Frédéric Boutet: The Ghost of M. Imberger (part seven)
The professor Ferrier, at this time, showed me documents on what he called, “diseases of the ego”; the first state, and the second.
He gave examples of what he called an “ambulatory epileptic crisis”. And here I permit myself to lose a moment in repeating the account he made to me of the curious case studied by Charcot, around 1881 or 1882.
The sufferer made deliveries, for a dealer in bronzes on the rue Amelot. He had no morbid tendencies, no hereditary defect. Yet he was stricken all at once with this ambulatory crisis. Here is how he recounts one episode, of January 18:
“On this day, I left the house at a good hour, having a number of errands to do. Upon the last, I had gone up to the house of a client, rue Mazagran, and I had received his money. It must have been seven in the evening when I came down to the street. From that moment, I recall nothing more, absolutely nothing. I did not climb into the car, which waited for me a long time. The coachman left for home, and made known he had no idea what had become of me.”
“Then,” remarks Charcot, “from the 18th of January, around eight in the evening, a night had completed itself in your mind. And when you’d awakened?”
“It was the 26th of January, at two in the afternoon. I was on a suspension bridge, in the middle of an unknown town. A regiment passed, music at the head, and colors. I did not know where I was. I did not dare inquire, for fear they would think me mad. I asked for the rail station…there, I saw that I was in Brest…”
When the crisis had seized him, he’d had money on his person, of which a part (200 out of around 900 francs), he had spent. His clothes and shoes were clean and not worn, so he must have come from Paris by rail. He had eaten, he had slept in hotels, he had lived like everyone, but without knowing, and without true consciousness, had participated in the acts performed.
But unluckily for him, the poor fellow had the fatal idea of returning, without touching, the money which did not belong to him, and addressed himself to a gendarme. He was arrested without ceremony, and despite being able to show all sorts of papers—and notably an order Charcot had given him at the time of an earlier crisis—he stayed in prison six days and was not released but for the efforts of his patron, in whose service he had been for twenty years, and who attested to his perfect honesty.
“And you think this case is analogous to that of M. Imberger, monsieur le Professor?” I asked of Ferrier when he had finished his story. “What is your personal opinion?”
Curtly, he said, “I haven’t got one.”
And I believe he was as much in doubt as me.
The explanation of simple madness, or disease of the personality, I found not at all satisfactory. It must be said that for the mind of a policeman, who looks at facts, all the machinery of science can produce possibilities in theory believable, but that never in the end solve the case to which one is attached. In the end is seen, moving in the shadows, the human realities…life…
I did not believe any longer in a fugue…oh! That, not at all.
I asked myself if this was not mere foolishness; if it could not be the notion of watching his wife and nephew, for which M. Imberger had disappeared…to learn what they both would do, once the noise had died down.
To know, and not to suffer an intolerable doubt.
But why then did he show himself expressly to people who knew him? For the entirety of the apparitions revealed a will, and a system so evident, that it was this most surely destroyed for me the theory of lunacy.
And this was why, at other moments, obstinately, the idea of murder came nagging me again, despite all these appearances. I am incredulous by nature and by profession. I had not seen the missing man. His wife, Max, and I were, among those connected to this business, the only ones who had not seen him.
His wife, Max, and I…
Perhaps it was in the reason for this grouping, that one must locate the most valuable and useful foundation, as to motive…and I did not suppose I was myself at fault.
But inquire became impossible. One cannot have free reign to gather information on a so-called crime, when there is no longer a victim. I would have to put aside the only means of arriving at a result; I could not exercise strong surveillance, nor complete the preliminaries in the house of Imberger…where, I was aware, the searches in the first hour had been summary.
Yet the Imberger mystery impassioned me more than ever; I was resolved on finding the key, no matter the cost. For my personal pride, and outside all official orders…even in secret.
I kept, if I may say, an eye on the house in Passy, and an eye on handsome Max, who went back rarely, only to make his pretty aunt visits brief and correct, where the tone, I was told by my informants, was amicable, but the conversation singularly banal and without allusion to the family drama.
Mme Imberger lived in a fashion retired, and perfectly suitable, sheltered from the material point of view by interest payments directed by his lawyer on her husband’s untouched fortune. She did not quit the old relative who served as her chaperone, but shared with her monotonous days, the loneliness of which was barely enlivened by visits from a few intimates.
For Maxence, things went well otherwise. He had returned to his club in the Europe quarter, and to a life of license and liaison, for which the resources remained to me mysterious, as he had no money of his own and gained nothing from this vague painting, its product largely unsold, and neglected by him six-and-a-half days out of seven.
The Ghost of M. Imberger
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)