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Authors: Georges Simenon

The Hotel Majestic

BOOK: The Hotel Majestic
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One of the most significant figures in twentieth-century European literature, GEORGES JOSEPH CHRISTIAN SIMENON was born on February 12, 1903, in Liège, Belgium. He began work as a reporter for a local newspaper at the age of sixteen, and at nineteen moved to Paris to embark on a career as a novelist. According to Simenon, the character Jules Maigret came to him one afternoon in a café in the small Dutch port of Delfzijl as he wrestled with writing a different sort of detective story. By noon the following day, he claimed, he had completed the first chapter of
Pietr-le-Letton, The Strange Case of Peter the Lett.
The pipe-smoking Commissaire Maigret would go on to feature in 75 novels and 28 stories, with estimated international sales to date of 850 million copies. His books have been translated into more than 50 languages.
The dark realism of Simenon's fiction has lent itself naturally to film adaptation with more than five hundred hours of television drama and sixty motion pictures produced throughout the world. A dazzling array of directors have tackled Simenon on screen, including Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Claude Chabrol, and Bertrand Tavernier. Maigret has been portrayed on film by Jean Gabin, Charles Laughton, and Pierre Renoir; and on television by Bruno Cremer, Rupert Davies, and, most recently, Michael Gambon.
Simenon died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life.
For Nobel Laureate André Gide, Simenon was “perhaps the greatest novelist” of twentieth-century France. His ardent admirers outside of France include T. S. Eliot, Henry Miller, and Gabriel García Márquez.
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Maigret et les caves du Majestic
first published 1942
This translation first published by Hamish Hamilton 1977
Published in Penguin Books 1982
Reissued under the present title with minor revisions in Penguin Classics 2003
This edition published in Penguin Books (USA) 2007
Copyright, Georges Simenon Limited, a Chorion Company, 1942 Translation copyright © Georges Simenon Limited, a Chorion Company, 1977
All rights reserved
Simenon, Georges, 1903-1989.
[Caves du Majestic. English]
The Hotel Majestic / by Georges Simenon.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-440-64933-2
1. Maigret, Jules (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—France—Paris—
Fiction I. Title.
PQ2637.I53C3813 2007
843'.912—dc22 2006050696
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A car door slamming. The first thing he heard each day. The engine ticking over outside. Charlotte was probably saying goodbye to the driver? Then the taxi drove off. Footsteps. The sound of the key in the lock and the click of the electric light switch.
A match being struck in the kitchen and the slow “pfffttt” as the gas came alight.
Charlotte climbed slowly up the newly built staircase, having been on her feet all night. She crept noiselessly into the room. Another light switch. The light came on, a pink handkerchief with wooden tassels at the corners making a makeshift shade.
Prosper Donge kept his eyes firmly closed. Charlotte undressed, glancing at herself in the wardrobe mirror. When she got to her bra and girdle, she sighed. She was as plump and pink as a Rubens, but had a passion for constricting herself. When she had finished undressing, she rubbed the marks on her skin.
She had an irritating way of getting into the bed, kneeling on it first so that the mattress dipped to one side.
“Your turn, Prosper!”
He got up. She dived quickly into the warm hollow he had left, pulled the bedcovers up to her eyes and lay there unmoving.
“Is it raining?” he asked, running water into the basin.
A muffled groan. It didn't matter. The water was icy to shave in. Trains rumbled past below.
Prosper Donge got dressed. Charlotte sighed from time to time because she couldn't get to sleep with the light on. Just as he stretched out his right hand to the switch, with his other hand already on the doorknob, she muttered thickly: “Don't forget to go and pay the money for the wireless.”
There was hot coffee on the stove—too hot. He drank it standing up. Then, with the gestures of someone who does the same things every day, at the same time, he wrapped a knitted scarf round his neck, and put on his hat and coat.
Finally he wheeled his bicycle along the passage and out of the door.
The air was always damp and cold at that hour of the morning, and the pavements were wet although it hadn't rained; the people sleeping behind their closed shutters would probably waken to a warm, sunny day.
The street, with detached houses and little gardens on either side, ran steeply downhill. There was an occasional glimpse, through the trees, of the lights of Paris far down below.
It was no longer dark. But it wasn't yet light. The sky was bluish mauve. Lights came on in a few windows and Prosper Donge braked sharply as he reached the level crossing which was shut and which he crossed by the side gates.
After the Pont de Saint-Cloud, he turned left. A tug with its chain of barges was whistling angrily to be allowed into the lock.
The Bois de Boulogne . . . Lakes reflecting a whiter sky, with swans stirring awake . . .
As he reached the Porte Dauphine, Donge suddenly felt the ground become harder under his wheels. He went on a few metres, jumped off and saw that his back tyre was punctured.
He checked the time by his watch. It was ten to six. He began to walk quickly, pushing his bike, and his breath hung in the air as he panted along, with a burning sensation in his chest from the effort.
Avenue Foch . . . The shutters of the private houses were all still closed . . . Only an officer trotting along the ride followed by his orderly . . .
Getting lighter behind the Arc de Triomphe . . . He was hurrying along . . . getting very hot now . . .
Just at the corner of the Champs-Élysées, a policeman in a cape, near the newspaper kiosk, called out: “Puncture?”
He nodded. Only three hundred metres more. The Hotel Majestic, on the left, with all its windows still shuttered. The street lamps barely shed any light now.
He turned up the Rue de Berri, then the Rue de Ponthieu. There was a little bar open. And two houses farther along, a door which passers-by never noticed, the back entrance of the Majestic.
A man was coming out. He appeared to be in evening dress under his grey overcoat. He was bareheaded. His hair was plastered down and Prosper Donge thought it was Zebio, the dancer.
He could have glanced into the bar to see if he was right, but it didn't occur to him to do so. Still pushing his bike, he started down the long grey corridor, lit by a single light. He stopped at the clocking-on machine, turned the wheel, and put a card in at his number, 67, his eyes on the little clock which said ten past six. Click.
It was now established that he had arrived at the Majestic at 6:10 a.m.—ten minutes later than usual.
That was the official statement made by Prosper Donge, still-room chef at the big Champs-Élysées hotel.
He had continued to behave, he said, as on any other morning.
At that hour, the great basement with its twisting corridors, innumerable doors and grey-painted walls like those of a ship's gangway, was deserted. Here and there you could see a feeble light from a yellowish bulb, which was all the light there was at night, shining through the glass partitions.
There were glass partitions everywhere, with the kitchens on the left, and the pastrycook's kitchen beyond. Opposite was the room called the guests' servants' hall, where the senior staff and guests' private servants, chambermaids and chauffeurs ate. Then farther on, the junior staff dining-room, with long wooden tables and benches like school benches.
Finally, overlooking the basement like the bridge of a ship, a smaller glass cage, where the bookkeeper kept a check on everything which left the kitchens.
As he opened the door of the still-room, Prosper Donge had the impression that someone was going up the narrow staircase which led to the upper floors, but he didn't pay any attention to the fact. Or so he stated later.
He struck a match, just as Charlotte had done in their little house, and the gas went “pfffttt” under the smallest percolator, which he heated first for the few guests who got up early.
Only when he had done this did he go to the cloakroom. It was a fairly large room, down one of the corridors. There were several basins, a greyish mirror, and tall, narrow metal lockers round the walls, each with a number.
He opened locker 67 with his key. Took off his coat, hat and scarf. He changed his shoes because he liked wearing softer, elastic-sided shoes during the daytime. He put on a white jacket.
A few minutes to go . . . At half past six, the basement burst into life . . .
Upstairs, they were all still asleep, except the night porter, who was waiting to be relieved in the deserted foyer.
The percolator whistled. Donge filled a cup with coffee and started up the staircase, which was like one of those mysterious staircases in the wings of a theatre which lead to the most unexpected places.
Pushing open a narrow door, he found himself in the cloakroom in the foyer; no one would have known the door, covered by a large mirror, was there.
“Coffee!” he announced, putting the cup on the cloakroom counter. “All right?”
“OK!” the night porter grunted, coming to get it.
Donge went downstairs again. His three women helpers, the Three Fatties as they were called, had arrived. They were rough types, all three ugly—and one of them old and cantankerous. They were already noisily clanking cups and saucers in the sink.
BOOK: The Hotel Majestic
8.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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