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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
"However did you get here?" asked Lydia in surprise.
"I went into Nice," said the girl carelessly. "The detectives were going there and I gave them a lift."
"I see," said Jack, "so you came into Turbie by the back road? I wondered why I hadn't seen your car."
"You expected me, did you?" she smiled, as she sat down at the table and selected a peach from its cotton-wool bed. "I only arrived a second ago, in fact I was opening the door when you almost knocked my head off. What a violent man you are, Jack! I shall have to put you into my story."
Glover had recovered his self-possession by now.
"So you are adding to your other crimes by turning novelist, are you?" he said good-humouredly. "What is the book, Miss Briggerland?"
"It is going to be called 'Suspected,'" she said coolly. "And it will be the Story of a Hurt Soul."
"Oh, I see, a humorous story," said Jack, wilfully dense. "I didn't know you were going to write a biography."
"But do tell me about this, it is very thrilling, Jean," said Lydia, "and it is the first I've heard of it."
Jean was skinning the peach and was smiling as at an amusing thought.
"I've been two years making up my mind to write it," she said, "and I'm going to dedicate it to Jack. I started work on it three or four days ago. Look at my wrist!" She held out her beautiful hand for the girl's inspection.
"It is a very pretty wrist," laughed Lydia, "but why did you want me to see it?"
"If you had a professional eye," said the girl, resuming her occupation, "you would have noticed the swelling, the result of writers' cramp."
"The yarn about your elderly admirer ought to provide a good chapter," said Jack, "and isn't there a phrase 'A Chapter of Accidents'--that ought to go in?"
She did not raise her eyes.
"Don't discourage me," she said a little sadly. "I have to make money somehow."
How much had she heard? Jack was wondering all the time, and he groaned inwardly when he saw how little effect his warning had upon the girl he was striving to protect. Women are natural actresses, but Lydia was not acting now. She was genuinely fond of Jean and he could see that she had accepted his warnings as the ravings of a diseased imagination. He confirmed this view when after a morning of sight-seeing and the exploration of the spot where, two thousand years before, the Emperor Augustine had erected his lofty "trophy," they returned to the villa. There are some omissions which are marked, and when Lydia allowed him to depart without pressing him to stay to dinner he realised that he had lost the trick.
"When are you going back to London?" she asked.
"To-morrow morning," said Jack. "I don't think I shall come here again before I go."
She did not reply immediately. She was a little penitent at her lack of hospitality, but Jack had annoyed her and the more convincing he had become, the greater had been the irritation he had caused. One question he had to ask but he hesitated.
"About that will----" he began, but her look of weariness stopped him.
It was a very annoyed young man that drove back to the Hôtel de Paris. He had hardly gone before Lydia regretted her brusqueness. She liked Jack Glover more than she was prepared to admit, and though he had only been in Cap Martin for two days she felt a little sense of desolation at his going. Very resolutely she refused even to consider his extraordinary views about Jean. And yet----
Jean left her alone and watched her strolling aimlessly about the garden, guessing the little storm which had developed in her breast. Lydia went to bed early that night, another significant sign Jean noted, and was not sorry, because she wanted to have her father to herself.
Mr. Briggerland listened moodily whilst Jean related all that she had learnt, for she had been in the salon at the National for a good quarter of an hour before Jack had discovered her.
"I thought he would want her to make a will," she said, "and, of course, although she has rejected the idea now, it will grow on her. I think we have the best part of a week."
"I suppose you have everything cut and dried as usual," growled Mr. Briggerland. "What is your plan?"
"I have three," said Jean thoughtfully, "and two are particularly appealing to me because they do not involve the employment of any third person."
"Had you one which brought in somebody else?" asked Briggerland in surprise. "I thought a clever girl like you----"
"Don't waste your sarcasm on me," said Jean quietly. "The third person whom I considered was Marcus Stepney," and she told him the gist of her conversation with the gambler. Mr. Briggerland was not impressed.
"A thief like Marcus will get out of paying," he said, "and if he can stall you long enough to get the money you may whistle for your share. Besides, a fellow like that isn't really afraid of a charge of bigamy."
Jean, curled up in a big arm-chair, looked up under her eyelashes at her father and laughed.
"I had no intention of letting Marcus marry Lydia," she said coolly, "but I had to dangle something in front of his eyes, because he may serve me in quite another way."
"How did he get those two slashes on his hand?" asked Mr. Briggerland suddenly.
"Ask him," she said. "Marcus is getting a little troublesome. I thought he had learnt his lesson and had realised that I am not built for matrimony, especially for a hectic attachment to a man who gains his livelihood by cheating at cards."
"Now, now, my dear," said her father.
"Please don't be shocked," she mocked him. "You know as well as I do how Marcus lives."
"The boy is very fond of you."
"The boy is between thirty and thirty-six," she said tersely. "And he's not the kind of boy that I am particularly fond of. He is useful and may be more useful yet."
She rose, stretched her arms and yawned.
"I'm going up to my room to work on my story. You are watching for Mr. Jaggs?"
"Work on what?" he said.
"The story I am writing and which I think will create a sensation," she said calmly.
"What's this?" asked Briggerland suspiciously. "A story? I didn't know you were writing that kind of Stuff."
"There are lots of important things that you know nothing about, parent," she said and left him a little dazed.
For once Jean was not deceiving him. A writing table had been put in her room and a thick pad of paper awaited her attention. She got into her kimono and with a little sigh sat down at the table and began to write. It was half-past two when she gathered up the sheets and read them over with a smile which was half contempt. She was on the point of getting into bed when she remembered that her father was keeping watch below. She put on her slippers and went downstairs and tapped gently at the door of the darkened dining-room.
Almost immediately it was opened.
"What did you want to tap for?" he grumbled. "You gave me a start."
"I preferred tapping to being shot," she answered. "Have you heard anything or seen anybody?"
The French windows of the dining-room were open, her father was wearing his coat and on his arm she saw by the reflected starlight from outside he carried a shot-gun.
"Nothing," he said. "The old man hasn't come to-night."
"Somehow I didn't think he would," she said.
"I don't see how I can shoot him without making a fuss."
"Don't be silly," said Jean lightly. "Aren't the police well aware that an elderly gentleman has threatened my life, and would it be remarkable if seeing an ancient man prowl about this house you shot him on sight?"
She bit her lips thoughtfully.
"Yes, I think you can go to bed," she said. "He will not be here to-night. To-morrow night, yes."
She went up to her room, said her prayers and went to bed and was asleep immediately.
Lydia had forgotten about Jean's story until she saw her writing industriously at a small table which had been placed on the lawn. It was February, but the wind and the sun were warm and Lydia thought she had never seen a more beautiful picture than the girl presented sitting there in a garden spangled with gay flowers, heavy with the scent of February roses, a dainty figure of a girl, almost ethereal in her loveliness.
"Am I interrupting you?"
"Not a bit," said Jean, putting down her pen and rubbing her wrist. "Isn't it annoying. I've got to quite an exciting part, and my wrist is giving me hell."
She used the word so naturally that Lydia forgot to be shocked.
"Can I do anything for you?"
Jean shook her head.
"I don't exactly see what you can do," she said, "unless you could--but, no, I would not ask you to do that!"
"What is it?" asked Lydia.
Jean puckered her brows in thought.
"I suppose you could do it," she said, "but I'd hate to ask you. You see, dear, I've got a chapter to finish and it really ought to go off to London to-day. I am very keen on getting an opinion from a literary friend of mine--but, no, I won't ask you."
"What is it?" smiled Lydia. "I'm sure you're not going to ask the impossible."
"The thought occurred to me that perhaps you might write as I dictated. It would only be two or three pages," said the girl apologetically. "I'm so full of the story at this moment that it would be a shame if I allowed the divine fire of inspiration--that's the term, isn't it--to go out."
"Of course I'll do it," said Lydia. "I can't write shorthand, but that doesn't matter, does it?"
"No, longhand will be quick enough for me. My thoughts aren't so fast," said the girl.
"What is it all about?"
"It is about a girl," said Jean, "who has stolen a lot of money----"
"How thrilling!" smiled Lydia.
"And she's got away to America. She is living a very full and joyous life, but the thought of her sin is haunting her and she decides to disappear and let people think she has drowned herself. She is really going into a convent. I've got to the point where she is saying farewell to her friend. Do you feel capable of being harrowed?"
"I never felt fitter for the job in my life," said Lydia, and sitting down in the chair the girl had vacated, she took up the pencil which the other had left.
Jean strolled up and down the lawn in an agony of mental composition and presently she came back and began slowly to dictate.
Word by word Lydia wrote down the thrilling story of the girl's remorse, and presently came to the moment when the heroine was inditing a letter to her friend.
"Take a fresh page," said Jean, as Lydia paused half-way down one sheet. "I shall want to write something in there myself when my hand gets better. Now begin:
"MY DEAR FRIEND."
Lydia wrote down the words and slowly the girl dictated.
"I do not know how I can write you this letter. I intended to tell you when I saw you the other day how miserable I was. Your suspicion hurt me less than your ignorance of the one vital event in my life which has now made living a burden. My money has brought no joy to me. I have met a man I love, but with whom I know a union is impossible. We are determined to die together--farewell--"
"You said she was going away," interrupted Lydia.
"I know," Jean nodded. "Only she wants to give the impression----"
"I see, I see," said Lydia. "Go on."
"Forgive me for the act I am committing, which you may think is the act of a coward, and try to think as well of me as you possibly can. Your friend----"
"I don't know whether to make her sign her name or put her initials," said Jean, pursing her lips.
"What is her name?"
"Laura Martin. Just put the initials L.M."
"They're mine also," smiled Lydia. "What else?"
"I don't think I'll do any more," said Jean. "I'm not a good dictator, am I? Though you're a wonderful amanuensis."
She collected the papers tidily, put them in a little portfolio and tucked them under her arm.
"Let us gamble the afternoon away," said Jean. "I want distraction."
"But your story? Haven't you to send it off?"
"I'm going to wrestle with it in secret, even if it breaks my wrist," said Jean brightly.
She took the portfolio up to her room, locked the door and sorted over the pages. The page which held the farewell letter she put carefully aside. The remainder, including all that part of the story she had written on the previous night, she made into a bundle, and when Lydia had gone off with Marcus Stepney to swim, she carried the paper to a remote corner of the grounds and burnt it sheet by sheet. Again she examined the "letter," folded it and locked it in a drawer.
Lydia, returning from her swim, was met by Jean half-way up the hill.
"By the way, my dear, I wish you would give me Jack Glover's London address," she said as they went into the house. "Write it here. Here is a pencil." She pulled out an envelope from a stationery rack and Lydia, in all innocence, wrote as she requested.
The envelope Jean carried upstairs, put into it the letter signed "L. M.," and sealed it down. Lydia Meredith was nearer to death at that moment than she had been on the afternoon when Mordon the chauffeur brought his big Fiat on to the pavement of Berkeley Street.