Stephen buys Gertrude some new, respectable clothes for herself and her child. He inwardly mulls about the expenses of things, and worries about his own of money. He wonders how Gertrude was able to save so little, given her recent profession.
Money is a constant concern in Johannesburg. Everything is expensive; you must always be buying things. The poor have no way to save their way out of poverty.
It’s a beautiful day, and Stephen is writing a letter to his wife about his adventures in Johannesburg, and how successful the endeavor has been so far. He tells her that this day, the day he is writing, is the day when he will look for his son. He pauses as Msimangu comes to collect him for their search.
Stephen’s telling his wife that he has been very successful so far only underlines how painful it will be when Stephen understands what will happen to Absalom.
The two men locate John’s carpentry shop. Though he is fatter than when they last saw each other, Stephen recognizes his brother, though not the men with him. John does not recognize Stephen at first, but after Stephen reveals his identity, John welcomes him and Msimangu and offers them some tea.
John's failure to recognize Stephen does not just attest to the years they are apart. It is also a signal of the way that John has turned away from the church, of which Stephen is a part.
Stephen inquires after John’s wife Esther, but John says that he hasn’t been married to Esther for ten years. Stephen soon learns that John has a relationship with a woman to whom he is not properly married. Stephen asks John why he didn’t write a letter to tell him about any of this, and John says that Stephen and his community do not understand how life is in Johannesburg, and to write with such details would bring about “unnecessary trouble.” When Stephen presses him to explain how things are different here, John asks to switch to English, and Stephen obliges.
Like Gertrude, John appears to be decent (a woman in his home, a politician), but it quickly becomes clear that not all is as it seems. His wife has left him, his job is corrupt, and he felt no need to let his old community know any of these things.
In English, John begins to explain that in Ixopo, things are run by the chief, who knows nothing about anything. But in Johannesburg, he says, he can advance himself, make a great deal of money, and have some power and influence. It’s not perfect, and there are other masters, but at least the chief does not control him. The breaking apart of the tribes in inevitable, but Johannesburg is a new and different kind of tribe. Then, he compares the Church to the ignorant chief—not evil, but not making anything better.
John admits that he has swapped one false master (the chief) for another (his own power and influence). He equates Johannesburg with a new and better kind of tribe like the one that has been broken apart in Ixopo and elsewhere, and has no use for the church, which he considers as much of a problem as the chief.
John raises his voice, and seems to be addressing a crowd that is not there. He tells Msimangu and Stephen that the mines are where all of the money is coming from, but the black men who dig it up are paid too little money, have to leave their families to do so, and become sick. And the more gold that is found, the more the mine’s white owners receive, not the men who dig. South Africa is not built on the mines, he concludes, but their people’s backs and labor. Then he falls quiet. Stephen and Msimangu feel compelled to also be quiet, and Stephen hardly recognizes this man before him. John says, finally, that the Church is part of the problem, too – the white priests receive more money, and the bishop is very wealthy. He concludes that hypocrisy is why he no longer attends church.
John is very caught up in his own importance, performing for an audience that is not there. He expresses his outrage for the mining companies and their refusal to compensate black miners fairly, and the racial hypocrisy of the church. His points are valid, but are marred by his self-importance and corruption.
Stephen asks John why his wife left. John is vague about the reason, but Msimangu interprets it as her wishing for faithfulness, and him being unwilling to provide it. Because they are still speaking in English, John does not understand the word. He does seem to understand the implication, though, and begins to get angry. Stephen intervenes. They switch back to Zulu as the tea comes.
It becomes clear that John has done some troubling things, and also does not like it when these shortcomings are pointed out to him, which would also account for his dislike of the church.
Stephen explains that he has come to fetch Gertrude and to take her back with him to Ixopo. John agrees that Johannesburg is not a good place for a single woman, and that this is a wise idea. Then, Stephen asks if John knows where Absalom might be. John says that Absalom and his own son were friendly with one another, and both went off to get work together at a factory. He goes to the telephone book to find the name of the place, and Stephen feels a twinge of pride to know someone with a telephone. John gets him the information for a textile factory. As they leave, Msimangu gives John a small lecture about how it is better to seek love than power.
Again, John is half-right, and half-blinded by his own arrogance: Johannesburg isn’t a good place for a single woman, but it isn’t a good place for him or his son either, as he will learn after the murder of Arthur Jarvis. Msimangu’s lecture is well-meaning, but falls on willingly deaf ears, as it will when Stephen tries to give the same speech to John toward the end of the book.
They are unsuccessful locating Absalom at the factory, and trace him to a house in Sophiatown. He is not there, but a woman gives them a forwarding address for Absalom. After Stephen has stepped outside, the woman reveals to Msimangu that Absalom was running with a bad crowd. Msimangu does not tell this to Stephen, and they head home.
As they search for Absalom, success evades them at every turn. Each new location is a new hope ultimately tainted with disappointment and, in this case, a warning that things will not end well for Absalom.