Fiela gets angry as she walks to Knysna. Still, she prefers walking to waiting around for news of Benjamin. Before Fiela left, Selling warned her not to get angry at the magistrate, since this might just cause him to punish her. She knows he’s right, but she hopes God will still be able to help her somehow. Her biggest fear as she approaches the magistrate is Selling’s past. Many years ago, while Fiela was pregnant with Emma, Selling committed a murder.
Throughout the story, Fiela struggles to reconcile her strong belief in a just, active God with her simultaneous belief that what is happening to her and Benjamin is very unjust. One way that she tries to make sense of this seeming contradiction is to view suffering as a test, and so she tries to be active in order to prove to God that she’s willing to step up to any test she receives.
In a flashback to many years ago, when Fiela is still young, people begin to talk about how Selling, the richest “Coloured” man in town, seems to have chosen Fiela over all the other hopeful women in town. Fiela has a couple of Selling’s children before they’re married. Selling works for a white harness-maker named Petrus who wants to keep Selling around as a worker, so he himself helps arrange for Fiela and Selling to marry, even providing them a little money to start their life together.
Petrus illustrates the complicated nature of race relations in South Africa. On the one hand, Petrus seems like a white man who uses his wealth and status for good—certainly more so than the magistrate—as he helps Selling and Fiela start their journey. Still, there is a potentially selfish side to Petrus’s motivations—that he wants to control Selling and keep him around as a worker—raising the question of whether Petrus would still help Selling if he didn’t also benefit personally.
One Christmas Eve, Selling helps lock up Petrus’s property while he and his family are away. But a sheep that Petrus had gifted Selling to fatten before Christmas turns out to be missing right when Selling plans to slaughter it. That evening, Selling is out for a long time, and when he comes back, Fiela notices he has no lamb and also no knife. Fiela just kills a goose instead and tells Selling to report the lamb’s theft to the police.
This passage illustrates the dangers of materialism. Although Petrus’s gift to Selling may seem thoughtful, it also warps Selling’s way of thinking. Selling might have been perfectly happy if he’d never gotten the sheep, but to get a sheep and then lose it also seems to make him murderously angry (as his missing knife in this passage hints at).
On Christmas morning, two constables come to the property. They allege that last night Selling stabbed Kies Laghaan when he caught Kies skinning his lamb and claiming it was one of his own. Kies died that night. With Petrus out of town, there’s no one to stop the constables from leading Selling away. Early in the new year, Selling has to face a hanging judge, all while Fiela is eight months pregnant.
The fight between Selling and Kies shows how difficult circumstances (like the tough climate in Long Kloof) can lead to conflict. The fact that Petrus is out of town during the crucial moment shows how, for all the advantages Selling got through Petrus, he was ultimately always at the mercy of the rich white gentleman and that this luck can go both ways, with Selling suffering when Petrus is away.
Petrus returns and hears about Selling’s murder charge. He uses his influence to get Selling’s hanging reduced to a life sentence. A few months later, after Emma is born, Petrus tells Fiela that he knows where Selling is working on a prison gang. Fiela wants to go to him, but Petrus warns her against it. But nothing will persuade Fiela to stay away.
While Petrus is willing to do what he can to help Selling, there is also a limit to Petrus’s willingness to challenge authority. Fiela seems to sense this better than Selling, which is why she never has quite as high of an opinion of Petrus as Selling himself does.
Fiela knows of a hidden route, an old elephant track, that might take her to where Selling is working. She needs to breastfeed Emma, so she brings Emma on the trip. She finally makes it to the prisoner work camp, where she sees guards in green uniforms watching over the convicts. She sees Selling and wonders how to get to him, particularly while carrying Emma.
Fiela’s willingness to risk her own life for the sake of helping Selling suggests her willingness to sacrifice for the welfare of her family. The fact that she is able to breastfeed Emma at the same time shows how she balances all of her responsibilities as a mother, even under such extreme circumstances.
Fiela climbs up a gorge to try to be closer to Selling, fearing Emma will wake up and attract a guard’s attention with noise. She makes her way up but then sees the guards ordering all the prisoners together and fears she’s too late. Selling passes right by her without even realizing.
Once again, the precariousness of this situation demonstrates Fiela’s commitment to protecting her family. It also shows how in spite of all her hard work, some of her success is luck, as it is here when she survives simply because Emma remains quiet.
A week later, Fiela finally manages to make contact with Selling. She smuggles him food this way for four years. At one point during those years, she slips him a note about her discovery of Benjamin. Eventually, Selling’s health becomes too poor for him to contribute much work. The convicts are building a road, and many die in the process.
Fiela’s commitment to smuggle her husband food for four years yet again emphasizes her commitment to her family. This passage also reveals how the oppression of Coloured and Black South Africans literally builds the foundation of the country, as here prisoner do the dangerous work of constructing a road.
With the completion of the road that Selling’s gang is working on, Petrus comes to Fiela and promises her that he’ll go check on Selling before they send him away. A few days later, Fiela is shocked to see Selling himself walking with difficulty back toward their home in his convict’s clothes. She learns that Prince Alfred was nearby to shoot elephants and to celebrate the opening of the road, which will be called Prince Alfred’s Pass. Alfred pardoned several of the convict-workers, including Selling.
Just as Petrus helped Selling marry Fiela in order to continue having Selling work for him, Selling manages to secure a pardon at the very moment when he ceases to be a useful worker for the prison gangs. Although Selling receives mercy in this passage, overall, this passage suggests that the government only extends mercy after exploiting Coloured people ceases to benefit them.