How did he get there?
The long-lost village boy, it seemed, was there on the spot, hiding somewhere, invisible, looking on, with laughter bubbling up inside him.
Well, really! It was all too ridiculous, wasn't it? Could anything be more out of place than that solemn, bulky figure of a man in company with that caricature of a woman out of a children's comic wearing that absurd red hat?
And he could imagine her standing there, with her slim figure, her quaint clothes, her big blue eyes, her supercilious nose and, above all, her hat, that outrageous scarlet confection, perched on the top of her head and trimmed with a stiff, iridescent green feather.
Her sharp features overspread with an expression of mingled hostility and irony. Félicie was braced to meet his questions, as she had been since early that morning.
Félicie had been right. She always was.
She spoke in the manner of a queen bestowing a great boon upon a lowly subject, while at the same time implying that she, like Caesar's wife, was above suspicion.
And he and Félicie went out into the street again. Félicie, with her coat draped over her shoulders and her sleeves flapping, swayed as she walked.
She looked at him defiantly, meeting his eyes with her own clear blue gaze, as if to proclaim emphatically that she had nothing to hide.
This was the cross he had to bear! Félicie! Stubborn as a mule, acid-tongued, full of strange fancies, her sharp-featured face clumsily daubed with powder and rouge, a little servant-girl, given to putting on queenly airs in the local dance hall. And, every now and then, that disturbing, fixed gaze, and at other times that odd, fleeting smile, tinged with irony, if not contempt.
She opened the door of her bedroom, with its chintz-covered mattress which served as a divan, and its wall covered with photographs of film stars.
She met his gaze unwaveringly, but said nothing.
She deserved a good slap, she really did! It was not the first time that Maigret had been tempted to administer one, or at least to take her by the shoulders and shake her.
He pulled himself up. It was really too absurd! He was not going to demean himself by entering into a slanging match with this chit of a girl.
Maigret did not wholly succeed in controlling his irritation.
He had had enough. He was furious, mainly with himself for having slowed himself to get into such a state over a nonentity like Félicie. Twenty-four, was she? It seemed hardly possible. The way she was carrying on, one would take her for a kid of twelve or thirteen, solemnly acting out some infantile fantasy or other of her own.
Maigret was furious. To be made a fool of in front of everyone and, what was worse, to be made a fool of by a poisonous little shrew like Félicie!
Heavens above! Why did she have to be so disagreeable! It was maddening, like trying to lay hold of some slithering wild creature, such as a lizard or a grass snake. It bothered him to have to take her seriously, but he felt he had no choice ...
She had a forehead like a nanny-goat. He had been struck by it the very first time he saw her. A high, stubborn forehead, butting away obstinately at anything that stood in its path.
She looked him boldly in the eye, giving him the full benefit of her clear, inscrutable gaze, shrugged, and murmured....
As he ambled along in this fashion, a very odd thing happened. He quickened his pace, and peered ahead, eager for his first sight of the windows of Cape Horn, and for... Well! Yes! it must be admitted, eager for his first sight of Félicie. He could picture her already at work in her kitchen, with her sharp features and her nanny-goat forehead, receiving him as churlishly as she knew how, and gazing at him out of her clear, inscrutable eyes.
Was he already beginning to miss her?
In spite of himself he smiled: Félicie was there all right!
It was as if the murder were somehow of secondary importance, as if, in spite of himself, he were obsessed with quite a different problem. And that problem, needless to say, was Félicie!
He wandered about the place as if he owned it. Félicie carried on with her housework, pretending to ignore him. ... Sometimes her eyes would meet those of the Chief Superintendent, but he still found it impossible to tell what her feelings were.
He could not get her out of his mind. ...
Every now and then, Maigret looked up from his reading, but Félicie pretended to ignore him.
Maigret affected to laugh. It was a laugh that sounded false in his ears, and made him feel like a hotel guest fumbling the chambermaid, and covering it up with a lewd jest.
A savage look, like a cat defending its kittens. ... She did not reply, but he persisted, feeling ashamed of himself for his persistence.
No! He had had enough of this. The girl was making a fool of him.
A man had been murdered, and here was Maigret,. a mature, serious-minded man, concerning himself with the love life of a silly, romantic girl! How foolishly romantic, the entries in her diary showed all too plainly...
For an instant he was almost persuaded that she had over-reached him again, and slipped through his fingers a second time. But no, he could hear a faint sound upstairs, not unlike the cry of a tiny baby. He took the stairs two at a time, and came to a halt in the doorway of Félicie's bedroom, when he saw her lying full-length on her divan.
She was crying, with her face buried in the pillow... She did not move. Her back shook with sobs. He touched her on the shoulder.
It crossed his mind that this was all just an act, that Félicie had picked her moment, and even arranged herself in this touching attitude, with her dress artfully hitched up well above her bony knees. But he dismissed the thought.
At this point Maigret ought to have stood up, asserted himself, and put an end to all this nonsense once and for all. He had had every intention of doing so, thankful at least that there were no witnesses to this absurd scene. But he missed his chance. He was half out of his chair when another roll of thunder gave Félicie an excuse for a fresh outburst of hysteria. She threw herself into his arms and, with her face so close to his that he could feel her hot breath on his check, she cried, "Is it because I'm a woman?"
(Félicie was right. She always was.)