The trains carry Kumalo, Absalom’s wife, and Gertrude’s son back to Ndotsheni. They are greeted warmly, and Kumalo’s wife refers to the young girl as her daughter. As they walk to Kumalo’s home, they encounter people from the village who tell Kumalo how happy they are to have their umfundisi back. They confess that they are worried about the drought that is starving their crops. A friend tells Kumalo that the Jarvises have returned and that the villagers are aware of what Absalom has done.
When Kumalo arrives at his church, he finds a gathering of followers already assembled, and he leads them in a prayer. He asks for rain, for the welcome of Absalom’s wife and Gertrude’s son, and for forgiveness for Gertrude and Absalom. After the service, he speaks with his friend from the railroad station. Kumalo tells his friend all about Gertrude and Absalom. He says that since the news will soon be known, his friend should spread the word. Kumalo worries that he is too disgraced to lead his congregation, but his friend assures him otherwise. When his friend asks about Sibeko’s daughter, Kumalo tells his friend that the girl is lost. Kumalo comes home in time to wish Absalom’s wife goodnight, then sits up with his wife discussing Msimangu’s gift and other, sadder matters.
Kumalo prays that his village can be restored. He visits the village chief, but he cannot share in the chief’s optimism, as it is all too clear that the white men made the chiefs powerless and left mere figureheads in their place. The chief shares Kumalo’s concern about the departure of the young people of the village for Johannesburg but has no new ideas about how to change things, and he concludes the interview by sadly resolving to try to bring these issues up with the local magistrate once more. Kumalo visits the school headmaster, but he fears that the headmaster’s teachings about farming are more academic than practical. He considers them pleasant theories that do not prevent the valley from drying up and its children from dying.
As Kumalo mulls over his disappointments, Arthur’s son rides by on horseback. He is staying with his grandfather. He greets Kumalo with uncustomary politeness and asks to see his home. The boy asks for a drink of milk, but there is no milk in Ndotsheni. He asks what children do without milk, and Kumalo tells him that some children are dying. The small boy practices his Zulu with Kumalo and rides off.
That evening, a worker from Jarvis’s farm delivers milk to be given to all of the small children in Ndotsheni. Overwhelmed by the suddenness of this gift, Kumalo laughs until he is sore.
Four letters are delivered to Kumalo’s household. One, from Mr. Carmichael, explains that Absalom will not be given mercy and will be hanged that month. Another is from Absalom. Kumalo and his wife read this letter together. Absalom writes that he is comfortable in the Pretoria prison and is being ministered to by a priest, but he knows now that he must die. He writes simply and directly about his life in prison and states that he now understands that he belongs in Ndotsheni. The third letter is from Absalom for his wife. The fourth letter is from Msimangu, and when Kumalo reads Msimangu’s descriptions of Johannesburg, he is surprised to find himself missing the city.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited storm that will break the drought rolls in. Kumalo sees Jarvis and the local magistrate drive into Ndotsheni and plant some sticks with flags. The chief is charged with making sure that no one tampers with the flags. After commenting that Jarvis is rumored to be both mad and bankrupt, the magistrate leaves, while Jarvis stays behind to measure the land. When the storm comes, he seeks shelter in Kumalo’s church. The two sit together under Kumalo’s leaky roof, and Jarvis asks whether Absalom has received mercy. Kumalo shows him the letter from Mr. Carmichael, and Jarvis says that he understands Kumalo’s grief. When the storm passes, the residents of Ndotsheni examine the sticks with great curiosity. When a child uproots one, there is much commotion, and the whole village conspires to put the stick back in its place and conceal all evidence of its removal.
It is rumored that the sticks mark the place were a dam will be built in Ndotsheni. Absalom’s wife and Gertrude’s son settle rapidly into their new home. Arthur’s son comes to visit Kumalo again and practice his Zulu. He tells Kumalo that he will return to Johannesburg when his grandfather comes back from Pietermaritzburg, and Kumalo comments that Ndotsheni will lose something bright when the boy leaves. Kumalo teaches Arthur’s son some new Zulu words and explains their origins. When Kumalo’s wife joins them, the boy surprises her with his command of the language.
Arthur’s son sees Jarvis’s car climbing the hill and gallops eagerly after it to welcome his grandfather home. A young black man comes to Kumalo’s church and introduces himself to Kumalo. His name is Napoleon Letsitsi, and he is an agricultural expert hired by Jarvis to teach better farming techniques. He agrees to stay with the Kumalos while he helps to recover the valley. It will be difficult, Letsitsi says, because he will have to teach the people that their land must be farmed for the common good, not for each individual’s best interests. Hardest of all, he says, will be convincing people to stop measuring their wealth in cattle, as cattle damage the land and do not allow it to recover. Letsitsi confirms that a dam is being built. Arthur’s son returns to say good-bye to Kumalo. He promises to continue his Zulu lessons during his holidays.
In the aftermath of Absalom’s conviction for murder, Paton creates a fragile balance of despair and hope in Kumalo’s life. Kumalo is saddened and frustrated by the devastation of Ndotsheni, which has been further worsened by the drought, and neither the chief nor the school headmaster knows how the area can be mended. Furthermore, Kumalo receives the news that there will be no mercy for his son. Thus, on one hand, both land and family—two important elements of Kumalo’s life—are sources of grief. He is given hope, however, by the friendliness and curiosity of Arthur’s son, by Jarvis’s gift of milk to the community, and by the agricultural improvements that Jarvis attempts to make. Furthermore, the rain eventually comes and ends the drought. Absalom’s letter continues the reconciliation between father and son. Here, then, land and family become sources of happiness, suggesting that Kumalo’s misfortunes, though they are grave, will not last forever.
The improvements planned for Ndotsheni will, however, forever alter the village’s way of life by imposing European methods of farming, and Paton constantly underscores the foreignness of the proposed methods. At first, Jarvis’s activities are mysterious to the villagers, and they view the flags as a curiosity. The native chief is relegated to guard duty while Jarvis and the magistrate fulfill the far more important duty of planting the flags and planning the project, which demonstrates the distance that still exists between the white farmers and the local community. Napoleon Letsitsi explains that the agricultural improvements will require sacrifices on the part of the villagers as well, effectively devaluating their whole cattle-as-currency system and their concept of farming as an individual activity. Nonetheless, it seems evident that the people of Ndotsheni will come to accept these changes. Although they are curious about the flags, they treat them with great respect, and the whole community gathers to replant the uprooted flag.
Arthur’s son emerges as a bridge between these separate worlds. Jarvis has a good heart, but he makes little or no effort to socialize with the villagers of Ndotsheni. Arthur’s son strides into Kumalo’s house without fear. Though only a child, he has already begun to learn Zulu. His eagerness to speak Zulu shows a lack of concern for the superficial racial divisions of South African society. Most telling of all, however, is that the boy and Kumalo laugh together. When Jarvis and Kumalo meet in Kumalo’s church during the storm, it is still a formal affair, and though the two men come to respect each other, their ultimate goal seems to be coexistence. With his Zulu lessons and his jokes, Arthur’s son crosses the final line and opens up the possibility of actual friendship between whites and blacks.