#19 – Wonders!

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
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.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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