He had been waiting five minutes on the quay in front of the Bonne Espérance, whose huge prow hid from him the entire estuary. Gamins were playing about him in the piles of coal and the pyramids of barrels. He must have heard their cries and bursts of laughter, but, keeping his head bowed, he did not appear to see anything. He was tall, dressed in a worn coat with enormous pockets into which he had thrust his hands. The rim of his hat was pulled down over his eyes and hid his face. He stood there motionless, a large valise at his feet.

When, finally, one of the crew came to get him, he himself picked up the valise, the weight of which made his wrist tremble, and followed his guide over the narrow gangway to the deck of the vessel. The sailor showed him to his cabin. Once alone, he closed the porthole and screwed it tight, drew across it the little serge curtain, and took off his hat. He was a man of about forty, sad-faced, with regular features and no wrinkles, but his age could be guessed from the discouraged and mistrustful expression in his eyes and from that something in the colour of the skin which shows that youth has passed.

Lifting his valise and setting it upon his berth, he opened it and unpacked his things with the air of a man who is resolved not to remain idle a second and seeks to divert his thoughts by busying himself in a little physical labour.

Toward the end of the day a sailor came and asked him, on behalf of the captain, if he would have dinner in the diningsaloon. He did not answer at once. First he asked at what time the Bonne Espérance was weighing anchor. The sailor replied that it would be at eleven o’clock that very night.

‘Very well,’ he said. ‘I shall not dine.’

And he did not leave his cabin.

The next day Captain Suger sent word that he wanted to see him. The captain had all the manners of a perfectly frank person, even to the point of impoliteness. He addressed the man bluntly:

‘Sir, you know that I almost never take passengers on this boat. Of course, regulations permit it, but my ship is first of all a freighter. I am making a sort of exception in your favour.’

He stopped as if to give his single passenger time to say a word of thanks. But the man was silent. The captain put his hands in his pockets and raised himself on his toes with a somewhat quizzical expression.

‘I shall be obliged to see your papers.’

‘I will show them to you if it is necessary,’ said the passenger, quietly.

‘On board this ship what I want is always necessary,’ replied the captain in the same tone.

There was a moment of silence while the man adjusted his eyeglasses, felt in the inside pocket of his coat, and produced his passport, unfolding it. The captain took the document and examined it with the greatest care. He had a fat face in which curiosity put an infinite number of little folds, and eyes which looked at everything with a sort of greediness.

‘Funny idea you had to travel on a freighter,’ he said at last, handing the passport back to the passenger. ‘We take twenty days, you know.’

‘I know,’ said the man.

And he folded up his passport again.

‘Of course, it’s a bit cheaper,’ resumed the captain, with a little grimace. ‘That’s doubtless the reason why…’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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