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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Lydia had plenty to occupy her days. The house in Curzon Street had been bought and she had been a round of furnishers, paper-hangers and fitters of all variety.
The trip to the Riviera came at the right moment. She could leave Mrs. Morgan in charge and come back to her new home, which was to be ready in two months.
Amongst other things, the problem of the watchful Mr. Jaggs would be settled automatically.
She spoke to him that night when he came.
"By the way, Mr. Jaggs, I am going to the South of France next week."
"A pretty place by all accounts," volunteered Mr. Jaggs.
"A lovely place--by all accounts," repeated Lydia with a smile. "And you're going to have a holiday, Mr. Jaggs. By the way, what am I to pay you?"
"The gentleman pays me, miss," said Mr. Jaggs with a sniff. "The lawyer gentleman."
"Well, he must continue paying you whilst I am away," said the girl. "I am very grateful to you and I want to give you a little present before I go. Is there anything you would like, Mr. Jaggs?"
Mr. Jaggs rubbed his beard, scratched his head and thought he would like a pipe.
"Though bless you, miss, I don't want any present."
"You shall have the best pipe I can buy," said the girl. "It seems very inadequate."
"I'd rather have a briar, miss," said old Jaggs mistakenly.
He was on duty until the morning she left, and although she rose early he had gone. She was disappointed, for she had not given him the handsome case of pipes she had bought, and she wanted to thank him. She felt she had acted rather meanly towards him. She owed her life to him twice.
"Didn't you see him go?" she asked Mrs. Morgan.
"No, miss," the stout housekeeper shook her head. "I was up at six and he'd gone then, but he'd left his chair in the passage--I've got an idea that's where he slept, miss, if he slept at all."
"Poor old man," said the girl gently. "I haven't been very kind to him, have I? And I do owe him such a lot."
"Maybe he'll turn up again," said Mrs. Morgan hopefully. She had the mother feeling for the old, which is one of the beauties of her class, and she regretted Lydia's absence probably as much because it would entail the disappearance of old Jaggs as for the loss of her mistress. But old Jaggs did not turn up. Lydia hoped to see him at the station, hovering on the outskirts of the crowd in his furtive way, but she was disappointed.
She left by the eleven o'clock train, joining Mrs. Cole-Mortimer on the station. That lady had arranged to spend a day in Paris, and the girl was not sorry, after a somewhat bad crossing of the English Channel, that she had not to continue her journey through the night.
The South of France was to be a revelation to her. She had no conception of the extraordinary change of climate and vegetation that could be experienced in one country.
She passed from a drizzly, bedraggled Paris into a land of sunshine and gentle breezes; from the bare sullen lands of the Champagne, into a country where flowers grew by the side of the railway, and that in February; to a semi-tropic land, fragrant with flowers, to white beaches by a blue, lazy sea and a sky over all unflecked by clouds.
It took her breath away, the beauty of it; and the sense and genial warmth of it. The trees laden with lemons, the wisteria on the walls, the white dust on the road, and the glory of the golden mimosa that scented the air with its rare and lovely perfume.
They left the train at Nice and drove along the Grande Corniche. Mrs. Cole-Mortimer had a call to make in Monte Carlo and the girl sat back in the car and drank in the beauty of this delicious spot, whilst her hostess interviewed the house agent.
Surely the place must be kept under glass. It looked so fresh and clean and free from stain.
The Casino disappointed her--it was a place of plaster and stucco, and did not seem built for permanent use.
They drove back part of the way they had come, on to the peninsula of Cap Martin and she had a glimpse of beautiful villas between the pines and queer little roads that led into mysterious dells. Presently the car drew up before a good looking house (even Mrs. Cole-Mortimer was surprised into an expression of her satisfaction at the sight of it).
Lydia, who thought that this was Mrs. Cole-Mortimer's own demesne, was delighted.
"You are lucky to have a beautiful home like this, Mrs. Cole-Mortimer," she said, "it must be heavenly living here."
The habit of wealth had not been so well acquired that she could realise that she also could have a beautiful house if she wished--she thought of that later. Nor did she expect to find Jean Briggerland there, and Mr. Briggerland too, sitting on a big cane chair on the veranda overlooking the sea and smoking a cigar of peace.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer had been very careful to avoid all mention of Jean on the journey.
"Didn't I tell you they would be here?" she said in careless amazement. "Why, of course, dear Jean left two days before we did. It makes such a nice little party. Do you play bridge?"
Lydia did not play bridge, but was willing to be taught.
She spent the remaining hour of daylight exploring the grounds which led down to the road which fringed the sea.
She could look across at the lights already beginning to twinkle at Monte Carlo, to the white yachts lying off Monaco, and farther along the coast to a little cluster of lights that stood for Beaulieu.
"It is glorious," she said, drawing a long breath.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, who had accompanied her in her stroll, purred the purr of the pleased patron whose protégée has been thankful for favours received.
Dinner was a gay meal, for Jean was in her brightest mood. She had a keen sense of fun and her sly little sallies, sometimes aimed at her father, sometimes at Lydia's expense, but more often directed at people in the social world, whose names were household words, kept Lydia in a constant gurgle of laughter.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer alone was nervous and ill at ease. She had learnt unpleasant news and was not sure whether she should tell the company or keep her secret to herself. In such dilemma, weak people take the most sensational course, and presently she dropped her bombshell.
"Celeste says that the gardener's little boy has malignant smallpox," she almost wailed.
Jean was telling a funny story to the girl who sat by her, and did not pause for so much as a second in her narrative. The effect on Mr. Briggerland was, however, wholly satisfactory to Mrs. Cole-Mortimer. He pushed back his chair and blinked at his "hostess."
"Smallpox?" he said in horror, "here--in Cap Martin? Good God, did you hear that, Jean?"
"Did I hear what?" she asked lazily, "about the gardener's little boy? Oh, yes. There has been quite an epidemic on the Italian Riviera, in fact they closed the frontier last week."
"But--but here!" spluttered Briggerland.
Lydia could only look at him in open-eyed amazement. The big man's terror was pitiably apparent. The copper skin had turned a dirty grey, his lower lip was trembling like a frightened child's.
"Why not here?" said Jean coolly, "there is nothing to be scared about. Have you been vaccinated recently?" she turned to the girl, and Lydia shook her head.
"Not since I was a baby--and then I believe the operation was not a success."
"Anyway, the child is isolated in the cottage and they are taking him to Nice to-night," said Jean. "Poor little fellow! Even his own mother has deserted him. Are you going to the Casino?" she asked.
"I don't know," replied Lydia. "I'm very tired but I should love to go."
"Take her, father--and you go, Margaret. By the time you return the infection will be removed."
"Won't you come too?" asked Lydia.
"No, I'll stay at home to-night. I turned my ankle to-day and it is rather stiff. Father!"
This time her voice was sharp, menacing almost, thought Lydia, and Mr. Briggerland made an heroic attempt to recover his self-possession.
"Cer--certainly, my dear--I shall be delighted--er--delighted."
He saw her alone whilst Lydia was changing in her lovely big dressing-room, overlooking the sea.
"Why didn't you tell me there was smallpox in Cap Martin?" he demanded fretfully.
"Because I didn't know till Margaret relieved her mind at our expense," said his daughter coolly. "I had to say something. Besides, I'd heard one of the maids say that somebody's mother had deserted him--I fitted it in. What a funk you are, father!"
"I hate the very thought of disease," he growled. "Why aren't you coming with us--there is nothing the matter with your ankle?"
"Because I prefer to stay at home."
He looked at her suspiciously.
"Jean," he said in a milder voice, "hadn't we better let up on the girl for a bit--until that lunatic doctor affair has blown over?"
She reached out and took a gold case from his waistcoat pocket, extracted a cigarette and replaced the case before she spoke.
"We can't afford to 'let up' as you call it, for a single hour. Do you realise that any day her lawyer may persuade her to make a will leaving her money to a--a home for cats, or something equally untouchable? If there was no Jack Glover we could afford to wait months. And I'm less troubled about him than I am about the man Jaggs. Father, you will be glad to learn that I am almost afraid of that freakish old man."
"Neither of them are here--" he began.
"Exactly," said Jean, "neither are here--Lydia had a telegram from him just before dinner asking if he could come to see her next week."
At this moment Lydia returned and Jean Briggerland eyed her critically.
"My dear, you look lovely," she said and kissed her.
Mr. Briggerland's nose wrinkled, as it always did when his daughter shocked him.