The following morning Jamie went to see about work at the shipyard.
The busy foreman said, “We need strong backs. The problem is you might be a bit old
for this kind of work.”
“I’m only nineteen—” Jamie started to say and stopped himself. He remembered that face
in the mirror. ‘Try me,” he said.
He went to work as a stevedore at nine shillings a day, loading
and unloading the ships that came into the harbor. He learned that Banda and the other
black stevedores received six shillings
a day. At the first opportunity, Jamie pulled Banda aside and said,
“We have to talk.”
“Not here, Mr. McGregor. There’s an abandoned warehouse at the end of the docks. I’ll
meet you there when the shift is over.”
Banda was waiting when Jamie arrived at the deserted warehouse.
“Tell me about Salomon van der Merwe,” Jamie said.
“What do you want to know?”
Banda spat. “He came to South Africa from Holland. From stories I heard, his wife was
ugly, but wealthy. She died of some sickness and Van der Merwe took her money and
went up to Klipdrift and opened his general store. He got rich cheating diggers.”
“The way he cheated me?”
‘That’s only one of his ways. Diggers who strike it lucky go to him for money to help them
work their claim, and before they know it Van der Merwe owns them.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever tried to fight back?”
“How can they? The town clerk’s on his payroll. The law says that if forty-five days go by
without working a claim, it’s open. The town clerk tips off Van der Merwe and he grabs it.
There’s another trick he uses. Claims have to be staked out at each boundary line with
pegs pointing straight up in the air. If the pegs fall down, a jumper can claim the property.
Well, when Van der Merwe sees a claim he likes, he sends someone around at night, and
in the morning the stakes are on the ground.” “Jesus!”
Novel Book: MASTER OF THE GAME
Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust