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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
"Desperate diseases," said Jean Briggerland, "call for desperate remedies."
Mr. Briggerland looked up from his book.
"What was that tale you were telling Lydia this morning," he asked, "about Glover's gambling? He was only here a day, wasn't he?"
"He was here long enough to lose a lot of money," said Jean. "Of course he didn't gamble, so he did not lose. It was just a little seed-sowing on my part--one never knows how useful the right word may be in the right season."
"Did you tell Lydia that he was losing heavily?" he asked quickly.
"Am I a fool? Of course not! I merely said that youth would be served, and if you have the gambling instinct in you, why, it didn't matter what position you held in society or what your responsibilities were, you must indulge your passion."
Mr. Briggerland stroked his chin. There were times when Jean's schemes got very far beyond him, and he hated the mental exercise of catching up. The only thing he knew was that every post from London bore urgent demands for money, and that the future held possibilities which he did not care to contemplate. He was in the unfortunate position of having numerous pensioners to support, men and women who had served him in various ways and whose approval, but what was more important, whose loyalty, depended largely upon the regularity of their payments.
"I shall gamble or do something desperate," he said with a frown. "Unless you can bring off a coup that will produce twenty thousand pounds of ready money we are going to get into all kinds of trouble, Jean."
"Do you think I don't know that?" she asked contemptuously. "It is because of this urgent need of money that I have taken a step which I hate."
He listened in amazement whilst she told him what she had done to relieve her pressing needs.
"We are getting deeper and deeper into Mordon's hands," he said, shaking his head. "That is what scares me at times."
"You needn't worry about Mordon," she smiled. Her smile was a little hard. "Mordon and I are going to be married."
She was examining the toe of her shoe attentively as she spoke, and Mr. Briggerland leapt to his feet.
"What!" he squeaked. "Marry a chauffeur? A fellow I picked out of the gutter? You're mad! The fellow is a rascal who has earned the guillotine time and time again."
"Who hasn't?" she asked, looking up.
"It is incredible! It's madness!" he said. "I had no idea----" he stopped for want of breath.
Mordon was becoming troublesome. She had known that better than her father.
"It was after the 'accident' that didn't happen that he began to get a little tiresome," she said. "You say we are getting deeper and deeper into his hands? Well, he hinted as much, and I did not like it. When he began to get a little loving I accepted that way out as an easy alternative to a very unpleasant exposure. Whether he would have betrayed us I don't know; probably he would."
Mr. Briggerland's face was dark.
"When is this interesting event to take place?"
"My marriage? In two months, I think. When is Easter? That class of person always wants to be married at Easter. I asked him to keep our secret and not to mention it to you, and I should not have spoken now if you had not referred to the obligation we were under."
"In two months?" Mr. Briggerland nodded. "Let me know when you want this to end, Jean," he said.
"It will end almost immediately. Please do not trouble," said Jean, "and there is one other thing, father. If you see Mr. Jaggs in the garden to-night, I beg of you do not attempt to shoot him. He is a very useful man."
Her father sank back in his chair.
"You're beyond me," he said, helplessly.
Mordon occupied two rooms above the garage, which was conveniently situated for Jean's purpose. He arrived late the next night, and a light in his window, which was visible from the girl's room, told her all she wanted to know.
Mr. Mordon was a good-looking man by certain standards. His hair was dark and glossily brushed. His normal pallor of countenance gave him the interesting appearance which men of his kind did not greatly dislike, and he had a figure which was admired in a dozen servants' halls, and a manner which passed amongst housemaids for "gentlemanly," and amongst gentlemen as "superior." He heard the foot of the girl on the stairs, and opened the door.
"You have brought it?" she said, without a preliminary word.
She had thrown a dark cloak over her evening dress, and the man's eyes feasted on her.
"Yes, I have brought it--Jean," he said.
She put her finger to her lips.
"Be careful, François," she cautioned in a low voice.
Although the man spoke English as well as he spoke French, it was in the latter language that the conversation was carried on. He went to a grip which lay on the bed, opened it and took out five thick packages of thousand-franc notes.
"There are a thousand in each, mademoiselle. Five million francs. I changed part of the money in Paris, and part in London."
"The woman--there is no danger from her?"
"Oh no, mademoiselle," he smiled complacently. "She is not likely to betray me, and she does not know my name or where I am living. She is a girl I met at a dance at the Swiss Waiters' Club," he explained. "She is not a good character. I think the French police wish to find her, but she is very clever."
"What did you tell her?" asked Jean.
"That I was working a coup with Vaud and Montheron. These are two notorious men in Paris whom she knew. I gave her five thousand francs for her work."
"There was no trouble?"
"None whatever, mademoiselle. I watched her, and saw she carried the letter to the bank. As soon as the money was changed I left Croydon by air for Paris, and came on from Paris to Marseilles by aeroplane."
"You did well, François," she said, and patted his hand.
He would have seized hers, but she drew back.
"You have promised, François," she said with dignity, "and a French gentleman keeps his word."
He was not a French gentleman, but he was anxious that this girl should think he was, and to that end had told her stories of his birth which had apparently impressed her.
"Now will you do something more for me?"
"I will do anything in the world, Jean," he cried passionately, and again a restraining hand fell on his shoulder.
"Then sit down and write; your French is so much better than mine."
"What shall I write?" he asked. She had never called upon him for proof of his scholarship, and he was childishly eager to reveal to the woman he loved attainments of which he had no knowledge.
"Write, 'Dear Mademoiselle'." He obeyed.
"'have returned from London, and have confessed to Madame Meredith that I have forged her name and have drawn £100,000 from her bank----'"
"Why do I write this, Jean?" he asked in surprise.
"I will tell you one day--go on. François," she continued her dictation.
"'And now I have learnt that Madame Meredith loves me. There is only one end to this--that which you see----'"
"Do you intend passing suspicion to somebody else?" he asked, evidently fogged, "but why should I say----?"
She stopped his mouth with her hand.
"How wonderful you are, Jean," he said, admiringly, as he blotted the paper and handed it to her. "So that if this matter is traced to you----" She looked into his eyes and smiled.
"There will be trouble for somebody," she said, softly, as she put the paper in her pocket.
Suddenly, before she could realise what was happening he had her in his arms, his lips pressed against hers.
"Jean, Jean!" he muttered. "You adorable woman!"
Gently she pressed him back and she was still smiling, though her eyes were like granite.
"Gently, François," she said, "you must have patience!"
She slipped through the door and closed it behind her, and even in her then state of mind she did not slam it, nor did she hurry down the stairs, but went out, taking her time, and was back in the house without her absence having been noticed. Her face, reflected in her long mirror, was serene in its repose, but within her a devil was alive, hungry for destruction. No man had roused the love of Jean Briggerland, but at least one had succeeded in bringing to life a consuming hate which, for the time being, absorbed her.
From the moment she drew her wet handkerchief across her red lips and flung the dainty thing as though it were contaminated through the open window, François Mordon was a dead man.