‘Is the secret so burdensome, Le Clinche?’
Le Clinche was silent.
‘And you can’t possibly tell me anything, can you?… Yes! One thing! Do you still want Adèle?’
‘I detest her!’
‘I didn’t say that! I said want, want her as you wanted her the whole of the trip… We’re men, Le Clinche… Did you have many adventures before you knew Marie Léonnec?’
‘No… Nothing of importance… ’
‘And never that passion, that desire for a woman, that makes you fairly weep?’
‘Never… ’ He turned away his head.
‘Then it was on board that it happened. There was only one woman in that bleak monotonous setting. Perfumed flesh in that trawler that stank of fish… What did you say?’
‘You forgot about your fiancée?’
‘It’s not the same thing… ’
Maigret looked him in the face and was amazed at the change that had just taken place. His companion’s brow had suddenly become purposeful, his look fixed, his lips bitter. And yet, in spite of it all, the nostalgia, the dreamy expression remained.
‘Marie Léonnec is pretty… ’ Maigret went on, following up his idea.
‘And much more distinguished than Adèle. What’s more, she loves you. She’s ready to make any sacrifice to… ’
‘Oh, do stop it!’ groaned the operator. ‘You know perfectly well that — that… ’
‘That it’s different! Marie Léonnec is a nice girl, will make a model wife and a good mother, but… There’ll always be something lacking, won’t there? Something more violent. Something that you knew on board, hidden in the captain’s cabin, fear constricting your throat a little, in Adèle’s arms. Something vulgar and brutal… Adventure… and the desire to bite, to do something desperate, to kill or to die… ’
Le Clinche listened in amazement.
‘How do you… ?’
‘How do I know? Because everyone experiences that sense of adventure at least once in his life… You weep! You cry out! You die! Then, a fortnight after, when you see Marie Léonnec, you wonder how you can have been excited by an Adèle… ’
While he was walking along, the young man gazed at the mirroring waters of the harbour, the distorted reflections of the boat-hulls, red, white, or green.
‘The trip’s over… Adèle’s gone… Marie Léonnec is here… ’
There was a moment of calm.
‘The crisis was dramatic,’ Maigret went on. ‘A man died because there was passion on board and… ’
But Le Clinche’s fever flared up again:
‘Stop it! Stop it!’ he repeated in a dry voice. ‘No! You see perfectly well that it’s not possible… ’
His eyes were haggard. He turned back to look at the trawler which, nearly empty now, stood monstrous and high in the water.
He was again seized with terror.
‘I swear… You must let me go… ’
‘The captain was in distress too during the whole trip, wasn’t he?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘And the chief engineer?’
‘There were only you two, then. It was fear, wasn’t it, Le Clinche?’
‘I don’t know… Leave me alone, for heaven’s sake!’
‘Adèle was in the cabin. There were three men hanging round. And yet the captain wouldn’t yield to his desire, spent days and days without speaking to his mistress. And you watched her through the porthole, but after a single meeting you never touched her again… ’