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.”
“That’s our Dutch word for diamonds. Pretty pebbles.”
“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
“How do I do that?”
“My father might be the one to help you with that. He knows everything. He’ll be free in
“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.
Novel Book: MASTER OF THE GAME
Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust