Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part two)
The young wife, who had danced and amused herself a great deal, was not exactly conscious at first of this unusual delay. But taking stock, she was astonished…then at once 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 of a carnival supper. He had stayed in his corner by the fire at his work, and hadn’t yet come to bring her home.
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 come?
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 lights on the simple idea, shall we telephone the house?
Why, yes! How did we not think of it sooner?
If M. Imberger is found unwell, and cannot come for this reason, we will know 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 the little house of Passy, dark and quiet. No Imberger.
The nephew Maxence this evening had 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, his back to them, pays 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 had left his uncle at seven in the evening, and has since received no message, no visit. All this night Maxence has spent 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, they gather lanterns and explore every corner of the garden. M. Imberger perhaps had felt ill, wanted to take the air, was stricken with congestion…had 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. She comes down the stairs to the office, where the three men have gone; and with them, when the police station opens, she makes the declaration that her husband has disappeared.
And it was there that I, the next day, was 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 good manners. I was flattered. He confided to me the details of the affair, and his urgent instructions.
The most important of these was to act quickly, with discretion. I must avoid such gaffes as 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 hope 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 with ardor I set myself to work. I visited 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 to find him…”
And all at once, she burst into convulsive sobs, which 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.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)