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   Chapter 9 “B-B-B”

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 20602

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


The return of the morgue master to the platform caused Coroner Penfield to break off his whispered conversation with Dr. Mayo.

"Colonel McIntyre just telephoned that his car had a blow-out on the way here," explained the morgue master. "He will arrive shortly."

Penfield consulted a list of names. "Call Grimes, the McIntyre butler," he said. "We will hear him while waiting for the Colonel."

Grimes, small and thin, with the stolid countenance of the well-trained servant, was exceedingly short in his replies to the coroner's questions. Yes, he had lived with the McIntyre during their residence in Washington, something like five years, he couldn't quite remember the exact dates. No, there was never any quarreling, upstairs or down; it was a well-ordered household until this.

"Exactly," remarked the coroner dryly. "What about Monday night? Tell us, Grimes, what occurred in that house between midnight Monday and five o'clock Tuesday morning."

"Haven't much to tell," was the grumpy response. "I went upstairs about half-past eleven and got down the next morning at the usual hour, seven o'clock."

"And you heard no disturbing sounds in the night?"

"No; sir. We wouldn't be likely to; the servants' rooms are all at the top of the house and the staircase leading to them has a brick wall on either side, like stairs leading to an ordinary attic, and there's a door at the bottom which shuts off all sound from below." It was the longest sentence the butler had indulged in and he paused for breath.

"Who closes the house at night. Grimes?"

"I do, sir.

"Why did you leave the window in the reception room open?"

"I didn't, sir," was the prompt denial. "I had just locked it when Mrs. Brewster came in, along with Colonel McIntyre and Mr. Clymer, and they sat down to talk. When I left the room the window was locked fast, and so was every door and window in the place," he declared aggressively. "I'll take my dying oath to it, sir." Penfield looked at Grimes; that he was telling the truth was unmistakable.

"Who sits up to let in the young ladies when they go to balls?" he asked.

"Generally no one, sir, because Colonel McIntyre accompanies them or calls for them, and he has his latch-key. Lately," added Grimes as an after-thought, "Miss Helen has been using a duplicate latch-key."

"Has Miss Barbara McIntyre a latch-key, also?" asked Penfield.

"No, sir, I believe not," the butler looked dubious. "I recall that Colonel McIntyre gave Miss Helen her key at the luncheon table, and he said, then, to Miss Barbara that he couldn't trust her with one because she would be sure to lose it, she is that careless."

The coroner asked the next question with such abruptness that the butler started.

"When did you last see Mr. Turnbull at the house?"

"Sunday afternoon." Grimes' reply was spoken with more than his accustomed quickness of speech. "Mr. Turnbull called twice, after a long time in the drawing room, he went away taking the police dogs with him, and later called to bring them back."

"Where were these dogs on Monday night?"

"I last saw them in the library," replied Grimes shortly.

"And where did you find them the next morning?" prompted the coroner.

"In the cellar," laconically.

"And what were they doing in the cellar?"

"Hunting rats."

"And how did the dogs get in the cellar?" inquired the coroner patiently. Grimes was not volunteering information, even if he could not be accused of holding it back.

"Some one must have let them down the back stairs," the butler admitted. "I don't know who it was."

"Which servant got downstairs ahead of you on Tuesday morning?"

"No one, sir; the cook over-slept, and she and the maids came down in a bunch ten minutes later."

"And who told you of the attempted burglary and the burglar's arrest?" asked Penfield.

"Miss Barbara. She asked us to hurry breakfast for her and Miss Helen 'cause they had to go at once to the police court; she didn't give any particulars, or nothing," added Grimes in an injured tone. "'Twarn't 'til Thomas and I saw the afternoon papers that we knew what had been going on in our own house."

"That is all, Grimes," announced Penfield, and the butler left the platform with the same stolid air he wore when he arrived. He was followed in the witness chair by the other McIntyre servants in succession. Their testimony added nothing to what he had said but simply confirmed his statements.

Kent, who had grown restless during the servants' monotonous testimony, forgot the oppressive atmosphere of the room on seeing Mrs. Brewster enter under the escort of the morgue master. Spying a vacant seat several rows ahead of where he was sitting, Kent, with a muttered apology to the people over whom he crawled in his efforts to get out, hurried into it just as the vivacious widow had finished taking the oath to "tell the truth and nothing but the truth," and seated herself, with much rustling of silk skirts in the witness chair.

"State your full name, madam," directed Coroner Penfield, eyeing her dainty beauty with admiration.

"Margaret Perry Brewster," she answered. "Widow of Louis C. Brewster. Both I and my late husband were born and lived in Los Angeles, California."

"Are you visiting the Misses McIntyre?"

"Yes." Mrs. Brewster spoke in a chatty impersonal manner. "I have been with them since the first of the month."

"Did you attend the Grosvenor dance?" asked the coroner.

"No; the affair was only given for the debutantes of last fall and did not include married people," she explained. "It was a warm night and Colonel McIntyre asked Mr. Benjamin Clymer, who was dining with him, and me, to go for a motor ride, leaving Barbara at the Grosvenors' en route. We did so, returning to the house about eleven o'clock, and sat talking until about midnight in the reception room, then Colonel McIntyre drove Mr. Clymer home, and I went to my room."

"Were you awakened by any noises during the night?" inquired Penfield.

"No; I heard no noises." Mrs. Brewster's charming smile was infectious.

"When did you first learn of the supposed burglary and the death of James Turnbull?"

"The McIntyre twins told me about the tragedy on their return from the police court," answered Mrs. Brewster, and settled herself a little more comfortably in the witness chair.

"When you were in the reception room, Mrs. Brewster"-Penfield paused and studied his notes a second-"did you observe if the window was open or closed?"

"It was not open when we entered," she responded. "But the air in the room was stuffy and at my request Mr. Clymer raised the window."

"Did he close it later?"

She considered the question. "I really do not recall," she admitted finally. Her eyes strayed toward the door through which she had entered, and Penfield answered her unspoken thought.

"Just one more question," he said hurriedly. "Did you see the dogs on Monday night?"

"Yes. I heard them scratching at the door leading to the basement as I went upstairs, and so I turned around and went down and opened the door and let them run down into the cellar."

Penfield snapped shut his notebook. "I am greatly obliged, Mrs. Brewster; we will not detain you longer."

The morgue master stepped forward and helped the pretty widow down from the platform.

"Colonel McIntyre is here now," he told the coroner.

"Ah, then bring him in," and Penfield, while awaiting the arrival of the new witness, straightened the papers on his desk.

McIntyre looked straight ahead of him as he walked down the room and stood frowning heavily while the oath was being administered, but his manner, when the coroner addressed him, had regained all the suavity and polish which had first captivated Washington society.

"I have been a resident of Washington for about five years," he said in answer to the coroner's question. "My daughters attended school here after their return from Paris, where they were in a convent for four years. They made their debut last November at our home in this city."

"Were you aware of the wager between your daughter Barbara and James Turnbull?" asked Penfield.

"I heard of it Sunday afternoon but paid little attention," admitted McIntyre. "My daughter Barbara's vagaries I seldom take seriously."

"Was Mr. Turnbull a frequent visitor at your house?"

"Oh, yes."

"Was he engaged to your daughter Helen?"

"No." McIntyre's denial was prompt and firmly spoken. Penfield and Kent, from his new seat nearer the platform, watched the colonel narrowly, but learned nothing from his expression.

"I have heard otherwise," observed the coroner dryly.

"You have been misinformed," McIntyre's manner was short. "I would suggest, Mr. Coroner, that you confine your questions and conjectures to matters pertinent to this inquiry."

Penfield flushed as one of the jurors snickered, but he did not repeat his previous question, asking instead, "Was there good feeling between you and Mr. Turnbull?"

"I never quarreled with him," replied McIntyre. "I really saw little of him as, whenever he called at the house, he came to see one or the other of my daughters, or both."

"When did you last see Mr. Turnbull?" inquired Penfield.

"He was at the house on Sunday and I had quite a talk with him," McIntyre leaned back in his chair and regarded the neat crease in his trousers with critical eyes. "I last saw Turnbull going out of the street door."

"Were you disturbed by the burglar's entrance on Monday night?"

McIntyre shook his head. "I am a heavy sleeper," he said. "I regret very much that my daughter Helen did not at once awaken me on finding the burglar, as she supposed, hiding in the closet. I knew nothing of the affair until Grimes informed me of it, and only reached the police court in time to bring my daughters home from the distressing scene following the identification of the dead burglar as Jimmie Turnbull."

"Colonel McIntyre," Penfield turned over several papers until he found the one he sought. "Mrs. Brewster has testified that while you and she were sitting in the reception room, Mr. Clymer opened the window. Did you close it on leaving the room?"

McIntyre reflected before answering. "I cannot remember doing so," he stat

ed finally. "Clymer was in rather a hurry to leave, and after bidding Mrs. Brewster good night, we went straight out to the car and I drove him to the Saratoga."

"Then you cannot swear to the window having been re-locked?"

"I cannot."

Penfield paused a moment. "Did you return immediately to your house from the Saratoga apartment?"

"I did" promptly. "My chauffeur, Harris, wasn't well, and I wanted him to get home."

Penfield thought a moment before putting the next question.

"How did Miss Barbara return from the Grosvenor dance?" he asked.

"She was brought home by friends, Colonel and Mrs. Chase." McIntyre in turning about in his chair knocked down his walking stick from its resting place against its side, and the unexpected clatter made several women, nervously inclined, jump in their seats. Observing them, McIntyre smiled and was still smiling amusedly when Penfield addressed him.

"Did you observe many lights burning in your house when you returned?" asked Penfield.

"No, only those which are usually left lit at night."

"Was your daughter Helen awake?"

"I do not know. Her room was in darkness when I walked past her door on my way to bed."

Penfield removed his eye-glasses and polished them on his silk handkerchief. "I have no further questions to ask. Colonel, you are excused."

McIntyre bowed gravely to him and as he left the platform came face to face with his family physician, Dr. Stone.

Penfield, who was an old acquaintance of the physician's, signed to him to come on the platform. After the preliminaries had been gone through, he shifted his chair around, the better to face Stone.

"Did you accompany the Misses McIntyre to the police court on Tuesday morning?" he asked.

"I did," responded the physician, "at Miss Barbara's request. She said her sister was not very well and they disliked going alone to the police court."

"Did she state why she did not ask her father to go with them?"

"Only that he had not fully recovered from an attack of tonsillitis, which I knew to be a fact, and they did not want him to over-tax his strength."

There was a moment's pause as the coroner, his attention diverted by a whispered word or two from the morgue master, referred to his notes before resuming his examination.

"Did you know James Turnbull?" he asked a second later.

"Yes, slightly."

"Did you recognize him in his burglar's disguise?"

"I did not"

"Had you any suspicion that the burglar was other than he seemed?"

"No."

Penfield picked up a memorandum handed him by Dr. Mayo and referred to it. "I understand, doctor, that you were the first to go to the burglar's aid when he became ill," he said. "Is that true?"

"Yes," Stone spoke with more animation. "Happening to glance inside the cage where the prisoner sat, I saw he was struggling convulsively for breath. With Mr. Clymer's assistance I carried him into an ante-room off the court, but before I had crossed its threshold Turnbull expired in my arms."

"Was he conscious before he died?"

At the question Kent bent eagerly forward. What would be the reply?

"I am not prepared to answer that with certainty," replied Dr. Stone cautiously. "As I picked him up I heard him stammer faintly: 'B-b-b.'"

Kent started so violently that the man next to him turned and regarded him for a moment, then, more interested in what was transpiring on the platform, promptly forgot his agitated neighbor.

"Was Turnbull delirious, doctor?" asked the coroner.

Stone shook his head in denial. "No," he stated. "I take it that he started to say 'Barbara,' and his breath failed him; at any rate I only caught the stuttered 'B-b-b.'"

Penfield did not immediately continue his examination, but when he did so his manner was stern.

"Doctor, what in your opinion caused Mr. Turnbull's death?"

"Judging superficially-I made no thorough examination," Stone explained parenthetically, "I should say that Mr. Rochester was right when he stated that Turnbull died from an acute attack of angina pectoris."

"How did Mr. Rochester come to make that assertion and where?"

"Immediately after Turnbull's death," replied Stone. "Mr. Rochester, who shared his apartment, defended him in court. Mr. Rochester was aware that Turnbull suffered from the disease, and Mr. Clymer, who was present, also knew it."

"And what is your opinion, doctor?" questioned Penfield.

Stone hesitated. "There was a distinct odor of amyl nitrite noticeable when I went to Turnbull's aid, and I concluded then that he had some heart trouble and had inhaled the drug to ward off an attack. It bears out Mr. Rochester's theory of death from angina pectoris."

"I see. Thank you, doctor. Please wait with the other witnesses; we may call you again," and with a sigh the busy physician resigned himself to spending another hour in the room reserved for the witnesses.

The next to take the witness stand was Deputy Marshal Grant. His testimony was short and concise,-and his description of the scene in the police court preceding Turnbull's death was listened to with deep attention by every one.

"Did the prisoner show any symptoms of illness before his heart attack?" asked Penfield.

"Not exactly illness," replied Grant slowly. "I noticed he didn't move very quickly; sort of shambled, as if he was weak in his legs. I've seen 'drunk and disorderlies' act just that way, and paid no particular attention to him. He did ask for a drink of water just after he returned to the cage."

"Did you give it to him?"

"No, an attendant gave the glass to Mr. Rochester who handed it to Mr. Turnbull."

Penfield regarded Grant in silence for a minute. "That is all," he announced, and with a polite bow the deputy marshal withdrew.

Detective Ferguson recognized Kent as he passed up the room to the platform and gave him a slight bow and smile, but the smile had disappeared when, at the coroner's request, he told of his arrival just after the discovery of the burglar's identity.

"I searched the cage where the prisoner had been seated and found this handkerchief," he went on to say. "It had been dropped by Turnbull and was saturated with amyl nitrite. I had it examined by a chemist, who said that this amyl nitrite was given to patients with heart trouble in little pearl capsules to be crushed in handkerchiefs and the fumes inhaled.

"The chemist also told me that"-the detective spoke with impressive seriousness, "judging from the number of particles of capsules adhering to the linen, more than one capsule had been crushed by Turnbull. Here is the handkerchief," and he laid it on the table with great care.

Kent's heart sank; the moment he had dreaded all that long afternoon had come. Penfield inspected the handkerchief with interest, and then passed it to the jurors, cautioning them to handle it carefully.

"I note," he stated, turning again to Detective Ferguson, "that it is a woman's handkerchief."

"It is," replied Ferguson. "And embroidered in one corner is the initial 'B.'"

Penfield ran his fingers through his gray hair. "You may go, Ferguson," he said, and beckoned to the morgue master. "Ask Miss Barbara McIntyre to return."

The girl was quick in answering the summons. Kent, more and more worried, was watching the scene with painful attention.

"Did Mr. Turnbull have one of your handkerchiefs?" asked Penfield.

Her surprise at the question was manifest in her manner.

"He might have," she said. "I have a dreadful habit of dropping my handkerchiefs around."

"Did you miss one after his visit to your house on Monday night?"

"No."

"Miss McIntyre," Penfield took up the handkerchief which the foreman replaced on his desk a moment before, and holding it with care extended it toward the girl. "Is this your handkerchief?"

She inspected the handkerchief and the initial with curiosity, but with nothing more, Kent was convinced, and in his relief was almost guilty of disturbing the decorum of the inquest with a shout of joy.

"It is not my handkerchief," she stated clearly.

Penfield replaced the handkerchief on the table with the same care he had picked it up, and turned again to her.

"Thank you, Miss McIntyre; I won't detain you longer. Logan," to the morgue master, "ask Dr. Stone to step here."

Almost immediately Stone reentered the room and hurried to the platform.

"Would two or more capsules of amyl nitrite constitute a lethal dose?" asked Penfield.

"They would be very apt to finish a feeble heart," replied Stone. "Three capsules, if inhaled deeply would certainly kill a healthy person."

Penfield showed the handkerchief to the physician. "Can a chemist tell, from the particles clinging to this handkerchief, how many capsules have been used?"

"I should say he could." Stone looked grave as he inspected the linen, taking careful note of the letter "B" in one corner of the handkerchief. "But there is this to be considered-Turnbull may not have crushed those capsules all at the same time."

"What do you mean?"

"He may have felt an attack coming on earlier in the evening and used a capsule, and in the police court used the same handkerchief in the same manner."

"I see," Penfield nodded. "The point is cleverly taken."

Kent silently agreed with the coroner. The next instant Stone was excused, and after a slight pause the deputy coroner, Dr. Mayo, left his table and his notes and occupied the witness chair, after first being sworn. The preliminaries did not consume much time, and Penfield's manner was brisk as he addressed his assistant.

"Did you make a post-mortem examination of Turnbull?" he asked.

"I did, sir, in the presence of the morgue master and Dr. McLane." Dr. Mayo displayed an anatomical chart, drawing his pencil down it as he talked. "We found from the condition of the heart that the deceased had suffered from angina pectoris"-he paused and spoke more slowly-"in examining the gastric contents we found the presence of aconitine."

"Aconitine?" questioned Penfield, and the reporters, scenting the sensational, leaned forward eagerly so as not to miss the deputy coroner's answer.

"Aconitine, an active poison," he explained. "It is the alkaloid of aconite, and generally fatal in its results."

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