The narrator describes the path of the train, which crawls into the hills. The narrator insists that you can even get out and look down at the valley from which you have come, for it is unlikely that the train would leave you behind. But if there’s mist, you won’t see anything. The narrator describes the beautiful plants that grow alongside the train tracks.
The earth, despite its troubles, is beautiful when viewed from a distance. Under certain circumstances, however, the beauty of the earth is obscured. But if you stay on the train, that machine bringing you to the city, you will have difficulty seeing it at all.
People who are familiar with taking the train can tell when it will arrive. Stephen, however, arrives an hour early and is anxious about the upcoming journey – how difficult it will be, how much money it will cost at every turn. He also recalls how dangerous the streets of Johannesburg are, and a story about a woman he knew who went there and saw her twelve-year-old son crushed to death by a truck. Beneath these concerns, there is another one – where is Absalom, and why haven’t they heard from him in so long?
Stephen's unfamiliarity with travel is marked by his anxiety and early arrival to the train station. He hasn’t arrived in Johannesburg yet, or even been there once, but he is aware ever now of the danger it contains. Beneath the more superficial worries the real question about Absalom lurks. His anxiety for the welfare of his son is well-founded, though he doesn’t realize this yet.
As the train finally approaches, Stephen thanks the man who accompanied him to the station for his help. The man asks him a favor – if he would inquire after the missing daughter of Sibeko, who was also swallowed up by Johannesburg. Stephen promises to do what he can, though he seems uncertain if it’s possible. As he boards, Stephen observes that the train is full of black travellers, because Europeans in this area ride in their own motor cars. The women in the car are mostly dressed primitively, though not the men. The people on the train see Stephen’s clerical collar and make room for him.
The daughter of Sibeko is yet another soul sucked up into the corrupting, vanishing force that is Johannesburg—another person from the growing list of the lost of Ixopo. When he boards the train, Stephen can observe the effects of racial politics even here. Blacks must all gather on trains together, while whites are wealthy enough to have their own private vehicles. The people of the train have much respect for Stephen, because of his job.
Through the window, Stephen speaks to his companion. He asks him why Sibeko did not come and ask for Stephen’s help on his own. The companion says it is because Sibeko is not of their church. Stephen says that Sibeko is part of their people, even if he is not of their church. He repeats, loudly enough for the train to hear, that he shall inquire after the daughter in Johannesburg, even though he’ll be very busy. The train begins to move, and Stephen needs to sit down. The other people in the train, having overheard the conversation, are looking at him with even more respect, thinking that he the sort of important man who goes to Johannesburg often.
Stephen indulges in a rare moment of weakness by showing off to the train that he is going to Johannesburg. He doesn’t seem to realize that this is redundant—people already respect him because he is a parson. Stephen is likely hiding his anxiety and uncertainty about the upcoming trip by pretending to be so worldly.
Once the journey has begun, all of Stephen’s fears begin to rise up inside of him – fear for his sister, fear for Absalom, fear that his whole world is crumbling. He feels ill from the false impression he created in front of the people of the train. He reaches into his pocket and begins to read his Bible, his only comfort.
But all of his blustering cannot hide his fear. When Stephen immediately regrets his personal failings, he turns to his faith for comfort.