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Chapter 3
A marvellous stillness pervaded the world, and the stars, together with the
serenity of their rays, seemed to shed upon the earth the assurance of
everlasting security. The young moon recurved, and shining low in the west, was
like a slender shaving thrown up from a bar of gold, and the Arabian Sea, smooth
and cool to the eye like a sheet of ice, extended its perfect level to the perfect
circle of a dark horizon. The propeller turned without a check, as though its beat
had been part of the scheme of a safe universe; and on each side of the Patna
two deep folds of water, permanent and sombre on the unwrinkled shimmer,
enclosed within their straight and diverging ridges a few white swirls of foam
bursting in a low hiss, a few wavelets, a few ripples, a few undulations that, left
behind, agitated the surface of the sea for an instant after the passage of the
ship, subsided splashing gently, calmed down at last into the circular stillness of
water and sky with the black speck of the moving hull remaining everlastingly in
its centre.
Jim on the bridge was penetrated by the great certitude of unbounded safety and
peace that could be read on the silent aspect of nature like the certitude of
fostering love upon the placid tenderness of a mother's face. Below the roof of
awnings, surrendered to the wisdom of white men and to their courage, trusting
the power of their unbelief and the iron shell of their fire-ship, the pilgrims of an
exacting faith slept on mats, on blankets, on bare planks, on every deck, in all the
dark corners, wrapped in dyed cloths, muffled in soiled rags, with their heads
resting on small bundles, with their faces pressed to bent forearms: the men, the
women, the children; the old with the young, the decrepit with the lusty--all equal
before sleep, death's brother.
A draught of air, fanned from forward by the speed of the ship, passed steadily
through the long gloom between the high bulwarks, swept over the rows of prone
bodies; a few dim flames in globe-lamps were hung short here and there under
the ridge-poles, and in the blurred circles of light thrown down and trembling
slightly to the unceasing vibration of the ship appeared a chin upturned, two
closed eyelids, a dark hand with silver rings, a meagre limb draped in a torn
covering, a head bent back, a naked foot, a throat bared and stretched as if
offering itself to the knife. The well-to-do had made for their families shelters with
heavy boxes and dusty mats; the poor reposed side by side with all they had on
earth tied up in a rag under their heads; the lone old men slept, with drawn-up
legs, upon their prayer-carpets, with their hands over their ears and one elbow on
each side of the face; a father, his shoulders up and his knees under his
forehead, dozed dejectedly by a boy who slept on his back with tousled hair and
one arm commandingly extended; a woman covered from head to foot, like a
corpse, with a piece of white sheeting, had a naked child in the hollow of each
arm; the Arab's belongings, piled right aft, made a heavy mound of broken