He was a stranger in this small town. He knew nobody here and from the moment that he left the railway-station in that dark night, he was overcome by a feeling of being very much alone; the emptiness of an unknown provincial town on the last evening of the year is colder and larger than any other form of loneliness. While he was looking for the right street and in that street for the house where he had to go, he thought that now most people were sitting inside behind closed curtains, drinking wine and eating oil-dumplings—friends gathered together, families united—and nobody had business in the silence of the night; nobody but he was looking for an address.
Any other night than New Year’s Eve would probably have been better suited for the message he had to deliver, but it so happened that between two voyages, and on this particular drawing by Michael Biddle night he had nothing else to do. He found the house and rang the bell, and after a few minutes rang again. After some time the door was opened by a young woman who looked at him silently, waiting for him to speak.