Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part one)
I belonged for thirty years to the Paris police, and my career, I assure you, has been rather eventful—but the most extraordinary affair on which I made enquiries was certainly 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 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, unfolding…
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 character a little original, and in excellent health. In life, he did no other thing than to collect doorknockers. I wouldn’t know myself, but it appears he had acquired the rarest of pieces. He did not otherwise 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 of the 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 when she’d lost her father, a brilliant, worldly man…a spendthrift, who had 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 above the walls overlook passersby, they lived comfortably in a small and venerable house, their domestics attending them, and everything restful.
A son of the older brother of M. Imberger had for some months been living with them. His name was Maxence. He was a handsome boy of thirty, who, under the pretext of studying painting, was a little near ruin, having made for ten years disastrous liaisons, first at Paris, then Italy, again Paris, finally the Near East. He had been defrauded as well by mystic poseurs, old neurasthenic whores.
Returning in poverty, he was welcomed, and welcomed each time, by this excellent man Imberger, who was his only relative, and who, despite enough of louche stories about the gambling, and the women who ran on behalf of the handsome Max, had opened his house and his purse as to a son—avoiding thus, to all appearances, Maxence making our acquaintance.
The young wife of M. Imberger seemed not, at first, to look with an approving eye on this 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 of him—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 all three seemed perfectly happy and in 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, for the disguises to be assumed. The wigs made his head hurt. Beyond that, he was content, 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 anyplace in the world, he would arrive some time near the end to seek her; as well, to show himself present.
The evening of which I tell you, M. Imberger, by the usual formula, had promised to join his wife at one o’clock in the morning, and to take part in the supper.
He did not arrive.
One-thirty, two o’clock, two-thirty sounded. The supper was long since finished, but no Imberger.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(1922, Frédéric Boutet; 2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)