#13 – Magic day

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
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
“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.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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