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

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.”

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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….

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.

 

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 37 Walking The Belt

End of 36th Entry: No-one had appeared to have bothered about washing face or hands and to Mick, the whole crowd looked the toughest set of hard men he had ever seen, or read of.

Little time, however, was given for him looking about – the waiters seemed possessed by demonical energy and hardly had he given his order when his wants were supplied. As the waiter put the food before Mick he asked what shift the lad was on and what he wanted.

Stopping the work of mastication Mick asked what the other meant and found that mine shifts were 6am to 3pm, 3pm to 11pm, 11pm to 6am. Breakfast was from 6am to 9am. Lunch noon to 3pm, dinner 6pm to 9pm, so that except when on the second night shift one of the three meals would be missed and in its place the mine provided a can of tea, coffee or cocoa and a parcel of sandwiches.

Asking the way to the excavator Mick was directed to a line of immense iron tanks – on either side of these ran a single line of rail on wooden platforms high above the ground. Over one of the tanks stood an engine puffing vigorously and on asking for Roberts he was directed to the engine. Here he found a worried looking man cursing fluently at the engine driver who retorted in kind. Seeing Mick the two looked round.

“What the Hell do you want?” asked the worried man.

“Please, Sir I want Mr. Roberts.”

“I’m Roberts – no bloody Sirs or Masters here there ain’t.”

“I’m Osmond, told to report to you for work,” answered Mick.

The worried man flung his hands to Heaven and blasphemed freely.

“A kid in a choker collar and pretty suit, a man five feet four high and five feet round the guts, thirty years in a Haberdasher’s shop whatever the Hell that is – a Dutchman six foot seven inches high that’s a bloody telegraph pole, two half-starved rats from gaol and one tank ahead of the Battery with only two men beside the trash heap.”

Turning to Mick he told him to come along and dashed off.

The engine driver winked at the lad who grinning scrambled after the worried man to a little office where Mick was implored to throw away his collar and tie, discard his coat and waistcoat, sign his name and the time in a large book, and come along.

At another little room, Mick was issued with a four-gallon tin of grease by Roberts, led back to the tanks and shown a wide belt revolving rapidly under the tanks.

“The Excavator’s got four beams each with a score of big iron discs,” said Roberts “after the cyanide solution has drained away from the tanks the excavator comes along and ploughs the slimes throwing them to the centre of the tank. The stuff drops down a hole on to this endless belt which carries it to the headgear over the dump – the headgear is 120ft high and damned slippery. Your job is to walk the length of the belt to the top of the distributor and keep the grease pots full – there are two thousand of them and God help you if I come along and hear a squeak – I’ll chuck you over the side, I bloody well will. Now you know your job – get on like Hell. Just a moment – this is all new-fangled machinery which nobody understands and the damned excavator is always choking – if you hear the engine whistling run along and give a hand to free the discs, Savvy! Away with you then.”

A fortnight passed. Mick found the work hard but not monotonous for as the shift boss had prophesied the excavator discs were continuously clogging and the scratch gang hastily engaged to work on the new plant were continually being rushed into a tank where with picks and shovels they laboured furiously under the lash of the shift boss’s tongue until the wet sticky masses of slime were picked and dug from between the discs.

Ferguson the Irish engine driver was no man to waste time and at Robert’s shout of “All Clear” would instantly put the engine in action the long beams would slowly move and the numerous discs revolve giving little time for the working gang to scramble on top of the moving beams and from thence climb out of the tank.

It needed no little agility and there were some hairbreadth escapes from a horrible mangled death but Mick could not restrain his delight at the telegraph pole Dutchman and the stout Haberdasher, desperately leaping for the beams and from them despairing attempts to spring to the tank edge to haul themselves to safety. Both Ferguson and Roberts delighted in the agonies of mind and the queer contortions of the ill-matched pair and were never so happy as when one or other missed disaster by the very skin of his teeth.

However, the shift soon became accustomed to the work – the Haberdasher’s corporation diminished daily and the hop-pole seemed to broaden and thicken. Mick’s only complaint was about his sleeping quarters. He had been given a beautiful little room with electric light and a fireplace but otherwise as bare as when the builders quilted it. With a thin raincoat, sweat-soaked garments, no blankets and not even a towel it was pretty miserable after work.

Mick hadn’t a penny – his suitcase contained only spare shirt and socks and nights were bitterly cold. Tired as he would be after a shift of hard manual work – and in his first week he put in 35 hours overtime – it was impossible to sleep on the cold hard boards with nothing under or over him. The nights were inexpressively long and when the hooter went for a change of shifts Mick felt more dead than alive.

He had started at the beginning of the month and somehow the thought of applying for an advance never crossed his mind. He was too proud to confess his misery to his companions or superiors and doggedly tried to fight out the month planning in anticipation what he would do with the money he would draw at the end. Blankets, working clothing, towels, soap – Jove he would have ten pounds with all the overtime.

But Mick was young and impulsive and his companions except for Ferguson were wasters. Knowing that any stoppage of the excavating process would hold up the Battery with its nine tube mills and hundreds of stamps, the shift persuaded Mick to head a deputation to ask for an increase of pay – gallantly Mick interviewed the much-harassed Cyanide Manager – received a clout which made his ear ring, and whilst he saw his mates disappearing back to work, he himself was led to the office received what money was due to him and with some seven pounds sorrowfully wended his way from the mine.

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As he took his way towards Johannesburg the boy felt as though a landslide with himself as the principal figure in it had taken place. The life had suited him well, Ferguson, the engine driver and Roberts the shift boss had both treated him kindly and he had been taken from greasing to help Ferguson.

There were developments proceeding daily on the Reduction Works and Roberts had assured the lad that any day he might be able to snap up a position worth having – another fortnight and his troubles would have been over for his cheque would have been sufficient to clothe and equip him fairly well.

Bitterly the lad cursed his easy-going nature and lack of caution. He had had no complaints, he was well satisfied. Why oh, why had he let himself be a tool in the hands of a rotten crowd of shirkers?

£11.5 per month almost doubled by overtime and one of the first men to be employed on a modern type of plant certain to be introduced on every mine on the Rand. What a damned fool he was.

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 36 Advice From A Stranger

End of 35th Entry: The third day Mick decided that however bad his own plight might be he could not retain any self-respect by remaining with his friends. Knowing that they would scornfully repudiate any idea of his presence adding anything to their expenses or making any difference, he told them that a friend of his father had invited him out to his place and hoped to find him a job.

So on the fourth morning, Mick once again ventured forth. Night came and the youth now entirely desperate flung himself down in a little pinewood and sobbed his heart out.

In four days he had had one meal a day and that mostly a scanty one – he had interviewed a hundred men without receiving one word of encouragement or hope.

As he lay on the fragrant pine needles a boot kicked him in the ribs and turning over Mick saw a ruffianly individual regarding him.

“What’s the matter Sonny?” asked the tramp Mick explained and the man laughed.

“Just starting to find life ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Come spit out your whole history kid and let Uncle think what’s best to be done.”

The man’s voice was kindly and accustomed to fish and mountain folk as Mick was, he saw nothing to alarm him in a rough exterior. Mick was young but he numbered some tough acquaintances in his circle of friendship and he knew that nobody was likely to hurt him if there was nothing to be gained by it.

So the boy explained the circumstances which had brought him there giving the impression that he was a farmer’s son – the father had been ruined by the drought and in consequence, Mick had been thrown on the world to make or break.

After relating his experiences in seeking employment the boy heard a sarcastic balancing of his mental abilities. The Tramp wanted to know why he hadn’t gone from one business house to the other seeking employment – Buttons, errand boy, office boy, junior assistant, stable boy or anything else.

“With your build and weight and being from a farm the Racing stables would have jumped at you – going to the business firms you’d have had a choice of a hundred jobs – and you damn little fool, you go hunting round on gold mines where there isn’t a hope for a kid. What the hell use would you be on a mine? The Batteries, all the Reduction Works are run by learner labour but the learners are all College youths who have matriculated – the only non-Varsity men are miners and tradesmen and they employ Blacks to do the rough work. If you want to go mining get a job in town so that you can live, then get to know miners and mine tradesmen, and when through one of them you hear of a decent thing, go to it.”

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“Well I guess you’re pretty peckish and so am I – came out of goal this morning – six months hard for battery and assault – anyway I’ll go down and get some food and we can doss down here – you needn’t be frightened kid I won’t hurt you.”

Mick assured his new friend that fear had not entered his mind and promised to remain where he was until the ex-convict returned.

As darkness fell Mick lay under the trees wrapped in an overcoat he had luckily bought and gazed at the flaring headlights of a score of the world’s greatest gold mines – all around shone thousands of lamps and lights and the night seemed alive with the thunder of stamps crushing the rich gold ore and the volleying crashes of trucks emptying their loads of refuse rock or delivering gold-bearing quartz to the tube mills and stamp batteries.

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Hungry and overtired the lad found the feverish activity around him soothing and lulling so that when laden with eatables the man returned he found a boy curled up fast asleep. Waking him the man laughingly invited his young guest to a supper of cold roast fowl, thick slices of brown bread heavily buttered, with a can of hot sugary tea to wash down the feast. A cigarette completed Mick’s satisfaction with the evening’s entertainment.

Next morning on his companion’s advice Mick set out for one of the great racing establishments but on his way passed through City Deep Mine – more out of devilment than anything else he paused at the Reduction Works and asked a man who appeared to be one of the bosses whether there was a job going.

“7/6 a shift on the Excavator, start right away.” snapped the man who happened to be the Cyanide Manager.

“Done” quoth Mick eagerly.

“You look half starved, had any food?” asked the manager rather less abruptly.

Mick gulped – “Not since last night, Sir.”

The man scribbled a note on a leaf of his pocketbook, “Run down to the office with this – give them your particulars and you can get over to the boarding room and wade in – the office will give you a room if you want one and fix you for meals. Report at the Excavator to Roberts the shift boss and get started as soon as you can – if you have any pals I can take on half a dozen men for surface work. Righto Son.”

Dismissed Mick once again an eager boy brimful of happiness skipped off to the office.

Here a document was read to him. He was engaged as a Reduction worker at 7/6 per shift. He would be provided with a room at 10/- per month, board at £6. 2/6 per month would be deducted towards Reading and Recreation room and 15/- towards the medical and Burial fund. In the event of death, he would receive a £15 funeral. Overtime would be at a rate of time and a quarter – eight hours notice on either side could terminate the agreement.

Overjoyed Mick signed the contract and being provided with a note to the mess caterer ran over to the mine boarding room.

Here he found a score of long tables piled with great platters of bread, hot scones, buns, and cakes – dishes of butter and jars of half a dozen jams were scattered over the board where scores of men were eating as he had never seen men eat before. As he paused a waiter came to him, took his note and showed him a vacant place handing him a menu which appeared to contain the names of every dish Mick had ever heard of.

Giving an order for bacon and eggs he turned to look around. The seats were only half filled but their occupants were well worth looking at. Every race seemed represented, every man appeared ravenous and all were uninformed in blue copper rivetted dungaree trousers, heavy boots and dark blue and white striped boiler shirts – many were black with oil and grease, others white and yellow with dust and mud. No-one had appeared to have bothered about washing face or hands and to Mick, the whole crowd looked the toughest set of hard men he had ever seen, or read of.

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 35 Off To The Mines

Far in the distance hung a black pall over the earth Mick seated on the balcony between two railway carriages gazed at it with a sinking heart and turned the half-crown in his trouser’s pocket.

Under the pall lay the wonderful Rand, with Johannesburg, the City of Gold and Michael Osmond, fully determined that never again would the call of the farm stir any chord in his being except disgust, had invested what money he had in a Third Class ticket from Carnarvon to Johannesburg.

The drought had hit Mick’s employer hard nor had Mick proved what he wanted – a young fellow willing and anxious to take over from Kruger with whom he had long been dissatisfied though being his brother-in-law it was not easy to find an excuse to dispense with him.

Mick determined to face anything rather than confess failure decided to try mining and so into the North he went.

Mr. Osmond received a long heartbroken letter telling him that for the fourth time Mick had failed – that he now realised what a sinner and waster he had always been but that he would no longer be a burden or a worry. He had chosen his path and until he emerged successful the family would never see or hear of him.

On the train, the conductor coming round called Mick’s name and on his answering gave him a telegram which in a few curt words directed Mick to call on a Mr. McLeod at the government offices and ended with love from Dad.

Gulping down a rising flow of emotion Mick put the telegram in his pocket and gave himself up to musings on the wonderful comradeship which had always existed between his parents and self.

Mick had two girl chums in Johannesburg – sisters one of whom was married to a mining surveyor. These two girls were of a family of nine who in Mick’s childhood had lived next door to his parents. In after years one of the St Julian boys and Mick had met as fellow students and the acquaintanceship of early days had been renewed.

For years the St Julian family had divided the affections of the boy between his home and theirs. They lived six miles away in the Cape Town Gardens suburb but evening after evening Mick had cheerfully tramped over the Lion’s Hill or round its slopes to visit them.

He had the girl’s address and when at last the train drew into the station of one of Johannesburg’s mining suburbs Mick alighting invested his half-crown in cab fare to the home of his friends.

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As luck had it they were at home and a hearty welcome was accorded the youth by Marie the married girl, Muriel her sister and O’Donovan, Marie’s husband.

Now the St Julian’s were a most Bohemian family. The father a titled descendent of one of the greatest houses of France had come out to Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century and had met and married the daughter of a famous Highland family.

From this union came six beautiful talented girls and three boys. Marguerite the eldest had clandestinely married her music master, Marie eloped with a college student. Aileen after a desperate battle with her parents had married a young Civil Servant. The three unmarried girls had been greatly sought after but by some queer twist of Fate’s strings, every girl of the family received her choice of eligible suitors and eventually married the youth whose present and future prospects were negligible.

The old Cape Town house as Mick remembered it had always swarmed with College students. Many of the girls’ old lovers were already holding important mining, agricultural and legal positions and in coming to Johannesburg Mick had felt that one of the erstwhile mining students would be only too pleased to give him a billet.

The first evening at O’Donovan’s he found a rude awakening was his. O’Donovan himself had no permanent billet and was eking out a bare hand to mouth existence. Their most influential friends were mostly married and their wives had seen to it that the husbands played no further part in the St Julian’s lives. One or two who yet remained bachelors bore grudges over disappointed affections and in short little was to be hoped for from any of them.

Though the O’Donovans themselves had scarcely the wherewithal to buy food and pay the rent and were burdened with Muriel’s presence as well, yet they laughingly told Mick not to worry.

There was no bed to offer him but he could camp down with O’Donovan with what coverings they could scape together. What there was of food he was welcome to his share of and something would surely turn up.

At dawn the next morning Mick set off in quest of employment. From one mine to another he tramped interviewing Mine Managers, Mine Captains, Cyanide Managers, Battery Managers – always to meet the same answer to his queries.

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“Sorry Son, if you were a fitter or a tradesman of any description I could fix you up – try the offices in Jo’burg they might take you on as an underground learner.”

After spending the whole day in visiting a dozen properties Mick returned to the O’Donovans, sorely disappointed, ravenously hungry and weary to the bone.

Next day he tried the town offices – alas no learner accepted who hadn’t matriculated – another round of fruitless visits and then once more back to his friends.

The third day Mick decided that however bad his own plight might be he could not retain any self-respect by remaining with his friends. Knowing that they would scornfully repudiate any idea of his presence adding anything to their expenses or making any difference, he told them that a friend of his fathers had invited him out to his place and hoped to find him a job.