From The Valley
by C Louis Leipoldt
Here, in front of the courthouse, the village, or at least the adult, adolescent and older juvenile male portion of it, congregated on mail days. Some of them came to get their letters and parcels, but the majority had no expectation of any postal harvest and loitered for the simple reason that attracts any crowd – the chance of gossip, of novelty in some form or other, of interest, of mild excitement, a chance ever present when the only link between isolation and the larger civilisation three hundred miles away lies in the arrival of the weekly mail. Such occasions were made the opportunity for the interchange of opinion, for discussion between the older and more sedate members of the community, and for mild bickering and horseplay between the juveniles, who on these weekly gathering-days were allowed more liberty of action than was usually considered advisable in so conservative a community.
Sam Chumley, the chief constable, was a colonial-born descendant of an 1820 settler family, well liked and respected in the village and district – not only because he was a good police official, but also because he was a good fellow, sympathetic with an understanding insight that had made him thoroughly cognisant of the different peculiarities of the various units in the community he served. His wife was the daughter of one of the local farmers, and at home he spoke English and Dutch with an impartiality that in time had done much to ruin his command of both languages. In that respect he could be called the most perfectly bilingual person in the district, and his services as interpreter were often called into requisition in court.
‘I think it’s high time,’ observed the rector plaintively, ‘that the government enforced the fine for these vexatious delays, Mr Chumley. Every mail day, for the last three months, the post-cart’s been late. It’s simply disgraceful. And today of all days.’
‘’Taint Seldon’s fault, sir,’ rejoined the chief constable, screwing his moustache point into a more tenuous end. ‘You must blame the driver. Not that Ampie isn’t a good driver. One must make allowances, sir. If you’ve driven in this heat, sir, as I have, you’d make ’lowances, sir. You want to stop, ’casionally, to give the mules a breather, sir, and to take a sopie yourself, sir.’
‘There comes the post-cart,’ said the magistrate. ‘Now we can get the papers, and I can assure you I’m longing to read them.’
‘I, too,’ said the rector. ‘I should really like to know why they lost. There must have been some reason for it. Of course, the weather may have had something to do with it, but I can hardly accept that as a sufficient excuse. It seems to me sheer bad management.’
‘Oh no,’ said the chief constable, who had come up to them. ‘It’s just bad soldiering, sir. Against Cronje’s commando they had no earthly ... Besides, what can you expect after fifteen hours in the saddle?’
‘I was referring to the cricket,’ said the rector crossly, ‘not the fighting.’
The Reverend Mr Mance-Bisley settled himself in his study – for once glad to find that his wife had not yet returned from her round of visits – and opened his bundle of newspapers. He found to his astonishment that his Cape Times had a leading article in Dutch alongside the usual leader in English, and he read with strained interest the latest detailed communications from the North. They were unpleasant reading, and from time to time he took off his strong reading glasses and rubbed his eyes. He found – when he had finished reading all that the papers contained about the situation in the North – that he had no great desire to read particulars of Lord Hawke’s first match. Even cricket seemed to have sunk into insignificance before this disaster at Doornkop. And a filibustering raid such as that about which he had read did not seem like cricket. He recognised the fact that it implied something very much unlike cricket.
‘I really cannot understand how men can be such fools, my dear,’ he said to his wife when she came back. ‘It’s unbelievable. And the worst of it, my dear, is that it’s given British prestige a shock – yes, my dear, a shock. Mr Uhlmann tells me that I don’t understand, that I haven’t been long enough in this country to realise what it means. But I fancy I can realise it well enough.’
‘I should think so,’ said Mrs Mance-Bisley in her decisive way. ‘It’s incredible stupidity, that’s what it is. But that’s no reason why we shouldn’t have dinner, Claude. And remember you have your sermon to prepare. So come along.’