SURJUN came back from Kimberley, which is Tom Tiddler’s Ground, where he had been picking up gold and silver. He was no longer a Purbeah. A real diamond ring sparkled on his hand, and his tweed suit had cost him forty-two shillings and sixpence. He paid two hundred pounds into the Bank; and it was there that I caught him and treated him as befitted a rich man. ‘O Surjun, come to my house and tell me your story.’
Nothing loath, Surjun came — diamond ring and all. His speech was composite. When he wished to be impressive he spoke English checkered with the Low Dutch slang of the Diamond Fields. When he would be expressive, he returned to his vernacular, and was as native as a gentleman with sixteen-and-sixpenny boots could be.
‘I will tell you my tale,’ said Surjun, displaying the diamond ring. ‘There was a friend of mine, and he went to Kimberley, and was a firm there selling things to the digger-men. In thirteen years he made seven thousand pounds. He came to me — I was from Chyebassa in those days — and said, “Come into my firm.” I went with him. Oh no! I was not an emigrant. I took my own ship, and we became the firm of Surjun and Jagesser. Here is the card of my firm. You can read it “Surjun and Jagesser Dubé, De Beer’s Terrace, De Beer’s Fields, Kimberley.” We made an iron house — all the houses are iron there — and we sold, to the diggers and the Kaffirs and all sorts of men, clothes, flour, mealies, that is Indian corn, sardines and milk, and salmon in tins, and boots, and blankets, and clothes just as good as the clothes as I wear now.
‘Kimberley is a good place. There are no pennies there — what you call pice — except to buy stamps with. Threepence is the smallest piece of money, and even threepence will not buy a drink. A drink is one shilling, one shilling and threepence, or one shilling and ninepence. And even the water there, it is one shilling and threepence for a hundred gallons in Kimberley. All things you get you pay money for. Yes, this diamond ring cost much money. Here is the bill, and there is the receipt stamp upon the bill —“Behrendt of Dutoitspan Road.” It is written upon the bill, and the price was thirteen pounds four shillings. It is a good diamond — Cape Diamond. That is why the colour is a little, little soft yellow. All Cape diamonds are so.
‘How did I get my money? ’Fore Gott, I cannot tell, Sahib. You sell one day, you sell the other day, and all the other days — give the thing and take the money — the money comes. If we know man very well, we give credit one week, and if very, very well, so much as one month. You buy boots for eleven shillings and sixpence sell for sixteen shillings. What you buy at one pound, you sell for thirty shillings — at Kimberley. That is the custom. No good selling bad things. All the digger-men know and the Kaffirs too.
‘The Kaffir is a strange man. He comes into the shops and say, taking a blanket, “How much?” in the Kaffir talk — So!’
Surjun here delivered the most wonderful series of clicks that I had ever heard from a human throat.
‘That is how the Kaffir asks “How much?”’ said Surjun calmly, enjoying the sensation that he had produced.
‘Then you say, “No, you say,” and you say it so.’ (More clicks and a sound like a hurricane of kisses.) ‘Then the Kaffir he say: “No, no, that blanket your blanket, not my blanket. You say”’ ‘ And how long does this business last?’ ‘Till the Kaffir he tired, and says,’ answered Surjun. ‘And then do you begin the real bargaining.’ ‘Yes,’ said Surjun, ‘same as in bazar here. The Kaffir he says, “I can’t pay!” Then you fold up blanket, and Kaffir goes away. Then he comes back and says “gobu,” that is Kaffir for blanket. And so you sell him all he wants.’
‘Poor Kaffir! And what is Kimberley like to look at?’
‘A beautiful clean place — all so clean, and there is a very good law there. This law. A man he come into your compound after nine o’clock, and you say vootsac — same as nickle jao — and he doesn’t vootsac; suppose you shoot that man and he dies, and he calls you before magistrate, he can’t do nothing.’
‘Very few dead men can. Are you allowed to shoot before saying “vootsac”?’
‘Oh Hell, yes! Shoot if you see him in the compound after nine o’clock. That is the law. Perhaps he have come to steal diamonds. Many men steal diamonds, and buy and sell without license. That is called Aidibi.’
‘Oh! “I.D.B.” I see. Well, what happens to them?’
‘They go to gaol for years and years. Very many men in gaol for I.D.B. Very many men your people, very few mine. Heaps of Kaffirs. Kaffir he swallows diamond, and takes medicine to find him again. You get not less than ten years for I.D.B. But I and my friend, we stay in our iron house and mind shop. That too is the way to make money.’
‘Aren’t your people glad to see you when you come back? ‘
‘My people is all dead. Father dead, mother dead; and only brother living with some children across the river. I have been there, but that is not my place. I belong to nowhere now. They are all dead. After a few weeks I take my steamer to Kimberley, and then my friend he come here and put his money in the Bank.’
‘Why don’t you bank in Kimberley?’
‘I wanted to see my brother, and I have given him one thousand rupees. No, one hundred pounds; that is more, more. Here is the Bank bill. All the others he is dead. There are some people of this country at Kimberley — Rajputs, Brahmins, Ahirs, Parsees, Chamars, Bunnias, Telis — all kinds go there. But my people are dead. I shall take my brother’s son back with me to Kimberley, and when he can talk the Kaffir talk, he will be useful, and he shall come into the firm. My brother does not mind. He sees that I am rich. And now I must go to the village, Sahib. Good day, sir.’
Surjun rose, made as if to depart, but returned. The Native had come to the top.
‘Sahib! Is this talk for publish in paper?’
‘Then put in about this diamond ring.’ He went away, twirling the ring lovingly on his finger.
Know, therefore, O Public, by these presents, that Surjun, son of Surjun, one time resident in the village of Jhusi, in the District of Allahabad, in the North-West Provinces, at present partner in the firm of Surjun and Jagesser Dubé, De Beer’s Terrace, De Beer’s Fields, Kimberley, who has tempted his fortune beyond the seas, owns legally and rightfully a Cape stone, valued at thirteen pounds four shillings sterling, sold to him by Behrendt of Dutoitspan Road, Kimberley.
And it looks uncommonly well.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56