#30 – Like Nightmare

Salomon van der Merwe was waiting on a customer. The little Dutchman looked up and
smiled, and Jamie knew that somehow Van der Merwe had already heard the news. No
one could explain it, but news of a diamond strike flashed across the continent with the
speed of light.
When Van der Merwe had finished with the customer, he nodded his head toward the
back of the store. “Come, Mr. McGregor.”
Jamie followed him. Van der Merwe’s daughter was at the stove, preparing lunch. “Hello,
She flushed and looked away.
“Well! I hear there is good news.” Van der Merwe beamed. He seated himself at the
table and pushed the plate and silverware away, clearing a place in front of him.
“That’s right, sir.” Proudly, Jamie took a large leather pouch from his jacket pocket and
poured the diamonds on the kitchen table. Van der Merwe stared at them, hypnotized,
then picked them up slowly, one by one, savoring each one, saving the largest until last.
Then he scooped up the diamonds, put them in a chamois bag and put the bag in a large
iron safe in the corner and locked it.
When he spoke, there was a note of deep satisfaction in his voice. “You’ve done well,
Mr. McGregor. Very well, indeed.”
‘Thank you, sir. This is only the beginning. There are hundreds more there. I don’t even
dare think about how much they’re worth.”
“And you’ve staked out the claim properly?”
“Yes, sir.” Jamie reached in his pocket and pulled out the registration slip. “It’s registered
in both our names.”
Van der Merwe studied the slip, then put it in his pocket. “You deserve a bonus. Wait
here.” He started toward the doorway that led into the shop. “Come along, Margaret.”
She followed him meekly, and Jamie thought, She’s like a frightened kitten.
A few mintues later, Van der Merwe returned, alone. “Here we are.” He opened a purse
and carefully counted out fifty pounds.
Jamie looked at him, puzzled. “What’s this for, sir?”
“For you, son. All of it.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“You’ve been gone twenty-four weeks. At two pounds a week, that’s forty-eight pounds,
and I’m giving you an extra two pounds as a bonus.”
Jamie laughed.”I don’t need a bonus. I have my share of the diamonds.”
“Your share of the diamonds?”
“Why, yes, sir. My fifty percent. We’re partners.”
Van der Merwe was staring at him. “Partners? Where did you get that idea?”
“Where did I—?” Jamie looked at the Dutchman in bewilderment. “We have a contract.”
“That is correct. Have you read it?”
“Well, no, sir. It’s in Afrikaans, but you said we were fifty-fifty partners.”
The older man shook his head. “You misunderstood me, Mr. McGregor. I don’t need any
partners. You were working for me. I outfitted you and sent you to find diamonds for me.”
Jamie could feel a slow rage boiling up within him. “You gave me nothing. I paid you a
hundred and twenty pounds for that equipment.”
The old man shrugged. “I won’t waste my valuable time quibbling. Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll
give you an extra five pounds, and we’ll call the whole thing quits. I think that’s very
Jamie exploded in a fury. “We’ll nae call the whole thing quits!” In his anger his Scottish
burr came back. “I’m entitled to half that claim. And I’ll get it. I registered it in both our
Van der Merwe smiled thinly. “Then you tried to cheat me. I could have you arrested for
that.” He shoved the money into Jamie’s hand. “Now take your wages and get out.”
‘I’ll fight you!”
“Do you have money for a lawyer? I own them all in these parts, boy.”
This isn’t happening to me, Jamie thought. It’s a nightmare. The agony he had gone
through, the weeks and months of the burning desert, the punishing physical labor from
sunrise to sunset—it all came flooding back. He had nearly died, and now this man was
trying to cheat him out of what was his.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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