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   Chapter 11 HALF A TRUTH

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 12758

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Dancing was being resumed in the dining room as Kent appeared again in the doorway and he made his way as quickly as possible among the couples, going into all the rooms on that floor, but nowhere could he find Detective Ferguson. On emerging from the drawing room, he encountered the steward returning from downstairs.

"Have you seen Mr. Clymer?" he asked hurriedly.

"Yes, Mr. Kent; he just left the club, taking Detective Ferguson with him in his motor. Is there anything I can do?" added the steward observing Kent's agitation.

"No, no, thanks. Say, where is Colonel McIntyre?" Kent gave up further pursuit of the detective, he could find him later at Headquarters. The steward looked among the dancers. "I don't see him," he said, "But there is Mrs. Brewster dancing in the front room; the Colonel must be somewhere around. If I meet him, Mr. Kent, shall I tell him you are looking for him?"

"I will be greatly obliged if you will do so," replied Kent, and straightening his tie, he went in quest of the pretty widow. He had found her a merry chatter-box in the past, possibly he could gain valuable information from her. He found Mrs. Brewster just completing her dance with a fine looking Italian officer whose broad breast bore many military decorations.

"Dance the encore with me"-Kent could be very persuasive when he wished, and Mrs. Brewster dimpled with pleasure, but there was a faint indecision in her manner which he was quick to note. What prompted it? He had been on friendly terms with her; in fact, she had openly championed his cause, so Barbara had once told him, when Colonel McIntyre had made caustic remarks about his frequent calls at the McIntyre house.

"Just one turn," she said, as the foreigner bowed and withdrew. "I am feeling a little weary to-night-the strain of the inquest," she, added in explanation.

"Perhaps you would rather sit out the dance," he suggested. "There is an alcove in that window; oh, pshaw!" as a man and a girl took possession of the chairs.

"Never mind, we can roost on the stairs," Mrs. Brewster preceded him to the staircase leading to the third floor, and sat down, bracing her back very comfortably against the railing, while Kent seated himself at her feet on the lower step. "Extraordinary developments at the inquest this afternoon," he began, as she volunteered no remark. "To think of Jimmie Turnbull being poisoned!"

"It is unbelievable," she said, and her vehemence was a surprise to Kent; he knew her as all froth and bubble. What had brought the dark circles under her eyes and the unwonted seriousness in her manner?

"Unbelievable, yes," he agreed gravely. "But true; the autopsy ended all doubt."

"You mean it developed doubt," she corrected, and a sigh accompanied the words. "Have the police any clew to the guilty man?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," Kent spoke with caution.

"You don't?" Her voice was a little sharp. "Didn't Detective Ferguson give you any news when talking to you on the porch?"

"So you recognized the detective?"

"I? No; I have never seen him before"-she nodded gayly to an acquaintance passing through the hall. "Colonel McIntyre told me his name. It was so odd to meet a man here not in evening clothes that I had to ask who he was."

"Ferguson came to bring me some papers about a personal matter," explained Kent. He turned so as to face her. "Did you see a white envelope lying on the table when you walked out on the porch?"

She bowed her head absently, her foot keeping time to the inspiring music played by the orchestra stationed on the stair landing just above where they sat. "You left it lying on the table."

"Yes, so I did," replied Kent. "And I believe I was so ungallant as to bolt into the dining room in front of you. Please accept my apologies." Behind her fan, which she used with languid grace, the widow watched him.

"We all bolted together," she responded, "and are equally guilty-"

"Of what?" questioned a voice from the background, and looking up Kent saw Colonel McIntyre standing on the step above Mrs. Brewster. The music had ceased and in the lull their conversation had been distinctly audible.

"Guilty of curiosity," finished the widow.

"Colonel de Geofroy's farewell speech was very amusing, did you not think so?"

"I did not stay to hear it," Kent confessed. "I had to return to the porch and get my envelope."

"You were a long time about it," commented McIntyre, sitting down by Mrs. Brewster and possessing himself of her fan. "I waited to tell you that Helen and Barbara were worn out after the inquest and so stayed at home to-night, but you didn't show up."

"Neither did the envelope," retorted Kent, and as his companions looked at him, he added. "It had disappeared off the table."

"Probably blew away," suggested McIntyre. "I noticed a strong current of air from the dining room, and two of the windows inclosing the porch were open.

"That's hardly possible," Kent replied skeptically. "The envelope weighed at least two ounces; it would have taken quite a gale to budge it."

McIntyre turned red. "Are you insinuating that one of us walked off with your envelope, Kent?" he demanded angrily. Mrs. Brewster stayed him as he was about to rise.

"Did you not say that Detective Ferguson brought you the envelope, Mr. Kent?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Then what more likely than that he carried it off again?" She smiled amusedly as Kent's expression altered. "Why not ask the detective?"

Her suggestion held a grain of truth. Suppose Ferguson had not believed his statement that the papers in the envelope were his personal property and had taken the envelope away to examine it at his leisure? The thought brought Kent to his feet.

"Good night, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes," he said jestingly, "I'll follow your advice"-There was no opportunity to say more, for several men had discovered the widow's perch on the stairs and came to claim their dances. Over their heads McIntyre watched Kent stride downstairs, then stooping over he picked up Mrs. Brewster's fan and sat down to patiently await her return.

Kent's pursuit of the detective took longer than he had anticipated, and it was after midnight before he finally located him at the office of the Chief of Detectives in the District Building. "I've called for the envelope you took from my safe early this eveni

ng," he began without preface, hardly waiting for the latter's surprised greeting.

"Why, Mr. Kent, I left it lying on the porch table at the club," declared Ferguson. "Didn't you take it?"

"No." Kent's worried expression returned. "Like a fool I forgot the envelope when that cheering broke out in the dining room and rushed to find out what it was about; when I returned to the porch the envelope was gone.

"Disappeared?" questioned Ferguson in astonishment.

"Disappeared absolutely; I searched the porch thoroughly and couldn't find a trace of it," Kent explained. "And in spite of McIntyre's contention that it might have blown out of the window, I am certain it did not."

"The windows were open, and I recollect there was a strong draught," remarked Ferguson thoughtfully. "But not sufficient to carry away that envelope."

"Exactly." Kent stepped closer. "Did you observe which one of our companions stood nearest the porch table?"

Ferguson eyed him curiously. "Say, are you insinuating that one of those people took your envelope?"

"Yes."

A subdued whistle escaped Ferguson. "What was in that envelope. Mr. Kent," he demanded, "to make it of any value to that bunch?" and as Kent did not answer immediately, he added, "Are you sure it had nothing to do with Jimmie Turnbull's death and Philip Rochester's disappearance?"

"Quite sure." Kent's gaze did not waver before his penetrating look. "I have already told you that the envelope contained old love letters, and I very naturally do not wish them to fall into the hands of Colonel McIntyre, the father of the girl I hope to marry."

Ferguson smiled understandingly. "I see. From what I know of Colonel McIntyre there's a very narrow, nagging spirit concealed under his frank and engaging manner; I wish you joy of your future father-in-law," and he chuckled.

"Thanks," dryly. "You haven't answered my question as to who stood nearest the porch table, Ferguson."

The detective looked thoughtful. "We all stood fairly near; perhaps Mrs. Brewster was a shade the nearest. Mr. Clymer was offering her a chair when that noise came from the dining room. There's one thing I am willing to swear to"-his manner grew more earnest-"that envelope was still lying on the table when I hustled into the dining room."

"Well, who was the last person to leave the porch?" Kent demanded eagerly.

"I don't know," was the disappointing answer. "I reached the door at the same moment you did and passed right around the dining room to get a view of what was going on. I thought I would take a squint at the tables and see if there was any wine being used," he admitted. "But there was nothing doing in that line. Then Mr. Clymer offered to bring me down to Headquarters, and I left the club with him."

Kent took a turn about the room. "Did Mr. Clymer go to the Cosmos Club?" he asked, pausing by the detective.

"No, I heard him tell his chauffeur to drive to the Saratoga. Want to use the telephone?" observing Kent's glance stray to the instrument.

By way of answer Kent took off the receiver and after giving a number to Central, he recognized Clymer's voice over the telephone.

"That you, Mr. Clymer? Yes, well, this is Kent speaking. Can you tell me who was the last person to leave the porch when Colonel de Geofroy made his farewell speech to-night at the club?"

"I was," came Clymer's surprised answer.

"I waited for McIntyre to pick up Mrs. Brewster's fan."

"Did he take my letter off the table also?" called Kent.

"Why, no." Clymer's voice testified to his increased surprise. "Mrs. Brewster dropped her fan right in the doorway just as McIntyre and I approached; we both stooped to get it and, like fools; bumped our heads together in the act. He got the fan, however, and I waited for him to walk into the dining room before following Mrs. Brewster."

"As you passed the table, Mr. Clymer, did you see my letter lying on the table?" persisted Kent.

"Upon my word I never looked at the table," Clymer's hearty tone carried conviction. "I walked right along in my hurry to know what the cheering was about. I am sorry, Kent; have you mislaid your letter?"

"Yes," glumly. "Sorry to have disturbed you, Mr. Clymer; good night," and Clymer's echoing, "Good night" sounded faintly as he hung up the receiver.

"Drew blank," he announced, turning to Ferguson. "Confound you, Ferguson; you had no right to touch the papers in my safe. If harm comes from it, I'll make you suffer," and not waiting for the detective's jumbled apologies and explanations, he hurried from the building. But once on the sidewalk he paused for thought. McIntyre must have picked up the white envelope, there was no other feasible explanation of its disappearance. But what had attracted his attention to the envelope-the red seal with the big letter "B" was its only identifying mark. If Helen had only told him the contents of the envelope!

Kent struck his clenched fist in his left hand in wrath; something must be done, he could not stand there all night. Although it was through no fault of his own that he had lost the envelope entrusted to his care, he was still responsible to Helen for its disappearance. She must be told that it was gone, however unpleasant the task.

Kent walked hastily along Pennsylvania Avenue until he came to a drug store still open, and entered the telephone booth. He had recollected that the twins had a branch telephone in their sitting room; he would have to chance their being awake at that hour.

Barbara McIntyre turned on her pillow and rubbed her sleepy eyes; surely she had been mistaken in thinking she heard the telephone bell ringing. Even as she lay striving to listen, she dozed off again, to be rudely awakened by Helen's voice at her ear.

"Babs!" came the agitated whisper. "The envelope's gone."

"Gone!" Barbara swung out of bed.

"Gone where?"

"Father has it."

Downstairs in the library Mrs. Brewster paused on her entrance by the side of a piece of carved Venetian furniture and laying her coronation scarf on it, she examined a white envelope-the red seal was intact.

At the sound of approaching footsteps she raised a trap door in the piece of furniture and only her keen ears caught the faint thud of the envelope as it dropped inside, then with a happy, tender smile she turned to meet Colonel McIntyre.

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