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The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 12955

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06

Mrs. Brewster regarded her surroundings with inward satisfaction. It would have taken a far more captious critic than the pretty widow to find fault with the large, high-ceilinged room in which she sat. The handsome carved Venetian furniture, the rich hangings and valuable paintings on the walls gave evidence of Colonel McIntyre's artistic taste and appreciation of the beautiful. Mrs. Brewster had never failed, during her visit to the McIntyre twins, to examine the rare curios in the carved cabinets and the tapestries on the walls, but that afternoon, with one eye on the clock and the other on her embroidery, she sat waiting in growing impatience for the interruption she anticipated.

The hands of the clock had passed the hour of five before the buzz of a distant bell brought her to her feet. Hurrying to the window she peeped between the curtains in time to see a stylish roadster electric glide down the driveway leading from the McIntyre residence and stop at the curb. As she turned to go back to her chair Dr. Stone was ushered into the library by the footman. Mrs. Brewster welcomed her cousin with frank relief.

"I have waited so impatiently for you," she confessed, making room for him to sit on the sofa by her side.

"I was detained, Margaret." Stone's voice was not over-cordial; three imperative telephone calls from her, coming at a moment when he had been engaged with a serious case in his office, had provoked him. "Do you wish to see me professionally?"

"Indeed, I don't." She laughed frankly. "I am the picture of health."

Stone, observing her fine coloring and clear eyes, silently agreed with her. The widow made a charming picture in her modish tea-gown, and the physician, watching her with an appraising eye, acknowledged the beauty which had captivated all Washington. Mrs. Brewster had carried her honors tactfully, a fact which had gained her popularity even among the dowagers and match-making mothers who take an active part in Washington's social season.

"Then, Margaret, what do you wish to see me about?" Stone asked, after waiting without result for her to continue speaking.

She laughed softly. "You are the most practical of men," she said. "It would not have been so difficult to find a companion anxious to spend the whole afternoon with me for my sake alone."

"Colonel McIntyre, for instance?" he teased, and laughed amusedly at her heightened color. "Have a care, Margaret; McIntyre's flirtations are all very well, but he is the type of man to be deadly in earnest when once he falls in love."

"Thanks for your warning," Mrs. Brewster smiled, then grew serious. "I sent for you to ask about Jimmie Turnbull's death this morning. Barbara told me you accompanied them to the police court."

"Yes. Why weren't you with the girls?"

"Because I was told nothing of their trip to the police court until they had returned," she replied. "How horribly tragic the whole affair is!" And a shiver she could not suppress crept down her spine.

"It is," agreed Stone. "What possessed Jimmie Turnbull to play so mad a trick?"

"His wager with Barbara."

Stone leaned a little nearer. "Have you learned the nature of that wager?" he asked, lowering his voice.

"No. Babs was in so hysterical a condition when she returned from the police court that she gave a very incoherent account of the whole affair, and she has kept her room ever since luncheon," explained Mrs. Brewster.

Stone looked puzzled. "I understood that Jimmie was attentive to Helen McIntyre and not to Barbara," he said. "But upon my word, Barbara appeared more overcome by Jimmie's death than Helen."

Mrs. Brewster did not reply at once; instead, she glanced carefully around. The room was generally the rallying place of the McIntyres. It stretched across almost the entire width of the house; the diamond-paned and recessed windows gave it a medieval air in keeping with its antique furniture, and the seven doors opening from it led, respectively, to the large dining room beyond, a morning room, billiard room, the front and back halls, and the Italian loggia which over-looked the stretch of ground between the McIntyre residence and its neighbor on the north. Apparently, she and Dr. Stone had the room to themselves.

"I cannot answer your question with positiveness," she stated. "Frankly, Jimmie appeared impartial in his attentions to the twins. When he wasn't with Barbara he was with Helen, and vice versa."

Stone gazed at her in some perplexity. "Are you aware that Helen stated at the police court this morning that she was Turnbull's fiancee?"

"What!" Mrs. Brewster actually bounced in her seat. "You-you astound me!"

"I was a bit surprised myself," acknowledged the physician. "I thought Rochester-however, that is neither here nor there. Helen not only announced she was Jimmie's fiancee but as such demanded that a post-mortem examination be held to determine the cause of his death."

Mrs. Brewster's pretty color faded and the glance she turned on her cousin was sharp. "Why should Helen suspect foul play?" she demanded. "For that is what her request hinted."

"True." Stone pulled his beard absentmindedly. "Ah, here is Colonel McIntyre," he exclaimed as the portieres before the hall door parted and a tall man strode into the library.

McIntyre was a favorite with the old physician, and he welcomed his arrival with warmth. Exchanging a word of greeting with Mrs. Brewster, McIntyre drew up a chair and dropped into it.

"I called at your office, doctor," he said. "Went there at once on learning the shocking news about poor Turnbull. Why in the world didn't he announce who he was when my daughter had him arrested as a burglar? He must have realized that prolonged excitement was bad for his weak heart."

Mrs. Brewster, who had settled herself more comfortably in her corner of the sofa on McIntyre's arrival, answered his remark.

"I only knew Jimmie superficially," she said, "but he had one distinguishing trait patent to all, his inordinate fondness for practical jokes. Probably the predicament he found himself in was highly to his taste-until his heart failed."

Her voice, slightly raised, carried across the room and reached the ears of a tall, slender girl who had stood hesitating on the threshold of the dining worn door on beholding the group by the sofa. All hesitation vanished, however, as the meaning of Mrs. Brewster's remark dawned on her, and she walked over

to the sofa.

"You are very unjust, Margaret," she stated, and at sound of her low triante voice McIntyre whirled around and frowned slightly. "Jimmie was thinking of the predicament of others, not of himself."

"What do you mean, Helen?" her father demanded.

"Why, how could Jimmie reveal his identity in court without involving us?" she asked. "Good afternoon, doctor," recollecting her manners, and her attention thus diverted, she missed the sudden questioning look which Mrs. Brewster and her father exchanged. "No," she continued, "Jimmie sacrificed himself for others."

"By becoming a burglar." McIntyre laughed shortly. "Don't talk arrant nonsense, Helen."

The girl flushed at his tone, and Dr. Stone, an interested onlooker, marveled at the fleeting flash of disdain which lighted her dark eyes. Stone's interest grew. The McIntyre family had always been particularly congenial, and the devotion of Colonel McIntyre (left a widower when the twins were in short frocks) to his daughters had been commented on frequently by their wide circle of friends in Washington and by acquaintances made in their travels abroad.

Colonel McIntyre had married when quite a young man. Frugality and industry and a brilliant mind had reaped their reward, and, wiser than the majority of Americans, he retired early from business and devoted himself to a life of leisure and the education of his daughters. Their debut the previous autumn had been one of the social events of the Washington season, and the instant popularity the girls had attained proved a source of pride to Colonel McIntyre. His chief pleasure consisted in gratifying their every whim, and Dr. Stone, knowing the family as he did, wondered at the faintly discernible air of constraint in the girl's manner. Usually frank to a sometimes embarrassing degree, she appeared to some disadvantage as she sat gazing moodily at the tips of her patent-leather pumps. Dr. Stone's attention shifted to Colonel McIntyre and lastly to the pretty widow at his elbow. Had Dame Rumor spoken truly in the report, widely circulated, that the colonel had fallen a victim to the charms of Margaret Brewster, his daughters' guest? If so, it might account for the young girl's manner-however devoted McIntyre's daughters might be to Mrs. Brewster as a friend and companion, they might resent having so young a woman for their step-mother.

Not receiving any reply to his remarks, McIntyre was about to address his daughter again when she spoke.

"Jimmie will be justified," she declared stoutly. "Has the coroner held the autopsy yet, Dr. Stone?"

"Autopsy!" McIntyre spoke with sharp abruptness. "I thought it was clearly established that Jimmie died from angina pectoris?"

"It is so believed," responded Stone. His mystification was growing; had not Helen informed her father of the scene which had transpired at the police court, and of her request to the coroner? "I understand the post-mortem examination will be made this afternoon, Helen."

A heavy paper knife, nicely balanced between McIntyre's well manicured fingers, dropped to the floor as a step sounded behind him and the butler, Grimes, stopped by his side.

"Mr. Rochester just telephoned that his partner, Mr. Harry Kent, is out of town, Miss"-bowing to the silent girl. Grimes always contented himself with addressing his "young ladies" by the simple prefix "Miss," and never added their given names, because, as he expressed it, "them twins are alike as two peas, and which is which, I dunno." Considering himself one of the family from his long service with Colonel McIntyre, he kept a watchful eye on the twins, but their pranks in childhood had often exasperated him into giving notice, which he generally found it convenient to forget when the first of a new month came around.

"Mr. Kent will be back to-morrow," added the butler, as silence followed the delivery of his message. "Mr. Rochester wishes to know if he can transact any business for you."

"Please thank him and say no." The girl's color rose as she caught her father's disapproving look. The colonel waited until the butler had disappeared before addressing her.

"Why did you send for Harry Kent?" he questioned. "You know I do not approve of his attentions to Barbara. Rochester is well enough-"

"Speaking of Rochester"-Mrs. Brewster saw the gathering storm clouds in the girl's expressive eyes, and broke hastily into the conversation. "I see by the paper, Cousin Amos"-she turned so as to face Dr. Stone- "that Mr. Rochester declared positively that Jimmie Turnbull died from angina pectoris."

"What's Philip's opinion worth?" The young girl smiled disdainfully. "Philip seems to think that having shared an apartment with Jimmie, gives him intimate knowledge of Jimmie's health. Philip is not a medical man."

"No," acknowledged her father. "But here is a medical man who was on the spot when Jimmie died. What's your opinion, Stone?"

Stone, suddenly conscious of the keen attention of his companions, spoke slowly as was his wont when making a serious statement.

"Rochester's contention that Jimmie died from angina pectoris would seem borne out by what transpired," he said. "Undoubtedly Jimmie felt an attack coming on and used the customary remedy to relieve it-"

"And what was that remedy?" questioned Mrs. Brewster swiftly.

"Amyl nitrite." Stone spoke with decision. "I could detect its presence by the fruity, pleasant odor which always accompanies the drug's use."

"Ah!" The exclamation slipped from Mrs. Brewster. "Is the drug administered in water?"

"No, it is inhaled-take care, you have dropped your handkerchief." Stone pulled himself up short in his speech, and bent over but the young girl was too quick for him, and stooped first to pick up her handkerchief.

As she raised her head Stone caught sight of the tiny mole under the lobe of her left ear. It was the one mark which distinguished Barbara from her twin sister. Colonel McIntyre had addressed his daughter as Helen, and she had not undeceived him-Why? The perplexed physician gave up the problem.

"The drug," he went on to explain, "amyl nitrite comes in pearl capsules and is crushed in a handkerchief and the fumes inhaled."

Mrs. Brewster leaned forward suddenly. "Would that cause death?" she asked.

Stone shook his head in denial. "Not the customary dose of three minims," he answered, and turning, found that Barbara had stolen from the room.

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