MoboReader > Horror > The Red Seal

   Chapter 17 A QUESTION OF HOUSE-BREAKING

The Red Seal By Natalie Sumner Lincoln Characters: 19560

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


The genial president of the Metropolis Trust Company was late. Mrs. Brewster, waiting in his well-appointed office, restrained her ill-temper only by an exertion of will-power. She detested being kept waiting, and that morning she had many errands to attend to before the luncheon hour.

"May I use your telephone?" she asked Mr. Clymer's secretary, and the young man rose with alacrity from his desk. Mrs. Brewster never knew what it was to lack attention, even her own sex were known on occasions to give her gowns and, (what captious critics termed her "frivolous conduct") undivided attention.

"Can I look up the number for you?" the secretary asked as Mrs. Brewster took up the telephone book and fumbled for the gold chain of her lorgnette.

"Oh, thank you," her smile showed each pretty dimple. "I wish to speak to Mr. Kent, of the firm of Rochester and Kent."

"Harry Kent?" The young secretary dropped the book without looking at it, and gave a number to the operator, and then handed the instrument to Mrs. Brewster.

"Mr. Kent not in, did you say?" asked the widow. "Who is speaking? Ah, Mr. Sylvester-has Mr. Rochester returned?--Both partners away"... she paused... "I'll call later-Mrs. Brewster, good morning."

Mrs. Brewster hung up the receiver and turned to the secretary.

"I don't believe I can wait any longer," she began, and paused, as Benjamin Clymer appeared in the doorway.

"So sorry to be late," he exclaimed, shaking her hand warmly. "And I am sorry, also, to have called you here on such an errand."

Mrs. Brewster waited until the young secretary had withdrawn out of earshot before replying; then taking the chair Clymer placed for her near his own, she opened her gold mesh bag and took out a canceled check and laid it on the desk in front of the bank president.

"Your bank honored this check?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Who presented it?"

Clymer pressed the buzzer and his secretary came at once.

"Ask Mr. McDonald to step here," and as the man vanished on his errand, he addressed Mrs. Brewster. "How is Colonel McIntyre this morning?"

Mrs. Brewster's eyes opened at the question. "Quite well," she replied, and prompted by her curiosity added: "What made you think him ill?"

"I stopped at Dr. Stone's office on the way down town, and his boy told me the doctor had been sent for by Colonel McIntyre," Clymer explained. "I hope neither of the twins is ill."

"No. Colonel McIntyre sent for Dr. Stone to attend Grimes-"

"The butler! Too bad he is ill; Grimes is an institution in the McIntyre household." Clymer spoke with sincere regret, and Mrs. Brewster eyed him approvingly; she liked good-looking men of his stamp. "Come in, McDonald," as the bank teller appeared. "You know Mrs. Brewster?"

"Mr. McDonald was one of my first acquaintances in Washington," and Mrs. Brewster smiled as she held out her hand.

"About this check, McDonald," Clymer handed it to the teller as he spoke. "Who presented it?"

"Miss McIntyre."

"Which Miss McIntyre?" Mrs. Brewster put the question with swift intentness.

"I can't tell one twin from the other," confessed McDonald. "But, as you see, the check is made payable to Barbara McIntyre."

"The inference being that Barbara McIntyre presented the check for payment," commented Clymer, and McDonald bowed. "It would seem, therefore, that Barbara wrote your signature on the check, Mrs. Brewster."

"No." The widow had whitened under her rouge, but her eyes did not falter in their direct gaze. "The signature is genuine. I drew the check."

The two men exchanged glances. The bank president was the first to break the short silence. "In that case there is nothing more to be said," he remarked, and picking up the check handed it to Mrs. Brewster. Without a glance at it, she folded the paper and placed it inside her gold mesh bag.

"I must not take up any more of your time," she said. "I thank you-both."

"Mrs. Brewster." Clymer spoke impulsively. "I'd like to shake hands with you."

Coloring warmly, the widow slipped her small hand inside his, and with a friendly bow to McDonald, she walked through the bank, keeping up with Clymer's long strides as best she could. As they crossed the sidewalk to the waiting limousine they ran almost into the arms of Harry Kent, whose rapid gait did not suit the congested condition of the "Wall Street" of Washington. "I tried to reach you on the telephone this morning," exclaimed Mrs. Brewster, after greeting him.

"So my clerk informed me when I saw him a few minutes ago." Kent helped her inside the limousine. "Won't you come to my office now?"

"But that will be taking you from Mr. Clymer," remonstrated Mrs. Brewster. "Weren't you on the way to the bank?"

"I was," admitted Kent. "But I can see Mr. Clymer later in the day."

"And I'll be less occupied then," added Clymer. "Go with Mrs. Brewster, Kent; good morning, madam," and with a courtly bow Clymer withdrew.

Kent's office was only around the corner, and as Mrs. Brewster kept up a running fire of impersonal gossip, Kent had no opportunity to satisfy his curiosity regarding her reasons for wanting to interview him. As the limousine drew up at the curb in front of his office, a man darting down the steps of the building, caught sight of Kent and hurried to the car window.

"I was just trying to catch you at the bank, Mr. Kent," he explained, and looking around Kent recognized Sylvester. "There's been three telephone calls for you in succession from Colonel McIntyre to hurry to his home."

"Thanks, Sylvester." Kent turned to Mrs. Brewster. "Would you mind driving me to the McIntyre? We can talk on the way there."

Mrs. Brewster picked up the speaking tube. "Home, Harris," she directed, as the chauffeur listened for the order.

Neither spoke as the big car started up the street but as they swung past old St. John's Church, Mrs. Brewster broke her silence.

"Mr. Kent," she drew further back in her corner. "I claim a woman's privilege-to change my mind. Forget that I ever expressed a wish to consult you professionally, and remember, I am always glad to meet you as a friend."

"Certainly, Mrs. Brewster, as you wish." Kent's tone, expressing polite acquiescence, covered mixed feelings. What had caused the widow to change her mind so suddenly, and above all, what had she wished to consult him about? He faced her more directly. She was charmingly gowned, and in spite of his perplexities, he could not but admire her air of quiet elegance and the soft dark eyes regarding him in friendly good-fellowship. Suddenly realizing that his glance had become a fixed stare, he hastily averted his eyes from her face, catching sight, as he did so, of the gold mesh bag lying in her lap. The glint of sunlight brought into prominence the handsomely engraved letter "B" on its surface. An unexpected swerve of the limousine, as the chauffeur turned short to avoid a speeding army truck, caused both Kent and Mrs. Brewster to sway forward and the gold mesh bag slid to the floor, carrying with it the widow's handkerchief and gold vanity box. Kent stooped over and picked up the articles as well as the contents of the mesh bag, which had opened in its descent and spilled her money and papers over the floor of the limousine.

"Oh, thank you," exclaimed Mrs. Brewster, as he handed her the bag, box, and bank notes. "Don't bother to look for that quarter; Harris will find it at the garage."

Kent ignored her remark as he again searched the floor of the car; he was glad of the pretext to avoid looking at the widow. He wanted time to collect his thoughts for, in Picking up her belongings, her handkerchief had caught his attention-he had seen its mate in the possession of Detective Ferguson, and clinging to it the broken portions of the capsules of amyl nitrite which Jimmie Turnbull had inhaled just before his mysterious death.

Into Kent's mind flashed Mrs. Sylvester's statement that Mrs. Brewster was in the police court at the time of the tragedy, although in her testimony at the inquest she had sworn she had not heard of Jimmie's death until the return of Helen and Barbara McIntyre. She had been in the police court, and Jimmie had used her handkerchief-a mate to the one she was then holding, the letter "B" with its peculiar twist was unmistakable-and "B" stood for Brewster as well as for Barbara! Kent drew in his breath sharply.

"My handkerchief, please," the widow held out her hand, and after a moment's hesitation, Kent gave it to her.

"Pardon me," he apologized. "I was struck by the handkerchief's appearance."

Mrs. Brewster turned it over. "In what way is the handkerchief unique?" she asked, laughing.

"Because Jimmie Turnbull crushed amyl nitrite capsules in its mate just before he died," explained Kent quietly. "Detective Ferguson claims that Jimmie unintentionally broke more than one capsule in the handkerchief, was overcome by the powerful fumes and died."

"But the inquest proved that Jimmie was killed by a dose of aconitine poison," she reminded him, as she tucked the handkerchief up her sleeve.

Kent did not reply immediately. "A man does not usually carry a woman's handkerchief about with him," he commented slowly. "Odd, is it not, that Jimmie should have used a handkerchief of yours in the police court just prior to his death, while you were sitting a few feet away?"

"I?" Mrs. Brewster turned and regarded him steadfastly. She was deadly white under her rouge. "Mr. Kent, are you crazy?"

"Yes, crazy to know why you kept your presence in the police court on Tuesday morning a secret," replied Kent. In their earnestness neither noticed Kent's absent-minded clutch on a small folded paper which he had picked up from the floor

of the limousine. "Mrs. Brewster, why did you laugh when Dr. Stone carried Jimmie Turnbull out of the court room?"

Mrs. Brewster sat still in her corner of the car; so still that Kent, observing her closely, feared that she had fainted. She had dropped her eyes, and her face, set like marble, gave him no key to her thoughts.

The door of the limousine was jerked open almost before the car came to a full stop in front of the McIntyre residence, and Colonel McIntyre offered his hand to help Mrs. Brewster out. On the step she turned to Kent, who had lifted his hat to McIntyre in silent greeting.

"Your forte lies as a romancer rather than a lawyer, Mr. Kent," she said, and not giving him time for a reply, almost ran inside the house.

"Glad you could get here so soon, Kent," remarked McIntyre, signing to his chauffeur to drive on before he led the way into the house. "Grimes has worked himself almost into a fever asking for you."

"Grimes?"

"Yes. Grimes was attacked in our library early this morning by some unknown person, and is in bed with a bad wound on his temple and a tendency to hysteria," McIntyre explained.

"Come upstairs."

Kent handed his cane and hat to the footman and followed Colonel McIntyre, who stalked ahead without another word. As they mounted the stairs Kent glanced at the folded paper which he still held, and was surprised to see that it was a check. The signature showed him that he had unintentionally walked off with Mrs. Brewster's property. His decision to hand it to Colonel McIntyre was checked by the Colonel disappearing inside a bedroom, with a muttered injunction to "wait there," and Kent stuffed the check inside his vest pocket. It would serve as an excuse to interview Mrs. Brewster again before leaving the house. He was determined to have an answer to the question he had put to her in the limousine. Why had she gone to the police court, and why kept her presence there a secret?

When Colonel McIntyre reappeared in the hall he was accompanied by Detective Ferguson. "Sorry to keep you standing, Kent," he said. "I have sent for you and Ferguson, first because Grimes insists on seeing you, and second, because I am determined that this midnight house-breaking shall be thoroughly investigated and put an end to. This way," and he led them into a large airy bedroom on the third floor, to which Grimes had been carried unconscious that morning, instead of to his own bedroom in the servants' quarters.

Grimes, with his head swathed in bandages, was a woe-begone object. He greeted Colonel McIntyre and the detective with a sullen glare, but his eyes brightened at sight of Kent, and he moved a feeble hand in welcome.

"Sit down, sirs," he mumbled. "There's chairs for all."

"Don't worry about us," remarked McIntyre cheerily. "Just tell us how you got that nasty knock on the head."

"I dunno, sir; it came like a clap o' thunder," Grimes tried to lift his head, but gave over the attempt as excruciating pain followed the effort.

"What hour of the morning was it?" asked Ferguson.

"About one o'clock, as near as I can tell, sir."

"And what were you doing in the library at that hour, Grimes?" demanded McIntyre.

"Trying to find out what your household was up to, sir," was Grimes' unexpected answer, and McIntyre started.

"Explain your meaning, Grimes," he commanded sternly.

"You can do it better than I can, sir," retorted Grimes. "You know the reason every one's searching the room with the seven doors."

"The room with the seven doors!" echoed Ferguson. "Which is that?"

"Grimes means the library." McIntyre's tone was short. "I have no idea, Grimes, what your allegations mean. Be more explicit."

The butler eyed him in no friendly fashion. "Wasn't Mr. Turnbull arrested in that very room?" he demanded. "And what was he looking for?"

"Mr. Turnbull's presence has been explained," replied McIntyre. "He came here disguised as a burglar on a wager with my daughter, Miss Barbara."

"Ah, did he now?" Grimes' rising inflection indicated nervous tension. "Did a man with a bad heart come here in the dead of night for nothing but that foolishness?" Grimes glared at his three visitors. "You bet he didn't."

Ferguson, who had followed the dialogue between McIntyre and his servant with deep attention, addressed the excited man.

"Why did Mr. Turnbull enter Colonel McIntyre's library on Monday night disguised as a burglar?" he asked.

Grimes, by a twist of his head, managed to regard the detective out of the corner of his eye.

"Aye, why did he?" he repeated. "That's what I went to the library last night to find out."

"Did you discover anything?" The question shot from McIntyre, and both Ferguson and Kent watched him as they waited for Grimes' reply. The butler took his time.

"No, sir."

McIntyre threw himself back in his chair and his eyebrows rose in interrogation as he touched his forehead significantly and glanced at Grimes. That the butler caught his meaning was evident from his expression, but he said nothing. The detective was the first to speak.

"Did you hear any one break into the house when you were prowling around, Grimes?" he asked.

"No, sir."

The detective turned to Colonel McIntyre. "After finding Grimes did you search the house?" he inquired.

"Yes. The patrolman, O'Ryan, and my new footman, Murray, went with me through the entire house, and we found all doors and windows to the front and rear of the house securely locked," responded McIntyre; "except the window of the reception room on the ground floor. That was closed but unlatched."

Kent wondered if the grimace which twisted the butler's face was meant for a smile.

"That there window was locked when I went to bed," Grimes stated with slow distinctness. "And I was the last person in this house to go to my room."

McIntyre started to speak when Ferguson stopped him.

"Just let me handle this case," he said persuasively. "You have called in the police," and as McIntyre commenced some uncomplimentary remark, he added with sternness. "Don't interfere, sir. Now, Grimes, your statements imply one of two things-some member of the household either went downstairs after you had retired, and opened the window in the reception room to admit the person who afterwards attacked you in the library, or"-Ferguson paused significantly, "some member of this household knocked you senseless in the library. Which was it?"

There was a tense silence. McIntyre, by an obvious effort, refrained from speech as they waited for Grimes' answer.

"I dunno who hit me." Grimes avoided looking at the three men. "But some one did, and that window in the reception room was locked when I went upstairs to my bedroom after every one had retired. I'm telling you God's truth, sir."

McIntyre eyed him in wrathful silence, then turned to his companions.

"The blow has knocked Grimes silly," he commented. "There is certainly no motive for any of us to attack Grimes, nor has any trace of a weapon been found such as must have been used against Grimes. O'Ryan and I looked particularly for it, after removing Grimes from the Venetian casket, where my daughter Helen, Mrs. Brewster and I discovered him lying unconscious."

"What's this Venetian casket like?" asked Ferguson before Kent could question McIntyre.

"It is a fine sample of carving of the Middle Ages," replied McIntyre. "I purchased the pair when in Venice years ago. They are over six feet in length, about three feet wide, and rest on a carved base. There is a door at the end through which it was customary in the Middle Ages to slide the body, after embalming, for the funeral ceremonies, after which the body was removed, placed in another casket and buried. There is a square opening or peep hole on the top of the casket through which you can look at the body; a cleverly concealed door covers this opening. In fact," added McIntyre, "the door at the end is not at first discernible, and is hard to open, unless one has the knack of doing so."

"Hum! It looks as if whoever put Grimes inside the casket was familiar with it," remarked Ferguson dryly, and McIntyre bit his lip. "Guess I'll go and take a look at the casket. I'll come back, Grimes."

Kent rose with the others and started to follow them to the door, but Grimes beckoned him to approach the bed. The butler waited until he heard McIntyre's heavy tread and the lighter footfall of the detective recede down the hall before speaking.

"I was only going to say, sir," he whispered as Kent, at a sign from him, stooped over the bed, "I got a box of aconitine pills for Mrs. Brewster on Sunday-the stuff that poisoned Mr. Turnbull," he paused to explain.

"Yes, go on," urged Kent, catching the man's excitement. "You gave it to Mrs. Brewster-"

"No, sir; I didn't; I left the box on the hall table," Grimes cleared his throat nervously. "I dunno who picked up that box o' poison, Mr. Kent; so help me God, I dunno!"

Kent thought rapidly. "Have you told any one of this?" he asked.

Grimes nodded. "Only one person," he admitted. "I spoke to Miss Barbara last night as she was going to bed." Grimes laid a hot hand on Kent's and glanced fearfully around the room. "Bend nearer, sir; I don't want none other to hear me. Just before I got that knockout blow in the library last night, I heard the swish o' skirts-and Miss Barbara was the only living person who knew I knew about the poison."

Kent stared in stupefaction at the butler. He was aroused by a cold voice from the doorway.

"We are waiting for you, Kent," and Colonel McIntyre stood aside to let him pass from the room ahead of him, then without a backward glance at the injured butler, he closed and locked the bedroom door.

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