#68 – the Partnership

It was midnight when Banda led Jamie out of the shack. Jamie looked around. He was in the middle of a
shantytown, a jungle of rusty, corrugated iron shacks and lean-tos, made from rotting planks and torn
sacking. The ground, muddy from a recent rain, gave off a rank odor. Jamie wondered how people as proud
as Banda could bear spending their lives in a place such as this. “Isn’t there some—?”
“Don’t talk, please,” Banda whispered. “My neighbors are inquisitive.” He led Jamie outside the compound
and pointed “The center of town is in that direction. I will see you at the shipyard.”
Jamie checked into the same boardinghouse where he had stayed on his arrival from England. Mrs. Venster
was behind the desk.
“I’d like a room,” Jamie said.
“Certainly, sir.” She smiled, revealing her gold tooth. “I’m Mrs. Venster.”
“I know.”
“Now how would you know a thing like that?” she asked coyly. “Have your men friends been tellin’ tales out
of school?”
“Mrs. Venster, don’t you remember me? I stayed here last year.”
She took a close look at his scarred face, his broken nose and his white beard, and there was not the
slightest sign of recognition. “I never forget a face, dearie. And I’ve never seen yours before. But that don’t
mean we’re not going to be good friends, does it? My friends call me ‘Dee-Dee.’ What’s your name, love?”
And Jamie heard himself saying, “Travis. Ian Travis.”
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!”
“He’s made a deal with the bartender, Smit. Smit sends likely-looking prospectors to Van der Merwe, and
they sign partnership contracts and if they find diamonds, Van der Merwe takes everything for himself. If
they become troublesome, he’s got a lot of men on his payroll who follow his orders.” “I know about that,”
Jamie said grimly. “What else?”
“He’s a religious fanatic. He’s always praying for the souls of sinners.”
“What about his daughter?” She had to be involved in this.
“Miss Margaret? She’s frightened to death of her father. If she even looked at a man, Van der Merwe would
kill them both.”
Jamie turned his back and walked over to the door, where he stood looking out at the harbor. He had a lot to
think about. “We’ll talk again tomorrow.”


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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