Book Two—Chapter Summaries
Mrs. Lithebe, ever wise and good, speaks urgently to Gertrude, whom she still finds, unlike Absalom's girlfriend, slack in her ways and in her talk. Gertrude is restless and unhappy. Someone brings the newspaper: there has been another murder of a white person by a black housebreaker. This news item, worrying in itself, is especially so just before the conclusion of Absalom's trial. Msimangu arranges that they all eat at Mrs. Lithebe's house, to prevent Stephen from seeing the newspaper headline. Later Gertrude, suddenly inspired (or apparently inspired) by a talk they have just heard, tells Mrs. Lithebe that she thinks she would like to become a nun. Mrs. Lithebe is delighted, but says that Gertrude must of course wait in order to test her vocation. Gertrude then whispers her idea to Absalom's girlfriend, and is assured by her that, if Gertrude left them, she would look after her son.
We are back in the solemn courtroom. The judge delivers his judgment. He deals first with Absalom's two co-accused. At the conclusion of a fairly tortuous argument, which involves problems associated with an identification parade—an argument about which the reader must feel some doubt—the judge decides that the presence of the two at the crime scene cannot be conclusively established. They are therefore acquitted. He then focuses on Absalom, who has admitted that he shot Arthur but says that he had no prior intention of doing so. In response to arguments advanced by the defense, the judge concedes that South African society may be deeply flawed, but says that the law must still be upheld. He considers the facts of the case as he sees them, and says that, though Absalom has been a credible witness, he cannot discover any extenuating circumstances. He therefore finds him guilty, and condemns him to be hanged. The courtroom is full of emotion. Absalom "falls to the floor, crying and sobbing." Women wail; Stephen cries, and is helped by Msimangu and by the young white official (who in so doing breaks the custom). Jarvis is there too, "stern and erect."
Stephen and others visit Absalom in prison. Father Vincent marries Absalom and his girl, but the fairly bleak occasion generates little emotion. Stephen, heartbroken, is left to say farewell to his son. They talk of practical matters (Stephen departs the next day) and of the future of Absalom's wife and child, but then Absalom breaks down, and both of them are overcome by grief. Absalom clings desperately to Stephen as he leaves. Later Stephen pays a final visit to John. He does not reproach him, but advises him to care for his son Matthew and cautions him about his political views. Suddenly he cannot resist hurting John by pretending that a friend has betrayed him. John is anxious, then angry, and ejects his brother; Stephen is "humiliated and ashamed". We then see Jarvis about to leave Johannesburg: Harrison senior is pleased about the death sentence; his son is delighted at the money that Jarvis leaves for the boys' club. There is a farewell gathering at Mrs. Lithebe's: Msimangu announces that he is to retire into a religious community. He later gives his little remaining wealth to Stephen. In the morning, as Stephen prepares to depart, he finds that Gertrude has gone.