The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace
Lydia had promised to go to the theatre that night with Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, and she was glad of the excuse to leave her tragic home.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, who was not lavish in the matter of entertainments that cost money, had a box, and although Lydia had seen the piece before (it was in fact the very play she had attended to sketch dresses on the night of her adventure) it was a relief to sit in silence, which her hostess, with singular discretion, did not attempt to disturb.
It was during the last act that Mrs. Cole-Mortimer gave her an invitation which she accepted joyfully.
"I've got a house at Cap Martin," said Mrs. Cole-Mortimer. "It is only a tiny place, but I think you would rather like it. I hate going to the Riviera alone, so if you care to come as my guest, I shall be most happy to chaperon you. They are bringing my yacht down to Monaco, so we ought to have a really good time."
Lydia accepted the yacht and the house as she had accepted the invitation--without question. That the yacht had been chartered that morning and the house hired by telegram on the previous day, she could not be expected to guess. For all she knew, Mrs. Cole-Mortimer might be a very wealthy woman, and in her wildest dreams she did not imagine that Jean Briggerland had provided the money for both.
It had not been a delicate negotiation, because Mrs. Cole-Mortimer had the skin of a pachyderm.
Years later Lydia discovered that the woman lived on borrowed money, money which never could and never would be repaid, and which the borrower had no intention of refunding.
A hint dropped by Jean that there was somebody on the Riviera whom she desired to meet, without her father's knowledge, accompanied by the plain statement that she would pay all expenses, was quite sufficient for Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, and she had fallen in with her patron's views as readily as she had agreed to pose as a friend of Meredith's. To do her justice, she had the faculty of believing in her own invention, and she was quite satisfied that James Meredith had been a great personal friend of hers, just as she would believe that the house on the Riviera and the little steam-yacht had been procured out of her own purse.
It was harder for her, however, to explain the great system which she was going to work in Monte Carlo and which was to make everybody's fortune.
Lydia, who was no gambler and only mildly interested in games of chance, displayed so little evidence of interest in the scheme that Mrs. Cole-Mortimer groaned her despair, not knowing that she was expected to do no more than stir the soil for the crop which Jean Briggerland would plant and reap.
They went on to supper at one of the clubs, and Lydia thought with amusement of poor old Jaggs, who apparently took his job very seriously indeed.
Again her angle of vision had shifted, and her respect for the old man had overcome any annoyance his uncouth presence brought to her.
As she alighted at the door of the club she looked round, half expecting to see him. The club entrance was up a side street off Leicester Square, an ill-lit thoroughfare which favoured Mr. Jaggs's retiring methods, but there was no sign of him, and she did not wait in the drizzling night to make any closer inspection.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer had not disguised the possibility of Jean Briggerland being at the club, and they found her with a gay party of young people, sitting in one of the recesses. Jean made a place for the girl by her side and introduced her to half a dozen people whose names Lydia did not catch, and never afterwards remembered.
Mr. Marcus Stepney, however, that sleek, dark man, who bowed over her hand and seemed as though he were going to kiss it, she had met before, and her second impression of him was even less favourable than the first.
"Do you dance?" asked Jean.
A jazz band was playing an infectious two-step. At the girl's nod Jean beckoned one of her party, a tall, handsome boy who throughout the subsequent dance babbled into Lydia's ear an incessant pćan in praise of Jean Briggerland.
Lydia was amused.
"Of course she is very beautiful," she said in answer to the interminable repetition of his question. "I think she's lovely."
"That's what I say," said the young man, whom she discovered was Lord Stoker. "The most amazingly beautiful creature on the earth, I think."
"Of course you're awfully good-looking, too," he blundered, and Lydia laughed aloud.
"But she's got enemies," said the young man viciously, "and if ever I meet that infernal cad, Glover, he'll be sorry."
The smile left Lydia's face.
"Mr. Glover is a friend of mine," she said a little quickly.
"Sorry," he mumbled, "but----"
"Does Miss Briggerland say he is so very bad?"
"Of course not. She never says a word against him really." His lordship hastened to exonerate his idol. "She just says she doesn't know how long she's going to stand his persecutions. It breaks one's heart to see how sad this--your friend makes her."
Lydia was a very thoughtful girl for the rest of the evening; she was beginning in a hazy way to see things which she had not seen before. Of course Jean never said anything against Jack Glover. And yet she had succeeded in arousing this youth to fury against the lawyer, and Lydia realised, with a sense of amazement, that Jean had also made her feel bad about Jack. And yet she had said nothing but sweet things.
When she got back to the flat that night she found that Mr. Jaggs had not been there all the evening. He came in a few minutes after her, wrapped up in an old army coat, and from his appearance she gathered that he had been standing out in the rain and sleet the whole of the evening.
"Why, Jaggs," she said impulsively, "wherever have you been?"
"Just dodging round, miss," he grunted. "Having a look at the little ducks in the pond."
"You've been outside the theatre, and you've been waiting outside Niro's Club," she said accusingly.
"Don't know it, miss," he said. "One theayter is as much like another one to me."
"You must take your things off and let Mrs. Morgan dry your clothes," she insisted, but he would not hear of this, compromising only with stripping his sodden great coat.
He disappeared into his dark room, there to ruminate upon such matters as appeared of interest to him. A bed had been placed for him, but only once had he slept on it.
After the flat grew still and the last click of the switch told that the last light had been extinguished, he opened the door softly, and, carrying a chair in his hand, he placed this gently with its back to the front door, and there he sat and dozed throughout the night. When Lydia woke the next morning he was gone as usual.