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   Chapter 8 THE INQUEST

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 18166

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Coroner Penfield adjusted his eyeglasses and scanned the spectators gathered for the Turnbull inquest. The room was crowded with both men and women, the latter predominating, and the coroner decided that, while some had come from a personal interest in the dead man, the majority had been attracted by morbid curiosity. There was a stir among the spectators as an inner door opened and the jury, led by the morgue master filed into the room and took their places. Coroner Penfield rose and addressed the foreman.

"Have you viewed the body?" he inquired.

"Yes, doctor," and the man sat down.

Coroner Penfield then concisely stated the reason for the inquest and summoned Officer O'Ryan to the witness stand. The policeman stood, cap in hand, while being sworn by the morgue master, and then took his place on the platform in the chair reserved for the witnesses.

His answer to Coroner Penfield's questions relative to his name, residence in Washington, and length of service in the city Police Force were given with brevity and a rich Irish brogue.

"Where were you on Tuesday morning at about five o'clock?" asked Penfield, first consulting some memoranda on his desk.

"On my way home," explained O'Ryan. "My relief had just come."

"Does your beat take in the McIntyre residence?"

"It does, sir."

"Did you observe any one loitering in the vicinity of the residence prior to five o'clock, Tuesday morning?"

"No, sir. It was only when the lady called to me that I was attracted to the house."

"Did she state what was the matter?"

"Yes, sir. She said that she had locked a burglar in a closet, and to come and get him, and I did so," and O'Ryan expanded his chest with an air of satisfaction as be glanced about the morgue.

"Did the burglar resist arrest?"

"No, sir; he came very peaceably and not a word out of him."

"Had you any idea that the burglar was not what he seemed?"

"Devil an idea, begging your pardon"-O'Ryan remembered hastily where he was. "The burglar looked the part he was masquerading, and his make-up was perfect," ended O'Ryan with relish. "Never gave me a hint he was a gentleman and a bank cashier in disguise."

Kent, who had arrived at the morgue a few minutes before the policeman commenced his testimony, smiled in spite of himself. He was feeling exceedingly low spirited, and had come to the inquest with inward foreboding as to its result. On what developed there, he was convinced, hung Jimmie Turnbull's good name. After his interview with Detective Ferguson that morning, he had wired Philip Rochester to return to Washington at once. He had requested an immediate reply, and had fully expected to find a telegram at his office when he stopped there on his way to the morgue, but none had come.

"Whom did you see in the McIntyre house?" the coroner asked O'Ryan.

"No one sir, except the burglar and Miss McIntyre."

"Did you find any doors or windows unlocked?"

"No, sir; I never looked to see."

"Why not?"

"Because the young lady said that she had been over the house and everything was then fastened." O'Ryan looked anxiously at the coroner. Would he make him out derelict in his duty? It would seriously affect his standing on the Force. "I took Miss McIntyre's word for the house, for I had the burglar safe under arrest."

"How did Miss McIntyre appear?"

"Appear? Sure, she looked very sweet in her blue wrapper and her hair down her back," answered O'Ryan with emphasis.

"She was not fully dressed then?"

"No, sir."

"Was Miss McIntyre composed in manner or did she appear frightened?" asked Penfield. It was one of the questions which Kent had expected, and he waited with intense interest for the policeman's reply.

"She was very pale and-and breathless like." O'Ryan flapped his arms about vaguely in his endeavor to demonstrate his meaning. "She kept begging me to hurry and get the burglar out of the house, and after telling her that she would have to appear in the Police Court first thing that morning, I went off with the prisoner."

"Were there lights in the house?" questioned Penfield.

"Only dim ones in the halls and two bulbs turned on in the library; it's a big room though, and they hardly made any light at all," explained O'Ryan; he was particular as to details. "I used handcuffs on the prisoner, thinking maybe he'd give me the slip in the dim light, but there was no fight or flight in him."

"Did he talk to you on the way to the station house?"

"No, sir; and at the station he was just as quiet, only answered the questions the desk sergeant put to him, and that was all," stated 0' Ryan.

Penfield laid down his memorandum pad. "All right, O'Ryan; you may retire," and at the words the policeman left the platform and the room. He was followed by the police sergeant who had been on desk duty at the Eighth Precinct on Tuesday morning. His testimony simply corroborated O'Ryan's statement that the prisoner had done and said nothing which would indicate that he was other than he seemed-a housebreaker.

Coroner Penfield paused before calling the next witness and drank a glass of ice water; the weather had turned unseasonably hot, and the room in which inquests were held, was stifling, in spite of the long opened windows at either end.

"Call Miss Helen McIntyre," Penfield said to the morgue master, and the latter crossed to the door leading to the room where sat the witnesses. There was instant craning of necks to catch a glimpse of the society girl about whom, with her twin sister, so much interest centered.

Helen was extremely pale as she advanced up the room, but Kent, watching her closely, was relieved to see none of the nervousness which had been so marked at their interview that morning. She was dressed with fastidious taste, and as she mounted the platform after the morgue master had administered the oath, Coroner Penfield rose and, with a polite gesture, indicated the chair she was to occupy.

"I am Helen McIntyre," she announced clearly. "Daughter of Colonel Charles McIntyre."

"Tell us the circumstances attending the arrest of James Turnbull, alias John Smith, in your house on Tuesday morning, Miss McIntyre," directed the coroner, seating himself at his table, on which were writing materials.

"I was sitting up to let in my sister, who had gone to a dance," she began, "and fearing I would fall asleep I went down into the library, intending to sit in one of the window recesses and watch for her arrival. As I entered the library I saw a figure steal across the room and disappear inside a closet. I was very frightened, but had sense enough left to cross softly to the closet and lock the door." She paused in her rapid recital and drew a long breath, then continued more slowly:

"I hurried to the window and across the street I saw a policeman standing under a lamp-post. It took but a minute to call him. The policeman opened the closet door, put handcuffs on Mr. Turnbull and took him away."

Coroner Penfield, as well as the jurors, followed her statement with absorbed attention. At its end he threw down his pencil and spoke briefly to the deputy coroner, who had been busily engaged in taking notes of the inquest, and then he turned to Helen.

"You heard no sound before entering the library?"

"No one walking about the house?" he persisted.

"No." She followed the negative with a short explanation. "I lay down on my bed soon after dinner, not feeling very well, and slept through the early hours of the night."

"At what hour did you wake up?"

"About four o'clock, or a little after."

"Then you were awake an hour before you discovered the supposed burglar in your library?"

"Y-yes," Helen's hesitation was faint. "About that length of time."

"And you heard no unusual sounds in that hour's interval?"

"I heard nothing"-her manner was slightly defiant and Kent's heart sank; if he had only thought to warn her not to antagonize the coroner.

"Where were you during that hour?"

"Lying down," promptly. "Then, afraid I would drop off to sleep again, I went downstairs."

Coroner Penfield consulted his notes before asking another question.

"Who lives in your house beside you and your twin sister?" he asked.

"My father, Colonel McIntyre; our house guest, Mrs. Louis C. Brewster, and five servants," she replied. "Grimes, the butler; Martha, our maid; Jane, the chambermaid; Hope, our cook; and Thomas, our second man; the chauffeur, Harris, the scullery maid, and the laundress do not stay at night."

"Who were at home beside yourself on Monday night and early Tuesday morning?"

"My father and Mrs. Brewster; I believe the servants were in also, except Thomas, who had asked permission to spend the night in Baltimore."

"Miss McIntyre?" Coroner Penfield put the next question in an impressive manner. "On discovering the burglar why did you not call your father?"

"My first impulse was to do so," she answered promptly. "But on leaving the library I passed the window, saw the policeman, and called him in." She sho

t a keen look at the coroner, and added softly, "The policeman was qualified to make an arrest; my father would have had to summon one had he been there."

"Quite true," acknowledged Penfield courteously. "Now, Miss McIntyre, why did the prisoner so obligingly walk straight into a closet on your arrival in the library?"

"I presume he was looking for a way out of the room and blundered into it," she explained. "There are seven doors opening from our library; the prisoner may have heard me approaching, become confused, and walked through the wrong door."

"That is quite plausible-with an ordinary bona-fide burglar," agreed Penfield. "But was not Mr. Turnbull acquainted with the architectural arrangements of your house?"

"He was a frequent caller and an intimate friend," she said, with dignity. "As to his power of observation and his bump of locality I cannot say. The library was but dimly lighted."

"Miss McIntyre," Penfield spoke slowly. "Were you aware of the real identity of the burglar?"

"I had no suspicion that he was not what he appeared," she responded. "He said or did nothing after his arrest to give me the slightest inkling of his identity."

Penfield raised his eyebrows and shot a look at the deputy coroner before going on with his examination.

"You knew Mr. Turnbull intimately, and yet you did not recognize him?" he asked.

"He wore an admirable disguise." Helen touched her lips with the tip of her tongue; inwardly she longed for the glass of ice water which she saw standing on the reporters' table. "Mr. Turnbull's associates will tell you that he excelled in amateur theatricals."

Penfield looked at her critically for a moment before continuing his questions. She bore his scrutiny with composure.

"Officer O'Ryan has testified that you informed him you examined the windows of your house," he said, after a brief wait. "Did you find any unlocked?"

"Yes; one was open in the little reception room off the front door."

"What floor is the room on?"

"The ground floor."

"Would it have been easy for any one to gain admittance through the window without attracting attention in the street?" was Penfield's next question.

"Yes."

"Miss McIntyre," Penfield rose, "I have only a few more questions to put to you. Why did Mr. Turnbull come to your house-a house where he was a welcome visitor-in the middle of the night disguised as a burglar?"

The reporters as well as the spectators bent forward to catch her reply.

"Mr. Turnbull had a wager with my sister, Barbara," she explained. "She bet him that he could not break into the house without being discovered."

Penfield considered her answer before addressing her again.

"Why didn't Mr. Turnbull tell you who he was when you had him arrested?" he asked.

Helen shrugged her shoulders. "I cannot answer that question, for I do not know his reason. If he had only confided in me"-her voice shook-"he might have been alive to-day."

"How so?" Penfield shot the question at her.

"Because then he would have been spared the additional excitement of his trip to the police station and the scene in court, which brought on his attack of angina pectoris."

Penfield regarded her for a moment in silence.

"I have no further questions, Miss McIntyre," he said, and turned to the morgue master. "Ask Miss Barbara McIntyre to come to the platform." Turning back to his table and the papers thereon he failed to see the twins pass each other in the aisle. They were identically attired and when Coroner Penfield looked again at the witness chair, he stared in surprise at its occupant.

"I beg pardon, Miss McIntyre, I desire your sister to testify," he remarked.

"I am Barbara McIntyre." A haunting quality in her voice caught Kent's attention, and he leaned eagerly forward, his eyes following each movement of her nervous fingers, busily twisting her gloves inside and out.

"I beg your pardon," exclaimed the coroner, recovering from his surprise. He had seen the twins at the police court on Tuesday morning for a second only, and then his attention had been entirely centered on Helen. He had heard, but had not realized until that moment, how striking was the resemblance between the sisters.

"Miss McIntyre," the coroner cleared his throat and commenced his examination. "Where were you on Monday night?"

"At a dance given by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Grosvenor."

"At what hour did you return?"

"I think it was half past five or a few minutes earlier."

"Who let you in?"

"My sister."

"Did you see the burglar?"

"He had left," she answered. "My sister told me of her adventure as we went upstairs to our rooms."

"Miss McIntyre," Penfield picked up a page of the deputy coroner's closely written notes, and ran his eyes down it. "Your sister has testified that James Turnbull went to your house disguised as a burglar on a wager with you. What were the terms of that wager?"

"I bet him that he could not enter the house after midnight without his presence being detected by our new police dogs," exclaimed Barbara slowly. She had stopped twirling her gloves about, and one hand was firmly clenched over the arm of her chair.

"Did the dogs discover his presence in the house?"

"Apparently not, or they would have aroused the household," she said. "I cannot answer that question, though, because I was not at home."

"Where are the dogs kept?"

"In the garage in the daytime."

"And at night?" he persisted.

"They roam about our house," she admitted, "or sleep in the boudoir, which is between my sister's bedroom and mine.

"Were the dogs in the house on Monday night?"

"I did not see them on my return from the dance."

"That is not an answer to my question, Miss McIntyre," the coroner pointed out. "Were the dogs in the house?"

There was a distinct pause before she spoke. "I recall hearing our butler, Grimes, say that he found the dogs in the cellar. Mr. Turnbull's shocking death put all else out of my mind; I never once thought of the dogs."

"In spite of the fact that it was a wager over the dogs which brought about the whole situation?" remarked the coroner dryly.

Barbara flushed at his tone, then grew pale.

"I honestly forgot about the dogs," she repeated. "Father sent them out to our country place Tuesday afternoon; they annoyed our-our guest, Mrs. Brewster."

"In what way?"

"By barking-'they are noisy dogs."

"And yet they did not arouse the household when Mr. Turnbull broke into the house"-Coroner Penfield regarded her sternly. "How do you account for that?"

Barbara's right hand stole to the arm of her chair and clasped it with the same convulsive strength that she clung to the other chair arm. When she spoke her voice was barely audible.

"I can account for it in two ways," she began. "If the dogs were accidentally locked in the cellar they could not possibly hear Mr. Turnbull moving about the house; if they were roaming about and scented him, they might not have barked because they would recognize him as a friend."

"Were the dogs familiar with his step and voice?"

"Yes. Only last Sunday he played with them for an hour, and later in the afternoon took them for a walk in the country."

"I see." Penfield stroked his chin reflectively. "When your sister told you of finding the burglar and his arrest, did you not, in the light of your wager, suspect that he might be Mr. Turnbull?"

"No." Barbara's eyes did not falter before his direct gaze. "I supposed that Mr. Turnbull meant to try and enter the house in his own proper person; it never dawned on me that he would resort to disguise. Besides," as the coroner started to make a remark, "we have had numerous robberies in our neighborhood, and the apartment house two blocks from us has had a regular epidemic of sneak thieves."

The coroner waited until Dr. Mayo, who had been writing with feverish haste, had picked up a fresh sheet of paper before resuming his examination.

"You accompanied your sister to the police court," he said. "Did you see the burglar there?"

"Yes."

"Did you realize his identity in the court room?"

"No. I only awoke to-to the situation when I saw him lying dead with his wig removed. The shock was frightful"-she closed her eyes for a second, for the room and the rows of faces confronting her were mixed in a maddening maze and she raised her hand to her swimming head. When she looked up she found Coroner Penfield by her side.

"That is all," he said kindly. "Please remain in the witness room, I may call you again," and he helped her down the step with careful attention.

Back in his corner Kent watched her departure. He was white to the lips.

"Heat too much for you?" asked a kindly-faced stranger, and Kent gave a mumbled "No," as he strove to pull himself together.

What deviltry was afoot? How dared the twins take such risks-to bear false witness was a grave criminal offense. He, alone, among all the spectators, had realized that in testifying before the inquest, the twins had swapped identities.

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