Rhodesian Mining Law and a Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s the Baird,” said Eric grimly.

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

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“The Baird Eric?” she gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has he stopped looking for the reef Eunice?”

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

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

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

The old miner looked troubled.

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

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

“You wouldn’t lose” grated Baird.

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

“Had two fellows out this morning.”

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

Bair snorted “Have you the money?”

“Can raise it – is it a deal?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mr Baird”

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

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

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

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

Baird held out his hand.

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Copy of the original in Bernard’s handwriting

 

 

Extra Lateral Rights

I am watching a video with a Year 10 class called Storm Surfers in it one of the big wave surfers comments on how finding never-before-surfed breaks is like prospecting for gold. 

A glance at a fissure in a cliff or even a wall – following it from the top it will probably run down more or less vertically. It may be almost a straight line – it may be only a surface split – may go halfway down or right through to the bottom. Gold reefs are the fissure veins.

The dip here is heading ever downward.

David Baird owned a gold mine in Southern Rhodesia – he also owned an eighteen-year-old daughter a fact which filled Eric Ferguson on the adjoining mine with all sorts of longings quite unconnected with gold mining.

Eunice Baird liked Eric which was not very surprising for he was tall and broad-shouldered, had blue eyes and was in his early thirties all factors which to lonely young females make an excellent base around which to weave romance.

Eric shaved every evening and bathed with the aid of a bucket – neither of which acts are looked upon as essentials by all men who live far away from civilisation. Eric also never wore a white tie with a dinner jacket though why he or anyone else wanted a dinner jacket at all frankly puzzled Eunice’s father.

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Mr Baird was also tall and broad-shouldered and had blue eyes but he was not in his early thirties. David Baird was in his early seventies and not the sort of man who needed a pension though he usually needed a shave and quite often a bath.

But though Mr Baird did not consider razors or baths to be essential in his life he did believe that life without the Baird Reef and Miss Baird would be a very miserable existence.

Mr Baird did not believe that the Almighty had been good to him with regard to either his mine or his daughter. He took all the credit for himself. As proof that God had nothing to do with giving him the Baird Reef, he pointed to the adjoining claims where Eric Ferguson and his father before him had worked for twenty years on a 9-inch reef.

He David Baird had worked for old Ferguson and studying the formation evolved a theory. In his spare time, Mr Baird had worked on his theory which was that the Mascot reef of Ferguson’s was only a minor fissure near a major one.

This theory resulted from studying the formation in which the Mascot reef lay. Much of the rock walls of the vein contained gold and numerous threads of rich ore ran into it. After long study of the surrounding country, Mr Baird pegged next to Mr Ferguson, dug many long cuttings and found a four-foot reef full of gold just outside his late employer’s boundary. So while old Ferguson and later his son ran a little stamp battery which yielded a living Mr Baird ran a ten-stamp mill which yielded a nett profit of £2000 per month.

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When nearing sixty Mr Baird married the daughter of a bankrupt Irish gentleman who had committed suicide – he thought farming was an easy way of making money and found it wasn’t. Mr Baird bought the farm together with a stock of solid old furniture and a good range of implements. He also erected a handsome granite cross over the resting place of Eunice’s grandparents for her grandmother had died of heartbreak – an example followed soon after Eunice’s birth by Mrs Baird. A Scottish nephew was called in to make the farm pay (and he succeeded). Mr Baird was anxious to keep both farm and mine in his family.

Mr Baird decided to marry Eunice to his nephew Colin but Colin wanted to marry a Bonnie Highland lass in the land of his Father’s. Eunice, though she liked Colin liked Eric more. However, all realised that what David Baird liked was that everybody connected with him would have to like as well.

John van Niekerk, a miner, scratched his head and gazed worriedly at a pile of broken rock next to his feet. Mr Baird on his hands and knees worked frantically with a tiny prospectors pick in the pool of light given by a red candle held by a half-naked black man.

“Don’t stand looking the hyphen fool you are van Niekerk” bellowed Mr Baird looking up to see whether his assistant had found a solution of a puzzle which was causing the aged blood to chill.

“She’s run dead into blue granite,” said the miner with conviction in his tone “That’s why she’s been pinching the last week.”

Blue granite (Credit: MS International)

Blue granite (Credit: MS International)

Mr Baird spat and resting from his labours filled an old black pipe and lit it.

“You cursed fool” he growled – “the Baird’s a true fissure vein it’s only an intrusion of granite that’s pushed the reef over – maybe cut it clean. We’ll find her in place below or maybe the fissure is diverted. We’ll pick her up again John – Don’t you think so Man?”

“Maybe Mr Baird maybe you’re right – there’s always strange things happening in mining.”

The old mine owner glared savagely through the candlelight “You bloody fool” he shouted, “there’s nothing strange about underground earth movement – don’t you know enough ’bout mining to know that when two rock formations are up against one another it’s only reasonable for there to be all kinds of breaks in the contact with the newer rock dovetailing into the rotting older formation.”

“That’s so Mr Baird! That’s so, but even fissures come to an end and when a reef runs into granite…”

His employer rose gripping his pick menacingly “See here van Niekerk the man that says that the Baird’s pinched in the granite will get his neck twisted. Got me?”

“Yes, Mr Baird.”

Alright! Shove on a double shift – sink and keep on sinking, also drive into the walls – the granite mebbe fifty foot thick mebbe ten – she may have pushed in a couple of hundred feet and mebbe only twenty – we’ll pick up the Baird if it costs me every damned farthing I’ve got.”

But as van Niekerk remarked, “Strange things happen in mining.”

Supposing one dark night you or I armed with a lantern walked along the edge of a cliff two thousand feet deep. If we came on a small crack and climbing into it tried to trace it to the very bottom of the cliff our chances of success would be small. A ledge might run across it and yet quite possibly the crack might continue below but then again it mightn’t.

The intrusive bar may have caused our crack to narrow almost to nothing but it could possibly have found a way around the obstruction or be behind it. Quite likely, however, the crack ends for good.

Mr Baird was in the position of such searches. He believed the fissure which contained his gold to be under the bar. But there was no proof to encourage Mr Baird’s optimism. For four hundred feet from the surface of the earth, a hole showed how nicely Mr Baird’s gold reef had behaved – on two sides of the hole a dull white streak stained with oxidised metals showed what a very nice reef Mr Baird possessed.

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Along the roof of many tunnels, the same milky band proved that the reef was a four-foot wide wedge which was like a white wedge that went into a solid mass of grey stone.

What Mr Baird disliked was the thought that all the wedge had been taken out of the material. For years he had broken the milky wedge out bit by bit working from its top until now it seemed suspicious there being none of it taken out – that a molten stream had forced through the middle of the wedge and cooled, melting away only a little of the middle. Perhaps it had broken the wedge and pushed the bottom half deeply into the material.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

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

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 2

The Mining Commissioner spoke truly. Three cheery gentlemen asked, expressed opinions that confirmed the Commissioner views evidently looking upon Morag’s expedition as a glorious joke. All agreed that even if the claims were discovered they would require a large expenditure in development work to justify a modern company looking at them.

“I tell you what Miss MacDonald,” said one whose voice proclaimed him a fellow countryman “If you trust yourself with me I’ll run you out and look at the country – where the claims supposed to be Mr Anderson?”

Sending for some files the Commissioner studied them a while then turned to a large scale map. “Here’s Taba Mhlope a solitary hill about fifteen miles from the main railway line. It’s on the edge of the granite and the claims are somewhere about it slopes or adjoining them.”

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“Is there a road to the hill?” asked the mining man. “Sure to be Mr MacGregor it’s on a big ranch.”

“Fine then Miss MacDonald if you like I’d run you out tomorrow. Better give her a couple of licences Mr Anderson. It’ll be quite in order won’t it?”

“Oh Lord, yes Miss MacDonald as heir to Mac’s estate and intending to remain in Rhodesia can I have all the licences she wants – you are twenty-one I hope Miss MacDonald and intend to remain in Rhodesia?”

“I’m twenty-two Mr Anderson and as regards Rhodesia, I honestly don’t believe I could leave it.” Spoken like a man Miss MacDonald” laughed Mr MacGregor well if you’ll pay Mr Anderson £2 you’ll become a full fully-fledged prospector entitled to hunt for minerals and oils in any part of Rhodesia. Complying with a few formalities Morag was given two licences each entitling her to peg ten mining claims.

Example of a mining licence

“Come along Anderson let’s adjourn to drink the new prospector’s health,” called MacGregor’s seizing the protesting official and leading the way to a large but battered car.

Early next morning Morag sitting beside Mr MacGregor drank in the freshness of a Rhodesian dawn as she listened to tales of the ups and downs of prospecting and mining.

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“You’re on an absolute wild goose chase Miss MacDonald,” she was told “if your Uncle had left any definite information and you had a couple of thousands to risk in a mining venture it would be an exciting experience looking for and perhaps finding and developing a lost reef. Mind you if it looked good I myself would mind helping you and Anderson is a valuable friend that way, but I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

“Oh well,” laughed Morag “I’ve come out to a happy friendly country where apparently jobs that easy to get and everyone is nice.

McGregor granted “I’m not wishing to belittle Rhodesia its folk but mind you when Joe Maxwell owner of the Try-Me-Again brings a bonnie lassie into the Mining Commissioner that gentleman is wishful to be friendly to the girl apart from whether she’s pretty or a newcomer. An old fool like Duncan MacGregor again would perhaps like to do the Commissioner a favour even if by doing so he risked his reputation for canniness and propriety.”

Gurgling the girl shook her head “Confess Mr MacGregor that it’s my Hielen tongue that’s won you to your deed of kindness.”

“Which is no kindness but a very great pleasure Miss MacDonald but this’ll be where we turn off – I’ll be asking the road to Taba Mhlope.”

Enquiry at the combined trading store and bar which courageously a notice board claiming that it was also an hotel showed they were on the right road. Some eighty miles from Bulawayo. 

“Take that road to the right Mister said the Storekeeper “It’ll bring you to The Shamrock Ranching Company’s Main Camp. They’ll put you on the road to Taba Mhlope from there.”

Half an hours spin brought the car into the wilderness of heavily bushed hills and great stretches of park-like country.

“Oh but this is the sort of country I always thought Africa was like” cried Morag “Oh but its beautiful.”

“Aye, one sees the wrong side of Africa from the train Miss MacDonald – you see the railway follows a high and narrow watershed. Twenty miles either side and one is in a different country altogether. We’re in good prospecting country now – see there’re quite a number of abandoned mining properties about.

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