Curious Phantom of the Highway

Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein

In 1993, almost a century after one of Scotland’s greatest heroes was killed in Africa a group of admirers gathered at Matjiesfontein in the Karoo to pay tribute to him.   Major General Andrew Wauchope, known to his men as “Red Mick” was killed at Magersfontein, and as was traditional he was buried there with his men.   Soon after, however,  James D Logan, The Laird of Matjiesfontein, arranged for Wauchope’s body to be exhumed and reburied at this village which he owned in the Karoo.  The ardent followers of this hero gathered at the little village and then crammed into one car made their way to the Monument Cemetery 10 km away.   One wee dram led to another and within short the pipes were out and the haunting strains of a lament filled the crisp dry air.  Then followed some rousing reels and marches all well saluted with a glass or two of the “good stuff” specially brought into the country for the occasion.  This continued until the piper tired and lay down beside a tree to “rest his eyes” and “catch his breath”.   He closed his eyes, he said, only for a wee while and thought of Scotland. When he opened then dusk had fallen and to his horror his friends had departed.

With a philosophical shrug he decided the best he could do was to walk back to the Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein where the group was staying.  To keep his spirits up he decided to play a few airs on the bagpipes.  At this time a family travelling the N1 had just stopped for a snack and to stretch their legs.  The tourists’ hair stood on end when out of the evening gloom of the wayside cemetery they saw a piper, in full Highland regalia, emerge from among the gravestones, and start up the hill playing the pipes.  All the piper saw as he skipped across the stile was them flinging their things hastily back into the car and them racing off into the night.

The piper continued up the highway, well oiled from the drams o the afternoon and feeling no pain.  He used the white lines in the centre of the road as a guide.   There was little traffic, but the few cars that did approach slowed almost to a stop and sped furiously off.  He could not understand this behaviour.  Then a local farmer pulled up next to him and helped him into the bakkie.  “God Lord, man,” said the farmer.  “You’ve scared everyone half to death.   This is one of the most haunted areas of South Africa and cars are screeching into Matjiesfontein with everyone raving on about the ghost of the Old Major marching up the highway.”  The piper guffawed.  It gave him a splendid story to tell the lads back in the old country.  And, after this story appeared in Rose’s Round-up and the Press, some wrote in suggesting this was a wonderful job opportunity for a retired piper!

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