#18 – R-D MILLER

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.”


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

Read More


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s