“… of my wife.”
Of the wife with whom he had nothing in common. Of the little studio-like flat in the Rue Championnet to which he’d return shortly after eight each day, to while away the evening dipping idly into any book that came to hand, with her sewing in the opposite corner.
“This way,” he went on, “this way I shall be left in peace.”
In prison. Or in a convict settlement. Another place to call his own!
A place where things would be settled once and for all. No longer anything to hide, nor anything to expect. A place where he would keep regular hours, getting up, going to bed, having meals, breaking stones by the roadside or making knick-knacks in the prison workshops.
“I suppose it’ll be twenty years, won’t it?”
Basso looked at him. But he could hardly see him for the tears that were welling up in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks.
“Stop it, James! Stop it!” he pleaded, wringing his hands.
“Why should I?”
Maigret blew his nose, then absent-mindedly lit a match to light his pipe, forgetting that he had not filled it.
He had the feeling he had never been so far along the dreary road of desolation and black despair.
No, not even black! An endless stretch of greyness, devoid of all struggle, all resentment, unbroken by either protest or complaint.
A drunkard’s despair, but without intoxication.
And suddenly Maigret understood the nature of the bond between him and James, the bond which had kept them hour after hour side by side on the terrace of the Taverne Royale.
They had drunk their Pernods, saying little, staring out at the passing traffic. And all the time, in his heart of hearts, James had been hoping that his companion would one day bring his heavy hand down on his shoulder, the heavy hand of the law which settled everything!
He had loved Maigret as a friend and a deliverer. Once again Maigret had been called to the rescue.
Maigret and Basso exchanged glances, unfathomable glances. Meanwhile James squashed the end of his cigarette on the top of the deal table, saying:
“The trouble is, it takes so long to get there. Endless questioning and writing out statements… Then the trial… People who break down or try to console you…”