The House of Anxiety
by Georges Sim
THE MAN WHO WAS AFRAID OF HIMSELF
When Maigret arrived at the Prefecture, he felt an immediate sense of calamity. The office boy was not at his post. The door at the end of the passageway was open, and unexpected voices emanated.
He rushed in, and the first thing he saw was the great body of Évariste Gastambide, inert on the floor. Against the mantle, Ninie sobbed. Two apparently distressed inspectors relaxed somewhat when they spied the commissioner.
One pointed to a small white-haired man whom he had not noticed and whose face was very agitated. He looked at him expectantly.
"Professor Chauveau... Your chief telephoned to ask me to come and examine this man without seeming to..."
The psychiatrist spoke in a tired voice, with a sort of resentment.
"As soon as he saw me enter, he exploded in laughter and called me by name. I, myself, had difficulty recognizing him. We had done a part of our studies together, years ago. And furthermore, I came to realize, he had read all of my works, as well as those of my colleagues..."
Maigret lowered his head. He was conscious of his responsibility. He asked with embarrassment, "How did he die?"
"Materially, if I may use that term, of an attack of angina pectoris. But that was preceded by a painful scene..."
The professor glanced at the girl, who continued cry, but was mechanically listening nonetheless, and led Maigret into the hallway.
"Do you know that he was innocent?" he asked with some concern.
"I know, yes... It was his son who killed..."
And the psychiatrist appeared truly crushed, as if he had been personally involved in the drama. Maigret brought him into a small office that wasn't being used.
"Would you be so kind as to share with me some of the results of your observations?"
A discouraged gesture. "I'll send you a detailed report. Meanwhile... Listen, I can't tell you much... It was impossible for me to question Gastambide. It was he who spoke all the time, vehemently. It was my appearance which triggered the crisis. He already pictured himself in a padded cell, and as much as I protested, he refused to believe me..."
"I can't believe the nerves of that young girl who was held there. I'm so shaken up..."
"You saw his big body... There were terrifying reserves of energy in him, a vitality, stronger than the average. The proof of it was his very agony... I've seen several deaths of angina pectoris... but I've rarely seen the battle last several minutes, and with such lucidity..."
"Well, actually, he had been fighting all his life, not against the angina, which was, in effect, incidental, but against his hereditary flaws..."
"If I hadn't known him when he was twenty-two, I probably wouldn't understand."
"But the muddled sentences that he shouted at me before dying, what I'd seen and heard previously, and observations I made of his body, all told, permit me to more or less reconstruct the drama."
"A terrifying heredity! The illness that you guess... but in its most complex form, which affects the brain directly."
"His father died of general paralysis. He was born hydrocéphalic. All his youth, he had seizures."
"His misfortune was to be intelligent enough to study his own case. His discovery of his condition must have been made when he was studying law, and so he decided to study medicine."
"It is more frequent than one would expect. I could mention many physicians, of whom some are today famous, who began their studies because they knew themselves to be ill."
"Gastambide didn't succeed. As far as I could understand, he had horrible periods of depression, during which his brain refused to work..."
"But he learned enough to know that the odds were sixty to seventy out of a hundred that he would die mad. He observed his family closely. He noted the anomalies in his parents."
"He had told me of this previously. It put him in an ironic rage to make of his family a kind of Dupuytren Museum."
"He didn't dare to marry. And I am convinced that he aggravated his condition seriously by constantly thinking about it. It became an obsession."
"If I didn't fear to exaggerate, I would say that he became mad out of fear of madness..."
"Then, suddenly, a turn-about. A call of life. If he couldn't marry within his own circle, he nevertheless married a girl without family, with whom he started traveling. They had children."
"No doubt during all this period he dreamed that he was rid of his nightmare, that he was becoming a normal man."
"The fact is that there were several years of calmness."
"Then suddenly, in the Indies, the drama that he threw literally in my face a little while ago, in terrifying sentences. He discovered, over there, that his wife, with whom he had three children, was deceiving him."
"He waited until they were in bed together. And then, he told me, he grabbed her around the neck, while looking her in the eyes. He began to strangle her. His brain capsized. He howled at me: 'The pleasure of killing...'"
"Do you understand? An over-strong emotion delivered itself up to his lunacy and it is a miracle that he caught himself in time. He woke up with his hands at the throat of his unconscious wife. He ran away, taking with him two of the children..."
"Of the rest, I have only some notions. His obsession, henceforth, was magnified. He sensed that at the first crisis he would want to kill again..."
"He kept watch on himself. He found that the Asian climate was too stimulating, and he returned to Europe."
"I spoke at the beginning of his great body full of energy. Is this not additional proof of Gastambide's attempts to react? He is rich. He is idle..."
"He gets it into his head to enter politics, to drown his sorrows. He fails miserably, because everything that he does is imprinted with the same illogic."
"He attacks finance. He speculates. He is ruined."
"And there he is, without money, with two children whom he watches grow up with terror, looking for the reflection of his own flaws in them."
"It was the end. His energy was exhausted. Montreuil-sous-Bois... His encyclopedias, of which he possibly spoke to you... I know few things as tragic as the sentences that he uttered on this topic and about 'his area,' the Picpus district..."
"His son commits indelicacies, behaves the frantic kid. His daughter suffers from acute depression."
"He is suffocating. He feels himself encircled by clouds of lunacy that embrace him more and more tightly, yet he has the inconceivable courage to fight until the end, all alone! All alone, I repeat these words! He was already all alone when I knew him at medical school. He never had a friend. And no doubt when he was married, he had never dared to share confidences with his wife."
"All alone with this enemy that he carried inside him!"
"And then a crime was committed in the house..."
"The remainder, you must know better than I. I could see before me nothing but the final spasms of a tortured creature."
"When I first entered, he was seated, calm, dreadfully calm. The sight of me unleashed him. Did he lose awareness of what he was doing? It is possible, and even likely. Some of his outbursts seems to prove it."
"But I have the conviction that at the moment of death, the instant when the angina tightened its claws on his chest, lucidity returned to him."
"He looked at the girl... She was crying, distraught... I signaled her to go toward him, but she was afraid. I should have pushed her... And he understood! He saw well that she didn't dare to advance..."
"His eyes will haunt me for a long time... And especially his smile, because he smiled... a miserable smile... All his life was in that smile..."
"His hand was on the girls head. His brow was creased. He looked at me searchingly. I am sure that he wanted to ask something... But he didn't have time..."
Maigret said but a word, mechanically, "Thank you..."
And he went into his office, closed the door again, remained there, alone, to commune with Évariste Gastambide. It took the ringing of the telephone to pull him from this tête-à-tête.
"Hello... Yes, I hear... M. Demassis, yes. Well? Ah! Yes, I'll send you the doctor... Hello!... One more thing she didn't kill him..."
There were many of questions from the other end of the wire, where Henry Demassis had just announced to the commissioner that he had found Hélène, prowling around the Montreuil house, and that he had brought her back with him, exhausted, sick from fatigue.
Only Maigret didn't have the heart to answer.
A half-hour later he was still there, astride a chair, his pipe in his teeth, contemplating the dead man. And one could have sworn that they had had a kind of mysterious conversation...
Dupuytren Museum (15, rue de l'Ecole de Médecine, Les Cordeliers, 75006 Paris). A collection of anatomic specimens illustrating diseases and malformations, the remainder of the Natural History Museum of Pathological Anatomy of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris created in 1832 by Orfila with the legacy of the Baron Guillaume Dupuytren [1777-1835], professor of surgery.
III. 7. The report