Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part six)
His attorney, M. Druide, more determined, and perhaps more courageous than the others, tried pursuing him on the boulevard Montmartre, where they’d crossed paths unexpectedly, but M. Imberger fled at speed, and could not be caught up. M. Druide saw him disappear into the Passage des Panoramas, and lost him there.
Then Professor Ferriet saw again with his own eyes the friend he believed murdered. It was an emotional meeting, though it lasted no more than an instant, and no more than the others had the professor been able to speak to M. Imberger or approach him. Here is how Ferrier himself told me the thing, an hour after it took place, while he was still agitated and near trembling:
“I have seen him. I have seen him, no doubt is possible. I left the school of medicine at nightfall, after I’d finished my class. A car was stopped at the curb…I looked at it mechanically. Suddenly at the door I saw the face of Imberger. I saw him lean out into the half-light from a lamppost, seeming to watch for me as in the past, when at times he would come to wait for me. The face was white and frozen, just as described by everyone who’s seen him. After a moment of stupor, I threw myself at the car, but it started off in a hurry, carrying Imberger, who made me a sign I did not understand.”
It could no longer be called a hallucination, and neither medicine, nor modern justice admits of phantoms, spectres, ghosts. A few journals, in a jesting manner, published articles on, “the apparition of the murdered man”. The spiritual reviews maintained energetically that such things are possible, and that history offers numerous examples. They went as far as citing Jesus Christ appearing to the apostles. The aspect of Imberger made a precious argument for these spirit-scribes, who asserted that his bizarre lividity, so striking, was of the other world.
However, I will not astonish you much when I tell you that for the law, for Professor Ferriet, for the greater public—and for me—one fact seemed evident: M. Imberger was still of this world.
But the mystery made itself only to change face. For what aim did M. Imberger keep hidden, and in such a way? Was he at a second home? All who had known him refused to allow this explanation, that contradicted his passionate love and anxious care for his wife. Furthermore, in these troubling apparitions, he was always seen alone, and those who had met him since his disappearance said he had not, in any fashion, the air of a man who conceals happiness; all were in accord on his bizarre appearance, on his worried and furtive look.
A current of opinion formed, however, that allowed the idea of a modest fugue, envisioning Imberger as an old débauché, incapable any longer of cloaking his vices under a mantle of austerity. The victim became the young Mme Imberger, cast loose, not only in the most outrageous and cowardly manner, but under circumstances that might plausibly have touched her with an infamous slander. Yet when I questioned her, she repulsed with disdain these imputations against her husband.
“He was the best of men. A man whose life was simple and upright, where deceit could not have been necessary…but also he was incapable, I’m sure of it, of any bad act. If he’s alive, it must be some pressing motive I know nothing about, that I can’t begin to imagine, that constrains him to keep hidden, and far from me, far from us all. In that case his strange conduct at these meetings is easily explained. Yes…he acts as though he would avoid all conversation. But he shows himself, plainly and often, to reassure us of his existence, not to allow a horrible suspicion to weigh on an innocent—
“I have thought, sadly, on these things, you see…of all that is, in the realm of the possible. What you suggest might still be the reason my poor husband has gone into the shadows… But, where, and how, does he live? With what resources, what money? Since he has withdrawn nothing of his fortune. No matter, it’s all awful…”
Distraught, she wrung her hands and sobbed. She was prettier than ever, in her somber clothes. She had recognized, I remark it in passing, that singularity of being effaced and out of the picture, needing to comport herself as a widow, without being one…
But not falling fully into mourning, however, which, if M. Imberger lived, must become vulgar and vaudevillesque; what’s more, without ceasing to be one of the best-dressed women of Paris.
The majority of the public had rallied to this explanation, that M. Imberger had gone off in a fit of madness. It was, in fact, since he’d begun to appear, the most believable. When an unexpected event occurs, a number of people will always boast they’d foreseen it. There were now a good number of friends—and those familiar with the house, those who lived in the district, tradesmen who visited—who declared they had always suspected the eccentricity of M. Imberger, and for some weeks had seen this increasing in a worrying way.
The servants themselves gave of his late oddity several examples: the master gruff, where once kind and gentle; become overwrought, nervous, easily discontented, and most severe with poor Max, to whom in the past he had showed himself indulgent. But now seemed set to rebuke him at any moment…further, he loved his solitude more and more, and sat for long hours silent and still, with a sad pensive air.
This change in humor everyone had witnessed, and the facile erudition of the armchair practitioner steamed ahead. They spoke of an episode of somnambulism, of wakeful walking, during which the man ceases to be himself, quits his own personality to become another, propelling him at hazard through a life that when he returns to himself he knows nothing of.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)