The Teeth of the Tiger/Chapter 4
CHAPTER IV. THE CLOUDED TURQUOISEEdit
It was about nine o'clock in the morning when the Prefect of Police entered the study in which the incomprehensible tragedy of that double murder had been enacted.
He did not even bow to Don Luis; and the magistrates who accompanied him might have thought that Don Luis was merely an assistant of Sergeant Mazeroux, if the chief detective had not made it his business to tell them, in a few words, the part played by the stranger.
M. Desmalions briefly examined the two corpses and received a rapid explanation from Mazeroux. Then, returning to the hall, he went up to a drawing-room on the first floor, where Mme. Fauville, who had been informed of his visit, joined him almost at once.
Perenna, who had not stirred from the passage, slipped into the hall himself. The servants of the house, who by this time had heard of the murder, were crossing it in every direction. He went down the few stairs leading to a ground-floor landing, on which the front door opened.
There were two men there, of whom one said:
"You can't pass."
"You can't pass: those are our orders."
"Your orders? Who gave them?"
"The Prefect himself."
"No luck," said Perenna, laughing. "I have been up all night and I am starving. Is there no way of getting something to eat?"
The two policemen exchanged glances and one of them beckoned to Silvestre and spoke to him. Silvestre went toward the dining-room, and returned with a horseshoe roll.
"Good," thought Don Luis, after thanking him. "This settles it. I'm nabbed. That's what I wanted to know. But M. Desmalions is deficient in logic. For, if it's Arsène Lupin whom he means to detain here, all these worthy plain-clothesmen are hardly enough; and, if it's Don Luis Perenna, they are superfluous, because the flight of Master Perenna would deprive Master Perenna of every chance of seeing the colour of my poor Cosmo's shekels. Having said which, I will take a chair."
He resumed his seat in the passage and awaited events.
Through the open door of the study he saw the magistrates pursuing their investigations. The divisional surgeon made a first examination of the two bodies and at once recognized the same symptoms of poisoning which he himself had perceived, the evening before, on the corpse of Inspector Vérot.
Next, the detectives took up the bodies and carried them to the adjoining bedrooms which the father and son formerly occupied on the second floor of the house.
The Prefect of Police then came downstairs; and Don Luis heard him say to the magistrates:
"Poor woman! She refused to understand.... When at last she understood, she fell to the ground in a dead faint. Only think, her husband and her son at one blow!... Poor thing!"
From that moment Perenna heard and saw nothing. The door was shut. The Prefect must afterward have given some order through the outside, through the communication with the front door offered by the garden, for the two detectives came and took up their positions in the hall, at the entrance to the passage, on the right and left of the dividing curtain.
"One thing's certain," thought Don Luis. "My shares are not booming. What a state Alexandre must be in! Oh, what a state!"
At twelve o'clock Silvestre brought him some food on a tray.
And the long and painful wait began anew.
In the study and in the house, the inquiry, which had been adjourned for lunch, was resumed. Perenna heard footsteps and the sound of voices on every side. At last, feeling tired and bored, he leaned back in his chair and fell asleep.
* * * * *
It was four o'clock when Sergeant Mazeroux came and woke him. As he led him to the study, Mazeroux whispered:
"Well, have you discovered him?"
"Of course!" said Perenna. "It's as easy as shelling peas!"
"That's a good thing!" said Mazeroux, greatly relieved and failing to see the joke. "But for that, as you saw for yourself, you would have been done for."
Don Luis entered. In the room were the public prosecutor, the examining magistrate, the chief detective, the local commissary of police, two inspectors, and three constables in uniform.
Outside, on the Boulevard Suchet, shouts were raised; and, when the commissary and his three policemen went out, by the Prefect's orders, to listen to the crowd, the hoarse voice of a newsboy was heard shouting:
"The double murder on the Boulevard Suchet! Full particulars of the death of Inspector Vérot! The police at a loss!--"
Then, when the door was closed, all was silent.
"Mazeroux was quite right," thought Don Luis. "It's I or the other one: that's clear. Unless the words that will be spoken and the facts that will come to light in the course of this examination supply me with some clue that will enable me to give them the name of that mysterious X, they'll surrender me this evening for the people to batten on. Attention, Lupin, old chap, the great game is about to commence!"
He felt that thrill of delight which always ran through him at the approach of the great struggles. This one, indeed, might be numbered among the most terrible that he had yet sustained.
He knew the Prefect's reputation, his experience, his tenacity, and the keen pleasure which he took in conducting important inquiries and in personally pushing them to a conclusion before placing them in the magistrate's hands; and he also knew all the professional qualities of the chief detective, and all the subtlety, all the penetrating logic possessed by the examining magistrate.
The Prefect of Police himself directed the attack. He did so in a straightforward fashion, without beating about the bush, and in a rather harsh voice, which had lost its former tone of sympathy for Don Luis. His attitude also was more formal and lacked that geniality which had struck Don Luis on the previous day.
"Monsieur," he said, "circumstances having brought about that, as the residuary legatee and representative of Mr. Cosmo Mornington, you spent the night on this ground floor while a double murder was being committed here, we wish to receive your detailed evidence as to the different incidents that occurred last night."
"In other words, Monsieur le Préfet," said Perenna, replying directly to the attack, "in other words, circumstances having brought about that you authorized me to spend the night here, you would like to know if my evidence corresponds at all points with that of Sergeant Mazeroux?"
"Meaning that the part played by myself strikes you as suspicious?"
M. Desmalions hesitated. His eyes met Don Luis's eyes; and he was visibly impressed by the other's frank glance. Nevertheless he replied, plainly and bluntly:
"It is not for you to ask me questions, Monsieur."
Don Luis bowed.
"I am at your orders, Monsieur le Préfet."
"Please tell us what you know."
Don Luis thereupon gave a minute account of events, after which M. Desmalions reflected for a few moments and said:
"There is one point on which we want to be informed. When you entered this room at half-past two this morning and sat down beside M. Fauville, was there nothing to tell you that he was dead?"
"Nothing, Monsieur le Préfet. Otherwise, Sergeant Mazeroux and I would have given the alarm."
"Was the garden door shut?"
"It must have been, as we had to unlock it at seven o'clock."
"With the key on the bunch."
"But how could the murderers, coming from the outside, have opened it?"
"With false keys."
"Have you a proof which allows you to suppose that it was opened with false keys?"
"No, Monsieur le Préfet."
"Therefore, until we have proofs to the contrary, we are bound to believe that it was not opened from the outside, and that the criminal was inside the house."
"But, Monsieur le Préfet, there was no one here but Sergeant Mazeroux and myself!"
There was a silence, a pause whose meaning admitted of no doubt. M. Desmalions's next words gave it an even more precise value.
"You did not sleep during the night?"
"Yes, toward the end."
"You did not sleep before, while you were in the passage?"
"And Sergeant Mazeroux?"
Don Luis remained undecided for a moment; but how could he hope that the honest and scrupulous Mazeroux had disobeyed the dictates of his conscience?
"Sergeant Mazeroux went to sleep in his chair and did not wake until Mme. Fauville returned, two hours later."
There was a fresh silence, which evidently meant:
"So, during the two hours when Sergeant Mazeroux was asleep, it was physically possible for you to open the door and kill the two Fauvilles."
The examination was taking the course which Perenna had foreseen; and the circle was drawing closer and closer around him. His adversary was conducting the contest with a logic and vigour which he admired without reserve.
"By Jove!" he thought. "How difficult it is to defend one's self when one is innocent. There's my right wing and my left wing driven in. Will my centre be able to stand the assault?"
M. Desmalions, after a whispered colloquy with the examining magistrate, resumed his questions in these terms:
"Yesterday evening, when M. Fauville opened his safe in your presence and the sergeant's, what was in the safe?"
"A heap of papers, on one of the shelves; and, among those papers, the diary in drab cloth which has since disappeared."
"You did not touch those papers?"
"Neither the papers nor the safe, Monsieur le Préfet. Sergeant Mazeroux must have told you that he made me stand aside, to insure the regularity of the inquiry."
"So you never came into the slightest contact with the safe?"
"Not the slightest."
M. Desmalions looked at the examining magistrate and nodded his head. Had Perenna been able to doubt that a trap was being laid for him, a glance at Mazeroux would have told him all about it. Mazeroux was ashen gray.
Meanwhile, M. Desmalions continued:
"You have taken part in inquiries, Monsieur, in police inquiries. Therefore, in putting my next question to you, I consider that I am addressing it to a tried detective."
"I will answer your question, Monsieur le Préfet, to the best of my ability."
"Here it is, then: Supposing that there were at this moment in the safe an object of some kind, a jewel, let us say, a diamond out of a tie pin, and that this diamond had come from a tie pin which belonged to somebody whom we knew, somebody who had spent the night in this house, what would you think of the coincidence?"
"There we are," said Perenna to himself. "There's the trap. It's clear that they've found something in the safe, and next, that they imagine that this something belongs to me. Good! But, in that case, we must presume, as I have not touched the safe, that the thing was taken from me and put in the safe to compromise me. But I did not have a finger in this pie until yesterday; and it is impossible that, during last night, when I saw nobody, any one can have had time to prepare and contrive such a determined plot against me. So--"
The Prefect of Police interrupted this silent monologue by repeating:
"What would be your opinion?"
"There would be an undeniable connection between that person's presence in the house and the two crimes that had been committed."
"Consequently, we should have the right at least to suspect the person?"
"That is your view?"
M. Desmalions produced a piece of tissue paper from his pocket and took from it a little blue stone, which he displayed.
"Here is a turquoise which we found in the safe. It belongs, without a shadow of a doubt, to the ring which you are wearing on your finger."
Don Luis was seized with a fit of rage. He half grated, through his clenched teeth:
"Oh, the rascals! How clever they are! But no, I can't believe--"
He looked at his ring, which was formed of a large, clouded, dead turquoise, surrounded by a circle of small, irregular turquoises, also of a very pale blue. One of these was missing; and the one which M. Desmalions had in his hand fitted the place exactly.
"What do you say?" asked M. Desmalions.
"I say that this turquoise belongs to my ring, which was given me by Cosmo Mornington on the first occasion that I saved his life."
"So we are agreed?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, we are agreed."
Don Luis Perenna began to walk across the room, reflecting. The movement which the two detectives made toward the two doors told him that his arrest was provided for. A word from M. Desmalions, and Sergeant Mazeroux would be forced to take his chief by the collar.
Don Luis once more gave a glance toward his former accomplice. Mazeroux made a gesture of entreaty, as though to say:
"Well, what are you waiting for? Why don't you give up the criminal? Quick, it's time!"
Don Luis smiled.
"What's the matter?" asked the Prefect, in a tone that now entirely lacked the sort of involuntary politeness which he had shown since the commencement of the examination.
"The matter? The matter?--"
Perenna seized a chair by the back, spun it round and sat down upon it, with the simple remark:
And this was said in such a way and the movement executed with so much decision that the Prefect muttered, as though wavering:
"I don't quite see--"
"You soon will, Monsieur le Préfet."
And, speaking in a slow voice, laying stress on every syllable that he uttered, he began:
"Monsieur le Préfet, the position is as clear as daylight. Yesterday evening you gave me an authorization which involves your responsibility most gravely. The result is that what you now want, at all costs and without delay, is a culprit. And that culprit is to be myself. By way of incriminating evidence, you have the fact of my presence here, the fact the door was locked on the inside, the fact that Sergeant Mazeroux was asleep while the crime was committed, and the fact of the discovery of the turquoise in the safe. All this is crushing, I admit. Added to it," he continued, "we have the terrible presumption that I had every interest in the removal of M. Fauville and his son, inasmuch as, if there is no heir of Cosmo Mornington's in existence, I come into a hundred million francs. Exactly. There is therefore nothing for me to do, Monsieur le Préfet, but to go with you to the lockup or else--"
"Or else what?"
"Or else hand over to you the criminal, the real criminal."
The Prefect of Police smiled and took out his watch.
"I'm waiting," he said.
"It will take me just an hour, Monsieur le Préfet, and no more, if you give me every latitude. And the search of the truth, it seems to me, is worth a little patience."
"I'm waiting," repeated M. Desmalions.
"Sergeant Mazeroux, please tell Silvestre, the manservant, that Monsieur le Préfet wishes to see him."
Upon a sign from M. Desmalions, Mazeroux went out.
Don Luis explained his motive.
"Monsieur le Préfet, whereas the discovery of the turquoise constitutes in your eyes an extremely serious proof against me, to me it is a revelation of the highest importance. I will tell you why. That turquoise must have fallen from my ring last evening and rolled on the carpet.
"Now there are only four persons," he continued, "who can have noticed this fall when it happened, picked up the turquoise and, in order to compromise the new adversary that I was, slipped it into the safe. The first of those four persons is one of your detectives, Sergeant Mazeroux, of whom we will not speak. The second is dead: I refer to M. Fauville. We will not speak of him. The third is Silvestre, the manservant. I should like to say a few words to him. I shall not take long."
Silvestre's examination, in fact, was soon over. He was able to prove that, pending the return of Mme. Fauville, for whom he had to open the door, he had not left the kitchen, where he was playing at cards with the lady's maid and another manservant.
"Very well," said Perenna. "One word more. You must have read in this morning's papers of the death of Inspector Vérot and seen his portrait."
"Do you know Inspector Vérot?"
"Still, it is probable that he came here yesterday, during the day."
"I can't say," replied the servant. "M. Fauville used to receive many visitors through the garden and let them in himself."
"You have no more evidence to give?"
"Please tell Mme. Fauville that Monsieur le Préfet would be very much obliged if he could have a word with her."
Silvestre left the room.
The examining magistrate and the public prosecutor had drawn nearer in astonishment.
The Prefect exclaimed:
"What, Monsieur! You don't mean to pretend that Mme. Fauville is mixed up--"
"Monsieur le Préfet, Mme. Fauville is the fourth person who may have seen the turquoise drop out of my ring."
"And what then? Have we the right, in the absence of any real proof, to suppose that a woman can kill her husband, that a mother can poison her son?"
"I am supposing nothing, Monsieur le Préfet."
Don Luis made no reply. M. Desmalions did not conceal his irritation. However, he said:
"Very well; but I order you most positively to remain silent. What questions am I to put to Mme. Fauville?"
"One only, Monsieur le Préfet: ask Mme. Fauville if she knows any one, apart from her husband, who is descended from the sisters Roussel."
"Why that question?"
"Because, if that descendant exists, it is not I who will inherit the millions, but he; and then it will be he and not I who would be interested in the removal of M. Fauville and his son."
"Of course, of course," muttered M. Desmalions. "But even so, this new trail--"
Mme. Fauville entered as he was speaking. Her face remained charming and pretty in spite of the tears that had reddened her eyelids and impaired the freshness of her cheeks. But her eyes expressed the scare of terror; and the obsession of the tragedy imparted to all her attractive personality, to her gait and to her movements, something feverish and spasmodic that was painful to look upon.
"Pray sit down, Madame," said the Prefect, speaking with the height of deference, "and forgive me for inflicting any additional emotion upon you. But time is precious; and we must do everything to make sure that the two victims whose loss you are mourning shall be avenged without delay."
Tears were still streaming from her beautiful eyes; and, with a sob, she stammered:
"If the police need me, Monsieur le Préfet--"
"Yes, it is a question of obtaining a few particulars. Your husband's mother is dead, is she not?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet."
"Am I correct in saying that she came from Saint-Etienne and that her maiden name was Roussel?"
"Had your husband any brothers or sisters?"
"Therefore there is no descendant of Elizabeth Roussel living?"
"Very well. But Elizabeth Roussel had two sisters, did she not?"
"Ermeline Roussel, the elder, went abroad and was not heard of again. The other, the younger--"
"The other was called Armande Roussel. She was my mother."
"Eh? What do you say?"
"I said my mother's maiden name was Armande Roussel, and I married my cousin, the son of Elizabeth Roussel."
The statement had the effect of a thunderclap. So, upon the death of Hippolyte Fauville and his son Edmond, the direct descendants of the eldest sister, Cosmo Mornington's inheritance passed to the other branch, that of Armande Roussel; and this branch was represented so far by Mme. Fauville!
The Prefect of Police and the examining magistrate exchanged glances and both instinctively turned toward Don Luis Perenna, who did not move a muscle.
"Have you no brother or sister, Madame?" asked the Prefect.
"No, Monsieur le Préfet, I am the only one."
The only one! In other words, now that her husband and son were dead, Cosmo Mornington's millions reverted absolutely and undeniably to her, to her alone.
Meanwhile, a hideous idea weighed like a nightmare upon the magistrates and they could not rid themselves of it: the woman sitting before them was the mother of Edmond Fauville. M. Desmalions had his eyes on Don Luis Perenna, who wrote a few words on a card and handed it to the Prefect.
M. Desmalions, who was gradually resuming toward Don Luis his courteous attitude of the day before, read it, reflected a moment, and put this question to Mme. Fauville:
"What was your son Edmond's age?"
"You look so young--"
"Edmond was not my son, but my stepson, the son of my husband by his first wife, who died,"
"Ah! So Edmond Fauville--" muttered the Prefect, without finishing his sentence.
In two minutes the whole situation had changed. In the eyes of the magistrates, Mme. Fauville was no longer the widow and mother who must on no account be attacked. She had suddenly become a woman whom circumstances compelled them to cross-examine. However prejudiced they might be in her favour, however charmed by the seductive qualities of her beauty, they were inevitably bound to ask themselves, whether for some reason or other, for instance, in order to be alone in the enjoyment of the enormous fortune, she had not had the madness to kill her husband and to kill the boy who was only her husband's son. In any case, the question was there, calling for a solution.
The Prefect of Police continued:
"Do you know this turquoise?"
She took the stone which he held out to her and examined it without the least sign of confusion.
"No," she said. "I have an old-fashioned turquoise necklace, which I never wear, but the stones are larger and none of them has this irregular shape."
"We found this one in the safe," said M. Desmalions. "It forms part of a ring belonging to a person whom we know."
"Well," she said eagerly, "you must find that person."
"He is here," said the Prefect, pointing to Don Luis, who had been standing some way off and who had not been noticed by Mme. Fauville.
She started at the sight of Perenna and cried, very excitedly:
"But that gentleman was here yesterday evening! He was talking to my husband--and so was that other gentleman," she said, referring to Sergeant Mazeroux. "You must question them, find out why they were here. You understand that, if the turquoise belonged to one of them--"
The insinuation was direct, but clumsy; and it lent the greatest weight to Perenna's unspoken argument:
"The turquoise was picked up by some one who saw me yesterday and who wishes to compromise me. Apart from M. Fauville and the detective sergeant, only two people saw me: Silvestre, the manservant, and Mme. Fauville. Consequently, as Silvestre is outside the question, I accuse Mme. Fauville of putting the turquoise in the safe."
M. Desmalions asked:
"Will you let me see the necklace, Madame?"
"Certainly. It is with my other jewels, in my wardrobe. I will go for it."
"Pray don't trouble, Madame. Does your maid know the necklace?"
"In that case, Sergeant Mazeroux will tell her what is wanted."
* * * * *
Not a word was spoken during the few minutes for which Mazeroux was absent. Mme. Fauville seemed absorbed in her grief. M. Desmalions kept his eyes fixed on her.
The sergeant returned, carrying a very large box containing a number of jewel-cases and loose ornaments.
M. Desmalions found the necklace, examined it, and realized, in fact, that the stones did not resemble the turquoise and that none of them was missing. But, on separating two jewel cases in order to take out a tiara which also contained blue stones, he made a gesture of surprise.
"What are these two keys?" he asked, pointing to two keys identical in shape and size with those which opened the lock and the bolt of the garden door.
Mme. Fauville remained very calm. Not a muscle of her face moved. Nothing pointed to the least perturbation on account of this discovery. She merely said:
"I don't know. They have been there a long time."
"Mazeroux," said M. Desmalions, "try them on that door."
Mazeroux did so. The door opened.
"Yes," said Mme. Fauville. "I remember now, my husband gave them to me. They were duplicates of his own keys--"
The words were uttered in the most natural tone and as though the speaker did not even suspect the terrible charge that was forming against her.
And nothing was more agonizing than this tranquillity. Was it a sign of absolute innocence, or the infernal craft of a criminal whom nothing is able to stir? Did she realize nothing of the tragedy which was taking place and of which she was the unconscious heroine? Or did she guess the terrible accusation which was gradually closing in upon her on every side and which threatened her with the most awful danger? But, in that case, how could she have been guilty of the extraordinary blunder of keeping those two keys?
A series of questions suggested itself to the minds of all those present. The Prefect of Police put them as follows:
"You were out, Madame, were you not, when the murders were committed?"
"You were at the opera?"
"Yes; and I went on to a party at the house of one of my friends, Mme. d'Ersingen."
"Did your chauffeur drive you?"
"To the opera, yes. But I sent him back to his garage; and he came to fetch me at the party."
"I see," said M. Desmalions. "But how did you go from the opera to Mme. d'Ersingen's?"
For the first time, Mme. Fauville seemed to understand that she was the victim of a regular cross-examination; and her look and attitude betrayed a certain uneasiness. She replied:
"I took a motor cab."
"In the street?"
"On the Place de l'Opéra."
"At twelve o'clock, therefore?"
"No, at half-past eleven: I left before the opera was over."
"You were in a hurry to get to your friend's?"
"Yes ... or rather--"
She stopped; her cheeks were scarlet; her lips and chin trembled; and she asked:
"Why do you ask me all these questions?"
"They are necessary, Madame. They may throw a light on what we want to know. I beg you, therefore, to answer them. At what time did you reach your friend's house?"
"I hardly know. I did not notice the time."
"Did you go straight there?"
"How do you mean, almost?"
"I had a little headache and told the driver to go up the Champs Elysées and the Avenue du Bois--very slowly--and then down the Champs Elysées again--"
She was becoming more and more embarrassed. Her voice grew indistinct. She lowered her head and was silent.
Certainly her silence contained no confession, and there was nothing entitling any one to believe that her dejection was other than a consequence of her grief. But yet she seemed so weary as to give the impression that, feeling herself lost, she was giving up the fight. And it was almost a feeling of pity that was entertained for this woman against whom all the circumstances seemed to be conspiring, and who defended herself so badly that her cross-examiner hesitated to press her yet further.
M. Desmalions, in fact, wore an irresolute air, as if the victory had been too easy, and as if he had some scruple about pursuing it.
Mechanically he observed Perenna, who passed him a slip of paper, saying:
"Mme. d'Ersingen's telephone number."
M. Desmalions murmured:
"Yes, true, they may know--"
And, taking down the receiver, he asked for number 325.04. He was connected at once and continued:
"Who is that speaking?... The butler? Ah! Is Mme. d'Ersingen at home?... No?... Or Monsieur?... Not he, either?... Never mind, you can tell me what I want to know. I am M. Desmalions, the Prefect of Police, and I need certain information. At what time did Mme. Fauville come last night?... What do you say?... Are you sure?... At two o'clock in the morning?... Not before?... And she went away?... In ten minutes time?... Good ... But you're certain you are not mistaken about the time when she arrived? I must know this positively: it is most important.... You say it was two o'clock in the morning? Two o'clock in the morning?... Very well.... Thank you."
When M. Desmalions turned round, he saw Mme. Fauville standing beside him and looking at him with an expression of mad anguish. And one and the same idea occurred to the mind of all the onlookers. They were in the presence either of an absolutely innocent woman or else of an exceptional actress whose face lent itself to the most perfect simulation of innocence.
"What do you want?" she stammered. "What does this mean? Explain yourself!"
Then M. Desmalions asked simply:
"What were you doing last night between half-past eleven in the evening and two o'clock in the morning?"
It was a terrifying question at the stage which the examination had reached, a fatal question implying:
"If you cannot give us an exact and strict account of the way in which you employed your time while the crime was being committed, we have the right to conclude that you were not alien to the murder of your husband and stepson--"
She understood it in this sense and staggered on her feet, moaning:
"It's horrible!... horrible!"
The Prefect repeated:
"What were you doing? The question must be quite easy to answer."
"Oh," she cried, in the same piteous tone, "how can you believe!... Oh, no, no, it's not possible! How can you believe!"
"I believe nothing yet," he said. "Besides, you can establish the truth with a single word."
It seemed, from the movement of her lips and the sudden gesture of resolution that shook her frame, as though she were about to speak that word. But all at once she appeared stupefied and dumfounded, pronounced a few unintelligible syllables, and fell huddled into a chair, sobbing convulsively and uttering cries of despair.
It was tantamount to a confession. At the very least, it was a confession of her inability to supply the plausible explanation which would have put an end to the discussion.
The Prefect of Police moved away from her and spoke in a low voice to the examining magistrate and the public prosecutor. Perenna and Sergeant Mazeroux were left alone together, side by side.
"What did I tell you? I knew you would find out! Oh, what a man you are! The way you managed!"
He was beaming at the thought that the chief was clear of the matter and that he had no more crows to pluck with his, Mazeroux's, superiors, whom he revered almost as much as he did the chief. Everybody was now agreed; they were "friends all round"; and Mazeroux was choking with delight.
"They'll lock her up, eh?"
"No," said Perenna. "There's not enough 'hold' on her for them to issue a warrant."
"What!" growled Mazeroux indignantly. "Not enough hold? I hope, in any case, that you won't let her go. She made no bones, you know, about attacking you! Come, Chief, polish her off, a she-devil like that!"
Don Luis remained pensive. He was thinking of the unheard-of coincidences, the accumulation of facts that bore down on Mme. Fauville from every side. And the decisive proof which would join all these different facts together and give to the accusation the grounds which it still lacked was one which Perenna was able to supply. This was the marks of the teeth in the apple hidden among the shrubs in the garden. To the police these would be as good as any fingerprint, all the more as they could compare the marks with those on the cake of chocolate.
Nevertheless, he hesitated; and, concentrating his anxious attention, he watched, with mingled feelings of pity and repulsion, that woman who, to all seeming, had killed her husband and her husband's son. Was he to give her the finishing stroke? Had he the right to play the part of judge? And supposing he were wrong?
* * * * *
Meantime, M. Desmalions had walked up to him and, while pretending to speak to Mazeroux, was really asking Perenna:
"What do you think of it?"
Mazeroux shook his head. Perenna replied:
"I think, Monsieur le Préfet, that, if this woman is guilty, she is defending herself, for all her cleverness, with inconceivable lack of skill."
"Meaning that she was doubtless only a tool in the hands of an accomplice."
"Remember, Monsieur le Préfet, her husband's exclamation in your office yesterday: 'Oh, the scoundrels! the scoundrels!' There is, therefore, at least one accomplice, who perhaps is the same as the man who was present, as Sergeant Mazeroux must have told you, in the Café du Pont-Neuf when Inspector Vérot was last there: a man with a reddish-brown beard, carrying an ebony walking-stick with a silver handle. So that--"
"So that," said M. Desmalions, completing the sentence, "by arresting Mme. Fauville to-day, merely on suspicion, we have a chance of laying our hands on the accomplice."
Perenna did not reply. The Prefect continued, thoughtfully:
"Arrest her ... arrest her.... We should need a proof for that.... Did you receive no clue?"
"None at all, Monsieur le Préfet. True, my search was only summary."
"But ours was most minute. We have been through every corner of the room."
"And the garden, Monsieur le Préfet?"
"The garden also."
"With the same care?"
"Perhaps not.... But I think--"
"I think, on the contrary, Monsieur le Préfet, that, as the murderers passed through the garden in coming and going, there might be a chance--"
"Mazeroux," said M. Desmalions, "go outside and make a more thorough inspection."
The sergeant went out. Perenna, who was once more standing at one side, heard the Prefect of Police repeating to the examining magistrate:
"Ah, if we only had a proof, just one! The woman is evidently guilty. The presumption against her is too great! ... And then there are Cosmo Mornington's millions.... But, on the other hand, look at her ... look at all the honesty in that pretty face of hers, look at all the sincerity of her grief."
She was still crying, with fitful sobs and starts of indignant protest that made her clench her fists. At one moment she took her tear-soaked handkerchief, bit it with her teeth and tore it, after the manner of certain actresses.
Perenna saw those beautiful white teeth, a little wide, moist and gleaming, rending the dainty cambric. And he thought of the marks of teeth on the apple. And he was seized with an extreme longing to know the truth. Was it the same pair of jaws that had left its impress in the pulp of the fruit?
Mazeroux returned. M. Desmalions moved briskly toward the sergeant, who showed him the apple which he had found under the ivy. And Perenna at once realized the supreme importance which the Prefect of Police attached to Mazeroux's explanations and to his unexpected discovery.
A conversation of some length took place between the magistrates and ended in the decision which Don Luis foresaw. M. Desmalions walked across the room to Mme. Fauville. It was the catastrophe. He reflected for a second on the manner in which he should open this final contest, and then he asked:
"Are you still unable, Madame, to tell us how you employed your time last night?"
She made an effort and whispered:
"Yes, yes.... I took a taxi and drove about. ... I also walked a little--"
"That is a fact which we can easily verify when we have found the driver of the taxi. Meanwhile, there is an opportunity of removing the somewhat ... grievous impression which your silence has left on our minds."
"I am quite ready--"
"It is this: the person or one of the persons who took part in the crime appears to have bitten into an apple which was afterward thrown away in the garden and which has just been found. To put an end to any suppositions concerning yourself, we should like you to perform the same action."
"Oh, certainly!" she cried, eagerly. "If this is all you need to convince you--"
She took one of the three apples which Desmalions handed her from the dish and lifted it to her mouth.
It was a decisive act. If the two marks resembled each other, the proof existed, assured and undeniable.
Before completing her movement, she stopped short, as though seized with a sudden fear.... Fear of what? Fear of the monstrous chance that might be her undoing? Or fear rather of the dread weapon which she was about to deliver against herself? In any case nothing accused her with greater directness than this last hesitation, which was incomprehensible if she was innocent, but clear as day if she was guilty!
"What are you afraid of, Madame?" asked M. Desmalions.
"Nothing, nothing," she said, shuddering. "I don't know.... I am afraid of everything.... It is all so horrible--"
"But, Madame, I assure you that what we are asking of you has no sort of importance and, I am persuaded, can only have a fortunate result for you. If you don't mind, therefore--"
She raised her hand higher and yet higher, with a slowness that betrayed her uneasiness. And really, in the fashion in which things were happening, the scene was marked by a certain solemnity and tragedy that wrung every heart.
"And, if I refuse?" she asked, suddenly.
"You are absolutely entitled to refuse," said the Prefect of Police. "But is it worth while, Madame? I am sure that your counsel would be the first to advise you--"
"My counsel?" she stammered, understanding the formidable meaning conveyed by that reply.
And, suddenly, with a fierce resolve and the almost ferocious air that contorts the face when great dangers threaten, she made the movement which they were pressing her to make. She opened her mouth. They saw the gleam of the white teeth. At one bite, the white teeth dug into the fruit.
"There you are, Monsieur," she said.
M. Desmalions turned to the examining magistrate.
"Have you the apple found in the garden?"
"Here, Monsieur le Préfet."
M. Desmalions put the two apples side by side.
And those who crowded round him, anxiously looking on, all uttered one exclamation.
The two marks of teeth were identical.
Identical! Certainly, before declaring the identity of every detail, the absolute analogy of the marks of each tooth, they must wait for the results of the expert's report. But there was one thing which there was no mistaking and that was the complete similarity of the two curves.
In either fruit the rounded arch was bent according to the same inflection. The two semicircles could have fitted one into the other, both very narrow, both a little long-shaped and oval and of a restricted radius which was the very character of the jaw.
The men did not speak a word. M. Desmalions raised his head. Mme. Fauville did not move, stood livid and mad with terror. But all the sentiments of terror, stupor and indignation that she might simulate with her mobile face and her immense gifts as an actress, did not prevail against the compelling proof that presented itself to every eye.
The two imprints were identical! The same teeth had bitten into both apples!
"Madame--" the Prefect of Police began.
"No, no," she cried, seized with a fit of fury, "no, it's not true.... This is all just a nightmare.... No, you are never going to arrest me? I in prison! Why, it's horrible!... What have I done? Oh, I swear that you are mistaken--"
She took her head between her hands.
"Oh, my brain is throbbing as if it would burst! What does all this mean? I have done no wrong.... I knew nothing. It was you who told me this morning.... Could I have suspected? My poor husband ... and that dear Edmond who loved me ... and whom I loved! Why should I have killed them? Tell me that! Why don't you answer?" she demanded. "People don't commit murder without a motive.... Well?... Well?... Answer me, can't you?"
And once more convulsed with anger, standing in an aggressive attitude, with her clenched hands outstretched at the group of magistrates, she screamed:
"You're no better than butchers ... you have no right to torture a woman like this.... Oh, how horrible! To accuse me ... to arrest me ... for nothing! ... Oh, it's abominable! ... What butchers you all are! ... And it's you in particular," addressing Perenna, "it's you--yes, I know--it's you who are the enemy.
"Oh, I understand! You had your reasons, you were here last night.... Then why don't they arrest you? Why not you, as you were here and I was not and know nothing, absolutely nothing of what happened.... Why isn't it you?"
The last words were pronounced in a hardly intelligible fashion. She had no strength left. She had to sit down, with her head bent over her knees, and she wept once more, abundantly.
Perenna went up to her and, raising her forehead and uncovering the tear-stained face, said:
"The imprints of teeth in both apples are absolutely identical. There is therefore no doubt whatever but that the first comes from you as well as the second."
"No!" she said.
"Yes," he affirmed. "That is a fact which it is materially impossible to deny. But the first impression may have been left by you before last night, that is to say, you may have bitten that apple yesterday, for instance--"
"Do you think so? Yes, perhaps, I seem to remember--yesterday morning--"
But the Prefect of Police interrupted her.
"It is useless, Madame; I have just questioned your servant, Silvestre. He bought the fruit himself at eight o'clock last evening. When M. Fauville went to bed, there were four apples in the dish. At eight o'clock this morning there were only three. Therefore the one found in the garden is incontestably the fourth; and this fourth apple was marked last night. And the mark is the mark of your teeth."
"It was not I ... it was not I ... that mark is not mine."
"That mark is not mine.... I swear it as I hope to be saved.... And I also swear that I shall die, yes, die.... I prefer death to prison.... I shall kill myself.... I shall kill myself--"
Her eyes were staring before her. She stiffened her muscles and made a supreme effort to rise from her chair. But, once on her feet, she tottered and fell fainting on the floor.
While she was being seen to, Mazeroux beckoned to Don Luis and whispered:
"Clear out, Chief."
"Ah, so the orders are revoked? I'm free?"
"Chief, take a look at the beggar who came in ten minutes ago and who's talking to the Prefect. Do you know him?"
"Hang it all!" said Perenna, after glancing at a large red-faced man who did not take his eyes off him. "Hang it, it's Weber, the deputy chief!"
"And he's recognized you, Chief! He recognized Lupin at first sight. There's no fake that he can't see through. He's got the knack of it. Well, Chief, just think of all the tricks you've played on him and ask yourself if he'll stick at anything to have his revenge!"
"And you think he has told the Prefect?"
"Of course he has; and the Prefect has ordered my mates to keep you in view. If you make the least show of trying to escape them, they'll collar you."
"In that case, there's nothing to be done?"
"Nothing to be done? Why, it's a question of putting them off your scent and mighty quickly!"
"What good would that do me, as I'm going home and they know where I live?"
"Eh, what? Can you have the cheek to go home after what's happened?"
"Where do you expect me to sleep? Under the bridges?"
"But, dash it all, don't you understand that, after this job, there will be the most infernal stir, that you're compromised up to the neck as it is, and that everybody will turn against you?"
"Drop the business."
"And the murderers of Cosmo Mornington and the Fauvilles?"
"The police will see to that."
"Alexandre, you're an ass."
"Then become Lupin again, the invisible, impregnable Lupin, and do your own fighting, as you used to. But in Heaven's name don't remain Perenna! It is too dangerous. And don't occupy yourself officially with a business in which you are not interested."
"The things you say, Alexandre! I am interested in it to the tune of a hundred millions. If Perenna does not stick to his post, the hundred millions will be snatched from under his nose. And, on the one occasion when I can earn a few honest centimes, that would be most annoying."
"And, if they arrest you?"
"No go! I'm dead!"
"Lupin is dead. But Perenna is alive."
"As they haven't arrested me to-day, I'm easy in my mind."
"It's only put off. And the orders are strict from this moment onward. They mean to surround your house and to keep watch day and night."
"Capital. I always was frightened at night."
"But, good Lord! what are you hoping for?"
"I hope for nothing, Alexandre. I am sure. I am sure now that they will not dare arrest me."
"Do you imagine that Weber will stand on ceremony?"
"I don't care a hang about Weber. Without orders, Weber can do nothing."
"But they'll give him his orders."
"The order to shadow me, yes; to arrest me, no. The Prefect of Police has committed himself about me to such an extent that he will be obliged to back me up. And then there's this: the whole affair is so absurd, so complicated, that you people will never find your way out of it alone. Sooner or later, you will come and fetch me. For there is no one but myself able to fight such adversaries as these: not you nor Weber, nor any of your pals at the detective office. I shall expect your visit, Alexandre."
On the next day an expert examination identified the tooth prints on the two apples and likewise established the fact that the print on the cake of chocolate was similar to the others.
Also, the driver of a taxicab came and gave evidence that a lady engaged him as she left the opera, told him to drive her straight to the end of the Avenue Henri Martin, and left the cab on reaching that spot.
Now the end of the Avenue Henri Martin was within five minutes' walk of the Fauvilles' house.
The man was brought into Mme. Fauville's presence and recognized her at once.
What had she done in that neighbourhood for over an hour?
Marie Fauville was taken to the central lockup, was entered on the register, and slept, that night, at the Saint-Lazare prison.
That same day, when the reporters were beginning to publish details of the investigation, such as the discovery of the tooth prints, but when they did not yet know to whom to attribute them, two of the leading dailies used as a headline for their article the very words which Don Luis Perenna had employed to describe the marks on the apple, the sinister words which so well suggested the fierce, savage, and so to speak, brutal character of the incident:
"THE TEETH OF THE TIGER."