From The Valley
by C Louis Leipoldt
Between two such men as Pastor Uhlmann and Andrew Quakerley there was bound to be a temperamental affinity that both realised as soon as they found opportunity for communion of thought. Both were cursed or blessed – the choice of the correct verb may be left to the reader’s conception of real values – with the artistic temperament, though neither would have admitted as much, each accounting himself sternly practical. In Andrew that impulse towards creation, which is the hallmark of the true artist, found expression in such arrangement of beauty as could be achieved by horticulture; in the parson it sought for an outlet in music. Both men felt and respected each other’s bent, though neither knew or recognised that the sympathy which drew them so closely together was based on that mutual love of beauty, that innate appreciation of concord, order and arrangement that each loved and lived for.
Their friendship had not fruited in a day. It had been a slow, careful approach, circumventing the natural shyness both had felt in breaking barriers that barred them from intimacy. As their friendship progressed communion became easier, for they touched and held – without difficulty – matters that interested them both, though in different ways. While Andrew Quakerley lacked the almost erudite scholarship of the parson, who was a trained philologist and an amateur chemist, he possessed the excellent gift of understanding. The parson, again, knew nothing about botany or horticultural science, but he too had sufficient sympathy and knowledge to follow his friend’s trend of thought when the conversation veered to these subjects. The difference in their ages was discounted by the large experience on the part of Uhlmann – neither was conscious of it, though the pastor instinctively deferred to his friend as the senior, for he had been educated in the old school that gave to age, whether it was worthy or not, its due honour.
‘I shan’t try to condole with you, old friend,’ Andrew said, noting how the pastor knit and unknit his fingers. ‘The time for that has not yet come. I won’t believe that anything serious has happened to Johnny. He’s always struck me as a lad who can look after himself; and to be wounded, even in several places, is not such a serious thing after all.’
‘You would try to console me,’ retorted the pastor, a wan smile lighting up his crinkled features. ‘I’ve said that to myself over and over again. It’s not that – I mean, I don’t so much mind that he’s wounded. It’s the thought that someone of his own kin may have shot him. For this is civil war, Mr Quakerley, civil war.’
‘I agree with you. But it’s rather far-fetched, all the same. I don’t think there were any colonial troops at Colenso – certainly none from our part of the Colony. They’re with the middle division, you know. Storam had a letter from Martin. He’s with Gatacre’s force.’
‘It’s not Johnny alone. There are others, Mr Quakerley. At Magersfontein young Van Aard was killed – he’s Erasmus van Aard’s nephew, as you will perhaps know. Erasmus’s brother’s son, who settled in the Transvaal in the Ermelo district. At Labuschagne’s Nek, Piet van Tonder fell. He’s a grandson of Jan van Tonder of Suurvlei here.’
‘I know. I saw their names, and I saw Oom Jan and condoled with him. It’s awful. But it’s war, Uhlmann. We can’t help it.’
‘No, that’s why it’s so bitter. So hard to bear. Not that I should complain. I’ve only the one on the other side. Others have more than one.’
Andrew glanced at his companion. He had never before seen the pastor so disturbed. ‘If he doesn’t bend, he’ll break,’ Andrew said to himself. ‘I must get him out of this.’
‘What shall I play?’ Uhlmann asked, running his fingers soundlessly over the keyboard.
‘Anything you like. I’m no judge of music.’
Although he was no judge, Andrew, when he heard the first bars, felt that he was listening to someone who loved music almost as much as he loved his garden. There was no tune in what the pastor played, but there were rhythm and melody, and grandeur and passion, warmth and colour and consolation in it. To listen to it was like listening to waves dashing on seashore rocks, to rain pattering on the leaves of his big magnolia tree, to bees humming in his cynoglossum patch on a summer’s day. Joan played, and Alice, but not like that. The pastor’s playing was quite different. It reminded him of flowers, of his garden, of the veld in late September when starred with daisies and iridescent with the sheen of velvety geissorhizas, of the mountains aglow with the reflected light of the sun’s setting, of the big poplar bush at Quakerskloof with the leaves turning silver as the breeze swept over them, of pontac vineyards turning a rich crimson in the autumn. It stirred him, and at the same time it soothed him, a paradoxical feeling that he could not – and did not – attempt to explain. He leant back and enjoyed it.
The pastor played on. Uhlmann seemed oblivious to his listener, entirely absorbed in his music. He improvised; he passed from Beethoven to Mozart, and from Mozart to Scarlatti, pausing between the various themes, and sometimes resting his head on his hands, almost touching the keyboard. Andrew could see that he was profoundly moved as he played, and that the playing soothed him too. At last Uhlmann withdrew his hands from the keys and let them fall limply by his side.