From Boatsheds to Battlefields 41 Going Hunting

End of 40th Entry: Mr. Tracey after a month called the lad into his office.

Quite kindly, he held a post-mortem on the past month as regarded Mick’s share – told him he was a likable lad, abounding with energy and with a fair amount of ability at handling stock and implements.

However he had engaged Mick as an assistant manager on a big business proposition – Mick knew absolutely nothing of bookkeeping or clerical work, had no control over native labour, had shown no initiative and was far too young.

He was sorry but he did not want a pupil, had no position as a farm foreman and his only requirement was that of a fully qualified farm manager.

In accordance with their agreement, he would pay Mick three month’s salary and thought if convenient Mick might leave the day after next when he would be going into town and could give him a lift in.

Mick stumbled out his eyes misty and his heart like lead. He had revelled in the life – plenty of riding, chasing cattle and ostriches, the perfect scenery in which it was a neverending delight to work – friendly charming people and the best of meals and comfort.

In his bedroom the lad throwing himself on his bed mournfully reviewed the position – in a couple of weeks there was going to be a big springbok hunt – hours of wild excitement with galloping like blazes over the soft springy turf after a herd of bounding flying buck – shooting from the saddle, pulling up to leap off for an opportunity to pick off some of the herd driven down by a line of racing horsemen.

Then there were a couple of Bushbuck drives coming with plenty of risk from a savage devil of a wounded ram and chances of seeing a bush pig and perhaps even a herd of Kudu.

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Apart from the hunting, he loved the work especially the luncheon hour which he generally spent at the lands miles from the homestead – here along the river fringed with massive trees half buried in monkey ropes, wild mistletoe and ivy one often saw the Springbok gazing in the luscious river grass or spotted a duiker or steenbuck daintily nibbling at some choice titbit.

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Then the wind crags, the sea of bush stretching down to the Fish River – the native kraals perched on the steep hillside – he simply couldn’t leave it all.

Early next morning Mr. Tracey with kindly thoughtfulness told Mick to take a rifle and get into the bush to see if he could find a buck.

Armed with a double-barrelled combination gun – one barrel fired, the other smoothed bored, Mick plentifully supplied with ammunition went forth. At Carnarvon, he had done some shooting but hares and Namaqua partridges had been the only game on the farm whereas now he was venturing into the heavy bush which was known to contain leopards, Cynx, kudu, bushbuck and a score of other species of game – even buffalo had been seen now and again.

Taking off boots and socks Mick stole from tree to tree thinking every Red Indian tale he had ever heard. Sometimes he lay for what seemed hours on the fringe of a tiny glade – other times he crouched long in the shadow of a tree – again and again, an opportunity presented itself – a tiny blue buck, smallest of all the antelopes, a troop of guinea fowl, bush partridges, innumerable pheasants even red steenbok and grey stealthy duiker.

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But Mick scorned the small fry. He was going to get a leopard, kudu or bushbuck or perhaps a buffalo – nothing less would content him and his heart’s desire came to him – all of a sudden he found himself almost in the act of treading on a sleeping bushbuck ram.

It speaks volumes for the lad’s scouting ability that he was ever able to get as close – but to actually catch the shyest of all game and the most sensitive of forest creatures asleep was an almost unparalleled feast.

Mick saw the bushbuck at the same time that the bushbuck saw him – up went the gun and as the cartridge exploded one hundred and sixty pounds of pure undiluted devil armed with two curved pointed horns charged in one desperate leap – Bang! spoke the other barrel and with a heavy bullet and a charge of buckshot at a range of perhaps three yards the beautiful black bodied, white-bellied antelope driven out of his course by the heavy impact crashed head down a few yards from Mick.

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Mad with excitement the foolish lad dropped his gun and drawing a heavy sheath knife flung himself on the animal – fortunately it was stone dead or Mick’s career would have ended there and then.

Filled with joy and pride, full content to once more place himself in Fate’s hands Mick returned to the homestead no longer worrying about anything.

Next day a precious pair of beautiful horns safely packed Mick said goodbye and two days later laughing with happiness climbed the gangway of a Union-Castle Line in Port Elizabeth saying to himself, “Anyway I’ve seen the Eastern Province, shot a big bushbuck ram and have a good sea trip in front – I’ve bags of clothes, a damn fine riding kit, and five quid over.”

“I guess I know a bit about the world now so I’m going to Rhodesia and I don’t care a hang what anyone thinks.”

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 40 A Challenge

Mick was learning fast that his house held in honour and esteem wherever he went, and when once again clean and garbed as befitted a son of his father, the lad responded immediately to the kindness and interest shown him by his hostess, with the mercurial temperament of his Irish blood forgetting the past lean months as he chatted gaily of social life at the Cape.

Next day his new employer called for him and behind a pair of magnificent horses, Mick drove out through what seemed to him the most romantic looking country in the world.

The farmer finding Mick interested and well acquainted with the history of his surroundings began to point out various battlefields of the Kaffir Wars (Xhosa Wars). He himself had taken a leading part in the last great Kaffir War as well as innumerable skirmishes and raids. His grandfather who had come out with the 1820 settlers and his father had been through every Native War from 1820 besides fighting in both Boer wars.

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Encouraged by the boy’s eager attention Mr. Tracey related story after story of the old frontier days making twenty miles drive pass in what seemed no time whatever.

This painting depicts the nine Xhosa Wars between the Xhosa and European settlers(1779-1)

At last a beautiful house nestling under brown lichen-stained crags was reached wherein the cool old-fashioned dining room Mick found a friendly gathering of charming people to meet him.

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A tall good-looking youth of his own age in response to a word from a handsome motherly gentlewoman took Mick to a comfortable well-furnished bedroom telling him that it was his bedroom leaving Mick to have a wash and a change.

In Grahamstown, Mr. Osmond’s friend had insisted on the lad getting an outfit and had taken him to an Outfitter’s to whom he introduced the boy – his wife accompanying them had taken the matter of an outfit into her own hands so Mick was fairly well fitted out even if the clothing was ready-made.

Returning to the living room Mick found a beautiful tea awaiting with two pretty girls to entertain him. One a daughter of the house, the other a niece who was acting as housekeeper. The evening sped by – dinner proved an excellent homely meal so when Mick sought his bed his happy-go-lucky nature revelled in the apparently perfect atmosphere Fate had brought him to.

Next morning he commenced his duties. The farm he found to be run on well-organised business lines. The principal business was ostriches but Mr. Tracey was also a large cattle breeder, possessed many first-class sheep and went in extensively for agriculture.

In many ways, the methods differed from those he had seen and learned in the Struan District – there even the wealthiest farmers had done their utmost to preserve as much as possible the patriarchal system of their forefathers and to adapt as well as they could the old-fashioned life to modern times.

In the Eastern Province Mick found none of this. He was given to understand from the start of his life in the Albany District that he was amongst English people, finding to his utter surprise that the Dutchman was hated and despised and their ways and methods scorned.

For the first time in his life, Mick found himself expected to know his work, to be able to organise, to accept responsibility and to handle native labour efficiently. Accustomed to the friendly Cape Coloured boys all of whom had been born and bred as their fathers before them to work from earliest childhood as farm labourers Mick found great difficulty in doing anything with the Eastern Province farm hands.

Mr. Tracey employed only raw natives except for one old Cape Coloured. These natives were proud fighting Amaxhosa who looked upon most tasks belonging to a woman’s sphere of life – working as a gang on really heavy manual labour they were superb, but as individuals Mick found them lazy, arrogant and soon learned that they were perfectly willing and ready to return blow for blow whether their opponent was white or black.

Then again for the first time in his life, he found himself in contact with tribal pride and prejudice. Some of the employees were Fingoes, members of a race formed by fugitives from the Zulu armies – this race pouring into Kaffir land had been enslaved by the Amaxhosa to be eventually released and granted lands by the British Government.

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The Amaxhosa held the Fingo in utter contempt everlastingly seeking excuses to thrash or otherwise maltreat them. The Fingoes on their part were neither cowards nor weaklings nor had their period of slavery been long enough to render them a servile people. They were of Zulu stock and were mostly ready to stand up to their former masters.

Mick, a short, slightly built lad of nineteen had neither the training nor temperament to win the native’s respect and fear though he soon gained their liking. He was frankly too interested in them to worry about trying to show that he was their master. They on their front found Mick well able to handle ox-whip, implement or stock but very easy-going as regards handling themselves.

Mr. Tracey shook his head but said nothing. He tried Mick in charge of gangs, gave him full responsibility over various works, tested his initiative and after a month called the lad into his office.

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 39 The Power of a Father’s Name

End of 38th Entry: An answer came the same day accepting and asking him to leave for Grahamstown immediately. Calling on a friend of his father’s, Mick borrowed three pounds to make up the fare and with many an affectionate word bade farewell to the O’Donovans and Muriel.

From Johannesburg to Grahamstown in the Eastern province of the Cape Colony was a long and wearisome journey travelling under the best of conditions. The route involved changing two or three times and waiting long hours at railway junctions and some of the trains were amongst the slowest in the world.

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Travelling Third Class – a Class in Africa patronised almost exclusively by Coloured people – in winter with no funds to buy food and without blankets moreover was something of a purgatory.

However Mick was beginning to become accustomed to hard living and took the journey philosophically. He secured a loaf of stale bread and with that kept body and soul together.

The hard cushionless seats were no worse than the floor of his room on the mine and the scenery kept his interest ever on the alert.

The journey through the great grassed plains of the Orange Free State was monotonous, but once over the border the train ran into the hills and then Mick in spite of hunger and cold forgot his worries in the exquisite pictures ever appearing.

One of the greatest sources of interest was the native in his raw state. Along the line, the boy saw many warlike Amaxhosa draped in their red blankets. Some covered in red clay signifying they had undergone the rites of circumcision and initiation and were now men.

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Two Xhosa men and a boy wrapped in blankets and wearing traditional Xhosa accessories,
stand in an open plain in the Transkei, South Africa.

These men had passed weeks away from women practicing various ceremonies and proving themselves capable of enduring various tests as to their courage, endurance and ability to stand the pain. Now as warriors of the tribe they could marry as soon as the price of a wife, a matter of four or five cows was theirs.

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The women adorned with armlets, bracelets, necklets, and anklets of cunningly woven brass and copper wire or beautiful beadwork, wearing tiny skin petticoats embroidered with beads amused him but Mick with a brain crammed with tales of the Kaffir Wars found his attention concentrating on the men. Savages they were not.

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Tall dignified, with the manners of courtiers and the bearing of well-disciplined warriors the sight of them, thrilled the lad. No Xhosa whether of the Gcaleka or Gaika Tambookie or Pondomise had ever yet been called a coward. Even Dinigiswayo, Chaka, and Dingaan named them as cousins and kept the Zulu regiments away from the territories of the Amaxhosa.

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Grahamstown came at last and Mick slept in the station waiting room. Next morning he called on one of his father’s friends and was cordially received – the lawyer leaving his office to take Mick to his home. Here his wife proved keenly interested in spite of the lad’s appearance for Mick had left Johannesburg in a pair of white drill trousers, a white shirt, and linen collar – three days and nights in the train had turned the boy into a disreputable specimen of humanity as any slum could produce. Mick, although only nineteen was already growing a strong black beard and unshaven for three days, made a horrible sight.

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Questioned regarding his luggage Mick airily explained that it was following. However, in spite of his looks the lawyer’s wife behaved like a mother – some old clothes of her son’s were routed out. Mick was sent off to bath and shave and on emerging found a well-spread table awaiting him.

Michael from his earliest childhood had loved his parents and respected them – ever since the misty days of babyhood his father had been his chum but that throughout South Africa his father’s name should be an open sesame to every legal door whether of office or private home came as a revelation to the lad.

Dad was a good pal and Mother was one of the best and everybody liked dropping in at his home whilst there were always stacks of calling cards left. That seemed natural but he had never regarded his parents as anything out of the ordinary.

Of course, both came from deuced good families but all the money gone – there was a great old-fashioned harp – there were relics of ancient days and all the aunts and relatives looked as though they had come out of pictures and books but much the same applied to dozens of families he had been brought up with.

As a kid he remembered most of them as being still landowners being buried in their own vaults, living stately old-fashioned lives but nowadays that sort of thing was no use to anybody.

Clever moderns who didn’t know where their grandparents came from, had sneaked land, cash and everything from the old world lot and being ancient lineage didn’t bring people flocking around.

Still Dad’s multitudinous activities in the musical and scholastic world he supposed made people grateful. Two school boards got a free secretary, a church a free choirmaster, all sorts of clubs and societies got advice, training and clerical advice free, gratis and for nothing. No wonder Dad was so popular and the Mater‘s cooking and unbounded hospitality were known everywhere.

But that didn’t account for the power of Dad’s name throughout the length and breadth of Africa – Ah Mick many and many a year would pass before true realisation would come that in this modern world a clean gentleman who to the moment of his death never swerved from the code of King Arthur’s knights, who never stooped to touch dirt or turned to glance at it – who himself never shirked danger, poverty, or cared a damn what other people thought, was a man so rare that in sixty years no man met him and forgot him or his wife.

Ah Mick – in the dark days of ’14 when you travelled sixteen hundred miles to “Join Up”, and arrived after midnight at your father’s house there was a light burning in the hall and before you could knock the door was thrown open and yourself and two comrades heard – “Come in Dear Boy and bring your friends, there’s food waiting.” Aye with a Dad like that no wonder Mick’s brother three times discharged, crippled from different units somehow wangled back into the fighting line until covered with the flag of Britain he was borne to the Heroes Corner of Brighton.

But the Dad and the Mater, their other sons and their daughters belong to another tale – perhaps who knows their records may yet be written.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 38 Grease Monkey to Farmer

End of 37th Entry: What a damned fool he was.

At the O’Donovans’ Mick’s experiences were received with yells of laughter adding to the boy’s distress. Everyone appeared to think it an immense joke his sleeping in the wood, dining with a convict, having a beautiful little room and shivering on its floor – greasing two thousand pots in his best suit and being one of so queerly assorted a shift whilst the grand finale sent everyone rolling with mirth.

The next day Mick sailed forth once again in quest of work but first purchased dungarees and a miner’s shirt. Knowing a little more about mines and a few pounds in his pocket the boy felt different to when making the first attempt and now boldly enquired for work as a greaser or trammer – the latter an underground post superintending and loading of trucks with ore and seeing that the natives pushed them as quickly as possible from the stopes and working faces to the shafts.

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Times were bad however and more men were being laid off than taken on but still Mick kept calling on several old school friends returned home that night in a fairly cheerful mood. He had practically been promised a job by three old boyhood acquaintances and at the O’Donovan’s found a Mine Captain who had once been engaged to Muriel.

This man desiring to stand in well with the girl of his choice immediately told Mick that he would fix him up underground if he called next afternoon.

In the meantime, if Mick cared he could come down with the O’Donovans whom the Mine Captain was taking underground to show the girls what it was like 4000 feet below the Earth’s surface.

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Thrilled and delighted Mick joined the party and an hour later they all entered one of the great three-decker skips and dropped at the rate of 1000 feet per minute to the level they were to be shown.

As the skip stopped and the door opened the party saw what seemed to be a heavy rain falling past the doorway. Stepping out onto a station landing they found themselves in a great tunnel hewn out of the solid rock and taking the roadway into it passed along a narrow track laid with rails.

As they walked procession after procession of little iron trucks each pushed by an all but naked native passed by.

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From the drive, they saw the stopes twisting away from the main tunnel. Each of these stopes represented a vein of gold-bearing ore which had been followed into and extracted from the rock walls – some were great chambers, some long wide tunnels others so narrow that it was a thing to wonder at as to how men had found space to work in them.

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After an hour the party returned to the surface Mick very full of satisfaction as to conditions below.

Next morning, however, brought a long letter from Mick’s Dad in which he offered his choice of several farming billets all but one on properties owned by legal friends of his fathers’ and offering the same pupil basis terms which he had had before. Board and lodging and in one instance a pound a month pocket money.

Wrinkling his nose in disgust he came to the postscript. One of the leading Eastern Province farmers wanted an assistant manager to start at £15 per month and all found. Mr. Osmond gave some particulars which described the farmer as a thorough English gentleman known throughout Africa as one of the best practical and progressive men in the Cape Colony.

Mick liked the prospect of seeing the Eastern Province and the job seemed good so he wired applying for the billet but stipulating a three month’s trial. An answer came the same day accepting and asking him to leave for Grahamstown immediately.

Calling on a friend of his father’s, Mick borrowed three pounds to make up the fare and with many an affectionate word bade farewell to the O’Donovans and Muriel.