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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Jack Glover listened gravely to the story which the girl told. He had called at her lodgings on the following morning to secure her signature to some documents, and breathlessly and a little shamefacedly, she told him what had happened.
"Of course it was an accident," she insisted, "in fact, Mr. and Miss Briggerland were almost knocked down by the car. But you don't know how thankful I am your Mr. Jaggs was on the spot."
"Where is he now?" asked Jack.
"I don't know," replied the girl. "He just limped away without another word and I did not see him again, though I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I came into this house last night. How did he come to be on the spot?" she asked curiously.
"That is easily explained," replied Jack. "I told the old boy not to let you out of his sight from sundown to sun up."
"Then you think I'm safe during the day?" she rallied him.
"I don't know whether to laugh at you or to be very angry," she said, shaking her head reprovingly. "Of course it was an accident!"
"I disagree with you," said Jack. "Did you catch a glimpse of the chauffeur?"
"No," she said in surprise. "I didn't think of looking at him."
"If you had, you would probably have seen an old friend, namely, the gentleman who carried you off from the Erving Theatre," he said quietly.
It was difficult for Lydia to analyse her own feelings. She knew that Jack Glover was wrong, monstrously wrong. She was perfectly confident that his fantastic theory had no foundation, and yet she could not get away from his sincerity. Remembering Jean's description of him as "a little queer" she tried to fit that description into her knowledge of him, only to admit to herself that he had been exceptionally normal as far as she was concerned. The suggestion that his object was mercenary, and that he looked upon her as a profitable match for himself, she dismissed without consideration.
"Anyway, I like your Mr. Jaggs," she said.
"Better than you like me, I gather from your tone," smiled Jack. "He's not a bad old boy."
"He is a very strong old boy," she said. "He lifted me as though I were a feather--I don't know now how I escaped. The steering gear went wrong," she explained unnecessarily.
"Dear me," said Jack politely, "and it went right again in time to enable the chauffeur to keep clear of Briggerland and his angel daughter!"
She gave a gesture of despair.
"You're hopeless," she said. "These things happened in the dark ages; men and women do not assassinate one another in the twentieth century."
"Who told you that?" he demanded. "Human nature hasn't changed for two thousand years. The instinct to kill is as strong as ever, or wars would be impossible. If any man or woman could commit one cold-blooded murder, there is no reason why he or she should not commit a hundred. In England, America, and France fifty cold-blooded murders are detected every year. Twice that number are undetected. It does not make the crime more impossible because the criminal is good looking."
"You're hopeless," she said again, and Jack made no further attempt to convince her.
On the Thursday of that week she exchanged her lodgings for a handsome flat in Cavendish Place, and Mrs. Morgan had promised to join her a week later, when she had settled up her own business affairs.
Lydia was fortunate enough to get two maids from one of the agencies, one of whom was to sleep on the premises. The flat was not illimitable, and she regretted that she had promised to place a room at the disposal of the aged Mr. Jaggs. If he was awake all night as she presumed he would be, and slept in the day, he might have been accommodated in the kitchen, and she hinted as much to Jack. To her surprise the lawyer had turned down that idea.
"You don't want your servants to know that you have a watchman."
"What do you imagine they will think he is?" she asked scornfully. "How can I have an old gentleman in the flat without explaining why he is there?"
"Your explanation could be that he did the boots."
"It wouldn't take him all night to do the boots. Of course, I'm too grateful to him to want him to do anything."
Mr. Jaggs reported again for duty that night. He came at half-past nine, a shabby-looking old man, and Lydia, who had not yet got used to her new magnificence, came out into the hall to meet him.
He was certainly not a prepossessing object, and Lydia discovered that, in addition to his other misfortunes, he had a slight squint.
"I hadn't an opportunity of thanking you the other day, Mr. Jaggs," she said. "I think you saved my life."
"That's all right, miss," he said, in his hoarse voice. "Dooty is dooty!"
She thought he was looking past her, till she realised that his curious slanting line of vision was part of his infirmity.
"I'll show you to your room," she said hastily.
She led the way down the corridor, opened the door of a small room which had been prepared for him, and switched on the light.
"Too much light for me, miss," said the old man, shaking his head. "I like to sit in the dark and listen, that's what I like, to sit in the dark and listen."
"But you can't sit in the dark, you'll want to read, won't you?"
"Can't read, miss," said Jaggs cheerfully. "Can't write, either. I don't know that I'm any worse off."
Reluctantly she switched out the light.
"But you won't be able to see your food."
"I can feel for that, miss," he said with a hoarse chuckle. "Don't you worry about me. I'll just sit here and have a big think."
If she was uncomfortable before, she was really embarrassed now. The very sight of the door behind which old Jaggs sat having his "big think" was an irritation to her. She could not sleep for a long time that night for thinking of him sitting in the darkness, and "listening" as he put it, and had firmly resolved on ending a condition of affairs which was particularly distasteful to her, when she fell asleep.
She woke when the maid brought her tea, to learn that Jaggs had gone.
The maid, too, had her views on the "old gentleman." She hadn't slept all night for the thought of him, she said, though probably this was an exaggeration.
The arrangement must end, thought Lydia, and she called at Jack Glover's office that afternoon to tell him so. Jack listened without comment until she had finished.
"I'm sorry he is worrying you, but you'll get used to him in time, and I should be obliged if you kept him for a month. You would relieve me of a lot of anxiety."
At first she was determined to have her way, but he was so persistent, so pleading, that eventually she surrendered.
Lucy, the new maid, however, was not so easily convinced.
"I don't like it, miss," she said, "he's just like an old tramp, and I'm sure we shall be murdered in our beds."
"How cheerful you are, Lucy," laughed Lydia. "Of course, there is no danger from Mr. Jaggs, and he really was very useful to me."
The girl grumbled and assented a little sulkily, and Lydia had a feeling that she was going to lose a good servant. In this she was not mistaken.
Old Jaggs called at half-past nine that night, and was admitted by the maid, who stalked in front of him and opened his door.
"There's your room," she snapped, "and I'd rather have your room than your company."
"Would you, miss?" wheezed Jaggs, and Lydia, attracted by the sound of voices, came to the door and listened with some amusement.
"Lord, bless me life, it ain't a bad room, either. Put the light out, my dear, I don't like light. I like 'em dark, like them little cells in Holloway prison, where you were took two years ago for robbing your missus."
Lydia's smile left her face. She heard the girl gasp.
"You old liar!" she hissed.
"Lucy Jones you call yourself--you used to be Mary Welch in them days," chuckled old Jaggs.
"I'm not going to be insulted," almost screamed Lucy, though there was a note of fear in her strident voice. "I'm going to leave to-night."
"No you ain't, my dear," said old Jaggs complacently. "You're going to sleep here to-night, and you're going to leave in the morning. If you try to get out of that door before I let you, you'll be pinched."
"They've got nothing against me," the girl was betrayed into saying.
"False characters, my dear. Pretending to come from the agency, when you didn't. That's another crime. Lord bless your heart, I've got enough against you to put you in jail for a year."
Lydia came forward.
"What is this you're saying about my maid?"
"Good evening, ma'am."
The old man knuckled his forehead.
"I'm just having an argument with your young lady."
"Do you say she is a thief?"
"Of course she is, miss," said Jaggs scornfully. "You ask her!"
But Lucy had gone into her room, slammed the door and locked it.
The next morning when Lydia woke, the flat was empty, save for herself. But she had hardly finished dressing when there came a knock at the door, and a trim, fresh-looking country girl, with an expansive smile and a look of good cheer that warmed Lydia's heart, appeared.
"You're the lady that wants a maid, ma'am, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Lydia in surprise. "But who sent you?"
"I was telegraphed for yesterday, ma'am, from the country."
"Come in," said Lydia helplessly.
"Isn't it right?" asked the girl a little disappointedly. "They sent me my fare. I came up by the first train."
"It is quite all right," said Lydia, "only I'm wondering who is running this flat, me or Mr. Jaggs?"