The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace
Jean Briggerland waited until she heard the sound of the departing car sink to a faint hum, then she went up to her room, opened the bureau and took out a long and tightly fitting dust-coat that she wore when she was motoring. She had seen a large bottle of peroxide in Mrs. Cole-Mortimer's room. It probably contributed to the dazzling glories of Mrs. Cole-Mortimer's hair, but it was also a powerful germicide. She soaked a big silk handkerchief in a basin of water, to which she added a generous quantity of the drug, and squeezing the handkerchief nearly dry, she knotted it loosely about her neck. A rubber bathing cap she pulled down over her head, and smiled at her queer reflection in the glass. Then she found a pair of kid gloves and drew them on.
She turned out the light and went softly down the carpeted stairs. The servants were at their dinner, and she opened the front door and crossed the lawn into a belt of trees, beyond which she knew, for she had been in the house two days, was the gardener's cottage.
A dim light burnt in one of the two rooms and the window was uncurtained. She saw the bed and its tiny occupant, but nobody else was in the room. The maid had said that the mother had deserted the little sufferer, but this was not quite true. The doctor had ordered the mother into isolation, and had sent a nurse from the infection hospital to take her place. That lady, at the moment, was waiting at the end of the avenue for the ambulance to arrive.
Jean opened the door and stepped in, pulling up the saturated handkerchief until it covered nose and mouth. The place was deserted, and, without a moment's hesitation, she lifted the child, wrapped a blanket about it and crossed the lawn again. She went quietly up the stairs straight to Lydia's room. There was enough light from the dressing-room to see the bed, and unwrapping the blanket she pulled back the covers and laid him gently in the bed. The child was unconscious. The hideous marks of the disease had developed with remarkable rapidity and he made no sound.
She sat down in a chair, waiting. Her almost inhuman calm was not ruffled by so much as a second's apprehension. She had provided for every contingency and was ready with a complete explanation, whatever happened.
Half an hour passed, and then rising, she wrapped the child in the blanket and carried him back to the cottage. She heard the purr of the motor and footsteps as she flitted back through the trees.
First she went to Lydia's room and straightened the bed, spraying the room with the faint perfume which she found on the dressing table; then she went back again into the garden, stripped off the dust coat, cap and handkerchief, rolling them into a bundle, which she thrust through the bars of an open window which she knew ventilated a cellar. Last of all she stripped her gloves and sent them after the bundle.
She heard the voices of the nurse and attendant as they carried the child to the ambulance.
"Poor little kid," she murmured, "I hope he gets better."
And, strangely enough, she meant it.
* * * * *
It had been a thrilling evening for Lydia, and she returned to the house at Cap Martin very tired, but very happy. She was seeing a new world, a world the like of which had never been revealed to her, and though she could have slept, and her head did nod in the car, she roused herself to talk it all over again with the sympathetic Jean.
Mrs. Cole-Mortimer retired early. Mr. Briggerland had gone up to bed the moment he returned, and Lydia would have been glad to have ended her conversation; since her head reeled with weariness, but Jean was very talkative, until----
"My dear, if I don't go to bed I shall sleep on the table," smiled Lydia, rising and suppressing a yawn.
"I'm so sorry," said the penitent Jean.
She accompanied the girl upstairs, her arm about her waist, and left her at the door of her dressing-room.
A maid had laid out her night things on a big settee (a little to Lydia's surprise) and she undressed quickly.
She opened the door of her bedroom, her hand was on a switch, when she was conscious of a faint and not unpleasant odour. It was a clean, pungent smell. "Disinfectant," said her brain mechanically. She turned on the light, wondering where it came from. And then as she crossed the room she came in sight of her bed and stopped, for it was saturated with water--water that dropped from the hanging coverlet, and made little pools on the floor. From the head of the bed to the foot there was not one dry place. Whosoever had done the work was thorough. Blankets, sheets, pillows were soddened, and from the soaked mass came a faint acrid aroma which she recognised, even before she saw on the floor an empty bottle labelled "Peroxide of Hydrogen."
She could only stand and stare. It was too late to arouse the household, and she remembered that there was a very comfortable settee in the dressing-room with a rug and a pillow, and she went back.
A few minutes later she was fast asleep. Not so Miss Briggerland, who was sitting up in bed, a cigarette between her lips, a heavy volume on her knees, reading:
"Such malignant cases are almost without exception rapidly fatal, sometimes so early that no sign of the characteristic symptoms appear at all," she read and, dropping the book on the floor, extinguished her cigarette on an alabaster tray, and settled herself to sleep. She was dozing when she remembered that she had forgotten to say her prayers.
"Oh, damn!" said Jean, getting out reluctantly to kneel on the cold floor by the side of the bed.