Book One—Chapter Summaries
Waiting for Msimangu, Stephen plays happily with his little nephew, with whom he is more relaxed than with Gertrude; but his joy evaporates when he remembers the lost Absalom; but then the memory of his wife, friends and home lifts his spirits somewhat. Paton ponders on the mysterious interplay between comfort and desolation. Stephen and Msimangu renew their search. They go first to Shanty Town, and learn that Absalom was taken by the police and later sent to the reformatory (a place where, in real life, Paton was principal). His father is devastated. They make their way to the reformatory, where they are told by a young white official that Absalom, who had said that he had no family, has been released, because he had behaved well, work had been found for him, and the girl he wished to marry was pregnant. The official drives them to Pimville where the couple is staying, but they are all appalled to discover from the young woman that Absalom has disappeared. The official feels a sense of failure, Stephen is overwhelmed with grief but sorry for the girl, Msimangu has a rare outburst of angry bitterness, for which he later apologizes to Stephen.
Feeling that Stephen needs a break, Msimangu suggests that before long they go together to visit Ezenzeleni, the Anglican mission to the blind: "It will lift your spirits." But that evening the headline of the evening paper tells of a murder in Saxonwold, one of the white suburbs. Arthur Jarvis, a young engineer and noted liberal, has been shot by intruders who are thought to be (in the white parlance of the time) "natives". Jarvis happens to come from the Ixopo district: his father, whom Stephen recognizes but has never spoken to, is the owner of a nearby farm; in fact Stephen dimly remembers the son as a young bright boy. The police are searching for the culprits; they hope that the domestic worker, knocked out by the intruders, will be able to help them when he recovers consciousness. All those in the Mission House are silenced, sad and anxious. "Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone...Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end." Stephen is deeply fearful, improbable though it is that Absalom could be involved. He tells Msimangu that his ability to pray has dried up.
"Have no doubt it is fear in the land." The first half of the chapter conjures up, through a series of vividly presented statements, conversations and speeches, the anxiety of white Johannesburgers, and the mixture of views that they put forward, ranging from the right wing to the liberal. They discuss not only crime, but race relations more generally, and education, and the organization of society. There are no easy solutions to society's problems, especially as the whites take their own privileged status for granted. "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child who is the inheritor of our fear." We then swing back into the main storyline. Msimangu is informed that Absalom is being sought by the police. He tries to conceal this from Stephen, but fails, and the two of them set out by taxi to retrace their earlier steps. All the people they call on tell them that the police have come, looking for Absalom, and it seems very serious. Eventually they reach Absalom's girlfriend, who tells them that the police have just left. She is distraught and terrified. Meanwhile, as they return sadly home, Stephen is cold with anguish. Msimangu attempts to comfort him.