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The Angel of Terror
Edgar Wallace (1922) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Lydia was dressing for her journey when Mrs. Cole-Mortimer came into the saloon where Jean was writing.
"There's a telephone call from Monte Carlo," she said. "Somebody wants to speak to Lydia."
Jean jumped up.
"I'll answer it," she said.
The voice at the other end of the wire was harsh and unfamiliar to her.
"I want to speak to Mrs. Meredith."
"Who is it?" asked Jean.
"It is a friend of hers," said the voice. "Will you tell her? The business is rather urgent."
"I'm sorry," said Jean, "but she's just gone out."
She heard an exclamation of annoyance.
"Do you know where she's gone?" asked the voice.
"I think she's gone in to Monte Carlo," said Jean.
"If I miss her will you tell her not to go out again until I come to the house?"
"Certainly," said Jean politely, and hung up the telephone.
"Was that a call for me?"
It was Lydia's voice from the head of the stairs.
"Yes, dear. I think it was Marcus Stepney who wanted to speak to you. I told him you'd gone out," said Jean. "You didn't wish to speak to him?"
"Good heavens, no!" said Lydia. "You're sure you won't come with me?"
"I'd rather stay here," said Jean truthfully.
The car was at the door, and Mordon, looking unusually spruce in his white dust coat, stood by the open door.
"How long shall I be away?" asked Lydia.
"About two hours, dear, you'll be very hungry when you come back," said Jean, kissing her. "Now, mind you think of the right man," she warned her in mockery.
"I wonder if I shall," said Lydia quietly.
Jean watched the car out of sight, then went back to the saloon. She was hardly seated before the telephone rang again, and she anticipated Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, and answered it.
"Mrs. Meredith has not gone in to Monte Carlo," said the voice. "Her car has not been seen on the road."
"Is that Mr. Jaggs?" asked Jean sweetly.
"Yes, miss," was the reply.
"Mrs. Meredith has come back now. I'm dreadfully sorry, I thought she had gone into Monte Carlo. She's in her room with a bad headache. Will you come and see her?"
There was an interval of silence.
"Yes, I will come," said Jaggs.
Twenty minutes later a taxicab set down the old man at the door, and a maid admitted him and brought him into the saloon.
Jean rose to meet him. She looked at the bowed figure of old Jaggs. Took him all in, from his iron-grey hair to his dusty shoes, and then she pointed to a chair.
"Sit down," she said, and old Jaggs obeyed. "You've something very important to tell Mrs. Meredith, I suppose."
"I'll tell her that myself, miss," said the old man gruffly.
"Well, before you tell her anything, I want to make a confession," she smiled down on old Jaggs, and pulled up a chair so that she faced him.
He was sitting with his back to the light, holding his battered hat on his knees.
"I've really brought you up under false pretences," she said, "because Mrs. Meredith isn't here at all."
"Not here?" he said, half rising.
"No, she's gone for a ride with our chauffeur. But I wanted to see you, Mr. Jaggs, because--" she paused. "I realise that you're a dear friend of hers and have her best interests at heart. I don't know who you are," she said, shaking her head, "but I know, of course, that Mr. John Glover has employed you."
"What's all this about?" he asked gruffly. "What have you to tell me?"
"I don't know how to begin," she said, biting her lips. "It is such a delicate matter that I hate talking about it at all. But the attitude of Mrs. Meredith to our chauffeur Mordon, is distressing, and I think Mr. Glover should be told."
He did not speak and she went on.
"These things do happen, I know," she said, "but I am happy to say that nothing of that sort has come into my experience, and, of course, Mordon is a good-looking man and she is young----"
"What are you talking about?" His tone was dictatorial and commanding.
"I mean," she said, "that I fear poor Lydia is in love with Mordon."
He sprang to his feet.
"It's a damned lie!" he said, and she stared at him. "Now tell me what has happened to Lydia Meredith," he went on, "and let me tell you this, Jean Briggerland, that if one hair of that girl's head is harmed, I will finish the work I began out there," he pointed to the garden, "and strangle you with my own hands."
She lifted her eyes to his and dropped them again, and began to tremble, then turning suddenly on her heel, she fled to her room, locked the door and stood against it, white and shaking. For the second time in her life Jean Briggerland was afraid.
She heard his quick footsteps in the passage outside, and there came a tap on her door.
"Let me in," growled the man, and for a second she almost lost control of herself. She looked wildly round the room for some way of escape, and then as a thought struck her, she ran quickly into the bath-room, which opened from her room. A large sponge was set to dry by an open window, and this she seized; on a shelf by the side of the bath was a big bottle of ammonia, and averting her face, she poured its contents upon the sponge until it was sodden, then with the dripping sponge in her hand, she crept back, turned the key and opened the door.
The old man burst in, then, before he realised what was happening, the sponge was pressed against his face. The pungent drug almost blinded him, its paralysing fumes brought him on to his knees. He gripped her wrist and tried to press away her hand, but now her arm was round his neck, and he could not get the purchase.
With a groan of agony he collapsed on the floor. In that instant she was on him like a cat, her knee between his shoulders.
Half unconscious he felt his hands drawn to his back, and felt something lashing them together. She was using the silk girdle which had been about her waist, and her work was effective.
Presently she turned him over on his back. The ammonia was still in his eyes, and he could not open them. The agony was terrible, almost unendurable. With her hand under his arm he struggled to his feet. He felt her lead him somewhere, and suddenly he was pushed into a chair. She left him alone for a little while, but presently came back and began to tie his feet together. It was a most amazing single-handed capture--even Jean could never have imagined the ease with which she could gain her victory.
"I'm sorry to hurt an old man." There was a sneer in her voice which he had not heard before. "But if you promise not to shout, I will not gag you."
He heard the sound of running water, and presently with a wet cloth she began wiping his eyes gently.
"You will be able to see in a minute," said Jean's cool voice. "In the meantime you'll stay here until I send for the police."
For all his pain he was forced to chuckle.
"Until you send for the police, eh? You know me?"
"I only know you're a wicked old man who broke into this house whilst I was alone and the servants were out," she said.
"You know why I've come?" he insisted. "I've come to tell Mrs. Meredith that a hundred thousand pounds have been taken from her bank on a forged signature."
"How absurd," said Jean. She was sitting on the edge of the bath looking at the bedraggled figure. "How could anybody draw money from Mrs. Meredith's bank whilst her dear friend and guardian, Jack Glover, is in London to see that she is not robbed."
"Old Jaggs" glared up at her from his inflamed eyes.
"You know very well," he said distinctly, "that I am Jack Glover, and that I have not left Monte Carlo since Lydia Meredith arrived."