MASTER OF THE GAME
Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust
The large ballroom was crowded with familiar ghosts come to help celebrate her
birthday. Kate Blackwell watched them mingle with the flesh-and-blood people, and in her
mind, the scene was a dreamlike fantasy as the visitors from another time and place glided
around the dance floor with the unsuspecting guests in black tie and long, shimmering
evening gowns. There were one hundred people at the party at Cedar Hill House, in Dark
Harbor, Maine. Not counting the ghosts, Kate Blackwell thought wryly.
She was a slim, petite woman, with a regal bearing that made her appear taller than she
was. She had a face that one remembered. A proud bone structure, dawn-gray eyes and a
stubborn chin, a blending of her Scottish and Dutch ancestors. She had fine, white hair
that once had been a luxuriant black cascade, and against the graceful folds of her ivory
velvet dress, her skin had the soft translucence old age sometimes brings.
I don't feel ninety, Kate Blackwell thought. Where have all the years gone? She watched
the dancing ghosts. They know. They were there. They were a part of those years, a part
of my life. She saw Banda, his proud black face beaming. And there was her David, dear
David, looking tall and young and handsome, the way he looked when she first fell in love
with him, and he was smiling at her, and she thought, Soon, my darling, soon. And she
wished David could have lived to know his great-grandson.
Kate's eyes searched the large room until she saw him. He was standing near the
orchestra, watching the musicians. He was a strikingly handsome boy, almost eight years
old, fair-haired, dressed in a black velvet jacket and tartan trousers. Robert was a replica
of his great-great-grandfather, Jamie McGregor, the man in the painting above the marble
fireplace. As though sensing her eyes on him,. Robert turned, and Kate beckoned him to
her with a wave of her fingers, the perfect twenty-carat diamond her father had scooped up
on a sandy beach almost a hundred years ago scintillating in the radiance of the crystal
chandelier. Kate watched with pleasure as Robert threaded his way through the dancers.
I am the past, Kate thought. He is the future. My great-grandson will take over
Kruger-Brent Limited one day. He reached her side, and she made room for him on the
seat beside her.
"Are you having a nice birthday, Gran?"
"Yes. Thank you, Robert."
"That's a super orchestra. The conductor's really bad"
Kate looked at him in momentary confusion, then her brow cleared. "Ah. I presume that
means he's good."
Robert grinned at her. "Right. You sure don't seem ninety."
Kate Blackwell laughed. "Just between the two of us, I don't feel it."
He slipped his hand in hers, and they sat there in a contented silence, the
eighty-two-year difference between them giving them a comfortable affinity. Kate turned to
watch her granddaughter dancing. She and her husband were without doubt the
handsomest couple on the floor.
Robert's mother saw her son and grandmother seated together and she thought, What
an incredible woman. She's ageless. No one would ever guess all she has lived through.
The music stopped, and the conductor said, "Ladies and gentlemen, it's my pleasure to
present young Master Robert."
Robert squeezed his great-grandmother's hand, stood up and walked over to the piano.
He sat down, his face serious and intent, and then his fingers began to race across the
played Scriabin, and it was like the rippling of moonlight on water.
His mother listened and thought, He's a genius. He'll grow up to be a great musician. He
was no longer her baby. He was going to belong to the world. When Robert finished, the
applause was enthusiastic and genuine.
Earlier, dinner had been served outdoors. The large and formal garden had been
festively decorated with lanterns and ribbons and balloons. Musicians played from the
terrace while butlers and maids hovered over tables, silent and efficient, making sure the
Baccarat glasses and Limoges dishes were kept filled. A telegram was read from the
President of the United States. A Supreme Court justice toasted Kate.
The governor eulogized her. "... One of the most remarkable women in the history of this
nation. Kate Blackwell's endowments to hundreds of charitable causes around the world
are legendary. The Blackwell Foundation has contributed to the health and well-being of
people in more than fifty countries. To paraphrase the late Sir Winston Churchill, 'Never
have so many owed so much to one person.' I have had the privilege of knowing Kate
Bloody hell! Kate thought. No one knows me. He sounds like he's talking about some
saint. What would all these people say if they knew the real Kate Blackwell? Sired by a
thief and kidnapped before I was a year old What would they think if I showed them the
bullet scars on my body?
She turned her head and looked at the man who had once tried to kill her. Kate's eyes
moved past him to linger on a figure in the shadows, wearing a veil to conceal her face.
Over a distant clap of thunder, Kate heard the governor finish his speech and introduce
her. She rose to her feet and looked out at the assembled guests. When she spoke, her
voice was firm and strong. Tve lived longer than any of you. As youngsters today would
say, 'That's no big deal.' But I'm glad I made it to this age, because otherwise I wouldn't be
here with all you dear friends. I know some of you have traveled from distant countries to
be with me tonight, and you must be tired from your journey. It wouldn't be fair for me to
expect everyone to have my energy."
There was a roar of laughter, and they applauded her.
'Thank you for making this such a memorable evening. I shall never forget it. For those
of you who wish to retire, your rooms are ready. For the others, there will be dancing in the
ballroom." There was another clap of thunder. "I suggest we all move indoors before we
get caught in one of our famous Maine storms."
Now the dinner and dancing were over, the guests had retired and Kate was alone with
her ghosts. She sat in the library, drifting back into the past, and she suddenly felt
depressed. There's no one left to call me Kate, she thought. They've all gone. Her world
had shrunk. Wasn't it Longfellow who said, "The leaves of memory make a mournful rustle
in the dark"? She would be entering the dark soon, but not yet. I still have to do the most
important thing of my life, Kate thought Be patient, David. I'll be with you soon.
Kate opened her eyes. The family had come into the room. She looked at them, one by
one, her eyes a pitiless camera, missing nothing. My family, Kate thought. My immortality.
A murderer, a grotesque and a psychotic. The Blackwell skeletons. Was this what all the
years of hope and pain and suffering had finally come to?
Her granddaughter stood beside her. "Are you all right, Gran?"
'I'm a little tired, children. I think I'll go to bed." She rose to her feet and started toward
the stairs, and at that moment there was a violent roar of thunder and the storm broke, the
rain rattling against the windows like machine-gun fire. Her family watched as the old
woman reached the top of the stairway, a proud, erect figure. There was a blaze of
lightning and seconds later a loud clap of thunder. Kate Blackwell turned to look down at
them, and when she spoke, it was with the accent of her ancestors. "In South Africa, we
used to call this a donderstorm."
The past and present began to merge once again, and she walked down the hallway to
her bedroom, surrounded by the familiar, comfortable ghosts.
"By God, this is a real donderstorml" Jamie McGregor said. He had grown up amid the
wild storms of the Scottish High-lands, but he had never witnessed anything as violent as
this. The afternoon sky had been suddenly obliterated by enormous clouds of sand,
instantly turning day into night. The dusty sky was lit by flashes of lightning—weerlig, the
Afrikaners called it—that scorched the air, followed by donderslag—thunder. Then the
deluge. Sheets of rain that smashed against the army of tents and tin huts and turned the
dirt streets of Klipdrift into frenzied streams of mud. The sky was aroar with rolling peals of
thunder, one following the other like artillery in some celestial war.
Jamie McGregor quickly stepped aside as a house built of raw brick dissolved into mud,
and he wondered whether the town of Klipdrift was going to survive.
Klipdrift was not really a town. It was a sprawling canvas village, a seething mass of
tents and huts and wagons crowding the banks of the Vaal River, populated by wild-eyed
dreamers drawn to South Africa from all parts of the world by the same obsession:
Jamie McGregor was one of the dreamers. He was barely eighteen, a handsome lad, tall
and fair-haired, with startlingly light gray eyes. There was an attractive ingenuousness
about him, an eagerness to please that was endearing. He had a light-hearted disposition
and a soul filled with optimism.
He had traveled almost eight thousand miles from his father's farm in the Highlands of
Scotland to Edinburgh, London, Cape Town and now Klipdrift. He had given up his rights
to the share of the farm that he and his brothers tilled with their father, but Jamie
McGregor had no regrets. He knew he was going to be rewarded ten thousand times over.
He had left the security of the only life he had ever known and had come to this distant,
desolate place because he dreamed of being rich. Jamie was not afraid of hard work, but
the rewards of tilling the rocky little farm north of Aberdeen were meager. He worked from
sunup to sundown, along with his brothers, his sister, Mary, and his mother and his father,
and they had little to show for it. He had once attended a fair in Edinburgh and had seen
the wondrous things of beauty that money could buy. Money was to make your life easy
when you were well, and to take care of your needs when you were ailing. Jamie had seen
too many friends and neighbors live and die in poverty.
He remembered his excitement when he first heard about the latest diamond strike in
South Africa. The biggest diamond in the world had been found there, lying loose in the
sand, and the whole area was rumored to be a great treasure chest waiting to be opened.
He had broken the news to his family after dinner on a Saturday night. They were seated
around an uncleared table in the rude, timbered kitchen when Jamie spoke, his voice shy
and at the same time proud. "I'm going to South Africa to find diamonds. I'll be on my way
Five pairs of eyes stared at him as though he were crazy.
"You're goin' chasing after diamonds?" his father asked. "You must be daft, lad. That's
all a fairy tale—a temptation of the devil to keep men from doin' an honest day's work."
"Why do you nae tell us where you're gettin' the money to go?" his brother Ian asked.
"It's halfway 'round the world. You hae no money."
"If I had money," Jamie retorted, "I wouldn't have to go looking for diamonds, would I?
Nobody there has money. I'll be an equal with all of them. I've got brains and a strong
back. I'll not fail."
His sister, Mary, said, "Annie Cord will be disappointed. She expects to be your bride
one day, Jamie."
Jamie adored his sister. She was older than he. Twenty-four, and she looked forty. She
had never owned a beautiful thing in her life. I'll change that, Jamie promised himself.
His mother silently picked up the platter that held the remains of the steaming haggis
and walked over to the iron sink.
Late that night she came to Jamie's bedside. She gently placed one hand on Jamie's
shoulder, and her strength flooded into him. "You do what you must, Son. I dinna ken if
there be diamonds there, but if there be, you'll find them." She brought out from behind her
a worn leather pouch. "I've put by a few pounds. You needn't say nothin' to the others.
God bless you, Jamie."
When he left for Edinburgh, he had fifty pounds in the pouch.
It was an arduous journey to South Africa, and it took Jamie McGregor almost a year to
make it. He got a job as a waiter in a workingman's restaurant in Edinburgh until he added
another fifty pounds to the pouch. Then it was on to London. Jamie was awed by the size
of the city, the huge crowds, the noise and the large horse-drawn omnibuses that raced
along at five miles an hour. There were hansom cabs everywhere, carrying beautiful
women in large hats and swirling skirts and dainty little high-button shoes. He watched in
wonder as the ladies alighted from the cabs and carriages to shop at Burlington Arcade, a
dazzling cornucopia of silver and dishes and dresses and furs and pottery and apothecary
shops crammed with mysterious bottles and jars.
Jamie found lodging at a house at 32 Fitzroy Street. It cost ten shillings a week, but it
was the cheapest he could find. He spent his days at the docks, seeking a ship that would
take him to South Africa, and his evenings seeing the wondrous sights of London town.
One evening he caught a glimpse of Edward, the Prince of Wales, entering a restaurant
near Covent Garden by the side door, a beautiful young lady on his arm. She wore a large
flowered hat, and Jamie thought how nice it would look on his sister.
Jamie attended a concert at the Crystal Palace, built for The Great Exposition in 1851.
He visited Drury Lane and at intermission sneaked into the Savoy Theatre, where they had
installed the first electric lighting in a British public building. Some streets were lighted by
electricity, and Jamie heard that it was possible to talk to someone on the other side of
town by means of a wonderful new machine, the telephone. Jamie felt that he was looking
at the future.
In spite of all the innovations and activity, England was in the midst of a growing
economic crisis that winter. The streets were filled with the unemployed and the hungry,
and there were mass demonstrations and street fighting. I've got to get away from here,
Jamie thought. / came to escape poverty. The following day, Jamie signed on as a steward
on the Walmer Castle, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
The sea journey lasted three weeks, with stops at Madeira and St. Helena to take on
more coal for fuel. It was a rough, turbulent voyage in the dead of winter, and Jamie was
seasick from the moment the ship sailed. But he never lost his cheerfulness, for every day
brought him nearer to his treasure chest. As the ship moved toward the equator, the
climate changed. Miraculously, winter began to thaw into summer, and as they
approached the African coast, the days and nights became hot and steamy.
The Walmer Castle arrived in Cape Town at early dawn, moving carefully through the
narrow channel that divided the great leper settlement of Robben Island from the
mainland, and dropped anchor in Table Bay.
Jamie was on deck before sunrise. He watched, mesmerized,
as the early-morning fog lifted and revealed the grand spectacle of Table Mountain
looming high over the city. He had arrived.
The moment the ship made fast to the wharf, the decks were overrun by a horde of the
strangest-looking people Jamie had ever seen. There were touts for all the different
hotels—black men, yellow men, brown men and red men frantically offering to bear away
luggage—and small boys running back and forth with newspapers and sweets and fruits for
sale. Hansom drivers who were half-castes, Parsis or blacks were yelling their eagerness
to be hired. Vendors and men pushing drinking carts called attention to their wares. The air
was thick with huge black flies. Sailors and porters hustled and halloaed their way through
the crowd while passengers vainly tried to keep their luggage together and in sight. It was
a babel of voices and noise. People spoke to one another in a language Jamie had never
"Yulle kom van de Kaap, neh?"
"Het julle mine papa zyn wagen gezien?"
He did not understand a word.
Cape Town was utterly unlike anything Jamie had ever seen. No two houses were alike.
Next to a large warehouse two or three stories high, built of bricks or stone, was a small
canteen of galvanized iron, then a jeweler's shop with hand-blown plate-glass windows
and abutting it a small greengrocer's and next to that a tumble-down tobacconist's.
Jamie was mesmerized by the men, women and children who thronged the streets. He
saw a kaffir clad in an old pair of 78th Highland trews and wearing as a coat a sack with
slits cut for the arms and head. The karfir walked behind two Chinese men, hand in hand,
who were wearing blue smock frocks, their pigtails carefully coiled up under their conical
straw hats. There were stout, red-faced Boer farmers with sun-bleached hair, then-wagons
loaded with potatoes, corn and leafy vegetables. Men dressed in brown velveteen trousers
and coats, with broad-
brimmed, soft-felt hats on their heads and long clay pipes in their mouths, strode ahead
of their vraws, attired in black, with thick black veils and large black-silk poke bonnets.
Parsi washerwomen with large bundles of soiled clothes on their heads pushed past
soldiers in red coats and helmets. It was a fascinating spectacle.
The first thing Jamie did was to seek out an inexpensive boardinghouse recommended
to him by a sailor aboard ship. The landlady was a dumpy, ample-bosomed, middle-aged
She looked Jamie over and smiled. "Zoek yulle goud?"
He blushed. "I'm sorry—I don't understand."
"English, yes? You are here to hunt gold? Diamonds?"
"Diamonds. Yes, ma'am."
She pulled him inside. "You will like it here. I have all the convenience for young men like
Jamie wondered whether she was one of them. He hoped not.
"I'm Mrs. Venster," she said coyly, "but my friends call me 'Dee-Dee.'" She smiled,
revealing a gold tooth in front. "I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends. Ask
of me anything."
"That's very kind of you," Jamie said. "Can you tell me where I can get a map of the
With map in hand, Jamie went exploring. On one side of the city were the landward
suburbs of Rondebosch, Claremont and Wynberg, stretching along nine miles of thinning
plantations and vineyards. On the other side were the marine suburbs of Sea Point and
Green Point. Jamie walked through the rich residential area, down Strand Street and Bree
Street, admiring the large, two-story buildings with their flat roofs and peaked stuccoed
fronts—steep terraces rising from the street. He walked until he was finally driven indoors
by the flies that seemed to have a personal vendetta against him. They were large and
black and attacked in swarms. When Jamie returned to his boardinghouse, he found his
room filled with them. They covered the walls and table and bed.
He went to see the landlady. "Mrs. Venster, isn't there anything you can do about the
flies in my room? They're—"
She gave a fat, jiggling laugh and pinched Jamie's cheek. "Myn magtig. You'll get used
to them. You'll see."
The sanitary arrangements in Cape Town were both primitive and inadequate, and when
the sun set, an odoriferous vapor covered the city like a noxious blanket. It was
unbearable. But Jamie knew that he would bear it. He needed more money before he
could leave. "You can't survive in the diamond fields without money," he had been warned.
"They'll charge you just for breathin'."
On his second day in Cape Town, Jamie found a job driving a team of horses for a
delivery firm. On the third day he started working in a restaurant after dinner, washing
dishes. He lived on the leftover food that he squirreled away and took back to the
boardinghouse, but it tasted strange to him and he longed for his mother's cock-a-leekie
and oatcakes and hot, fresh-made baps. He did not complain, even to himself, as he
sacrificed both food and comfort to increase his grubstake. He had made his choice and
nothing was going to stop him, not the exhausting labor, or the foul air he breathed or the
flies that kept him awake most of the night. He felt desperately lonely. He knew no one in
this strange place, and he missed his friends and family. Jamie enjoyed solitude, but
loneliness was a constant ache.
At last, the magic day arrived. His pouch held the magnificent sum of two hundred
pounds. He was ready. He would leave Cape Town the following morning for the diamond
Reservations for passenger wagons to the diamond fields at Klipdrift were booked by the
Inland Transport Company at a small wooden depot near the docks. When Jamie arrived
at 7:00 am., the depot was already so crowded that he could not get near it. There were
hundreds of fortune seekers fighting for seats on the wagons. They had come from as far
away as Russia and America, Australia, Germany and England. They shouted in a dozen
different tongues, pleading with the besieged ticket sellers
to find spaces for them. Jamie watched as a burly Irishman angrily pushed his way out of
the office onto the sidewalk, fighting to get through the mob.
"Excuse me," Jamie said. "What's going on in there?"
"Nothin'," the Irishman grunted in disgust. "The bloody wagons are all booked up for the
next six weeks." He saw the look of dismay on Jamie's face. "That's not the worst of it, lad.
The heathen bastards are chargin' fifty pounds a head."
It was incredible! "There must be another way to get to the diamond fields."
"Two ways. You can go Dutch Express, or you can go by foot."
"What's Dutch Express?"
"Bullock wagon. They travel two miles an hour. By the time you get there, the damned
diamonds will all be gone."
Jamie McGregor had no intention of being delayed until the diamonds were gone. He
spent the rest of the morning looking for another means of transportation. Just before
noon, he found it. He was passing a livery stable with a sign in front that said mail depot.
On an impulse, he went inside, where the thinnest man he had ever seen was loading
large mail sacks into a dogcart. Jamie watched him a moment.
"Excuse me," Jamie said. "Do you carry mail to Klipdrift?"
"That's right. Loadin' up now."
Jamie felt a sudden surge of hope. "Do you take passengers?"
"Sometimes." He looked up and studied Jamie. "How old are you?"
An odd question. "Eighteen. Why?"
"We don't take anyone over twenty-one or twenty-two. You in good health?"
An even odder question. "Yes, sir."
The thin man straightened up. "I guess you're fit. I'm leavin' in an hour. The fare's twenty
Jamie could not believe his good fortune. "That's wonderful! I'll get my suitcase and—"
"No suitcase. All you got room for is one shirt and a toothbrush."
Jamie took a closer look at the dogcart. It was small and roughly built. The body formed
a well in which the mail was stored, and over the well was a narrow, cramped space where
a person could sit back to back behind the driver. It was going to be an uncomfortable
"It's a deal," Jamie said. "I'll fetch my shirt and toothbrush."
When Jamie returned, the driver was hitching up a horse to the open cart. There were
two large young men standing near the cart: One was short and dark, the other was a tall,
blond Swede. The men were handing the driver some money.
"Wait a minute," Jamie called to the driver. "You said I was going."
"You're all goin'," the driver said. "Hop in."
"The three of us?"
Jamie had no idea how the driver expected them all to fit in the small cart, but he knew
he was going to be on it when it pulled out.
Jamie introduced himself to his two fellow passengers. "I'm Jamie McGregor."
"Wallach," the short, dark man said.
"Pederson," the tall blond replied.
Jamie said, "We're lucky we discovered this, aren't we? It's a good thing everybody
doesn't know about it."
Pederson said, "Oh, they know about the post carts, McGregor. There just aren't that
many fit enough or desperate enough to travel in them."
Before Jamie could ask what he meant, the driver said, "Let's go."
The three men—Jamie in the middle—squeezed into the seat, crowded against each other,
their knees cramped, their backs pressing hard against the wooden back of the driver's
seat. There was no room to move or breathe. It's not bad, Jamie reassured himself.
"Hold on!" the driver sang out, and a moment later they were racing through the streets
of Cape Town on their way to the diamond fields at Klipdrift.
By bullock wagon, the journey was relatively comfortable. The wagons transporting
passengers from Cape Town to the diamond fields were large and roomy, with tent covers
to ward off the blazing winter sun. Each wagon accommodated a dozen passengers and
was drawn by teams of horses or mules. Refreshments were provided at regular stations,
and the journey took ten days.
The mail cart was different. It never stopped, except to change horses and drivers. The
pace was a full gallop, over rough roads and fields and rutted trails. There were no springs
on the cart, and each bounce was like the blow of a horse's hoof. Jamie gritted his teeth
and thought, I can stand it until we stop for the night. I'll eat and get some sleep, and in the
morning I'll be fine. But when nighttime came, there was a ten-minute halt for a change of
horse and driver, and they were off again at a full gallop.
"When do we stop to eat?" Jamie asked.
"We don't," the new driver grunted. "We go straight through. We're carryin' the mails,
They raced through the long night, traveling over dusty, bumpy roads by moonlight, the
little cart bouncing up the rises, plunging down the valleys, springing over the flats. Every
inch of Jamie's body was battered and bruised from the constant jolting. He was
exhausted, but it was impossible to sleep. Every time he started to doze off, he was jarred
awake. His body was cramped and miserable and there was no room to stretch. He was
starving and motion-sick. He had no idea how many days it would be before his next meal.
It was a six-hundred-mile journey, and Jamie McGregor was not sure he was going to live
through it. Neither was he sure that he wanted to.
By the end of the second day and night, the misery had turned to agony. Jamie's
traveling companions were in the same sorry state, no longer even able to complain.
Jamie understood now why the company insisted that its passengers be young and strong.
When the next dawn came, they entered the Great Karroo, where the real wilderness
began. Stretching to infinity, the mon-
strous veld lay flat and forbidding under a pitiless sun. The passengers were smothered
in heat, dust and flies.
Occasionally, through a miasmic haze, Jamie saw groups of men slogging along on foot.
There were solitary riders on horseback, and dozens of bullock wagons drawn by eighteen
or twenty oxen, handled by drivers and voorlopers, with their sjamboks, the whips with
long leather thongs, crying, "Trek! Trek!" The huge wagons were laden with a thousand
pounds of produce and goods, tents and digging equipment and wood-burning stoves,
flour and coal and oil lamps. They carried coffee and rice, Russian hemp, sugar and
wines, whiskey and boots and Belfast candles, and blankets. They were the lifeline to the
fortune seekers at Klipdrift.
It was not until the mail cart crossed the Orange River that there was a change from the
deadly monotony of the veld. The scrub gradually became taller and tinged with green.
The earth was redder, patches of grass rippled in the breeze, and low thorn trees began to
I'm going to make it, Jamie thought dully. I'm going to make it.
And he could feel hope begin to creep into his tired body.
They had been on the road for four continuous days and nights when they finally arrived
at the outskirts of Klipdrift.
Young Jamie McGregor had not known what to expect, but the scene that met his weary,
bloodshot eyes was like nothing he ever could have imagined. Klipdrift was a vast
panorama of tents and wagons lined up on the main streets and on the shores of the Vaal
River. The dirt roadway swarmed with kaffirs, naked except for brightly colored jackets,
and bearded prospectors, butchers, bakers, thieves, teachers. In the center of Klipdrift,
rows of wooden and iron shacks served as shops, canteens, billiard rooms, eating houses,
diamond-buying offices and lawyers' rooms. On a corner stood the ramshackle Royal Arch
Hotel, a long chain of rooms without windows.
Jamie stepped out of the cart, and promptly fell to the ground,
his cramped legs refusing to hold him up. He lay there, his head spinning, until he had
strength enough to rise. He stumbled toward the hotel, pushing through the boisterous
crowds that thronged the sidewalks and streets. The room they gave him was small,
stifling hot and swarming with flies. But it had a cot. Jamie fell onto it, fully dressed, and
was asleep instantly. He slept for eighteen hours.
Jamie awoke, his body unbelievably stiff and sore, but his soul filled with exultation. I am
here! I have made it! Ravenously hungry, he went in search of food. The hotel served
none, but there was a small, crowded restaurant across the street, where he devoured
fried snook, a large fish resembling pike; carbonaatje, thinly sliced mutton grilled on a spit
over a wood fire; a haunch of bok and, for dessert, koeksister, a dough deep-fried and
soaked in syrup.
Jamie's stomach, so long without food, began to give off alarming symptoms. He
decided to let it rest before he continued eating, and turned his attention to his
surroundings. At tables all around him, prospectors were feverishly discussing the subject
uppermost in everyone's mind: diamonds.
"... There's still a few diamonds left around Hopetown, but the mother lode's at New
"... Kimberley's got a bigger population than Joburg-----"
"... About the find up at Dutoitspan last week? They say there's more diamonds there
than a man can carry...."
"... There's a new strike at Christiana. I'm goin' up there tomorrow."
So it was true. There were diamonds everywhere! Young Jamie was so excited he could
hardly finish his huge mug of coffee. He was staggered by the amount of the bill. Two
pounds, three shillings for one meal! I'll have to be very careful, he thought, as he walked
out onto the crowded, noisy street.
A voice behind him said, "Still planning to get rich, McGregor?"
Jamie turned. It was Pederson, the Swedish boy who had traveled on the dogcart with
"I certainly am," Jamie said.
"Then let's go where the diamonds are." He pointed. "The Vaal River's that way."
They began to walk.
Klipdrift was in a basin, surrounded by hills, and as far as Jamie could see, everything
was barren, without a blade of grass or shrub in sight. Red dust rose thick in the air,
making it difficult to breathe. The Vaal River was a quarter of a mile away, and as they got
closer to it, the air became cooler. Hundreds of prospectors lined both sides of the
riverbank, some of them digging for diamonds, others meshing stones in rocking cradles,
still others sorting stones at rickety, makeshift tables. The equipment ranged from scientific
earth-washing apparatus to old tub boxes and pails. The men were sunburned, unshaven
and roughly dressed in a weird assortment of collarless, colored and striped flannel shirts,
corduroy trousers and rubber boots, riding breeches and laced leggings and wide-brimmed
felt hats or pith helmets. They all wore broad leather belts with pockets for diamonds or
Jamie and Pederson walked to the edge of the riverbank and watched a young boy and
an older man struggling to remove a huge ironstone boulder so they could get at the gravel
around it. Their shirts were soaked with sweat. Nearby, another team loaded gravel onto a
cart to be sieved in a cradle. One of the diggers rocked the cradle while another poured