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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
It was in the evening of the next day that Lydia received a wire from Jack Glover. It was addressed from London and announced his arrival.
"Doesn't it make you feel nice, Lydia," said Jean, when she saw the telegram, "to have a man in London looking after your interests--a sort of guardian angel--and another guardian angel prowling round your demesne at Cap Martin?"
"You mean Jaggs? Have you seen him?"
"No, I have not seen him," said the girl softly. "I should rather like to see him. Do you know where he is staying at Monte Carlo?"
Lydia shook her head.
"I hope I shall see him before I go," said Jean. "He must be a very interesting old gentleman."
It was Mr. Briggerland who first caught a glimpse of Lydia's watchman. Mr. Briggerland had spent the greater part of the day sleeping. He was unusually wakeful at one o'clock in the morning, and sat on the veranda in a fur-lined overcoat, his gun lay across his knees. He had seen many mysterious shapes flitting across the lawn, only to discover on investigation that they were no more than the shadows which the moving tree-tops cast.
At two o'clock he saw a shape emerge from the tree belt and move stealthily in the shadow of the bushes toward the house. He did not fire because there was a chance that it might have been one of the detectives who had promised to keep an eye upon the Villa Casa in view of the murderous threats which Jean had received.
Noiselessly he rose and stepped in his rubber shoes to the darker end of the stoep. It was old Jaggs. There was no mistaking him. A bent man who limped cautiously across the lawn and was making for the back of the house. Mr. Briggerland cocked his gun and took aim....
Both girls heard the shot, and Lydia, springing out of bed, ran on to the balcony.
"It's all right, Mrs. Meredith," said Briggerland's voice. "It was a burglar, I think."
"You haven't hurt him?" she cried, remembering old Jaggs's nocturnal habits.
"If I have, he's got away," said Briggerland. "He must have seen me and dropped."
Jean flew downstairs in her dressing-gown and joined her father on the lawn.
"Did you get him?" she asked in a low voice.
"I could have sworn I shot him," said her father in the same tone, "but the old devil must have dropped."
He heard the quick catch of her breath and turned apprehensively.
"Now, don't make a fuss about it, Jean, I couldn't help it."
"You couldn't help it!" she almost snarled. "You had him under your gun and you let him go. Do you think he'll ever come again, you fool?"
"Now look here, I'm not going to----" began Mr. Briggerland, but she snatched the gun from his hand, looked swiftly at the lock and ran across the lawn toward the trees.
Somebody was hiding. She sensed that and all her nerves were alert. Presently she saw a crouching figure and lifted the gun, but before she could fire it was wrested from her hand.
She opened her lips to cry out for help, but a hand closed over her mouth, and swung her round so that her back was toward her assailant, and then in a flash his arm came round her neck, the flex of the elbow against her throat.
"Say one of them prayers of yours," said a voice in her ear, and the arm tightened.
She struggled furiously, but the man held her as though she were a child.
"You're going to die," whispered the voice. "How do you like the sensation?"
The arm tightened on her neck. She was suffocating, dying she thought, and her heart was filled with a wild, mad longing for life and a terror undreamt of. She could faintly hear her father's voice calling her and then consciousness departed.
When Jean came to herself she was in Lydia Meredith's arms. She opened her eyes and saw the pathetic face of her father looming from the background. Her hand went up to her throat.
"Hallo, people--how did I get here?" she asked as she struggled into a sitting position.
"I came in search of you and found you lying on the ground," quavered Mr. Briggerland.
"Did you see the man?" she asked.
"No. What happened to you, darling?"
"Nothing," she said with that composure which she could command. "I must have fainted. It was rather ridiculous of me, wasn't it?" she smiled.
She got unsteadily to her feet and again she felt her throat. Lydia noticed the action.
"Did he hurt you?" she asked anxiously. "It couldn't have been Jaggs."
"Oh no," smiled Jean, "it couldn't have been Jaggs. I think I'll go to bed."
She did not expect to sleep. For the first time in her extraordinary life fear had come to her, and she had shivered on the very edge of the abyss. She felt the shudder she could not repress and shook herself impatiently. Then she extinguished the light and went to the window and looked out. Somewhere there in the darkness she knew her enemy was hidden, and again that sense of apprehension swept over her.
"I'm losing my nerve," she murmured.
It was extraordinary to Lydia Meredith that the girl showed no sign of her night's adventure when she came in to breakfast on the following morning. She looked bright. Her eyes were clear and her delicate irony as pointed as though she had slept the clock round.
Lydia did not swim that day, and Mr. Stepney had his journey out to Cap Martin in vain. Nor was she inclined to go back with him to Monte Carlo to the Casino in the afternoon, and Mr. Stepney began to realise that he was wasting valuable time.
Jean found her scribbling in the garden and Lydia made no secret of the task she was undertaking.
"Making your will? What a grisly idea?" she said as she put down the cup of tea she had carried out to the girl.
"Isn't it," said Lydia with a grimace. "It is the most worrying business, too, Jean. There is nobody I want to leave money to except you and Mr. Glover."
"For heaven's sake don't leave me any or Jack will think I am conspiring to bring about your untimely end," said Jean. "Why make a will at all?"
There was no need for her to ask that, but she was curious to discover what reply the girl would make, and to her surprise Lydia fenced with the question.
"It is done in all the best circles," she said good-humouredly. "And, Jean, I'm not interested in a single public institution! I don't know by title the name of any home for dogs, and I shouldn't be at all anxious to leave my money to one even if I did."
"Then you'd better leave it to Jack Glover," said the girl, "or to the Lifeboat Institution."
Lydia threw down her pencil in disgust.
"Fancy making one's will on a beautiful day like this, and giving instructions as to where one should be buried. Brrr! Jean," she asked suddenly, "was it Mr. Jaggs you saw in the wood?"
Jean shook her head.
"I saw nobody," she said. "I went in to look for the burglar; the excitement must have been too much for me, and I fainted."
But Lydia was not satisfied.
"I can't understand Mr. Jaggs myself," she said, but Jean interrupted her with a cry.
Lydia looked up and saw her eyes shining and her lips parting in a smile.
"Of course," she said softly. "He used to sleep at your flat, didn't he?"
"Yes, why?" asked the girl in surprise.
"What a fool I am, what a perfect fool!" said Jean, startled out of her accustomed self-possession.
"I don't quite know where your folly comes in, but perhaps you will tell me," but Jean was laughing softly.
"Go on and make your will," she said mockingly. "And when you've finished we'll go into the rooms and chase the lucky numbers. Poor dear Mrs. Cole-Mortimer is feeling a little neglected, too, we ought to do something for her."
The day and night passed without any untoward event. In the evening Jean had an interview with her French chauffeur, and afterwards disappeared into her room. Lydia tapping at her door to bid her good night received no answer.
Day was breaking when old Jaggs came out from the trees in his furtive way and glancing up and down the road made his halting way toward Monte Carlo. The only objects in sight was a donkey laden with market produce led by a bare-legged boy who was going in the same direction as he.
A little more than a mile along the road he turned sharply to the right and began climbing a steep and narrow bridle path which joined the mountain road, half-way up to La Turbie. The boy with the donkey turned off to the main road and continued the steep climb toward the Grande Corniche. There were many houses built on the edge of the road and practically on the edge of precipices, for the windows facing the sea often looked sheer down for two hundred feet. At first these dwellings appeared in clusters, then as the road climbed higher, they occurred at rare intervals.
The boy leading the donkey kept his eye upon the valley below, and from time to time caught a glimpse of the old man who had now left the bridle path, and was picking his way up the rough hill-side. He was making for a dilapidated house which stood at one of the hairpin bends of the road, and the donkey-boy, shading his eyes from the glare of the rising sun, saw him disappear into what must have been the cellar of the house, since the door through which he went was a good twenty feet beneath the level of the road. The donkey-boy continued his climb, tugging at his burdened beast, and presently he came up to the house. Smoke was rising from one of the chimneys, and he halted at the door, tied the rope he held to a rickety gate post, and knocked gently.
A bright-faced peasant woman came to the open door and shook her head at the sight of the wares with which the donkey was laden.
"We want none of your truck, my boy," she said. "I have my own garden. You are not a Monogasque."
"No, signora," replied the boy, flashing his teeth with a smile. "I am from San Remo, but I have come to live in Monte Carlo to sell vegetables for my uncle, and he told me I should find a lodging here."
She looked at him dubiously.
"I have one room which you could have, boy," she said, "though I do not like Italians. You must pay me a franc a night, and your donkey can go into the shed of my brother-in-law up the hill."
She led the way down a flight of ancient stairs and showed him a tiny room overlooking the valley.
"I have one other man who lives here," she said. "An old one, who sleeps all day and goes out all night. But he is a very respectable man," she added in defence of her client.
"Where does he sleep?" asked the boy.
"There!" The woman pointed to a room on the opposite side of the narrow landing. "He has just come in, I can hear him." She listened.
"Will madame get me change for this?" The boy produced a fifty-franc note, and the woman's eyebrows rose.
"Such wealth!" she said good-naturedly. "I did not think that a little boy like you could have such money."
She bustled upstairs to her own room, leaving the boy alone. He waited until her heavy footsteps sounded overhead, and then gently he tried the door of the other lodger. Mr. Jaggs had not yet bolted the door, and the spy pushed it open and looked. What he saw satisfied him, for he pulled the door tight again, and as the footfall of old Jaggs came nearer the door, the donkey-boy flew upstairs with extraordinary rapidity.
"I will come later, madame," he said, when he had received the change. "I must take my donkey into Monte Carlo."
She watched the boy and his beast go down the road, and went back to the task of preparing her lodger's breakfast.
To Monte Carlo the cabbage seller did not go. Instead, he turned back the way he had come, and a hundred yards from the gate of Villa Casa, Mordon, the chauffeur, appeared, and took the rope from his hand.
"Did you find what you wanted, mademoiselle?" he asked.
Jean nodded. She got into the house through the servants' entrance and up to her room without observation. She pulled off the black wig and applied herself to removing the stains from her face. It had been a good morning's work.
"You must keep Mrs. Meredith fully occupied to-day." She waylaid her father on the stairs to give him these instructions.
For her it was a busy morning. First she went to the Hôtel de Paris, and on the pretext of writing a letter in the lounge, secured two or three sheets of the hotel paper and an envelope. Next she hired a typewriter and carried it with her back to the house. She was working for an hour before she had the letter finished. The signature took her some time. She had to ransack Lydia's writing case before she found a letter from Jack Glover--Lydia's signature was easy in comparison.
This, and a cheque drawn from the back of Lydia Meredith's cheque-book, completed her equipment.
That afternoon Mordon, the chauffeur, motored into Nice, and by nine o'clock that night an aeroplane deposited him in Paris. He was in London the following morning, a bearer of an urgent letter to Mr. Rennett, the lawyer, which, however, he did not present in person.
Mordon knew a French girl in London, and she it was who carried the letter to Charles Rennett--a letter that made him scratch his head many times before he took a sheet of paper, and addressing the manager of Lydia's bank, wrote:
"This cheque is in order. Please honour."