it’s purely prospecting with everything that word in entails.

“Naturally” answered Reg “but that’s what we intend doing.”

Anderson laughed, “Come on you fellows no wonder the British won the war.”

Back at the car, they found Morag quite determined to carry on. “

“Isn’t it funny Mr Anderson, when you broke the facts to me I felt as though I’d fallen into the sea. I don’t quite know myself what I expected but now it all seems just what it should be and what has been behind the mists my thoughts have strayed in.”

“Let’s take a walk up the hill then,” suggested the miner and I’ll explain how to begin and whereabouts I’d start. It’s years since I went over the ground and I’ve learnt a lot about mining since.”

Toiling through long yellow grass often five or six feet high they reached a tiny plateau halfway up Taba Mhlope. Seating them Anderson explained his theories.

“Mac probably stumbled on the reef. First, we’ve got to consider the lower slopes of the hill as they were thirty-five years ago. Matabele Villages scattered about with gardens spread all over. Little of this time could have been about for there were too many natives – in fact, thirty odd years ago when I was here first as far as I can remember it was mostly cultivated land.”

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“Now Mac would have wondered about looking for quartz, and it being June or July most of the lands would be full of high maize and Kaffir corn. He’d hunt about ledges and islands of rock between lands most likely and that’s what you’ll do. Wherever you find quartz crush a bit and pan it then look for more – likely enough the Matabele carried away all quartz outcrop from the vicinity of the mine and scattered is about but they’re a lazy crowd. If you find bits of quartz carrying gold you’re likely enough somewhere near and the job is to visualise yourself as Matabele carrying and throwing away stones from and that’s the whole question.”

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“Now let’s go down and hunt a bit along the slopes – of course, the reef may be on the hill – maybe anywhere.”

Morag looked up at the wild cliffs far above. Uncle had been a shepherd and he was Highland. Wouldn’t he perhaps have climbed up there and maybe just accidentally come on the reef.”

Anderson scratched his head and looked with a touch of seriousness at the girl.

“There’s something in that” he admitted, “come to think of it he might have found it when looking for a leopard or lion. You’ll have to be careful about hunting. A place like that swarms with wild beasts. Wouldn’t be so risky after it was burnt out but you’re on a cattle ranch and God help anyone starting fires.

“Didn’t you prospect up there, Mr Anderson?” Morag asked.

“Me – no damn it all it never crossed my mind or anybody else’s I bet, but it isn’t likely anyway.  It’s not likely country for gold.”

Morag passed the next few hours in a dream. Try as she would the country around Taba Mhlope held no interest for her – hadn’t scores searched there and found nothing. Hadn’t even Mr Anderson admitted that probably no one had searched the cliffs. Yet wasn’t her Uncle’s very name prophetic Mac O’ The Hills, “Oh what a pity I promised to go to Mollie’s ranch.” Her thoughts were that the gold and the bones of Donald MacDonald are in the crags.

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Anderson seeing the girl’s absorption in the cliffs contented himself with striving to impress the salient points of prospecting on Reg. Mick listened with keen attention but his face wore a worried look.

“Anderson,” he remarked when the two were alone for a few minutes “For the Lord’s sake make it clear to them that those cliffs are full of leopards and snakes. The leopards or the chance of a lion will probably make them keener but snakes won’t. Tell them a few mamba yarns.”

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The miner did and on the way back Reginald’s expressive features blanched at some of the awful tales of snakes in general and the deadly black mamba in particular.

The Robertsons insisted on the party remaining overnight a proposal acceptable to all after a long day of motoring and tramping.

Mick whose horse had been brought on departed to fetch his cattle and after an interesting round of stables, byres and other ranch buildings the others sought baths and a change of garments, Ruarií finding friends apparently much to his liking amongst three silky haired red setters.

After a well-served dinner, Anderson brought the subject of conversation around to Taba Mhlope and the many attempts to find MacDonald’s mine. Robertson had been many years on the ranch and laughingly confessed that as a young cattleman he himself had wasted much of the Company’s time searching for the old shaft.

“There’s no doubt the claims are there” he stated emphatically “But to my mind, they’ll only be found by accident. A heavy rainy season might wash away ground and reveal the reef. Perhaps the plough might open up the site in one of our lands. The whole question rests as to whether the reef is on the hill itself or in the country surrounding it. On one side the country is schist and serpentine formation in which anything might be found, on three sides it’s granite were nobody would dream of prospecting.”

“There must be plenty of old Matabele about who know where the mine is.” Interrupted Mick who bathed, shaved and attired in civilised garments had joined them.

“Ah, but they won’t tell. I’ve had a few old fellows tell me yarns and actually show me the campsite of the regiment of Matabele who murdered Mac. After the Rebellion a Native Commissioner spent a week or two there making the Matabele dig up their lands and he even destroyed their huts in case one had been built over the mine – nothing has ever been found except one corner beacon plate and that was found close to Mapeta thirty miles from Taba Mhlope.”

“Ever climbed up to the top of the hill, Mr Robertson?” asked Mick casually, “looks pretty wild up there.”

“It’s worse than wild it’s absolutely hellish. The cliffs swarm with baboons, the gullies with wild pig and you can imagine it’s ideal breeding ground for lions and leopards. I’ve often wanted to have big drives up there but no native will climb into the head. Too many mambas and pythons over and beyond Carnioora. The Natives reckon it’s full of ghosts as well, but I reckon mambas are their real worry.”

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“Couldn’t you burn it out?” said Anderson.

“Aye, it’s been burnt out several times but I couldn’t get Natives to go up even then. I’ve climbed it with white men but beyond the game, we saw nothing though it was an eerie atmosphere and I was glad to get down. In fact, we all felt the same and kept in a bunch. Just went straight to the top, had a smoke and came down – marvellous view.

The conversation turned to cattle and the two older women began to discuss Mrs Robertson’s state of health which she believed would very likely necessitate a trip to England.

“Honestly, Mrs O’Connor, I thought at first that you had come for a preliminary survey of the ranch,” remarked Mrs Robertson. “My husband is seriously thinking of resigning as he is getting old for the work and I suppose Mr O’Connor would get the Ranch.”

“Oh but Mrs Robertson you didn’t think I’d ….” The older woman laughed.

“Please don’t worry Mrs O’Connor. I’m glad you’ve come for I’d be quite happy at the thought of you here.” bending Mrs Robertson dropped her voice.

“If Miss MacDonald remains on the ranch you must try and wangle Mr Osmond as stockman or Section Manager. One or two of our men would be all the better for a change and I’m sure Mr Osmond is very fond of the girl. She’s very sweet, isn’t she?”

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One thought on “Climbing Taba Mhlope

  1. A fascinating read …… the rough terrain and the danger of lions, leopards and snakes …… yet the intrigue for gold discoveries overwhelms the safety and comfort issues. Hard to believe the development and modernization and urbanization in just 100 years.

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