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The Teeth of the Tiger

The Teeth of the Tiger

Author:Maurice Leblanc


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

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

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

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

  Inspector Vérot was a very stout, powerfully built man, with a big neckand shoulders and a florid complexion. He had obviously been upset bysome violent excitement, for his face, streaked with red veins andusually 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 theface.... 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: Iwas very keen on clearing up a case which Monsieur Desmalions had put inmy 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 losthis power of getting out another word. But he recovered himself with aneffort 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. ButI should have liked to see him first. I should so much have likedto 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 amonth ago, to the day. And, above all, it's a matter of preventing twomurders which are the outcome of that other crime and which are to becommitted to-night. Yes, to-night, inevitably, unless we take thenecessary 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 Préfetis sure to give you full powers--"

  "Yes, of course, of course. But, all the same, it's terrible to thinkthat I might miss him. So I wrote him this letter, telling him all I knowabout 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. Itcontains something that will serve to complete and explain the contentsof 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 ofme. I shan't be easy in my mind until some one besides myself knowsthe 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 theperspiration that was trickling down his forehead. Then, drawing himselfup, he left the office. When he was gone the secretary slipped the letterinto a big bundle of papers that lay on the Prefect's desk and went outby the door leading to his own room.

  He had hardly closed it behind him when the other door opened once againand 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 hisprivate room. But he was seized with an attack of weakness and sank intoa chair, where he remained for some minutes, moaning helplessly:

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

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

  "Why, no, it's not worth while. The Prefect will be reading myletter.... 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 forto-night. Nothing can prevent--"

  Stiffening himself with an effort of his whole will, he made for the doorof the secretary's room with little short steps, like an automaton. Buthe 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 weretoo faint, unfortunately, to be heard. He realized this and looked roundfor a bell, for a gong; but he was no longer able to distinguishanything. A veil of darkness seemed to weigh upon his eyes.

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

  He crept along this; but, as ill-luck would have it, his bewildered brainshowed him a false picture of the room, so that, instead of turning tothe 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. Hegasped, "Help! Help!" and fell at his full length in a sort of cupboardor closet which the Prefect of Police used as a dressing-room.

  "To-night!" he moaned, believing that he was making himself heard andthat he was in the secretary's room. "To-night! The job is fixed forto-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 fromhis pallid lips. His mouth munched the air like the mouth of one of thoseold men who seem to be interminably chewing the cud. His head sank lowerand lower on his breast. He heaved two or three sighs; a great shiverpassed 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 appearedto revive the flickering life of the intelligence, and to rouse fitfulgleams 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 anauthority that made him generally respected, was a heavily built man offifty with a shrewd and intelligent face. His dress, consisting of a grayjacket-suit, white spats, and a loosely flowing tie, in no way suggestedthe public official. His manners were easy, simple, and full ofgood-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 indifferent rooms."

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

  "No, Monsieur le Préfet."

  "Have you their cards?"


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

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

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


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

  "Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, and I confess that this gentlemanpuzzles 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 ArsèneLupin which he earned among his messmates for the way in which he usedto boss them and astound them! ... How long is it since the death ofArsène Lupin?"

  "It happened two years before your appointment, Monsieur le Préfet. Hiscorpse and Mme. Kesselbach's were discovered under the ruins of a littlechalet which was burnt down close to the Luxemburg frontier. It was foundat the inquest that he had strangled that monster, Mrs. Kesselbach, whosecrimes came to light afterward, and that he hanged himself after settingfire to the chalet."

  "It was a fitting end for that--rascal," said M. Desmalions, "and Iconfess 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 inheritanceready 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 gettingsomething 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 worriedair. "Where is it?"

  "Among the papers, Monsieur le Préfet."

  "Very odd: it's all very odd. Vérot is a first-rate inspector, a verysober-minded fellow; and he doesn't get frightened easily. You might goand 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 seenInspector Vérot.

  "And what's more curious still," he added, "is that the messenger who sawhim leave this room saw him come in again almost at once and did not seehim 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 distractedfor 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'llbe 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 gentlemenin.... Wait, though--"

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

  The secretary suggested:

  "In view of Vérot's absence, Monsieur le Préfet, and of what he said, itmight 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 andcut 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 envelopecontains!"


  "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 allthat he knew about the case."

  "He told you so, no doubt, but there you are! Upon my word, if Ididn't know Inspector Vérot, I should think he was trying to play agame 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'tdo to be careless when the lives of two people are at stake. For he musthave 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 hisback. He stopped at a small table.

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

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

  "Well," said M. Desmalions, who could not help laughing, "the lettercertainly 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, alittle cardboard box, which might have come from a druggist, but whichwas 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, whichwere also rather dirty, and in between these layers was half a cake ofchocolate.

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

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

  M. Desmalions remained wrapped in thought and, with his head sunk on hischest, 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 knowthe answer. That sheet of paper, the marks of those teeth: what does itall mean?"

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

  "I can't keep those five gentlemen waiting any longer. Please have themshown in now. If Inspector Vérot arrives while they are here, as he issure 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 ArchibaldBright, the Secretary of Embassy, and Caceres, the Peruvian attaché. M.Desmalions, who knew all three of them, chatted to them until he steppedforward to receive Major Comte d'Astrignac, the hero of La Chouïa, whohad been forced into premature retirement by his glorious wounds. ThePrefect was complimenting him warmly on his gallant conduct in Moroccowhen the door opened once more.

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

  The newcomer's face and expression, his way of holding himself, and hisvery 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 theforehead, 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 amongthe living?"

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

  "Perenna alive! Why, we had lost all sight of you when I left Morocco! Wethought 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 standsbefore you."

  The Prefect of Police, yielding to an irresistible attraction to resist,spent some seconds in examining that powerful face, with the smilingglance, the frank and resolute eyes, and the bronzed complexion, whichlooked 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 anddeliberate tones:

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

  He spread before him the bundle of documents prepared for him by hissecretary 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 eighteenrespectively, were living at Saint-Etienne with a cousin named Victor,who was a few years younger. The eldest, Ermeline, was the first to leaveSaint-Etienne. She went to London, where she married an Englishman of thename Mornington, by whom she had a son, who was christened Cosmo.

  "The family was very poor and went through hard times. Ermelinerepeatedly wrote to her sisters to ask for a little assistance. Receivingno reply, she broke off the correspondence altogether. In 1870 Mr. andMrs. Mornington left England for America. Five years later they wererich. Mr. Mornington died in 1878; but his widow continued to administerthe fortune bequeathed to her and, as she had a genius for business andspeculation, she increased this fortune until it attained a colossalfigure. At her decease, in 1900, she left her son the sum of four hundredmillion francs."

  The amount seemed to make an impression on the Prefect's hearers. He sawthe 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 Moroccowhen Perenna and I were fighting there."

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

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

  "Yes," said Desmalions. "To assist his recovery from a long attack ofinfluenza which had kept him in bed all the winter, Mr. Mornington, byhis doctor's orders, used to give himself injections of glycero-phosphateof soda. He must have omitted the necessary precautions on the lastoccasion when he did so, for the wound was poisoned, inflammation set inwith 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 whichyou will understand when you have heard the document read, showed meCosmo 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 wassummoned to his death-bed; and that was on the day when he sent for me tocome 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 conversationhe told me that he had been making some inquiries with a view to tracinghis mother's family, and that he intended to pursue these inquiriesseriously after his recovery. Circumstances, as it turned out, preventedhis fulfilling his purpose."

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

  "This is the will. I will ask you to listen attentively while I read itand 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 ofHubert Mornington and Ermeline Roussel, his wife, a naturalized citizenof the United States of America. I give and bequeath to my adoptedcountry three fourths of my estate, to be employed on works of charity inaccordance with the instructions, written in my hand, which MaîtreLepertuis will be good enough to forward to the Ambassador of the UnitedStates. The remainder of my property, to the value of about one hundredmillion francs, consisting of deposits in various Paris and London banks,a list of which is in the keeping of Maître Lepertuis, I give andbequeath, in memory of my dear mother, to her favourite sister ElizabethRoussel or her direct heirs; or, in default of Elizabeth and her heirs,to her second sister Armande Roussel or her direct heirs; or, in defaultof both sisters and their heirs, to their cousin Victor Roussel or hisdirect heirs.

  "In the event of my dying without discovering the surviving members ofthe Roussel family, or of the cousin of the three sisters, I request myfriend Don Luis Perenna to make all the necessary investigations. Withthis object, I hereby appoint him the executor of my will in so far asconcerns the European portion of my estate, and I beg him to undertakethe conduct of the events that may arise after my death or in consequenceof my death to consider himself my representative and to act in allthings 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 whichhe saved my life, I give and bequeath to the said Don Luis Perenna thesum 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 outhis last wishes."

  M. Desmalions continued his reading:

  "Furthermore, if, within three months of my death, the investigationsmade 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 toreceive the bequest, then the whole hundred million francs shalldefinitely, all later claims notwithstanding, accrue to my friend DonLuis Perenna. I know him well enough to feel assured that he will employthis fortune in a manner which shall accord with the loftiness of hisschemes and the greatness of the plans which he described to me soenthusiastically in our tent in Morocco."

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

  "My congratulations, Perenna."

  "Let me remind you, Major," he answered, "that this legacy is subject toa condition. And I swear that, if it depends on me, the survivors of theRoussel family shall be found."

  "I'm sure of it," said the officer. "I know you."

  "In any case," asked the Prefect of Police of Don Luis, "you do notrefuse this conditional legacy?"

  "Well, no," said Perenna, with a laugh. "There are things which onecan't refuse."

  "My question," said the Prefect, "was prompted by the last paragraph ofthe will: 'If, for any reason, my friend Perenna should refuse thislegacy, or if he should have died before the date fixed for its payment,I request the Ambassador of the United States and the Prefect of Policefor the time being to consult as to the means of building and maintainingin Paris a university confined to students and artists of Americannationality and to devote the money to this purpose. And I herebyauthorize the Prefect of Police in any case to receive a sum of threehundred thousand francs out of my estate for the benefit of the ParisPolice Fund.'"

  M. Desmalions folded the paper and took up another.

  "There is a codicil to the will. It consists of a letter which Mr.Mornington wrote to Maître Lepertuis some time after and which explainscertain points with greater precision:

  "I request Maître Lepertuis to open my will on the day after my death, inthe presence of the Prefect of Police, who will be good enough to keepthe matter an entire secret for a month. One month later, to the day, hewill have the kindness to summon to his office Maître Lepertuis, Don LuisPerenna, and a prominent member of the United States Embassy. Subsequentto the reading of the will, a cheque for one million francs shall behanded to my friend and legatee Don Luis Perenna, after a simpleexamination of his papers and a simple verification of his identity. Ishould wish this verification to be made as regards the personality byMajor Comte d'Astrignac, who was his commanding officer in Morocco, andwho unfortunately had to retire prematurely from the army; and as regardsbirth by a member of the Peruvian Legation, as Don Luis Perenna, thoughretaining his Spanish nationality, was born in Peru.

  "Furthermore, I desire that my will be not communicated to the Rousselheirs until two days later, at Maître Lepertuis's office. Finally--andthis is the last expression of my wishes as regards the disposal of myestate and the method of proceeding with that disposal--the Prefect ofPolice will be good enough to summon the persons aforesaid to his office,for a second time, at a date to be selected by himself, not less thansixty nor more than ninety days after the first meeting. Then and nottill then will the definite legatee be named and proclaimed according tohis rights, nor shall any be so named and proclaimed unless he be presentat this meeting, at the conclusion of which Don Luis Perenna, who mustalso attend it, shall become the definite legatee if, as I have said, nosurvivor nor heir of the Roussel sisters or of their cousin Victor havecome forward to claim the bequest."

  Replacing both documents in the envelope the Prefect of Police concluded:

  "You have now, gentlemen, heard the will of Mr. Cosmo Mornington, whichexplains your presence here. A sixth person will join us shortly: one ofmy detectives, whom I instructed to make the first inquiries about theRoussel family and who will give you the result of his investigations.But, for the moment, we must proceed in accordance with the testator'sdirections.

  "Don Luis Perenna's papers, which he sent me, at my request, a fortnightago, have been examined by myself and are perfectly in order. As regardshis birth, I wrote and begged his Excellency the Peruvian minister tocollect the most precise information."

  "The minister entrusted this mission to me," said Señor Caceres, thePeruvian attaché. "It offered no difficulties. Don Luis Perenna comes ofan old Spanish family which emigrated thirty years ago, but whichretained its estates and property in Europe. I knew Don Luis's father inAmerica; and he used to speak of his only son with the greatestaffection. It was our legation that informed the son, three years ago, ofhis father's death. I produce a copy of the letter sent to Morocco."

  "And I have the original letter here, among the documents forwarded byDon Luis Perenna to the Prefect of Police. Do you, Major, recognizePrivate Perenna, who fought under your orders in the Foreign Legion?"

  "I recognize him," said Comte d'Astrignac.

  "Beyond the possibility of a mistake?"

  "Beyond the possibility of a mistake and without the least feeling ofhesitation."

  The Prefect of Police, with a laugh, hinted:

  "You recognize Private Perenna, whom the men, carried away by a sort ofastounded admiration of his exploits, used to call Arsène Lupin?"

  "Yes, Monsieur le Préfet," replied the major sharply, "the one whom themen called Arsène Lupin, but whom the officers called simply the Hero,the one who we used to say was as brave as d'Artagnan, as strong asPorthos...."

  "And as mysterious as Monte Cristo," said the Prefect of Police,laughing. "I have all this in the report which I received from the FourthRegiment of the Foreign Legion. It is not necessary to read the whole ofit; but it contains the unprecedented fact that Private Perenna, in thespace of two years' time, received the military medal, received theLegion of Honour for exceptional services, and was mentioned fourteentimes in dispatches. I will pick out a detail here and there."

  "Monsieur le Préfet, I beg of you," protested Don Luis. "These aretrivial matters, of no interest to anybody; and I do not see thereason...."

  "There is every reason, on the contrary," declared M. Desmalions. "Yougentlemen are here not only to hear a will read, but also to authorizeits execution as regards the only one of its clauses that is to becarried out at once, the payment of a legacy of a million francs. Itis necessary, therefore, that all of you should know what there is toknow of the personality of the legatee. Consequently, I propose tocontinue ..."

  "In that case, Monsieur le Préfet," said Perenna, rising and making forthe door, "you will allow me ..."

  "Right about turn! Halt! ... Eyes front!" commanded Major d'Astrignac ina jesting tone.

  He dragged Don Luis back to the middle of the room and forced himinto a chair.

  "Monsieur le Préfet," he said, "I plead for mercy for my oldcomrade-in-arms, whose modesty would really be put to too severe a testif the story of his prowess were read out in front of him. Besides, thereport is here; and we can all of us consult it for ourselves. Withouthaving seen it, I second every word of praise that it contains; and Ideclare that, in the course of my whole military career, I have never meta soldier who could compare with Private Perenna. And yet I saw plenty offine fellows over there, the sort of demons whom you only find in theLegion and who will get themselves cut to bits for the sheer pleasure ofthe thing, for the lark of it, as they say, just to astonish one another.

  "But not one of them came anywhere near Perenna. The chap whom wenicknamed d'Artagnan, Porthos, and de Bussy deserved to be classed withthe most amazing heroes of legend and history. I have seen him performfeats which I should not care to relate, for fear of being treated as animpostor; feats so improbable that to-day, in my calmer moments, I wonderif I am quite sure that I did see them. One day, at Settat, as we werebeing pursued--"

  "Another word, Major," cried Don Luis, gayly, "and this time I reallywill go out! I must say you have a nice way of sparing my modesty!"

  "My dear Perenna," replied Comte d'Astrignac, "I always told you that youhad every good quality and only one fault, which was that you were not aFrenchman."

  "And I always answered, Major, that I was French on my mother's side anda Frenchman in heart and temperament. There are things which only aFrenchman can do."

  The two men again gripped each other's hands affectionately.

  "Come," said the Prefect, "we'll say no more of your feats of prowess,Monsieur, nor of this report. I will mention one thing, however, which isthat, after two years, you fell into an ambush of forty Berbers, that youwere captured, and that you did not rejoin the Legion until last month."

  "Just so, Monsieur le Préfet, in time to receive my discharge, as my fiveyears' service was up."

  "But how did Mr. Cosmo Mornington come to mention you in his will, when,at the time when he was making it, you had disappeared from view foreighteen months?"

  "Cosmo and I used to correspond."


  "Yes; and I had informed him of my approaching escape and my returnto Paris."

  "But how did you manage it? Where were you? And how did you find themeans? ..."

  Don Luis smiled without answering.

  "Monte Cristo, this time," said M. Desmalions. "The mysteriousMonte Cristo."

  "Monte Cristo, if you like, Monsieur le Préfet. In point of fact, themystery of my captivity and escape is a rather strange one. It may beinteresting to throw some light upon it one of these days. Meanwhile, Imust ask for a little credit."

  A silence ensued. M. Desmalions once more inspected this curiousindividual; and he could not refrain from saying, as though in obedienceto an association of ideas for which he himself was unable to account:

  "One word more, and one only. What were your comrades' reasons for givingyou that rather odd nickname of Arsène Lupin? Was it just an allusion toyour pluck, to your physical strength?"

  "There was something besides, Monsieur le Préfet: the discovery of a verycurious theft, of which certain details, apparently incapable ofexplanation, had enabled me to name the perpetrator."

  "So you have a gift for that sort of thing?"

  "Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, a certain knack which I had the opportunity ofemploying in Africa on more than one occasion. Hence my nickname ofArsène Lupin. It was soon after the death of the man himself, you know,and he was much spoken of at the time."

  "Was it a serious theft?"

  "It was rather; and it happened to be committed upon Cosmo Mornington,who was then living in the Province of Oran. That was really what startedour relations."

  There was a fresh silence; and Don Luis added:

  "Poor Cosmo! That incident gave him an unshakable confidence in my littledetective talents. He was always saying, 'Perenna, if I die murdered'--hehad a fixed notion in his head that he would meet with a violentdeath--'if I die murdered, swear that you will pursue the culprit.'"

  "His presentiment was not justified," said the Prefect of Police. "CosmoMornington was not murdered."

  "That's where you make a mistake, Monsieur le Préfet," said Don Luis.

  M. Desmalions gave a start.

  "What! What's that? Cosmo Mornington--?"

  "I say that Cosmo Mornington did not die, as you think, of a carelesslyadministered injection, but that he died, as he feared he would, byfoul play."

  "But, Monsieur, your assertion is based on no evidence whatever!"

  "It is based on fact, Monsieur le Préfet."

  "Were you there? Do you know anything?"

  "I was not there. A month ago I was still with the colours. I even admitthat, when I arrived in Paris, not having seen the newspapers regularly,I did not know of Cosmo's death. In fact, I learned it from you just now,Monsieur le Préfet."

  "In that case, Monsieur, you cannot know more about it than I do, and youmust accept the verdict of the doctor."

  "I am sorry, but his verdict fails to satisfy me."

  "But look here, Monsieur, what prompts you to make the accusation? Haveyou any evidence?"


  "What evidence?"

  "Your own words, Monsieur le Préfet."

  "My own words? What do you mean?"

  "I will tell you, Monsieur le Préfet. You began by saying that CosmoMornington had taken up medicine and practised it with great skill;next, you said that he had given himself an injection which,carelessly administered, set up inflammation and caused his deathwithin a few hours."


  "Well, Monsieur le Préfet, I maintain that a man who practises medicinewith great skill and who is accustomed to treating sick people, as CosmoMornington was, is incapable of giving himself a hypodermic injectionwithout first taking every necessary antiseptic precaution. I have seenCosmo at work, and I know how he set about things."


  "Well, the doctor just wrote a certificate as any doctor will when thereis no sort of clue to arouse his suspicions."

  "So your opinion is--"

  "Maître Lepertuis," asked Perenna, turning to the solicitor, "did younotice nothing unusual when you were summoned to Mr. Mornington'sdeath-bed?"

  "No, nothing. Mr. Mornington was in a state of coma."

  "It's a strange thing in itself," observed Don Luis, "that an injection,however badly administered, should produce such rapid results. Were thereno signs of suffering?"

  "No ... or rather, yes.... Yes, I remember the face showed brown patcheswhich I did not see on the occasion of my first visit."

  "Brown patches? That confirms my supposition Cosmo Mornington waspoisoned."

  "But how?" exclaimed the Prefect.

  "By some substance introduced into one of the phials ofglycero-phosphate, or into the syringe which the sick man employed."

  "But the doctor?" M. Desmalions objected.

  "Maître Lepertuis," Perenna continued, "did you call the doctor'sattention to those brown patches?"

  "Yes, but he attached no importance to them."

  "Was it his ordinary medical adviser?"

  "No, his ordinary medical adviser, Doctor Pujol, who happens to be afriend of mine and who had recommended me to him as a solicitor, was ill.The doctor whom I saw at his death-bed must have been a localpractitioner."

  "I have his name and address here," said the Prefect of Police, who hadturned up the certificate. "Doctor Bellavoine, 14 Rue d'Astorg."

  "Have you a medical directory, Monsieur le Préfet?"

  M. Desmalions opened a directory and turned over the pages. Presentlyhe declared:

  "There is no Doctor Bellavoine; and there is no doctor living at 14 Rued'Astorg."