Book Three—Chapter Summaries
Stephen and the girl and the little boy travel together on the long journey back to Ndotsheni. Stephen is met by his wife and a friend; he tells her the news of Absalom's sentence and she warmly welcomes Stephen and his companions home. As they walk towards home, Stephen is touched and heartened by the many people who rejoice at his return. But he is also made aware of the drought that is afflicting the land. The community puts on a welcoming ceremony for him next to the church, and Stephen prays not only about his return and about the need for rain but also—so supported does he feel by those around him—about things he had thought he would be too afraid to talk about: Gertrude and her son, and Absalom and his wife. Afterwards Stephen confides in his friend. He wonders whether, with an erring sister and son, he shouldn't move elsewhere, but his friend assures him that the community would dislike that. Stephen talks of his suffering but also of his consolations: "I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering." He then returns home to his new, enlarged family. He tells his wife about Msimangu's generous gift.
The Johannesburg experience has spurred Stephen on. He prays for the restoration of Ndotsheni, but he feels too that he must do something. The desolateness of the land, exacerbated now by the drought, is vividly evoked. Stephen visits the most influential men in the area, the chief and the headmaster, but both encounters are futile, almost farcical. He is left feeling depressed, but his mood is lightened by the visit of a young white boy who arrives on horseback. Stephen realizes at once that it is Arthur's son. The boy is bright, innocent and friendly; he has begun to learn Zulu and seems to have a creative inquisitiveness. But the disparity between the lives of the rich and the poor is starkly exposed when he asks for a glass of milk and is told that there is no milk in Ndotsheni, and that children are dying. He returns home in a sober mood. Later that evening a cart arrives with full milk cans; they are from Jarvis, and they will be sent every evening until the drought breaks. For Stephen this is a message from the God to whom he has been praying, and he is suddenly convulsed with laughter.
Stephen and his wife receive three letters: one is from Mr. Carmichael, saying that there is to be no reprieve for Absalom; the second is from Absalom himself; the third is from Msimangu. Stephen and his wife grieve deeply. Meanwhile dark clouds appear in the sky: the drought is about to break. Jarvis, the chief, the magistrate and various others have a meeting near the church, do some surveying, and plant some sticks and flags in the ground. Stephen and the community, looking on, are puzzled. Then the huge storm bursts; with its thunder, lightning and torrential rain, it presents a life-giving drama which we feel is not unrelated to the events of the main story. Jarvis is trapped by the rain, and seeks shelter in Stephen's church; Stephen accompanies him there. The old iron-roofed church leaks, and in a poignant and half-comic scene Jarvis and Stephen move from place to place, trying to dodge the water that is pouring in. Jarvis asks if there has been mercy for Absalom; when told the answer, he says he will remember him on the day. After the downpour, the Ndotsheni community is left contemplating the strange sticks.