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Authors: Georges Simenon

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BOOK: Maigret's Holiday
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It was eleven o'clock. When he rang
the bell he heard the sound of a chair being scraped back, voices, footsteps. The door
opened into a corridor that smelled of linoleum, with a bamboo coat stand to the right,
and house plants in earthenware plant-pot holders.

‘Forgive me, madame …'

In front of him stood a woman of around the
same build as the plump Laurence, short and fat too, but a brunette, wearing the local
costume, with a pretty starched headdress that lit up her face.

‘What is it?' she asked, trying
to fathom out his features in the dark.

‘I'd like to have a few words
with Francis.'

‘Come in.'

The door on the left was ajar. It opened
into a dining room that looked brand new, with its red and yellow linoleum, brass
plant-pot holders, knick-knacks and carved oak Henry II-style furniture.

Doctor Bellamy's butler was there, in
felt slippers,
wearing no jacket or waistcoat, his open shirt revealing
his chest. Ensconced deep in an armchair, his legs crossed, a small glass within reach,
a pipe in his mouth, he was quietly reading the newspaper.

There was another armchair facing him, that
of La Popine, with another small glass and an illustrated weekly.

‘It's Monsieur Maigret who wants
to talk to you, Francis …'

The Belgian was less surprised than Maigret
himself.

‘You know me?' asked
Maigret.

‘Don't think that I don't
see you walk past every day! … I recognized you at once, at least a week ago
… I said to Babette, I did: “That, my love, is the famous Detective Chief
Inspector Maigret, or I'm not La Popine …”

‘I think I've still got
somewhere an illustrated magazine from three weeks ago which has an article about you in
it, with a lovely photo …'

Francis had risen to his feet, embarrassed.
It was as if, without his livery, he felt naked in front of Maigret.

‘Don't be afraid, silly! …
I'm sure he's not here about you but about your boss … Am I in the
way, inspector? … Because I can always go into my bedroom … Except that if
it's information you want, I can probably give you more than Francis … Sit
down … You'll have a little drink with us, won't you? … I have
to tell you that I've always loved crime stories, so I've known about you
for at least fifteen years … When I see a juicy murder, nice and complicated, I
say: “I hope it's Maigret who's handling it …”

‘And in the morning I open my
newspaper before putting the water for the coffee on to boil …'

Maigret sat down. He had no
option. And it was cosy, almost family-like. The fishmonger must be proud of her
furniture, her gleaming copper pots, her trinkets, proud of this interior that was so
typically petty bourgeois.

When all was said and done, were her dreams
so different from Madame Maigret's?

Francis was less at ease and wanted to put
on his jacket. It was the woman who stopped him.

‘No need to feel awkward in front of
the inspector! If everything that's written about him is true, he doesn't
mind you being in your shirt-sleeves, quite the opposite. He's the one who's
going to make himself comfortable …'

A door to the left opened into the shop, all
in marble, which exuded a faint smell of fish.

‘Do
you
think it was an
accident, Monsieur Maigret?'

It was clearly one of those days. At Doctor
Bellamy's already, he had been the one who had been interrogated.

‘Mind you, I don't want to speak
ill of that man … I knew him as a boy … I think I'm three or four
years older than he is, and I'm not ashamed to say so …'

Even though she was in her fifties, she was
astonishingly youthful, truly delectable still. She had filled Maigret's glass and
held hers out to clink glasses.

‘I knew his father too … He was
the same type of man. Not talkative … and yet you can't say that
they're proud … I mean, they're gentlemen, but they don't shove
it in your face all the time. But the mother, now she's something else …
That woman, Monsieur Maigret, let La Popine tell you, she's a nasty piece of work
… And, if something bad happened, I'm absolutely certain that
it was her fault … Do you think the doctor will be
arrested?'

‘It is out of the question.'

This was awkward. He was not in charge of
any investigation. He wanted a simple piece of information. And the next day, thanks to
La Popine, the whole town would know that Chief Inspector Maigret was going around
asking questions about Doctor Bellamy.

This could go far, and turn into an
unpleasant business, and yet Maigret couldn't bring himself to regret being there.
He puffed gently on his pipe, warmed the glass in his hands and averted his eyes from
the fat woman who sat with her legs splayed, revealing large expanses of pink thigh
above her black stockings.

He finally managed to get a word in.

‘I wanted to ask Francis a question
…'

‘How did you know I was
here?'

Maigret was about to give some vague answer,
but La Popine didn't give him the time.

‘If you think, my boy, that the whole
world doesn't know … Mind you, Monsieur Maigret, I want to marry him, I do
… He wouldn't be the first … Unfortunately, there's already a
wife, and she won't hear of a divorce …'

‘Tell me, Francis … This
afternoon, when I went to Doctor Bellamy's, a girl came out of an upstairs
bedroom. I presume it was you who opened the door to her?'

‘It's always me who opens the
door,' he said.

‘So you saw her. Do you know who she
is?'

‘I was wondering the same thing
myself.'

‘You don't know her?'

‘No. She's been
to the house twice. The first time was on the 2nd of August, when Madame was so ill
…'

‘One moment, Francis, if you
don't mind.'

‘Yes, take your time, darling …
Let the inspector speak …'

‘The accident of which Mademoiselle
Godreau was a victim took place on the 3rd of August … Is that right?'

‘That's correct … The day
of the concert—'

‘And on the 2nd of August, Madame
Bellamy was very ill, you say?'

‘That's correct … And even
on the 1st of August … On the 1st of August she didn't get out of bed
…'

‘Is she often ill?'

‘I've never known her to stay in
bed all day …'

‘Did they call for a
doctor?'

‘It was Monsieur who attended her
… He's a doctor …'

‘Of course …'

Except that a doctor has no hesitation in
calling on a fellow doctor to attend his family, particularly if he is a specialist.

‘You don't know what was wrong
with her?'

‘No …'

‘Did you go into her room?'

‘Never! … Even when she's
not there, it's forbidden … Doctor Bellamy will not allow any man to set
foot in Madame's bedroom … Once, when there was no one in the house and
Jeanne, the maid, was in the apartment, I went in … I took one or two steps,
because I needed to speak to Jeanne—'

‘And are we meant to believe that all
you did was talk to her?'

‘The doctor arrived
without making a sound … He's never been so sharp with me … At one
point I thought he was going to hit me.'

‘So,' repeated Maigret,
‘on the 1st of August, two days before her sister's death, Odette Bellamy
was ill and didn't get out of bed … And that was when, you say, the girl
came to see her for the first time?'

‘Not the 1st of August, the
2nd—'

‘You let her in … What time was
it?'

‘Around half past four
…'

‘In other words, the hour when the
doctor plays cards at the Brasserie du Remblai … He can be seen from the pavement
if a person wants to be certain that he's not at home …'

‘Probably …'

‘What did the girl say to
you?'

‘She asked to see Madame Bellamy
… At first I thought she meant the doctor's mother …'

‘Where was she at that
moment?'

‘In the laundry … It was the day
the seamstress comes …'

‘Let me explain,' said the
fishmonger. ‘She all but makes her own clothes, to save money. She's as
stingy as a miser. She has an old humpbacked seamstress who togs her up any old how, but
she doesn't care, as long as it doesn't cost much … I can tell you
some stories … Listen! … When she telephoned me to ask for fish that
wasn't so fresh for the servants' meals …'

‘Just a moment, if you don't
mind?'

‘I'm sorry … Carry
on!'

‘You showed the girl
upstairs?'

‘No! … I told her that Madame
was not at home … She asked me to go and inform her that it was little Lucile and
that she had something very important to tell her …'

‘So you went into the bedroom to
deliver your message …'

‘Excuse me! … I called Jeanne
… I was certain that Madame would refuse to see the girl … But not at all,
she asked for her to be shown up—'

‘Did she stay long?'

‘I don't know … I went
back to the scullery, where I had to clean the silver …'

‘Do you know, Monsieur Maigret, that
it's Francis who polishes my copper pans? … even though my cleaning woman
comes every day, he claims that women don't know how to scour—'

‘When the girl came back today, did
you take her straight upstairs?'

‘I didn't need to announce her
… I saw Jeanne on the landing, and she said: “Show her up, Francis
…”'

‘In other words, this time your
employer was expecting Lucile?'

‘I presume so …'

‘Do you ever listen at the
keyhole?'

‘No, monsieur.'

‘Why not?'

‘Because of Doctor Bellamy's
mother … She looks heavy, almost helpless … She leans on her stick as if she
couldn't stand on her own two legs but she swoops down
on you out
of the blue … She's always roaming around the house …'

‘A pest! … And to top it all,
Monsieur Maigret, she isn't even from a good family … When she comes to the
market with the cook, she yells at us as if we were trollops … She's
forgotten that her father was a drunkard who they used to have to rescue from the gutter
and that her mother was a charwoman … It's true that she was a beautiful
girl … You wouldn't believe it to look at her now …'

‘Tell me, Madame
Popineau—'

‘You can call me Popine, like everyone
else!'

‘Tell me, Popine − you know
everyone at Les Sables d'Olonne − would you have any idea whose daughter
this Lucile is?'

‘Ten years ago, I'd have
answered yes … I was still a “pedlar” … I went from door to door
with my barrow selling fish … So you see, I knew all the urchins—'

‘She's lanky and thin with hair
that is almost colourless, straw-coloured …'

‘Does she wear plaits?'

‘No …'

‘It's a pity because I know one
but she wears plaits … She's the cooper's daughter …'

‘Is she around fourteen or
fifteen?'

‘Probably older … She's
already developed … A fine little bust—'

‘Think hard …'

‘I don't see … Mind you,
just give me until tomorrow lunchtime … With all the people that come to my shop,
it won't take me long to find out … The town
isn't so big, after all …'

Maigret was to remember those words a little
later.
The town isn't so big!

‘Francis, do you have the impression
that your employers get on well?'

The Belgian was at a loss for an answer.

‘Do they fight often?'

‘Never.'

He was nonplussed at the thought that anyone
could argue with the doctor.

‘Does he sometimes speak to his wife
sharply?'

‘No, monsieur …'

Maigret realized that he would have to press
the matter.

‘Are they cheerful when they are
together, at the table, for example? I presume you're the one who serves their
meals?'

‘Yes, monsieur.'

‘Do they talk to each other
much?'

‘Monsieur talks … So does his
mother …'

‘Do you have the impression that
Madame Bellamy is happy?'

‘Sometimes, monsieur …
It's hard to say … If you knew Monsieur better …'

‘Try and explain what you
mean.'

‘I can't … He's not
a man you talk to like anyone else … He looks at you and you feel all
small—'

‘Does his wife feel all small in front
of him?'

‘Maybe, sometimes … She
sometimes talks like everyone else … She starts telling a story, laughing …
Then she looks at him and stops in mid-sentence—'

‘I think it's
rather when she looks at her mother-in-law,' broke in La Popine. ‘You have
to understand, Monsieur Maigret, that a young woman like Odette – I knew her as a
little girl too, and she wasn't stuck-up in those days – I say that a young
woman like her isn't made to live with a witch … and old Madame Bellamy is
just like a witch … It's not a walking stick but a broomstick she should
have between her legs …'

Maigret briefly thought of the interrogation
that the gentle Mansuy had conducted in front of him, when he was questioning Polyte.
The latter had stubbornly clammed up, opening his mouth when forced to only to deny all
evidence.

In contrast, these two talked nonstop, and
yet it was just as difficult to get close to the truth.

BOOK: Maigret's Holiday
10.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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