Book Two—Chapter Summaries
Jarvis, who is more and more intrigued and challenged by his son's thoughts and activities, goes back to his study, and looks around again at the pictures and the books. He sits at his son's desk, opens the drawers, and comes upon various articles, among them a "Private Essay on the Evolution of a South African". In it Arthur speaks of his upbringing, which was honorable and good in many ways, but which taught him nothing at all about the painful social realities of South Africa. Jarvis is "shocked and hurt" to read this, and walks around, trying to come to terms with this new ultimatum issued unwittingly by his dead son. He returns to his son's papers, and reads his account of his aims in life—his determination to do not what is expedient, but what is right; to try humbly to avoid the contradictions that most white South Africans get tangled up in. "I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is right, at whatever cost it may be." Jarvis is now totally under the spell of his son's life and thoughts. He walks away from the house with a quiet new resoluteness.
Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis, on a day when the court is not in session, relax with a niece in Springs. While the two women go to the town, Jarvis stays in the house. There is a knock on the backdoor, and there stands an old black pastor, who immediately shows signs of acute distress and anxiety. (It is Stephen, delivering the message which he was given just before he stepped on to the train.) The pastor is overwhelmed and confused, much to the puzzlement of Jarvis. Then he recognizes that it is the priest from Ndotsheni. Jarvis says: "There is something between you and me, but I do not know what it is." Stephen finally, hesitantly, reveals the frightening truth: "It was my son that killed your son." Jarvis spends some minutes taking this in, and then tells Stephen that he is not angry. Stephen expresses his sorrow and sympathy. They speak a little about Arthur Jarvis, whom Stephen remembers as a boy "with a brightness in him"; and they are both deeply moved. An awkward but real rapport is established between them. Stephen then leaves by the back gate ("according to the custom"); Jarvis watches him intently as he departs.
This chapter focuses on unrest in the country, unrest, which is both a backdrop to, and potentially a kind of enlarged version of, Absalom's crime and his trial. John Kumalo, with his "great bull voice", eloquently addresses a large gathering. He arouses the crowd's emotions, but only to a certain point. The workers are demanding, he says, not the gold mines but a share in their wealth; they need better wages: why should the poor stay poor while the rich get richer? Various people offer their views of John Kumalo's speech. The policemen present regard him as dangerous yet ultimately cowardly. Stephen is very impressed. Msimangu acknowledges the power of his utterance but sees him as unwilling to make sacrifices. Jarvis and John Harrison are there too; Jarvis says he doesn't care for this kind of thing. Will there be a strike, a strike, which might spread and disrupt the whole country? "The strike has come and gone." It did not spread beyond the mines. A church leader says that the mine-workers' union should be recognized, but the official view is that the trouble is over and that "all is quiet". But things are never really quiet.