The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace
Jean Briggerland had spent a very busy afternoon. There had been a string of callers at the handsome house in Berkeley Street.
Mr. Briggerland was of a philanthropic bent, and had instituted a club in the East End of London which was intended to raise the moral tone of Limehouse, Wapping, Poplar and the adjacent districts. It was started without ostentation with a man named Faire as general manager. Mr. Faire had had in his lifetime several hectic contests with the police, in which he had been invariably the loser. And it was in his role as a reformed character that he undertook the management of this social uplift club.
Well-meaning police officials had warned Mr. Briggerland that Faire had a bad character. Mr. Briggerland listened, was grateful for the warning, but explained that Faire had come under the influence of the new uplift movement, and from henceforward he would be an exemplary citizen. Later, the police had occasion to extend their warning to its founder. The club was being used by known criminal characters; men who had already been in jail and were qualifying for a return visit.
Again Mr. Briggerland pointed to the object of the institution which was to bring bad men into the society of good men and women, and to arouse in them a desire for better things. He quoted a famous text with great effect. But still the police were unconvinced.
It was the practice of Miss Jean Briggerland to receive selected members of the club and to entertain them at tea in Berkeley Street. Her friends thought it was very "sweet" and very "daring," and wondered whether she wasn't afraid of catching some kind of disease peculiar to the East End of London. But Jean did not worry about such things. On this afternoon, after the last of her callers had gone, she went down to the little morning-room where such entertainments occurred and found two men, who rose awkwardly as she entered.
The gentle influence of the club had not made them look anything but what they were. "Jail-bird" was written all over them.
"I'm very glad you men have come," said Jean sweetly. "Mr. Hoggins----"
"That's me, miss," said one, with a grin.
"And Mr. Talmot."
The second man showed his teeth.
"I'm always glad to see members of the club," said Jean busy with the teapot, "especially men who have had so bad a time as you have. You have only just come out of prison, haven't you, Mr. Hoggins?" she asked innocently.
Hoggins went red and coughed.
"Yes, miss," he said huskily and added inconsequently, "I didn't do it!"
"I'm sure you were innocent," she said with a smile of sympathy, "and really if you were guilty I don't think you men are so much to blame. Look what a bad time you have! What disadvantages you suffer, whilst here in the West End people are wasting money that really ought to go to your wives and children."
"That's right," said Mr. Hoggins.
"There's a girl I know who is tremendously rich," Jean prattled on. "She lives at 84, Cavendish Mansions, just on the top floor, and, of course, she's very foolish to sleep with her windows open, especially as people could get down from the roof--there is a fire escape there. She always has a lot of jewellery--keeps it under her pillow I think, and there is generally a few hundred pounds scattered about the bedroom. Now that is what I call putting temptation in the way of the weak."
She lifted her blue eyes, saw the glitter in the man's eyes and went on.
"I've told her lots of times that there is danger, but she only laughs. There is an old man who sleeps in the house--quite a feeble old man who has only the use of one arm. Of course, if she cried out, I suppose he would come to her rescue, but then a real burglar wouldn't let her cry out, would he?" she asked.
The two men looked at one another.
"No," breathed one.
"Especially as they could get clean away if they were clever," said Jean, "and it isn't likely that they would leave her in a condition to betray them, is it?"
Mr. Hoggins cleared his throat.
"It's not very likely, miss," he said.
Jean shrugged her shoulders.
"Women do these things, and then they blame the poor man to whom a thousand pounds would be a fortune because he comes and takes it. Personally, I should not like to live at 84, Cavendish Mansions."
"84, Cavendish Mansions," murmured Mr. Hoggins absent-mindedly.
His last sentence had been one of ten years' penal servitude. His next sentence would be for life. Nobody knew this better than Jean Briggerland as she went on to talk of the club and of the wonderful work which it was doing.
She dismissed her visitors and went back to her sitting-room. As she turned to go up the stairway her maid intercepted her.
"Mary is in your room, miss," she said in a low voice.
Jean frowned but made no reply.
The woman who stood awkwardly in the centre of the room awaiting the girl, greeted her with an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry, miss," she said, "but I lost my job this morning. That old man spotted me. He's a split--a detective."
Jean Briggerland regarded her with an unmoved face save that her beautiful mouth took on the pathetic little droop which had excited the pity of a judge and an army of lawyers.
"When did this happen?" she asked.
"Last night, miss. He came and I got a bit cheeky to him, and he turned on me, the old devil, and told me my real name and that I'd got the job by forging recommendations."
Jean sat down slowly in the padded Venetian chair before her writing table.
"Jaggs?" she asked.
"And why didn't you come here at once?"
"I thought I might be followed, miss."
The girl bit her lip and nodded.
"You did quite right," she said, and then after a moment's reflection, "We shall be in Paris next week. You had better go by the night train and wait for us at the flat."
She gave the maid some money and after she had gone, sat for an hour before the fire looking into its red depths.
She rose at last a little stiffly, pulled the heavy silken curtain across the windows and switched on the light, and there was a smile on her face that was very beautiful to see. For in that hour came an inspiration.
She sought her father in his study and told him her plan, and he blanched and shivered with the very horror of it.