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.

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 27 Breaking in a Mule circa 1906

At the end of Entry 26 Mick was learning how to pluck an ostrich: Once plucked, quilled or branded the thong was loosened behind, the bird pulled back out of the pen and the pillowcase hauled off. A dazed look around the ostrich hurried back to his companions and another took his place.

Today Mick Osmond learns more about mules than he expected.

The Van Der Walts did a large amount of mule breeding in addition to their other activities. Now a mule is the product of a donkey stallion mated with a horse mare. The offspring resulting from the mating of ass and horse are not capable of reproducing. The mule is therefore born with a grudge against whoever was responsible for bringing it into this world of sorrow. It knows Nature had no hand in it and from the day it is able to work, it seems that Man was the cause.

Soon realising that it can never enjoy the pleasures of parentage, that only WORK spelled with capital letters is its destiny the mule feels aggrieved. Realisation soon comes that a whiplash stings, but all through life the mule feels a grudge and if given but half the opportunity uses its teeth or heels in trying to wipe out a portion of the compound interest on its debt to man.

So breaking in mules, especially the wonderful type bred in the Western Province of the Cape of Good Hope, is not a suitable pastime for any but rough hairy men possessed of iron muscles and powerful frames. Mick’s ambition was to take his full share – he had reveled again and again in Henty’s “Redskin and Cowboy, “In the Heart of the Rockies” and a score of such like books and with his sea and mountain training didn’t see why he shouldn’t fall naturally into the work.

Unfortunately for the youth, Mathew Van Der Walt considered Mr. Osmond a very important person and Mick, as the eldest son of his father, to be of some value to the world. So after Mick had been kicked senseless, trodden on, savaged and been a dozen times only saved from an untimely death by the almost miraculous interposing of Providence Mathew ruled that Mick was too young and too light to be allowed to join in catching, holding, harnessing of mules and young horses.

However, there were many compensations. The method used by the Van Der Walts in breaking in mules and horses were extremely simple. A score of animals was driven into a stone walled yard, where with much cursing and yelling, the mob of plunging kicking brutes were closely packed into a corner. Here with wonderful skill and at imminent risk halters were got on a dozen heads and the rearing frightened animals secured to older more experienced brethren.

Somehow or other the linked animals were hauled out of the crush and harness got on them. With half a dozen laughing, jeering Cape Coloureds hanging on to the rawhide halter thong the mules were dragged to a wagon and in-spanned. Each wagon was drawn by a team of sixteen, usually two horses as leaders and fourteen mules behind them.

With a team of perhaps two old wheelers, two fast well-trained leaders, probably eight half or partially broken in mules, and four wild broncos, a drive was as thrilling as any made by Buffalo Bill’s famous Deadwood coach.

Usually, Peter handled the long-handled bamboo whip whose lash could reach all the length of the team, Mick soon trusted would hold the four reins – the two from the wheelers and the long one from the near leader gathered in his left hand, the one from the off leader in his right.

The last struggling fighting mule in-spanned Peter would send the lash swishing through the air a dozen men hanging like madmen to the heads of half a dozen rearing mules would let go and the heavy wagon would go flying down the road with all the noise and dust of a battery of Royal Horse Artillery going into action.

The pace at first would be tremendous but the grades were steep, the wagon solid and heavy, the mules fat from soft living in the lucerne fields –  soon the novices weary of the frantic gallop especially as their more experienced mates strove to hinder them – the pace would slacken – but an unkind lash stung rapidly and hardly. Away the youngsters tore dragging their load and companions but soft muscles soon tired the whip spared not until four saddened humbled mules began to realise that discretion was less painful than valour.

A load of three tons besides the weight of wagon and harness, a stinging whip-lash and six hours of hauling would bring much chastened, already half trained young mules home too tired to object to being led to a stable and fastened up. A few days and the youngsters were taking their part in helping to train the others.

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The horses were Mick’s greatest joy – Luba and Wanda two purebred three-year-old Hackneys were his chief affection and Mick joined poor old Hans MacKenzie, the black groom in a fit of weeping when Mathew sold the pair for £100 cash. Golddust another mare – half Irish thoroughbred, half Hackney purebred was another favourite and great was Mick’s indignation when the dainty alluring mare was in-spanned into a team before a heavy plough – 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.

Tomorrow:“But of all the horses, Mick hated Nikola.”

If anyone reading this knows where Struan early 1900s is please email me: patleffler7@gmail.com

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 24 Homesick

The end of 23rd Entry: 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.

One morning a neighbour – a poor man – came rushing over, a child was down with diphtheria – could Mr Van Zijl get a doctor – it was a matter of hours as to whether the child lived or died.

“Inspan the two best horses and drive like hell for the doctor Mick” called Mr Van Zijl as he grasped the situation. Helped by Mr Van Zijl and the distressed father Mick took but a couple of minutes in getting two young mares harnessed and in the cart – jumping in the youth cracked his whip, the two fresh horses sprang forward, raced around the corner of the stables and the flying cart took the bend one wheel high in the air.

Down the rough farm road tore the horses Mick standing in the cart urging them on with the crack of whip and voice though little well-bred animals needed encouragement.

In imagination, Mick was a charioteer of the ancient Celtic tribes dashing through Erin with the news of the Romans landing in Britain. As he peopled his mind with pictures, tribesmen dashing out of villages to watch this mad course, or clearing from the roadway before galloping hoofs of his horses he sang and yelled to the frowning hills and the pitiless blue sky.

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Soon, however, realisation came that he had fifteen miles to go with a child’s life hanging on his journey and that it wasn’t much use knocking up his horses in the first two, so ceasing his noise Mick began to try and quieten the animals, no easy task but at last successful.

Now the first burst of excitement over Mick drove carefully but speedily watching his horses he nursed them on the upgrades, let them out on the down ways, kept a steady swinging trot along the level and then as far in the distance he saw the Dutch Church Spire once more he began to drive madly forward.

At last covered with foam, staggering with exhaustion the horses drew up at the doctor’s door. Fortunately, he was at home and on the situation being explained immediately gave orders for his cart to be inspanned and hastily began to make preparations for his journey.

Driving slowly up the village hotel Mick took the exhausted horses out, unharnessed them and sent the pair for a walk and roll. Once cooled the boy rubbed their legs down with brandy gave them hot bran mash and then thankfully strolled over to Mrs Scott and her daughter.

Warmly Mick spent a pleasant day and evening slept at the hotel and early next morning returned to the farm to find his errand had been unavailing the child having died shortly before the doctor’s arrival.

A week later Mick was ill – for three days he lay in bed with a bad throat and racking head – the attention he received was nil – food was brought in at meal times but the lad’s very being revolted at fat pork, greasy potatoes and sweetened pumpkin. Visions of a loving mother and the best of all his pals, his Dad – thoughts of custards, jellies – a little chicken broth, books to read, friends to listen to – Oh but the lad was homesick.

Accused of malingering Mick staggered back to work – later returned to his room to find a greatly treasure crucifix on the floor was broken, his kit thrown everywhere – in came Mr Van Zijl raging – Mrs Van Zijl had in her motherly fashion come to tidy the room – by accident a portion of an open letter from Mick to his father had photographed itself on her brain – a paragraph vividly describing the food, the manners, the personalities of Mr and Mrs Van Zijl. Van Zijl white with rage discoursed at length and in detail reviewing Mick’s past, present and prophesying his future – he raised a cruel looking sjambok/whip.

Mick with a sailor’s agility leapt out of the window and took the main road to Struan. Five miles on he halted at a friendly farmer who disliked Van Zijl. To an amused Dutchman of the grand old school and to a bevvy of giggling maidens Mick related his experiences.

A week later returning from a fishing expedition, Mick’s father handed him a letter.

Mr Van Zijl “wished to assure Mr Osmond of his unabated friendship and respect, but at the same time felt it his duty to inform Mr Osmond that his son was an unmitigated liar, was absolutely useless on a farm, was impudent, untrustworthy and wicked. On his own confession, he was in the habit of consorting with Roman Catholics, fishermen and other characters certain to lead even a good boy astray.

Mr Van Zijl understood that Mick in his sixteen years of life had tried the tempers of and been given up as hopeless by the masters of no less than seven schools. In the month Mick had been with him he fully sympathised with the masters and mistresses of the seven schools.”

Mick snorted – “He lies! The swine! He lies!”

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From Boatshed to Battlefields 21 Employed

End of 20th Entry: “…… here’s Mr Van Zijl’s place.”

Entering an attorney’s office the boys were shown into an inner room where a tall grey haired gentleman rising shook hands with them and told them to take chairs.

A few questions to Mick elicited the facts that he was strong, healthy and could speak a little Dutch, couldn’t ride, knew nothing about farming, and failed twice his matriculation and had just left in the middle of his third attempt. However he was willing to work at anything.

“All right Osmond call round at four this afternoon, and we’ll go out to the farm. I can’t pay you anything until you are useful to me, but you will get your board and lodging, and as I’m starting on a virgin piece of country you’ll have a golden opportunity of learning farming.”

Emerging from the lawyers office Zack suggested calling on one or two English residents. Zacharias De Wet was the youngest brother of three of the wealthiest Ostrich farmers in the district and he and Mick had been schoolmates. Zach, with a Dutchman’s honest pride in his home place, was intent on showing the city youth that Straun small as it was possessed inhabitants of culture besides the native worthies. Leading the way the young Boer first led his chum to the rectory where he introduced him to a kindly Anglican parson who greeted both boys warmly; then to a charming little house to proudly make Mick known to a tall sweet faced English lady and two pretty, merry looking girls.

Leaving Mick with his countryfolk the Boer sauntered off to call on relatives, Mick accepting a kindly invitation to lunch settled down to entertain the ladies. Time passed quickly until three o’clock when with many thanks for a most enjoyable time Mick departed to get his luggage together and bid farewell to Zach’s people. Punctually at four Mr Van Zijl drove up in a Cape cart, loading on his kit Mick climbed in and with waving hat made his adieux to the De Wets.

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For two hours the cart drove amongst hills and glens whilst Van Zijl drew his young pupil out or answered an endless stream of questions.

“I have sold my practice and am giving up the law for farming.” He said. “I knew your father very well – what South African lawyer doesn’t? And am very glad to have a son of his with me – its a hard life farming Mick but it makes men strong and healthy. Mrs Van Zijl will look after you and if you like the life perhaps your Dad might like to buy a portion of the farm for you.”

Mick grinned as he thought of any proposal to Mr Osmond regarding the buying of land. A Civil Servant even though a departmental head was not usually in a position to invest ready cash in farming, and in his case there were three sisters and two brothers in the family. Besides themselves, were relatives who had to be helped – Irish families are usually large and his grandmother’s people were of exceptionally prolific stock – Blood they had in plenty, titled cousins and distinguished ones – but Money – No – that was the only thing in the world they hadn’t got.

But a Celt will never confess himself to be but an ordinary average man – few but have distant kin who have been lost somewhere in Australia, Africa or America – there is always the chance that one having amassed a fortune had thought of Terence who was named after him or Norah who married Patrick or that back in Ireland itself estates or wealth had by the miracle of fate fallen to a younger branch.

So Mick began to question his employer, conveying a strong impression that Mr Osmond was keenly interested in the question of buying Mick a farm, and that there was money a plenty waiting if only Mick well treated and happy took a liking to the life.

Shortly after sunset the farm was reached where the two were welcomed by a large stout lady of fair complexion.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 20 Facing his Future

 

End of 19th Entry: A tiny crowd of people drawn by curiosity or the desire to buy fresh fish gathered round and proudly Mick sprang ashore noting with glee the envious looks of half a dozen school companions.

A people of Puritan upbringing to whose ancestors and themselves life had been a simple old world existance was suddenly swamped by rivers of gold. What could they do with it? None had any wants they knew of – their homes filled with solid ancient furniture were comfortable enough, land they possessed in plenty – the lure of the cities were absent.

So the contented Boer went on much as he and his people had always done – more children went to schools and remained longer there – his ponies and horses of cape breeding were sold to less favoured districts and the best bloodstock imported from Ireland and England. Thoroughbreds were mated to Hackneys and Oom Piet and his sons rode behind pairs of horses for which fabulous sums were paid – and when the satin coated mares and geldings had nothing better to do, Oom Piet or Johannes his son in-spanned them as leaders to the spans of mules in plough or waggon.

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Oom Willem thought nothing of paying £200 per acre for ground his father had sold at half a crown – Oom Jannie bought a double floss Ostrich cock for a £1000 and thought it cheap, yet smoked tobacco at a shilling a pound and wore evil smelling corduroys at forty shillings a pair. The golden harvest added nothing to their comfort, little to their lives – land went up to miraculous values, ostriches, horses and merino rams fetched what prices their owners wished to ask – every inch of land that could be bought under irrigation was covered with lucerne – the farms were stocked to their utmost limit with ostriches, horses and sheep and the worthy old Boers looked from their wide stoeps (verandahs) and were content.

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From one of the houses two lads stepped out into the main street and strolled along looking at the people and horses.

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“We’d better go and call on Mr Van Zyl first Mickey” remarked the younger boy a heavily built Dutchman, “He will probably want you to go out to the farm this afternoon.”

Mick sighed – “Righto” he answered, “Man Zack! I’m darn sorry I didn’t clear off to sea though. I simply couldn’t break up my Dad and his Mates, but I’m not keen on blooming farming. Still I’ll give it a try and I’m darn grateful to you for getting Van Zyl to take me on. I couldn’t stick school any longer.”

The Dutchman with a serious air turned to his companion “Man Mick you must work and keep your mouth closed at Van Zyl’s – you English are too – what do you call it? Flighty, ja! You yourself are over sixteen and have been trying a lot of schools but you never work at what you don’t like. In English, in History, in Geography you are always first but Maths and other things don’t appeal and so you simply leave them. Nearly three years in the matric form! Man its a disgrace. Now if you would have worked hard for a few months you could easily pass your matriculation and with your father’s influence would in a few years be a rich lawyer – Man Mick you’re a fool. Nobody ever did well mixing with fishermen and mountain people and reading all kinds of books and going to Roman Catholic Churches. The Good Lord won’t like that Mick! He has given us the Bible to read and Protestant Churches to go to and He doesn’t want us to be friends with low coloured fishermen and flower sellers.”

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Mick laughed – “Lord you people are narrow minded – Jesus Christ didn’t mind going amongst the fishermen.”

Zack cried out in horror – “God, Mick! Don’t talk like that or the Good Lord will strike you dead.”

“No! He won’t – I don’t know if there is a God but if there is He isn’t goint to be taken in by a pompous well fed swine who is getting paid to preach two sermans a week and go about looking holy and better than other people. Anyway God doesn’t strike people dead – when my people moved I found an old money box belonging to a mission and I got about three pounds out of it, and spent it on canvas for my canoe and fishing tackle. I didn’t get struck dead or drowned or fall down the mountain. God had lots of chances to kill me but He didn’t.” His son was a pal of fishermen and I bet He reckoned it was more sensible buying lines and getting a boat in order than spending it on spoiling blacks.” Zack pondered on the subject – I don’t believe in missions to Africans” he said “God would forgive you taking that money because Missions only make thieves and cheeky blacks, but here’s Mr Van Zyl’s place.”

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 14 The Wanderlust

End of 13th Entry: Together with mountaineering, I took up cycling and on foot of bike searched the long wonderful coastline of the Cape Peninsula. The fairyland of Constantia…..

Mickey Osmond the son of a well known South African family had ample excuse for living in a world of dreams – in his veins ran some of the oldest blood of Ireland mixed with a strain of Holland and a dash of that of Sweden. Of his mixed ancestry, all seemed to have contributed something of the wanderlust and the love of strange company to him.

From earliest childhood, the boy had been reared on stories and in an atmosphere of sailing ships and wars. Africa was still in the making – Britain and Boer were at one another’s throats in the North – The Union of South Africa existed only in a few dreamers minds of Natal and Cape Colony were self-governing Colonies of Britain. The Transvaal and the Orange Free State Independent Republics at war with England.

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Table Bay lay crowded with shipping – a day before the youngster had counted a hundred and sixty vessels, steam and sail lying in the roadstead and out beyond the breakwater. Cape Town was filled with troops from all dependencies of the English Crown. It was indeed a goodly time for a boy to be born and bred – the closing scenes of the Old World.

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Away in the North lay a vast unexplored world where a few pioneers were hacking out the road for civilization – marvelous stories of the findings of ancient cities of a vanished race – gold discoveries which made the recent Klondyke strikes fade into insignificance – of innumerable herds of elephant and great races of savage warriors.

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Only three years before the youngster had witnessed a parade of troops returned from the smashing of the Matabele armies – it was the Queen of England’s birthday and on the square, regiments of soldiers in their red tunics and dark trousers, their white helmets spiked with brass, marched past that great man the Queen’s Governor of the Cape Colony. Squadrons of mounted troops in blue tunics and slouch felt hats wheeled and trotted into their places.

The Battle of Majuba hill - Anglo Boer War in South Africa

The Battle of Majuba Hill
Anglo Boer War in South Africa

Field Artillery rumbled past and as the “Feu de Joie” was fired great masses of smoke split by red flame rolled from the martinis and cannon. Since had been another native rebellion and gruesome stories of officers boiling the head of an executed chief to keep the skull as a regimental trophy – then had come the Boer War which was still raging and all the world appeared to be flocking into “The Old Tavern of the Seas.”

 

And tomorrow the story continues:

“Glancing at the crew the boy felt a thrill as he sensed how close reality was to fiction…”