From Boatsheds to Battlefields 52 Taking a Holiday

End of 51st Entry: Filled with delight Mick went into Salisbury, cashed a handsome cheque booked his passage to South Africa and went up to the old Commercial Hotel for a drink.

At the hotel, two pleasant spoken men got into a conversation with him. Both were from Cape Town, appeared to know his father well and one was the son of a Volunteer Colonel.

Mick unaccustomed to spirits had a couple of whiskies and became instantly interested in their talk of Insurance. His ideas were very hazy on the subject but apparently paying in £50 a year for twenty years he would draw a lump sum of nearly £2000. If he died his heirs would get over £1000 even if he died just after taking out the Endowment Policy – Mick fell.

What he liked about it was these fellows didn’t want cash – “sign a three months bill old chap – your dad would reckon it a darn good investment – £4 a month only.” So Master Michael interviewed a doctor put his name to some papers and stood a couple more drinks.

There were various people Mick knew in Salisbury and Salisbury was not a Y.M.C.A. abode in 1912. Mick too owed a debt of gratitude to a little girl once a waitress now a pretty barmaid. Who got Mick to the train was a mystery to him forever but someone did in a wheelbarrow.

Next morning Mick on awakening found his head feeling like a balloon filled with red-hot irons – he was fully dressed moreover and felt it. A wash and shave freshened him up a little but he felt an intense longing for cold winds so proceeded to the balcony between two carriages.

Here a rather prepossessing damsel smiled winningly at him. Entering into conversation with her Mick was accused of having all but bumped her overboard the previous evening. Deep apologies were made by a bashful blushing young farmer and accepted by the lady who thereupon suggested that after the night before a hair of the dog that had bitten him would undoubtedly help Michael to view life through more pleasant spectacles.

Mick agreed, a steward was hailed and in the girl’s coupè the two settled comfortably down to enjoy the Rhodesian eye-opener of milk and whiskey. During the long four day journey, the acquaintanceship progressed rapidly. The lady was a hospital nurse not very young but slim and charming and of vast experience in dealing with the sterner sex.

She was going to Cape Town for a serious operation and Mick’s ready sympathy glorified the woman into something divine, she was a good sort and made the trip pleasant and entertaining.

On arrival home, Mick found a wonderful reception awaiting him but for the first two days and evenings he spent his whole time with his Rhodesian lady friend – she went into the hospital the third day to be operated on immediately.

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Calling around in the afternoon Mick heard most awful moans proceeding from a tiny private ward opening from the hallway. A pretty nurse being asked if he could see his friend gaily nodded at the closed door – “You can hear her anyway” she remarked “She’s just coming round. Call around tomorrow afternoon perhaps you’ll be allowed to see her then.”

Sick at heart Mick left. He called the next day, saw his friend and though love vanished friendship remained. Mick called daily but gradually became aware that a rather jolly looking probationer nurse was attracting his fancy.

Mick’s friend recovered but found Mick’s youth and unsophistication bored her, his passion, on the other hand, was dead so Mick once again sought his old friends the St Julien’s, the chums of his boyhood and the sea and the mountain.

A lot of time, however, was devoted to the hospital so that when at last Michael Osmond turned his face Northward he was an engaged man with youth behind him and manhood before him.

Months passed – the insurance agents called to be received by a wrathful sulky young man who dared them to do their worst. the one adopted a bullying tone and attitude – Mick’s Irish temper flared. It happened that their visit took place as he was about to go on a hunting trip and the offensive man immediately found a rifle butt raised ominously in the air whilst a young savage dark with passion threatened to smash his ……. head if he delayed immediate departure – he did not.

Shortly after Mick’s return Godfrey was persuaded to take as a pupil a young Englishman, the heir to a considerable fortune and with very important connections.

The pupil duly arrived his luggage filling the large Government waggons. He turned out to be a rather prepossessing youth with any amount of self-assurance. Invited into his room Mick wide-eyed gazed upon a large gallery of autographed photographs of picture postcard beauties – upon a varied assortment of saddlery, polo sticks and a simply marvellous collection of pipes.

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As a worked the new addition was not a success, as a companion he was delightful and for the first time since leaving school, Mick found himself with a mate of his own age.

Then an old mountain and fishing chum wrote him from Gatooma. He was anxious to start farming.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 49 Battling Through Life

So Mick lived for nearly a year. Kotzee and himself obtained sixteen oxen from the ranch they have the use of them on condition that the oxen were trained to the yoke, and returned at the end of six months fit for use in waggon or plough.

The two with a few Mashona made bricks and built a house – a weird and wonderful erection whose chimney fell off after erection and whose corners came apart owing to lack of proper bond. Somehow they existed Mick bought a Martini-Henry rifle and 100 rounds of black powder ammunition from the police for £3 sent him by his father – he and Kotzee wore out their boots and walked the country barefooted – more and more the two grew into a pair who looked as though civilization’s breath had never touched them.

But Mick was no fool – he soon found his partner to be a man with no stability of mind or purpose – a visionary and a fanatic.

The two began to argue about Imperialism, Religion and farming. Each began to feel the other an enemy and Mick started to go off more and more to the Godfrey’s, the two English neighbours, Kruger and old Airth. All of them seemed to like him – he got plentiful food at their homes and they thought about everything in the same way that he did.

Then Kotzee’s wife arrived with two beautiful children – Mrs Kotzee proved to be a Christian Scientist and a vegetarian and came from a wealthy family.

The rains began and with it came Malaria – Mrs Kotzee refuse to take quinine or give it to the children – one child died – then Mick went down badly and Mrs Kotzee and the other child were taken ill.

For some days Mick lay delirious without a soul visiting him – he came to himself weak as a kitten and looking like a ghost.

Then came Kotzee with a shotgun practically stone mad raving that Mick had poisoned his family, put his wife against him, ridiculed him to his neighbours and that he would have Mick’s life. Mick thoroughly alarmed grabbed his Martini knocked Kotzee aside and left.

A few days later barefooted and starving he arrived in Salisbury his only possession his rifle and two shillings. At a tearoom, he ordered some soup and fainted whilst trying to eat it. On coming round he found a pretty little waitress doing all she could to help him – the girl told him at once that he had better get into the hospital as he was rotten with fever and advised Mick to interview the Anglican Clergyman who would arrange his entry.

Wearily Mick trudged up to the interview but evidently gave the worthy minister the impression he was drunk. Half delirious Mick understood that the Clergyman couldn’t do anything for him and staggered back to the tearoom for further advice.

The waitress wasted no time but helped Mick to her room and put him to bed. Three days later feeling much better the youth set out on foot for the Angwa alluvial goldfields where a younger brother of his family’s – the family black sheep was earning a precarious living from hunting and gold washing.

Advised that his route was “Follow the railway line”, Mick did – but the Fates sent him along the wrong line until he reached a farmhouse where he was advised to cut across country to the Lomagundi line the one he was on leaving to Cape Town.

That night he came to another farm – a tall bearded man took him in for a meal and hearing his name said: “Well I’m damned – not the son of William Osmond of Sea Point?”

“Yes I am,” answered Mick “Do you know Dad?”

“God Bless your soul youngster I used to live next door to you – nursed you as a baby – Hell it’s a small world.”

For two or three days Mick was kept in bed and well looked after. The Stewart’s to whose hospitable door fate had brought him laughed at the idea of the Angwa pointing out that the place was a death trap and the diggers merely making a bare existence.

The tobacco boom was in full swing and their neighbour Godfrey a brother of Mick’s Marandellas friend wanted a man. Godfrey himself came over to interview Mick with the result that a satisfactory agreement was concluded the youth as soon as he was fit enough moving over to his new employer’s home.

Mick had now had over two years of battling through life and with the exception of three months in the Struan District and six weeks near Grahamstown, his life had certainly not been a soft or easy one. He had become inured to disappointment, used to coarse scanty fare and well able to hold his own amongst any type of men.

His twenty-first birthday was past but with all his rough and tumble experiences Mick still retained the heart of a boy of sixteen with all his idealism unspoilt. A nature full of emotionalism, a strongly developed imagination and the closest possible contact with a father and a mother whose letters showed that however far from him they were in body, yet in spirit, they were always near, kept Mick from many pitfalls. His pen and his imagination were his greatest friends – if with the one he could fight loneliness with the other turn hardship and rough conditions into a game.

Early years spent on the sea and mountain certainly contributed much to his ability to accustom himself readily to any emergencies or calls on his powers of adaptability. They had given him the wiry constitution of a savage and the digestive powers of an ostrich and with Mick, a squall was past was gone – others would come but it was foolishness worrying about them and those that had struck him always left some memory to chuckle over even if only at his own damned innocence or foolishness.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 48 Third Letter Home circa 1913

Dearest Dad,

Kotzee has been away nearly a fortnight with the waggon and I am feeling simply desperate. Without the donkeys and boys, I can do nothing except write, bathe and moon around. I walked ten miles over to a ranch but found nobody at home – got back utterly weary but couldn’t sleep. I’m so sick of boiled monkey nuts and beans. We’ve lived on them for weeks and haven’t had tea or sugar for a fortnight – meat I’m forgetting the taste of. Still, I’m not fed up with the life and its hardships only with the lack of anything to do.

I would like to go over more often to our nearest neighbours the two Englishmen but Kotzee hates them. Honestly, I’m beginning to think Kotzee is a bit mad. He keeps bragging about how he was a Boer spy in the Great War and was put in gaol as a rebel. Now if there’s one thing I can’t stand at any price its a beastly disloyal South African. One can understand Irish Catholics or any Irishman living in Ireland and being rebels – after all Ireland is a country inhabited by a Celtic race ruled by a foreign power in armed occupation of the land.

In South Africa, a mixed population of whites rule themselves under the protection of Britain and are themselves the Power in armed occupation of a land that really belongs to the Blacks. Kotzee, however, won’t agree only rave – I asked him what personal grievance he had – he has been born and bred under the Union Jack, has never been under its folds, his people are wealthy distinguished citizens of the Empire, his Uncle is a peer of Britain and the second citizen of Africa. Kruger I could understand being anti-British but he isn’t, though a Burgher of the Transvaal Republic he fought against Britain and was a prisoner of war at St Helena for nearly two years.

But Kotzee can only rant and rave absolute nonsense. He boasts of refusing to ride transport with an Englishman, and about a dozen other cases of cutting off one’s own nose to spite one’s face. It all makes me sick and honestly, he not only talks like a madman when on the subject but looks like one.

I’ve found all the Englishmen I’ve met to be splendid fellows and our two neighbours, in particular, have been awfully good to me. Their place has a rather gruesome history. It was owned by a pioneer one of a kind one reads of – father a judge in the Indian Civil Service, one brother a general in the British Army, another in the navy. He himself lived as a sort of unofficial king amongst the natives. One night two or three chaps including Kotzee were over there and Devereux seemed awfully depressed. He bucked up whilst playing poker and afterwards made tea or coffee for the lot.

The others slept in an outbuilding and during the night heard a shot. Nobody bothered as when dogs keep barking at night lots of fellows go out and fire a round or two to scare any intruders.

Next morning, however, when going into the dining room one of the guests found Devereaux at the head of the table with his head in his arms – thinking him asleep he went up to shake him when to his horror he found Devereux’s head in a pool of blood and a revolver grasped in his right hand. The poor chap was stone dead and had left a letter asking the others to bury him on the top of a high hill opposite the house.

He wanted his spirit to sit there and watch Wedza and the farm he had made. There’s a beautiful orchard around the house – guavas, oranges, loquats, lemons and other fruit – queerly enough looking down from Devereux’s grave the whole orchard is a huge Union Jack.

Nearly everybody about here seems queer – one chap, of good English family, has been all over the world and was blockade running during the Russo-Japanese war – now he lives all alone right away in the hills quarrelling with his only neighbour an old Highland ex-shepherd and ex-regular – Black Watch. The Highlander to is queer – he had sunstroke badly in India and gets all kinds of funny ideas.

Airth the manager of a ranch adjoining us is another Highlander – a jolly fine chap but gets awfully drunk on kaffir Beer – Hunter another Highlander is a very wealthy trader but also drinks heavily – sometimes they all get together and booze for a week.

It’s too dark to write and beastly cold.

Love to all,

Mick

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