Rhodesian Mining Law and a Wedding

End of Part 1: Perhaps it had broken the wedge and pushed the bottom half deeply into the material.

Nobody in the District but Mr Baird believed that there remained a portion of the reef below the granite but as only Mr Baird owned the mine and was paying for the exploration nobody interfered with his search nor discouraged his theories – It was nobody’s business but Mr Baird’s.

Breaking hundreds of tons of solid rock four hundred feet below and hauling it to the surface of the earth is expensive work. When there is a streak of other rock containing gold amongst the broken stone it is certainly worth the expense, always provided the gold is sufficient in quantity and in a form which is not refractory to ordinary methods of gold extraction.

The Baird reef was free of arsenic, antimony and other bugbears of the miner. So it’s owner had never worried about the cost of following it into the earth breaking it from the rock in which it was embedded and bringing it to the surface nor did Mr Baird grudge the cost of crushing his ore into powder or of washing it over the shaking copper plates.

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The yellow gold which mercury would catch from the agitated mass paid all the cost of mining and left a good deal over to pay the cost of a pretty daughter and all the comforts Mr Baird wanted.

But when there was no milky stone there was no gold and Mr Baird was distinctly worried. True it would take a year or two to break out all the quartz above the granite and there was another year’s work in recovering gold which had escaped the mercury and would only yield to cyanide treatment.

Two courses lay before Mr Baird – one to acknowledge that his reef had come to its natural end and to concentrate on cleaning up – the other to gamble. Mr Baird decided to gamble.

Eric Ferguson stood at the headgear of the Mascot with a boyish figure in oilskins.

“Not scared, Eunice?” he asked as a wet little truck emerged from the shaft. A remarkably pretty girl shook her chestnut hair as she clambered in.

“No fear – I like going down a little property – the Baird’s like Dad a bit too imposing.”

“Anyway hang on – we’ll go right down to the 5th level, the boys should have cleared away the night shift’s blasting. I’m into some pretty stuff. Jove Eunice if only the blessed reef would widen a bit.”

Down into the darkness dropped the truck and the miner slipped a protecting arm about the slim shoulders a small hand felt and found Eric’s hardened calloused one – In the mirk and drizzle of the mine shaft, a girl’s soft lips met her lovers’.

Down ever down sped the truck its steel rope singing to the winding drum above in the tiny patch of yellow that marked the surface.

A landing stage lit by spluttering candles marking a right-angled drive where naked black men white with clay toiled demonically loading a waiting truck – again a lighted stage, quiet, deserted, a black hole yawning at it.

No. 2 Level – No. 3 – No. 4 – With a jolt, the truck halted and a brawny native wet and clay covered grasping Eunice helped her to a wooden platform – a signal and the truck dropped into the darkness below.

“We’re down another 100 feet – just beginning to drive.” said Eric “We’ve worked out the first 4 levels and have just really begun to stope out the reef in this – the fifth.”

“Yes, what is it Boy?” as a perspiring grinning native spoke asking the Boss’s attention.

The native’s words tumbled out “Baas, we’ve driven into a big reef – plenty money.”

“Come on Eric” cried the girl snatching a candle from a ledge of rock “Hamba Boy, hamba pambeli“.

Grinning the native turned and trotted into the darkness the boy and girl behind.

“Eunice, will you keep quiet about it until I tell you to loosen up?” Eric’s voice though quiet held a worried note.

“Sure. But Oh! Eric! I thought you’d be dancing with delight – the reef’s as big as the old Baird and looks perfect – Poor Old Dad – he’s a broken man since the Baird pinched.”

“That’s the Baird,” said Eric grimly.

Eunice gazed dumbfounded at the great mass of white gleaming dully through the dark.

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“The Baird Eric?” she gasped.

“Aye – a wall of granite broke its thread and pushed the reef over into my claims.”

“But Dad’s down 700 feet, Eric, and he’s driven into both walls.”

“Well, sinking and driving he’s missed the reef – maybe by inches.”

“Then it’s yours now,” murmured Eunice drawing close against her lover’s form.

“I’m not too sure,” muttered Ferguson, “There’s a clause in the Rhodesian Mining Law about extra lateral rights – if two distinct reefs are being developed on adjoining properties the owners can follow their own reef underground right into one another’s claims. I’ve never heard of it happening but that’s the law.”

“Oh, Eric” cried the girl “if Dad gets the Baird again I’ll be forced on Colin.”

“Your Dad hasn’t got the Baird yet – it would be a deuce of a thing to prove anyway – and he’d have to prove it from his side of the mine,” said the miner grinning.

“He can’t come down my shaft, walk into my drive and say “Hullo there’s the Baird – I’ll start a  shift on it right away Fergie me boy.””

“I see” Eunice looked thoughtful – “Eric can you raise a couple of thousand?”

The miner shrugged his shoulders – “If I had something to show, yes.”

“Offer Dad £2000 for the Baird – it’s what he reckons she’s worth now.”

“Has he stopped looking for the reef Eunice?”

“Closed down yesterday and is taking the pillars out from tomorrow.”

“Then there’s no time to waste – I’ll take some samples and we’ll get up.”

“Then you’re prepared to give me a months option on the property Mr Baird?” Eric looked with pity on the man whose twelve-months fruitless hunt had made him look the four and seventy years he’d lived.

The old miner looked troubled.

“What do you want her for Eric – think you know how to find the reef?” a sneer crossed the speaker’s features. “I guess no Ferguson will succeed where I’ve failed.”

“I’m reckoning on pickings – the Mascot’s widening and needs a five-stamp. What with pillars and stringers I reckon the Baird’s got four or five thousand in her – thought £2000 was a good price and I take the one battery over on twelve-month credit – together with the big boiler.”

“You wouldn’t lose” grated Baird.

“I’m not a philanthropist – but you’re fed up with it and I doubt whether there are many buyers.”

“Had two fellows out this morning.”

“Aye! They told me they weren’t doing anything.”

Bair snorted “Have you the money?”

“Can raise it – is it a deal?”

“Aye” – lifting a bottle on the table between them Baird poured two measures of whiskey and pushed a siphon to his guest.

“Take a trip down the Mascot, Mr Baird – I’ve a strange problem at No. 5 Level.”

“To Hell with mining,” answered the other – “I’ve no interest in it.” and the old mine-owner’s head dropped on his breast.

“Come on Daddie” called a fresh young voice “I promised Eric I’d go down and he’s awfully eager to show you the reef.”

Protesting yet curious Baird walked with his companions silent but observant – now and again his eyes rested kindly on the fair girl chatting merrily with the powerful clean looking man.

“She might ha done worse” muttered Baird “Colin’s no altogether her sort – bit dour and wantin that girl from the hills.”

Down into the bowels of the earth rumbled the skip – past the levels stripped of their ore to the one where fresh stoping was beginning.

“She’s opening up a bit Eric,” remarked Mr Baird gazing curiously about him “Ten years since I’ve been down – good little property she’s been £300 a month for fifteen years isn’t a bad output” agreed the Mascot’s owner – But what do you think of this Mr Baird?”

Turning a corner of the drive the three were next to a great mass of quartz at which a dozen natives were busy.

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“The Baird The Baird” shrieked the old miner stumbling to his reef.

Eric his arm about the girl drew next to the kneeling figure feverishly working at the rock face.

“Mr Baird”

“What’s it you’re wanting Ferguson – it’s my reef I tell you – I’ve got lateral rights Ferguson – that deal about the Baird’s off you scoundrel.”

“Steady on Mr Baird I was only joking or I wouldn’t have brought you down – its Eunice I’m wanting.”

The gaunt white-haired figure covered with clay and mud rose to his feet.

“We’ll go halves in the Baird Fergie – you’re a white man – and I’ll chuck Eunice in to clinch the bargain.”

Baird held out his hand.

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Copy of the original in Bernard’s handwriting

 

 

Romance and a Quest

End of last entry: But chaff was wasted on Morag at the mention of their goal being in sight.

The car had topped a rise and from it, the party looked down into an immensity of space broken by countless low hills and wooded basins. Slightly westward of a long curving range stood a great solitary hill crowned with white cliffs. Anderson brought the car to a standstill.

“Taba Mhlope – The White Mountain rather a decent view isn’t it?”

Morag spell-bound held her breath gazing into the fast extent of wooded country. “Oh, Mollie” she murmured as the car shot on ” I never thought – I never dreamed a land could be so immense, so lonely.”

“Dashed good shooting down there I should think.” came Reginald’s voice.

“Pretty nearly everything,” answered Mick “but the cattle are driving the game out. That’s our company’s ranch. They’ve got a hundred thousand acres and about ten thousand head of stock running on it. Not nearly as good cattle country as where we are Mrs O’Connor!”

“Not as good for cattleman,” teased his owner’s wife “only seventeen miles from the main camp to the railway station, Mick, none of the sections more than twenty miles from the main camp. Heavens what a life Dennis would lead with some of you mad boys. If we came here I could, I would insist on you all getting married.”

“Not a bad idea,” rejoined Mick, a note of deep sincerity in his voice and Morag felt the warm blood coursing tumultuously through her veins.

“Dashed uncivilised place for a bride to live in though'” declared Reg, “All right for a lark but dash it all one would soon start getting bored.  Wouldn’t she Morag?”

Mick glared venomously at Reggie the while he waited anxiously for Morag’s answer.

“It depends.” was the noncommittal reply but Mick’s heart leapt at the softness and shyness of her tone.

“Quite right Dear,” joined in Mollie O’Connor “Dennis and I and scores like us haven’t found it boring but pull up Jock here’s Bankwe Main Camp and I must tidy myself. Heavens I hope the Robertsons won’t think it strange my coming out. I’ll have to explain that I thought it a good opportunity to visit them. Jock, I think I’d better stay and you can pick me up on the way back. One never knows what weird yarns fly around these ranches.”

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Anderson grunted. The same thought had struck him. Headquarters staff would wonder quite a lot at a manager’s wife from a sister ranch flying out to look for gold mines on one of the company’s stations.

“Good idea, Mollie – Now Miss MacDonald you start your new life – Write out a notice addressed to the Manager Zambezi Pioneering Company’s Mapeti Ranch informing him that by virtue prospecting licence No. 01 you hereby give notice that you intend prospecting on the ground under his charge.”

Flushed with excitement Morag hunted for a fountain pen and writing pad whilst Mrs O’Connor attended her appearance and the men took Ruarií to stretch his legs. 

Ten minutes later the journey was resumed and in a short while after the party were being warmly welcomed by Mr Robertson, the tall grizzled ranch manager and his wife, a little-worn woman, whose appearance brought a pang of pity to the Hebridean girl’s heart.

“Come away in! Come away in!” cried Mrs Robertson cheerily.

“We’ve only stopped to drop Mrs O’Connor and serve you with notice that Miss McDonald and Mr Lumsden intend prospecting on the ranch. Osmond is bringing you a mob of cattle and is taking a run out with us whilst the stock are resting.”

“Five minutes and a swallow won’t hurt you, Anderson. Come along in. What are you bringing Osmond?”

“Five hundred Hereford, two-year-old heifers Mr Robertson.”

“And I suppose half a dozen new diseases” finished the ranchman his eyes twinkling.

“So Miss MacDonald’s a prospector – Lord Jock pity we didn’t have a few like her in the old days. Glad you’re not wearing shorts Miss MacDonald, dammit I like a girl to look like a girl don’t you Jock?”

Half an hour later amidst a chorus of laughing farewells the party minus Mrs O’Connor left, Morag’s ears still tingling with roars of laughter which is had greeted Anderson’s explanation of her quest.

“Mac’s Mine! Lord Miss MacDonald, I’ve had prospectors of all sorts around Taba Mhlope every year since I’ve been here. My own natives and cattlemen have ridden every inch of the country and if ever there was a mine the natives covered it up and the old needle in a haystack would be easier to find after all these years.”

An hour’s run through what seemed a gigantic park where red bodied white-headed cattle grazed in hundreds brought them to the foot of a huge hill. 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.

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Nguni Cattle

Morag MacDonald goes prospecting

End of the previous post: 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/Ruairí (the Gaelic spelling is also used in the original) Down! or you’ll have me off, Whoa! Ginger Whoa!”

Absolutely bewildered Morag stood staring into a red cloud in which a frightened horse was rearing and plunging before a frantic Highland collie. From the rider came a stream of ejaculations, protests and shouts ending in, “Hold on Morag I’ll be back in the second” and down through the Hamlet tore the thick red cloud with Ruairí’s voice yapping with it.

“But what on earth is Mick doing here?” cried Morag as she stepped out after the cattleman’s trail. Halfway to the hotel, she met the Rhodesian skipping along like a schoolboy with Ruairí racing round, springing and twisting in the air.

With a wild whoop from Mick and a deafening din from Ruairí, man and dog swooped down on the girl.

“Morag! What lucky wind blew you here? Mick cried seizing the girl and waltzing gaily round the dog.

For a few moments, Morag romped lightheartedly vainly striving to sober not only her assailants but her own surging blood. But Mick was for no sobriety and hand in hand the two raced for the hotel, Ruairí, his muscular body stretched flinging up dust clouds ahead.

Panting and laughing the boy and girl drew up before the scandalized Reggie, a greatly amused Mr Anderson and a wondering Mrs O’Connor.

“What on earth are you doing here Mick?” asked the latter severely.

“Just what I’ve been asking Morag” laughed the cattleman, “I brought a mob of cattle down here from the ranch on transfer to the Bankwe people, Hello Reg, Hello Mr Anderson.”

“Well, we’ve come down to look for Morag’s gold mine.” Mrs O’Connor informed him “Have you delivered the cattle?”

“Not yet, they’re coming, there are about five hundred heifers in that dust behind.”

“Then,” said Mrs O’Connor sweetly “we’d better not keep you, Mick, you’ll be busy watering and settling them, I’ll tell Mr O’Connor we met you, any message?”

“Just that all’s gone well. I left two lame heifers behind at the Emerald Ranch and lost one,” replied Mick sulkily.

“Tata then Mick, you’ll see Miss MacDonald again one of these days I suppose. Rightio Mr Anderson! Climb in Morag.”

“Mollie you’re a pig,” said Anderson as he drove off Reggie and Morag waving to a disconsolate figure standing next to a horse.

“I couldn’t resist the temptation Jock! ‘Sides we couldn’t really let him leave his cattle and come along. What would Dennis have said?”

“Rot Mollie! It’s pure devilment! The cattle will rest most of the day at Mapeta with poor little Mick sipping whiskey and cursing Manager’s wives and his darn bad luck. Let’s pick him up – Lord you never even told him Miss MacDonald was coming down to the ranch and his face looked as though the news would have cheered him.”

“Have it your own way,” answered Mrs O’Connor laughing, “only I don’t like spoiling men. What do you say Morag?”

Morag flushed. Her whole being was running riot to the reaction of a cheery voice filled with joy at meeting her just when her spirits had dropped into the dust of Mapeta. Mick’s sinewy frame swinging easily to his horses’ plunges, the light of overwhelming joy in the grey Irish eyes, the boisterous schoolboy welcome he’d given her were all pictures filling Morag with longing for Mick and Mick alone.

Anderson swung the car around and running back found Mick mournfully opening the bar with a key borrowed from the storekeeper to busy himself in serving natives to attend to the hotel business.

“Where’re you resting your stock, Mick?” shouted Anderson applying the brakes.

“About three miles from here on the Maputa River,” answered the other, “I reckon to push on this evening and hand over at main camp just after dark.”

“Well jump in. I’ll run you back to the mob so you can tell your boys where to go. Mrs O’Connor thinks you might as well come along. We’re stopping at Bankwe Ranch so you can tell them about the cattle.”

Even Reggie guffawed at the change in Mick’s expression.

“Push the bus along Mr Anderson” he yelled swinging a leg over the door, “Gosh you people are tramps.”

Unceremoniously Mick made room for himself between a shy, blushing girl and an excited collie and a much amused Reggie.

“Well, I don’t care if it snows” Mick laughed “I’m happy, Gosh Reg I haven’t had time to say Hullo, What do you think of Rhodesia?”

“A dashed good country, Mick – Jove you look a sort of two gun man” said Reggie as he gazed admirably at Mick whose appearance was undoubtedly that of a desperado with his pinched in grey Stetson, wide khaki drill trousers, spurred boots and unbuttoned shirt its sleeves rolled above the elbows of a pair of lean sinewy arms whose colour was tanned to that of Maputa dust.

“I keep them much cleaner on the ranch Morag,” Mrs O’Connor remarked looking disapprovingly at the cattleman. “Why haven’t you shaved Mick and can’t you sew on a few buttons? Surely you didn’t intend presenting yourself at Bankwe headquarters in that state ?”

“Sorry, Mrs O’Connor” grinned the culprit “I’ve been more or less in the saddle for three days and there isn’t much encouragement riding through Mapetu in a ducky bowtie and Saville Row suit.”

“Personally I think Mick fits in well” chimed in Reginald “Dash it all I’m going to grow a beard once Morag and I start prospecting.”

Prospecting, you and Morag?” exclaimed Mick “What the devil are you wanting to prospect for Reg, I thought you were going tobacco growing?”

“Nothing so dull Mick me boy. Dammit, one doesn’t come to the wilds to grow things. Gold mining’s the thing. You just wait and see the blessed nuggets with diamonds sticking in them. Dash it De Beers will hide their dashed faces when we start opening Morag’s reef.”

“Don’t be stupid Reg,” said Morag severely “one doesn’t find diamonds stuck in gold does one Mr Anderson?”

“Only in engagement rings” shouted back the miner with a burst of laughter “There’s  Taba Mhlope sticking up Miss MacDonald, let’s hope you find both the diamonds and gold in all their fashions.”

But chaff was wasted on Morag at the mention of their goal being in sight.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 33 Drought-Stricken Karoo

End of Entry 32: Mick jumped at the offer and feeling at last that the gates of Romance were opening arranged to leave the beautiful Valley of Contentment.

Far away in the heart of the Great Karoo lies the little Dutch village of Carnarvon. For three days the train has been traveling through the vast plateau – hour after hour, day after day the eye has seen little to break the monotony – white plains stretching apparently into infinity – dotted with endless hills flat-topped, naked but for the scanty covering of small bushes.

Never a tree except where stood a lonely homestead with its attendant windmill. Here and there a flock of grey coloured merino sheep the wool corrugated in great folds upon their neck and shoulders. Now and again a few horses running wild, sometimes a wagon drawn by twenty-two donkeys.

Round the railway stations a cluster of miserable hovels made from beaten out paraffin tins.

All along the line stood powerfully constructed blockhouses loopholed for rifle and machine gun fire – whilst every few miles were tiny cemeteries filled with well cared for graves each with its uniform white cross – the graves of Britain’s dead killed by bullet or shell, died of wounds or typhoid the graves of 1899-1902.

Ever as the journey lengthened the wastes grew drearier and more lonely until at long last appeared a mass of white houses half buried in green patches and spread amongst a forest of windmills.

Many years before Mr. Osmond had been the Magistrate’s Clerk in Carnarvon and his memory had remained green in the hearts of the older generation. Mick who had become very downhearted during the latter stages of the journey brightened up instantly as the train came into the station, and half a dozen burly Dutchmen of apparently prosperous standing picked him out from the other passengers and extended him a bluff good-natured welcome.

Mick spent two days in the village visiting old friends of his father’s and becoming interested in a most vivacious niece of one of them. Then on the third day, he left at daybreak on a mule wagon packed high with lucerne hay.

Two hours through what might have been Arizona brought the wagon to a rather pretty farmhouse standing amidst a few acres of lucerne, oats, orchards and eucalyptus trees.

An oldish Dutchman of rather prepossessing appearance met the wagon and gave Mick a cordial greeting introducing himself as Mr. Kruger the manager. Taking the youth into the house he introduced him to a pleasant looking woman, his wife and to a tall girl, a niece of his who was rather pretty.

Mick settled into the new life immediately – there was apparently no work whatever – some two thousand Merino sheep and six hundred Angora goats were herded over a vast tract of country which had not had rains for six years. Now and again Kruger would count a flock but for 167½ hours in the week, he sat smoking, drinking coffee, brooding or sleeping.

Everyday an average of a dozen valuable sheep died of the drought – the irrigation water became saltish and nothing watered by it grew. Now and again a few tiny clouds appeared on the horizon but by noon they were once again away.

The sun blazed down with pitiless heat – nowhere as far as could be seen was there a leaf or blade but apparently, it didn’t worry Kruger one iota. “It is the Lord’s Will” and that was the start and the end of it. One day rain would come – this year or the year after – there would be perhaps two good years maybe three and everyone who had survived would do sufficiently well to keep over until the next drought.

As the weeks past Mick grew more and more bored – accustomed to a life of throbbing activity, where a man’s daily curse was at the shortness of the daylight hours, and a thousand and one tasks crying for attention, he found it impossible to sit beside Kruger and meditate on the past, present and future.

He flirted desperately with Susie; but she was of a serious nature and deeply religious, besides being older than he was. He went for rides but derived no pleasure from them, having no goal to reach.

Mick began to ride into Carnarvon and sit with a brandy and soda chatting to the German hotel proprietor or go to wild dances amongst the lower type of Dutch. He imagined himself in love with Susie and grew morbid nor did her company help him grow more cheerful – Susie was full of the wickedness of men and the weaknesses of women, and under her influence, Mick began to realise that he himself was a sinner in all probability doomed to everlasting perdition.

The drought grew worse and then came news of good rains some two hundred miles away in Bushmanland.

Day after day great flocks of sheep – Merinos, long-legged Namaqua sheep without wool and carrying tremendous tails of pure fat – some so large and heavy that it seemed extraordinary that the sheep could carry the burden; herds of beautiful Angora goats their bodies covered with long silky mohair, herds of Boer goats of every size and colour. The world seemed filled with moving masses and the air was heavy with their cries.

Day after day the flocks and herds went by accompanied by great tented wagons and pulled by twenty-two donkeys driven by long-bearded Boers with ragged drabs of women and packs of wild barelegged children and savage dogs.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 29 A Wedding with a Twist

From Entry 28: Hans, the head groomsman, is in love with a new housemaid who has insisted on getting married. “Hans gave way and approached Mathew regarding a loan, his assistance in procuring a clergyman and borrowing the wine cellar for the ceremony.”

Mathew laughingly agreed and due arrangements were made. On the afternoon of the great day, the wine cellar newly whitewashed and swept, strewn with orange blossoms was filled by the complete staff of the Van Der Walt’s farm.

An old Dutch Reformed Church minister stood arrayed in Geneva gown and bands – an orchestra of a battered violin, two guitars and a concertina gave creditable version of “The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden” and Mr. Mackenzie entered attired in an ancient tophat, a tailcoat green with age, a monstrous white collar and scarlet tie, a pair of black trousers, the lot set off by white gloves, yellow shoes and finished by a great bouquet in his buttonhole.

But the bride drew all eyes and a gasp of amazement passed from the assemblage as Maria the old washerwoman who had been Mr. Mackenzie’s staff of life for two long years entered with conscious pride.

Enormously fat, beaming with happiness, adorned more gloriously than any lily of the field in the frilly chiffon of the crinoline age livened by a blue sash, and scarlet knots, her head covered with a filmy veil her feet bare, Maria took her place beside Mr. Mackenzie.

Annie giggling joyously led four smartly dressed yellow maidens carrying sleaves of lilies and Hans Mackenzie scratching his head gazed piteously at Annie and distastefully at Maria.

The minister began the service – came to the words “Hans McKenzie wilt you thou take this woman to be thy wedded wife?”

As the sonorous Dutch words rolled down the vaulted cellar Hans MacKenzie declared that he would not and in voluble South African dialect entered into a declaration of how Annie should be the bride and Maria only a discarded light o’ love – Annie led him on and now had substituted a fat, long tired of, former mistress of his.

The minister argued – Mathew pointed out that it was MacKenzie’s duty to give the honour of his name to the mother of two of his children and eventually Hans gave a sulky consent to the proceedings being carried on, provided Mathew promise him a bottle of brandy and gave him a drink there and then. The promise and the tot were given and assisted by Mick as best-man the ceremony continued.

Tomorrow Mick rides Nikola

Boatsheds to Battlefields 28 Life Learning

End of 27th Entry: Golddust had won a dozen races some against well-known track horses and Mathew was damned forever in Mick’s estimation when the indignity was forced on his idol.

Mick meets his greatest fear.

But of all the numerous horses owned by the Van Der Walts, Mick hated Nikola.

Not because the gelding was ugly or bad-tempered, but because Mick felt afraid of the horse and Mick abominated the thought of fearing anybody or anything. Now the reason for Mick’s fear was due to a peculiar trait of Nikola’s. The horse would answer to a whistle, stand as quiet as a cab horse whilst being saddled and if bridled with a curb Nikola could be trusted to take the most timid of riders for a comfortable ride.

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True one felt beneath the saddle the pulsing of a nervous energy which made one feel as  the inhabitant of a house on a live volcano might, but with the curb, Nikola was a model of decorum – except for Nikola, Van Der Walt’s horses were ridden on the snaffle only, and when a horse wanted one was usually needed in a hurry – so now and again Nikola when mounted felt that there was no heavy chain below his jaw – a chain which pinched and hurt badly if a horse was fool enough to play pranks – Nikola’s jaw was tender, otherwise he recked/cared nothing of training – minus the curb chain Nikola invariably bolted as soon as his rider’s weight left the ground.

Mick’s first experience shook him up badly – wanting to ride down to a land the boy caught the first horse handy and clapped a saddle on his back – his bridle had a racing bit, and a stable boy warned him of the horse’s well-known habit. With a scornful laugh, Mick put his toe in the stirrup and swung off the ground. Instantly Nikola with a snort plunged forward. Mick in a whirl of frightened emotion scrambled somehow on to the horse’s back losing his stirrup and reins, hanging on grimly to mane and saddle whilst his feet vainly fought for holds.

The wind howled past, Mick’s stomach felt a void but the boy fought down fear, secured the reins, got back into the saddle, found first one stirrup then the other and began sawing and hauling at Nikola’s mouth – it was as effectual as trying to haul a mountain from its roots – a river its bed strewn with great boulders flashed before – a waggon was entering it from the other side, Nikola tore on to destruction. Kicking his feet from the stirrups Mick with a short quick prayer slid over the horse’s side – a hoof missed his head by an inch and half stunned, badly bruised Mick to his intense indignation saw Nikola check his wild career, turn down the river bank and begin grazing.

Hans Mackenzie the head groom was as black as the ace of spades but Hans Mackenzie proudly boasted that he was of Highland blood whose father had been a soldier in the Black Watch regiment. This was probably true. When the original Dutch and French settlers spread over the Western Province of Cape Colony they took the womenfolk of the Hottentots as handmaidens and from British Occupation until the present day soldiers, sailors, visitors passing through the Cape have found the Cape Coloured girl a damsel who does not regard virtue as a jewel of price.

So for two hundred years half-castes, quadroons, octoroons and those with just a taste of the tar brush have married or lived together, their daughters following in their mothers’ paths and having children whose fathers were soldiers of the garrison or sailors of the fleet, hardened old shellbacks or Messrs, anyone from anywhere.

Hans had never seen his father, his mother herself had only seen him once, but that meeting had not only resulted in Hans but had left an endearing memory of pride in the mother’s heart that she should have found favour in the sight of so glorious son of Mars.

“Ach Hansie dear Child” she would say “Your father was a beautiful man – big Ach! He was big and with his hair as red as his Queen’s coat – Drunk Hans! Never have I seen him so drunk and strong a man – He came to me in a cab and threw a sailor out of my father’s house and kicked my brother and took me. It took four policemen to take him away – Oh Hans he was a nice man.”

Hans inherited his father’s tastes. He was strong and wiry and women and wine were his gods. All through life, the two had brought him trouble. From boyhood, poor Hans was kicked, cuffed, and flogged by burly Dutch farmers or unsympathetically treated by policemen and impatient magistrates. It was Hans’ proud boast that he spent at least a few days in every goal in the Province. Cape Town, Paarl, Stellenbosch, French Hoek, Wellington and Worcester knew him, even Malmesbury had been honoured by his presence.

As a groom Hans was perfect – he loved his animals, his stables, and harness when not sleeping with one of the Coloured maids or a fellow workman’s wife Hans slept with the horses.

The Van Der Walt’s soon after Mick’s arrival engaged a new housemaid, a dainty piece of goods the colour of burnished bronze. Hans saw her and fell. He made advances but to his utter amazement found the damsel adamant.

She was a respectable Coloured girl and could only consider marriage. “And I will not have a Coloured minister,” she said, “it would be just the same as no wedding.”

Hans gave way and approached Mathew regarding a loan, his assistance in procuring a clergyman and borrowing the wine cellar for the ceremony.

This is only the beginning of a story of love and betrayal…

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 23 Farming and Romancing

End of 22nd Entry: A large plate of maize meal porridge, a couple of freshly laid eggs and heavy meal of course brown bread put Mick on excellent terms with himself.

Breakfast over Van Zijl and the boy harnessing a pair of sturdy ponies to a light single poled cart drove off on a tour of inspection.

Half an hour’s drive brought them to a pumping station where Mick was introduced to a hard-featured Australian named Wallace who was in charge of a suction gas plant which pumped a large stream from a broad river up to an irrigation furrow. Half an hour was spent in explaining the working of the engine to Mick and then Van Zijl re-entering the cart drove into his lands.

Some four hundred acres lay under irrigation furrow of which a hundred were under cultivation. He explained that the Government was contemplating a scheme whereby a large canal would bring over two thousand acres of his lands under irrigation – “I took over this farm as a debt a year ago valuing it at fifteen shillings per acre – it is worth £2 per acre today and if the canal is built may be valued at £200 per acre in a couple of years time” he said. “I am willing however to give your Dad an option at forty shillings per acre over 700 acres or to rent them to him for two years at £40 per month. I will be advancing the implements and superintending the working of it until you are capable of doing it yourself.”

Mick thanked Van Zijl profusely and promised to write to Mr Osmond that night – inwardly he thought “Well Mick you won’t be staying anyway – perhaps Dad will let me go to sea.”

At one of the lands Van Zijl stopped at a plough pulled by sixteen oxen. “Now Mick if a farmer wants to show his employees how to do a job he must know how to do it himself. I don’t believe in false pride – to master a job a man must start from the very beginning. I want you to take the leader’s place on that plough for a few days, then lead mules, once you know a leader’s job I’ll put you on holding the plough and then to driving. Meanwhile you’ll learn to milk, handle animals and implements after which you will be able to take an intelligent interest in farming.

Three weeks of hard solid work followed. From dawn until breakfast time Mick worked in the stable, byre and dairy – after breakfast fetched the oxen or mules or held the plough or handled the long bamboo whip with its twenty-five foot lash. At midday his lunch was sent to him – a bottle of separated milk or cold coffee, cold meat and badly cooked bread – then after an hours spell back to plough, harrow or waggon. Just before sunset the animals were freed and walking back to the homestead Mick once again took up the farmyard routine until long after dark. A hasty sluice and a poor meal followed with an hours devotion ending the day.

Mick cursed with all the fluency gained by much mixing with hardened sailormen – unbosomed himself to Wallace with whom he had struck up a firm friendship.

“I like the work – I don’t mind leading and I love holding the plough or handling the whip – I want to learn to ride, drive, milk and the rest of it, but I hate Van Zijl he’s just a creeping — and his wife’s a bitch.”

The Australian laughed – “You’re right Sonny – that’s the worst of these lawyer blokes and book farmers – everything is theory and not practice – an ordinary boss is bad enough but a lawyer one is a bastard. I’ve worked on sheep runs, cattle stations, copra schooners and been in the army and I never struck a boss that hadn’t something wrong with him. Still if you’re lucky you’ll be a boss yourself one day and then your employees will curse you – it’s always a comfort thinking that.”

Mick found little opportunity for riding – once or twice Van Zijl took him out and Mick to his delight managed to sit the stallion which having been a pet from birth proved easily manageable.

A long course of twisting about and hanging onto ships rigging and mountain precipice had given young Mick all the nimbleness of a monkey and being entirely without nerves riding came easily and naturally to him.

Relations between Mrs Van Zijl and Mick became more and more strained – Mick complained openly about the food especially the quality of the bread – Mr Osmond wrote stating that he neither was nor ever would be likely to assist Mick financially and the Van Zijls began to look sourly at him.

Miss Van Zijl, a sixteen year old school girl, came to the farm for her holidays – like most South African country girls she was a robust pretty damsel full of rich blood – fresh from a boarding school and longing to play with boys. Susie immediately began to make eyes at Mick – Mick’s Celtic blood flamed and on several occasions Mrs Van Zijl’s eyes looked suspiciously at a flushed daughter who in answer to her calling had appeared with some excuse for her absence. Mrs Van Zijl watched, Mrs Van Zijl laid traps but Mick was a wily bird and Susie was experienced. Mrs Van Zijl felt, knew that her daughter and Mick were enjoying a little boy and girl romance but poor Mrs Van Zijl could gather no proof.