The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice. . . .See Important Quotations Explained
The narrator repeats the descriptions of the hills of Natal that open Book I: the valleys are lovely, and the grass is thick and green. Looking down upon it all is High Place, the residence of a white farmer named James Jarvis, the father of the slain Arthur Jarvis. Jarvis hopes that rain will soon fall on his dry fields. The hills of Ndotsheni below are dry and barren from over-farming, and no one knows how to solve the problem. Jarvis ponders all the possible solutions to the over-farming. If only the native people would learn how to farm, he thinks, and if only those who were educated stayed to help their people instead of running to the city. Of course, his own son, Arthur, decided to leave the farm and become an engineer in Johannesburg, but he doesn’t begrudge Arthur his decision.
Standing on a ridge to look for rain clouds, Jarvis sees a police car approaching his home. He thinks that it must be one of the Afrikaner policemen—Afrikaners are white South Africans of Dutch descent largely considered by families of English descent to be of a lower class. Though he is of English descent, Jarvis believes that the local Afrikaners are a fine people. Two policemen, van Jaarsveld and Binnendyk, come to him with the shocking news that his son has been shot and killed. As Jarvis copes with the announcement, they offer to make arrangements to get him to Johannesburg as quickly as possible. He accepts their offer, and while one of the policemen calls to arrange for the flight, Jarvis breaks the bad news to his wife, who breaks down crying and screaming.
Mr. Jarvis and his wife fly to Johannesburg and are greeted by John Harrison, the brother of their son’s wife, Mary. They travel to the house of John and Mary’s parents, where they meet Mary, her mother, and her father, Mr. Harrison. Jarvis, his wife, and Mary get into the car with John to go the mortuary. On the way there, John tells Jarvis that Arthur was an advocate for the rights of the country’s natives, an issue on which Mr. Harrison and Arthur did not see eye-to-eye.
After seeing Arthur’s body, the family returns to the Harrisons’, where Jarvis joins Mr. Harrison for a drink. Mr. Harrison tells him that condolence messages have poured in from every part of the community, including from the prime minister and mayor. He tells Jarvis that Arthur could speak Afrikaans and Zulu, that he was interested in learning Sesuto (a native language like Zulu), and that some wanted him to run for parliament. Arthur protested the housing conditions of the mines’ workers, ignoring warnings that he was jeopardizing his job as an engineer and maintaining that the truth was more important than money. Mr. Harrison calls Arthur a real crusader in his efforts for others, then reveals that all of white Johannesburg is scared stiff by the attacks. Though neither he nor Mr. Harrison share Arthur’s politics, Jarvis is moved by these stories about the respect his son inspired and about his son’s courage.
Jarvis goes to bed, where he shares the stories with his wife and expresses his regret that he did not know more about his son while Arthur was alive. He falls asleep in his wife’s arms, tormented by the question of why his son was murdered.
Jarvis sits in his son’s house and looks at all his son’s books and papers. He notices that his son seems to have particularly admired Abraham Lincoln. Jarvis finds a letter addressed to Arthur from a boys’ club in the town of Claremont. He finds part of an article that his son was writing. In this article, Arthur argues that it is unacceptable to keep black South Africans unskilled in order to provide labor for the mines, to break up African family life by housing only black workers but not their families, to deny black Africans educational opportunities, and to break the tribal system without creating a new moral order in its place. Absorbed in his son’s ideas and interested in learning more, Jarvis takes a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. He then walks into the hallway where his son was killed and out of the house.