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
“… 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
“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
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Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust