Skullduggery

Morag Mac Donald and Reginald Lumsden find an experienced prospector. 

True to his promise Le Roux brought Coralie’s adopted father Bill Higgins to the hotel the next morning.

A week’s careful supervision and the combined efforts of Coralie, Le Roux, a barber and an outfitter had succeeded in making the old prospector a presentable figure. Tall and gaunt, his impression on Morag was that of a typical pioneer. The broad-brimmed pinched in Stetson hat, the mahogany tanned hands, face and neck, the white combed beard and hair conveyed an atmosphere of the picturesque past which filled the girl with sympathy and romantic friendliness.

Bill Higgins was neither rogue nor actor. Too old for employment, too accustomed to the life of prospecting camps to accustom himself to a town environment he had sunk into disreputable old drunkard but throughout his chequered life he’d done the same whenever a lucky venture had given him funds for a spell in town.

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Old as he was Bill reckoned a few months back in the bush would set him up again and Le Roux had told him here was his chance and one might find him a mine over which he’d dreamed for many years.

Le Roux beyond, telling the prospector that the girl was a niece of his old partner and the youth of a friend of hers interested in the venture of seeking MacDonald’s mine, had not thought it necessary to prompt Higgins. Le Roux did not believe in his tools knowing too much.

“Let the old devil think I’ll find the money to open up the mine if it’s found” he chuckled to himself “and let the two innocents think they’ve found a real honest Old Timer to help them find it.”

Knowing the girl’s nature exceedingly well Le Roux shook his head when Morag lunching with him at the Grand informed him that she and Reg had decided to engage Old Higgins as their prospector and that the three were leaving the day after next.

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“He’s far too old and cranky to suit you Morag” Le Roux objected, “besides when she hears of it Mollie O’Connor will believe her worst suspicions confirmed. She’s a tongue and a good deal of influence has Mrs O’Connor and I certainly don’t want rumours spread about my deliberately setting a dastardly trap to catch two youngsters from the old country. Leaving out myself there’s Coralie to be considered. In a little one-horse town like this, a young girl dependant on secretarial work for a living can’t afford an influential lady telling people she’s a minx and worse.”

“How perfectly ridiculous” retorted Morag indignantly “Mollie isn’t like that at all. She doesn’t like you or Coralie I know and she has some strange ideas about your knowing all about the mine but Mollie O’Connor wouldn’t do a dirty action or say an unkind word about anybody. She’s spoken to Reg and I because she thinks it’s her duty to, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t believe it possible of poisoning other people about you or Coralie. Mollie O’Connor has been like a mother to Reg and I and Mr Le Roux! I couldn’t be a friend of anyone who insulted her.”

Le Roux’s teeth caught and gnawed his lower lip with vexation. It wasn’t often he made mistakes with girls he reflected but he’d certainly put his head in a hornet’s nest this time.

Too old a campaigner to show his annoyance Le Roux felt for his …

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

HOUSEWIVES BE PROFESSIONAL by Margaret MacIntyre

(Published in The Star newspaper, Johannesburg)

Housewives be Professional

Census and other Government documents classify women who are managing homes as housewives. The status of housewifery is clearly defined. It is a professional occupation and as such demands the business methods of any commercial concern.

No business can be managed successfully without systematically kept books. A housewife unable to tell how much her servants cost her, what proportion of income is spent on her husband, children or self is hardly likely getting full value for her money.

Household expenditure can be grouped under six headings: housing, food, clothing, running costs, insurance and recreation. It is very simple to keep a ledger divided into these allocations and to enter from a daybook the various charges on income.

Housing would include fuel, light, water, rent and sanitary charges. If one owns the home a fair and reasonable interest on invested capital together with 10% depreciation would be allocated to this Heading.

Food charges would naturally be confined to ordinary household requirements anything bought for visitors or any special luxuries being charged to Recreation. To be quite fair extra purchases might be split into charges against Food, Recreation, and Running Costs in cases where entertainment is necessary or a part of a family routine. Even then it would be preferable to open an Entertainment account.

A reasonable proportion of expenses for a family of five – husband, wife and three children would be Housing 25% of Income, Food 25%, Clothing 10%, Running Expenses under which heading comes; Domestics, soap, polish, candles and such 10%. Recreation which includes entertaining, alcohol, tobacco 10%. Thus the remaining 20% would be allocated to Insurance – that is Children’s education, Savings and Investments, doctors, dentists, travelling fares and maternity.

Dad, Mike, Molle farm with guns

Business houses rely on their regular customers. They are quite prepared to give concessions to housekeepers who put business propositions before them. A wise housewife, therefore, would interview the managers of establishments she intended dealing with and come to a definite arrangement regarding discounts and credit terms. If able to give an approximate idea of her monthly spending, the firms she is dealing with will probably be able to quote her special terms.

When a Daybook is kept and the items entered are regularly transferred to the allocation ledger a housekeeper knows exactly where her income is going. At anytime a few minutes addition and a few calculations will prove whether an essential amount is being spent on a particular group. Also at the end of the month, it is very easy to allocate the amounts to be paid to creditors.

Margaret MacIntyre

Mrs Leffler (Margaret MacIntyre)
Valley Farm
P.O.Brooklyn
Pretoria
Circa 1933

HUSBAND MANAGEMENT

Published in Outspan circa the 1930s
Nothing is more essential to a successful married life than proper husband management. Husbands cannot manage themselves. If they try either the brute becomes uppermost or the conflict between spiritualism and animalism plays battledore and shuttlecock with a man’s emotions.
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Battledore and Shuttlecock Fireplace or wall tile by John Sadler, Liverpool, 1757-1761. Probably the most intriguing aspect of the game was that it was a cooperative sport with the players trying to see how long they could keep the shuttlecock in the air. It did not pit the player against player, a rather refreshing concept in the 21C. The game was usually played by children, families, and young adults during the 18C.
A wife’s part in guiding hubby’s reluctant steps down the straight and narrow path of holy wedded life is that of the sergeant major of a company of soldiers towards his company commander. She must hold every thread of their official lives but the handling of them must be directed by her lord and master albeit that the influencing is hers.
Man loathes dictation from a woman. In his ordinary life, he serves a multitude of bosses so in his home he longs to assert his manhood. Generally speaking, husbands are quite good fellows. They are men and like their kind detest hunting for trouble but their consciences demand that on meeting it they should stand up to it.
Women have never had and never will have rights beyond those given her by her man. There is nothing to prevent his taking away all he has given so surely it is up to women to show their appreciation of his generosity.
The best method is to manage man properly. Let the wheels of the home organisation run smoothly, keep the children out of Daddy’s way when he appears irritable, produce them immediately when he wants to know why they are avoiding father and push them out when they tire him. Feed the brute and be affectionate towards him but never look for anything but criticism of your attempts to organize or keep house. Good cooks and housekeepers are plentiful and cheap. Man realizes that.
Wives be to your husbands as they were to you when lovers. Remember that arguments between man and woman are futile and that husbands appreciate your appreciation of their political, economic and general wisdom. They may often want you as a toy or as an attractive property but more often than you generally realise as a mate and good companion. Something of the mother and something of the pal never the critic.
Men are not altogether fools. Do try and follow the workings of a man’s brain and meet it sympathetically. Advance intelligent and balanced arguments to meet his and please advance them in a timbred voice. When his weight is thrown against your reasoning, retire – gracefully. Study your husband as he, in turn, is forced to study those he works amongst and accommodate yourself to him as he to them.
Above all never and under no circumstances go off to sleep with differences unreconciled or as the victor in a war of words.
Husband.
B.M. Leffler
Valley Farm
P.O.Brooklyn
Pretoria
Written 193os

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.

Mick Osmond’s story continues

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!”

The Mine of Mac of the Hills

Morag McDonald curled up beside the ancient sea chest read again the faded writing on a yellowed sheet found amongst her mother’s treasures.

Post Office
Bankwe
3rd November 1896

Dear Sheelagh,
                           A Mining Company has offered me £5000 for a twelve-month option on the reef I wrote you about. Urquhart, their engineer knows me well and was very satisfied on his visit which resulted in the Company offer. I am however doubtful for I’m certain that a good partner who has a small stamp battery would be a better proposition. A quartz reef four feet wide going 30dwts gold to the tonne is worth a lot more than a few thousand pounds.
                         I’ve my mind on a likely partner but he’s scared of coming out as the Matabele are rather threatening just now and there’s talk of a rising. Hoping a few mails hence will bring you gladsome tidings.

Your affectionate brother,
Donald

Laying down the letter the girl picked up another also faded but good stout paper headed from one of the British South Africa Company’s Administrative offices.

Salisbury
March 10th 1897

Dear Madam,
                           I regret to inform you that no further information regarding Mr Donald MacDonald, Prospector, is available other than that his name is amongst those of outlying whites who are posted as missing. It is my painful duty to inform you that no hopes can be entertained of his still being alive.
As regards your query re Mr MacDonalds’ mining claims we find that two blocks of ten claims each are registered in his name.
Enquiries confirm your statement that these claims were inspected by the Bubi Mining Company‘s engineer and that the Company offered to take them on a £5000 option. Investigations have been made but we possess only the vaguest information regarding the location of Mr MacDonald’s claims and so far the search has proved fruitless.
We will bear in mind your letter and communicate immediately if any information reaches us.

I am Madam,
Your Obedient Servant, 
John Smith.  Secretary

“Thirty-four years ago,” murmured Morag, “Father wrote several times but neither Donald’s mine or anything of him has ever been found. Now I’m alone and four hundred pounds to use as feathers for my wings. What’s the use of staying here? There’s nobody I’d like to marry and I’m sick of typing in Glasgow. If Amy Johnson can fly the Atlantic alone what’s to stop a strong healthy Hebridean lass travelling comfortably to Rhodesia to look for an Uncle’s grave and his mine.”

Image result for amy johnsonAmy Johnson

Morag MacDonald was Celtic whose vivid imagination worked as impulsively as any in her cousin’s race of Erin. Born and bred in Uist two years of typing in a Glasgow Shipping office had filled her with a distaste for the crofting life of her people. I’m Hielan through and through, as Hebridean as the Tangle she would laughingly declare “but I’d rather be singing “The Road to the Islesthan taking it, except for a holiday.”

A month ago her father had been lost at sea in a fishing boat, yesterday her mother had been bedded within the stone-walled enclosure over which the storms drove the Atlantic spray; her four brothers lay in bloodstained tartan under the poppies of Loos and Longueval. “Uncle Alan can have the Croft for the hundred pounds he offered and Father MacEachern will give me letters to the priests and nuns of Rhodesia” murmured Morag closing the chest. She went into the living room where waited, her Aunt and Cousin.

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Father MacEachern as Morag had thought offered no opposition to her plans. An ex-Army Chaplain and an ex-Missionary the old priest had travelled widely about the world, a Gael who knew and understood his race the Father shrugged his shoulders when Morag’s tale was told, took snuff voluminously and patting her head told her to be of good cheer and comfort.

“There’re are aye Hielan folk wherever one goes in the world girleen and there’s always a Catholic Church.  You’re a good looking less but your head’s not an empty one. I’ve brought you up in the knowledge of right and wrong and whilst you remember that you’re Catholic and McDonald no harm will come to you. When will you be faring forth Morag?”

“Within the month, Father, I hope! Uncle Alan and I will be going to Inverness the day after tomorrow and as soon as the business of transferring the croft and settling the estate is over I will book my passage.”

“And I will be coming up to London to find Rhodesian people to talk over the country with you and help as far as an old wanderer can.” said the priest violently blowing his nose as after shaking hands he watched the slim figure face the boisterous Atlantic Wind.

So, well furnished with letters of introduction to Hebrideans and Catholic priests scattered about Africa, well-stocked chests and suitcases of goods and gear recommended by members of the Rhodesian High Commissioner staff Morag McDonald waved a cheerful farewell from the second class deck of a Union Castle liner as the tugs drew her from the Southampton Wharf.

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Morag was wholly unused to mixing with strangers a feeling that she was free to do as she liked. Her life in Glasgow had been lived with cousins whose interest was centred on their parish church and the Clan gatherings in the Highland Institute. Men had played no part whatever in her 22 years of life but Morag was quite aware that she was attractive and rich red blood flowed strongly through her veins.

Father MacEachern had seen to it that her cabin mate was one of her own Faith a Rhodesian lady of Irish extraction but Mrs O’Connor was a cheery happy-go-lucky lady still young and possessing a number of friends aboard.

She and Morag took to one another at sight. “Heaven be praised, Miss MacDonald! When Father O’Reilly asked me to look after a young Scottish girl I thought my good nature was going to land me with some uninteresting kid who’d spoil my whole voyage. You and I are going to be friends, however. Let’s wander around and see what sort of men we’ve shipped.”

A tour of the vessel proved quite satisfactory to the Rhodesian. “Three excellent bridge partners at least, Colonel Devereaux to look after our chairs and cushions, several charming boys for you to play with – and they’ll all be very nice to me or I’ll shoo them away from the bonnie wee lassie. Quite satisfactory Morag, my dear. Now let’s go and see what frocks you possess.”

Mrs O’Connor shook her head over Morag’s wardrobe – “Looks as though you let the nuns choose it, Old Dear!” she laughed “Fortunately what you have is good and I’m excellent with the needle beside possessing a few spare frocks we could alter. Jane and no-nonsense about her has a thin time these days Morag.”

Liking her new friend, feeling her judgement to be trusted and full of feminine desire to be at her best Morag made no demur to her companion’s advice and devoutly thanked her patron saint that so good at friend had come her way. Morag possessed a slim well-rounded figure, beautiful brown eyes, a mass of silky black hair, a perfect skin and firm white teeth. 

Dressed by Mrs O’Connor and finished off by the Liner’s barber, the girl proved as irresistible to the menfolk aboard as honey to bees.

Three weeks of games, dances, whist drives, and concerts, Morag ever laughing and merry, the pet of all aboard. The honour of taking tea on the Captain’s Bridge, the fun of the sitting betwixt two grinning tars helping to paint the ship, her violin and voice much in request at concerts, and her pick of partners at dances. “Heavens Mrs O’Connor just think if I’d stayed on the croft or gone back to the office.” cried Morag.

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The other laughed “It’s good fun, isn’t it? But the party’s soon over and cake gives place to bread and butter. Another fortnight and we’ll all be in harness scattered over the length and breadth of Africa. What are actually your plans, Morag, all I know of you is that you’re travelling to Bulawayo in connection with an Uncle’s mining property? They’ve shoals of MacDonalds in Rhodesia especially Bulawayo and as I don’t know many of the mining people I haven’t questioned you – this shows what an unfeminine woman I am. My husband’s ranching as you know and I’ve begged you to come to us for as long as you like. Where do you intend staying?” 

Morag laughed “You’ll think me entirely daft, Mollie, but here are the facts. I’ve four hundred pounds and one of my uncles was a pioneer who found a rich gold mine. He was killed in a rebellion amongst the natives but neither the mine nor his body was ever found. I’ve come to look for them.”

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A corner in the Laager in Bulawayo during the 1896 Rebellion. (Central African Archives)

Mollie O’Connor held up her hands. “Morag you foolish little devil buy a hundred tickets in our Unity Club and the Dublin Sweepstakes, put the rest of your money in the bank and come and live with me till I’ve found you a husband.  Rhodesia’s full of lost prospectors’ bones and gold mines and if one does find a mine one’s troubles have only begun. The country’s full of topping youngsters who’ll look on you with more favour than on any mine that’s ever been found and you’d make a bonnie Rhodesian.”

Many thanks, Mollie. I’d love to spend a few weeks with you if I might, but I’ve a queer feeling that instinct or my Uncle’s spirit will lead me to the Ben na Conn claims.”

“More likely into losing your money and getting a typist job, you goose.” announced Mrs O’Connor “anyway I’ll look after you.” 

As Mollie O’Connor said the party was nearing its end. A few more days and Morag watched a looming mass of white cloud and grey rock showing through the dawn. Table Mountain with its flanking peaks towering over the ancient Tavern of the Seas warning the happy crowd of ships’ friends that the time of parting had come.

A wonderful week at the Cape with Mollie, “you couldn’t afford to miss it, Morag.” declared her friend “I’ll wire Pat that I am unavoidably detained to look after a friend.” So a party of merry Rhodesians surfed in the long lines of smashing waves amongst the thousands of bathers at Muizenberg, climbed the dizzy heights of Table Mountain and travelled restfully down in the wonderful aerial railway; yachted in Table Bay, explored quaint Dutch Villages hidden in mountain glens amidst a wealth of oak and vine and fruit blossom; flirted, laughed and sang.

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Then ‘Bundle and Go’ on the bagpipes cried. Mollie and faces turned Northwards as she and Morag watched hills and orchards flit past the thundering mail, looked down the giddy depths of the Hex River Valley and stared wonderingly out at the wastes of the Great Karroo.

“What’s come over you, Morag?” asked Mrs O’Connor. The Highland girl shook her head “I’ll be alright soon” she whispered “but och the country is waesome and unfriendly. Nothing but graves and stones and ports and bigness. I’m seeing kilts waving, the bayonets flashing in the hills, the pipers sounding on the march and at the onset and I’m hearing nothing but Lochaber No More and Mo Dachaidh being played over poor torn bundles of tartan. Thanks be, my brothers sleep in the flowers and kindly soil of France but there’s plenty of my kin lying in the ground we’re passing.”

Mollie swallowed hard “I’d one brother – Away Morag what matters where a soldier lays his bones or a Rhodesia either. The veld is kindlier than a town cemetery.  Let’s wander into the Dining Saloon. Kimberley of the Diamonds, then grass and trees taking the place of a desolate waste of stones, hills and tiny bushes. Bechuanaland with the country growing forestlike and every halt filled with interest as the swarming hoards of scantily dressed natives strove to find customers for their toys and skins and fruit.

“Seven o’clock tomorrow, Morag and the fun’s over” laughed Mrs O’Connor. 

But at Seven next morning, Morag felt that the fun had only begun. Pat O’Connor was a denizen of the new world into which she was entering and he, large sun-blackened and picturesque in Double Terai hat, shorts and khaki shirt seemed a fitting person to introduce her into it. Laughingly Pat waved aside his wife’s suggestion of the Majestic “What’s wrong with the old Criterion, Molly? I’ve got a room there as usual and Malcolm will fix up Miss MacDonald – here’s the porter he’ll see to your gear.”

Morag liked the atmosphere of O’Connor’s choice of hotels and after a steaming bath and change set down to make an excellent breakfast with half a dozen Rhodesian men who seemed to her like masquerading schoolboys. The O’Connors were undoubtedly popular and well known. Men came from all parts of the dining room to shake hands with and tease Mrs O’Connor, brought chairs, cups of tea and plates of food to further crowd their corner, argued over cattle, mines and contracts.

Puzzled and amused the Hebridean girl listened to the gay chatter wondering how on earth so queer a collection could be found. Some seemed rich and others poor, some were owners and others workers, some employers, some employed yet all used one another’s Christian names, ignored if they possessed, any social differences and treated each other and apparently life in general as one huge joke.

“Take Miss MacDonald up to the Mining Commissioner, Joe,” called Mollie when breakfast was at last finished “She’s come out to look for a lost mine found by one of the pioneers.”

“Gosh,” said a burly individual in shirtsleeves and khaki trousers “Is Miss MacDonald one of our crowd? I’ll sell you as bonnie a mine lassie as anyone can wish for the £6000 pounds I’ve put into it.”

“And taken £2000 out.” laughed a short, unshaven tough looking specimen.

“Now Miss MacDonald I’ve…”

“No, he hasn’t – come on Miss MacDonald.” following her guide whom Morag took to be a workman, the girl was amazed to find him provided with a big expensive car amongst whose luxury fittings were tossed picks, shovels and two cases one marked gelignite and the other White Horse Whiskey.

“Push the cases out of the road Jock” ordered the burly one called Joe – the short unshaven man obeyed.

“Climb in next to me Miss McDonald, Jock can cuddle the dynamite or the whiskey – we’ve all the world’s curses in the car, Miss MacDonald.” 

“What are they, Mr… Mr…?”

Maxwell commonly called Joe answered the other “a pretty girl, a case of whiskey, one of dynamite and a bar of gold worth £2000” and he kicked at a plain wooden box – “lift it, Miss MacDonald.”

As Maxwell started the car Morag tried to lift the little box

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “It’s lead.”

“Hope the Bank doesn’t think so.” Roared the others, “It’s my month’s output of gold.” Awed Morag gazed at the box.

“Oh, I hope I find my Uncle’s Mine” she cried as the car stopped a little way above the hotel.

“Well here’s where you’ll be a regular caller then Miss MacDonald – come and be introduced to the Mining Commissioner.

Morag introduced to a quiet and courteous gentleman thought of Mrs O’Connor’s hint. Her story told, the Mining Commissioner proceeded to end the fun.

“The story of Mr MacDonald and the Ben Na Conn claims is a well-known one Miss MacDonald.” said the Commissioner “A score of prospectors have hunted over the supposed locality of the claims. We know that property well and that the claims must lie within a certain small area. Both geological formation and areas in which men still living were working, limit the locality to an area which has been industriously combed. Neither threats nor promises of reward have extracted any information from natives in and about the area. It’s heavily timbered country, badly broken by erosion and through geological causes. One might hunt for years and never find the reef for quite likely there were native lands in its vicinity and the natives ploughed or hoed over the claims concealing all signs of them ever having been worked. If you take my advice, Miss MacDonald, you’ll have a trip to the Falls and the Matoppos, take a run to Zimbabwe and  Umtali then either accept a billet or return to Scotland. If you’ll keep in touch with me I think I can safely promise you a fairly decent office post. In the meantime, if you’d care to meet my wife I’m sure she’d be delighted to call on you. May I bring in one or two experienced mining men who will undoubtedly confirm my opinion?”

The Mining Commissioner spoke truly. The three cheery gentlemen asked, expressed opinions that confirmed the Commissioners….