Jamie turned his attention to the land entrance to the diamond field. According to Banda, the area was
fenced in with barbed wire and patrolled twenty-four hours a day by armed guards. At the entrance itself was
a manned watchtower. And
even if one did somehow manage to slip past the watch-tower into the diamond area, there would be the
land mines and guard dogs.
The following day when Jamie met Banda, he asked, “You said there was a land-mine map of the field?”
“In the Namib Desert? The supervisors have the maps, and they lead the diggers to work. Everybody walks
in a single file so no one gets blown up.” His eyes filled with a memory. “One day my uncle was walking in
front of me and he stumbled on a rock and fell on top of a land mine. There wasn’t enough left of him to take
home to his family.”
“And then there’s the sea mis, Mr. McGregor. You’ve never seen a mis until you’ve been in one in the
Namib. It rolls in from the ocean and blows all the way across the desert to the mountains and it blots out
everything. If you’re caught in one of them, you don’t dare move. The land-mine maps are no good then
because you can’t see where you’re going. Everybody just sits quietly until the mis lifts.”
“How long do they last?”
Banda shrugged. “Sometimes a few hours, sometimes a few days.”
“Banda, have you ever seen a map of those land mines?” “They’re closely guarded.” A worried look crossed
his face. “I’m telling you again, no one can get away with what you’re thinking. Once in a while workers will
try to smuggle out a diamond. There is a special tree for hanging them. It’s a lesson to everybody not to try
to steal from the company.”
The whole thing looked impossible. Even if he could manage to get into Van der Merwe’s diamond field,
there was no way out. Banda was right. He would have to forget about it.
The next day he asked Banda, “How does Van der Merwe keep the workers from stealing diamonds when
they come off their shifts?”
“They’re searched. They strip them down mother-naked and then they look up and down every hole they’ve
got. I’ve seen
workers cut gashes in their legs and try to smuggle diamonds out in them. Some drill out their back teeth
and stick diamonds up there. They’ve tried every trick you can think of” He looked at Jamie and said, “If you
want to live, you’ll get that diamond field off your mind.”
Jamie tried. But the idea kept coming back to him, taunting him. Van der Merwe’s diamonds just lying on the
sand waiting. Waiting for him.
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.
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
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 infectious.
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
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?”
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
“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,
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,” Constable
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?”
They stole four empty, fifty-gallon wooden oil barrels from behind the market and carried them to the
warehouse. When they had them assembled, they spaced them out in a square. Next they gathered four
empty crates and placed one over each oil barrel.
Banda looked dubious. “It doesn’t look like a raft to me.”
“We’re not finished yet,” Jamie assured him.
There was no planking available so they covered the top layer with whatever was at hand: branches from
the stinkwood tree, limbs from the Cape beech, large leaves from the marula. They lashed everything down
with thick hemp rope, tying each knot with careful precision.
When they were finished, Banda looked it over. “It still doesn’t look like a raft.”
“It will look better when we get the sail up,” Jamie promised.
They made a mast from a fallen yellowwood tree, and picked up two flat branches for paddles.
“Now all we need is a sail. We need it fast. Fd like to get out of here tonight. Constable Mundy’s coming
It was Banda who found the sail. He came back late that evening with an enormous piece of blue cloth.
“How’s this, Mr. McGregor?”
‘Perfect Where did you get it?”
Banda grinned. “Don’t ask. We’re in enough trouble.”
They rigged up a square sail with a boom below and a yard on top, and at last it was ready.
“We’ll take off at two in the morning when the village is asleep,” Jamie told Banda. “Better get some rest until
But neither man was able to sleep. Each was filled with the excitement of the adventure that lay ahead
Novel Book: MASTER OF THE GAME
Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust