Men of Men

A Novel By Wilbur Smith

-----I have to apologize for not writing this review immediately after I finished the novel. There is no way I could do anything else until I picked up the next book in the series and started reading it. This one will have you biting your nails and thanking God that these books came out many years ago, I don't think I could have waited six months for a sequel.

-----This Novel begins with Zouga Ballantyne and his family arriving at the newest diamond field in Africa in what is now Rhodesia. His wife Aletta soon dies and his youngest son, Jordan, suffers from the same disease that killed his mother. Zouga and Ralph, the oldest son, strive to secure a claim and the men, tools, and capital needed to work down in the miserable Earth. They endure much suffering and heartbreak to discover the gems that lie under their feet, which have become the only ticket to Zouga's dreams.

'-----It had never been exposed to the light of day, not once in the two hundred million years since it assumed its present form, and yet it seemed to be a drop of distilled sunlight.'

'-----It had been conceived in heat as vast as that of the sun's surface, in those unholy depths below the earth's crust. in the molten magma that welled up from the earth's very core.'

'-----In those terrible temperatures all impurity had been burned from it, leaving only the unadulterated carbon atoms, and under pressures that would have crushed mountains these had been reduces in volume to a density beyond that of any other substance in nature.'

'-----This tiny bubble of liquid carbon had been carried up in the slow subterranean river of molten lava through one of the weak spots in the earth's crust, and it had almost, but not quite, reached the surface before the laval flow faltered and finally stopped.'

'-----The lava cooled over the ensuing millennia, and it altered its form and became a mottled bluish rock composed of gravelly fragments loosely cemented in a solid matrix. This formation was naturally unassociated with the country rock which surrounded it, and filled only a deep circular well whose mouth was shaped like a funnel almost a mile in diameter. It descended into the uncounted depths of the earth.'

'-----While the lava was cooling, the carbon was undergoing an even more marvelous transformation. It solidified into an eight-faced of geometrical symmetry the size of a green fig, transparent and clear as the sun's own rays. So fierce and constant had been the pressures to which the single crystal had been subjected and so evenly had it cooled that there was no crack or shearing within its body.'

'-----It was perfect. A thing of cold fire so white that it would appear electric blue in good light - but that fire had never been awakened, for it had been trapped in total darkness across the ages, and no single glimmer of light had ever probed its lucid depths. Yet for all those millions of years the sunlight had been no great distance away, a matter of only two hundred feet or less, a thin skin of earth when compared to the immense depths from whence its journey to the surface had begun.

'-----Now, in the last wink of time, a mere few years out of all those millions, the intervening ground had steadily been chipped and whittled and hacked away from the puny, inefficient but persistent efforts of an antlike colony.'

'-----The forebears of these creatures had not even existed upon this earth when that single pure crystal achieved its present form, but now with each day the disturbance caused by their metal tools set up faint vibrations within the rock that had been dormant so long; and each day those vibrations were stronger, as the layer between it and the surface shrank from two hundred feet to a hundred then to fifty, from ten to two, until now only a few inches separated the crystal from the brilliant sunlight which would at last bring to life its slumbering fires.'

-----Zouga and his family spend over ten years at this mine investing as much as they make, until one day as Ralph argues and fights with a man and their lives change forever.

'-----Below them in the diggings, the Matabele were encouraging their favorite with the fighting "Jee!" and it goaded Ralph. He was quicker than the other driver, nimble to avoid his swinging stock, using his own like the fighting sticks with which he had trained so assiduously.'

'-----The mules were panicked by the uproar, the crack of whips, the Matabele war chant, the shrieked insults and the bellow of the watchers.'

'-----Rosie reared and cut with her forehoofs, whinniying hysterically, and her teammate lunged against the jammed off-wheel.'

'-----Bishop shirked the yoke, turned from it; his hind legs scrambled on the crumbling edge of the causeway and he went over, danging in the tangle of reins and chains, kicking and pawing at the air and shrieking wildly.'

'-----Then quite gently, like a sleeper waking from a deep slumber, the yellow earthen causeway shook itself.'

'-----The movement started below the wheels of the locked carts and the trampling hoofs of the terrified mules - and then it rippled along the embankment to the neck where it joined the rim of the pit - and at that point a deep vertical crack opened miraculously in the muddy yellow wall. It opened with only a soft wet sound, like an infant suckling at the breast, but it silenced the shouting chanting men who watched.'

'-----Suddenly the only sound in the open diggings was the russle of the falling rain and the shrieks of the dangling mule. On the cart Ralph stood poised like a Greek statue of an athlete, the whip stock thrown back, the cords of his throat relaxing, the insane rage in his green eyes clearing to leave a bemused expression of disbelief - for beneath his feet the earth was moving.'

-----"Ralph!" This time Zouga's voice reached him clearly, and he looked down into the pit, saw their faces, the shock, the terror upon them.'

-----"Run!" Shouted Zouga, and the urgency galvanized Ralph. "Get off the Roadway."

'-----Ralph threw the whip aside and jumped down off the cart, the sheath knife in his hand again.

'-----The rein that held Bishop, the big gray mule, was stretched tight as an iron bar. It parted cleanly to the touch of the blade and the mule dropped free, twisting in the air so that the men below scattered away, and the heavy body smacked into the mud. Then the beast scrambled to its feet and stood trembling miserably, belly deep in the yellow mud that had saved it.'

'-----The earth trembled like jelly under Ralph's feet as he hacked at the traces that held the other three mules, and the moment they were free of the trapped cart he drove them ahead of him along the causeway, Yelling them into a gallop. The yellow mud shook and tilted as the cracks yawned open, and the entire causeway began to sag.'

-----"Run, you bloody fool," Ralph panted at the man he had been fighting, as he stood in the rain and looked about him, the tattered oilskins dangling about his legs, his expression bewildered.'

-----"Come on, run." and Ralph grabbed his arm and dragged him after the galloping mule team.'

'-----One after another the gantries that lined the roadway, some of them with huge buckets still hanging from the sheaves, began to topple over the pit, and the timber crackling and twisting, the ropes tangling and snapping like strands of cotton.'

'-----Ahead of Ralph the three yoked mules reached firm ground and galloped away, whisking their tails and kicking out skittishly at the relief from their burden.'

'-----The causeway tilted and sagged, so that suddenly Ralph seemed to be running up a steep hill. The driver beside him missed his footing and went down on his knees, and then as he started to slide backward he threw himself face down and spread his arms as though to hug the earth.'

-----"Get up." Ralph checked his own run, and stood over him.'

'-----Behind him the earth growled like a voracious animal, moving gravel grinding upon itself; and there were still fourteen carts out on the collapsing causeway. Half a dozen of the drivers had abandoned their teams and were running back along the trembling sagging roadway, but they had left it too late. They stopped in a little group. Some of them fell flat and clung to the earth. One turned and lept boldly from the edge into the gaping pit.'

'-----He plugged into the mud, and three black workers seized him and dragged him to safety, a broken leg twisting and slithering over the mud behind him.'

-----Much damage was caused by this landslide and it left many without the will, or capital, to go on. Zouga would leave with nothing but a large piece of blue stone which signaled the end of his fortune, and the beginning of the best part of his life. Ralph took off on his own and Jordan stayed on at the mine with Mr. Rhodes, the man who took everything from Jordan's father, and shaped the land that was to be the Ballantyne's home from that point on.

-----To see how the family survives disaster, and the little surprise that Zouga's blue rock has in store, be sure to jump into 'Men of Men'.

'Men of Men' Wilbur Smith. Published by Ballantine Books, New York, 1984.