The opportunity was nearer at hand than I thought. My kindly intentions, bred of my latest sentiments towards Mrs. Blair, were soon to be put to the test.
The train reached Amiens punctually at 5 P.M., and a stoppage of five minutes was announced. I got out to stretch my legs on the platform. No one took much notice of us; it must have been known that the train was empty, for there were no waiters from the buffet with cafe au lait or fruit, or brioches—no porters about, or other officials.
I had not expected to see any passengers come on board the train, a through express, made up of sleeping-cars and a supplementary charge on the tickets. But on running into the station (ours was the first carriage) I had noticed a man standing with a valise in his hand, and I saw him following the train down the platform when we stopped. He addressed himself to a little group of conductors who had already alighted, and were gossiping idly among themselves, having nothing else to do. One of them indicated our particular attendant, to whom he spoke, and who brought him directly to our carriage.
Evidently the newcomer was bound for Lucerne via Basle. Here was one more occupant of our neglected train, another companion and fellow traveller in our nearly empty sleeping-car. Curiosity and something more led me to examine this man closely; it was a strange, undefined, inexplicable sense of foreboding, of fateful forecast, that he and I were destined to be thrown together unpleasantly, to be much mixed up with one another, and to the comfort and satisfaction of neither.
Who and what was he? His position in life, his business, trade or calling were not to be easily fixed; a commercial man, an agent or “traveller” on his own account, well-to-do and prosperous, was the notion borne out by his dress, his white waistcoat and coloured shirt of amazing pattern (a hint of his Italian origin), his rings and the showy diamond pin in his smart necktie.
I added to this, my first impression, by further observation, for which I soon had abundant opportunity. When the train moved on, he came and took his seat on the flap seat (or strapontin) just opposite my compartment. I could not tell why, until presently he made overtures of sociability and began a desultory talk across the corridor. My cabin or compartment, it will be remembered, was the last but one; the newcomer had been given the one behind mine, and here from his seat he commanded the whole length of the carriage forward, which included the compartment occupied by Mrs. Blair and her party.