#44 – Mercury, Ichabod, Plum Pudding .. .

At two a.m. they met at the warehouse. There was an eagerness in both of them, and an unspoken fear.
They were embarking on a journey that would either make them rich or bring them death. There was no
middle way.
“It’s time,” Jamie anounced.
They stepped outside. Nothing was stirring. The night was still and peaceful, with a vast canopy of blue
overhead. A sliver of moon appeared high in the sky. Good, Jamie thought. There won’t be much light to see
us by. Their timetable was complicated by the fact that they had to leave the village at night so no one would
be aware of their departure, and arrive at the diamond beach the next night so they could slip into the field
and be safely back at sea before dawn.
“The Benguela current should carry us to the diamond fields sometime in the late afternoon,” Jamie said.
“But we can’t go in by daylight. We’ll have to stay out of sight at sea until dark.”
Banda nodded. “We can hide out at one of the little islands off the coast.”
“What islands?”
“There are dozens of them—Mercury, Ichabod, Plum Pudding .. .”
Jamie gave him a strange look. “Plum Pudding?”
“There’s also a Roast Beef Island.”
Jamie took out his creased map and consulted it. “This doesn’t show any of those.”
‘They’re guano islands. The British harvest the bird droppings for fertilizer.”
“Anyone live on those islands?”
“Can’t. The smell’s too bad. In places the guano is a hundred feet thick. The government uses gangs of
deserters and prisoners to pick it up. Some of them die on the island and they just leave the bodies there.”
“That’s where we’ll hide out,” Jamie decided.
Working quietly, the two men slid open the door to the warehouse and started to lift the raft. It was too heavy
to move. They sweated and tugged, but in vain.
“Wait here,” Banda said. He hurried out. Half an hour later, he returned with a large, round log. “We’ll use
this. I’ll pick up one end and you slide the log underneath.”
Jamie marveled at Banda’s strength as the black man picked up one end of the raft. Quickly, Jamie shoved
the log under it Together they lifted the back end of the raft and it moved easily down the log. When the log
had rolled out from under the back end, they repeated the procedure. It was strenuous work, and by the time
they got to the beach they were both soaked in perspiration. The operation had taken much longer than
Jamie had anticipated. It was almost dawn now. They had to be away before the villagers discovered them
and reported what they were doing. Quickly, Jamie attached the sail and checked to make sure everything
was working properly. He had a nagging feeling he was forgetting something. He suddenly realized what
was bothering him and laughed aloud.
Banda watched him, puzzled. “Something funny?”
“Before, when I went looking for diamonds I had a ton of equipment. Now, all I’m carrying is a compass. It
seems too easy.”
Banda said quietly, “I don’t think that’s going to be our problem, Mr. McGregor.”
“It’s time you called me Jamie.”
Banda shook his head in wonder. “You really come from a faraway country.” He grinned, showing even
white teeth. “What the hell—they can hang me only once.” He tasted the name on his lips, then said it aloud.
“Let’s go get those diamonds.”


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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