Morag MacDonald goes prospecting

End of the previous post: Rory barking ferociously sprang at the horse and whistling him Morag darted forward. “Morag by all that’s Holy” shouted the dust-covered rider “Down Rory/Ruairí (the Gaelic spelling is also used in the original) Down! or you’ll have me off, Whoa! Ginger Whoa!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mick Osmond’s story continues

This links to The Mine of Mac of the Hills with some changes.

When Le Roux called next morning at The Criterion, he found to his disgust that Mrs O’Connor had left early on a sightseeing trip with Morag and Reginald (MacGregor).

“It was made up on the spur of the moment,” explained Mr O’Connor from the warm comfort of his bed. “Jock Anderson (the mining commissioner) was thinking maybe Miss McDonald would like to see a gold mine and my wife thought an extra day or two in town would not be hurting myself or the ranch.”

“They’ll be back tonight then?” inquired Le Roux trying to conceal his vexation. “Tomorrow more likely. We’re catching the 6 p.m. and there’s nothing to interest Mrs O’Connor in Bulawayo. Trot away Gerald it’s grieved I am at your missing them but it’ll be more vexed I’d be if I myself was to lose the chance of sleeping past the sun.”

Realising there was nothing to be done Le Roux left mentally cursing Mrs O’Connor and all friends of hers. But whilst Le Roux liverish at the unaccustomed hour of rising was consigning her to perdition Mrs O’Connor was at peace with all things.

The early spring splashed the veld with masses of colour, the morning air crisp and fresh filled her with the joy of homecoming, best of all her protégées happy and brimful of laughter were safe under her wing speeding to what the experienced Anderson had assured her would kill the mining nonsense forever.

“Great things cars are,” the mine owner remarked, “In the old days we’d have spent from a fortnight to a month on a trip we’ll do comfortably in two days now.” And to Morag’s delight, he began to reel off tale after tale of pioneering days.

“No roads, no bridges and no shops – living by the rifle in a country of sullen unconquered foes, the veld one’s butcher shop, wild beasts and fever always threatening. But you’ll see quite a lot of the old life at the ranch yet, won’t they Mrs O’Connor?”

“I hear lions are pretty troublesome down young Mick Osmond’s way?”

“So Dennis was saying but it’s wild country all over the ranch. We’ve even elephants – no bathing either Morag for the rivers are swarming with crocs. You’ll have to be careful with Rory (Morag’s Highland Collie dog), crocodiles love dogs.”

“Reminds me,” said Anderson and again came the recital of frontier tales. Four hours sped by through open Savannah country.

“It’s mostly ranching land” the mine owner explained “rather uninteresting but we’re following the railway on a sort of Hogsback. This is the main watershed and a few miles either side the country begins to drop off into terraces then you’re in real Rhodesian scenery and the lower the altitude the more tropical the climate. We’ll soon turn off and you’ll see some wild looking country.”

“How did Uncle get his name Mac o’ the Hills?” asked Morag suddenly, “was it because he was so very Highland?”

Anderson grinned, “He was pretty wild and Woolly from what I remember, most of us were, but it was some theory about gold formation that really gave him the name. We all went more or less by nicknames such as Mickey the Goose, and the like.”

“Whereabouts is Taba Mhlope?” Mrs O’Connor broke in “Our company’s got a big ranch down here somewhere – in fact, Dennis thinks there’s a likelihood of our being shifted to it.”

“Oh, I do hope you are Mollie! Is their Ranch near where Uncle was prospecting Mr Anderson?” Morag cried excitedly.

“I’m not sure,” answered the mining man, “Taba Mhlope’s on some big ranch maybe it’s the Zambezi Pioneering Company’s. It’s years since I was down there and the country wasn’t taken up then. How about brekker Mrs O’Connor, dso we stop or eat as we go?”

“As we go, Jock I think, I’ve two thermos and bags of sandwiches.”

At last Anderson pulled up at the little Frontier station with its usual surroundings of trading stores, hotel and cattle loading ramp.

“Well here’s Mapeta where we branch off. Stretch your legs youngsters while I make enquiries about roads and Mrs O’Connor fills the thermos. “Care for a drink, Lumsden, the beer won’t hurt you.”

As the men disappeared into a native trading store housed in the same building signboards proclaimed as an hotel and bar, Morag alive with interest decided to give her a collie a run and utilise the opportunity to see something of the hamlet she presumed would be her headquarters.

Not even the glamour of frontier life could make Mapeta a place of desire. The centre for many big cattle ranchers and several mining enterprises what comprised Mapeta was mostly dust. A few doleful ragged eucalyptus trees heavily burdened with quantities of Mapeta’s outstanding product (the dust?) grew bravely round the stationmaster’s tiny garden, a tiny oasis in a pan of thick red powder.

An American windmill creaked and groaned for lubrication behind the crumbling bricks of what buildings weren’t of unpainted corrugated iron. Old tins that had once contained beef of other ranching countries, broken paraffin tins, disused jam tins lay scattered everywhere and starved dogs slunk curlike by or scratched for fleas. A few natives in what appeared the diseased rags of scarecrows looked with unemotional incurious eyes after the girl, pot-bellied naked picaninnies scurried to their mother’s rags.

Morag felt her spirits fail. Such desolation she had never believed could exist. Swiftly that curse of the Celtic race – the reaction to atmosphere descended like clammy mist swirling about her heart. Was it an omen of the future she wondered looking about for Rory who had gone in hot pursuit of a starving mongrel?

The clatter of galloping hooves and a wild chorus of barks in Rory’s voice dispelled the gloom. Down came a whirling torrent of dust, a horse shied violently across the road, a wild-looking man cursed freely as swinging his mount around he hauled it on its haunches. Rory barking ferociously sprang at the horse and whistling him Morag darted forward. “Morag by all that’s Holy” shouted the dust-covered rider “Down Rory! Down! or you’ll have me off, Whoa! Ginger Whoa!”

The Mine of Mac of the Hills

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

Post Office
Bankwe
3rd November 1896

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

Your affectionate brother,
Donald

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

Salisbury
March 10th 1897

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

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

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

Image result for amy johnsonAmy Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now Miss MacDonald I’ve…”

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

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

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

“What are they, Mr… Mr…?”

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

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

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “It’s lead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 65 Ginger Beer and Christmas 1914

End of 64th Entry: The Imperial Light Horse had suffered several casualties and were furious as they had driven the Rebels into a circle of Boer commandoes. Kemp was in a position which made resistance impossible but through treachery or foolishness on the part of a Commando he was allowed to escape with his whole force and join up with Maritz the renegade.

General Botha finding that neither the Rebels nor the Germans appeared desirous of meeting his forces withdrew all but a garrison and returned to Cape Town to prepare for an invasion of German South West Africa from its seaboard.

Louis Botha - Project Gutenberg eText 16462 - Louis Botha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Louis Botha

The troops left at Upington consisted of a number of Cape Colony district regiments – mostly, if not trained at all, the bulk of them, Rebels at heart and very poor war material.

One fairly good regiment stiffened by a squadron of men from the Diamond Diggings, most of them Boer War veterans together with a battery of the Cape Field Artillery – youngsters but keen and plucky as terriers – formed the only reliable force.

Diamond Mining in South Africa (Illustration) World History Ethics Disasters STEM

Diamond diggings

Had either of the two Rebel leaders possessed any qualities of leadership, had their followers shown any soldierlike spirit, if the German Command had displayed any initiative, Upington with its rich collection of military stores, remounts, transport, animals and material would have been a plum so ripe as to fall to the merest touch.

One battery of field guns, a few machine guns, a company of good regular troops with a soldier in command would have taken Kakamas, Upington and probably the Gordonia district with hardly any opposition for what had they to contend with?

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Pictured is Manie Maritz in Upington during 1914

One battery of boys armed with old-fashioned guns, one Squadron of Veteran soldiers, and a large rabble of half-hearted armed men their retreat cut off by a great river; yet no move was made by their enemy. Evidently poor as was the defence material the other side was poorer.

Yuletide came – a few days before Mick was detailed to take some waggons laden with Christmas comforts to troops garrisoning the village of Kakamas some sixty miles down the river, for some reason, Viljoen at the last moment substituted two recent arrivals in Mick’s place. These men were of a low Boer type whose looks, manners and personalities disgusted the other Conductors who regarded them with unconcealed suspicion.

A few days later came the news that the Convoy had been captured by the Rebels. Black looks were cast on Viljoen whilst open murmurs regarding his past, and whispers of his former association with Maritz ended his former popularity.

11Rebels

Since General Botha’s departure, the Transport men had been gradually falling from their old happy-go-lucky life full of good comradeship and keen rivalry in work, feats of physical endurance and horsemanship – the old concerts had been abandoned and laughter or banter was seldom heard in the mess. Several causes were contributory.

Viljoen seemed to have lost interest in his men, the Officer-in-Charge was detested but the greatest factor was undoubtedly the many temptations to amass money easily.

In Prieska and Draghoender there had been no opportunity of testing the honesty of the men except that whiskey was obtained more plentifully and easily than could be accounted for. At Upington, the Conductors found scores of tiny canvas shelters advertising the sale of ginger beer. These lay en route from the rail-end dump of military stores to the pont dump.

Mick and his companions were employed in transporting the contents of the one dump to the other – a journey of about two miles. Both the loading and the offloading was unchecked – nothing was signed for, nobody tallied what was taken or delivered. It was the simplest thing in the world to husk off a bag of sugar, a case of boots, boxes of jam or bags of flour as the waggons passed the canvas shelter of the Yiddish ginger beer merchants.

The civilians were making small fortunes from the troops but found it almost impossible to get goods transported from Prieska. Every necessity was therefore at famine prices so a golden harvest awaited men who could supply footwear, foodstuffs and luxuries.

Mick though not adverse to getting an occasional bottle of whiskey in exchange for a pair of boots or any stray article, was not a thief, and the wholesale robbery going on around sickened him and one or two others. Relations became strained as each man chose his own road and became suspicious of his neighbours.

The Hangman transferred to the Natal Light Horse and departed to the German South West Seaboard, the ex-attorney was discovered in his speculations – too many seniors were involved however and he was allowed to resign and take up a civilian billet.

Then came Christmas – a concert was held at the Transport Officer’s billet, whiskey flowing in unlimited quantities until eventually half a dozen very far from sober men started back to camp. On arrival they found scores of the Coloured drivers fighting drunk, having stolen a couple of kegs of cape Brandy which the Conductors had got for the celebration of Christmas.

Viljoen began knocking the drunk men about and one, a half Bushman, half Hottentot, flung himself on the Head Conductor, a drawn knife in his hand. Viljoen full of drink staggered caught his foot against a stone and fell heavily, the Bushman on top.

Mick dived into his waggon, grabbed a rifle and ran back to see the Bushman raise the knife. Without an instant’s hesitation, Mick whirled up the rifle and brought its butt crashing down missing the Bushman’s head and shattering his thigh.

Freeing himself from the unconscious body Viljoen rose and ordered the Bushman to be tied to a tree. All night Mick shuddered as scream after scream of agony mingled with curses and threats against himself rang through the night.

In the morning the Bushman was released and handed over to the medical authorities – he was very weak, his thigh swollen enormously but he bore no grudge telling Mick that he knew he hadn’t hurt him deliberately and that he had told the doctor a waggon had run over him.

South African motor ambulance, c1914
(Photo: By courtesy, SANDF Documentation Centre).

Shortly afterwards the Orange River came down in flood. When it came the mass of water arrived like a tidal wave.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 61 War, Whiskey, and Women

End of 60th Entry: Swimming his horse around the mob Mick regained the shore, lit his pipe and chattered with his mates until the drove was ready to once again gallop back to its camp.

Mick found no members of a Young Men’s Christian Association amongst his fellow conducters. 

The Head Conductor, Vijoen, a huge hard bitter man had been a secret service agent of the Old Transvaal Republic. The story had it that on the day Lord Roberts entered Johannesburg, Vijoen had shot two Australian officers whilst an Armistice was on. For this, he had been sentenced to death, to be later reprieved and banished from South Africa. He had gone to the Argentine which had eventually found him too desperate a character for even that tough country.

Returning to Africa Viljoen joined Colonel Maritz then a transport conductor in the Germans Service. The Germans were at war with the Hottentots and the rough conditions suited Viljoen to the ground. Some trouble arose between him and Maritz which resulted in Viljoen being fastened to a waggon wheel and mercilessly flogged. Forsaking the German Service Viljoen wandered into Bechuanaland where he traded and hunted until the Great War broke out.

Jan Kemp, unknown rebel, Manie Maritz at Keetmanshoop in “German West

Another was an ex-attorney who had been struck off the Rolls for some reason and had led a shadowy life ever since. A third was a racecourse man whose life was regarded with suspicion, and a fourth, Mick’s billet mate was a cab driver who, the story went added the post of Assistant Hangman to his more prosaic occupation.

By some means or other, the Transport men seemed to have an arrangement with a hotel proprietor by which whiskey was supplied free apparently without limit. Mick until then had rarely drunk except out of bravado but now he fell easily.

He liked the company. Rough and wild though they were, unsavoury characters perhaps in civilian life they might be, yet all were old campaigners of the Boer and Frontier Wars and made good companions in the present type of life. They fed well, handled natives and animals with uncanny skill, shirked nothing in the way of danger or work and lived entirely for the day.

Mick found he could drink glass for glass with the others, work unafraid with them amidst a chaotic mass of wild frightened animals, handle natives, mules or horses with the best. The young Rhodesian, therefore, dropped readily into the life.

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There were no troops actually in Prieska – the Transport men as yet ranked as civilians and Viljoen was apparently the Commander-in-Chief. Discipline was practically non-existent except as regarded the actual work in the Transport camp itself.

In spite of very heavy drinking scarcely any untoward incidents occurred for the work taxed every fibre and muscle so that the alcohol was sweated out almost as soon as it entered the system. The heat was terrific, the work was not only heavy physical labour but work that needed all a mans’ wits to be ever on the alert to preserve his life.

A drunken man would not have lasted five minutes working in the midst of a few hundred untamed mules or horses. Death or at best, broken bones would have been his portion immediately. Most probably the very act of concentration required to preserve mastery over an inflamed brain caused the alcohol to act purely as a stimulant.

In any case, sober men would never have continued at the pressure demanded of Transport Conductors at that time. Nerves and muscle would have wilted under the strain but as it was the alcohol acted as paraffin cast at intervals on steadily burning fires.

Mick had one or two narrow escapes from disaster. He and his mates were accustomed to race through Prieska as hard as their horses could gallop. Several children and civilians thereby escaped death by the fraction of an inch.

One night shortly after Mick’s arrival, the daughter of the house had a visitor, a civilian policeman. The two retired into the sitting room and a good many hours past. Now the ex-cabby and supposed hangman was not a man whose moral character was above fear and reproach. He thought the girl easy game and made a suggestion that on the departure of the policeman he and Mick should, in turn, share the lady’s favours.

Mick held rather high ideals but the life was having a wearing effect upon them. Although he felt repugnant he yet dallied with the idea, protesting as a matter of conscience, but not taking any decisive stand.

During the early hours of the morning, the policeman departed and the hangman immediately slipped into the sitting room to be received with screams of fear and anger. Mick instantly ran in to find a weeping girl, the hangman in his shirt and the girl’s mother violently protesting.

The hangman ordered the woman to clear out, cursed Mick and caught hold of the girl. Mick jumped in but received a blow which half stunned him. Instantly the Rhodesian ran into his bedroom, returned with a loaded revolver and the hangman seeing murder blazing in his comrade’s eyes loosened the girl and delayed not in his return to his bedroom.

Mick followed him seething with rage to be met by a roar of laughter from the immoral one who produced a bottle of whiskey. The two speedily dismissed the past event from their minds and apparently were the best of friends.

That evening there was some particularly hard-drinking which ended in the hangman becoming fighting drunk. He cursed Mick, insulted him and finally left with the avowed intention of riding the hell out of Mick’s horse – an animal Mick worshipped.

Mick started after him protesting and threatening – turning the hangman sent the lash of his stockwhip hissing through the air, gave a quick turn of the wrist and the cruel hide cut the Rhodesian’s face to the bone – instantly Mick howling with rage and pain drew his revolver. The hangman leaping into the saddle dashed off. Mick emptied three chambers after him sending the dust spurting around the galloping horse. The Head Conductor leaping forward knocked Mick senseless and the affair was over.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 52 Taking a Holiday

End of 51st Entry: Filled with delight Mick went into Salisbury, cashed a handsome cheque booked his passage to South Africa and went up to the old Commercial Hotel for a drink.

At the hotel, two pleasant spoken men got into a conversation with him. Both were from Cape Town, appeared to know his father well and one was the son of a Volunteer Colonel.

Mick unaccustomed to spirits had a couple of whiskies and became instantly interested in their talk of Insurance. His ideas were very hazy on the subject but apparently paying in £50 a year for twenty years he would draw a lump sum of nearly £2000. If he died his heirs would get over £1000 even if he died just after taking out the Endowment Policy – Mick fell.

What he liked about it was these fellows didn’t want cash – “sign a three months bill old chap – your dad would reckon it a darn good investment – £4 a month only.” So Master Michael interviewed a doctor put his name to some papers and stood a couple more drinks.

There were various people Mick knew in Salisbury and Salisbury was not a Y.M.C.A. abode in 1912. Mick too owed a debt of gratitude to a little girl once a waitress now a pretty barmaid. Who got Mick to the train was a mystery to him forever but someone did in a wheelbarrow.

Next morning Mick on awakening found his head feeling like a balloon filled with red-hot irons – he was fully dressed moreover and felt it. A wash and shave freshened him up a little but he felt an intense longing for cold winds so proceeded to the balcony between two carriages.

Here a rather prepossessing damsel smiled winningly at him. Entering into conversation with her Mick was accused of having all but bumped her overboard the previous evening. Deep apologies were made by a bashful blushing young farmer and accepted by the lady who thereupon suggested that after the night before a hair of the dog that had bitten him would undoubtedly help Michael to view life through more pleasant spectacles.

Mick agreed, a steward was hailed and in the girl’s coupè the two settled comfortably down to enjoy the Rhodesian eye-opener of milk and whiskey. During the long four day journey, the acquaintanceship progressed rapidly. The lady was a hospital nurse not very young but slim and charming and of vast experience in dealing with the sterner sex.

She was going to Cape Town for a serious operation and Mick’s ready sympathy glorified the woman into something divine, she was a good sort and made the trip pleasant and entertaining.

On arrival home, Mick found a wonderful reception awaiting him but for the first two days and evenings he spent his whole time with his Rhodesian lady friend – she went into the hospital the third day to be operated on immediately.

Image result for cape town hospital 1912

Calling around in the afternoon Mick heard most awful moans proceeding from a tiny private ward opening from the hallway. A pretty nurse being asked if he could see his friend gaily nodded at the closed door – “You can hear her anyway” she remarked “She’s just coming round. Call around tomorrow afternoon perhaps you’ll be allowed to see her then.”

Sick at heart Mick left. He called the next day, saw his friend and though love vanished friendship remained. Mick called daily but gradually became aware that a rather jolly looking probationer nurse was attracting his fancy.

Mick’s friend recovered but found Mick’s youth and unsophistication bored her, his passion, on the other hand, was dead so Mick once again sought his old friends the St Julien’s, the chums of his boyhood and the sea and the mountain.

A lot of time, however, was devoted to the hospital so that when at last Michael Osmond turned his face Northward he was an engaged man with youth behind him and manhood before him.

Months passed – the insurance agents called to be received by a wrathful sulky young man who dared them to do their worst. the one adopted a bullying tone and attitude – Mick’s Irish temper flared. It happened that their visit took place as he was about to go on a hunting trip and the offensive man immediately found a rifle butt raised ominously in the air whilst a young savage dark with passion threatened to smash his ……. head if he delayed immediate departure – he did not.

Shortly after Mick’s return Godfrey was persuaded to take as a pupil a young Englishman, the heir to a considerable fortune and with very important connections.

The pupil duly arrived his luggage filling the large Government waggons. He turned out to be a rather prepossessing youth with any amount of self-assurance. Invited into his room Mick wide-eyed gazed upon a large gallery of autographed photographs of picture postcard beauties – upon a varied assortment of saddlery, polo sticks and a simply marvellous collection of pipes.

Image result for picture postcard beauties 1912

As a worked the new addition was not a success, as a companion he was delightful and for the first time since leaving school, Mick found himself with a mate of his own age.

Then an old mountain and fishing chum wrote him from Gatooma. He was anxious to start farming.