Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Chapter 17 Summary

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Mrs. Lithebe, the woman with whom Kumalo and his sister Gertrude are staying, does not normally let strangers live in her home. She accepted Kumalo only because he was a priest, and Gertrude because it was right to get her out of her former life. Over time, Mrs. Lithebe has developed a great respect for the priest and a tentative friendship with his sister. However, Mrs. Lithebe worries about Kumalo these days. He always wears an expression of “suffering” on his face, and he seems to be aging before her eyes.

Today Kumalo seems particularly quiet and upset. After brooding alone for a long time, he approaches Mrs. Lithebe to ask a favor. He explains about Absalom’s pregnant girlfriend and asks if it would be possible to bring yet another person into the house. Mrs. Lithebe agrees immediately, saying that it is their duty to provide help and protection to the girl. She will have to sleep on the floor, but she is welcome.

The girl arrives that very day, and she is “openly glad” to be there. She seems awed by Mrs. Lithebe’s house, which seems very fine to her, and she is helpful with the chores. However, the girl is also friendly with Gertrude, and soon Mrs. Lithebe hears them laughing a kind of “careless laughter that she does not like.” This probably means the young women are laughing about something sexual or corrupt—something they know their elders would not like.

As soon as she hears this laughter, Mrs. Lithebe takes the girl aside for a private conversation. Mrs. Lithebe explains sternly that her home is “decent,” and that nobody may laugh or joke about anything improper, especially not if it might hurt the old man. The girl apologizes and swears she will be good. She adds that she wants a family more than anything else in the world.

That afternoon, Kumalo visits Absalom, who seems glad that he might get a chance to marry his girlfriend, and that his child will not be born out of wedlock. He also seems pleased that the girl and his child will live in Ndotsheni, not Johannesburg.

However, it is clear that Absalom is having a difficult time in prison. He has told the truth about the night of the murder, but his two friends claim that he is lying. Kumalo says that a lawyer is coming, and Absalom seems relieved.

That afternoon, a lawyer visits Kumalo and accepts Absalom’s case “pro deo.” The lawyer says that he will need Kumalo to testify to Absalom’s truthfulness and also to gather evidence about the sort of life Absalom led in Johannesburg prior to the murder.

Kumalo is thrilled that the lawyer is helping, but he is concerned about paying the fee. Father Vincent explains that when a lawyer takes a case “pro deo,” that means he is accepting it “for God.” In other words, the lawyer is donating his services for free.

This amazes Kumalo, and as Book One of Cry, the Beloved Country ends, a bit of his hope is restored.

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