Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part two)
But when three o’clock passed, M. Imberger still was not there. Mme Imberger now felt worried. The guests were beginning to take their leaves. M. Imberger was punctuality itself, how had he not arrived?
She told her anxiety to her hosts; they reassured her of his having a plenitude of good reasons, the usual in such a case, and counselled her to have patience, to go on dancing.
Imberger will come, wait and see…lost in a book, he has let an hour go by…
Someone suddenly has the simple idea, shall we telephone the house of Imberger?
But yes! How did we not think of it sooner?
If M. Imberger is found unwell, and cannot come for this reason, we will know of it at once.
Yes, but, in that case, how would he not himself have telephoned, to prevent…?
No matter, let’s telephone…
Perhaps he is asleep…
The bell will wake him…
They ask that the call be put through. There is no response.
They insist, they assure the telephone operator that someone is there…
The operator rings and rings again, and affirms that no one responds.
Note that the domestics sleeping in the communicating rooms could not hear. Finally, Andrée, anguished, decides to return immediately to her home, and places herself in the care of two respectable friends of the latecomer, who, without saying so to the young wife, have come to share her fears.
They enter with her into the little house of Passy, dark and quiet. No Imberger.
The nephew Maxence had this evening dined in the city, and must, as he often did, pass the rest of the night at his club. They go nonetheless to look into his chamber, to see if he has returned. The chamber is empty, the bed still made; it is probable Maxence has not come back.
Mme Imberger stations herself in the office of M. Imberger, and in company with his two friends waits, mad with anxiety, listening for noises from outside.
Around four in the morning, a car turns onto the little street, and stops. They all rush to the gate. Maxence, whose back is to them, paying his driver, spins round, stunned, and questions them. What is all this?
They make him aware of the inexplicable absence of his uncle. He is at a loss. He’d left his uncle at seven in the evening, and has since received no message, no visit. Maxence has spent all this night at his club, taking part in a fierce game of poker.
The last and feeble hope, of getting from him any clue, fades.
At the suggestion of Maxence, lanterns are gathered, and they explore every corner of the garden. M. Imberger might have felt ill, wanted to take the air, been stricken with congestion, fallen in a faint.
All searches are in vain.
Mme Imberger, desperate, trembling in a fever, goes indoors to change for a town dress the ball gown she had not thought of removing. Then she comes down the stairs to the office, where the three men have gone…with them, when the police station opens, she will make the declaration that her husband has disappeared.
And it was there that I was, the next day, assigned to the inquiry.
I had won already my little reputation. The commissioner wanted particularly to say that the assignment was due to my tact and manners. I was flattered. He confided to me details of the affair, and his urgent instructions.
Of these, the most important was to act quickly, and with discretion. I must avoid those errors or gaffes that create or augment scandal. I must give the least of information; to the private life of the missing man as little as possible of publicity—without, however, an air of anything concealed. It was necessary to avoid, as much as could be, the disappearance of M. Imberger becoming sensationalized.
This instruction could not be accommodated. M. Imberger was known throughout Paris; he was the friend of highly-placed personalities, of politicians, of artists and scientists, and this fantastic story must make a noise to rival all the devils.
But I set myself to work with ardor. I visited in every room of the house at Passy, going from top to bottom…nothing. I interrogated everyone.
I received no information having the least value.
Outside the facts I’ve told you, the household knew nothing. Mme Imberger—never have I seen so pretty a creature, with her pale cheeks, her large eyes under her disheveled hair. brilliant with tears—responded to all the questions I posed, at a loss:
“I don’t know. I don’t know. He must come back. He does not come back. I beg you, find him…”
And all at once, she burst into convulsive sobs, and it ended in an attack of nerves.
The nephew Maxence, a magnificent showboat, having a fine, ruffian head on the shoulders of an athlete, seemed sunken in the most profound pain, which did not prevent him doing his best to help, to be an intelligent guide, while we covered the house in search of any clue.
He had me explore from the cellars to the attic, and the garden…where the old well was found, which we hazarded sounding. Nothing.
Maxence had not the least idea what could have become of his uncle, and refused to even envision the possibility of a breach of conduct.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)