Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part five)
“None. It is for you to find. All you may need, as to personal help, information or funds, ask me. It will remain between us. You must find the body, convince yourself of the assassin; he is, moreover, shrewd and cunning and must not be made suspicious.”
Ferrier left. His opinion shed light on mine and corroborated it. But I must have at least the beginnings of a case. A mistake would cost me dearly.
Maxence lived now in a bachelor flat in the quarter de l’Europe, and went rarely to Passy. The young wife remained plunged in mourning. An elderly cousin from the provinces had come to look after her, and she did not go out.
The newspapers oppressed me more and more, with their lively mockeries of my blindness. Certain wise reporters, following personal inquiries pressed to the depths, had most certainly glimpsed what I believed to be the truth, and in veiled words hinted at a drama of passion within the family.
I waited before acting. Suspicion began to close round the handsome Maxence. He, whom I’d met at Passy on one occasion, had in my presence a fit of indignation, which if acted, was acted well. He spoke of nothing less than a challenge to the editor.
It was then that an extraordinary event occurred—
M. Imberger was met with on the street.
It was the chambermaid of Mme Imberger who first saw him after his disappearance. One evening this girl, at the little house of Passy, reentered shaken, claiming that on a neighboring street she had passed her former employer, in person.
“It was monsieur!”
She said it to me when I saw her after this fantastic meeting. “I saw him as I see you! I have eyes and I’m not crazy. Put my head under the blade, and I will say it again, monsieur, and if it was not him, it was his ghost! And, you know, I even think it was his ghost… I’m sure he did not have the air of a living man. He had a great black cape like he always wore, and a face very queer, very pale, frozen, with that…I don’t know how to say it, but very queer… He walked on the opposite side from me…his steps were lively and he must have recognized me, for then he was even quicker. For me, not at all. Seeing him I was struck numb in the legs. For that, he got to the turning of the street, gone…and me with my teeth still chattering. Lay eyes on a ghost, you could be dead within a year. Chase after one, no thank you! And, you know, it would have served nothing. This was not a living man, I would swear it under the knife! But it was monsieur, I would swear it before the judge! They murdered him, he has come to demand vengeance and burial…”
She did not want to set foot outside, but I must say that no one believed her at first.
However, as this meeting, if it were real, constituted a proof in favor of a simple disappearance, we alerted Dr. Ferrier, who questioned the chambermaid in his turn. He diagnosed hallucination.
That also was my opinion.
What to think, if in fact M. Imberger was not dead, nor a fugitive, but that for secret reasons of his own, he had left his family and his home…? That he returned just to show himself in the environs of his household, in a district such as Passy, a charming little enclave where the greater part of the inhabitants are known at least by sight…and this one more than all others must be remarked? For his silhouette was peculiar enough, as were his forays as a collector.
What’s more, he knew the habits of his domestics, and the chambermaid had seen him on the street at the hour when regularly, each day, she would walk out to pick up the post and newspapers.
No. Nervous and superstitious, haunted by the disappearance of her employer, and frightened by the evocation of a crime, the chambermaid had identified the silhouette of some passerby as that of the disappeared, or even created from whole cloth an image not there…
The hypothesis of hallucination was the more believable, and everyone adopted it. But the next day, it fell by the wayside. M. Imberger appeared again.
This was about six in the evening, at a shop of curiosities on the rue de Châteaudun, where he was in the custom of making long stops. The ghost showed himself at the door, half-opening this as though to enter. Then as one who changes his mind, it made a rapid about-face and disappeared into the crowd.
Disconcerted as the chambermaid, and like her, perhaps, a little frightened by the possibility of a mystery from beyond (as to this perspective, you know, it is always necessary to account for human credulity), the merchant had not, any more than the chambermaid, the presence of mind to seek after and halt this apparition, to shed light on this distressing question.
He said he did not because he was alone, and could not think of abandoning his store, even for a few minutes. But M. Imberger had been his client for many years, had been seen by him often, and for long visits. He was struck by the mien of the caller, haggard and strange, with a livid pallor and an air of suffering. But he affirmed that no hesitation was possible as to the identity.
From that point, the apparitions of M. Imberger multiplied themselves, in places more diverse. In the space of four or five days, he was seen by many people whose good faith could not be suspected, and who, all of them, gave the same significations: a great black cape, a rapid darting look, a face white and frozen. The same information in every case. They met the disappeared invariably at the hour of dusk; and barely had they glimpsed him, when he took himself off, very quickly.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)