#20 – Fools’ diamonds

When they were seated at the table, Van der Merwe began, “Let us have a blessing. We
thank Thee, O Lord, for the bounty we receive at Thy hands. We thank Thee for forgiving
us our sins and showing us the path of righteousness and delivering us from life’s
temptations. We thank Thee for a long and fruitful life, and for smiting dead all those who
offend Thee. Amen.” And without a breath between, “Pass me the meat,” he said to his
The dinner was frugal: a small roast pork, three boiled potatoes and a dish of turnip
greens. The portions he served to Jamie were small. The two men talked little during the
meal, and Margaret did not speak at all.
When they had finished eating, Van der Merwe said, “That was fine, Daughter,” and
there was pride in his voice. He turned to Jamie. “We get down to business, ja?”
“Yes, sir.”
Van der Merwe picked up a long clay pipe from the top of the wooden cabinet. He filled it
with a sweet-smelling tobacco from a small pouch and lighted the pipe. His sharp eyes
peered intently at Jamie through the wreaths of smoke.
‘The diggers here at Klipdrift are fools. Too few diamonds, too many diggers. A man
could break his back here for a year and have nothing to show for it but schlenters.”
“I—I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that word, sir.”
“Fools’ diamonds. Worthless. Do you follow me?”
“I— Yes, sir. I think so. But what’s the answer, sir?”
‘The Griquas.”
Jamie looked at him blankly.
“They’re an African tribe up north. They find diamonds—big ones—and sometimes they
bring them to me and I trade them for goods.” The Dutchman lowered his voice to a
conspiratorial whisper. “I know where they find them.”
“But could you nae go after them yourself, Mr. van der Merwe?”
Van der Merwe sighed. “No. I can’t leave the store. People would steal me blind. I need
someone I can trust to go up there and bring the stones back. When I find the right man, I’ll
supply him with all the equipment he needs.” He paused to take a long drag on the pipe.
“And I’ll tell him where the diamonds are.”
Jamie leaped to his feet, his heart pounding. “Mr. van der Merwe, I’m the person you’re
looking for. Believe me, sir, I’ll work night and day.” His voice was charged with
excitement. ‘I’ll bring you back more diamonds than you can count.”
Van der Merwe silently studied him for what seemed to Jamie to be an eternity. When
Van der Merwe finally spoke, he said only one word. “Ja.”
Jamie signed the contract the following morning. It was written in Afrikaans.
‘I’ll have to explain it to you,” Van der Merwe said. “It says we’re full partners. I put up the
capital—you put up the labor. We share everything equally.”
Jamie looked at the contract in Van der Merwe’s hand. In the middle of all the
incomprehensible foreign words he recognized only a sum: two pounds.
Jamie pointed to it. “What is that for, Mr. van der Merwe?”
“It means that in addition to your owning half the diamonds you find, you’ll get an extra
two pounds for every week you work. Even though I know the diamonds are out there, it’s
possible you might not find anything, lad. This way you’ll at least get something for your
The man was being more than fair. “Thank you. Thank you very much, sir.” Jamie could
have hugged him.
Van der Merwe said, “Now let’s get you outfitted.”


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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