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Aldous Huxley

Tác giả: Sidney Sheldon
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amie 1883-1906
"By God, this is a real donderstorml" Jamie McGregor said. He had grown up amid the wild storms of the Scottish High-lands, but he had never witnessed anything as violent as this. The afternoon sky had been suddenly obliterated by enormous clouds of sand, instantly turning day into night. The dusty sky was lit by flashes of lightning—weerlig, the Afrikaners called it—that scorched the air, followed by donderslag—thunder. Then the deluge. Sheets of rain that smashed against the army of tents and tin huts and turned the dirt streets of Klipdrift into frenzied streams of mud. The sky was aroar with rolling peals of thunder, one following the other like artillery in some celestial war.
Jamie McGregor quickly stepped aside as a house built of raw brick dissolved into mud, and he wondered whether the town of Klipdrift was going to survive.
Klipdrift was not really a town. It was a sprawling canvas village, a seething mass of tents and huts and wagons crowding the banks of the Vaal River, populated by wild-eyed dreamers drawn to South Africa from all parts of the world by the same obsession: diamonds.
Jamie McGregor was one of the dreamers. He was barely eighteen, a handsome lad, tall and fair-haired, with startlingly light gray eyes. There was an attractive ingenuousness about him, an eagerness to please that was endearing. He had a light-hearted disposition and a soul filled with optimism.
He had traveled almost eight thousand miles from his father's farm in the Highlands of Scotland to Edinburgh, London, Cape Town and now Klipdrift. He had given up his rights to the share of the farm that he and his brothers tilled with their father, but Jamie McGregor had no regrets. He knew he was going to be rewarded ten thousand times over.
He had left the security of the only life he had ever known and had come to this distant, desolate place because he dreamed of being rich. Jamie was not afraid of hard work, but the rewards of tilling the rocky little farm north of Aberdeen were meager. He worked from sunup to sundown, along with his brothers, his sister, Mary, and his mother and his father, and they had little to show for it. He had once attended a fair in Edinburgh and had seen the wondrous things of beauty that money could buy. Money was to make your life easy when you were well, and to take care of your needs when you were ailing. Jamie had seen too many friends and neighbors live and die in poverty.
He remembered his excitement when he first heard about the latest diamond strike in South Africa. The biggest diamond in the world had been found there, lying loose in the sand, and the whole area was rumored to be a great treasure chest waiting to be opened.
He had broken the news to his family after dinner on a Saturday night. They were seated around an uncleared table in the rude, timbered kitchen when Jamie spoke, his voice shy and at the same time proud. "I'm going to South Africa to find diamonds. I'll be on my way next week."
Five pairs of eyes stared at him as though he were crazy.
"You're goin' chasing after diamonds?" his father asked. "You must be daft, lad. That's all a fairy tale—a temptation of the devil to keep men from doin' an honest day's work."
"Why do you nae tell us where you're gettin' the money to go?" his brother Ian asked.
"It's halfway 'round the world. You hae no money."
"If I had money," Jamie retorted, "I wouldn't have to go looking for diamonds, would I?
Nobody there has money. I'll be an equal with all of them. I've got brains and a strong back. I'll not fail."
His sister, Mary, said, "Annie Cord will be disappointed. She expects to be your bride one day, Jamie."
Jamie adored his sister. She was older than he. Twenty-four, and she looked forty. She had never owned a beautiful thing in her life. I'll change that, Jamie promised himself.
His mother silently picked up the platter that held the remains of the steaming haggis and walked over to the iron sink.
Late that night she came to Jamie's bedside. She gently placed one hand on Jamie's shoulder, and her strength flooded into him. "You do what you must, Son. I dinna ken if there be diamonds there, but if there be, you'll find them." She brought out from behind her a worn leather pouch. "I've put by a few pounds. You needn't say nothin' to the others.
God bless you, Jamie."
When he left for Edinburgh, he had fifty pounds in the pouch.
It was an arduous journey to South Africa, and it took Jamie McGregor almost a year to make it. He got a job as a waiter in a workingman's restaurant in Edinburgh until he added another fifty pounds to the pouch. Then it was on to London. Jamie was awed by the size of the city, the huge crowds, the noise and the large horse-drawn omnibuses that raced along at five miles an hour. There were hansom cabs everywhere, carrying beautiful women in large hats and swirling skirts and dainty little high-button shoes. He watched in wonder as the ladies alighted from the cabs and carriages to shop at Burlington Arcade, a dazzling cornucopia of silver and dishes and dresses and furs and pottery and apothecary shops crammed with mysterious bottles and jars.
Jamie found lodging at a house at 32 Fitzroy Street. It cost ten shillings a week, but it was the cheapest he could find. He spent his days at the docks, seeking a ship that would take him to South Africa, and his evenings seeing the wondrous sights of London town.
One evening he caught a glimpse of Edward, the Prince of Wales, entering a restaurant near Covent Garden by the side door, a beautiful young lady on his arm. She wore a large flowered hat, and Jamie thought how nice it would look on his sister.
Jamie attended a concert at the Crystal Palace, built for The Great Exposition in 1851.
He visited Drury Lane and at intermission sneaked into the Savoy Theatre, where they had installed the first electric lighting in a British public building. Some streets were lighted by electricity, and Jamie heard that it was possible to talk to someone on the other side of town by means of a wonderful new machine, the telephone. Jamie felt that he was looking at the future.
In spite of all the innovations and activity, England was in the midst of a growing economic crisis that winter. The streets were filled with the unemployed and the hungry, and there were mass demonstrations and street fighting. I've got to get away from here, Jamie thought. / came to escape poverty. The following day, Jamie signed on as a steward on the Walmer Castle, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
The sea journey lasted three weeks, with stops at Madeira and St. Helena to take on more coal for fuel. It was a rough, turbulent voyage in the dead of winter, and Jamie was seasick from the moment the ship sailed. But he never lost his cheerfulness, for every day brought him nearer to his treasure chest. As the ship moved toward the equator, the climate changed. Miraculously, winter began to thaw into summer, and as they approached the African coast, the days and nights became hot and steamy.
The Walmer Castle arrived in Cape Town at early dawn, moving carefully through the narrow channel that divided the great leper settlement of Robben Island from the mainland, and dropped anchor in Table Bay.
Jamie was on deck before sunrise. He watched, mesmerized, as the early-morning fog lifted and revealed the grand spectacle of Table Mountain looming high over the city. He had arrived.
The moment the ship made fast to the wharf, the decks were overrun by a horde of the strangest-looking people Jamie had ever seen. There were touts for all the different hotels—black men, yellow men, brown men and red men frantically offering to bear away luggage—and small boys running back and forth with newspapers and sweets and fruits for sale. Hansom drivers who were half-castes, Parsis or blacks were yelling their eagerness to be hired. Vendors and men pushing drinking carts called attention to their wares. The air was thick with huge black flies. Sailors and porters hustled and halloaed their way through the crowd while passengers vainly tried to keep their luggage together and in sight. It was a babel of voices and noise. People spoke to one another in a language Jamie had never heard.
"Yulle kom van de Kaap, neh?"
"Het julle mine papa zyn wagen gezien?"
"Wat bedui'di?"
He did not understand a word.
Cape Town was utterly unlike anything Jamie had ever seen. No two houses were alike.
Next to a large warehouse two or three stories high, built of bricks or stone, was a small canteen of galvanized iron, then a jeweler's shop with hand-blown plate-glass windows and abutting it a small greengrocer's and next to that a tumble-down tobacconist's.
Jamie was mesmerized by the men, women and children who thronged the streets. He saw a kaffir clad in an old pair of 78th Highland trews and wearing as a coat a sack with slits cut for the arms and head. The karfir walked behind two Chinese men, hand in hand, who were wearing blue smock frocks, their pigtails carefully coiled up under their conical straw hats. There were stout, red-faced Boer farmers with sun-bleached hair, then-wagons loaded with potatoes, corn and leafy vegetables. Men dressed in brown velveteen trousers and coats, with broad-brimmed, soft-felt hats on their heads and long clay pipes in their mouths, strode ahead of their vraws, attired in black, with thick black veils and large black-silk poke bonnets.
Parsi washerwomen with large bundles of soiled clothes on their heads pushed past soldiers in red coats and helmets. It was a fascinating spectacle.
The first thing Jamie did was to seek out an inexpensive boardinghouse recommended to him by a sailor aboard ship. The landlady was a dumpy, ample-bosomed, middle-aged widow.
She looked Jamie over and smiled. "Zoek yulle goud?"
He blushed. "I'm sorry—I don't understand."
"English, yes? You are here to hunt gold? Diamonds?"
"Diamonds. Yes, ma'am."
She pulled him inside. "You will like it here. I have all the convenience for young men like you."
Jamie wondered whether she was one of them. He hoped not.
"I'm Mrs. Venster," she said coyly, "but my friends call me 'Dee-Dee.'" She smiled, revealing a gold tooth in front. "I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends. Ask of me anything."
"That's very kind of you," Jamie said. "Can you tell me where I can get a map of the city?"
With map in hand, Jamie went exploring. On one side of the city were the landward suburbs of Rondebosch, Claremont and Wynberg, stretching along nine miles of thinning plantations and vineyards. On the other side were the marine suburbs of Sea Point and Green Point. Jamie walked through the rich residential area, down Strand Street and Bree Street, admiring the large, two-story buildings with their flat roofs and peaked stuccoed fronts—steep terraces rising from the street. He walked until he was finally driven indoors by the flies that seemed to have a personal vendetta against him. They were large and black and attacked in swarms. When Jamie returned to his boardinghouse, he found his room filled with them. They covered the walls and table and bed.
He went to see the landlady. "Mrs. Venster, isn't there anything you can do about the flies in my room? They're—"
She gave a fat, jiggling laugh and pinched Jamie's cheek. "Myn magtig. You'll get used to them. You'll see."
The sanitary arrangements in Cape Town were both primitive and inadequate, and when the sun set, an odoriferous vapor covered the city like a noxious blanket. It was unbearable. But Jamie knew that he would bear it. He needed more money before he could leave. "You can't survive in the diamond fields without money," he had been warned.
"They'll charge you just for breathin'."
On his second day in Cape Town, Jamie found a job driving a team of horses for a delivery firm. On the third day he started working in a restaurant after dinner, washing dishes. He lived on the leftover food that he squirreled away and took back to the boardinghouse, but it tasted strange to him and he longed for his mother's cock-a-leekie and oatcakes and hot, fresh-made baps. He did not complain, even to himself, as he sacrificed both food and comfort to increase his grubstake. He had made his choice and nothing was going to stop him, not the exhausting labor, or the foul air he breathed or the flies that kept him awake most of the night. He felt desperately lonely. He knew no one in this strange place, and he missed his friends and family. Jamie enjoyed solitude, but loneliness was a constant ache.
At last, the magic day arrived. His pouch held the magnificent sum of two hundred pounds. He was ready. He would leave Cape Town the following morning for the diamond fields.
Reservations for passenger wagons to the diamond fields at Klipdrift were booked by the Inland Transport Company at a small wooden depot near the docks. When Jamie arrived at 7:00 am., the depot was already so crowded that he could not get near it. There were hundreds of fortune seekers fighting for seats on the wagons. They had come from as far away as Russia and America, Australia, Germany and England. They shouted in a dozen different tongues, pleading with the besieged ticket sellers to find spaces for them. Jamie watched as a burly Irishman angrily pushed his way out of the office onto the sidewalk, fighting to get through the mob.
"Excuse me," Jamie said. "What's going on in there?"
"Nothin'," the Irishman grunted in disgust. "The bloody wagons are all booked up for the next six weeks." He saw the look of dismay on Jamie's face. "That's not the worst of it, lad.
The heathen bastards are chargin' fifty pounds a head."
It was incredible! "There must be another way to get to the diamond fields."
"Two ways. You can go Dutch Express, or you can go by foot."
"What's Dutch Express?"
"Bullock wagon. They travel two miles an hour. By the time you get there, the damned diamonds will all be gone."
Jamie McGregor had no intention of being delayed until the diamonds were gone. He spent the rest of the morning looking for another means of transportation. Just before noon, he found it. He was passing a livery stable with a sign in front that said mail depot.
On an impulse, he went inside, where the thinnest man he had ever seen was loading large mail sacks into a dogcart. Jamie watched him a moment.
"Excuse me," Jamie said. "Do you carry mail to Klipdrift?"
"That's right. Loadin' up now."
Jamie felt a sudden surge of hope. "Do you take passengers?"
"Sometimes." He looked up and studied Jamie. "How old are you?"
An odd question. "Eighteen. Why?"
"We don't take anyone over twenty-one or twenty-two. You in good health?"
An even odder question. "Yes, sir."
The thin man straightened up. "I guess you're fit. I'm leavin' in an hour. The fare's twenty pounds."
Jamie could not believe his good fortune. "That's wonderful! I'll get my suitcase and—"
"No suitcase. All you got room for is one shirt and a toothbrush."
Jamie took a closer look at the dogcart. It was small and roughly built. The body formed a well in which the mail was stored, and over the well was a narrow, cramped space where a person could sit back to back behind the driver. It was going to be an uncomfortable journey.
"It's a deal," Jamie said. "I'll fetch my shirt and toothbrush."
When Jamie returned, the driver was hitching up a horse to the open cart. There were two large young men standing near the cart: One was short and dark, the other was a tall, blond Swede. The men were handing the driver some money.
"Wait a minute," Jamie called to the driver. "You said I was going."
"You're all goin'," the driver said. "Hop in."
"The three of us?"
"That's right."
Jamie had no idea how the driver expected them all to fit in the small cart, but he knew he was going to be on it when it pulled out.
Jamie introduced himself to his two fellow passengers. "I'm Jamie McGregor."
"Wallach," the short, dark man said.
"Pederson," the tall blond replied.
Jamie said, "We're lucky we discovered this, aren't we? It's a good thing everybody doesn't know about it."
Pederson said, "Oh, they know about the post carts, McGregor. There just aren't that many fit enough or desperate enough to travel in them."
Before Jamie could ask what he meant, the driver said, "Let's go."
The three men—Jamie in the middle—squeezed into the seat, crowded against each other, their knees cramped, their backs pressing hard against the wooden back of the driver's seat. There was no room to move or breathe. It's not bad, Jamie reassured himself.
"Hold on!" the driver sang out, and a moment later they were racing through the streets of Cape Town on their way to the diamond fields at Klipdrift.
By bullock wagon, the journey was relatively comfortable. The wagons transporting passengers from Cape Town to the diamond fields were large and roomy, with tent covers to ward off the blazing winter sun. Each wagon accommodated a dozen passengers and was drawn by teams of horses or mules. Refreshments were provided at regular stations, and the journey took ten days.
The mail cart was different. It never stopped, except to change horses and drivers. The pace was a full gallop, over rough roads and fields and rutted trails. There were no springs on the cart, and each bounce was like the blow of a horse's hoof. Jamie gritted his teeth and thought, I can stand it until we stop for the night. I'll eat and get some sleep, and in the morning I'll be fine. But when nighttime came, there was a ten-minute halt for a change of horse and driver, and they were off again at a full gallop.
"When do we stop to eat?" Jamie asked.
"We don't," the new driver grunted. "We go straight through. We're carryin' the mails, mister."
They raced through the long night, traveling over dusty, bumpy roads by moonlight, the little cart bouncing up the rises, plunging down the valleys, springing over the flats. Every inch of Jamie's body was battered and bruised from the constant jolting. He was exhausted, but it was impossible to sleep. Every time he started to doze off, he was jarred awake. His body was cramped and miserable and there was no room to stretch. He was starving and motion-sick. He had no idea how many days it would be before his next meal.
It was a six-hundred-mile journey, and Jamie McGregor was not sure he was going to live through it. Neither was he sure that he wanted to.
By the end of the second day and night, the misery had turned to agony. Jamie's traveling companions were in the same sorry state, no longer even able to complain.
Jamie understood now why the company insisted that its passengers be young and strong.
When the next dawn came, they entered the Great Karroo, where the real wilderness began. Stretching to infinity, the monstrous veld lay flat and forbidding under a pitiless sun. The passengers were smothered in heat, dust and flies.
Occasionally, through a miasmic haze, Jamie saw groups of men slogging along on foot.
There were solitary riders on horseback, and dozens of bullock wagons drawn by eighteen or twenty oxen, handled by drivers and voorlopers, with their sjamboks, the whips with long leather thongs, crying, "Trek! Trek!" The huge wagons were laden with a thousand pounds of produce and goods, tents and digging equipment and wood-burning stoves, flour and coal and oil lamps. They carried coffee and rice, Russian hemp, sugar and wines, whiskey and boots and Belfast candles, and blankets. They were the lifeline to the fortune seekers at Klipdrift.
It was not until the mail cart crossed the Orange River that there was a change from the deadly monotony of the veld. The scrub gradually became taller and tinged with green.
The earth was redder, patches of grass rippled in the breeze, and low thorn trees began to appear.
I'm going to make it, Jamie thought dully. I'm going to make it.
And he could feel hope begin to creep into his tired body.
They had been on the road for four continuous days and nights when they finally arrived at the outskirts of Klipdrift.
Young Jamie McGregor had not known what to expect, but the scene that met his weary, bloodshot eyes was like nothing he ever could have imagined. Klipdrift was a vast panorama of tents and wagons lined up on the main streets and on the shores of the Vaal River. The dirt roadway swarmed with kaffirs, naked except for brightly colored jackets, and bearded prospectors, butchers, bakers, thieves, teachers. In the center of Klipdrift, rows of wooden and iron shacks served as shops, canteens, billiard rooms, eating houses, diamond-buying offices and lawyers' rooms. On a corner stood the ramshackle Royal Arch Hotel, a long chain of rooms without windows.
Jamie stepped out of the cart, and promptly fell to the ground, his cramped legs refusing to hold him up. He lay there, his head spinning, until he had strength enough to rise. He stumbled toward the hotel, pushing through the boisterous crowds that thronged the sidewalks and streets. The room they gave him was small, stifling hot and swarming with flies. But it had a cot. Jamie fell onto it, fully dressed, and was asleep instantly. He slept for eighteen hours.
Jamie awoke, his body unbelievably stiff and sore, but his soul filled with exultation. I am here! I have made it! Ravenously hungry, he went in search of food. The hotel served none, but there was a small, crowded restaurant across the street, where he devoured fried snook, a large fish resembling pike; carbonaatje, thinly sliced mutton grilled on a spit over a wood fire; a haunch of bok and, for dessert, koeksister, a dough deep-fried and soaked in syrup.
Jamie's stomach, so long without food, began to give off alarming symptoms. He decided to let it rest before he continued eating, and turned his attention to his surroundings. At tables all around him, prospectors were feverishly discussing the subject uppermost in everyone's mind: diamonds.
"... There's still a few diamonds left around Hopetown, but the mother lode's at New Rush-----"
"... Kimberley's got a bigger population than Joburg-----"
"... About the find up at Dutoitspan last week? They say there's more diamonds there than a man can carry...."
"... There's a new strike at Christiana. I'm goin' up there tomorrow."
So it was true. There were diamonds everywhere! Young Jamie was so excited he could hardly finish his huge mug of coffee. He was staggered by the amount of the bill. Two pounds, three shillings for one meal! I'll have to be very careful, he thought, as he walked out onto the crowded, noisy street.
A voice behind him said, "Still planning to get rich, McGregor?"
Jamie turned. It was Pederson, the Swedish boy who had traveled on the dogcart with him.
"I certainly am," Jamie said.
"Then let's go where the diamonds are." He pointed. "The Vaal River's that way."
They began to walk.
Klipdrift was in a basin, surrounded by hills, and as far as Jamie could see, everything was barren, without a blade of grass or shrub in sight. Red dust rose thick in the air, making it difficult to breathe. The Vaal River was a quarter of a mile away, and as they got closer to it, the air became cooler. Hundreds of prospectors lined both sides of the riverbank, some of them digging for diamonds, others meshing stones in rocking cradles, still others sorting stones at rickety, makeshift tables. The equipment ranged from scientific earth-washing apparatus to old tub boxes and pails. The men were sunburned, unshaven and roughly dressed in a weird assortment of collarless, colored and striped flannel shirts, corduroy trousers and rubber boots, riding breeches and laced leggings and wide-brimmed felt hats or pith helmets. They all wore broad leather belts with pockets for diamonds or money.
Jamie and Pederson walked to the edge of the riverbank and watched a young boy and an older man struggling to remove a huge ironstone boulder so they could get at the gravel around it. Their shirts were soaked with sweat. Nearby, another team loaded gravel onto a cart to be sieved in a cradle. One of the diggers rocked the cradle while another poured buckets of water into it to wash away the silt. The large pebbles were then emptied onto an improvised sorting table, where they were excitedly inspected.
'It looks easy," Jamie grinned.
"Don't count on it, McGregor. I've been talking to some of the diggers who have been here a while. I think we've bought a sack of pups."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you know how many diggers there are in these parts, all hoping to get rich? Twenty bloody thousand! And there aren't enough diamonds to go around, chum. Even if there were, I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth it. You broil in winter, freeze in summer, get drenched in their damned donderstormen, and try to cope with the dust and the flies and the stink. You can't get a bath or a decent bed, and there are no sanitary arrangements in this damned town. There are drownings in the Vaal River every week.
Some are accidental, but I was told that for most of them it's a way out, the only escape from this hellhole. I don't know why these people keep hanging on."
"I do." Jamie looked at the hopeful young boy with the stained shirt. "The next shovelful of dirt."
But as they headed back to town, Jamie had to admit that Pederson had a point. They passed carcasses of slaughtered oxen, sheep and goats left to rot outside the tents, next to wide-open trenches that served as lavatories. The place stank to the heavens.
Pederson was watching him. "What are you going to do now?"
"Get some prospecting equipment."
In the center of town was a store with a rusted hanging sign that read: Salomon van der merwe, general store. A tall black man about Jamie's age was unloading a wagon in front of the store. He was broad-shouldered and heavily muscled, one of the most handsome men Jamie had ever seen. He had soot-black eyes, an aquiline nose and a proud chin.
There was a dignity about him, a quiet aloofness. He lifted a heavy wooden box of rifles to bis shoulder and, as he turned, he slipped on a leaf fallen from a crate of cabbage. Jamie instinctively reached out an arm to steady him. The black man did not acknowledge Jamie's presence. He turned and walked into the store. A Boer prospector hitching up a mule spat and said distastefully, "That's Banda, from the Barolong tribe. Works for Mr. van der Merwe. I don't know why he keeps that uppity black. Those fuckin' Bantus think they own the earth."
The store was cool and dark inside, a welcome relief from the hot, bright street, and it was filled with exotic odors. It seemed to Jamie that every inch of space was crammed with merchandise. He walked through the store, marveling. There were agricultural implements, beer, cans of milk and crocks of butter, cement, fuses and dynamite and gunpowder, crockery, furniture, guns and haberdashery, oil and paint and varnish, bacon and dried fruit, saddlery and harness, sheep-dip and soap, spirits and stationery and paper, sugar and tea and tobacco and snuff and cigars ... A dozen shelves were filled from top to bottom with flannel shirts and blankets, shoes, poke bonnets and saddles. Whoever owns all this, Jamie thought, is a rich man.
A soft voice behind him said, "Can I help you?"
Jamie turned and found himself facing a young girl. He judged she was about fifteen.
She had an interesting face, fine-boned and heart-shaped, like a valentine, a pert nose and intense green eyes. Her hair was dark and curling. Jamie, looking at her figure, decided she might be closer to sixteen.
"I'm a prospector," Jamie announced. "I'm here to buy some equipment."
"What is it you need?"
For some reason, Jamie felt he had to impress this girl. "I— er—you know—the usual."
She smiled, and there was mischief in her eyes. "What is the usual, sir?"
"Well..." He hesitated. "A shovel."
"Will that be all?"
Jamie saw that she was teasing him. He grinned and confessed, "To tell you the truth, I'm new at this. I don't know what I need."
She smiled at him, and it was the smile of a woman. "It depends on where you're planning to prospect, Mr.------?"
"McGregor. Jamie McGregor."
"I'm Margaret van der Merwe." She glanced nervously toward the rear of the store.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Miss van der Merwe."
"Did you just arrive?"
"Aye. Yesterday. On the post cart."
"Someone should have warned you about that. Passengers have died on that trip."
There was anger in her eyes.
Jamie grinned. "I can't blame them. But I'm very much alive, thank you."
"And going out to hunt for mooi klippe."
"Mooi klippe?"
"That's our Dutch word for diamonds. Pretty pebbles."
"You're Dutch?"
"My family's from Holland."
"I'm from Scotland."
"I could tell that." Her eyes flicked warily toward the back of the store again. "There are diamonds around, Mr. McGregor, but you must be choosy where you look for them. Most of the diggers are running around chasing their own tails. When someone makes a strike, the rest scavenge off the leavings. If you want to get rich, you have to find a strike of your own."
"How do I do that?"
"My father might be the one to help you with that. He knows everything. He'll be free in an hour."
"I'll be back," Jamie assured her. "Thank you, Miss van der Merwe."
He went out into the sunshine, filled with a sense of euphoria, his aches and pains forgotten. If Salomon van der Merwe would advise him where to find diamonds, there was no way Jamie could fail. He would have the jump on all of them. He laughed aloud, with the sheer joy of being young and alive and on his way to riches.
Jamie walked down the main street, passing a blacksmith's, a billiard hall and half a dozen saloons. He came to a sign in front of a decrepit-looking hotel and stopped. The sign read:
Jamie thought, When did I have my last bath? Well, I took a bucket bath on the boat.
That was— He was suddenly aware of how he must smell. He thought of the weekly tub baths in the kitchen at home, and he could hear his mother's voice calling, "Be sure to wash down below, Jamie."
He turned and entered the baths. There were two doors inside, one for women and one for men. Jamie entered the men's section and walked up to the aged attendant. "How much is a bath?"
"Ten shillings for a cold bath, fifteen for a hot."
Jamie hesitated. The idea of a hot bath after his long journey was almost irresistible.
"Cold," he said. He could not afford to throw away his money on luxuries. He had mining equipment to buy.
The attendant handed him a small bar of yellow lye soap and a threadbare hand towel and pointed. "In there, mate."
Jamie stepped into a small room that contained nothing except a large galvanized-iron bathtub in the center and a few pegs on the wall. The attendant began filling the tub from a large wooden bucket.
"All ready for you, mister. Just hang your clothes on those pegs."
Jamie waited until the attendant left and then undressed. He looked down at his grime-covered body and put one foot in the tub. The water was cold, as advertised. He gritted his teeth and plunged in, soaping himself furiously from head to foot. When he finally stepped out of the tub, the water was black. He dried himself as best he could with the worn linen towel and started to get dressed. His pants and shirt were stiff with dirt, and he hated to put them back on. He would have to buy a change of clothes, and this reminded him once more of how little money he had. And he was hungry again.
Jamie left the bathhouse and pushed his way down the crowded street to a saloon called the Sundowner. He, ordered a beer and lunch. Lamb cutlets with tomatoes, and sausage and potato salad and pickles. While he ate, he listened to the hopeful conversations around him.
"... I hear they found a stone near Colesberg weigbin' twenty-one carats. Mark you, if there's one diamond up there, there's plenty more. ..."
"... There's a new diamond find up in Hebron. I'm thinkin' of goin' there...."
"You're a fool. The big diamonds are in the Orange River___"
At the bar, a bearded customer in a collarless, striped-flannel shirt and corduroy trousers was nursing a shandygaff in a large glass. "I got cleaned out in Hebron," he confided to the bartender. "I need me a grubstake."
The bartender was a large, fleshy, bald-headed man with a broken, twisted nose and ferret eyes. He laughed. "Hell, man, who doesn't? Why do you think I'm tendin' bar? As soon as I have enough money, I'm gonna hightail it up the Orange myself." He wiped the bar with a dirty rag. "But I'll tell you what you might do, mister. See Salomon ven der Merwe. He owns the general store and half the town."
"What good'll that do me?"
"If he likes you, he might stake you."
The customer looked at him. "Yeah? You really think he might?"
"He's done it for a few fellows I know of. You put up your labor, he puts up the money.
You split fifty-fifty."
Jamie McGregor's thoughts leaped ahead. He had been confident that the hundred and twenty pounds he had left would be enough to buy the equipment and food he would need to survive, but the prices in Klipdrift were astonishing. He had noticed in Van der Merwe's store that a hundred-pound sack of Australian flour cost five pounds. One pound of sugar cost a shilling. A bottle of beer cost five shillings. Biscuits were three shillings a pound, and fresh eggs sold for seven shillings a dozen. At that rate, his money would not last long. My God, Jamie thought, at home we could live for a year on what three meals cost here. But if he could get the backing of someone wealthy, like Mr. van der Merwe ... Jamie hastily paid for his food and hurried back to the general store.
Salomon van der Merwe was behind the counter, removing the rifles from a wooden crate. He was a small man, with a thin, pinched face framed by Dundreary whiskers. He had sandy hair, tiny black eyes, a bulbous nose and pursed lips. His daughter must take after her mother, Jamie thought. "Excuse me, sir . . ."
Van der Merwe looked up. "Ja?"
"Mr. van der Merwe? My name is Jamie McGregor, sir. I'm from Scotland. I came here to find diamonds."
"Ja? So?"
"I hear you sometimes back prospectors."
Van der Merwe grumbled, "Myn magtigl Who spreads these stories? I help out a few diggers, and everyone thinks I'm Santa Claus."
"I've saved a hundred and twenty pounds," Jamie said earnestly. "But I see that it's not going to buy me much here. I'll go out to the bush with just a shovel if I have to, but I figure my chances would be a lot better if I had a mule and some proper equipment."
Van der Merwe was studying him with those small, black eyes. "Wat denk ye? What makes you think you can find diamonds?"
'I've come halfway around the world, Mr. van der Merwe, and I'm not going to leave here until I'm rich. If the diamonds are out there, I'll find them. If you help me, I'll make us both rich."
Van der Merwe grunted, turned his back on Jamie and continued unloading the rifles.
Jamie stood there awkwardly, not knowing what more to say. When Van der Merwe spoke again, his question caught Jamie off guard. "You travel here by bullock wagon, ja?"
"No. Post cart."
The old man turned to study the boy again. He said, finally, "We talk about it."
They talked about it at dinner that evening in the room in back of the store that was the Van der Merwe living quarters. It was a small room that served as a kitchen, dining room and sleeping quarters, with a curtain separating two cots. The lower half of the walls was built of mud and stone, and the upper half was faced with cardboard boxes that had once contained provisions. A square hole, where a piece of wall had been cut out, served as a window. In wet weather it could be closed
by placing a board in front of it. The dining table consisted of a long plank stretched across two wooden crates. A large box, turned on its side, served as a cupboard. Jamie guessed that Van der Merwe was not a man who parted easily with his money.
Van der Meerwe's daughter moved silently about, preparing dinner. From time to time she cast quick glances at her father, but she never once looked at Jamie. Why is she so frightened? Jamie wondered.
When they were seated at the table, Van der Merwe began, "Let us have a blessing. We thank Thee, O Lord, for the bounty we receive at Thy hands. We thank Thee for forgiving us our sins and showing us the path of righteousness and delivering us from life's temptations. We thank Thee for a long and fruitful life, and for smiting dead all those who offend Thee. Amen." And without a breath between, "Pass me the meat," he said to his daughter.
The dinner was frugal: a small roast pork, three boiled potatoes and a dish of turnip greens. The portions he served to Jamie were small. The two men talked little during the meal, and Margaret did not speak at all.
When they had finished eating, Van der Merwe said, "That was fine, Daughter," and there was pride in his voice. He turned to Jamie. "We get down to business, ja?"
"Yes, sir."
Van der Merwe picked up a long clay pipe from the top of the wooden cabinet. He filled it with a sweet-smelling tobacco from a small pouch and lighted the pipe. His sharp eyes peered intently at Jamie through the wreaths of smoke.
'The diggers here at Klipdrift are fools. Too few diamonds, too many diggers. A man could break his back here for a year and have nothing to show for it but schlenters."
"I—I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that word, sir."
"Fools' diamonds. Worthless. Do you follow me?"
"I— Yes, sir. I think so. But what's the answer, sir?"
'The Griquas."
Jamie looked at him blankly.
"They're an African tribe up north. They find diamonds—big ones—and sometimes they bring them to me and I trade them for goods." The Dutchman lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I know where they find them."
"But could you nae go after them yourself, Mr. van der Merwe?"
Van der Merwe sighed. "No. I can't leave the store. People would steal me blind. I need someone I can trust to go up there and bring the stones back. When I find the right man, I'll supply him with all the equipment he needs." He paused to take a long drag on the pipe.
"And I'll tell him where the diamonds are."
Jamie leaped to his feet, his heart pounding. "Mr. van der Merwe, I'm the person you're looking for. Believe me, sir, I'll work night and day." His voice was charged with excitement. 'I'll bring you back more diamonds than you can count."
Van der Merwe silently studied him for what seemed to Jamie to be an eternity. When Van der Merwe finally spoke, he said only one word. "Ja."
Jamie signed the contract the following morning. It was written in Afrikaans.
'I'll have to explain it to you," Van der Merwe said. "It says we're full partners. I put up the capital—you put up the labor. We share everything equally."
Jamie looked at the contract in Van der Merwe's hand. In the middle of all the incomprehensible foreign words he recognized only a sum: two pounds.
Jamie pointed to it. "What is that for, Mr. van der Merwe?"
"It means that in addition to your owning half the diamonds you find, you'll get an extra two pounds for every week you work. Even though I know the diamonds are out there, it's possible you might not find anything, lad. This way you'll at least get something for your labor."
The man was being more than fair. "Thank you. Thank you very much, sir." Jamie could have hugged him.
Van der Merwe said, "Now let's get you outfitted."
It took two hours to select the equipment that Jamie would take into the bush with him: a small tent, bedding, cooking utensils, two sieves and a washing cradle, a pick, two shovels, three buckets and one change of socks and underwear. There was an ax and a lantern and paraffin oil, matches and arsenical soap. There were tins of food, biltong, fruit, sugar, coffee and salt. At last everything was in readiness. The black servant, Banda, silently helped Jamie stow everything into backpacks. The huge man never glanced at Jamie and never spoke one word. He doesn't speak English, Jamie decided. Margaret was in the store waiting on customers, but if she knew Jamie was there, she gave no indication.
Van der Merwe came over to Jamie. "Your mule's in front," he said. "Banda will help you load up."
"Thank you, Mr. van der Merwe," Jamie said. "I—"
Van der Merwe consulted a piece of paper covered with figures. "That will be one hundred and twenty pounds."
Jamie looked at him blankly. "W—what? This is part of our deal. We—"
"Wat bedui'di?" Van der Merwe's thin face darkened with anger. "You expect me to give you all this, and a fine mule, and make you a partner, and give you two pounds a week on top of that? If you're looking for something for nothing, you've come to the wrong place."
He began to unload one of the backpacks.
Jamie said quickly, "No! Please, Mr. van der Merwe. I—I just didn't understand. It's pefectly all right. I have the money right here." He reached in his pouch and put the last of his savings on the counter.
Van der Merwe hesitated. "All right," he said grudgingly. "Perhaps it was a misunderstanding, neh? This town is full of cheaters. I have to be careful who I do business with."
"Yes, sir. Of course you do," Jamie agreed. In his excitement, he had misunderstood the deal. I'm lucky he's giving me another chance, Jamie thought.
Van der Merwe reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, wrinkled, hand-drawn map. "Here is where you'll find
the mooi klippe. North of here at Magerdam on the northern bank of the Vaal."
Jamie studied the map, and his heart began to beat faster. "How many miles is it?"
"Here we measure distance by time. With the mule, you should make the journey in four or five days. Coming back will be slower because of the weight of the diamonds."
Jamie grinned. "Ja."
When Jamie McGregor stepped back out onto the streets of Klipdrift, he was no longer a tourist. He was a prospector, a digger, on his way to his fortune. Banda had finished loading the supplies onto the back of a frail-looking mule tethered to the hitching post in front of the store.
"Thanks." Jamie smiled.
Banda turned and looked him in the eye, then silently walked away. Jamie unhitched the reins and said to the mule, "Let's go, partner. It's mooi klippe time."
They headed north.
Jamie pitched camp near a stream at nightfall, unloaded and watered and fed the mule, and fixed himself some beef jerky, dried apricots and coffee. The night was filled with strange noises. He heard the grunts and howls and padding of wild animals moving down to the water. He was unprotected, surrounded by the most dangerous beasts in the world, in a strange, primitive country. He jumped at every sound. At any moment he expected to be attacked by fangs and claws leaping at him from out of the darkness. His mind began to drift. He thought of his snug bed at home and the comfort and safety he had always taken for granted. He slept fitfully, his dreams filled with charging lions and elephants, and large, bearded men trying to take an enormous diamond away from him.
At dawn when Jamie awakened, the mule was dead.
He could not believe it. He looked for a wound of some kind, thinking it must have been attacked by a wild animal during the night, but there was nothing. The beast had died in its sleep. Mr. van der Merwe will hold me responsible for this, Jamie thought. But when I bring him diamonds, it won't matter.
There was no turning back. He would go on to Magerdam without the mule. He heard a sound in the air and looked up. Giant black vultures were beginning to circle high above.
Jamie shuddered. Working as quickly as possible, he rearranged his gear, deciding what he had to leave behind, then stowed everything he could carry into a backpack and started off. When he looked back five minutes later, the enormous vultures had covered the body of the dead animal. All that was visible was one long ear. Jamie quickened his step.
It was December, summer in South Africa, and the trek across the veld under the huge orange sun was a horror. Jamie had started out from Klipdrift with a brisk step and a light heart, but as the minutes turned into hours and the hours into days, his steps got slower and his heart became heavier. As far as the eye could see, the monotonous veld shimmered fiat and forbidding
under the blazing sun and there seemed no end to the gray, atony, desolate plains.
Jamie made camp whenever he came to a watering hole, and he slept with the eerie, nocturnal sounds of the animals all around him. The sounds no longer bothered him. They were proof that there was life in this barren hell, and they made him feel less lonely. One dawn Jamie came across a pride of lions.
Be watched from a distance as the lioness moved toward her mate and their cubs, carrying a baby impala in her powerful jaws. She dropped the animal in front of the male and moved away while he fed. A reckless cub leaped forward and dug his teeth into the impala. With one motion, the male raised a paw and swiped the cub across the face, killing it instantly, then went back to his feeding. When he finished, the rest of the family was permitted to move in for the remains of the feast. Jamie slowly backed away from the scene and continued walking.
It took him almost two weeks to cross the Karroo. More than once he was ready to give up. He was not sure he could finish the journey. I'm a fool. I should have returned to Klipdrift to ask Mr. van der Merwe for another mule. But what if Van der Merwe had called off the deal? No, I did the right thing.
And so, Jamie kept moving, one step at a time. One day, he saw four figures in the distance, coming toward him. I'm delirious, Jamie thought. It's a mirage. But the figures came closer, and Jamie's heart began to thud alarmingly. Men! There is human life here! He wondered if he had forgotten how to speak. He tried out his voice on the afternoon air, and it sounded as if it belonged to someone long dead. The four men reached him, prospectors returning to Klipdrift, tired and defeated.
"Hello," Jamie said.
They nodded. One of them said, "There ain't nothin' ahead, boy. We looked. You're wastin' your time. Go back."
And they were gone.
Jamie shut his mind to everything but the trackless waste ahead of him. The sun and the black flies were unbearable and there was no place to hide. There were thorn trees, but their
branches had been laid waste by the elephants. Jamie was almost totally blinded by the sun. His fair skin was burned raw, and he was constantly dizzy. Each time he took a breath of air, his lungs seemed to explode. He was no longer walking, he was stumbling, putting one foot in front of the other, mindlessly lurching ahead. One afternoon, with the midday sun beating down on him, he slipped off his backpack and slumped to the ground, too tired to take another step. He closed his eyes and dreamed he was in a giant crucible and the sun was a huge, bright diamond blazing down on him, melting him. He awoke in the middle of the night trembling from the cold. He forced himself to take a few bites of biltong and a drink of tepid water. He knew he must get up and start moving before the sun rose, while the earth and sky were cool. He tried, but the effort was too great. It would be so easy just to lie there forever and never have to take another step. I'll Just sleep for a little while longer, Jamie thought. But some voice deep within him told him he would never wake up again. They would find his body there as they had found hundreds of others. He remembered the vultures and thought, No, not my body—my bones. Slowly and painfully, he forced himself to his feet. His backpack was so heavy he could not lift it. Jamie started walking again, dragging the pack behind him. He had no recollection of how many times he fell onto the sand and staggered to his feet again. Once he screamed into the predawn sky, "I'm Jamie McGregor, and I'm going to make it. I'm going to live. Do you hear me, God? I'm going to live...." Voices were exploding in his head.
You're goin' chasin' diamonds? You must be daft, son. That's a fairy tale—a temptation of the devil to keep men from doin' an honest day's work.
Why do you nae tell us where you're gettin' the money to go? It's halfway 'round the world. You hae no money.
Mr. van der Merwe, I'm the person you're looking for. Believe me, sir, I'll work night and day. I'll bring you back more diamonds than you can count.
And he was finished before he had even started. You have two choices, Jamie told himself. You can go on or you can stay here and die... and die ... and die...
The words echoed endlessly in his head. You can take one more step, Jamie thought.
Come on, Jamie boy. One more step. One more step ...
Two days later Jamie McGregor stumbled into the village of Magerdam. The sunburn had long since become infected and his body oozed blood and sera. Both eyes were swollen almost completely shut. He collapsed in the middle of the street, a pile of crumpled clothes holding him together. When sympathetic diggers tried to relieve him of his backpack, Jamie fought them with what little strength he had left, raving deliriously. "No!
Get away from my diamonds. Get away from my diamonds-----"
He awakened in a small, bare room three days later, naked except for the bandages that covered his body. The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was a buxom, middle-aged woman seated at the side of his cot.
"Wh—?" His voice was a croak. He could not get the words out.
"Easy, dear. You've been sick." She gently lifted his swathed head and gave him a sip of water from a tin cup.
Jamie managed to prop himself up on one elbow. "Where—?" He swallowed and tried again. "Where am I?"
"You're in Magerdam. I'm Alice Jardine. This is my boarding house. You're going to be fine. You just need a good rest. Now he back."
Jamie remembered the strangers who tried to take his backpack away, and he was filled with panic. "My things, where—?" He tried to rise from the cot, but the woman's gentle voice stopped him.
"Everything's safe. Not to worry, son." She pointed to his backpack in a corner of the room.
Jamie lay back on the clean white sheets. I got here. I made it. Everything is going to be all right now.
Alice Jardine was a blessing, not only to Jamie McGregor, but to half of Magerdam. In that mining town filled with adventurers, all sharing the same dream, she fed them, nursed them, encouraged them. She was an Englishwoman who had come to South Africa with her husband, when he decided to give up his teaching job in Leeds and join the diamond rush. He had died of fever three weeks after they arrived, but she had decided to stay on. The miners had become the children she never had.
She kept Jamie in bed for four more days, feeding him, changing his bandages and helping him regain his strength. By the fifth day, Jamie was ready to get up.
"I want you to know how grateful I am to you, Mrs. Jardine. I can't pay you anything. Not yet. But you'll have a big diamond from me one day soon. That's a promise from Jamie McGregor."
She smiled at the intensity of the handsome young boy. He was still twenty pounds too thin, and his gray eyes were filled with the horror he had been through, but there was a strength about him, a determination that was awesome. He's different from the others, Mrs. Jardine thought..
Jamie, dressed in his freshly washed clothes, went out to explore the town. It was Klipdrift on a smaller scale. There were the same tents and wagons and dusty streets, the fiimsily built shops and the crowds of prospectors. As Jamie passed a saloon, he heard a roar from inside and entered. A noisy crowd had gathered around a red-shirted Irishman.
"What's going on?" Jamie asked
"He's going to wet his find."
"He's what?"
"He struck it rich today, so he stands treat for the whole saloon. He pays for as much liquor as a saloon-full of thirsty men can swallow."
Jamie joined in a conversation with several disgruntled diggers sitting at a round table.
"Where you from, McGregor?"
"Well I don't know what horseshit they fed you in Scotland, but there ain't enough diamonds in this fuckin' country to pay expenses."
They talked of other camps: Gong Gong, Forlorn Hope, Del-ports, Poormans Kopje, Sixpenny Rush ...
The diggers all told the same story—of months doing the backbreaking work of moving boulders, digging into the hard soil and squatting over the riverbank sifting the dirt for diamonds. Each day a few diamonds were found; not enough to make a man rich, but enough to keep his dreams alive. The mood of the town was a strange mixture of optimism and pessimism. The optimists were arriving; the pessimists were leaving.
Jamie knew which side he was on.
He approached the red-shirted Irishman, now bleary-eyed with drink, and showed him Van der Merwe's map.
The man glanced at it and tossed it back to Jamie. "Worthless. That whole area's been picked over. If I was you, I'd try Bad Hope."
Jamie could not believe it. Van der Merwe's map was what had brought him there, the lodestar that was going to make him rich.
Another digger said, "Head for Colesberg. That's where they're findin' diamonds, son."
"Gilfillans Kop—that's the place to dig."
"You'll try Moonlight Rush, if you want my opinion."
At supper that night, Alice Jardine said, "Jamie, one place is as big a gamble as another.
Pick your own spot, dig in your pickax and pray. That's all these other experts are doing."
After a night of sleepless self-debate, Jamie decided he would forget Van der Merwe's map. Against everyone's advice, he decided to head east, along the Modder River. The following morning Jamie said good-bye to Mrs. Jardine and set off.
He walked for three days and two nights, and when he came to a likely-looking spot, he set up his small tent. Huge boulders lay along both sides of the riverbank, and Jamie, using thick
branches as levers, laboriously moved them out of the way to get at the gravel that lay beneath.
He dug from dawn until dusk, looking for the yellow clay or the blue diamondiferous soil that would tell him he had found a diamond pipe. But the earth was barren. He dug for a week without finding a single stone. At the end of the week, he moved on.
One day as he walked along, he saw in the distance what looked like a silver house, glowing dazzlingly in the sun. I'm going blind, Jamie thought. But as he got closer, he saw that he was approaching a village, and all the houses seemed to be made of silver.
Crowds of Indian men, women and children dressed in rags swarmed through the streets.
Jamie stared in amazement. The silver houses glistening in the sun were made of tin jam pots, flattened out, fastened together and nailed over the crude shacks. He walked on, and an hour later, when he looked back, he could still see the glow of the village. It was a sight he never forgot.
Jamie kept moving north. He followed the riverbank where the diamonds might be, digging until his arms refused to lift the heavy pick, then sifting the wet gravel through the hand sieve. When it got dark, he slept as though drugged.
At the end of the second week, he moved upstream again, just north of a small settlement called Paardspan. He stopped near a bend in the river and fixed himself a meal of carbonaatje, grilled on a spit over a wood fire, and hot tea, then sat in front of his tent, looking up at the wheeling stars in the vast sky. He had not seen a human being in two weeks, and an eddy of loneliness washed over him. What the hell am I doing here? he wondered. Sitting in the middle of a blasted wilderness like a bloody fool, killing myself breaking rocks and digging up dirt? I was better off at the farm. Come Saturday, if I don't find a diamond, I'm going home. He looked up at the uncaring stars and yelled, "Do you hear me, damn you?" Oh, Jesus, he thought, I'm losing my mind.
Jamie sat there, idly sifting the sand through his fingers. They closed on a large stone, and he looked at it a moment, then
threw it away. He had seen a thousand worthless stones like it in the past weeks. What was it Van der Merwe had called them? Schlenters. Yet, there was something about this one that belat-edly caught Jamie's attention. He rose, went over to it and | picked it up. It was much larger than the other stones and of an odd shape. He rubbed some of the dirt off it against the leg of his trousers and examined it more closely. It looked like a diamond.
The only thing that made Jamie doubt his senses was the size of it. It was almost as large as a hen's egg. Oh, God. If it is a diamond ... He suddenly had difficulty breathing. He grabbed his lantern and began searching the ground around him. In fifteen minutes he had found four more like it. None of them was as large as the first one, but they were large enough to fill him with a wild excitement.
He was up before dawn, digging like a madman, and by noon he had found half a dozen more diamonds. He spent the next week feverishly digging up diamonds and burying them at night in a safe place where no passers-by could find them. There were fresh diamonds every day, and as Jamie watched his fortune pile up, he was filled with an ineffable joy.
Only half of this treasure was his, but it was enough to make him rich beyond anything he had ever dared to dream.
At the end of the week, Jamie made a note on his map and flaked out his claim by carefully marking the boundaries with his pick. He dug up his hidden treasure, carefully stored it deep down in his backpack and headed back to Magerdam.
The sign outside the small building read: diamant kooper.
Jamie walked into the office, a small, airless room, and he was filled with a sudden sense of trepidation. He had heard dozens of stories of prospectors who had found diamonds that had turned out to be worthless stones. What if I'm wrong? What if—?
The assayer was seated at a cluttered desk in the tiny office. "Somethin' I can do for you?"
Jamie took a deep breath. "Yes, sir. I would like to have these valued, please."
Under the watchful eye of the assayer, Jamie started laying the stones on his desk.
When he was finished, there was a total of twenty-seven, and the assayer was gazing at them in astonishment.
"Where—where did you find these?"
"I'll tell you after you tell me whether they're diamonds."
The assayer picked up the largest stone and examined it with a jeweler's loupe. "My God!" he said. "This is the biggest diamond I've ever seen!" And Jamie realized he had been holding his breath. He could have yelled aloud with joy. "Where—" the man begged,
"where did these come from?"
"Meet me in the canteen in fifteen minutes," Jamie grinned, "and I'll tell you."
Jamie gathered up the diamonds, put them in his pockets and strode out. He headed for the registration office two doors down the street. "I want to register a claim," he said. "In the names of Salomon van der Merwe and Jamie McGregor."
He had walked through that door a penniless farm boy and walked out a multimillionaire.
The assayer was in the canteen waiting when Jamie McGregor entered. He had obviously spread the news, because when Jamie walked in there was a sudden, respectful hush. There was a single unspoken question on everyone's mind. Jamie walked up to the bar and said to the bartender, "I'm here to wet my find." He turned and faced the crowd.
Alice Jardine was having a cup of tea when Jamie walked into the kitchen. Her face lighted up when she saw him. "Jamie! Oh, thank God you're back safely!" She took in his disheveled appearance and flushed face. "It didn't go well, did it? Never you mind. Have a nice cup of tea with me, dear, and you'll feel better."
Without a word, Jamie reached into his pocket and pulled out a large diamond. He placed it in Mrs. Jardine's hand.
"I've kept my promise," Jamie said.
She stared at the stone for a long time, and her blue eyes became moist. "No, Jamie. No." Her voice was very soft. "I don't want it. Don't you see, child? It would spoil everything___"
When Jamie McGregor returned to Klipdrift, he did it in style. He traded one of his smaller diamonds for a horse and carriage, and made a careful note of what he had spent, so that his partner would not be cheated. The trip back to Klipdrift was easy and comfortable, and when Jamie thought of the hell he had gone through on this same journey, he was filled with a sense of wonder. That's the difference between the rich and the poor, he thought. The poor walk; the rich ride in carriages.
He gave the horse a small flick of the whip and rode on contentedly through the darkening veld.
Klipdrift had not changed, but Jamie McGregor had. People stared as he rode into town and stopped in front of Van der Merwe's general store. It was not just the expensive horse and carriage that drew the attention of the passers-by; it was the air of jubilation about the young man. They had seen it before in other prospectors who had struck it rich, and it always filled them with a renewed sense of hope for themselves. They stood back and watched as Jamie jumped out of the carriage.
The same large black man was there. Jamie grinned at him "Hello! I'm back."
Banda tied the reins to a hitching post without comment and went inside the store. Jamie followed him.
Salomon van der Merwe was waiting on a customer. The little Dutchman looked up and smiled, and Jamie knew that somehow Van der Merwe had already heard the news. No one could explain it, but news of a diamond strike flashed across the continent with the speed of light.
When Van der Merwe had finished with the customer, he nodded his head toward the back of the store. "Come, Mr. McGregor."
Jamie followed him. Van der Merwe's daughter was at the stove, preparing lunch. "Hello, Margaret."
She flushed and looked away.
"Well! I hear there is good news." Van der Merwe beamed. He seated himself at the table and pushed the plate and silverware away, clearing a place in front of him.
"That's right, sir." Proudly, Jamie took a large leather pouch from his jacket pocket and poured the diamonds on the kitchen table. Van der Merwe stared at them, hypnotized, then picked them up slowly, one by one, savoring each one, saving the largest until last.
Then he scooped up the diamonds, put them in a chamois bag and put the bag in a large iron safe in the corner and locked it.
When he spoke, there was a note of deep satisfaction in his voice. "You've done well, Mr. McGregor. Very well, indeed."
'Thank you, sir. This is only the beginning. There are hundreds more there. I don't even dare think about how much they're worth."
"And you've staked out the claim properly?"
"Yes, sir." Jamie reached in his pocket and pulled out the registration slip. "It's registered in both our names."
Van der Merwe studied the slip, then put it in his pocket. "You deserve a bonus. Wait here." He started toward the doorway that led into the shop. "Come along, Margaret."
She followed him meekly, and Jamie thought, She's like a frightened kitten.
A few mintues later, Van der Merwe returned, alone. "Here we are." He opened a purse and carefully counted out fifty pounds.
Jamie looked at him, puzzled. "What's this for, sir?"
"For you, son. All of it."
"I—I don't understand."
"You've been gone twenty-four weeks. At two pounds a week, that's forty-eight pounds, and I'm giving you an extra two pounds as a bonus."
Jamie laughed."I don't need a bonus. I have my share of the diamonds."
"Your share of the diamonds?"
"Why, yes, sir. My fifty percent. We're partners."
Van der Merwe was staring at him. "Partners? Where did you get that idea?"
"Where did I—?" Jamie looked at the Dutchman in bewilderment. "We have a contract."
"That is correct. Have you read it?"
"Well, no, sir. It's in Afrikaans, but you said we were fifty-fifty partners."
The older man shook his head. "You misunderstood me, Mr. McGregor. I don't need any partners. You were working for me. I outfitted you and sent you to find diamonds for me."
Jamie could feel a slow rage boiling up within him. "You gave me nothing. I paid you a hundred and twenty pounds for that equipment."
The old man shrugged. "I won't waste my valuable time quibbling. Tell you what I'll do. I'll give you an extra five pounds, and we'll call the whole thing quits. I think that's very generous.
Jamie exploded in a fury. "We'll nae call the whole thing quits!" In his anger his Scottish burr came back. "I'm entitled to half that claim. And I'll get it. I registered it in both our names."
Van der Merwe smiled thinly. "Then you tried to cheat me. I could have you arrested for that." He shoved the money into Jamie's hand. "Now take your wages and get out."
'I'll fight you!"
"Do you have money for a lawyer? I own them all in these parts, boy."
This isn't happening to me, Jamie thought. It's a nightmare. The agony he had gone through, the weeks and months of the burning desert, the punishing physical labor from sunrise to sunset—it all came flooding back. He had nearly died, and now this man was trying to cheat him out of what was his.
He looked Van der Merwe in the eye. "I'll not let you get away with this. I'm not going to leave Klipdrift. I'll tell everybody here what you've done. I'm going to get my share of those diamonds."
Van der Merwe started to turn away from the fury in the pale-gray eyes. "You'd better find a doctor, boy," he muttered. "I think the sun has addled your wits."
In a second, Jamie was towering over Van der Merwe. He pulled the thin figure into the air and held him up to eye level. "I'm going to make you sorry you ever laid eyes on me."
He dropped Van der Merwe to his feet, flung the money on the table and stormed out.
When Jamie McGregor walked into the Sundowner Saloon, it was almost deserted, for most of the prospectors were on then-way to Paardspan. Jamie was filled with anger and despair. It's incredible, he thought. One minute I'm as rich as Croesus, and the next minute I'm dead broke. Van der Merwe is a thief, and I'm going to find a way to punish him. But how? Van der Merwe was right. Jamie could not even afford a lawyer to fight his case. He was a stranger there, and Van der Merwe was a respected member of the community. The only weapon Jamie had was the truth. He would let everyone in South Africa know what Van der Merwe had done.
Smit, the bartender, greeted him. "Welcome back. Everything's on the house, Mr.
McGregor. What would you like?"
"A whiskey."
Smit poured a double and set it in front of Jamie. Jamie downed it in one gulp. He was not used to drinking, and the hard liquor scorched his throat and stomach.
"Another, please."
"Comin' up. I've always said the Scots could drink anybody under the table."
The second drink went down easier. Jamie remembered that it was the bartender who had told a digger to go to Van der Merwe for help. "Did you know Old Man Van der Merwe is a crook? He's trying to cheat me out of my diamonds."
Smit was sympathetic. "What? That's terrible. I'm sorry to hear that."
"He'll nae get away with it." Jamie's voice was slurred. "Half those diamonds are mine. He's a thief, and I'm gonna see that everybody knows it."
"Careful. Van der Merwe's an important man in this town," the bartender warned. "If you're goin' up against him, you'll need help. In fact, I know just the person. He hates Van der Merwe as much as you do." He looked around to make sure no one could overhear him. "There's an old bam at the end of the street. I'll arrange everything. Be there at ten o'clock tonight."
"Thanks," Jamie said gratefully. "I won't forget you."
"Ten o'clock. The old barn."
The barn was a hastily thrown-together structure built of corrugated tin, off the main street at the edge of town. At ten o'clock Jamie arrived there. It was dark, and he felt his way carefully. He could see no one around. He stepped inside. "Hello ..."
There was no reply. Jamie went slowly forward. He could make out the dim shapes of horses moving restlessly in their stalls. Then he heard a sound behind him, and as he started to turn, an iron bar crashed across his shoulder blades, knocking him to the ground. A club thudded against his head, and a giant hand picked him up and held him while fists and boots smashed into his body. The beating seemed to last forever. When the pain became too much to bear and he lost consciousness, cold water was thrown in his face. His eyes fluttered open. He thought he caught a glimpse of Van der Merwe's servant, Banda, and the beating began anew. Jamie could feel his ribs breaking. Something smashed into his leg, and he heard the crunch of bone.
That was when he lost consciousness again.
His body was on fire. Someone was scraping his face with sandpaper, and he vainly tried to lift a hand to protest. He made an effort to open his eyes, but they were swollen shut. Jamie lay there, every fiber of his being screaming with pain, as he tried to remember where he was. He shifted, and the scraping began again. He put out his hand blindly and felt sand. His raw face was lying in hot sand. Slowly, every move an agony, he managed to draw himself up on his knees. He tried to see through his swollen eyes, but he could make out only hazy images. He was somewhere in the middle of the trackless Karroo, naked. It was early morning, but he could feel the sun starting to burn through his body. He felt around blindly for food or a billy can of water. There was nothing. They had left him there for dead. Salomon van der Merwe. And, of course, Smit, the bartender.
Jamie had threatened Van der Merwe, and Van der Merwe had punished him as easily as one punished a small child. But he'll find out I'm no child, Jamie promised himself. Not anymore. I'm an avenger. They'll pay. They will pay. The hatred that coursed through Jamie gave him the strength to sit up. It was a torture for him to breathe. How many ribs had they broken? I must be careful so they don't puncture my lungs. Jamie tried to stand up, but fell down with a scream. His right leg was broken and lay at an unnatural angle. He was unable to walk. But he could crawl.
Jamie McGregor had no idea where he was. They would have taken him to some place off the beaten track, where his body would not be found except by the desert scavengers, the hyenas and secretary birds and vultures. The desert was a vast charnel house. He had seen the bones of men's bodies that had been scavenged, and there had not been a scrap of meat left on the skeleton. Even as Jamie was thinking about it, he heard the rustle of wings above him and the shrill hiss of the vultures. He felt a flood of terror. He was blind.
He could not see them. But he could smell them.
He began to crawl.
He made himself concentrate on the pain. His body was aflame with it, and each small movement brought exquisite rivers of agony. If he moved in a certain way, his broken leg would send out stabbing pains. If he shifted his position slightly to favor his leg, he could feel his ribs grinding against each other. He could not stand the torture of lying still; he could not stand the agony of moving.
He kept crawling.
He could hear them circling above, waiting for him with an ancient, timeless patience.
His mind started to wander. He was in the cool kirk at Aberdeen, neatly dressed in his Sunday suit, seated between his two brothers. His sister, Mary, and Annie Cord were wearing beautiful white summer dresses, and Annie Cord was looking at him and smiling.
Jamie started to get up and go to her, and his brothers held him back and began to pinch him. The pinches became excruciating shafts of pain, and he was crawling through the desert again, naked, his body broken. The cries of the vultures were louder now, impatient.
Jamie tried to force his eyes open, to see how close they were. He could see nothing except vague, shimmering objects that his terrified imagination turned into feral hyenas and jackals. The wind became their hot, fetid breath caressing his face.
He kept crawling, for he knew that the moment he stopped they would be upon him. He was burning with fever and pain and his body was flayed by the hot sand. And still, he could not give up, not as long as Van der Merwe was unpunished—not as long as Van der Merwe was alive.
He lost all awareness of time. He guessed that he had traveled a mile. In truth, he had moved less than ten yards, crawling in a circle. He could not see where he had been or where he was going. He focused his mind on only one thing: Salomon van der Merwe.
He slipped into unconsciousness and was awakened by a shrieking agony beyond bearing. Someone was stabbing at his leg, and it took Jamie a second to remember where he was and what was happening. He pulled one swollen eye open. An enormous hooded black vulture was attacking his leg, savagely tearing at his flesh, eating him alive with its sharp beak. Jamie saw its beady eyes and the dirty ruff around its neck. He smelled the foul odor of the bird as it sat on his body. Jamie tried to scream, but no sound came out.
Frantically he jerked himself forward, and felt the warm flow of blood pouring from his leg.
He could see the shadows of the giant birds all around him, moving in for the kill. He knew that the next time he lost consciousness would
be the last time. The instant he stopped, the carrion birds would be at his flesh again. He kept crawling. His mind began to wander into delirium. He heard the loud flapping wings of the birds as they moved closer, forming a circle around him. He was too weak now to fight them off; he had no strength left to resist. He stopped moving and lay still on the burning sand. The giant birds closed in for their feast.
Saturday was market day in Cape Town and the streets were crowded with shoppers looking for bargains, meeting friends and lovers. Boers and Frenchmen, soldiers in colorful uniforms and English ladies in flounced skirts and ruffled blouses mingled in front of the bazaars set up in the town squares at Braameon-stein and Park Town and Burgersdorp.
Everything was for sale: furniture, horses and carriages and fresh fruit. One could purchase dresses and chessboards, or meat or books in a dozen different languages. On Saturdays, Cape Town was a noisy, bustling fair.
Banda walked along slowly through the crowd, careful not to make eye contact with the whites. It was too dangerous. The streets were filled with blacks, Indians and coloreds, but the white minority ruled. Banda hated them. This was his land, and the whites were the uitlanders. There were many tribes in southern Africa: the Basutos, Zulus, Bechuanas, the Matabele—all of them Bantu. The very word bantu came from abantu—the people. But the Barolongs—Banda's tribe—were the aristocracy. Banda remembered the tales his grandmother told him of the great black kingdom that had once ruled South Africa. Their kingdom, their country. And now they were enslaved by a handful of white jackals. The whites had pushed them into smaller and smaller territories, until their freedom had been eroded. Now, the only way a black could exist was by slim, subservient on the surface, but cunning and clever beneath.
Banda did not know how old he was, for natives had no birth certificates. Their ages were measured by tribal lore: wars and battles, and births and deaths of great chiefs, comets and blizzards and earthquakes, Adam Kok's trek, the death of Chaka and the cattle-killing revolution. But the number of bis years made no difference. Banda knew he was the son of a chief, and that he was destined to do something for his people. Once again, the Bantus would rise and rule because of him. The thought of his mission made him walk taller and straighter for a moment, until he felt the eyes of a white man upon him.
Banda hurried east toward the outskirts of town, the district allotted to the blacks. The large homes and attractive shops gradually gave way to tin shacks and lean-tos and huts.
He moved down a dirt street, looking over bis shoulder to make certain he was not followed. He reached a wooden shack, took one last look around, rapped twice on the door and entered. A thin black woman was seated in a chair in a corner of the room sewing on a dress. Banda nodded to her and then continued on into the bedroom in back.
He looked down at the figure lying on the cot.
Six weeks earlier Jamie McGregor had regained consciousness and found himself on a cot in a strange house. Memory came flooding back. He was in the Karroo again, his body broken, helpless. The vultures ...
Then Banda had walked into the tiny bedroom, and Jamie knew he had come to kill him.
Van der Merwe had somehow learned Jamie was still alive and had sent his servant to finish him off.
"Why didn't your master come himself?" Jamie croaked.
"I have no master."
"Van der Merwe. He didn't send you?"
"No. He would kill us both if he knew."
None of this made any sense. "Where am I? I want to know where I am."
"Cape Town."
"That's impossible. How did I get here?"
"I brought you."
Jamie stared into the black eyes for a long moment before he spoke. "Why?"
"I need you. I want vengeance."
"What do you—?"
Banda moved closer. "Not for me. I do not care about me. Van der Merwe raped my sister. She died giving birth to his baby. My sister was eleven years old."
Jamie lay back, stunned. "My God!"
"Since the day she died I have been looking for a white man to help me. I found him that night in the barn where I helped beat you up, Mr. McGregor. We dumped you in the Karroo. I was ordered to kill you. I told the others you were dead, and I returned to get you as soon as I could. I was almost too late."
Jamie could not repress a shudder. He could feel again the foul-smelling carrion bird digging into his flesh.
"The birds were already starting to feast. I carried you to the wagon and hid you at the house of my people. One of our doctors taped your ribs and set your leg and tended to your wounds."
"And after that?"
"A wagonful of my relatives was leaving for Cape Town. We took you with us. You were out of your head most of the time. Each time you fell asleep, I was afraid you were not going to wake up again."
Jamie looked into the eyes of the man who had almost murdered him. He had to think.
He did not trust this man—and yet he had saved his life. Banda wanted to get at Van der Merwe through him. That can work both ways, Jamie decided. More than anything in the world, Jamie wanted to make Van der Merwe pay for what he had done to him.
"All right," Jamie told Banda. "I'll find a way to pay Van der lierwe back for both of us."
For the first time, a thin smile appeared on Banda's face. "Is he going to die?" > "No,"
Jamie told him. "He's going to live."
Jamie got out of bed that afternoon for the first time, dizzy and weak. His leg still had not completely healed, and he walked with a slight limp. Banda tried to assist him.
"Let go of me. I can make it on my own."
Banda watched as Jamie carefully moved across the room.
'I'd like a mirror," Jamie said. / must look terrible, he thought. How long has it been since I've had a shave? Banda returned with a hand mirror, and Jamie held it up to his face. He was looking at a total stranger. His hair had turned snow-white. He had a full, unkempt white beard. His nose had been broken and a ridge of bone pushed it to one side. His face had aged twenty years. There were deep ridges along his sunken cheeks and a livid scar across his chin. But the biggest change was in his eyes. They were eyes that had seen too much pain, felt too much, hated too much. He slowly put down the mirror.
"I'm going out for a walk," Jamie said.
"Sorry, Mr. McGregor. That's not possible."
"Why not?"
"White men do not come to this part of town, just as blacks never go into the white places. My neighbors do not know you are here. We brought you in at night."
"How do I leave?"
"I will move you out tonight."
For the first time, Jamie began to realize how much Banda had risked for him.
Embarrassed, Jamie said, "I have no money. I need a job."
"I took a job at the shipyard. They are always looking for men." He took some money from his pocket. "Here."
Jamie took the money. "I'll pay it back."
"You will pay my sister back," Banda told him.
It was midnight when Banda led Jamie out of the shack. Jamie looked around. He was in the middle of a shantytown, a jungle of rusty, corrugated iron shacks and lean-tos, made from rotting planks and torn sacking. The ground, muddy from a recent rain, gave off a rank odor. Jamie wondered how people as proud as Banda could bear spending their lives in a place such as this. "Isn't there some—?"
"Don't talk, please," Banda whispered. "My neighbors are inquisitive." He led Jamie outside the compound and pointed "The center of town is in that direction. I will see you at the shipyard."
Jamie checked into the same boardinghouse where he had stayed on his arrival from England. Mrs. Venster was behind the desk.
"I'd like a room," Jamie said.
"Certainly, sir." She smiled, revealing her gold tooth. "I'm Mrs. Venster."
"I know."
"Now how would you know a thing like that?" she asked coyly. "Have your men friends been tellin' tales out of school?"
"Mrs. Venster, don't you remember me? I stayed here last year."
She took a close look at his scarred face, his broken nose and his white beard, and there was not the slightest sign of recognition. "I never forget a face, dearie. And I've never seen yours before. But that don't mean we're not going to be good friends, does it? My friends call me 'Dee-Dee.' What's your name, love?"
And Jamie heard himself saying, "Travis. Ian Travis."
The following morning Jamie went to see about work at the shipyard.
The busy foreman said, "We need strong backs. The problem is you might be a bit old for this kind of work."
"I'm only nineteen—" Jamie started to say and stopped himself. He remembered that face in the mirror. 'Try me," he said.
He went to work as a stevedore at nine shillings a day, loading and unloading the ships that came into the harbor. He learned that Banda and the other black stevedores received six shillings
a day. At the first opportunity, Jamie pulled Banda aside and said,
"We have to talk."
"Not here, Mr. McGregor. There's an abandoned warehouse at the end of the docks. I'll meet you there when the shift is over."
Banda was waiting when Jamie arrived at the deserted warehouse.
"Tell me about Salomon van der Merwe," Jamie said.
"What do you want to know?"
Banda spat. "He came to South Africa from Holland. From stories I heard, his wife was ugly, but wealthy. She died of some sickness and Van der Merwe took her money and went up to Klipdrift and opened his general store. He got rich cheating diggers."
"The way he cheated me?"
'That's only one of his ways. Diggers who strike it lucky go to him for money to help them work their claim, and before they know it Van der Merwe owns them."
"Hasn't anyone ever tried to fight back?"
"How can they? The town clerk's on his payroll. The law says that if forty-five days go by without working a claim, it's open. The town clerk tips off Van der Merwe and he grabs it.
There's another trick he uses. Claims have to be staked out at each boundary line with pegs pointing straight up in the air. If the pegs fall down, a jumper can claim the property.
Well, when Van der Merwe sees a claim he likes, he sends someone around at night, and in the morning the stakes are on the ground." "Jesus!"
"He's made a deal with the bartender, Smit. Smit sends likely-looking prospectors to Van der Merwe, and they sign partnership contracts and if they find diamonds, Van der Merwe takes everything for himself. If they become troublesome, he's got a lot of men on his payroll who follow his orders." "I know about that," Jamie said grimly. "What else?"
"He's a religious fanatic. He's always praying for the souls of sinners."
"What about his daughter?" She had to be involved in this.
"Miss Margaret? She's frightened to death of her father. If she even looked at a man, Van der Merwe would kill them both."
Jamie turned his back and walked over to the door, where he stood looking out at the harbor. He had a lot to think about. "We'll talk again tomorrow."
It was in Cape Town that Jamie became aware of the enormous schism between the blacks and whites. The blacks had no rights except the few they were given by those in power. They were herded into conclaves that were ghettos and were allowed to leave only to work for the white man.
"How do you stand it?" Jamie asked Banda one day.
"The hungry lion hides its claws. We will change all this someday. The white man accepts the black man because his muscles are needed, but he must also learn to accept his brain. The more he drives us into a corner, the more he fears us because he knows that one day there may be discrimination and humiliation in reverse. He cannot bear the thought of that. But we will survive because of isiko."
"Who is isiko?"
Banda shook his head. "Not a who. A what. It is difficult to explain, Mr. McGregor. Isiko is our roots. It is the feeling of belonging to a nation that has given its name to the great Zambezi River. Generations ago my ancestors entered the waters of the Zambezi naked, driving their herds before them. Their weakest members were lost, the prey of the swirling waters or hungry crocodiles, but the survivors emerged from the waters stronger and more virile. When a Bantu dies, isiko demands that the members of his family retire to the forest so that the rest of the community will not have to share their distress. Isiko is the scorn felt for a slave who cringes, the belief that a man can look anyone in the face, that he is worth no more and no less than any other man. Have you heard of John Tengo Jabavu?" He pronounced the name with reverence.
"You will, Mr. McGregor," Banda promised. "You will."
And Banda changed the subject.
Jamie began to feel a growing admiration for Banda. In the beginning there was a wariness between the two men. Jamie had to learn to trust a man who had almost killed him. And Banda had to learn to trust an age-old enemy—a white man. Unlike most of the blacks Jamie had met, Banda was educated.
"Where did you go to school?" Jamie asked.
"Nowhere. I've worked since I was a small boy. My grandmother educated me. She worked for a Boer schoolteacher. She learned to read and write so she could teach me to read and write. I owe her everything."
It was on a late Saturday afternoon after work that Jamie first heard of the Namib Desert in Great Namaqualand. He and Banda were in the deserted warehouse on the docks, sharing an impala stew Banda's mother had cooked. It was good—a little gamey for Jamie's taste, but his bowl was soon empty, and he lay back on some old sacks to question Banda.
"When did you first meet Van der Merwe?"
"When I was working at the diamond beach on the Namib Desert. He owns the beach with two partners. He had just stolen his share from some poor prospector, and he was down there
visiting it." "If Van der Merwe is so rich, why does he still work at his store?"
"The store is his bait. That's how he gets new prospectors to come to him. And he grows richer."
Jamie thought of how easily he himself had been cheated. How trusting that naive young boy had been! He could see Margaret's oval-shaped face as she said, My father might be the one to help you. He had thought she was a child until he had noticed her breasts and—
Jamie suddenly jumped to his feet, a smile on his face, and the up-turning of his lips made the livid scar across his chin ripple.
'Tell me how you happened to go to work for Van der Merwe."
"On the day he came to the beach with his daughter—she was about eleven then—I suppose she got bored sitting around and she went into the water and the tide grabbed her. I jumped in and pulled her out. I was a young boy, but I thought Van der Merwe was going to kill me." Jamie stared at him. "Why?"
"Because I had my arms around her. Not because I was black, but because I was a male. He can't stand the thought of any man touching his daughter. Someone finally calmed him down and reminded him that I had saved her life. He brought me back to Klipdrift as his servant." Banda hesitated a moment, then continued. "Two months later, my sister came to visit me." His voice was very quiet. "She was the same age as Van der Merwe's daughter." There was nothing Jamie could say.
Finally Banda broke the silence. "I should have stayed in the Namib Desert. That was an easy job. We'd crawl along the beach picking up diamonds and putting them in little jam tins."
"Wait a minute. Are you saying that the diamonds are just lying there, on top of the sand?"
"That's what I'm saying, Mr. McGregor. But forget what you're thinking. Nobody can get near that field. It's on the ocean, and the waves are up to thirty feet high. They don't even bother guarding the shore. A lot of people have tried to sneak in by sea. They've all been killed by the waves or the reefs." 'There must be some other way to get in." "No. The Namib Desert runs right down to the ocean's shore."
"What about the entrance to the diamond field?"
'There's a guard tower and a barbed-wire fence. Inside the fence are guards with guns and dogs that'll tear a man to pieces.
And they have a new kind of explosive called a land mine.
They're buried all over the field. If you don't have a map of the land mines, you'll get blown to bits." "How large is the diamond field?"
"It runs for about thirty-five miles."
Thirty-five miles of diamonds just lying on the sand. . . "My God!"
"You aren't the first one to get excited about the diamond fields at the Namib, and you won't be the last. I've picked up what was left of people who tried to come in by boat and got torn apart by the reefs. I've seen what those land mines do if a man takes one wrong step, and I've watched those dogs rip out a man's throat. Forget it, Mr. McGregor. I've been there. There's no way in and there's no way out—not alive, that is."
Jamie was unable to sleep that night. He kept visualizing thirty-five miles of sand sprinkled with enormous diamonds belonging to Van der Merwe. He thought of the sea and the jagged reefs, the dogs hungry to kill, the guards and the land mines. He was not afraid of the danger; he was not afraid of dying. He was only afraid of dying before he repaid Salomon van der Merwe.
On the following Monday Jamie went into a cartographer's shop and bought a map of Great Namaqualand. There was the beach, off the South Atlantic Ocean between Luderitz to the north and the Orange River Estuary to the south. The area was marked in red: sperrgebiet—Forbidden.
Jamie examined every detail of the area on the map, going over it again and again.
There were three thousand miles of ocean flowing from South America to South Africa, with nothing to impede the waves, so that their full fury was spent on the deadly reefs of the South Atlantic shore. Forty miles south, down the coastline, was an open beach. That must be where the poor bastards launched their boats to sail into the forbidden area, Jamie decided. Looking at the map, he could understand why the shore was not guarded.
The reefs would make a landing im-possible.
Jamie turned his attention to the land entrance to the diamond field. According to Banda, the area was fenced in with barbed wire and patrolled twenty-four hours a day by armed guards. At the entrance itself was a manned watchtower. And even if one did somehow manage to slip past the watch-tower into the diamond area, there would be the land mines and guard dogs.
The following day when Jamie met Banda, he asked, "You said there was a land-mine map of the field?"
"In the Namib Desert? The supervisors have the maps, and they lead the diggers to work. Everybody walks in a single file so no one gets blown up." His eyes filled with a memory. "One day my uncle was walking in front of me and he stumbled on a rock and fell on top of a land mine. There wasn't enough left of him to take home to his family."
Jamie shuddered.
"And then there's the sea mis, Mr. McGregor. You've never seen a mis until you've been in one in the Namib. It rolls in from the ocean and blows all the way across the desert to the mountains and it blots out everything. If you're caught in one of them, you don't dare move. The land-mine maps are no good then because you can't see where you're going.
Everybody just sits quietly until the mis lifts."
"How long do they last?"
Banda shrugged. "Sometimes a few hours, sometimes a few days."
"Banda, have you ever seen a map of those land mines?" "They're closely guarded." A worried look crossed his face. "I'm telling you again, no one can get away with what you're thinking. Once in a while workers will try to smuggle out a diamond. There is a special tree for hanging them. It's a lesson to everybody not to try to steal from the company."
The whole thing looked impossible. Even if he could manage to get into Van der Merwe's diamond field, there was no way out. Banda was right. He would have to forget about it.
The next day he asked Banda, "How does Van der Merwe keep the workers from stealing diamonds when they come off their shifts?"
"They're searched. They strip them down mother-naked and then they look up and down every hole they've got. I've seen
workers cut gashes in their legs and try to smuggle diamonds out in them. Some drill out their back teeth and stick diamonds up there. They've tried every trick you can think of" He looked at Jamie and said, "If you want to live, you'll get that diamond field off your mind."
Jamie tried. But the idea kept coming back to him, taunting him. Van der Merwe's diamonds just lying on the sand waiting. Waiting for him.
The solution came to Jamie that night. He could hardly contain his impatience until he saw Banda. Without preamble, Jamie said, 'Tell me about the boats that have tried to land on the beach."
"What about them?"
"What kind of boats were they?"
"Every kind you can think of. A schooner. A tugboat. A big motorboat. Sailboat. Four men even tried it in a rowboat. While I worked the field, there were half a dozen tries. The reefs just chewed the boats to pieces. Everybody drowned."
Jamie took a deep breath. "Did anyone ever try to get in by raft?"
Banda was staring at him. "Raft?"
"Yes." Jamie's excitement was growing. 'Think about it. No one ever made it to the shore because the bottoms of their boats were torn out by the reefs. But a raft will glide right over those reefs and onto the shore. And it can get out the same way."
Banda looked at him for a long time. When he spoke, there was a different note in his voice. "You know, Mr. McGregor, you might just have an idea there___"
It started as a game, a possible solution to an unsolvable puzzle. But the more Jamie and Banda discussed it, the more excited they became. What had started as idle conversation began to take concrete shape as a plan of action. Because the diamonds were lying on top of the sand, no equipment would be required. They could build their raft, with a sail, on the free beach forty miles south of the Sperrgebiet and sail it in at night, unobserved.
There were no land mines along the unguarded shore, and the guards and patrols only operated inland. The two men could roam the beach freely, gathering up all the diamonds they could carry.
"We can be on our way out before dawn," Jamie said, "with our pockets full of Van der Merwe's diamonds."
"How do we get out?"
'The same way we got in. We'll paddle the raft over the reefs to the open sea, put up the sail and we're home free."
Under Jamie's persuasive arguments, Banda's doubts began to melt. He tried to poke holes in the plan and every time he came up with an objection, Jamie answered it. The plan could work. The beautiful part of it was its simplicity, and the fact that it would require no money. Only a great deal of nerve.
"All we need is a big bag to put the diamonds in," Jamie said. His enthusiasm was infectious.
Banda grinned. "Let's make that two big bags."
The following week they quit their jobs and boarded a bullock wagon to Port Nolloth, the coastal village forty miles south of the forbidden area where they were headed.
At Port Nolloth, they disembarked and looked around. The village was small and primitive, with shanties and tin huts and a few stores, and a pristine white beach that seemed to stretch on forever. There were no reefs here, and the waves lapped gently at the shore. It was a perfect place to launch their raft.
There was no hotel, but the little market rented a room in back to Jamie. Banda found himself a bed in the black quarter of the village.
"We have to find a place to build our raft in secret," Jamie told Banda. "We don't want anyone reporting us to the authorities."
That afternoon they came across an old, abandoned warehouse.
"This will be perfect," Jamie decided. "Let's get to work on the raft."
"Not yet," Banda told him. "We'll wait. Buy a bottle of whiskey" "What for?"
"You'll see."
The following morning, Jamie was visited by the district constable, a florid, heavy-set man with a large nose covered with the telltale broken veins of a tippler.
"Mornin'." he greeted Jamie. "I heard we had a visitor. Thought I'd stop by and say hello.
I'm Constable Mundy."
"Ian Travis," Jamie replied.
"Headin' north, Mr. Travis?"
"South. My servant and I are on our way to Cape Town."
"Ah. I was in Cape Town once. Too bloody big, too bloody noisy." "I agree. Can I offer you a drink, Constable?" "I never drink on duty." Constable Mundy paused, making a
decision. "However, just this once, I might make an exception, I suppose."
"Fine." Jamie brought out the bottle of whiskey, wondering how Banda could have known. He poured out two fingers into a dirty tooth glass and handed it to the constable.
"Thank you, Mr. Travis. Where's yours?"
"I can't drink," Jamie said ruefully. "Malaria. That's why I'm going to Cape Town. To get medical attention. I'm stopping off here a few days to rest. Traveling's very hard on me."
Constable Mundy was studying him. "You look pretty
"You should see me when the chills start." The constable's glass was empty. Jamie filled it. "Thank you. Don't mind if I do." He finished the second drink in one swallow and stood up. "I'd best be gettin' along. You said you and your man will be movin' on in a day or two?" "As soon as I'm feeling stronger." "I'll come back and check on you Friday,"
Mundy said.
That night, Jamie and Banda went to work on the raft in the deserted warehouse. "Banda, have you ever built a raft?" "Well, to tell you the truth, Mr.
McGregor, no." "Neither have I." The two men stared at each other. "How difficult can it be?"
They stole four empty, fifty-gallon wooden oil barrels from behind the market and carried them to the warehouse. When they had them assembled, they spaced them out in a square. Next they gathered four empty crates and placed one over each oil barrel.
Banda looked dubious. "It doesn't look like a raft to me."
"We're not finished yet," Jamie assured him.
There was no planking available so they covered the top layer with whatever was at hand: branches from the stinkwood tree, limbs from the Cape beech, large leaves from the marula. They lashed everything down with thick hemp rope, tying each knot with careful precision.
When they were finished, Banda looked it over. "It still doesn't look like a raft."
"It will look better when we get the sail up," Jamie promised.
They made a mast from a fallen yellowwood tree, and picked up two flat branches for paddles.
"Now all we need is a sail. We need it fast. Fd like to get out of here tonight. Constable Mundy's coming back tomorrow."
It was Banda who found the sail. He came back late that evening with an enormous piece of blue cloth. "How's this, Mr. McGregor?"
'Perfect Where did you get it?"
Banda grinned. "Don't ask. We're in enough trouble."
They rigged up a square sail with a boom below and a yard on top, and at last it was ready.
"We'll take off at two in the morning when the village is asleep," Jamie told Banda.
"Better get some rest until then."
But neither man was able to sleep. Each was filled with the excitement of the adventure that lay ahead.
Master Of The Game Master Of The Game - Sidney Sheldon Master Of The Game