Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part one)
The Ghost of M. Imberger
I belonged for thirty years to the Paris police, and my career, I assure you, has been rather eventful—but certainly the most extraordinary affair on which I made inquiries was the disappearance of M. Imberger, which is still a famous case.
Yes, says Barfin, this one gave me a good bit of trouble, and I worked at it with a passion. After weeks, it remained entirely an impenetrable mystery, which strange adventures altered without in the world elucidating, while revising my opinions to the extent that I risked having any…
The public could follow only the external facts, gripping and dramatic as these were in the unfolding…but it has never known the underlying psychology.
As well then, now years have passed and I am retired, that I tell you all of this in detail.
M. Imberger was a rich man, of a character a little original, and in excellent health. In life, he did no other thing than to collect doorknockers. I myself wouldn’t know, but it appears he had acquired the rarest of pieces. He did not hold himself to this specialization; he was competent in trinkets of every sort, and all the antique dealers of Paris considered him not only a client, but an expert, whom one might fruitfully consult on the subject of a find’s authenticity. His hunts, his visits to the world’s great flea markets, the care of his collection, these occupied all his time.
His collection was one of the loves of M. Imberger. He had but one other, his wife Andrée, a blonde with black eyes, very pretty. Yes truly, one of the loveliest women I have ever seen…refined, graceful, pleasant, a charming voice, a luminous complexion, an air of gentle languor…
She was twenty-five years younger than her husband, who had passed his fiftieth year. He had married her three years earlier, having looked after her from the time she’d lost her father, a brilliant, worldly man, a spendthrift who left a complicated will…where more was owed than had. Finally, the young woman found herself without a sou, and it was then that M. Imberger, who was her relative (he had been the childhood companion of Andrée’s mother), offered to marry her. She said yes…with or without hesitation, I don’t know.
At the end of Passy, on a short, quiet street, where trees overlook walls and passersby, they lived comfortably in a small house, a venerable structure, where domestics attended them and everything was restful.
A son of the older brother of M. Imberger had been living with them for some months. His name was Maxence. He was a handsome boy of thirty, who, under the pretext of studying painting, had come a little near ruin—having made for ten years disastrous liaisons, first at Paris, then Italy, again Paris, and finally the Near East. He had been defrauded by mystic poseurs, by old neurasthenic whores.
On returning in poverty, he was welcomed, and welcomed again, by this excellent man Imberger, who was his only relative, and who, despite so many louche stories about the gambling, and the women who ran on behalf of the handsome Max, opened his house and his purse as to a son; thus to avoid, to all appearances, Maxence making our acquaintance.
The young wife of M. Imberger seemed not to look with an approving eye on the intrusion. This nephew of her husband was distant enough as to parentage, but he was not much older than she. He had been her childhood friend; she knew him well, and seemed wary, even in dread, of him.
Yet after an early period of discontent and cold defiance, during which Andrée kept Max, so to speak, under observation, the thing was arranged, very well arranged, and in the little house the three seemed happy and in perfect accord.
The affair began on a night in February.
Mme Imberger had gone alone to a costume ball, at the house of her friends. Imberger had little taste for this type of entertainment, the disguises to be assumed…and the wigs made his head hurt. Beyond that, it suited him, if he were not personally obliged to partake in such pleasures, to let his wife go out as much as she liked. When she went without him, to the theatre, or anywhere at all, he would come seeking her at some point near the end; he came also to show himself present.
The evening of which I tell you, M. Imberger, by the usual formula, had promised to meet his wife at one o’clock in the morning, and join in the supper.
He did not come.
One-thirty, two o’clock, two-thirty sounded. The supper was long since finished, but no Imberger.
The young wife, who had danced and amused herself a great deal, was not exactly conscious of this unusual delay. Suddenly she took account, and was astonished. But at once she reassured herself with a logical explanation: M. Imberger had at the last moment changed his mind, preferring the peace of his room to the boisterous throng at a carnival supper. He remained at his work, in his corner by the fire, and hadn’t left yet to bring her home.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(1922, Frédéric Boutet; 2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)