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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
That night the "grisly Jaggs" was later than usual. Lydia heard him shuffling along the passage, and presently the door of his room closed with a click. She was sitting at the piano, and had stopped playing at the sound of his knock, and when Mrs. Morgan came in to announce his arrival, she closed the piano and swung round on the music stool, a look of determination on her delicate face.
"He's come, miss."
"And for the last time," said Lydia ominously. "Mrs. Morgan, I can't stand that weird old gentleman any longer. He has got on my nerves so that I could scream when I think of him."
"He's not a bad old gentleman," excused Mrs. Morgan.
"I'm not so worried about his moral character, and I dare say that it is perfectly blameless," said Lydia determinedly, "but I have written a note to Mr. Glover to tell him that I really must dispense with his services."
"What's he here for, miss?" asked Mrs. Morgan.
Her curiosity had been aroused, but this was the first time she had given it expression.
"He's here because----" Lydia hesitated, "well, because Mr. Glover thinks I ought to have a man in the house to look after me."
"Why, miss?" asked the startled woman.
"You'd better ask Mr. Glover that question," said Lydia grimly.
She was beginning to chafe under the sense of restraint. She was being "school-marmed" she thought. No girl likes the ostentatious protection of the big brother or the head mistress. The soul of the schoolgirl yearns to break from the "crocodile" in which she is marched to church and to school, and this sensation of being marshalled and ordered about, and of living her life according to a third person's programme, and that third person a man, irked her horribly.
Old Jaggs was the outward and visible sign of Jack Glover's unwarranted authority, and slowly there was creeping into her mind a suspicion that Jean Briggerland might not have been mistaken when she spoke of Jack's penchant for "ordering people about."
Life was growing bigger for her. She had broken down the barriers which had confined her to a narrow promenade between office and home. The hours which she had had to devote to work were now entirely free, and she could sketch or paint whenever the fancy took her--which was not very often, though she promised herself a period of hard work when once she was settled down.
Toward the good-looking young lawyer her point of view had shifted. She hardly knew herself how she regarded him. He irritated, and yet in some indefinable way, pleased her. His sincerity--? She did not doubt his sincerity. She admitted to herself that she wished he would call a little more frequently than he did. He might have persuaded her that Jaggs was a necessary evil, but he hadn't even taken the trouble to come. Therefore--but this she did not admit--Jaggs must go.
"I don't think the old gentleman's quite right in his head, you know, sometimes," said Mrs. Morgan.
"Why ever not, Mrs. Morgan?" asked the girl in surprise.
"I often hear him sniggering to himself as I go past his door. I suppose he stays in his room all night, miss?"
"He doesn't," said the girl emphatically, "and that's why he's going. I heard him in the passage at two o'clock this morning; I'm getting into such a state of nerves that the slightest sound awakens me. He had his boots off and was creeping about in his stockings, and when I went out and switched the light on he bolted back to his room. I can't have that sort of thing going on, and I won't! it's altogether too creepy!"
Mrs. Morgan agreed.
Lydia had not been out in the evening for several days, she remembered, as she began to undress for the night. The weather had been unpleasant, and to stay in the warm, comfortable flat was no great hardship. Even if she had gone out, Jaggs would have accompanied her, she thought ironically.
And then she had a little twinge of conscience, remembering that Jaggs's presence on a memorable afternoon had saved her from destruction.
She wondered for the twentieth time what was old Jaggs's history, and where Jack had found him. Once she had been tempted to ask Jaggs himself, but the old man had fenced with the question, and had talked vaguely of having worked in the country, and she was as wise as she had been before.
But she must get rid of old Jaggs, she thought, as she switched off the light and kicked out the innumerable water-bottles, with which Mrs. Morgan, in mistaken kindness, had encumbered the bed ... old Jaggs must go ... he was a nuisance....
She woke with a start from a dreamless sleep. The clock in the hall was striking three. She realised this subconsciously. Her eyes were fixed on the window, which was open at the bottom. Mrs. Morgan had pulled it down at the top, but now it was wide open, and her heart began to thump, thump, rapidly. Jaggs! He was her first thought. She would never have believed that she could have thought of that old man with such a warm glow of thankfulness. There was nothing to be seen. The storm of the early night had passed over, and a faint light came into the room from the waning moon. And then she saw the curtains move, and opened her mouth to scream, but fear had paralysed her voice, and she lay staring at the hangings, incapable of movement or sound. As she watched the curtain she saw it move again, and a shape appeared faintly against the gloomy background.
The spell was broken. She swung herself out of the opposite side of the bed, and raced to the door, but the man was before her. Before she could scream, a big hand gripped her throat and flung her back against the rail of the bed.
Horrified she stared into the cruel face that leered down at her, and felt the grip tighten. And then as she looked into the face she saw a sudden grimace, and sensed the terror in his eyes. The hand relaxed; he bubbled something thickly and fell sideways against the bed. And now she saw. A man had come through the doorway, a tall man, with a fair beard and eyes that danced with insane joy.
He came slowly toward her, wiping on his cuff the long-handled knife that had sent her assailant to the floor.
He was mad. She knew it instinctively, and remembered in a hazy, confused way, a paragraph she had read about an escaped lunatic. She tried to dash past him to the open door, but he caught her in the crook of his left arm, and pressed her to him, towering head and shoulders over her.
"You have no right to sit on a court martial, madam," he said with uncanny politeness, and at that moment the light in the room was switched on and Jaggs appeared in the doorway, his bearded lips parted in an ugly grin, a long-barrelled pistol in his left hand.
"Drop your knife," he said, "or I'll drop you."
The mad doctor turned his head slowly and frowned at the intruder.
"Good morning, General," he said calmly. "You came in time," and he threw the knife on to the ground. "We will try her according to regulations!"