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   Chapter 12 THE ECHO OF A LAUGH

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 12333

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Colonel McIntyre tramped the deserted dining room in exasperation. Nine o'clock and the twins had not come to breakfast, nor was there any evidence that Mrs. Brewster intended taking that meal downstairs.

"Will you wait any longer, sir?" inquired Grimes, who hovered solicitously in the background. "I'm afraid, sir, your eggs will be over-done."

"Bring them along," directed McIntyre, and flung himself into his chair at the foot of the table. He had been seated but a few minutes when Barbara appeared and dutifully presented her cheek to be kissed, then she tripped lightly to Helen's place opposite her father, and pressed the electric bell for Grimes.

"Coffee, please," she said as that worthy appeared, and busied herself in arranging the cups and saucers. "Helen is taking her breakfast upstairs," she explained to her father.

"How about Mrs. Brewster?"

"Still asleep." Barbara poured out her father's coffee with careful attention to detail. "I peeked into her room a moment ago and she looked so 'comfy' I hadn't the heart to awaken her. You must have been very late at the club last night."

"We got home a little after one o'clock."

McIntyre helped himself to poached eggs and bacon. "What did you do last night?"

"Went to bed early," answered Barbara with brevity. "Helen wasn't feeling well."

McIntyre's handsome face showed concern as he glanced across the table. "Have you sent for Dr. Stone?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Helen-I-we"-Barbara stumbled in her speech. "We have taken an aversion to Dr. Stone."

McIntyre set down his coffee cup with unwonted force, thereby spilling some of its contents.

"What!" he exclaimed in complete astonishment, and regarded her fixedly for a moment. His tolerant manner, which he frequently assumed toward Barbara, grew stern. "Dr. Stone is my personal friend, as well as our family physician-"

"And a cousin of Margaret Brewster," put in Barbara mildly.

"Well, what of it?" trenchantly, aware that he had colored at mention of the widow's name. "Nothing," Barbara's eyes opened innocently. "I only recalled the fact of his relationship as you enumerated his virtues."

Colonel McIntyre transferred his regard from her to the butler. "You need not wait, Grimes." He remained silent until the servant was safely in the pantry, and then addressed his daughter. "None of your tricks, Barbara," he cautioned. "If Helen is ill enough to require medical attention, Dr. Stone is to be sent for, regardless of your sudden dislike to him, for which, by the way, you have given no cause."

"Haven't I?" Barbara folded her napkin with neat exactness. "It's-it's intangible."

"Pooh!" McIntyre gave a short laugh, as he pushed back his chair. "I'm going to see Helen. And Barbara," stopping on his way to the door, "don't be a fool."

Barbara rubbed the tiny mole under the lobe of her ear, a trick she had when absent-minded or in deep thought. "Helen," she announced, unaware that she spoke loud, "shall have a physician, but it won't be-why, Grimes," awakening to the servant's noiseless return. "You can take the breakfast dishes. Did Miss Helen eat anything?"

"Not very much, miss." Grimes shook a troubled head. "But she done better than at dinner last night, so she's picking up, and don't you be worried over her," with emphasis, as he sidled nearer. "Tell me, miss, is the colonel courtin' Mrs. Brewster?"

"Ask him," she suggested and smiled at the consternation which spread over the butler's face.

"Me, miss!" he exclaimed in horror. "It would be as much as my place is worth; the colonel's that quick-tempered. Why, miss, just because I tidied up his desk and put his papers to rights he flew into a terrible passion."

"When was that?"

"Early this morning, miss; and he so upset Thomas, miss, that he gave notice."

"Oh, that's too bad." Barbara liked the second man. "Perhaps father will reconsider and persuade him to stay."

The butler looked unconvinced. "It was about the police dogs," he confided to her. "Thomas told him that Miss Helen wanted them brought back, and the colonel swore at him-'twas more than Thomas could stand and he ups and goes." Barbara halted half way to the door. "Did Thomas get the dogs?"

"You wait and see, miss." Grimes was guilty of a most undignified wink. "Thomas ain't forgiven himself for not being here Monday night, miss; though it wouldn't a done him any good; he wouldn't a heard Mr. Turnbull climbing in or his arrest, away upstairs in the servants' quarters."

"Grimes," Barbara retracted her footsteps and placed her lips very close to the old servant's ear.

"When I came in on Tuesday morning I found the door to the attic stairway standing partly open...

"Did you now, miss?" The two regarded each other warily. "And what hour may that have been?"

The butler cocked his ear for her answer-'he was sometimes a little hard of hearing; but he waited in vain, Barbara had disappeared inside the library.

Colonel McIntyre had not gone at once to see his daughter Helen, as Barbara had supposed from his remark, instead he went down the staircase and into the reception room on the ground floor. It was generally used as a smoking room and lounge, but when entertaining was done, cloaks and wraps were left there. McIntyre looked over the prettily upholstered furniture, then strolled to the window and carefully inspected the lock; it appeared in perfect order as he tested it. Pushing the catch back as far as it would go, he raised the window-the sash moved upward without a sound, and he leaned out and looked up and down the path which ran the depth of the house to the kitchen door and servants' entrance. There was an iron gate separating the path from the sidewalk, always kept locked at night, and McIntyre had thought that sufficient protection and had not put an iron grille in the window.

McIntyre closed and locked the window, then pulling out the gilt chair which stood in front of the desk, he sat down, selected some monogrammed paper and penned a few lines in his characteristic though legible writing. Picking up some red sealing wax, he lighted the small candle in its b

rass holder which matched the rest of the desk ornaments, but before heating the wax he looked for his signet ring, and frowned when he recalled leaving it on his dresser. He hesitated a moment, then catching sight of a silver seal lying at the back of the desk he picked it up and moistened the initial. A few minutes later he blew out the candle, returned the wax and seal to a pigeon hole, and carefully placed the envelope with its well stamped letter "B" in his coat pocket, and tramped upstairs.

Helen heard his heavy tread coming down the hall toward her room, and scrambled back to bed. She had but time to arrange her dressing sacque when her father walked in.

"Good morning, my dear," he said and, stooping over, kissed her. As he straightened up, the side of his single-breasted coat turned back and exposed to Helen's bright eyes the end of a white envelope. "Barbara told me you are not well," he wheeled forward a chair and sat down by the bed. "Hadn't I better send for Dr. Stone?" "Oh, no," her reply, though somewhat faint, was emphatic, and he frowned.

"Why not?" aggressively. "I trust you do not share Barbara's suddenly developed prejudice against the good doctor."

"I do not require a physician," she said evasively. "I am well."

McIntyre regarded her vexedly. He could not decide whether her flushed cheeks were from fever or the result of exertion or excitement. Excitement over what? He looked about the room; it reflected the taste of its dainty owner in its furnishings, but nowhere did he find an answer to his unspoken question, until his eye lighted on a box of rouge under the electric lamp on her bed stand.

"Don't use that," he said, touching the box.

"You know I detest make-up."

"Oh, that!" She turned to see what he was talking about. "That rouge belongs to Margaret Brewster."

McIntyre promptly changed the conversation. "Have you had your breakfast?" he asked.

"Yes; Grimes took the tray down some time ago." Helen watched her father fidget with his watch fob for several minutes, then asked with characteristic directness. "What do you wish?"

"To see that you have proper medical attention if you are ill," he returned promptly. "How would a week or ten days at Atlantic City suit you and Barbara?"

"Not at all." Helen sat up from her reclining position on the pillows. "You forget, father, that we have a house-guest; Margaret Brewster is not leaving until May."

"I had not forgotten," curtly. "I propose that she go with us."

A faint "Oh!" escaped Helen, otherwise she made no comment, and McIntyre, after contemplating her for a minute, looked away.

"Either go to Atlantic City with us, Helen, or resume your normal, everyday life," he said shortly. "I am tired of heroics; Jimmie Turnbull was hardly the man to inspire them."

"Stop!" Helen's voice rang out imperiously. "I will not permit one word said in disparagement of Jimmie, least of all from you, father. Wait," as he attempted to speak. "I do not know what traits of character I may have inherited from you, but I have all mother's loyalty, and-that loyalty belongs to Jimmie."

McIntyre's eyes shifted under her gaze.

"I regret very much this obsession," he said rising. "I will not attempt to reason with you again, Helen, but"-he made no effort to lower his voice, "the world-our world will soon know what manner of man James Turnbull was, of that I am determined."

"And I"-Helen faced her father proudly-"I will leave no stone unturned to defend his memory."

Her father wheeled about. "In doing so, see that you do not compromise yourself," he remarked coldly, and before the infuriated girl could answer, he slammed the door shut and stalked downstairs.

Some half hour later he opened the door of Rochester and Kent's law office and would have walked unceremoniously into Kent's private office had not John Sylvester stepped forward from behind his desk in the corner.

"Good morning, Colonel," he said civilly. "Mr. Kent is not here. Do you wish to leave any message?"

"Oh, good morning, Sylvester," McIntyre's manner was brusque. "When do you expect Mr. Kent?"

"In about twenty minutes, Colonel." Sylvester glanced at the wall clock. "Won't you sit down?"

McIntyre took the chair and planted it by the window. Never a very patient man, he waited for Kent with increasing irritation, and at the end of half an hour his temper was uppermost. "Give me something to write with," he demanded of Sylvester. Accepting the clerk's fountain pen without thanks, he walked over to the center table and, drawing out his leather wallet, took from it a visiting card and, stooping over, wrote:

You have but thirty-six hours remaining.

McIntyre.

"See that Mr. Kent gets this card," he directed. "No, don't put it there," irascibly, as the clerk laid the card on top of a pile of letters. "Take it into Mr. Kent's office and put it on his desk."

There was that about Colonel McIntyre which inspired complete obedience to his wishes, and Sylvester followed his directions without further question.

As the clerk stepped into Kent's office McIntyre saw a woman sitting by the empty desk. She turned her head on hearing footsteps and their glances met. A faint exclamation broke from her.

"Margaret!" McIntyre strode past Sylvester. "What are you doing here?"

Mrs. Brewster's ready laugh hid all sign of embarrassment. "Must you know?" she asked archly. "That is hardly fair to Barbara."

"So Barbara sent you here with a message!" Mrs. Brewster treated his remark as a statement and not a question, and briskly changed the subject.

"I can't wait any longer," she pouted. "Please tell Mr. Kent that I am sorry not to have seen him."

"I will, madam." Sylvester placed McIntyre's card in the center of Kent's desk and flew to open the door for Mrs. Brewster.

As the widow stepped into the corridor she brushed by an over-dressed woman, whose cheap finery gave clear indication of her tastes. Hardly noticing another's presence she turned and took McIntyre's arm and they strolled off together, her soft laugh floating back to where Mrs. Sylvester stood talking to her husband.

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