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.
CHAPTER XIII. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
Harry Kent rang the doorbell at the McIntyre residence for the fifth time, and wondered what had become of the faithful Grimes; the butler was usually the soul of promptness, and to keep a caller waiting on the doorstep would, in his category, rank as the height of impropriety. As Kent again raised his hand toward the bell, the door swung open suddenly and Barbara beckoned to him to come inside.
"The bell is out of order," she explained. "I saw you from the window. Hurry, and Grimes won't know that you are here," and she darted ahead of him into the reception room. Kent followed more slowly; he was hurt that she had had no other greeting for him.
"Babs, aren't you glad to see me?" he asked wistfully.
For an instant her eyes were lighted by her old sunny smile.
"You know I am," she whispered softly. As his arms closed around her and their lips met in a tender kiss she added fervently, "Oh, Harry, why didn't you make me marry you in the happy bygone days?"
"I asked you often enough," he declared.
"Will you go with me to Rockville at once?" Her face changed and she drew back from him. "No," she said. "It is selfish of me to think of my own happiness now."
"How about mine?" demanded Kent with warmth. "If you won't consider yourself, consider me."
"I do." She looked out of the window to conceal sudden blinding tears. There was a hint of hidden tragedy in her lovely face which went to Kent's heart.
"Sweetheart," his voice was very tender, "is there nothing I can do for you?"
"Nothing," she shook her head drearily. "This family must 'dree its weir.'"
Kent studied her in silence; that she was in deadly earnest he recognized, she was no hysterical fool or given to sentimental twaddle.
"You came to me on Wednesday to ask my aid in solving Jimmie Turnbull's death," he said. "I have learned certain facts—"
Barbara sprang to her feet. "Wait," she cautioned. "Let me close the door. Now, go on—" with her customary impetuosity she reseated herself.
"Before I do so, I must tell you, Babs, that I recognized the fraud you and Helen perpetrated at the coroner's inquest yesterday afternoon."
"Yes," quietly. "I am aware that you impersonated Helen on the witness stand and vice versa. You took a frightful risk."
"I don't see why," she protested. "In my testimony I told nothing but the truth."
"I never doubted you told the truth regarding the events of Monday night as you saw them, but the coroner's questions were put to you under the impression that you were Helen." Kent scrutinized her keenly. "Would Helen have been able to give the same answers that you did without perjuring herself?"
Barbara started and her face paled. "Are you insinuating that Helen killed Jimmie?" she cried.
"No," his emphatic denial was prompt. "But I do believe that she knows more of what transpired Monday night than she is willing to admit. Is that not so, Barbara?"
"Yes," she acknowledged reluctantly.
"Does she know who poisoned Jimmie?"
"No—no!" Barbara rested a firm hand on his shoulder. "I swear Helen does not know. You must believe me, Harry."
"She may not know," Kent spoke slowly. "But are you sure she does not suspect some one?"
"Well, what if I do?" asked Helen quietly, and Kent, looking around, found her standing just inside the door. Her entrance had been noiseless.
"You should tell the authorities, Helen." Kent rose as she passed him and selected a seat which brought her face somewhat in shadow. "If you do not you may retard justice."
"But if I speak I may involve the innocent," she retorted. "I—" her eyes shifted from him to Barbara and back again. "I cannot undertake that responsibility."
"Better that than let the guilty escape through your silence," protested Kent. "Possibly the theories of the police may coincide with yours.
"What are they?" asked Barbara impetuously.
Kent considered before replying. If Detective Ferguson had gone so far as to secure a search warrant to go through Rochester's apartment and office it would not be long before the fact of his being a "suspect" would be common property; there could, therefore, be no harm in his repeating Ferguson's conversation to the twins. In fact, as their legal representative, they were entitled to know the latest developments from him.
"Detective Ferguson believes that the poison was administered by Philip Rochester," he said finally, and watched to see how the announcement would affect them. Barbara's eyes opened to their widest extent, and back in her corner, into which she had gradually edged her chair, Helen emitted a long, long breath as her taut muscles relaxed.
"What makes Ferguson think Philip guilty?" demanded Barbara.
"It is known that he and Jimmie were not on good terms," replied Kent. "Then Rochester's disappearance after Jimmie's death lends color to the theory."
"Has Philip really disappeared?" asked Helen. "You showed me a telegram—"
"Apparently the telegram was a fake," admitted Kent. "The Cleveland police report that he is not at the address given in the telegram."
"But who could have an object in sending such a telegram?" asked Barbara slowly.
"Rochester, in the hope of throwing the police off his track, if he really killed Jimmie." Kent looked straight at Helen. "It was while searching our office safe for trace of Rochester's present address that Ferguson obtained possession of your sealed envelope."
Helen plucked nervously at the ribbon on her gown. "Did the detective open the envelope" she asked.
"Are you sure?"
"Positive; the red seal was unbroken."
"Tell us how the envelope came to be stolen from you," coaxed Barbara.
"We were in the little smoking porch off the dining room at the Club de Vingt." Barbara smiled her remembrance of it, and motioned Kent to continue. "Ferguson had just put down the envelope on the table and I started to pick it up when cheering in the dining room distracted my attention and I, with the others, went to see what it was about. When I returned to the porch the envelope was no longer on the table."
"Who were with you?" questioned Helen.
"Your father, Mrs. Brewster—"
"Of course," murmured Barbara. "Go on, Harry."
"Detective Ferguson and Ben Glymer," Barbara made a wry face, "and"—went on Kent, not heeding her, "each of these persons deny any further knowledge of the envelope, except they declare it was lying on the table when we all made a dash for the dining room.
"Who was the last to leave the porch?" asked Helen.
"And he saw no one take the envelope?"
"He declares that he had his back to the table, part of the time, but to the best of his knowledge no one took the envelope."
"One of them must have," insisted Barbara.
"The envelope hadn't legs or wings."
"One of them did take it," agreed Kent.
"But which one is the question. Frankly, to find the answer, I must know the contents of the envelope, Helen."
"Because then I will have some idea who would be enough interested in the envelope to steal it."
Helen considered him long and thoughtfully. "I cannot answer your question," she announced finally. She saw his face harden, and hastened to explain. "Not through any lack of confidence in you, Harry, b-b-but," she stumbled in her speech. "I—I do not know what the envelope contains."
Kent stared at her open-mouthed. "Then who requested you to lock the envelope in Rochester's safe?" he demanded, and receiving no reply, asked suddenly: "Was it Rochester?"
"I am not at liberty to tell you," she responded; her mouth set in obstinate lines and before he could press his request a second time, she asked: "Philip Rochester defended Jimmie in court when every one thought him a burglar; why then, should Philip have picked him out to attack—he is not a homicidal maniac?"
"No, but the police contend that Rochester recognized Jimmie in his make-up and decided to kill him; hoping his death would be attributed to angina pectoris, and no post-mortem held," wound up Kent.
"I don t quite understand"—Helen raised her handkerchief to her forehead and removed a drop of moisture. "How did Philip kill Jimmie there in court before us all?"
"Ferguson believes that he put the dose of aconitine in the glass of water which Jimmie asked for," explained Kent, and would have continued his remarks, but a scream from Barbara startled him.
"There, look at the window," she cried. "I saw a face peering in. Look quick, Harry, look!"
Kent needed no second bidding, but although he craned his head far outside the open window and gazed both up and down the street and along the path to the kitchen door, he failed to see any one. "Was it a man or woman?" he asked, turning back to the room.
"I—I couldn't tell; it was just a glimpse." Barbara stood resting one hand on the table, her weight leaning upon it. Not for words would she have had Kent know that her knees were shaking under her.
"Did you see the face, Helen?" As he put the question Kent looked around at the silent girl in the corner; she had slipped back in her chair and, with closed eyes, lay white-lipped and limp. With a leap Kent gained her side and his hand sought her pulse.
"Ring for brandy and water," he directed as Barbara came to his aid. "Helen has fainted."
Twenty minutes later Kent hastened out of the McIntyre house and, turning into Connecticut Avenue, boarded a street car headed south. After carrying Helen to the twins' sitting room he had assisted Barbara in reviving her. He had wondered at the time why Barbara had not summoned the servants, then concluded that neither sister wished a scene. That Helen was worse than she would admit he appreciated, and advised Barbara to send for Dr. Stone. The well-meant suggestion had apparently fallen on deaf ears, for no physician had appeared during the time he was in the house, nor had Barbara used the telephone, almost at her elbow as she sat by her sister's couch, to summon Dr. Stone. Kent had only waited long enough to convince himself that Helen was out of danger, and then had departed.
It was nearly one o'clock when he finally stepped inside his office, and he found his clerk and a dressy female bending eagerly over a newspaper. They looked up at his approach and Sylvester came forward.
"This is my wife, sir," he explained, and Kent bowed courteously to Mrs. Sylvester. "We were just reading this account of Mr. Rochester's disappearance; it's dreadful, sir, to think that the police believe him guilty of Mr. Turn bull's murder."
"Dreadful, indeed," agreed Kent; the news had been published even sooner than he had imagined. "What paper is that?"
"The noon edition of the Times." Sylvester handed it to him.
"Thanks," Kent flung down his hat and spread open the paper. "Who have been here to-day?"
"Colonel McIntyre, sir; he left a card for you." Sylvester hurried into Kent's office, to return a moment later with a visiting card. "He left this, sir, for you with most particular directions that it be handed to you at once on your arrival."
Kent read the curt message on the card without comment and tore the paste-board into tiny bits.
"Any one else been in this morning?" he asked.
"Yes, sir." Sylvester consulted a written memorandum. "Mr. Black called, also Colonel Thorne, Senator Harris, and Mrs. Brewster."
"Mrs. Brewster!" The newspaper slipped from Kent's fingers in his astonishment. "What did she want here?"
"To see you, sir, so she said, but she first asked for Mr. Rochester," explained Sylvester, stooping over to pick up the inside sheet of the Times which had separated from the others. "I told her that Mr. Rochester was unavoidably detained in Cleveland; then she said she would consult you and I let her wait in your office for the good part of an hour."
Kent thought a moment then walked toward his door; on its threshold he paused, struck by a sudden idea.
"Did Colonel McIntyre come with Mrs. Brewster?" he asked.
"No, Mr. Kent; he came in while she was here."
"And they went off together," volunteered Mrs. Sylvester, who had been a silent listener to their conversation. Kent started; he had forgotten the woman. "Excuse me, Mr. Kent," she continued, and stepped toward him. "I presume, likely, that you are very interested in this charge of murder against your partner, Mr. Rochester."
"I am," affirmed Kent, as Mrs. Sylvester paused.
"I am too, sir," she confided to him. "Cause you see I was in the court room when Mr. Turnbull died and I'm naturally interested."
"Naturally," agreed Kent with a commiserating glance at his clerk; the latter's wife threatened to be loquacious, and he judged from her looks that it was a habit which had grown with the years. As a general rule he abhorred talkative women, but—"And what took you to the police court on Tuesday morning?"
"Why, me and Mr. Sylvester have our little differences like other married couples," she explained. "And sometimes we ask the Court to settle them." She caught Kent's look of impatience and hurried her speech. "The burglar case came on just after ours was remanded, and seeing the McIntyre twins, whom I've often read about, I just thought I'd stay. Let me have that paper a minute."
"Certainly," Kent gave her the newspaper and she ran her finger down the columns devoted to the Turnbull case with a slowness that set his already excited nerves on edge.
"Here's what I'm looking for," she exclaimed triumphantly, a minute later, and pointed to the paragraph:
"Mrs. Margaret Perry Brewster, the fascinating widow, added nothing material to the case in her testimony, and she was quickly excused, after stating that she was told about the tragedy by the McIntyre twins upon their return from the Police Court."
"Well what of it?" asked Kent.
"Only this, Mr. Kent;" Mrs. Sylvester enjoyed nothing so much as talking to a good looking man, especially in the presence of her husband, and she could not refrain from a triumphant look at him as she went on with her remarks. "There was a female sitting on the bench next to me in Court; in fact, she and I were the only women on that side, and I kinder noticed her on that account, and then I saw she was all done up in veils—I couldn't see her face.
"I caught her peering this way and that during the burglar's hearing; I don't reckon she could see well through all the veils. Now, don't get impatient, Mr. Kent; I'm getting to my point—that woman sitting next to me in the police court was the widow Brewster."
"What!" Kent laughed unbelievingly. "Oh, come, you are mistaken."
"I am not, sir." Mrs. Sylvester spoke with conviction. "Now, why does Mrs. Brewster declare at the coroner's inquest that she only heard of the Turnbull tragedy from the McIntyre twins on their return home?"
"You must be mistaken," argued Kent.
"Why, you admit yourself that the woman was so swathed in veils that you could not see her face."
"No, but I heard her laugh in court," Mrs. Sylvester spoke in deep earnestness and Kent placed faith in her statement in spite of his outward skepticism. "And I heard her laugh in this corridor this morning and I placed her as the same woman. I asked Mr. Sylvester who she was, and he told me. I'd been reading this account of the Turnbull inquest, and I recollected seeing Mrs. Brewster's name, and my husband and I were just reading the account over when you came in."
Kent gazed in perplexity at Mrs. Sylvester. "Why did Mrs. Brewster laugh in the police court?" he asked.
"When Dr. Stone exclaimed to the deputy marshal—'Your prisoner appears ill!'" declared Mrs. Sylvester; she enjoyed the dramatic, and that Kent was hanging on her words she was fully aware, in spite of his expressionless face. "Dr. Stone lifted the burglar in his arms and then Mrs. Brewster laughed as she laughed in the corridor to-day—a soft gurgling laugh."
CHAPTER XIV. PAY CASH
It was the rush hour at the Metropolis Trust Company and the busy paying teller counted out silver and gold and treasury notes of varying denominations with the mechanical precision and exactness which experience gives. Suddenly his hand stopped midway toward the money drawer, his attention arrested by the signature on a check. A swift glance upward showed him a girl's face at the grille of the window. There was an instant's pause, then she addressed him.
"Do hurry, Mr. McDonald; father is waiting for me."
"Pardon me, Miss McIntyre." He stamped the check and laid it to one side, "how do you want the money?"
"Oh, I forgot." She glanced at a memorandum on the back of an envelope. "Mrs. Brewster wishes ten tens, five twenties, and ten ones. Thank you, good afternoon," and counting over the money she thrust it inside her bag and hurried away.
She had been gone a bare five minutes when Kent reached the window and pushed several checks toward the teller.
"Is Mr. Clymer in his office, McDonald?" he asked, placing the bank notes given, him in his wallet.
"I'm not sure." The teller glanced around at the clock; the hands stood at ten minutes of three. "It's pretty near closing time, Kent; still, he may be there."
"I'll go and see," and with a nod of farewell Kent turned on his heel and walked off in the direction of the office of the bank president. On reaching there he saw, through the glass partition of the door, Clymer seated in earnest conclave with two men.
Happening to glance up Clymer recognized Kent and beckoned to him to come inside. "You know Taylor," he said by way of introduction. "And this is Mr. Harding of New York—Mr. Kent," he turned around in his swivel chair to face the three men. "Draw up a chair, Kent; we were just going over to see you.
"Yes?" Kent looked inquiringly at the bank president, the gravity of his manner betokened serious tidings. "What is it, Mr. Clymer?"
Clymer did not reply at once. "It's this," he said finally, with blunt directness. "Your partner, Philip Rochester, appears to be a bankrupt. Harding and Taylor came in here to attach his private bank account to cover indebtedness to their business firms."
An exclamation broke from Kent. "Impossible!" he gasped.
"I would have said the same this morning," declared Clymer. "But on investigation I find that Rochester has over-drawn his account here for a large amount and borrowed heavily. The further I look into his financial affairs the more involved I find them."
"But"—Kent was white-lipped. "I know for an absolute fact that Rochester was paid some exceedingly large fees last week, totaling over fifty thousand dollars."
"He has never deposited such a sum, or anywhere like that amount in this bank either last week or this," stated Clymer, running his eyes down a bank statement which, with several pass books, lay on his desk.
"Does he carry accounts at other banks?" inquired Harding.
"Not that I can discover," responded Taylor. "I have been to every national and private banking house in Washington, but all deny having him as a depositor. Did Rochester ever bank out of town, Kent?"
"Not to my knowledge." Kent drew out a bank book. "Here is the firm's balance, Mr. Clymer; we bank here, you know."
"Yes." Clymer's look of anxiety deepened.
"Did you see McDonald as you came in?"
"Yes, he cashed some checks for me."
"Your personal checks?"
"Yes." Kent looked questioningly at Clymer. "What do you mean?"
"Only this; that all moneys deposited here in the firm name of Rochester and Kent have been drawn out."
"That's not possible!" Kent started up.
"Checks on that account must bear both Rochester's signature and mine."
"Checks bearing both signatures have been presented for the total sum deposited to your credit," stated Clymer and he picked up four canceled checks. "See for yourself."
Kent stared at the checks in dumbfounded silence; then carrying them to the light he examined them with minute care before bringing them back to the bank president.
"This is the first I have heard of these transactions," he said.
"That the signatures are clever forgeries." His statement was heard with gravity. Taylor exchanged a meaning look with the New Yorker.
"You mean your signature is a forgery," he suggested. "Rochester had a peculiar gift of penmanship."
Kent sprang up. "Do you accuse Philip Rochester of signing these checks and inserting my name to them?"
"I do," calmly. "I am not familiar with your signature, Kent, but that Rochester wrote the body of those four checks and put his own signature at the bottom I will swear to in any court of law. To make them valid he had to add your name."
"But, d—mn it, man!" Kent stared in bewilderment at his three companions. "Rochester was honorable and straight-forward—"
"And addicted to drink," put in Harding. "But not a forger," retorted Kent firmly. Harding's only rejoinder was a skeptical smile as he turned to address Clymer.
"So Rochester not only has taken his own money, but withdrawn that belonging to the firm of Rochester and Kent without the knowledge of his junior partner; it looks black, Mr. Clymer," he remarked. "Especially when taken in consideration with his other involved financial transactions."
"Where will we find Rochester, Kent?" asked Taylor, before the bank president could answer the New Yorker.
Kent paused in indecision. What reply could he make without further involving Rochester in trouble? He had not the faintest idea where Rochester was, but to state that he was missing could not but add to the belief that he had made away with all the money he could lay his hands on. The noon edition of the Times had hinted at Rochester's disappearance but had stated they could not get the statement confirmed from Police Headquarters; obviously Harding and Taylor had not seen the newspaper.
Was it just to the men before him to keep them in the dark? If their claims were true, and Kent never doubted that they were, they had already lost money through Rochester's extraordinary behavior. Kent turned sick at the thought of his own loss—his savings swept away. Would Barbara wait for him—was it fair to ask her?
Taylor broke the prolonged silence.
"I met Detective Ferguson on my way here," he stated. "He told me that the police were looking for Rochester."
"What?" Harding looked up, startled. "Why didn't you inform me of that?"
"Well, I thought we'd better hear from Mr. Clymer the true state of Rochester's finances," responded Taylor. "I never anticipated such facts as he has given us."
"But if you knew the police were after Rochester—" objected Harding.
Clymer broke into the conversation; there was a heavy frown on his usually placid countenance. "I judged from Detective Ferguson's confidences to us, Kent, at the Club de Vingt that he was wanted by the police in connection with the Turnbull tragedy, but the facts brought out through Harding's action to attach Rochester's bank account, puts a different construction on Rochester's disappearance."
"What had Rochester to do with Jimmie Turnbull?" questioned Harding, before Kent could answer Clymer.
"They lived together," he replied shortly.
"And one dies and the other disappears," Harding whistled dolefully. "Wasn't Mr. Turnbull an official of this bank, Mr. Clymer?"
"Yes, our cashier."
"Were his affairs involved?"
"Not in the least," Clymer spoke with emphasis. "A most honorable fellow, Jimmie Turnbull; his murder was a shocking affair."
"Have the police found any motive for the crime, Kent?" asked Taylor.
"I believe not."
Harding, who had been ruminating in silence, leaned forward, his expression alight with a sudden idea.
"Could it be that Turnbull found out that Rochester was passing forged checks, and Rochester insured his silence by Poisoning him?" he asked.
Clymer and Kent exchanged glances, as Kent's thoughts reverted to the forged letter presented by Turnbull to the bank's treasurer, whereby he had been given McIntyre's valuable negotiable securities. Could it be that Rochester had written the letter, given it to his room-mate, Turnbull, and the latter, thinking it genuine, had secured the McIntyre securities and handed them over to Rochester? The idea took Kent's breath away; and yet, the more he contemplated it, the more feasible it appeared.
"What's the date on those checks?" demanded Kent.
"Tuesday of this week—the day Jimmie Turnbull died." Clymer turned them over. "They are drawn payable to cash, and bear no endorsement, which shows Rochester must have presented them himself."
Harding and Taylor glanced significantly at each other, but neither spoke. Suddenly Kent pushed back his chair and rose without ceremony.
"Don't go, Kent." Clymer took up some papers. "There's a matter—"
"It will keep." Kent's mouth was set and determined. "I give you my word of honor that all Rochester's honest debts will be paid by the firm if necessary; I will obligate myself to that extent," he paused. "As for you fellows," turning to Harding and Taylor who had also risen. "Give me twenty-four hours—"
"What for?" they chorused.
"To locate Philip Rochester," and waiting for no answer Kent bolted out of the office.
CHAPTER XV. WHEN THE LIGHT FAILED
The city lights were springing up block T after block along Pennsylvania Avenue as Detective Ferguson left that busy thoroughfare and hurried to the Saratoga. He stepped inside the lobby of the apartment house a full minute before his appointment with its manager, and went at once to look him up. Before he could carry out his purpose he was joined by Harry Kent.
"Finley had to go out," the latter explained.
"I told him I would go up to Rochester's apartment with you."
Ferguson thoughtfully caressed his clean-shaven jaw for a second, then came to a rapid decision.
"Lead the way, sir," he said. "I'll follow." Kent found him a silent companion while in the elevator and when walking down the corridor to Rochester's apartment, but once inside the living room, with the outer door tightly closed, Ferguson tossed down his hat and his whole demeanor changed.
"Sit down, Mr. Kent." He selected a chair near Rochester's desk for himself, as Kent found another. "Let's thrash this thing out; are you working with me or against me?"
"Why do you ask?" Kent's surprise at the question was evident.
"Because every time I arrange to examine this apartment or inquire into Rochester's whereabouts you show up." Ferguson's small eyes were trying to out-stare Kent, but the latter's clear gaze did not drop before his. "Are you aiding Philip Rochester in his efforts to elude arrest?"
"I am not," declared Kent emphatically. "What prompts the question?"
"The fact that you are Rochester's partner," Ferguson pointed out; his manner was still stiff. "It would be only natural for you to help him disappear out of friendship, or"—with a sidelong glance—"from a desire to hush up a scandal."
"On the contrary I want Rochester found and every bit of evidence against him sifted out and aired," retorted Kent. "Two heads are better than one, Ferguson; let us work together. Rochester must be located within the next twenty-four hours."
Ferguson debated a moment, but Kent's speech as well as his manner indicated his sincerity, and the detective shook off his suspicions. "Have you had any further news of your partner?" he asked.
"No; that is"—recalling the scene in the bank early that afternoon—"nothing that relates to Rochester's present whereabouts. Now, Ferguson, to put your charges against Rochester in concrete form, you believe that he was insanely jealous of Jimmie Turnbull, that he recognized him in the Police Court in his burglar disguise, slipped a dose of aconitine in a glass of water which Turnbull drank, and after declaring that his friend had died from angina pectoris, disappeared. Is that all the case you have against him?"
"At present, yes," admitted the detective cautiously.
"All circumstantial evidence—"
"But it will hold in court—"
"Ah, will it?" questioned Kent. "There's one big flaw in your case, Ferguson; the poison used to kill Turnbull."
"Exactly. Your theory is that Rochester slipped the poison in the glass of water on recognizing Turnbull in the police court; now, it is stretching probability to suppose that Rochester, a strong healthy man, was carrying that drug around in his vest pocket."
Ferguson sat forward in his chair, his eyes glittering. "Do you mean to say that you think the murder of Turnbull was premeditated and not committed on the spur of the moment?" he asked.
"The fact that aconitine was used convinces me of that," answered Kent.
Ferguson thought a moment. "If that is the case," he said, grudgingly, "it sort of squashes the charge against Philip Rochester."
"It would seem to," agreed Kent. "But every shred of evidence I find points to Rochester as the guilty man."
Ferguson edged his chair forward. "What have you discovered?" he demanded eagerly.
"This," Kent spoke with increased earnestness. "That Philip Rochester is apparently a bankrupt, that he has over-drawn his private account at the Metropolis Trust Company, and withdrawn our partnership funds from the same bank."
"Your partnership funds!" echoed the detective, eyeing Kent sharply. "How did you come to let him do that?"
"I was not aware that he had done so until Mr. Clymer told me of the transaction this afternoon," answered Kent.
"You did not know"—Ferguson looked at him in dawning comprehension. "You mean Rochester absconded with the funds?"
"Some one forged my name to checks drawn on the firm's account," Kent continued. "I understood they were made payable to cash and presented by Rochester on the day of Turnbull's death."
Ferguson whistled as a slight vent to his feelings. "So you suspect Rochester of being a forger?" Kent made no reply, and he added; after a moment's deliberation, "What bearing has this discovery on Turnbull's death, aside from Rochester's need of funds to make a clean disappearance?"
"If it is true that Rochester was financially embarrassed and forged checks on the Metropolis Trust Company, it establishes another motive for the killing of Turnbull," argued Kent. "Turnbull was cashier of that bank."
"I see; he may have discovered the forgeries—but hold on." Ferguson checked his rapid speech. "When were these forged checks presented at the bank?"
Ferguson's face fell. "Pshaw! man; that was after Turnbull's death—how could he detect the forgeries?"
Kent did not reply at once; instead, he glanced keenly about the living room. The detective had only switched on one of the reading lamps and the greater part was in shadow. It was a pleasant and home-like room, and Kent was conscious of a keener pang for the loss of Jimmie Turnbull and the disappearance of Philip Rochester, as he gazed around. The lawyer and the bank cashier had been, until that winter, congenial comrades, sharing their business success and their apartment in complete accord; and now a shadow as black as that enveloping the unlighted apartment hung over their good names, threatening one or the other with the charge of forgery and of murder. Kent sighed and turned back to the silent detective.
"I can best answer your question by telling you that the day after Jimmie Turnbull died Mr. Clymer sent for me," he began. "I found Colonel McIntyre with him and was told that the Colonel had lost valuable securities left at the bank. These securities had been given by the treasurer of the bank to Jimmie Turnbull when he presented a letter from Colonel McIntyre instructing the bank to surrender the securities to Jimmie."
"Well?" questioned Ferguson. "Go on, sir."
"That letter was a forgery." Kent sat back and watched the detective's rapidly changing expression. "And no trace has been found of the Colonel's securities, last known to be in the possession of Turnbull."
"Great heavens!" ejaculated Ferguson.
"Which was the forger—Turnbull or Rochester?"
Kent shook a puzzled head. "That is for us to discover," he said soberly. "Colonel McIntyre contends that Turnbull forged the letter and stole the securities, then fearing his guilt would become known, committed still another crime—that of suicide, he could have swallowed a dose of aconitine while at the police court."
"Well, I'll be—blessed!" ejaculated Ferguson. "But if he was the forger how does that square with Rochester's peculiar behavior? The checks bearing your forged signatures were presented, mind you, by Rochester after Turnbull's death?"
"It doesn't square," acknowledged Kent frankly. "There is this to be said for Turnbull: he was the soul of honor, his affairs were found to be in excellent condition, he was drawing a good salary, his investments paying well—he did not need to acquire securities or money by resorting to forgery."
"Whereas Philip Rochester was on the point of bankruptcy," remarked Ferguson. "Do you suppose he forged Colonel McIntyre's letter and gave it to Turnbull, and the latter got the securities from the bank treasurer and handed them over to Rochester in good faith, supposing his room-mate would give the papers to Colonel McIntyre?"
Kent nodded in agreement. "It looks that way to me," he said gloomily. "Philip Rochester stood well in the community, his law practice is large and lucrative, and if it had not been for his periods of idleness and—and"—hesitating—"passion for good living, he would never have run into debt."
"But he got there." Ferguson's laugh was contemptuous. "A desperate man will do anything, Mr. Kent."
"I know," Kent looked dubious. "I would believe him guilty if it were not for the use of aconitine—that shows premeditation on the part of the murderer."
"And why shouldn't Rochester plan Turnbull's murder ahead of the scene in the police court?" argued Ferguson. "Wasn't he living in deadly fear of exposure? If he did not commit the murder, why did he run away? And if he is innocent, why doesn't he come forward and prove it?"
"He may not know that he is suspected of the crime," retorted Kent, rising. "It is for us to find Rochester, and I suggest that we search this apartment thoroughly."
"I have already done so," objected Ferguson. "And there wasn't the faintest clew to his hiding place."
"For all that I am not satisfied." Kent walked over and switched on another light. "When I came here on Wednesday night I had a tussle with some man, but he escaped in the dark without my seeing him. I believe he was Rochester."
"You are probably right." Ferguson crossed the room. "And if he came back once, he may return again. Come ahead," and he plunged into the first bedroom. The two men subjected each room to an exhaustive search, but their labors were their only reward; except for an accumulation of dust, the apartment was undisturbed. They had reached the kitchenette-pantry when the gong over their heads sounded loudly, and Kent, with a muttered exclamation hastened toward the front door of the apartment. Ferguson, intent on studying the "L" of the building as seen from the window, was hardly conscious of his departure, and some seconds elapsed before he turned toward the door. As he gained it, he saw a dark shape dart down the hall. With a bound Ferguson started in pursuit, and the next second grappled with the flying man just as the electric lights went out and they were plunged in darkness.
Suddenly Kent's voice echoed down the hall. "Come here quick, Ferguson!"
There was a note of urgency about his appeal, and Ferguson straining his muscles until the blood pounded in his temples, threw the struggling man into a tufted arm-chair which stood by the entrance to the small dining room, and drawing out his handcuffs, slipped them on securely. "Stay there," Ferguson admonished his prisoner. "Or there will be worse coming to you," and he thrust the muzzle of his revolver against the man's heaving chest to illustrate his meaning; then as Kent called again, he sped down the hall and brought up breathless at the front door. The light was still burning in the corridor, though not very brightly, and he saw Kent hand the grinning messenger boy a shiny quarter. Touching his battered cap the boy went whistling away. "Tell the elevator boy to report that a fuse has burned out in Mr. Rochester's apartment," Ferguson called after him, and the lad waved his hand as he dashed into the elevator.
Paying no attention to the detective's call, Kent showed him a white envelope which bore the simple address:
PHILIP ROCHESTER, ESQ. THE SARATOGA
"It's the identical envelope I found in your safe," declared Ferguson.
"And which disappeared last night at the Club de Vingt." Kent turned over the envelope. "See, the red seal."
For a minute the men contemplated the seal with the large distinctive letter "B" in the center.
"Open the letter, sir," Ferguson urged and Kent, his fingers fairly trembling, jerked and tore at the linen incased envelope; the flap ripped away and he opened the envelope—it was empty.
Instinctively the two men glanced down at the parquetry flooring; nothing but a thin coating of dust lay there, and Kent looked up and down the corridor; it was deserted.
"Do you recognize the handwriting?" asked Ferguson.
"No." Kent regarded the envelope in bewilderment. "What shall we do?"
"Do? Call up the Dime Messenger Service and see where the envelope came from; but first come and see my prisoner.
"Your prisoner?" in profound astonishment.
"Yes. I caught him chasing up the hall after you," explained Ferguson as they hurriedly retraced their steps. "I put handcuffs on him and then went to you. Ah, here's the light!"
"The light, yes; but where's your prisoner?" and Kent, who was a trifle in advance of his companion in reaching the dining room, stood aside to let Ferguson pass him.
The detective halted abruptly. The chair into which he had thrust his prisoner was vacant. The man had disappeared.
With one accord Ferguson and Kent advanced close to the chair, and an oath broke from the detective. On the cushion of the chair, still bearing the impress of a human body, lay a pair of shining new handcuffs.
Dazedly Ferguson stooped over and examined them. They were still securely locked. Wheeling around Kent dashed through the door to his right and Ferguson, collecting his wits, searched the rest of the apartment with minute care. Five minutes later he came face to face with Kent in the living room. "Not a trace of any kind," declared Kent. "It's the same as the other night; the man's gone. It's—it's positively uncanny."
Ferguson's face was red from mortification and his exertions combined.
"The fellow must have slipped from the room by that other door and out through the living room as we came down the hail," he said. "Did you shut the door of the apartment, Mr. Kent, before coming down here to look at the prisoner?"
"Yes." Kent led the way back to the dining room. "Did you recognize the man, Ferguson?"
"No." The detective swore softly as he stared about the room. "The lights went out just as I tackled him."
"It was beastly luck that the fuse burned out at that second," groaned Kent. "Fortune was with him in that; but how did the man get free of the handcuffs?" pointing to them still lying in the chair. "We can't attribute that to luck, unless"—staring keenly at Ferguson—"unless you did not snap them on the man's wrists, after all."
"I did; I swear it," declared Ferguson. "I'm no novice at that business. Here, don't touch them, Mr. Kent," as his companion bent toward the chair. "There may be finger marks on the steel; if so"—he drew out his handkerchief, and taking care not to handle the burnished metal, he folded the handcuffs carefully in it and put them in his coat pocket. "There's no use lingering here, Mr. Kent; this apartment is vacant now except for us. I must get to Headquarters."
"Hadn't you better telephone for an operative and station him here?" suggested Kent.
"I did so while you were searching the back rooms," replied Ferguson. "There," as the gong sounded. "That's Nelson, now."
But the person who stood in the outer corridor when they opened the front door was not Nelson, the operative, but Dr. Stone.
"Can I see Mr. Rochester?" he asked, then catching sight of Kent standing just back of the detective, he added, "Hello, Kent; I thought I heard some one walking about in here from my apartment next door, and concluded Rochester had returned. Can I see him?"
"N-no," Kent spoke slowly, with a side-glance at the silent detective. "Rochester has been here—and left."
CHAPTER XVI. THE CRIMSON OUTLINE
Barbara McIntyre made the round of the library for the fifth time, testing each of the seven doors opening into it to see that they ere closed behind their portieres, then she turned back to her sister, who sat cross-logged before a small safe.
"Any luck?" she asked
Instead of replying Helen removed the key from the lock of the steel door and regarded it attentively. The safe was of an obsolete pattern and in place of the customary combination lock, was opened by means of a key, unique in appearance.
"It is certainly the key which father mislaid six months ago," she declared. "Grimes found it just after father had a new key made and gave it to me. And yet I can't get the door open."
"Let me try." Barbara crouched down by her sister and inserted the key again in the lock, but her efforts met with no results, and after five minutes' steady manipulation she gave up the attempt. "I am afraid it is impossible," she admitted. "Seems to me I have heard that the lost key will not open a safe after a new key has been supplied."
Helen rose slowly to her feet, stretching her cramped limbs carefully as she did so, and sank down in the nearest chair. Her attitude indicated dejection.
"Then we can't find the envelope," she muttered. "Hurry, Babs, and close the outer door; father may return at any moment."
Barbara obeyed the injunction with such alacrity that the door, concealing the space in the wall where stood the safe, flew to with a bang and the twins jumped nervously.
"Take care!" exclaimed Helen sharply. "Do you wish to arouse the household?"
"No danger of that." But Barbara glanced apprehensively about the library in spite of her reassuring statement. "The servants are either out or upstairs, and Margaret Brewster is writing letters in our sitting room."
"Hadn't you better go upstairs and join her?" Helen suggested. "Do, Babs," as her sister hesitated. "I cannot feel sure that she will not interrupt us."
"But my joining her won't keep Margaret upstairs," objected Barbara.
"No, but you can call and warn me if she is on her way down, and that will give me time to—to straighten father's papers," going over to a large carved table littered with magazines, letters, and silver ornaments. Her sister did not move, and she glanced at her with an irritated air, very foreign to her customary manner. "Go, Barbara."
The curt command brought a stare from Barbara, but it did not accelerate her halting footsteps; instead she moved with even greater slowness toward the hall door; her active brain tormented with an unspoken and unanswered question. Why was Helen so anxious for her departure? She had accepted her offer of assistance in her search of the library with such marked reluctance that Barbara had marveled at the time, and now...
"Are you quite sure, Helen, that father had the envelope in his pocket this morning?" she asked for the third time since the search began.
"He had an envelope—I caught a glimpse of the red seal," answered Helen. "Then, just before dinner he was putting some papers in the safe. Oh, if Grimes had only come in a moment sooner to announce dinner, I might have had a chance to look in the safe before father closed the door."
Whatever reply Barbara intended making was checked by the rattling of the knob of the hall door; it turned slowly, the door opened and, pushing aside the portieres drawn across the entrance, Margaret Brewster glided in. "So glad to find you," she cooed. "But why have you closed up the room and turned on all the lights?"
"To see better," retorted Barbara promptly as the widow's eyes roved around the large room, taking silent note of the drawn curtains and portieres, and the somewhat disarranged furniture. "Come inside, Margaret, and help us in our search."
"For what?" The widow tried to keep her tone natural, but a certain shrill alertness crept into it and Barbara, who was watching her closely, was quick to detect the change. Helen's color altered at the question, and she observed the widow's entrance with veiled hostility.
"For my seal," Barbara answered. "The one with the big letter 'B.' Have you seen it?"
"I?—No." The widow took a chair uninvited near Helen. "You look tired, Helen dear; why don't you go to bed?"
"I could not sleep if I did." Helen passed a nervous finger across her eyes. "But don't let me keep you and Babs up; it won't take me long to arrange to-morrow's market order for Grimes."
Under pretense of searching for pencil and paper Helen contrived to see the address of every letter lying on the table, but the envelope she sought, with its red seal, was not among them. When she looked up again, pencil and paper in hand, she found Mrs. Brewster leaning lazily back and regarding her from under half-closed lids. "You are very like your father, Helen," she commented softly.
The girl stiffened. "Am I? Babs and I are generally thought to resemble our mother."
"In appearance, yes; but I mean mannerisms—for instance, the way of holding your pencil, your handwriting, even, closely resembles your father's." Mrs. Brewster pointed to the notes Helen was scribbling on the paper and to an open letter bearing Colonel McIntyre's signature at the bottom of the sheet lying beside the pad to illustrate her meaning. "These are almost identical."
"You are a close observer." Helen completed her memorandum and laid it aside. "What became of father?"
"He went to a stag supper at the Willard," chimed in Barbara, stopping her aimless walk about the library. "He said we were not to wait up for him."
Helen pushed back her chair and rose with some abruptness.
"I am more tired than I realized," she remarked and involuntarily stretched her weary muscles. "Come, Margaret," laying a persuasive hand on the widow's shoulder. "Be a trump and rub my forehead with cologne as you used to do abroad when I had a headache. It always put me to sleep then; and, oh, how I long for sleep now!"
There was infinite pathos in her voice and Mrs. Brewster sprang up and threw her arm about her in ready sympathy.
"You poor darling!" she exclaimed. "Let me put you to bed; Mammy taught me the art of soothing frayed nerves. Come with us, Babs," holding out her left hand to Barbara. But the latter, with a dexterous twist, slipped away from her touch.
"I must stay and straighten the library," she announced.
Mrs. Brewster's delicate color had deepened. "It would be as well to open some of the doors," she agreed coldly. "The library looks odd, not to say funereal," she glanced down the spacious room and shivered ever so slightly. "Do, Babs, put out some of the lights; they are blinding."
"Oh, I'll turn them all out"—Barbara sought the electric switch.
"But your father—"
"No need to worry about father; he can find his way about in the dark like a cat," responded Barbara with unabated cheerfulness. "Seems to me, Margaret, you and father are getting mighty chummy these days."
The sudden darkness into which Barbara's impatient fingers, pressing against the electric light buttons, plunged the library and its occupants, prevented her seeing the curious glance which Mrs. Brewster shot at her. Helen, who had listened to their chatter with growing impatience, looked back over her shoulder.
"Hurry, Barbara, and come upstairs. Now, Margaret," and she piloted the widow along the hall toward the staircase without giving her an opportunity to answer Barbara's last remark. Barbara, pausing only long enough to pull back the portieres of the hall door and arrange them as they hung customarily, turned to go upstairs just as Grimes came down the hall from the dining room carrying a large tray with pitchers of ice water and glasses.
"I thought you had gone to your room, Grimes," she remarked, as the butler waited respectfully for her to pass him.
"I've just come in, miss, and found Murray had left the tray in the dining room," explained Grimes hurriedly. "I hope, miss, I'll not disturb the ladies by knocking at their doors now with this ice water."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Brewster and Miss Helen have only just gone upstairs." Barbara paused in front of the butler and poured out a glass of water. "I can't wait, Grimes, I am too thirsty."
"Certainly, miss, that's all right." Grimes craned his head around and looked up and down the hail, then leaning over he placed the tray on a convenient table and stepped close to Barbara.
"I've been reading the newspapers very carefully, miss," he began, taking care to keep his voice lowered. "Especially that part of Mr. Turnbull's inquest which tells about the post-mortem."
"Well, what then?" asked Barbara quickly as the butler paused and again glanced up and down the hall.
"Just this, miss," he spoke almost in a whisper. "The doctors do say poor Mr. Turnbull was poisoned by acca—aconitine," stumbling over the word. "It's a curious thing, miss, that I brought some of that very drug into this house last Sunday."
"You did!" Barbara's fresh young voice rose in astonishment.
"Hush, miss!" The butler raised both hands. "Hush!" He glanced cautiously around, then continued. "Colonel McIntyre sent me to the druggist with a prescription from Dr. Stone for Mrs. Brewster when she had romantic neuralgia."
"Had what?" Barbara looked puzzled, then giggled, but her mirth quickly altered to seriousness at sight of the butler's expression. "Mrs. Brewster had a touch of rheumatic neuralgia the first of the month; do you refer to that?"
"Yes, miss." Grimes spoke more rapidly, but kept his voice lowered. "The druggist told me what the pills were when I exclaimed at their size—regular little pellets, no bigger than that," he demonstrated the size with the tip of his little finger, and would have added more but the gong over the front door rang out with such suddenness that both he and Barbara started violently.
"Just a moment, miss," and he hurried to the front bell, to return after a brief colloquy with a messenger boy, bearing a letter. "It's for Mrs. Brewster, miss," he explained, as Barbara held out her hand.
"I'll give it to her and this also," Barbara took the envelope and a small ice pitcher and glass. "Good night, Grimes. Oh," she stopped midway up the staircase and waited for the butler to overtake her, "Grimes, to whom did you give the aconitine on Sunday?"
"I didn't give it to nobody, miss." The butler was a trifle short of breath; his years did not permit him to keep pace with the twins. "I was in a great hurry as the druggist kept me waiting, and I had to serve tea at once."
"But what did you do with the aconitine pills?" demanded Barbara.
"I left the box on the hail table, miss—"
"Great heavens!" Barbara stared at the butler, then without a word she raced up the staircase and disappeared through the open door of Mrs. Brewster's bedroom.
The light from the hall shone through the transom and doorway in sufficient volume to clearly indicate the different pieces of furniture, and Barbara put the pitcher and glass on the bed stand and laid the letter which Grimes had given her on the dressing table, then went slowly into her own bedroom. She could hear voices, which she recognized as those of her sister and Mrs. Brewster, coming from Helen's bedroom, but absorbed in her own thoughts she undressed in the dark and crept into bed just as Mrs. Brewster passed down the hallway and entered her own room. The widow had taken off her evening gown and slippers and donned a becoming wrapper before she discovered the letter lying on the dresser. Drawing up a chair she dropped into it, let down her long dark hair, and settled back in luxuriant comfort against the tufted upholstery before she ran her well-manicured finger under the flap of the envelope. A slip of paper fell into her lap as she took out the contents of the envelope and she let it rest there while scanning the closely typewritten lines on the Metropolis Trust Company stationery.
Dear Mrs. Brewster, she read. Our bank teller, Mr. McDonald, has questioned the genuineness of the signature on the inclosed check. An important business engagement prevents my calling to-night, but please stop at the bank early to-morrow morning.
I feel that you would prefer to have a personal investigation made rather than have us place the matter in the hands of the police.
BENJAMIN A. CLYMER.
The widow read the note a number of times, then bethinking herself, she picked up the canceled check still lying in her lap, and turned it over. Long and intently she studied the signature—the peculiarly characteristic formation of the letter "B" caught and held her attention. As the seconds ticked themselves into minutes she sat immovable, her face as white as the hand on which she had bowed her head.
Across the hall Helen McIntyre tossed from one side to the other in her soft bed; her restless longing to get up was growing stronger and stronger. While Mrs. Brewster's deft fingers and the cooling cologne had stopped the throbbing in her temples, they had brought only temporary relief in their train and not the sleep which Helen craved. She strained her ears to discover the time by the ticking of her clock, but either it was between the half or quarters of an hour, or it had stopped, for no chimes sounded. With a gasp of exasperation, Helen flung back the bed clothes and sat up. Switching on the light by the side of her bed she hunted for a book, but not finding any, she contemplated for a short space of time a pair of rubber-heeled shoes just showing themselves under the edge of a chair. With sudden decision she left the bed and dressed rapidly. It was not until she had put on her rubber-heeled shoes that she paused. Her hesitation, however, was but brief. Stepping to the bureau, she pulled out a lower drawer and running her hand inside, touched a concealed spring. From the cavity thus exposed she took a small automatic pistol, and with a stealthy glance about her, crept from the room.
The library had been vacant fully an hour when a mouse, intent on making a raid on the candy which Barbara had carelessly left lying loose on one of the tables, paused as a faint creaking sound broke the stillness, then as the noise increased, the mouse scurried back to its hole. The noise resembled the turning of rusty hinges and the soft thud of one piece of wood striking another. There was a strained silence, then, from out of the darkness appeared a tiny stream of light directed full on a white envelope bearing a large red seal.
The next instant the envelope was plucked from the hand holding it, and a figure lay crumpled on the floor from the blow of a descending weapon.
It was closely approaching one o'clock in the morning before Mrs. Brewster stirred from her comfortable bedroom chair. Taking up her electric torch, which she kept always by the side of her bed, she walked quickly down the staircase and into the pitch dark library. Directing her torch-light so that she steered a safe course among the chairs and tables, she approached one of the pieces of carved Venetian furniture and reached out her hand to touch a trap-door. As she looked for the spring she was horrified to see a thin stream of blood oozing through the carving until, reaching the letter "B," it outlined that initial in sinister red.
Scream after scream broke from Mrs. Brewster. She was swaying upon her feet by the time Colonel McIntyre and his daughter Helen reached the library.
"Margaret! What is it?" McIntyre demanded. "Calm yourself, my darling."
The frenzied woman shook off his soothing hand.
"See, see!" she cried and pointed with her torch.
"She means the Venetian casket," explained Helen, who had paused before joining them to switch on the light.
Colonel McIntyre gazed in amazement at the piece of furniture; then catching sight of the blood-stain, he raised the small trap-door or peep hole, in the top of the oblong box which stood breast high, supported on a beautifully carved base.
There was a breathless pause; then McIntyre unceremoniously jerked the electric torch from Mrs. Brewster's nervous fingers and turned its rays of the interior of the casket. Stretched at full length lay the figure of a man, and from a wound in his temple flowed a steady stream of blood.
"Good God!" McIntyre staggered back against Helen. "Grimes!"
CHAPTER XVII. A QUESTION OF HOUSE-BREAKING
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.
"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?"
"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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE FATAL PERIOD
As Kent walked into the library he found Colonel McIntyre by his side; the latter's even breathing gave no indication of the haste he had made down the staircase to catch up with Kent.
Detective Ferguson hardly noted their arrival, his attention being given wholly to the examination of the Venetian casket which had played such an important part in the drama of the night before. The casket and its companion piece stood on either side of the room near a window recess. The long straight shape of the high boxes on their graceful base gave no indication of the use to which they had been put in ancient days, but made attractive as well as unique pieces of furniture.
Kent crossed the library and, after looking inside the casket, examined the exterior with care.
"Don't touch that crest," cautioned Ferguson, observing that Kent's glance remained focused on the blood-stained, raised letter "B" and the carving back of it. "In fact, don't touch any part of the casket, I'm trying to get finger prints."
Kent barely heard the warning as he turned to McIntyre.
"Haven't I seen that letter 'B' design on your stationery, Colonel?" he asked.
"Barbara uses it," was the reply. "She fancied the antique lettering, and copied the 'B' for the engraver; she is handy with her pen, you know."
"Did she wish the 'B' for a seal?" inquired Kent.
"Yes, she had a seal made like it also." McIntyre moved closer to the casket. "Found anything, Ferguson?"
The detective withdrew his head from the opening at the end of the casket, and regarded the furniture vexedly.
"Not a thing," he acknowledged. "Except I am convinced that it required dexterity to slip Grimes inside the casket. The butler is small and slight, but he must have been unconscious from that tap on the forehead and, therefore, a dead weight. Whoever picked him up must have been some athlete, and"—running his eyes up and down Colonel McIntyre's well-knit, erect frame—"pretty familiar with the workings of this casket."
"Pooh! It's not so difficult a feat," McIntyre shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "My daughters, as children, used to play hide and seek inside the casket with each new governess."
Ferguson stepped forward briskly. "Mr. Kent, let me see if I can lift you inside the casket; make yourself limp—that's it!" as Kent, entering into the investigation heart and soul, relaxed his muscles and fell back against the detective.
A moment later he was swung upward and pushed head-first inside the casket and the door closed. The air, though close, was not unpleasant and Kent, his eyes growing gradually accustomed to the dark interior, tried to discover the trap door at the top of the box but without success. Putting out his hands he felt along the top. The height of the casket did not permit him to sit up, so he was obliged to slide his body down toward his feet to feel along the sides of the casket. This maneuver soon brought his knees in violent contact with the top, and at the sound Ferguson opened the door and assisted him out.
"Had enough of it?" he asked, viewing Kent's reddened cheeks with faint amusement. "I wonder if Grimes could breathe in there for any lengthy period. If so, it would help establish the time which elapsed between his being incarcerated and your finding him, Colonel."
"How so?" demanded McIntyre.
"Well, if he couldn't get air and you hadn't discovered him at once, he'd have died," explained Ferguson. "If you did find him immediately the person who knocked him down must have made a lightning escape."
"Air does get in the casket in some way," broke in Kent. "It wasn't so bad inside. Colonel McIntyre," Kent stopped a moment to remove a piece of red sealing wax clinging to the cuff of his suit. It had not been there when he entered the casket. Kent dropped the wax in his vest pocket as he again addressed his host. "Who first discovered Grimes in the casket?"
"And what was Mrs. Brewster doing in the library at that hour?" glancing keenly at McIntyre as he put the question.
"She could not sleep and came down for a book," explained the Colonel.
Ferguson, who had walked several times around the library, looking behind first one and then the other of the seven doors, paused to ask:
"What attracted Mrs. Brewster's attention to the casket?"
"The blood stain on its side," McIntyre answered.
"What—that!" Ferguson eyed McIntyre incredulously. "Come, sir, do you mean to tell me she noticed that little bit of a stain in a dark room?"
"She had an electric torch," shortly.
"But why should she turn the torch on this casket?" persisted the detective. "She came to the library for a book, and the bookcases are in another part of the room."
"Quite so, but the book she wished was lying on the top of this casket," replied McIntyre, meeting their level looks with one equally steadfast. "I know because I left the book there."
Ferguson glanced from McIntyre to Kent and back again at the Colonel in non-plussed silence. The explanation was pat.
"I'd like to talk with Mrs. Brewster," he remarked dryly.
"Certainly." McIntyre pressed an electric button. The summons was answered immediately by the new servant, Murray. "Ask Mrs. Brewster if she can see Detective Ferguson in the library, Murray," McIntyre directed.
"Beg pardon, sir, but Mrs. Brewster has just gone out," and with a bow Murray withdrew.
Kent, who had drawn forward a chair preparatory to sitting down and participating in the interview with the widow, changed his mind.
"I must leave at once," he said, after consulting his watch. "Please inform Mrs. Brewster, Colonel, that I will be in my office this afternoon, and I expect her to make me the visit she postponed this morning. Ferguson," turning back to address the detective, "you'll find me at the Saratoga for the next hour. Good morning," and paying no attention to Colonel McIntyre's request to remain, he left the room.
There was no one in the hall and Kent debated a moment whether or not to ring for the servant and ask to see Barbara, but, at sight of the hall table, Grimes' confidences recurred to him and drove everything else out of his mind. Stopping before the table he contemplated its smooth surface before moving the few ornaments it held. Satisfied that no pillbox stood behind any of them, he pulled open the two drawers and tumbled their contents about. His efforts only brought to light some half-empty cigarette boxes, matches, a scratch pad or two, and old visiting cards.
Kent shut the drawers, picked up his hat, and took his cane from the tall china umbrella-stand by the hall table. As he stepped through the front doorway he caught sight of the end of his cane, which he was carrying tucked under his arm. Fastened to the ferule of the cane was the round top of a paste-board pill box.
Kent backed so swiftly into the house again that his figure blocked the closing of the front door, which he had started to pull shut after him. Letting the door close gently he walked back to the umbrella stand. It was a tall heavy affair, and he had some difficulty in tipping it over and letting its contents spill on the floor. A soft exclamation escaped him as three little pellets rolled past him, and then came the bottom of a box.
With hasty fingers Kent picked them up, placed them in the box, and fitted on the top, first carefully smoothing over the hole made by his cane when thrust into the umbrella stand by the footman. Replacing the stand he wrapped the box containing the pills in his handkerchief and hurried from the house.
Kent found the operative from Detective Headquarters sitting on duty in Rochester's living room when he entered that apartment a quarter of an hour later.
"Any one called here?" he asked, as the man, whom he had met the night before, greeted him.
"Not a soul, Mr. Kent." Nelson suppressed a yawn; his relief was late in coming, and he had had little sleep the night before. "There's been no disturbance of any kind, not even a ring at the telephone."
Kent considered a moment, then sat down by the telephone and gave a number to Central.
"That you, Sylvester?" he called into the mouth-piece. "If Mrs. Brewster comes to the office, telephone me at Mr. Rochester's apartment, Franklin 52. Don't let Mrs. Brewster leave until I have seen her."
"Yes, sir," came the reply, and Kent hung up the receiver.
"Had any luncheon?" he asked Nelson as the man loitered around.
"Not yet"—Nelson's eyes brightened at the word. It was long past his usual meal hour.
"Run down to the caf on the first floor and tell the head waiter to give you a square meal and charge it to me," Kent directed. "Order something substantial; you must be used up."
The man hung back. "Thank you, Mr. Kent, but I don't like to leave here until my relief comes," he objected.
"That's all right, I'll stay in the apartment until you return," and Kent settled the question by opening the door leading into the outer corridor. "Ferguson will be around shortly, so hurry."
Kent watched the man scurry toward the elevator shaft, then returned to Rochester's apartment and once more took up the telephone. The operative's reluctance to leave the apartment unguarded had altered his plans somewhat.
"Is this Dr. Stone's office?" he asked a moment later, as a faint "hello," came over the wire. "Oh, doctor, this is Kent. Please come over to Rochester's apartment; I would like to consult you in regard to an important matter. You'll come now? Thanks."
The doctor kept Kent waiting less than five minutes. The clock was striking one when he appeared, bland and smiling. Hardly waiting for him to select a seat Kent flung himself into a chair in front of Rochester's desk and laid the pill box on the writing pad.
"Now, doctor," he began, and his manner gained in seriousness, "what, in your opinion, killed Jimmie Turnbull?"
"The post-mortem examination proved that he had swallowed aconitine in sufficient quantity to cause death," Stone replied. "He undoubtedly died from the effects of that poison."
"Is aconitine difficult to procure?" asked Kent.
"It is often prescribed for fevers." Stone made himself comfortable in a near-by chair. "Aconitine is the alkaloid of aconite. I believe that in India it is frequently employed, not only for the destruction of wild beasts, but for criminal purposes. The India variety is known as the Bish poison."
Kent started—Bish poison—was he never to get away from the letter "B"?
"Can you procure Bish in this country?" he asked.
Stone considered the question. "You might be able to purchase it from some Hindoo residing or traveling in the United States," he said, after a pause. "I doubt if you could buy it in a drug store."
Kent heaved a sigh of relief as he hitched his chair closer to the physician.
"Did you prescribe a dose of aconitine for Mrs. Brewster recently?" he asked.
"I did, for an attack of rheumatic neuralgia." Stone eyed him curiously. "What then, Kent?"
"Is this the box the medicine came in?" and Kent placed the cover in Stone's hand.
Stone turned the paste-board over and studied the defaced label. "I cannot answer that question positively," he said. "The label bears my name and that of the druggist, but the directions are missing."
"But the number's on it," put in Kent swiftly. "Come, Stone, call up the druggist, repeat the number to him, and ask if it calls for your aconitine prescription."
Stone hesitated as if about to speak, then, reaching out his hand, he picked up the telephone and held a short conversation with the drug clerk of the Thompson Pharmacy.
"That is the box which contained the aconitine pills for Mrs. Brewster," he said, when he had replaced the telephone. "Now, Kent, I have secured the information you wished; kindly tell me your reasons for desiring it."
It was Kent's turn to hesitate. "Do you know many instances where aconitine was used by murderers?" he questioned.
"N-no. I believe it was the drug used in the celebrated Lamson poison case," replied the physician slowly. "I cannot recall any others just at the moment."
"How about suicides?"
"It is seldom, if ever, used for suicides." Stone spoke with more assurance. "I have found in my practice, Kent, that suicides can be classed as follows: drowning by the young, pistols by the adult, and hanging by the aged; women generally prefer asphyxiation, using illuminating gas. But this is beside the question, unless"—bending a penetrating look at his companion—"unless you believe Jimmie Turnbull committed suicide."
"That idea has occurred to me," admitted Kent. "But it doesn't square with other facts which have developed, nor is it in keeping with the character of the man."
"Men who suffer from a mortal disease sometimes commit desperate acts, not at all in accord with their previous conduct," responded Stone gravely. "Come, Kent, you have not answered my question. Why did you wish information about this box of aconitine pills prescribed for Mrs. Brewster during her attack of neuralgia?"
"You have just stated that aconitine is not usually administered to murder a person," Kent spoke seriously, choosing his words with care. "Do you wonder then, that I consider it more than a coincidence that Jimmie Turnbull should have died from a dose of that poison, and that the drug should have been prescribed for one of the inmates of the house he visited shortly before his death?"