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An Adventure Story


Author of "Arsène Lupin," "The Hollow Needle," "The Crystal Stopper"





The Teeth of the Tiger



It was half-past four; M. Desmalions, the Prefect of Police, was not yet
back at the office. His private secretary laid on the desk a bundle of
letters and reports which he had annotated for his chief, rang the bell
and said to the messenger who entered by the main door:

"Monsieur le Préfet has sent for a number of people to see him at five
o'clock. Here are their names. Show them into separate waiting-rooms, so
that they can't communicate with one another, and let me have their cards
when they come."

The messenger went out. The secretary was turning toward the small door
that led to his room, when the main door opened once more and admitted a
man who stopped and leaned swaying over the back of a chair.

"Why, it's you, Vérot!" said the secretary. "But what's happened? What's
the matter?"

Inspector Vérot was a very stout, powerfully built man, with a big neck
and shoulders and a florid complexion. He had obviously been upset by
some violent excitement, for his face, streaked with red veins and
usually so apoplectic, seemed almost pale.

"Oh, nothing. Monsieur le Secrétaire!" he said.

"Yes, yes; you're not looking your usual self. You're gray in the
face.... And the way you're perspiring...."

Inspector Vérot wiped his forehead and, pulling himself together, said:

"It's just a little tiredness.... I've been overworking myself lately: I
was very keen on clearing up a case which Monsieur Desmalions had put in
my hands. All the same, I have a funny sort of feeling - "

"Will you have a pick-me-up?"

"No, no; I'm more thirsty."

"A glass of water?"

"No, thank you."

"What then?"

"I should like - I should like - "

His voice faltered. He wore a troubled look, as if he had suddenly lost
his power of getting out another word. But he recovered himself with an
effort and asked:

"Isn't Monsieur Desmalions here?"

"No; he won't be back till five, when he has an important meeting."

"Yes ... I know ... most important. That's what I'm here for. But
I should have liked to see him first. I should so much have liked
to see him!"

The secretary stared at Vérot and said:

"What a state you're in! Is your message so urgent as all that?"

"It's very urgent, indeed. It has to do with a crime that took place a
month ago, to the day. And, above all, it's a matter of preventing two
murders which are the outcome of that other crime and which are to be
committed to-night. Yes, to-night, inevitably, unless we take the
necessary steps."

"Sit down, Vérot, won't you?"

"You see, the whole thing has been planned in such an infernal manner!
You would never have imagined - "

"Still, Vérot, as you know about it beforehand, and as Monsieur le Préfet
is sure to give you full powers - "

"Yes, of course, of course. But, all the same, it's terrible to think
that I might miss him. So I wrote him this letter, telling him all I know
about the business. I thought it safer."

He handed the secretary a large yellow envelope and added:

"And here's a little box as well; I'll leave it on this table. It
contains something that will serve to complete and explain the contents
of the letter."

"But why don't you keep all that by you?"

"I'm afraid to. They're watching me. They're trying to get rid of
me. I shan't be easy in my mind until some one besides myself knows
the secret."

"Have no fear, Vérot. Monsieur le Préfet is bound to be back soon.
Meanwhile, I advise you to go to the infirmary and ask for a pick-me-up."

The inspector seemed undecided what to do. Once more he wiped away the
perspiration that was trickling down his forehead. Then, drawing himself
up, he left the office. When he was gone the secretary slipped the letter
into a big bundle of papers that lay on the Prefect's desk and went out
by the door leading to his own room.

He had hardly closed it behind him when the other door opened once again
and the inspector returned, spluttering:

"Monsieur le Secrétaire ... it'd be better if I showed you - "

The unfortunate man was as white as a sheet. His teeth were chattering.
When he saw that the secretary was gone, he tried to walk across to his
private room. But he was seized with an attack of weakness and sank into
a chair, where he remained for some minutes, moaning helplessly:

"What's the matter with me? ... Have I been poisoned, too? ... Oh, I
don't like this; I don't like the look of this!"

The desk stood within reach of his hand. He took a pencil, drew a
writing-pad toward him and began to scribble a few characters. But he
next stammered:

"Why, no, it's not worth while. The Prefect will be reading my
letter.... What on earth's the matter with me. I don't like this at all!"

Suddenly he rose to his feet and called out:

"Monsieur le Secrétaire, we've got ... we've got to ... It's for
to-night. Nothing can prevent - "

Stiffening himself with an effort of his whole will, he made for the door
of the secretary's room with little short steps, like an automaton. But
he reeled on the way - and had to sit down a second time.

A mad terror shook him from head to foot; and he uttered cries which were
too faint, unfortunately, to be heard. He realized this and looked round
for a bell, for a gong; but he was no longer able to distinguish
anything. A veil of darkness seemed to weigh upon his eyes.

Then he dropped on his knees and crawled to the wall, beating the air
with one hand, like a blind man, until he ended by touching some
woodwork. It was the partition-wall.

He crept along this; but, as ill-luck would have it, his bewildered brain
showed him a false picture of the room, so that, instead of turning to
the left as he should have done, he followed the wall to the right,
behind a screen which concealed a third door.

His fingers touched the handle of this door and he managed to open it. He
gasped, "Help! Help!" and fell at his full length in a sort of cupboard
or closet which the Prefect of Police used as a dressing-room.

"To-night!" he moaned, believing that he was making himself heard and
that he was in the secretary's room. "To-night! The job is fixed for
to-night! You'll see ... The mark of the teeth! ... It's awful! ... Oh,
the pain I'm in! ... It's the poison! Save me! Help!"

The voice died away. He repeated several times, as though in a nightmare:

"The teeth! the teeth! They're closing!"

Then his voice grew fainter still; and inarticulate sounds issued from
his pallid lips. His mouth munched the air like the mouth of one of those
old men who seem to be interminably chewing the cud. His head sank lower
and lower on his breast. He heaved two or three sighs; a great shiver
passed through his body; and he moved no more.

And the death-rattle began in his throat, very softly and rhythmically,
broken only by interruptions in which a last instinctive effort appeared
to revive the flickering life of the intelligence, and to rouse fitful
gleams of consciousness in the dimmed eyes.

The Prefect of Police entered his office at ten minutes to five. M.
Desmalions, who had filled his post for the past three years with an
authority that made him generally respected, was a heavily built man of
fifty with a shrewd and intelligent face. His dress, consisting of a gray
jacket-suit, white spats, and a loosely flowing tie, in no way suggested
the public official. His manners were easy, simple, and full of
good-natured frankness.

He touched a bell, and when his secretary entered, asked:

"Are the people whom I sent for here?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, and I gave orders that they were to wait in
different rooms."

"Oh, it would not have mattered if they had met! However, perhaps it's
better as it is. I hope that the American Ambassador did not trouble to
come in person?"

"No, Monsieur le Préfet."

"Have you their cards?"


The Prefect of Police took the five visiting cards which his secretary
handed him and read:

"Mr. Archibald Bright, First Secretary United States Embassy; Maître
Lepertuis, Solicitor; Juan Caceres, Attaché to the Peruvian Legation;
Major Comte d'Astrignac, retired."

The fifth card bore merely a name, without address or quality of
any kind -


"That's the one I'm curious to see!" said M. Desmalions. "He interests me
like the very devil! Did you read the report of the Foreign Legion?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, and I confess that this gentleman
puzzles me, too."

"He does, eh? Did you ever hear of such pluck? A sort of heroic madman,
something absolutely wonderful! And then there's that nickname of Arsène
Lupin which he earned among his messmates for the way in which he used
to boss them and astound them! ... How long is it since the death of
Arsène Lupin?"

"It happened two years before your appointment, Monsieur le Préfet. His
corpse and Mme. Kesselbach's were discovered under the ruins of a little
chalet which was burnt down close to the Luxemburg frontier. It was found
at the inquest that he had strangled that monster, Mrs. Kesselbach, whose
crimes came to light afterward, and that he hanged himself after setting
fire to the chalet."

"It was a fitting end for that - rascal," said M. Desmalions, "and I
confess that I, for my part, much prefer not having him to fight against.
Let's see, where were we? Are the papers of the Mornington inheritance
ready for me?"

"On your desk, Monsieur le Préfet."

"Good. But I was forgetting: is Inspector Vérot here?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet. I expect he's in the infirmary getting
something to pull him together."

"Why, what's the matter with him?"

"He struck me as being in a queer state - rather ill."

"How do you mean?"

The secretary described his interview with Inspector Vérot.

"And you say he left a letter for me?" said M. Desmalions with a worried
air. "Where is it?"

"Among the papers, Monsieur le Préfet."

"Very odd: it's all very odd. Vérot is a first-rate inspector, a very
sober-minded fellow; and he doesn't get frightened easily. You might go
and fetch him. Meanwhile, I'll look through my letters."

The secretary hurried away. When he returned, five minutes later,
he stated, with an air of astonishment, that he had not seen
Inspector Vérot.

"And what's more curious still," he added, "is that the messenger who saw
him leave this room saw him come in again almost at once and did not see
him go out a second time."

"Perhaps he only passed through here to go to you."

"To me, Monsieur le Préfet? I was in my room all the time."

"Then it's incomprehensible."

"Yes ... unless we conclude that the messenger's attention was distracted
for a second, as Vérot is neither here nor next door."

"That must be it. I expect he's gone to get some air outside; and he'll
be back at any moment. For that matter, I shan't want him to start with."

The Prefect looked at his watch.

"Ten past five. You might tell the messenger to show those gentlemen
in.... Wait, though - "

M. Desmalions hesitated. In turning over the papers he had found Vérot's
letter. It was a large, yellow, business envelope, with "Café du
Pont-Neuf" printed at the top.

The secretary suggested:

"In view of Vérot's absence, Monsieur le Préfet, and of what he said, it
might be as well for you to see what's in the letter first."

M. Desmalions paused to reflect.

"Perhaps you're right."

And, making up his mind, he inserted a paper-knife into the envelope and
cut it open. A cry escaped him.

"Oh, I say, this is a little too much!"

"What is it, Monsieur le Préfet?"

"Why, look here, a blank ... sheet of paper! That's all the envelope


"See for yourself - a plain sheet folded in four, with not a word on it."

"But Vérot told me in so many words that he had said in that letter all
that he knew about the case."

"He told you so, no doubt, but there you are! Upon my word, if I
didn't know Inspector Vérot, I should think he was trying to play a
game with me."

"It's a piece of carelessness, Monsieur le Préfet, at the worst."

"No doubt, a piece of carelessness, but I'm surprised at him. It doesn't
do to be careless when the lives of two people are at stake. For he must
have told you that there is a double murder planned for to-night?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, and under particularly alarming conditions;
infernal was the word he used."

M. Desmalions was walking up and down the room, with his hands behind his
back. He stopped at a small table.

"What's this little parcel addressed to me? 'Monsieur le Préfet de
Police - to be opened in case of accident.'"

"Oh, yes," said the secretary, "I was forgetting! That's from Inspector
Vérot, too; something of importance, he said, and serving to complete and
explain the contents of the letter."

"Well," said M. Desmalions, who could not help laughing, "the letter
certainly needs explaining; and, though there's no question of
'accident,' I may as well open the parcel."

As he spoke, he cut the string and discovered, under the paper, a box, a
little cardboard box, which might have come from a druggist, but which
was soiled and spoiled by the use to which it had been put.

He raised the lid. Inside the box were a few layers of cotton wool, which
were also rather dirty, and in between these layers was half a cake of

"What the devil does this mean?" growled the Prefect in surprise.

He took the chocolate, looked at it, and at once perceived what was
peculiar about this cake of chocolate, which was also undoubtedly the
reason why Inspector Vérot had kept it. Above and below, it bore the
prints of teeth, very plainly marked, very plainly separated one from the
other, penetrating to a depth of a tenth of an inch or so into the
chocolate. Each possessed its individual shape and width, and each was
divided from its neighbours by a different interval. The jaws which had
started eating the cake of chocolate had dug into it the mark of four
upper and five lower teeth.

M. Desmalions remained wrapped in thought and, with his head sunk on his
chest, for some minutes resumed his walk up and down the room, muttering:

"This is queer ... There's a riddle here to which I should like to know
the answer. That sheet of paper, the marks of those teeth: what does it
all mean?"

But he was not the man to waste much time over a mystery which was bound
to be cleared up presently, as Inspector Vérot must be either at the
police office or somewhere just outside; and he said to his secretary:

"I can't keep those five gentlemen waiting any longer. Please have them
shown in now. If Inspector Vérot arrives while they are here, as he is
sure to do, let me know at once. I want to see him as soon as he comes.
Except for that, see that I'm not disturbed on any pretext, won't you?"

* * * * *

Two minutes later the messenger showed in Maître Lepertuis, a stout,
red-faced man, with whiskers and spectacles, followed by Archibald
Bright, the Secretary of Embassy, and Caceres, the Peruvian attaché. M.
Desmalions, who knew all three of them, chatted to them until he stepped
forward to receive Major Comte d'Astrignac, the hero of La Chouïa, who
had been forced into premature retirement by his glorious wounds. The
Prefect was complimenting him warmly on his gallant conduct in Morocco
when the door opened once more.

"Don Luis Perenna, I believe?" said the Prefect, offering his hand to a
man of middle height and rather slender build, wearing the military medal
and the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour.

The newcomer's face and expression, his way of holding himself, and his
very youthful movements inclined one to look upon him as a man of forty,
though there were wrinkles at the corners of the eyes and on the
forehead, which perhaps pointed to a few years more. He bowed.

"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet."

"Is that you, Perenna?" cried Comte d'Astrignae. "So you are still among
the living?"

"Yes, Major, and delighted to see you again."

"Perenna alive! Why, we had lost all sight of you when I left Morocco! We
thought you dead."

"I was a prisoner, that's all."

"A prisoner of the tribesmen; the same thing!"

"Not quite, Major; one can escape from anywhere. The proof stands
before you."

The Prefect of Police, yielding to an irresistible attraction to resist,
spent some seconds in examining that powerful face, with the smiling
glance, the frank and resolute eyes, and the bronzed complexion, which
looked as if it had been baked and baked again by the sun.

Then, motioning to his visitors to take chairs around his desk, M.
Desmalions himself sat down and made a preliminary statement in clear and
deliberate tones:

"The summons, gentlemen, which I addressed to each of you, must have
appeared to you rather peremptory and mysterious. And the manner in which
I propose to open our conversation is not likely to diminish your
surprise. But if you will attach a little credit to my method, you will
soon realize that the whole thing is very simple and very natural. I will
be as brief as I can."

He spread before him the bundle of documents prepared for him by his
secretary and, consulting his notes as he spoke, continued:

"Over fifty years ago, in 1860, three sisters, three orphans, Ermeline,
Elizabeth, and Armande Roussel, aged twenty-two, twenty, and eighteen
respectively, were living at Saint-Etienne with a cousin named Victor,
who was a few years younger. The eldest, Ermeline, was the first to leave
Saint-Etienne. She went to London, where she married an Englishman of the
name Mornington, by whom she had a son, who was christened Cosmo.

"The family was very poor and went through hard times. Ermeline
repeatedly wrote to her sisters to ask for a little assistance. Receiving
no reply, she broke off the correspondence altogether. In 1870 Mr. and
Mrs. Mornington left England for America. Five years later they were
rich. Mr. Mornington died in 1878; but his widow continued to administer
the fortune bequeathed to her and, as she had a genius for business and
speculation, she increased this fortune until it attained a colossal
figure. At her decease, in 1900, she left her son the sum of four hundred
million francs."

The amount seemed to make an impression on the Prefect's hearers. He saw
the major and Don Luis Perenna exchange a glance and asked:

"You knew Cosmo Mornington, did you not?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet," replied Comte d'Astrignac. "He was in Morocco
when Perenna and I were fighting there."

"Just so," said M. Desmalions. "Cosmo Mornington had begun to travel
about the world. He took up the practise of medicine, from what I hear,
and, when occasion offered, treated the sick with great skill and, of
course, without charge. He lived first in Egypt and then in Algiers and
Morocco. Last year he settled down in Paris, where he died four weeks ago
as the result of a most stupid accident."

"A carelessly administered hypodermic injection, was it not, Monsieur le
Préfet?" asked the secretary of the American Embassy. "It was mentioned
in the papers and reported to us at the embassy."

"Yes," said Desmalions. "To assist his recovery from a long attack of
influenza which had kept him in bed all the winter, Mr. Mornington, by
his doctor's orders, used to give himself injections of glycero-phosphate
of soda. He must have omitted the necessary precautions on the last
occasion when he did so, for the wound was poisoned, inflammation set in
with lightning rapidity, and Mr. Mornington was dead in a few hours."

The Prefect of Police turned to the solicitor and asked:

"Have I summed up the facts correctly, Maître Lepertuis?"

"Absolutely, Monsieur le Préfet."

M. Desmalions continued:

"The next morning, Maître Lepertuis called here and, for reasons which
you will understand when you have heard the document read, showed me
Cosmo Mornington's will, which had been placed in his hands."

While the Prefect was looking through the papers, Maître Lepertuis added:

"I may be allowed to say that I saw my client only once before I was
summoned to his death-bed; and that was on the day when he sent for me to
come to his room in the hotel to hand me the will which he had just made.
This was at the beginning of his influenza. In the course of conversation
he told me that he had been making some inquiries with a view to tracing
his mother's family, and that he intended to pursue these inquiries
seriously after his recovery. Circumstances, as it turned out, prevented
his fulfilling his purpose."

Meanwhile, the Prefect of Police had taken from among the documents an
open envelope containing two sheets of paper. He unfolded the larger of
the two and said:

"This is the will. I will ask you to listen attentively while I read it
and also the document attached to it."

The others settled themselves in their chairs; and the Prefect read out:

"The last will and testament of me, Cosmo Mornington, eldest son of
Hubert Mornington and Ermeline Roussel, his wife, a naturalized citizen
of the United States of America. I give and bequeath to my adopted
country three fourths of my estate, to be employed on works of charity in
accordance with the instructions, written in my hand, which Maitre
Lepertuis will be good enough to forward to the Ambassador of the United
States. The remainder of my property, to the value of about one hundred
million francs, consisting of deposits in various Paris and London banks,
a list of which is in the keeping of Maitre Lepertuis, I give and
bequeath, in memory of my dear mother, to her favourite sister Elizabeth
Roussel or her direct heirs; or, in default of Elizabeth and her heirs,
to her second sister Armande Roussel or her direct heirs; or, in default
of both sisters and their heirs, to their cousin Victor Roussel or his
direct heirs.

"In the event of my dying without discovering the surviving members of
the Roussel family, or of the cousin of the three sisters, I request my
friend Don Luis Perenna to make all the necessary investigations. With
this object, I hereby appoint him the executor of my will in so far as
concerns the European portion of my estate, and I beg him to undertake
the conduct of the events that may arise after my death or in consequence
of my death to consider himself my representative and to act in all
things for the benefit of my memory and the accomplishment of my wishes.
In gratitude for this service and in memory of the two occasions on which
he saved my life, I give and bequeath to the said Don Luis Perenna the
sum of one million francs."

The Prefect stopped for a few seconds. Don Luis murmured:

"Poor Cosmo! ... I should not have needed that inducement to carry out
his last wishes."

M. Desmalions continued his reading:

"Furthermore, if, within three months of my death, the investigations
made by Don Luis Perenna and by Maître Lepertuis have led to no result;
if no heir and no survivor of the Roussel family have come forward to
receive the bequest, then the whole hundred million francs shall
definitely, all later claims notwithstanding, accrue to my friend Don
Luis Perenna. I know him well enough to feel assured that he will employ
this fortune in a manner which shall accord with the loftiness of his
schemes and the greatness of the plans which he described to me so
enthusiastically in our tent in Morocco."

M. Desmalions stopped once more and raised his eyes to Don Luis, who
remained silent and impassive, though a tear glistened on his lashes.
Comte d'Astrignac said:

Online LibraryMaurice LeblancThe Teeth of the Tiger → online text (page 1 of 30)