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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
There was lying in Monaco harbour a long white boat with a stumpy mast, which delighted in the name of Jungle Queen. It was the property of an impecunious English nobleman who made a respectable income from letting the vessel on hire.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer had seemed surprised at the reasonable fee demanded for two months' use until she had seen the boat the day after her arrival at Cap Martin.
She had pictured a large and commodious yacht; she found a reasonably sized motor-launch with a whale-deck cabin. The description in the agent's catalogue that the Jungle Queen would "sleep four" was probably based on the experience of a party of young roisterers who had once hired the vessel. Supposing that the "four" were reasonably drunk or heavily drugged, it was possible for them to sleep on board the Jungle Queen. Normally two persons would have found it difficult, though by lying diagonally across the "cabin" one small-sized man could have slumbered without discomfort.
The Jungle Queen had been a disappointment to Jean also. Her busy brain had conceived an excellent way of solving her principal problem, but a glance at the Jungle Queen told her that the money she had spent on hiring the launch--and it was little better--was wasted. She herself hated the sea and had so little faith in the utility of the boat, that she had even dismissed the youth who attended to its well-worn engines.
Mr. Marcus Stepney, who was mildly interested in motor-boating, and considerably interested in any form of amusement which he could get at somebody else's expense, had so far been the sole patron of the Jungle Queen. It was his practice to take the boat out every morning for a two hours' sail, generally alone, though sometimes he would take somebody whose acquaintance he had made, and who was destined to be a source of profit to him in the future.
Jean's talk of the cave-man method of wooing had made a big impression upon him, emphasised as it had been, and still was, by the two angry red scars across the back of his hand. Things were not going well with him; the supply of rich and trusting youths had suddenly dried up. The little games in his private sitting-room had dwindled to feeble proportions. He was still able to eke out a living, but his success at his private séances had been counter-balanced by heavy losses at the public tables.
It is a known fact that people who live outside the law keep to their own plane. The swindler very rarely commits acts of violence. The burglar who practises card-sharping as a side-line, is virtually unknown.
Mr. Stepney lived on a plausible tongue and a pair of highly dexterous hands. It had never occurred to him to go beyond his own sphere, and indeed violence was as repugnant to him as it was vulgar.
Yet the cave-man suggestion appealed to him. He had a way with women of a certain kind, and if his confidence had been rather shaken by Jean's savagery and Lydia's indifference, he had not altogether abandoned the hope that both girls in their turn might be conquered by the adoption of the right method.
The method for dealing with Jean he had at the back of his mind.
As for Lydia--Jean's suggestion was very attractive. It was after a very heavily unprofitable night spent at the Nice Casino, that he took his courage in both hands and drove to the Villa Casa.
He was an early arrival, but Lydia had already finished her petite déjeuner and she was painfully surprised to see him.
"I'm not swimming to-day, Mr. Stepney," she said, "and you don't look as if you were either."
He was dressed in perfectly fitting white duck trousers, white shoes, and a blue nautical coat with brass buttons; a yachtsman's cap was set at an angle on his dark head.
"No, I'm going out to do a little fishing," he said, "and I was wondering whether, in your charity, you would accompany me."
She shook her head.
"I'm sorry--I have another engagement this morning," she said.
"Can't you break it?" he pleaded, "as an especial favour to me? I've made all preparations and I've got a lovely lunch on board--you said you would come fishing with me one day."
"I'd like to," she confessed, "but I really have something very important to do this morning."
She did not tell him that her important duty was to sit on the Lovers' Chair. Somehow her trip seemed just a little silly in the cold clear light of morning.
"I could have you back in time," he begged. "Do come along, Mrs. Meredith! You're going to spoil my day."
"I'm sure Lydia wouldn't be so unkind."
Jean had made her appearance as they were speaking.
"What is the scheme, Lydia?"
"Mr. Stepney wants me to go out in the yacht," said the girl, and Jean smiled.
"I'm glad you call it a 'yacht,'" she said dryly. "You're the second person who has so described it. The first was the agent. Take her to-morrow, Marcus."
There was a glint of amusement in her eyes, and he felt that she knew what was at the back of his mind.
"All right," he said in a tone which suggested that it was anything but all right, and added, "I saw you flying through Nice this morning with that yellow-faced chauffeur of yours, Jean."
"Were you up so early?" she asked carelessly.
"I wasn't dressed, I was looking out of the window--my room faces the Promenade d'Anglaise. I don't like that fellow."
"I shouldn't let him know," said Jean coolly. "He is very sensitive. There are so many fellows that you dislike, too."
"I don't think you ought to allow him so much freedom," Marcus Stepney went on. He was not in an amiable frame of mind, and the knowledge that he was annoying the girl encouraged him. "If you give these French chauffeurs an inch they'll take a kilometre."
"I suppose they would," said Jean thoughtfully. "How is your poor hand, Marcus?"
He growled something under his breath and thrust his hand deep into the pocket of his reefer coat.
"It is quite well," he snapped, and went back to Monaco and his solitary boat trip, flaming.
"One of these days ..." he muttered, as he tuned up the motor. He did not finish his sentence, but sent the nose of the Jungle Queen at full speed for the open sea.
Jean's talk with Mordon that morning had not been wholly satisfactory. She had calmed his suspicions to an extent, but he still harped upon the letter, and she had promised to give it to him that evening.
"My dear," she said, "you are too impulsive--too Gallic. I had a terrible scene with father last night. He wants me to break off the engagement; told me what my friends in London would say, and how I should be a social outcast."
"And you--you, Jean?" he asked.
"I told him that such things did not trouble me," she said, and her lips drooped sadly. "I know I cannot be happy with anybody but you, François, and I am willing to face the sneers of London, even the hatred and scorn of my father, for your sake."
He would have seized her hand, though they were in the open road, but she drew away from him.
"Be careful, François," she warned him.
"Remember that you have a very little time to wait."
"I cannot believe my good fortune," he babbled, as he brought the car up the gentle incline into Monte Carlo. He dodged an early morning tram, missing an unsuspecting passenger, who had come round the back of the tram-car, by inches, and set the big Italia up the palm avenue into the town.
"It is incredible, and yet I always thought some great thing would happen to me, and, Jean, I have risked so much for you. I would have killed Madame in London if she had not been dragged out of the way by that old man, and did I not watch for you when the man Meredith----"
"Hush," she said in a low voice. "Let us talk about something else."
"Shall I see your father? I am sorry for what I did last night," he said when they were nearing the villa.
"Father has taken his motor-bicycle and gone for a trip into Italy," she said. "No, I do not think I should speak to him, even if he were here. He may come round in time, François. You can understand that it is terribly distressing; he hoped I would make a great marriage. You must allow for father's disappointment."
He nodded. He did not drive her to the house, but stopped outside the garage.
"Remember, at half-past ten you will take Madame Meredith to the Lovers' Chair--you know the place?"
"I know it very well," he said. "It is a difficult place to turn--I must take her almost into San Remo. Why does she want to go to the Lovers' Chair? I thought only the cheap people went there----"
"You must not tell her that," she said sharply. "Besides, I myself have been there."
"And who did you think of, Jean?" he asked suddenly.
She lowered her eyes.
"I will not tell you--now," she said, and ran into the house.
François stood gazing after her until she had disappeared, and then, like a man waking from a trance, he turned to the mundane business of filling his tank.