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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
"And now, Mrs. Meredith," said Jack Glover, "what are you going to do?"
He had spent the greater part of the morning with the new heiress, and Lydia had listened, speechless, as he recited a long and meaningless list of securities, of estates, of ground rents, balances and the like, which she had inherited.
"What am I going to do?" she said, shaking her head, hopelessly. "I don't know. I haven't the slightest idea, Mr. Glover. It is so bewildering. Do I understand that all this property is mine?"
"Not yet," said Jack with a smile, "but it is so much yours that on the strength of the will we are willing to advance you money to almost any extent. The will has to be proved, and probate must be taken, but when these legal formalities are settled, and we have paid the very heavy death duties, you will be entitled to dispose of your fortune as you wish. As a matter of fact," he added, "you could do that now. At any rate, you cannot live here in Brinksome Street, and I have taken the liberty of hiring a furnished flat on your behalf. One of our clients has gone away to the Continent and left the flat for me to dispose of. The rent is very low, about twenty guineas a week."
"Twenty guineas a week!" gasped the horrified girl, "why, I can't----"
And then she realised that she "could."
Twenty guineas a week was as nothing to her. This fact more than anything else, brought her to an understanding of her fortune.
"I suppose I had better move," she said dubiously. "Mrs. Morgan is giving up this house, and she asked me whether I had any plans. I think she'd be willing to come as my housekeeper."
"Excellent," nodded Jack. "You'll want a maid as well and, of course, you will have to put up Jaggs for the nights."
"Jaggs?" she said in astonishment.
"Jaggs," repeated Jack solemnly. "You see, Miss--I beg your pardon, Mrs. Meredith, I'm rather concerned about you, and I want you to have somebody on hand I can rely on, sleeping in your flat at night. I dare say you think I am an old woman," he said as he saw her smile, "and that my fears are groundless, but you will agree that your own experience of last week will support the theory that anything may happen in London."
"But really, Mr. Glover, you don't mean that I am in any serious danger--from whom?"
"From a lot of people," he said diplomatically.
"From poor Miss Briggerland?" she challenged, and his eyes narrowed.
"Poor Miss Briggerland," he said softly. "She certainly is poorer than she expected to be."
"Nonsense," scoffed the girl. She was irritated, which was unusual in her. "My dear Mr. Glover, why do you pursue your vendetta against her? Do you think it is playing the game, honestly now? Isn't it a case of wounded vanity on your part?"
He stared at her in astonishment.
"Wounded vanity? Do you mean pique?"
"Why should I be piqued?" he asked slowly.
"You know best," replied Lydia, and then a light dawned on him.
"Have I been making love to Miss Briggerland by any chance?" he asked.
"You know best," she repeated.
"Good Lord!" and then he began to laugh, and she thought he would never stop.
"I suppose I made love to her, and she was angry because I dared to commit such an act of treachery to her fiancé! Yes, that was it. I made love to her behind poor Jim's back, and she 'ticked me off,' and that's why I'm so annoyed with her?"
"You have a very good memory," said Lydia, with a scornful little smile.
"My memory isn't as good as Miss Briggerland's power of invention," said Jack. "Doesn't it strike you, Mrs. Meredith, that if I had made love to that young lady, I should not be seen here to-day?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean," said Jack Glover soberly, "that it would not have been Bulford, but I, who would have been lured from his club by a telephone message, and told to wait outside the door in Berkeley Street. It would have been I, who would have been shot dead by Miss Briggerland's father from the drawing-room window."
The girl looked at him in amazement.
"What a preposterous charge to make!" she said at last indignantly. "Do you suggest that this girl has connived at a murder?"
"I not only suggest that she connived at it, but I stake my life that she planned it," said Jack carefully.
"But the pistol was found near Mr. Bulford's body," said Lydia almost triumphantly, as she conceived this unanswerable argument.
"From Bulford's body to the drawing-room window was exactly nine feet. It was possible to pitch the pistol so that it fell near him. Bulford was waiting there by the instructions of Jean Briggerland. We have traced the telephone call that came through to him from the club--it came from the Briggerlands' house in Berkeley Street, and the attendant at the club was sure it was a woman's voice. We didn't find that out till after the trial. Poor Meredith was in the hall when the shot was fired. The signal was given when he turned the handle to let himself out. He heard the shot, rushed down the steps and saw the body. Whether he picked up the pistol or not, I do not know. Jean Briggerland swears he had it in his hand, but, of course, Jean Briggerland is a hopeless liar!"
"You can't know what you're saying," said Lydia in a low voice. "It is a dreadful charge to make, dreadful, against a girl whose very face refutes such an accusation."
"Her face is her fortune," snapped Jack, and then penitently, "I'm sorry I'm rude, but somehow the very mention of Jean Briggerland arouses all that is worst in me. Now, you will accept Jaggs, won't you?"
"Who is he?" she asked.
"He is an old army pensioner. A weird bird, as shrewd as the dickens, in spite of his age a pretty powerful old fellow."
"Oh, he's old," she said with some relief.
"He's old, and in some ways, incapacitated. He hasn't the use of his right arm, and he's a bit groggy in one of his ankles as the result of a Boer bullet."
She laughed in spite of herself.
"He doesn't sound a very attractive kind of guardian. He's a perfectly clean old bird, though I confess he doesn't look it, and he won't bother you or your servants. You can give him a room where he can sit, and you can give him a bit of bread and cheese, and a glass of beer, and he'll not bother you."
Lydia was amused now. It was absurd that Jack Glover should imagine she needed a guardian at all, but if he insisted, as he did, it would be better to have somebody as harmless as the unattractive Jaggs.
"What time will he come?"
"At about ten o'clock every night, and he'll leave you at about seven in the morning. Unless you wish, you need never see him," said Jack.
"How did you come to know him?" she asked curiously.
"I know everybody," said the boastful young man, "you mustn't forget that I am a lawyer and have to meet very queer people."
He gathered up his papers and put them into his little bag.
"And now what are your plans for to-day?" he demanded.
She resented the self-imposed guardianship which he had undertaken, yet she could not forget what she owed him.
By some extraordinary means he had kept her out of the Meredith case and she had not been called as a witness at the inquest. Incidentally, in as mysterious a way he had managed to whitewash his partner and himself, although the Law Society were holding an inquiry of their own (this the girl did not know) it seemed likely that he would escape the consequence of an act which was a flagrant breach of the law.
"I am going to Mrs. Cole-Mortimer's to tea," she said.
"Mrs. Cole-Mortimer?" he said quickly. "How do you come to know that lady?"
"Really, Mr. Glover, you are almost impertinent," she smiled in spite of her annoyance. "She came to call on me two or three days after that dreadful morning. She knew Mr. Meredith and was an old friend of the family's."
"As a matter of fact," said Jack icily, "she did not know Meredith, except to say 'how-do-you-do' to him, and she was certainly not a friend of the family. She is, however, a friend of Jean Briggerland."
"Jean Briggerland!" said the exasperated girl. "Can't you forget her? You are like the man in Dickens's books--she's your King Charles's head! Really, for a respectable and a responsible lawyer, you're simply eaten up with prejudices. Of course, she was a friend of Mr. Meredith's. Why, she brought me a photograph of him taken when he was at Eton."
"Supplied by Jean Briggerland," said the unperturbed Jack calmly, "and if she'd brought you a pair of socks he wore when he was a baby I suppose you would have accepted those too."
"Now you are being really abominable," said the girl, "and I've got a lot to do."
He paused at the door.
"Don't forget you can move into Cavendish Mansions to-morrow. I'll send the key round, and the day you move in, Jaggs will turn up for duty, bright and smiling. He doesn't talk a great deal----"
"I don't suppose you ever give the poor man a chance," she said cuttingly.