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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Lydia went up to her bedroom to put away her clothes and found the maid making the bed.
"Oh, madame," said the girl, "I forgot to speak to you about a matter--I hope madame will not be angry."
"I'm hardly likely to be angry on a morning like this," said Lydia.
"It is because of this matter," said the girl. She groped in her pocket and brought out a small shining object, and Lydia took it from her hand.
"This matter" was a tiny silver cross, so small that a five-franc piece would have covered it easily. It was brightly polished and apparently had seen service.
"When we took your bed, after the atrocious and mysterious happening," said the maid rapidly, "this was found in the sheets. It was not thought that it could possibly be madame's, because it was so poor, until this morning when it was suggested that it might be a souvenir that madame values."
"You found it in the sheets?" asked Lydia in surprise.
"It doesn't belong to me," said Lydia. "Perhaps it belongs to Madame Cole-Mortimer. I will show it to her."
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer was a devout Catholic and it might easily be some cherished keep-sake of hers.
The girl carried the cross to the window; an "X" had been scrawled by some sharp-pointed instrument at the junction of the bars. There was no other mark to identify the trinket.
She put the cross in her bag, and when she saw Mrs. Cole-Mortimer again she forgot to ask her about it.
The car drove her into Nice alone. Jean did not feel inclined to make the journey and Lydia rather enjoyed the solitude.
The isolation hospital was at the top of the hill and she found some difficulty in obtaining admission at this hour. The arrival of the chief medical officer, however, saved her from making the journey in vain. The report he gave about the child was very satisfactory; the mother was in the isolation ward.
"Can she be seen?"
"Yes, madame," said the urbane Frenchman in charge. "You understand, you will not be able to get near her? It will be rather like interviewing a prisoner, for she will be behind one set of bars and you behind another."
Lydia was taken to a room which was, she imagined, very much like a room in which prisoners interviewed their distressed relations. There were not exactly bars, but two large mesh nets of steel separated the visitor from the patient under observation. After a time a nun brought in the gardener's wife, a tall, gaunt woman, who was a native of Marseilles, and spoke the confusing patois of that city with great rapidity. It was some time before Lydia could accustom her ear to the queer dialect.
Her boy was getting well, she said, but she herself was in terrible trouble. She had no money for the extra food she required. Her husband who was away in Paris when the child had been taken, had not troubled to write to her. It was terrible being in a place amongst other fever cases, and she was certain that her days were numbered....
Lydia pushed a five-hundred franc note through the grating to the nun, to settle her material needs.
"And, oh, madame," wailed the gardener's wife, "my poor little boy has lost the gift of the Reverend Mother of San Surplice! His own cross which has been blessed by his holiness the Pope! It is because I left his cross in his little shirt that he is getting better, but now it is lost and I am sure these thieving doctors have taken it."
"A cross?" said Lydia. "What sort of a cross?"
"It was a silver cross, madame; the value in money was nothing--it was priceless. Little Xavier----"
"Xavier?" repeated Lydia, remembering the "X" on the trinket that had been found in her bed. "Wait a moment, madame." She opened her bag and took out the tiny silver symbol, and at the sight of it the woman burst into a volley of joyful thanks.
"It is the same, the same, madame! It has a small 'X' which the Reverend Mother scratched with her own blessed scissors!"
Lydia pushed the cross through the net and the nun handed it to the woman.
"It is the same, it is the same!" she cried. "Oh, thank you, madame! Now my heart is glad...."
Lydia came out of the hospital and walked through the gardens by the doctor's side. But she was not listening to what he was saying--her mind was fully occupied with the mystery of the silver cross.
It was little Xavier's ... it had been tucked inside his bed when he lay, as his mother thought, dying ... and it had been found in her bed! Then little Xavier had been in her bed! Her foot was on the step of the car when it came to her--the meaning of that drenched couch and the empty bottle of peroxide. Xavier had been put there, and somebody who knew that the bed was infected had so soaked it with water that she could not sleep in it. But who? Old Jaggs!
She got into the car slowly, and went back to Cap Martin along the Grande Corniche.
Who had put the child there? He could not have walked from the cottage; that was impossible.
She was half-way home when she noticed a parcel lying on the floor of the car, and she let down the front window and spoke to the chauffeur. It was not Mordon, but a man whom she had hired with the car.
"It came from the hospital, madame," he said. "The porter asked me if I came from Villa Casa. It was something sent to the hospital to be disinfected. There was a charge of seven francs for the service, madame, and this I paid."
She picked up the parcel--it was addressed to "Mademoiselle Jean Briggerland" and bore the label of the hospital.
Lydia sat back in the car with her eyes closed, tired of turning over this problem, yet determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Jean was out when she got back and she carried the parcel to her own room. She was trying to keep out of her mind the very possibility that such a hideous crime could have been conceived as that which all the evidence indicated had been attempted. Very resolutely she refused to believe that such a thing could have happened. There must be some explanation for the presence of the cross in her bed. Possibly it had been found after the wet sheets had been taken to the servants' part of the house.
She rang the bell, and the maid who had given her the trinket came.
"Tell me," said Lydia, "where was this cross found?"
"In your bed, mademoiselle."
"But where? Was it before the clothing was removed from this room or after?"
"It was before, madame," said the maid. "When the sheets were turned back we found it lying exactly in the middle of the bed."
Lydia's heart sank.
"Thank you, that will do," she said. "I have found the owner of the cross and have restored it."
Should she tell Jean? Her first impulse was to take the girl into her confidence, and reveal the state of her mind. Her second thought was to seek out old Jaggs, but where could he be found? He evidently lived somewhere in Monte Carlo, but his name was hardly likely to be in the visitors' list. She was still undecided when Marcus Stepney called to take her to lunch at the Café de Paris.
The whole thing was so amazingly improbable. It belonged to a world of unreality, but then, she told herself, she also was living in an unreal world, and had been so for weeks.