When Stephen arrives back at Mrs. Lithebe’s, the young man from the reform school is waiting for him. The man apologizes for his earlier anger, and insists that Stephen get a lawyer for two reasons: because he does not trust John regarding the story involving his own son, and also because a lawyer could help the court understand that though Absalom fired the fatal shot, he did not mean to murder. They go to Father Vincent, who agrees that they should indeed get a lawyer, and says that he knows just the man – a man who could also arrange to marry Absalom and his girlfriend. Father Vincent tells Stephen to have hope—the outcome may be terrible for Absalom, but possibly not the most severe.
The man from the reformatory is right: if there is any hope for Absalom, it lies with a white lawyer who understands the broken system in which Absalom will be tried.
Stephen confesses to Father Vincent the range of emotions he is experiencing – a small amount of relief, but also shock that the one thing he feared has come to pass, that he and his wife could have been going about their lives when this terrible event was advancing toward them. He marvels at how so many boys get lost and go astray in Johannesburg—why their son, in this particular way, when there are thousands of others? Father Vincent tells him that his sorrow resulting from this knowledge is better than the terror of the unknown, and that his son is not lost.
Stephen’s emotions, though they veer away from the stoic faith he believes he should have at all times, are valid: horror that this tragedy was coming at them all along (and was, presumably, known by God), and shock at the cruelty that there are so many black men in Johannesburg, so why, of all of them, was it his son who committed the crime? Father Vincent is trying to make best of the situation by reminding Stephen that at least he has knowledge, and his son’s situation is not unknown anymore.
Stephen responds to this bitterly—how could his son not be lost? Father Vincent reminds him that there was a robber hung next to the crucified Christ. Stephen replies that his son is not a robber, he is a murderer. Again, Father Vincent reminds him that all men can repent. They continue in this vein, with Stephen growing more and more distressed, until finally Father Vincent commands Stephen to go and pray and rest and keep his faith.
Father Vincent’s position is unshakably Christian: even souls who have done the worst thing can be saved. Stephen’s inability to recognize this shows Father Vincent how despairing Stephen has become in light of these events, and he reacts as Msimangu had before to this scenario by telling Stephen to go and reconnect with his faith.