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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
There was one thing which rather puzzled and almost piqued Lydia Meredith, and that was the failure of Jean Briggerland's prophecy to materialise. Jean had said half jestingly that Jack Glover would be a frequent visitor at the flat; in point of fact, he did not come at all. Even when she visited the offices of Rennett, Glover and Simpson, it was Mr. Rennett who attended to her, and Jack was invisible. Mr. Rennett sometimes explained that he was at the courts, for Jack did all the court work, sometimes that he had gone home.
She caught a glimpse of him once as she was driving past the Law Courts in the Strand. He was standing on the pavement talking to a be-wigged counsel, so possibly Mr. Rennett had not stated more than the truth when he said that the young man's time was mostly occupied by the processes of litigation.
She was curious enough to look through the telephone directory to discover where he lived. There were about fifty Glovers, and ten of these were John Glovers, and she was enough of a woman to call up six of the most likely only to discover that her Mr. Glover was not amongst them. She did not know till later that his full name was Bertram John Glover, or she might have found his address without difficulty.
Mrs. Morgan had now arrived, to Lydia's infinite relief, and had taken control of the household affairs. The new maid was as perfect as a new maid could be, and but for the nightly intrusion of the taciturn Jaggs, to whom, for some reason, Mrs. Morgan took a liking, the current of her domestic life ran smoothly.
She was already becoming accustomed to the possession of wealth. The habit of being rich is one of the easiest acquired, and she found herself negotiating for a little house in Curzon Street and a more pretentious establishment in Somerset, with a sangfroid which astonished and frightened her.
The purchase and arrival of her first car, and the engagement of her chauffeur had been a thrilling experience. It was incredible, too, that her new bankers should, without hesitation, deliver to her enormous sums of money at the mere affixing of her signature to an oblong slip of paper.
She had even got over the panic feeling which came to her on her first few visits to the bank. On these earlier occasions she had felt rather like an inexpert forger, who was endeavouring to get money by false pretence, and it was both a relief and a wonder to her when the nonchalant cashier thrust thick wads of bank-notes under the grille, without so much as sending for a policeman.
"It's a lovely flat," said Jean Briggerland, looking round the pink drawing-room approvingly, "but of course, my dear, this is one that was already furnished for you. I'm dying to see what you will make of your own home when you get one."
She had telephoned that morning to Lydia saying that she was paying a call, asking if it was convenient, and the two girls were alone.
"It is a nice flat, and I shall be sorry to leave it," agreed Lydia. "It is so extraordinarily quiet. I sleep like a top. There is no noise to disturb one, except that there was rather an unpleasant happening the other morning."
"What was that?" asked Jean, stirring her tea.
"I don't know really what happened," said Lydia. "I heard an awful groaning very early in the morning and I got up and looked out of the window. There were two men in the courtyard. One, I think, had hurt himself very badly. I never discovered what happened."
"They must have been workmen, I should think," said Jean, "or else they were drunk. Personally, I have never liked taking furnished flats," she went on. "One always breaks things, and there's such a big bill to pay at the end. And then I always lose the keys. One usually has two or three. You should be very careful about that, my dear, they make an enormous charge for lost keys," she prattled on.
"I think the house agent gave me three," said Lydia. She walked to her little secretaire, opened it and pulled out a drawer.
"Yes, three," she said, "there is one here, one I carry, and Mrs. Morgan has one."
"Have you seen Jack Glover lately?"
Jean never pursued an enquiry too far, by so much as one syllable.
"No, I haven't seen him," smiled Lydia, "You weren't a good prophet."
"I expect he is busy," said the girl carelessly. "I think I could like Jack awfully--if he hadn't such a passion for ordering people about. How careless of me!" She had tipped over her teacup and its contents were running across the little tea table. She pulled out her handkerchief quickly and tried to stop the flow.
"Oh, please, please don't spoil your beautiful handkerchief," said Lydia, rising hurriedly, "I will get a duster."
She ran out of the room and was back almost immediately, to find Jean standing with her back to the secretaire examining the ruins of her late handkerchief with a smile.
"Let me put your handkerchief in water or it will be stained," said Lydia, putting out her hand.
"I would rather do it myself," laughed Jean Briggerland, and pushed the handkerchief into her bag.
There were many reasons why Lydia should not handle that flimsy piece of cambric and lace, the most important of which was the key which Jean had taken from the secretaire in Lydia's absence, and had rolled inside the tea-stained handkerchief.
A few days later Mr. Bertram John Glover interviewed a high official at Scotland Yard, and the interview was not a particularly satisfactory one to the lawyer. It might have been worse, had not the police commissioner been a friend of Jack's partner.
The official listened patiently whilst the lawyer, with professional skill, marshalled all his facts, attaching to them the suspicions which had matured to convictions.
"I have sat in this chair for twenty-five years," said the head of the C.I.D., "and I have heard stories which beat the best and the worst of detective stories hollow. I have listened to cranks, amateur detectives, crooks, parsons and expert fictionists, but never in my experience have I ever heard anything quite so improbable as your theory. It happens that I have met Briggerland and I've met his daughter too, and a more beautiful girl I don't think it has been my pleasure to meet."
"Aren't you feeling well?" asked the chief unpleasantly.
"I'm all right, sir," said Jack, "only I'm so tired of hearing about Jean Briggerland's beauty. It doesn't seem a very good argument to oppose to the facts--"
"Facts!" said the other scornfully. "What facts have you given us?"
"The fact of the Briggerlands' history," said Jack desperately. "Briggerland was broke when he married Miss Meredith under the impression that he would get a fortune with his wife. He has lived by his wits all his life, and until this girl was about fifteen, they were existing in a state of poverty. They lived in a tiny house in Ealing, the rent of which was always in arrears, and then Briggerland became acquainted with a rich Australian of middle age who was crazy about his daughter. The rich Australian died suddenly."
"From an overdose of veronal," said the chief. "It was established at the inquest--I got all the documents out after I received your letter--that he was in the habit of taking veronal. You suggest he was murdered. If he was, for what? He left the girl about six thousand pounds."
"Briggerland thought she was going to get it all," said Jack.
"That is conjecture," interrupted the chief. "Go on."
"Briggerland moved up west," Jack went on, "and when the girl was seventeen she made the acquaintance of a man named Gunnesbury, who went just as mad about her. Gunnesbury was a midland merchant with a wife and family. He was so infatuated with her that he collected all the loose money he could lay his hands on--some twenty-five thousand pounds--and bolted to the continent. The girl was supposed to have gone on ahead, and he was to join her at Calais. He never reached Calais. The theory was that he jumped overboard. His body was found and brought in to Dover, but there was none of the money in his possession that he had drawn from the Midland Bank."
"That is a theory, too," said the chief, shaking his head. "The identity of the girl was never established. It was known that she was a friend of Gunnesbury's, but there was proof that she was in London on the night of his death. It was a clear case of suicide."
"A year later," Jack went on, "she forced a meeting with Meredith, her cousin. His father had just died--Jim had come back from Central Africa to put things in order. He was not a woman's man, and was a grave, retiring sort of fellow, who had no other interest in life than his shooting. The story of Meredith you know."
"And is that all?" asked the chief politely.
"All the facts I can gather. There must be other cases which are beyond the power of the investigator to unearth."
"And what do you expect me to do?"
"I don't expect you to do anything," he said frankly. "You are not exactly supporting my views with enthusiasm."
The chief rose, a signal that the interview was at an end.
"I'd like to help you if you had any real need for help," he said. "But when you come to me and tell me that Miss Briggerland, a girl whose innocence shows in her face, is a heartless criminal and murderess, and a conspirator--why, Mr. Glover, what do you expect me to say?"
"I expect you to give adequate protection to Mrs. Meredith," said Jack sharply. "I expect you, sir, to remember that I've warned you that Mrs. Meredith may die one of those accidental deaths in which Mr. and Miss Briggerland specialise. I'm going to put my warning in black and white, and if anything happens to Lydia Meredith, there is going to be serious trouble on the Thames Embankment."
The chief touched a bell, and a constable came in.
"Show Mr. Glover the way out," he said stiffly.
Jack had calmed down considerably by the time he reached the Thames Embankment, and was inclined to be annoyed with himself for losing his temper.
He stopped a newsboy, took a paper from his hand, and, hailing a cab, drove to his office.
There was little in the early edition save the sporting news, but on the front page a paragraph arrested his eye.
"DANGEROUS LUNATIC AT LARGE."
"The Medical Superintendent at Norwood Asylum reports that Dr. Algernon John Thun, an inmate of the asylum, escaped last night, and is believed to be at large in the neighbourhood. Search parties have been organised, but no trace of the man has been found. He is known to have homicidal tendencies, a fact which renders his immediate recapture a very urgent necessity."
There followed a description of the wanted man. Jack turned to another part of the paper, and dismissed the paragraph from his mind.
His partner, however, was to bring the matter up at lunch. Norwood Asylum was near Dulwich, and Mr. Rennett was pardonably concerned.
"The womenfolk at my house are scared to death," he said at lunch. "They won't go out at night, and they keep all the doors locked. How did your interview with the commissioner go on?"
"We parted the worst of friends," said Jack, "and, Rennett, the next man who talks to me about Jean Briggerland's beautiful face is going to be killed dead through it, even though I have to take a leaf from her book and employ the grisly Jaggs to do it."