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.
Stephen continues to hope and pray for the restoration of Ndotsheni. He has a sense that Jarvis, who is away in Pretoria, might help to perform the miracle that he is hoping for. The cheerful young white boy pays another visit, and learns some more Zulu. He meets Stephen's wife, but she is overcome when she realizes who he is. As he departs, his grandfather arrives, and drops a newcomer in Ndotsheni: it is Napoleon Letsisi, the new agricultural demonstrator. He is warm and idealistic, and sketches for Stephen, who is excited, his plans for reviving the agricultural life of the valley. He speaks (but in non-technical language) of composting, contour ploughing, tree planting, and the prevention of soil erosion; and also of the need for education and for the modification of certain customs. He confirms that the mysterious sticks indicate that a dam is to be built, with water piped from the river. Stephen, delighted, sees Letsisi as "an angel from God". The bright boy drops in to say goodbye; Stephen regards him as a "small angel from God". But he hopes that the restoration may come before he dies—"for I have lived my life in destruction."
As storm clouds gather and the people wait for the Bishop's visit, news is brought that Jarvis's wife has died. The community is sad, as she was admired, but Stephen is particularly distressed, as she has clearly encouraged Jarvis's generosity.He fears that her son's death may have precipitated hers. He sends a message of sympathy. The Bishop arrives, it rains heavily, and the confirmation takes place in the leaking church. Afterwards the Bishop strongly suggests to Stephen that, in view of recent events and of the need to collect money for a new church, he should move. Stephen is overwhelmed, in tears, and is unable to explain his position or his feelings. At this moment a letter for Stephen is brought in. In it Jarvis thanks him for his sympathy and prayers, says that he and his wife had decided to have a new church built at Ndotsheni, and that she had been ill for some time. Stephen proclaims joyfully that the letter comes from God, and tells the Bishop what has been happening; the Bishop is touched, and withdraws his proposal that Stephen should move. Stephen is spiritually uplifted. The community makes a wreath for the funeral.
Things are beginning to happen in the Ndotsheni Valley. Under the supervision of Letsisi, who is backed by the chief, the people plough along the contours, and collect dung, and prepare to plant wattles. But it is not easy going: the soil is very poor, and a great deal has to be done, and people are reluctant to make the sacrifices that are required. Still, something is beginning. Stephen speaks admiringly to the young Letsisi, but a difference in their views becomes apparent. Stephen, old and fairly conservative, feels that one should be grateful for the bounty of Jarvis, but Letsisi, without calling Jarvis's goodness into question, insists that, in the context of past exploitation by whites, Jarvis's gifts have to be seen as a repayment. Stephen regards this way of thinking as unpleasant and ungrateful. Letsisi assures him that he is not seeking power, or advocating hatred or any particular political position; he simply believes that blacks should recognize their rights, work for Africa, and be beholden to no one. Stephen acknowledges Letsisi's sincerity, and, left alone beneath the stars, admits to himself that he is too old for new and disturbing thoughts.
It is the day before Absalom's execution, and Stephen begins at dusk to walk up a nearby mountain for a vigil, as he has done before on momentous occasions. He comes upon Jarvis on his horse. Jarvis speaks of plans for the new church, and they talk enthusiastically about Letsisi and the boy. Stephen thanks Jarvis for all that he is doing; Jarvis is modestly dismissive. Stephen climbs slowly up to his chosen place. He dwells first on his son's tragic fate. Then he confesses his sins, and runs through the imperfections we have seen in him. He then counts and gives thanks for his blessings, which he enumerates—and his meditative prayer serves as a recapitulation of some of the main events in the story. For all his suffering, he considers himself blessed. He thinks of and prays for those he knows who are suffering, especially Absalom, who will die as the sun rises; and also all the people of South Africa, many of whom are afflicted by fear. As dawn approaches, he imagines his son's last hours, and goes through them with him. Then the sun rises: it is the moment of death but also of sober hope.