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   Chapter 6 STRAIGHT QUESTIONS AND CROOKED ANSWERS

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 17927

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Colonel McIntyre, with an angry gesture, threw down the newspaper he had been reading.

"Do you mean to say, Helen, that you decline to go to the supper to-night on account of the death of Jimmie 'Turnbull?" he asked.

"Yes, father."

McIntyre flushed a dark red; he was not accustomed to scenes with either of his daughters, and here was Helen flouting his authority and Barbara backing her up.

"It is quite time this pretense is dropped," he remarked stiffly. "You were not engaged to Jimmie-wait," as she attempted to interrupt him. "You told me the night of the burglary that he was nothing to you.'"

"I was mistaken," Helen's voice shook, she was very near to tears. "When I saw Jimmie lying there, dead"-she faltered, and her shoulders drooped forlornly-"the world stopped for me."

"Hysterical nonsense!" McIntyre was careful to avoid Barbara's eyes; her indignant snort had been indicative of her feelings. "Keep to your room, Helen, until you regain some common sense. It is as well our friends should not see you in your present frame of mind."

Helen regarded her father under lowered lids. "Very well," she said submissively and walked toward the door; on reaching it she paused, and spoke over her shoulder. "Don't try me too far, father."

McIntyre stared for a full minute at the doorway through which Helen took her departure.

"Well, what the-" He pulled himself up short in the middle of the ejaculation and turned to Barbara. "Go and get dressed," he directed. "We must leave here in twenty minutes."

"I am not going," she announced.

"Not going!" McIntyre frowned, then laughed abruptly. "Now, don't tell me you were engaged to Jimmie Turnbull, also."

"I think you are horrid!" Barbara's small foot came down with a vigorous stamp.

"Well, perhaps I am," her father admitted rather wearily. "Don't keep us waiting, Babs; the car will be here in less than twenty minutes."

"But, father, I prefer to stay at home."

"And I prefer to have you accompany us," retorted McIntyre. "Come, Barbara, we cannot be discourteous to Mrs. Brewster; she is our guest, and this supper is for her entertainment."

"Well, take her." Barbara was openly rebellious.

"Barbara!" His tone caused her to look at him in wonder; instead of the stern rebuke she expected, his voice was almost wheedling. "I cannot very well take Mrs. Brewster to a cafe at this hour without causing gossip."

"Oh, fiddle-sticks!" exclaimed Barbara. "I don't have to play chaperon for you two. Every one knows she is visiting us; what's there improper in your taking her out to supper? Why"-regarding him critically-"she's young enough to be your daughter!"

"Go to your room!" There was nothing wheedling about McIntyre at that instant; he was thoroughly incensed.

As Barbara sped out happy in having gained her way, she announced, as a parting shot, "If you can be nasty to Helen; father, I can be nasty, too."

Colonel McIntyre brought his fist down on a smoking table with such force that he scattered its contents over the floor. When he rose from picking up the debris, he found Mrs. Brewster at his elbow.

"Can I help?" she asked.

"No, thanks, everything is back in place." He pulled forward a chair for her. "If agreeable to you I will telephone Ben Clymer that we will stop for him and take him with us to the Cafe St. Marks; or would you prefer some other man?"

"Oh, no." She threw her evening wrap across the sofa and sat down. "Are the girls ready?"

"They-they are indisposed, and won't be able to go to-night."

"What! Both girls?"

"Yes, both"-firmly, not, however, meeting her eyes.

"Hadn't I better stay with them?" she asked. "Have you telephoned or Dr. Stone?"

"There is no necessity for giving up our little spree," he declared cheerily. "The girls don't need a physician. They"-with meaning, "need a mother's care." He picked up her coronation scarf from the floor where it had slipped and laid it across her bare shoulders; the action was almost a caress. She made a lovely picture as she sat in the high-backed carved chair in her chic evening gown, and as her soft dark eyes met his ardent look, McIntyre felt the hot blood surge to his temples, and with quickened pulse he went to the telephone stand and gave Central a number.

Back in her chair Mrs. Brewster sat thoughtfully watching him. She had been an unobserved witness of the scene with Barbara, having entered the library in time to hear the girl's last remarks. It was not the first inkling that she had had of their disapproval of Colonel McIntyre's attentions to her, but it had hurt.

The widow had become acquainted with the twins when, traveling in Europe just before the outbreak of the World War, and had made the hasty trip back to this country in their company. Colonel McIntyre had planned to bring the twins, then at school in Paris, home himself, but business had kept him in the West and he had cabled to a spinster cousin to chaperon them on the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Nor had he reached New York in time to see them disembark, and thus had missed meeting Mrs. Brewster, then in her first year of widowhood.

The friendship between the twins and Mrs. Brewster had been kept up through much correspondence, and the widow had finally promised, to come to Washington for their debut, visiting her cousins, Dr. and Mrs. Stone. The meeting had but cemented the friendship between them, and at the twins' urgent request, seconded with warmth by Colonel McIntyre, she had promised to spend the month of April at the McIntyre home.

The visit was nearly over. Mrs. Brewster sighed faintly. There were two courses open to her, immediate departure, or to continue to ignore the twins' strangely antagonistic behavior-the first course did not suit Mrs. Brewster's plans.

Barbara, who had left the library through one of its seven doors, had failed to see Mrs. Brewster by the slightest margin; she was intent only on being with Helen. The affection between the twins was very close; but while their facial resemblance was remarkable, their natures were totally dissimilar. Helen, the elder by twenty minutes, was studious, shy, and too much given to introspection; Barbara, on the contrary, was whimsical and practical by turns, with a great capacity for enjoyment. The twins had made their debut jointly on their eighteenth birthday, and while both were popular, Barbara had received the greater amount of attention.

Barbara tip-toed into the suite of rooms which the girls occupied over the library, expecting to find Helen lying on the lounge; instead, she found her writing busily at her desk. She tossed down her pen as her sister entered, and, taking up a blotter, carefully laid it across the page she had been writing.

"Thank heaven, I don't have to go to that supper party," Barbara announced, throwing herself full length on the lounge.

"So father gave it up," commented Helen. "I am glad."

"Gave up nothing," retorted her sister. "He and Margaret Brewster are going."

"What!" Helen was on her feet. "You let them go out alone together?"

"They can't be alone if they are together," answered Barbara practically. "Don't be silly, Helen."

Helen did not answer at once; she had grown singularly pale. Walking over to the window she glanced into the street. "The car hasn't come," she exclaimed, and consulted her wrist watch. "Hurry, Babs, you have just, time to dress and go with them."

"B-b-but I said I wouldn't go," stuttered Barbara, completely taken by surprise.

"No matter; tell father you have changed your mind." Helen held out her hand. "Come, to please me," and there was a world of wistful appeal in her hazel eyes which Barbara was unable to resist.

It was not until Barbara had completed her hasty toilet and a frantic dash downstairs in time to spring into the waiting limousine after Margaret Brewster, that she realized she had put on one of Helen's evening gowns and not her own.

Benjamin Clymer was standing in the vestibule of the Saratoga, where he made his home, when the McIntyre limousine drew up, and he did not keep them waiting, as Colonel McIntyre had predicted he would on the drive to Clymer's apartment house.

"The clerk gave me your message when I came in, McIntyre," he explained as the car drove off. "I called up your residence and Grimes said you were on the way here."

Barbara, tucked away in her corner of the limousine, listened to Mrs. Brewster's animated chatter with utter lack of interest; she wished most heartily that she had not been over-persuaded by her sister, and had remained at home. That her father had accepted her lame explanation and her presence in the party with unaffected pleasure had been plain. Mrs. Brewster, after a quiet inquiry regarding her health, had been less enthusiastic in her welcome. Barbara was just stifling a yawn when the limousine stopped at the entrance to the Cafe St. Marks.

Insid

e the cafe all was light and gaiety, and Barbara brightened perceptibly as the attentive head waiter ushered them to the table Colonel McIntyre had reserved earlier in the evening.

"It's a novel idea turning the old church into a cafe," Barbara remarked to Benjamin Clymer. "A sort of casting bread upon the waters of famished Washington. I wonder if they ever turn water into wine?"

"No such luck," groaned Clymer dismally, looking with distaste at the sparkling grape juice being poured into the erstwhile champagne goblet by his plate. "The cafe is crowded to-night," and he gazed with interest about the room. Colonel McIntyre, who had loitered behind to speak to several friends at an adjacent table, took the unoccupied seat by Mrs. Brewster and was soon in animated conversation with the widow and Clymer; Barbara, her healthy appetite asserting itself, devoted her entire attention to the delicious delicacies placed before her. The arrival of the after-the-theater crowd awoke her from her abstraction, and she accepted Clymer's invitation to dance with alacrity. When they returned to the table she discovered that Margaret Brewster and her father had also joined the dancers.

Barbara watched them while keeping up a disjointed conversation with Clymer, whose absentminded remarks finally drew Barbara's attention, and she wondered what had come over the generally entertaining banker. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him the reason for his distrait manner when her thoughts were diverted by his next remark.

"Your father and Mrs. Brewster make a fine couple," he said. "Colonel McIntyre is the most distinguished looking man in the cafe and Mrs. Brewster is a regular beauty."

Instead of replying Barbara turned in her seat and scanned her father as he and Mrs. Brewster passed them in the dance. Colonel McIntyre did not look his age of forty-seven years. His hair, prematurely gray, had a most attractive wave to it, and his erect and finely proportioned figure showed to advantage in his well-cut dress suit. Barbara's heart swelled with pride-her dear and handsome father! Then she transferred her regard to Margaret Brewster; she had been such a satisfactory friend-why oh, why did she wish to become her step-mother? The twins, with the unerring instinct of womanhood, had decided ten days before that Weller's warning to his son was timely-Mrs. Brewster was a most dangerous widow.

"How is your sister?" inquired Clymer, breaking the silence which had lasted nearly five minutes. He was never quite certain which twin he was talking to, and generally solved the problem by familiarizing himself with their mode of dress. The plan had not always worked as the twins had a bewildering habit of exchanging clothes, to the enjoyment of Barbara's mischief loving soul, and the mystification of their numerous admirers.

"She is rather blue and depressed," answered Barbara. "We are both feeling the reaction from the shock of Jimmie Turnbull's tragic death. You must forgive me if I am a bore; I am not good company to-night."

The arrival of the head waiter at their table interrupted Clymer's reply.

"This gentleman desires to speak to you a moment, Miss McIntyre," he said, and indicated a young man in a sack suit standing just back of him.

"I'm Parker of the Post," the reporter introduced himself with a bow which included Clymer. "May I sit down?" laying his hand on the back of Mrs. Brewster's vacant chair.

"Surely; and won't you have an ice?" Barbara's hospitable instincts were aroused. "Here, waiter-"

"No, thanks; I haven't time," protested Parker, slipping into the chair. "I just came from your house, Miss McIntyre; the butler said I might find you here, and as it was rather important, I took the liberty of introducing myself. We plan to run a story, featuring the dangers of masquerading in society, and of course it hinges on the death of Mr. Turnbull. I'm sorry"-he apologized as he saw Barbara wince. "I realize the topic is one to make you feel badly; but I promise to ask only few questions." His smile was very engaging and Barbara's resentment receded somewhat.

"What are they?" she asked.

"Did you recognize Mr. Turnbull in his burglar's make-up when you confronted him in the police court?" Parker drew out copy paper and a pencil, and waited for her reply. There was a pause.

"I did not recognize Mr. Turnbull in court," she stated finally. "His death was a frightful shock."

"Sure. It was to everybody," agreed Parker. "How about your sister, Miss Barbara; did she recognize him?"

"No." faintly.

Parker showed his disappointment; he was not eliciting much information. Abruptly he turned to Clymer, whose prominent position in the financial world made him a familiar figure to all Washingtonians.

"Weren't you present in the police court on Tuesday morning also?" Parker asked.

"Yes," Clymer modified the curt monosyllable by adding, "I helped Dr. Stone carry Turnbull out of the prisoners' cage and into the anteroom."

"And did you recognize your cashier?" demanded Parker. At the question Barbara set down her goblet of water without care for its perishable quality and looked with quick intentness at the banker.

"I recognized Mr. Turnbull when his wig was removed," answered Clymer, raising his head in time to catch Barbara's eyes gazing steadfastly at him. With a faint flush she turned her attention to the reporter.

"Mr. Turnbull's make-up must have been superfine," Parker remarked. "Just one more question. Can you tell me if Mr. Philip Rochester recognized his room-mate when he was defending him in court?"

"No, I cannot," and observing Parker's blank expression, she added, "why don't you ask Mr. Rochester?"

"Because I can't locate him; he seems to have vanished off the face of the globe." The reporter rose. "You can't tell me where's he's gone, I suppose?"

"I haven't the faintest idea," answered Barbara truthfully. "I was at his office this-" she stopped abruptly on finding that Mrs. Brewster was standing just behind her. Had the widow by chance overheard her remark? If so, her father would probably learn of her visit to the office of Rochester and Kent that morning.

"Do I understand that Philip Rochester is out of town?" inquired Mrs. Brewster. "Why, I had an appointment with him to-morrow."

"He's gone and left no address that I can find," explained Parker. "Thank you, Miss McIntyre; good evening," and the busy reporter hurried away.

There was a curious expression in Mrs. Brewster's eyes, but she dropped her gaze on her finger bowl too quickly for Clymer to analyze its meaning.

"What can have taken Mr. Rochester out of town?" she asked. The question was not addressed to any one in particular, but Colonel McIntyre answered it, as he did most of the widow's remarks.

"Dry Washington," he explained. "It isn't the first trip Philip has made to Baltimore since the 'dry' law has been in force, eh, Clymer?"

"No, and it won't be his last," was the banker's response. "What's the matter, Miss McIntyre?" as Barbara pushed back her chair.

"I feel a little faint," she stammered. "The air here is-is stifling. If you don't mind, father, I'll take the car and drive home."

"I'll come with you," announced Mrs. Brewster, rising hurriedly; and as she turned solicitously to aid Barbara she caught Colonel McIntyre's admiring glance and his whispered thanks.

Outside the cafe Clymer discovered that the McIntyre limousine was not to be found, and, cautioning Barbara and the widow to remain where they were, he went back into the cafe in search of Colonel McIntyre, who had stayed behind to pay his bill.

A sudden exodus from the cafe as other diners came out to get their cars, separated Barbara from Mrs. Brewster just as the former caught sight of her father's limousine coming around McPherson Square. Not waiting to see what had become of her companion, Barbara started up the sidewalk intent on catching their chauffeur's attention. As she stood by the curb, a figure brushed by her and a paper was deftly slipped inside her hand.

Barbara wheeled about abruptly. She stood alone, except for several elaborately dressed women and their companions some yards away who were indulging in noisy talk as they hurried along. At that moment the McIntyre limousine stopped at the curb and the chauffeur opened the door.

"Take me home, Harris," she ordered. "And then come back for Mrs. Brewster and father. I don't feel well-hurry."

"Very good, miss," and touching his cap the chauffeur swung his car up Fifteenth Street.

The limousine had turned into Massachusetts Avenue before Barbara switched on the electric lamp in the car and opened the note so mysteriously given to her. She read feverishly the few lines it contained,

Dear Helen:

The coroner will call an inquest. Secrete letter "B."

The note was unsigned but it was in the handwriting of Philip Rochester.

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