#21 – one hundred and twenty pounds!

It took two hours to select the equipment that Jamie would take into the bush with him: a
small tent, bedding, cooking utensils, two sieves and a washing cradle, a pick, two
shovels, three buckets and one change of socks and underwear. There was an ax and a
lantern and paraffin oil, matches and arsenical soap. There were tins of food, biltong, fruit,
sugar, coffee and salt. At last everything was in readiness. The black servant, Banda,
silently helped Jamie stow everything into backpacks. The huge man never glanced at
Jamie and never spoke one word. He doesn’t speak English, Jamie decided. Margaret was
in the store waiting on customers, but if she knew Jamie was there, she gave no
Van der Merwe came over to Jamie. “Your mule’s in front,” he said. “Banda will help you
load up.”
“Thank you, Mr. van der Merwe,” Jamie said. “I—”
Van der Merwe consulted a piece of paper covered with figures. “That will be one
hundred and twenty pounds.”
Jamie looked at him blankly. “W—what? This is part of our deal. We—”
“Wat bedui’di?” Van der Merwe’s thin face darkened with anger. “You expect me to give
you all this, and a fine mule, and make you a partner, and give you two pounds a week on
top of that? If you’re looking for something for nothing, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
He began to unload one of the backpacks.
Jamie said quickly, “No! Please, Mr. van der Merwe. I—I just didn’t understand. It’s
pefectly all right. I have the money right here.” He reached in his pouch and put the last of
his savings on the counter.
Van der Merwe hesitated. “All right,” he said grudgingly. “Perhaps it was a
misunderstanding, neh? This town is full of cheaters. I have to be careful who I do
business with.”
“Yes, sir. Of course you do,” Jamie agreed. In his excitement, he had misunderstood the
deal. I’m lucky he’s giving me another chance, Jamie thought.
Van der Merwe reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, wrinkled, hand-drawn
map. “Here is where you’ll find
the mooi klippe. North of here at Magerdam on the northern bank of the Vaal.”
Jamie studied the map, and his heart began to beat faster. “How many miles is it?”
“Here we measure distance by time. With the mule, you should make the journey in four
or five days. Coming back will be slower because of the weight of the diamonds.”
Jamie grinned. “Ja.”
When Jamie McGregor stepped back out onto the streets of Klipdrift, he was no longer a
tourist. He was a prospector, a digger, on his way to his fortune. Banda had finished
loading the supplies onto the back of a frail-looking mule tethered to the hitching post in
front of the store.
“Thanks.” Jamie smiled.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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