Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part four)
“They say to me that you are an intelligent man, sure and adept, and I believe it,” he said, when we were alone. “Listen to me. I returned yesterday from a long sojourn of study. I was not able to come back before, and did so only for this interview with you. Imberger was my closest friend…I have known him from college days. He was rich. I am myself poor. He from his purse paid my dues to the Faculty of Medicine, when I was a student and he was too, every month, from the allowance made him by his parents. He gave me what I needed to live, so I could do my work. It is thanks to him, far more than to myself, that I am what I am. It is thanks to him all the human creatures I have cared for and cured have been saved. Imberger was one of those men whose moral sensibility compensates you for the cruelty, the cowardice, and vice of all those miserable people who pass through your hands. I tell you this, that you will understand the reason for my intervention. That you will comprehend what feeling, what value, comes from this word friend, when I apply it to Imberger. What’s more, I will tell the world, I will advertise it in the streets…”
His voice broke a little, his eyes became grim. A brilliant thing, that was a tear, rolled down his long nose.
“What is your opinion on his disappearance?” He said this at last.
Given the nature of my opinion, I felt a bit constrained, but before such a man it was useless to attempt a lie.
“I believe there was a murder,” I said. No more.
A small twitch touched the corner of Ferrier’s mouth, but he recovered himself, and in a voice wholly calm, answered: “I’m sure…I can’t believe it. The fugue, or the suicide, which for you might be counted a hypothesis you must at least envision, cannot even enter into discussion for me, who knew him. If a transformation of any order whatsoever had taken place in his life, I would have known of it. He told me everything. And to be so upstanding, so clear, so energetic…there could be no weakness, not even a passing one. Since he has disappeared, this is fact. He has disappeared. Now, is it that you share the opinion of your chief—a crime of hazard, an attack of rogues on the street corner?”
“No,” I told him frankly. “In such a case we would find the corpse nearby. Or some trace of his assassin, the vestige of a struggle…and in this case, nothing. Not one witness. No one saw anything, heard anything, remarked anything abnormal or even unusual, in the house or in the neighborhood. These rogues who attack to steal would abandon the body in place where the first blow was struck, and flee, the thing accomplished. That is the way of it. And if we allow they had even thought of making him disappear—obviously, for lack of premeditation and means, they could not have done it to perfection. No, it will not, if there was a crime…as I believe, by the way…it will not have been a crime of villainy.”
“Then, what do you think?” He spoke coldly, his words detached. His penetrating eyes would not leave mine. “What is your personal theory?”
Here I felt truly embarrassed. “I think… I think… You know, monsieur le professeur…”
I evaded this question, too neat, and tried to avoid answering. “In my own work, we are obliged to think of things implausible, even when we admit to ourselves that these things are implausible. One should not believe we take all of our hypotheses for realities, but on the other hand, we are forced, that we may arrive at a solution, to make all sorts of hypotheses. All sorts…”
There was silence.
“No,” the professor answered me suddenly, to this I had not said. “She has done nothing…I know her. Her as well, as much as one can know a woman. She has done nothing! Don’t shake your head,” he added with impatience. “We will get nowhere if you don’t believe what I say to you. This that I affirm to you, you must admit, otherwise we will be delayed at every pass…”
I allowed myself to interrupt.
“Pardon, monsieur le professeur, we have an old husband, old relative to his very young wife…you see, you see… He is rich, she is poor; he will leave everything to her and she knows it. Between them is a young man, well-built, handsome, unscrupulous, wholly suited to the role of lover… And that is the case, from all the indications I have been able to gather. The husband disappeared. The solution, it seems to me, imposes itself. It was they who struck the blow. Perhaps she, with no interest in money, I am willing, wanted only to be free. Or for the love of Max, or under his domination, was afraid. I do not believe she participated in the crime. She is too weak, too given to nerves. But as to knowing of it, that is another thing. I have, for myself, made a few researches, and taken some information; I have this documented, against the day I have the right to act fully. And if officially, I cannot yet make inquiries on this path, that is because I have on this subject, formal orders… We have an affair of worldly personalities; we are wary, we fear ridicule and the odium of error, the scandal of a false accusation. And this obliges me to exhaust everything before I may return freely to that line of inquiry. But I will have my hour, I count it well…”
“No,” Ferrier repeated to me. “Not like that. Your solution revolves around the truth, but it is halfway false, certainly. He alone is guilty. Of her, nothing is suspect. No, no, believe me, nothing, I am sure of it. That wretch, whom Imberger in his bounty had saved from the miseries of prison, is the lover of Andrée…this I have known for a long time, and he is a sensual brute, jealous and greedy. There is everything in his crime, things banal and things revolting, and poor human feelings, commonplace… There is everything of rude passion and self-interest. He lusts for domination and pleasure, vain as are all mediocre men. He wants for himself alone the woman and the money. The money first, then the rest…”
“Have you seen,” I asked him, “the least proof?”
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)