A novel by Wilbur Smith
.....This novel is a tribute to the will of man, as Wilbur Smith does an amazing job of conveying the trials and triumphs of our search for Gold! Follow Rodney Ironsides 10,000 feet into the ground as he and thousands of others attempt to wrest the valuable yellow rock from the prison that contains it.
.....Rodney Ironsides is the Underground manager at one of the most profitable gold mines on the African continent. The Sonder Ditch coughs up well over $1,000,000 worth of gold weekly, but this cost is paid for in human lives. Rodney is given the chance to become the youngest General Manager of any mine in Africa, all he has to do is give his unquestioning obedience to Dr. Manfred Steyner, chairman of the company which owned the Sonder Ditch. Rodney accepts this unpleasent situation to fulfill his dreams and sustain his overindulgent lifestyle.
.....Rodney's job is to oversee all operations of the mine, both the good and the bad. When the earth decides to make his job difficult and impede the never-ending progress of man, people die, and Rodney is there to oversee the grisly extraction of the men from the fallen rock.
.....Fifty paces and he stopped abruptly. He felt the hair on his forearms stand on end. He could never accustom himself to the sound, no matter how hard he heard it.
In the deliberately callous slang of the miner they called them "squealers". It was the sound of a grown man, with his legs crushed under hundreds of tons of rock, perhaps his spine broken, dust suffocating him, his mind unhinged by the mortal horror of the situation in which he is trapped, calling for help, calling to his God, calling for his wife, his children, or his mother.
.....Rod started forward again, with the sound of it becoming louder, a terrifying sound, hardly human, sobbing and babbling into silence, only to start again with a blood-chilling scream.
.....Suddenly there were men ahead of Rod in the tunnel, dark shapes looming in the dust mist, their head lamps throwing shafts of yellow light, grotesque, distorted.
....."Who is that?" Rod called, and they recognized his voice.
....."Thank God. Thanks God you've come, Mr. Ironsides."
....."Who is that?"
....."Barnard." The 43 section shift boss.
....."What's the damage?"
....."The whole hanging wall of the stope came down."
....."How many men in the stope?"
....."How many still in?"
....."So far we've got sixteen out unhurt, twelve slightly hurt, three stretcher cases, and two dead 'uns."
.....The squealer started again, but his voice was much weaker.
....."Him?" asked Rod.
....."He's got twenty tons of rock lying across his pelvis. I've hit him with two shots of morphine, but it won't stop him."
....."Can you get into the stope?"
....."Yes, there is a crawling hole." Barnard flashed his lamp over the pile of fractured blue quartzite that jammed the drive like a collapsed garden wall. On it was an aperture big enough for a fox terrier to run through. Reflected light showed from the hole, and faintly from within came the grating sounds of movement over loose rock and muffled voices of men.
....."How many men have you got working in there, Barnard?"
....."I" - Barnard hesitated, "I think about ten or twelve."
.....And rob grabbed a handful of his overall front and jerked him almost off his feet.
....."You think!" In the headlamps Rod's face was white with fury. "You've put twelve of my boys against the wall to save nine?" With a heave Rod lifted the shift boss off his feet and swung him against the side wall of the drive, pinning him there.
....."You bastard, you know that most of those nine are chopped already. You know that the stope is a bloody killing ground, and you send in twelve more to get the chop and you don't record their numbers. How the hell would we ever know who to look for if the hanging fell again? He let the shift boss free, and stood back. Get them out of there, clear that stope."
....."But Mr. Ironsides, the General Manager is in there, Mr. Lemmer is in there. He was doing an inspection on that stope."
.....For a moment Rod was taken aback, then snarled. "I don't give a good damn if the state president is in there, clear the stope. We'll start again and this time we'll do it properly."
.....Within minutes the rescuers had been recalled, they came squirming out of the aperture, white with dust like maggots wriggling from rotten cheese.
....."Right said Rod, "I'll risk four men at a time."
.....Quickly he picked four of the floury figures, among them an enormous man on who's shoulder was the brass badge of a boss boy.
....."Big King - you here?" Rod spoke in fanikalo, the lingua franca of the mines which enabled men from a dozen ethnic groups to communicate.
....."I am here," answered Big King.
....."You looking for more rewards?" A month before, Big King had been lowered on a rope two hundred feet down a vertical orepass to retrieve the body of a white miner. The bravery award by the company had been 100 Rand.
....."Who speaks of awards when the earth had eaten the flesh of men?" Big King rebukes Rod softly. "But today is children's play only. Is Nkosi coming into the stope? It was a challenge.
.....Rod's place was not in the stope. He was the organizer, the coordinate. Yet, he could not ignore the challenge, no Bantu would believe that he had not stood back in fear and sent other men to die.
....."Yes," said Rod, "I'm coming into the stope."
.....He led them in. The hole was only just big enough to admit the bulk of Rod's body. He found himself in a chamber, the size of an average room, but the roof was only three and a half feet high. He played his lamp quickly across the hanging wall, and it was wicked. The rock was cracked and ugly, "a bunch of grapes" was the term.
....."Very pretty," he said, and dropped the beam of his lamp.
.....The squealer was within an arm's length of Rod. His body from the waist up protruded from under a piece of rock the size of a Cadillac. Someone had wrapped a red blanket around his upper body. He was quiet now, lying still. But as the beam of Rod's lamp fell upon him, he lifted his head. His eyes were crazed, unseeing, his face running with the sweat of terror and insanity. His mouth snapped open, wide and pink in the shiny blackness of his face. He began to scream, but suddenly the sound was drowned by a great red-black gout of blood that came gushing up his throat and spurted from his mouth.
.....As Rod watched in terror, the Bantu posed like that, his head thrown back, his mouth gaping as though he were a gargoyle, the life blood pouring from him. Then slowly the head sagged forward, and flopped face downwards. Rod crawled to him, lifted his head and pillowed it on the red blanket.
.....There was blood on his hands and he wiped it on the front of his overalls. (Pages 13-16)*
.....Venture with Rodney Ironsides into this fierce environment and experience all the savagery and treachery that Africa can send forth against the will of man. No other author in the World has the knowledge and experience of Wilbur Smith necessary to write a book of this caliber about gold in Africa.
'Gold Mine'. Smith, Wilbur. Published by Berkley Books. New York, New York. 1983.