The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace
"Have you solved the mystery of the submerged bed?" smiled Jean.
"I'm not probing too deeply into the matter," she said. "Poor Mrs. Cole-Mortimer was terribly upset."
"She would be," said Jean. "It was her own eiderdown!"
This was the first hint Lydia had received that the house was rented furnished.
They drove into Nice that morning, and Lydia, remembering Jack Glover's remarks, looked closely at the chauffeur, and was startled to see a resemblance between him and the man who had driven the taxicab on the night she had been carried off from the theatre. It is true that the taxi-driver had a moustache and that this man was clean-shaven, and moreover, had tiny side whiskers, but there was a resemblance.
"Have you had your driver long?" she asked as they were running through Monte Carlo, along the sea road.
"Mordon? Yes, we have had him six or seven years," said Jean carelessly. "He drives us when we are on the continent, you know. He speaks French perfectly and is an excellent driver. Father has tried to persuade him to come to England, but he hates London--he was telling me the other day that he hadn't been there for ten years."
That disposed of the resemblance, thought Lydia, and yet--she could remember his voice, she thought, and when they alighted on the Promenade des Anglaise she spoke to him. He replied in French, and it is impossible to detect points of resemblance in a voice that speaks one language and the same voice when it speaks another.
The promenade was crowded with saunterers. A band was playing by the jetty and although the wind was colder than it had been at Cap Martin the sun was warm enough to necessitate the opening of a parasol.
It was a race week, and the two girls lunched at the Negrito. They were in the midst of their meal when a man came toward them and Lydia recognised Mr. Marcus Stepney. This dark, suave man was no favourite of hers, though why she could not have explained. His manners were always perfect and, towards her, deferential.
As usual, he was dressed with the precision of a fashion-plate. Mr. Marcus Stepney was a man, a considerable portion of whose time was taken up every morning by the choice of cravats and socks and shirts. Though Lydia did not know this, his smartness, plus a certain dexterity with cards, was his stock in trade. No breath of scandal had touched him, he moved in a good set and was always at the right place at the proper season.
When Aix was full he was certain to be found at the Palace, in the Deauville week you would find him at the Casino punting mildly at the baccarat table. And after the rooms were closed, and even the Sports Club at Monte Carlo had shut its doors, there was always a little game to be had in the hotels and in Marcus Stepney's private sitting-room.
And it cannot be denied that Mr. Stepney was lucky. He won sufficient at these out-of-hour games to support him nobly through the trials and vicissitudes which the public tables inflict upon their votaries.
"Going to the races," he said, "how very fortunate! Will you come along with me? I can give you three good winners."
"I have no money to gamble," said Jean, "I am a poor woman. Lydia, who is rolling in wealth, can afford to take your tips, Marcus."
Marcus looked at Lydia with a speculative eye.
"If you haven't any money with you, don't worry. I have plenty and you can pay me afterwards. I could make you a million francs to-day."
"Thank you," said Jean coolly, "but Mrs. Meredith does not bet so heavily."
Her tone was a clear intimation to the man of wits that he was impinging upon somebody else's preserves and he grinned amiably.
Nevertheless, it was a profitable afternoon for Lydia. She came back to Cap Martin twenty thousand francs richer than she had been when she started off.
"Lydia's had a lot of luck she tells me," said Mr. Briggerland.
"Yes. She won about five hundred pounds," said his daughter. "Marcus was laying ground bait. She did not know what horses he had backed until after the race was run, when he invariably appeared with a few mille notes and Lydia's pleasure was pathetic. Of course she didn't win anything. The twenty thousand francs was a sprat--he's coming to-night to see how the whales are blowing!"
Mr. Marcus Stepney arrived punctually, and, to Mr. Briggerland's disgust, was dressed for dinner, a fact which necessitated the older man's hurried retreat and reappearance in conventional evening wear.
Marcus Stepney's behaviour at dinner was faultless. He devoted himself in the main to Mrs. Cole-Mortimer and Jean, who apparently never looked at him and yet observed his every movement, knew that he was merely waiting his opportunity.
It came when the dinner was over and the party adjourned to the big stoep facing the sea. The night was chilly and Mr. Stepney found wraps and furs for the ladies, and so manoeuvred the arrangement of the chairs that Lydia and he were detached from the remainder of the party, not by any great distance, but sufficient, as the experienced Marcus knew, to remove a murmured conversation from the sharpest eavesdropper.
Jean, who was carrying on a three-cornered conversation with her father and Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, did not stir, until she saw, by the light of a shaded lamp in the roof, the dark head of Mr. Marcus Stepney droop more confidently towards his companion. Then she rose and strolled across.
Marcus did not curse her because he did not express his inmost thoughts aloud.
He gave her his chair and pulled another forward.
"Does Miss Briggerland know?" asked Lydia.
"No," said Mr. Stepney pleasantly.
"May I tell her?"
"Mr. Stepney has been telling me about a wonderful racing coup to be made to-morrow. Isn't it rather thrilling, Jean? He says it will be quite possible for me to make five million francs without any risk at all."
"Except the risk of a million, I suppose," smiled Jean. "Well, are you going to do it?" Lydia shook her head.
"I haven't a million francs in France, for one thing," she said, "and I wouldn't risk it if I had."
And Jean smiled again at the discomfiture which Mr. Marcus Stepney strove manfully to hide.
Later she took his arm and led him into the garden.
"Marcus," she said when they were out of range of the house, "I think you are several kinds of a fool."
"Why?" asked the other, who was not in the best humour.
"It was so crude," she said scornfully, "so cheap and confidence-trickish. A miserable million francs--twenty thousand pounds. Apart from the fact that your name would be mud in London if it were known that you had robbed a girl----"
"There's no question of robbery," he said hotly, "I tell you Valdau is a certainty for the Prix."
"It would not be a certainty if her money were on," said Jean dryly. "It would finish an artistic second and you would be full of apologies, and poor Lydia would be a million francs to the bad. No, Marcus, that is cheap."
"I'm nearly broke," he said shortly.
He made no disguise of his profession, nor of his nefarious plan.
Between the two there was a queer kind of camaraderie. Though he may not have been privy to the more tremendous of her crimes, yet he seemed to accept her as one of those who lived on the frontiers of illegality.
"I was thinking about you, as you sat there telling her the story," said Jean thoughtfully. "Marcus, why don't you marry her?"
He stopped in his stride and looked down at the girl.
"Marry her, Jean; are you mad? She wouldn't marry me."
"Why not?" she asked. "Of course she'd marry you, you silly fool, if you went the right way about it."
He was silent.
"She is worth six hundred thousand pounds, and I happen to know that she has nearly two hundred thousand pounds in cash on deposit at the bank," said Jean.
"Why do you want me to marry her?" he asked significantly. "Is there a rake-off for you?"
"A big rake-off," she said. "The two hundred thousand on deposit should be easily get-at-able, Marcus, and she'd even give you more----"
"Why?" he asked.
"To agree to a separation," she said coolly. "I know you. No woman could live very long with you and preserve her reason."
"And I'm to hand it all over to you?"
"Oh no," she corrected. "I'm not greedy. It is my experience that the greedy people get into bad trouble. The man or woman who 'wants it all' usually gets the dressing-case the 'all' was kept in. No, I'd like to take a half."
He sat down on a garden seat and she followed his example.
"What is there to be?" he asked. "An agreement between you and me? Something signed and sealed and delivered, eh?"
Her sad eyes caught his and held them.
"I trust you, Marcus," she said softly. "If I help you in this--and I will if you will do all that I tell you to do--I will trust you to give me my share."
Mr. Marcus Stepney fingered his collar a little importantly.
"I've never let a pal down in my life," he said with a cough. "I'm as straight as they make 'em, to people who play the game with me."
"And you are wise, so far as I am concerned," said the gentle Jean. "For if you double-crossed me, I should hand the police the name and address of your other wife who is still living."
His jaw dropped.
"Wha--what?" he stammered.
"Let us join the ladies," mocked Jean, as she rose and put her arm in his.
It pleased her immensely to feel this big man trembling.