She cut the tart and handed Maigret a slice with such authority that there was no question of his refusing. Madame Peeters entered the room, her hands clasped in front of her, greeting the guest with a timid smile, a smile full of sadness and resignation.
“Anna told me you were coming. It’s very kind of you…”
She was more Flemish than her daughter, and she spoke with a decided accent. Her features, however, were of considerable refinement, and her strikingly white hair invested her with a certain distinction. She sat on the edge of her chair, like a woman who never sits for more than a few minutes at a time.
“You must be hungry after your journey. For my part, I’ve lost all appetite since…”
Maigret thought of the old man by the kitchen stove. Why didn’t he come for a cup of coffee and a slice of tart? At the same moment Madame Peeters said to her daughter:
“Take a slice to your father.”
And to the inspector:
“He hardly ever leaves his chair. In fact, he doesn’t realize…”
The atmosphere was so far from being dramatic that it was hard to believe that anything could disturb it. The impression one had on entering was that even the most fearsome events outside could make little headway against the peace and quiet of this Flemish house, where there was not a particle of dust, not a breath of air, and no sound but the gentle snoring of the stove.
And Maigret, while starting on his thick slice of tart, began asking questions.
“When did it happen, exactly?”
“On January 3rd.”
“And it’s now the 20th.”
“Yes. They didn’t think of accusing us at the beginning.”
“This girl—what do you call her? Germaine…”
“Germaine Piedbœuf,” answered Anna, who was now back in the room. “She came about eight in the evening. My mother went into the shop to see what she wanted.”
“What did she want?”
Madame Peeters brushed away a tear as she answered:
“The same as usual… She complained that Joseph never came to see her or even sent her a word… And to think of all the work he has to do! It’s wonderful how he does it, with all this trouble hanging over our heads…”