As we begin chapter 4 of The Cay, Timothy and Philip are drifting across the ocean in their improvised raft. There’s not much fresh water available and they only have raw fish to eat, but they’re still alive. We’ve reached an important stage in the story, as it’s at this point that Timothy and Philip start getting to know each other, laying the foundations for the firm bond that will develop between them later on.
Right now, though, Philip is somewhat wary of Timothy. He shares the common prejudices of his day regarding black people, thinking them racially inferior. But for all that, Philip is still a boy, endowed with the curiosity of youth. He starts asking Timothy questions about his background. Timothy replies that he comes from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Philip shows his ignorance by assuming that Timothy’s parents must have come from Africa; he thinks that Timothy looks just like the kind of men he’s seen in pictures of African jungles. Philip thinks his unwarranted assumption of Timothy’s supposedly primitive nature appears to be confirmed by the revelation that Timothy doesn’t know his exact age.
When he wakes up the next morning, Philip is suffering from a blinding headache caused by a piece of timber that hit him during the shipwreck. Timothy gives him some of the fresh water they have left, and they sit together scanning the horizon for ships. But as he looks out upon the ocean, Philip’s vision starts getting blurry. Timothy thinks it must be because he spent so much time looking at the sun during the previous day. So he helpfully constructs a little shelter, where Philip lies with a cloth over his eyes.
When Philip wakes up after a long sleep, he’s astonished to learn from Timothy that it’s ten o’clock in the morning. It certainly doesn’t look like morning; everything appears so incredibly dark. But there’s a reason for this: Philip has gone blind.