On Barnard’s Island, Elias is cutting wood beams, but the plans he’s making distract him. Barta asks him why he’s moving so slow. Elias can’t make beams as quickly as usual, and now another man in the community is also starting to make them.
Elias’s inability to make beams as quickly as he used to reflects the inevitable consequences of aging. Rather than accepting his age, however, Elias schemes to overcome it. His plans might seem similar to Fiela’s own big plans for her farm, but in many other ways, these characters are each other’s opposite.
Dawid Olwage returns to Barnard’s Island from the Forest with a story. He says that he was walking around a footpath near Stinkwood Kloof and Brown’s Kloof when he saw six elephants (or “bigfeet” as the locals call them) walking near the edge of a cliff. Dawid Olwage expected the elephants to fall off, but to his surprise, they navigated the narrow space cleverly, holding on to a tree with their trunks. Elias is in the audience for the story, and at first, they don’t believe him. As Elias thinks about the story more, however, he realizes that maybe he can use this information to kill an elephant without a gun and sell its tusks for money
Dawid Olwage’s story brings to life the intelligence and ingenuity of the elephants, emphasizing their remarkable ability to traverse through seemingly impassable terrain. All that Elias takes away from this story, however, is a possible way to kill elephants for tusks without a gun. This shows not only Elias’s greedy nature but also his disrespect for nature—and his desire to control it.
Elias makes an excuse to Barta so that he can go over on a five-day trip to where the elephants are, pretending that he’s going over to look at trees to potentially cut. Barta seems suspicious of Elias’s plan. Just then, their daughter Nina comes over to them. Elias scolds Barta for letting Nina’s hair get so long. He realizes Nina is about 10 or 11 years old and that he heard recently perhaps some English families living nearby might be willing to hire white girls to watch their own children.
The lies that Elias tells here to Bart hint at how distrust dominates his relationship with his wife. Her inability to confront him, despite her suspicions, reflects the patriarchal nature of this society (where a wife is of lower status than her husband). Elias’s plan to hire out Nina further establishes how he views people—even his own family—in terms of their ability to generate money for him.
Elias heads to the footpath near Stinkwood Kloof. He finds some week-old elephant dung and figures the elephants must be close. He sets a trap, making plans about to get his sons to help him to avoid having to share his elephant tusks with any of the other families. He partially cuts the tree that the elephants use to pass through the narrow area so that when the first elephant tries to use it, it will break the tree and fall off the edge.
Elias tries to bend nature to his will. He attempts to turn a tree from a tool that helps the elephants into a trap that will kill them. By trying to turn nature into a weapon, Elias once again demonstrates his desire to control things and shows how he is often only capable of viewing relationships in terms of force and violence.
Elias sets up camp and waits for his trap to go off. He hears the elephants at one point, but they don’t go toward his trap. Then one day, Elias happens to see a local woodcutter with his team of eight men. The men spot Elias and are surprised to see him in the area. While they seem to suspect that Elias is hiding something, they ultimately go away and leave him in peace.
Elias’s suspicious relationship with the woodcutters hints at his struggle to connect with people in general. In fact, the other woodcutters are correct to believe that Elias is hiding something from them, and so this only increases the suspicion between him and them.
Elias begins to get impatient, but on Friday, the elephants finally come. They wait by the tree for a long time, as if they’re about to grab the tree to take the narrow path. But after an hour, they turn around and go back. When Elias finally gives up and goes back, he finds the elephants waiting for him and has to throw down all his possessions and run for his life. He gets home to Barta and tells her about how elephants chased him, but he promises to get revenge on them.
The elephants display more intelligence than Elias expects from them. This shows how, despite humanity’s best efforts, it’s never good to underestimate nature. Elias realizes the consequences of trying to outsmart nature when the elephants in fact outsmart him by laying a trap. Rather than learning a lesson, however, Elias dedicates himself to revenge, once again revealing his tendency to think exclusively in terms of violence and control.
The next day, another forester visits Elias with a message from the magistrate, Mr. Goldsbury. It turns out someone may have found Elias’s son who disappeared many years ago.
Although the magistrate has a name, many characters refer to him by his position, which underscores his authority and the institution of justice he represents. The cliffhanger at the end of this chapter foreshadows problems for Benjamin and Fiela.