#42 – Difficult task!

The solution came to Jamie that night. He could hardly contain his impatience until he
saw Banda. Without preamble, Jamie said, ‘Tell me about the boats that have tried to land
on the beach.”
“What about them?”
“What kind of boats were they?”
“Every kind you can think of. A schooner. A tugboat. A big motorboat. Sailboat. Four
men even tried it in a rowboat. While I worked the field, there were half a dozen tries. The
reefs just chewed the boats to pieces. Everybody drowned.”
Jamie took a deep breath. “Did anyone ever try to get in by raft?”
Banda was staring at him. “Raft?”
“Yes.” Jamie’s excitement was growing. ‘Think about it. No one ever made it to the shore
because the bottoms of their boats were torn out by the reefs. But a raft will glide right over
those reefs and onto the shore. And it can get out the same way.”
Banda looked at him for a long time. When he spoke, there was a different note in his
voice. “You know, Mr. McGregor, you might just have an idea there___”
It started as a game, a possible solution to an unsolvable puzzle. But the more Jamie
and Banda discussed it, the more excited they became. What had started as idle
conversation began to take concrete shape as a plan of action. Because the diamonds
were lying on top of the sand, no equipment would be required. They could build their raft,
with a sail, on the free beach forty miles south of the Sperrgebiet and sail it in at night,
There were no land mines along the unguarded shore, and the guards and patrols only
operated inland. The two men could roam the beach freely, gathering up all the diamonds
they could carry.
“We can be on our way out before dawn,” Jamie said, “with our pockets full of Van der
Merwe’s diamonds.”
“How do we get out?”
‘The same way we got in. We’ll paddle the raft over the reefs to the open sea, put up the
sail and we’re home free.”
Under Jamie’s persuasive arguments, Banda’s doubts began to melt. He tried to poke
holes in the plan and every time he came up with an objection, Jamie answered it. The
plan could work. The beautiful part of it was its simplicity, and the fact that it would require
no money. Only a great deal of nerve.
“All we need is a big bag to put the diamonds in,” Jamie said. His enthusiasm was
Banda grinned. “Let’s make that two big bags.”
The following week they quit their jobs and boarded a bullock wagon to Port Nolloth, the
coastal village forty miles south of the forbidden area where they were headed.
At Port Nolloth, they disembarked and looked around. The village was small and
primitive, with shanties and tin huts and a few stores, and a pristine white beach that
seemed to stretch on forever. There were no reefs here, and the waves lapped gently at
the shore. It was a perfect place to launch their raft.
There was no hotel, but the little market rented a room in back to Jamie. Banda found
himself a bed in the black quarter of the village.
“We have to find a place to build our raft in secret,” Jamie told Banda. “We don’t want
anyone reporting us to the authorities.”
That afternoon they came across an old, abandoned warehouse.
“This will be perfect,” Jamie decided. “Let’s get to work on the raft.”
“Not yet,” Banda told him. “We’ll wait. Buy a bottle of whiskey” “What for?”
“You’ll see.”
The following morning, Jamie was visited by the district constable, a florid, heavy-set
man with a large nose covered with the telltale broken veins of a tippler.
“Mornin’.” he greeted Jamie. “I heard we had a visitor. Thought I’d stop by and say hello.
I’m Constable Mundy.”
“Ian Travis,” Jamie replied.
“Headin’ north, Mr. Travis?”
“South. My servant and I are on our way to Cape Town.”
“Ah. I was in Cape Town once. Too bloody big, too bloody
noisy.” “I agree. Can I offer you a drink, Constable?” “I never drink on duty.” Constable
Mundy paused, making a
decision. “However, just this once, I might make an exception, I
“Fine.” Jamie brought out the bottle of whiskey, wondering how Banda could have
known. He poured out two fingers into a dirty tooth glass and handed it to the constable.
“Thank you, Mr. Travis. Where’s yours?”
“I can’t drink,” Jamie said ruefully. “Malaria. That’s why I’m going to Cape Town. To get
medical attention. I’m stopping off here a few days to rest. Traveling’s very hard on me.”
Constable Mundy was studying him. “You look pretty
“You should see me when the chills start.” The constable’s glass was empty. Jamie filled
it. “Thank you. Don’t mind if I do.” He finished the second drink in one swallow and stood
up. “I’d best be gettin’ along. You said you and your man will be movin’ on in a day
or two?” “As soon as I’m feeling stronger.” “I’ll come back and check on you Friday,”
Mundy said.
That night, Jamie and Banda went to work on the raft in the
deserted warehouse. “Banda, have you ever built a raft?” “Well, to tell you the truth, Mr.
McGregor, no.” “Neither have I.” The two men stared at each other. “How
difficult can it be?”


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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