The physician sat upright, his face had grown gray. "Mr. Kent," he commenced indignantly, "are you aware what you are insinuating? Are you, also, aware that Mrs. Brewster is my cousin, a charming, honorable woman, without a stain on her character?"
Kent set the bottom of the box containing the pills in front of the doctor.
"I have found out that this box, with its dangerous drug, was left on the hall table in the McIntyre house; apparently any one had access to its contents, therefore my remarks are not directed against Mrs. Brewster any more than against any person in the McIntyre household, from the Colonel to the servants. I found these three pills at the McIntyre house this morning; how many did your prescription call for?"
Stone picked up the small pills and, as he balanced them in his palm, his manner grew more alert. Suddenly he dropped two back in the box and touched the third pill with the tip of his tongue; not content with that he crushed it in his fingers, sniffed the drug, and again tested it with his tongue. His expression was peculiar as he looked up at Kent.
"These are not aconitine pills," he stated positively. "They are nitro-glycerine. How did they get in this box?"
Kent rubbed his chin in bewilderment. The box bearing the aconitine label and the pills had all rolled out of the china umbrella stand, and he had taken it for granted that the pills belonged in the box.
"I found them loose in the same receptacle," he explained. "And concluded they were what remained of the aconitine pills which Grimes, the McIntyre butler, said he left on the hall table Sunday afternoon."
Stone smiled with what Kent, who was watching him closely, judged to be an odd mixture of relief and apprehension.
"You could not have found more dissimilar medicine to go in this pill box, although the two kinds of pills are identical in color and size," he said. "Aconitine depresses the heart action while the other stimulates it."
The physician's statement fell on deaf ears. Raising his head after contemplating the pills, Kent had looked across the room and his glance had fallen on a wing chair, standing just inside the doorway of the living room, and thrown partly in shadow by the portieres. The wing of the chair appeared to move. Kent rubbed his eyes and looking again, caught the same slight movement.
Bounding toward the chair Kent saw that the brown shape which he had mistaken for part of the tufted upholstery was the sleek brown hair of a man's well-shaped head. He halted abruptly on meeting the gaze of a pair of mocking eyes.
"Rochester?" he gasped unbelievingly. "Rochester!"
His partner laughed softly as Stone approached. "I have been an interested listener," he said. "Let me complete the good doctor's argument. Nitro-glycerine would have benefitted Jimmie Turnbull and his feeble heart; whereas the missing aconitine pills killed him."
Stone regarded him with severity. "How did you get in this apartment?" he demanded, declining the challenge Rochester had offered in addressing his opinion of Turnbull's death directly to him.
Rochester dangled his bunch of keys in the physician's face and smiled at his excited partner. "If you two hadn't been so absorbed in your conversation you would have heard me walk in," he remarked.
"Where have you been?" demanded Kent, partly recovering from his astonishment which had deprived him of speech.
"I decided to take a vacation at a moment's notice." Rochester spoke with the same slow drawl which was characteristic of him. "You should be accustomed to my eccentricities by this time, Harry."
"We are," announced Detective Ferguson from the hallway, where he and Nelson had been silent witnesses of the scene. "And we'll give you a chance to explain them in the police court."
"On what charge?" demanded Rochester.
"Poisoning your room-mate, Mr. Turnbull," replied the detective, drawing out a pair of handcuffs. "You are mighty clever, Mr. Rochester. I've got to hand it to you for your mysterious disappearances in and out of this apartment, and for murdering Mr. Turnbull right in the police court in the presence of the judge, police officials, and spectators."
Kent stepped forward at sight of the handcuffs and laid a restraining hand on the detective's shoulder. Rochester saw the movement, guessed Kent's intention, and smiled.
"We can settle the case here," he said cheerfully. "No need of troubling the police judge. Now, Mr. Detective, how did I kill Jimmie Turnbull before all those people without any one becoming aware of the fact?"
"Slipped the poison in the glass of water you handed him," answered Ferguson promptly. "A nervy sleight-of-hand, but you'll swing for it."
Rochester's smile was exasperating as he turned to Dr. Stone.
"Judging from Stone's remarks about aconitine—which I overheard," he interpolated. "I gather the doctor is tolerably familiar with the action of the drug. Does aconitine kill instantly, doctor?"
Stone cleared his throat before speaking. "No; the fatal period averages about four hours," he said, and Rochester's eyes sparkled as he looked up at the detective.
"Jimmie died almost immediately after I handed him that drink of water," he declared. "If you wish to know who administered that aconitine poison, you will have to find out who Jimmie was with at the McIntyre house in the early hours of Tuesday morning."
The sharp imperative ring of the telephone bell cut the silence which followed. Kent, standing nearest the instrument, picked it up, and recognized Sylvester's voice over the wire.
"A message has just come, Mr. Kent," he called, "from Mrs. Brewster saying that she will be in your office at four o'clock."
CHAPTER XIX. THE RED SEAL AGAIN
Harry Kent inserted his key in his office door with more vigor than good judgment, and spent some seconds in re-adjusting it in the lock. Once inside the office he put up the latch and closed the door. A glance around the empty office showed him that Sylvester had obeyed his telephone instructions and gone out to luncheon.
Kent noted with satisfaction as he put his hat and cane in the coat closet that he had over two hours before Mrs. Brewster's expected arrival; ample time in which to consider in quietude the events of the past few days, and plan for his interview with the pretty widow. He had spent the time between Rochester's sudden reappearance and a hastily swallowed lunch at a downtown caf, in arranging bail for Rochester. Ferguson had proved obdurate and had persisted in taking the lawyer to Police Headquarters.
Dr. Stone had accompanied the trio, and his testimony, supported by two chemists, regarding the time required for aconitine poison to act, had gone far to weaken the detective's case against Rochester.
Rochester, to Kent's unbounded astonishment, had appeared indifferent to the whole proceedings; and to his partner's urgent inquiries as to where he had spent the past four days, and why he had disappeared, he had returned one invariable answer.
"I'll explain in good time, Harry," and it was not until they were leaving Police Headquarters that his apathy vanished.
"When are you to see Mrs. Brewster?" he asked.
"She will be at our office at four o'clock. Say, Phil"—but Rochester, shaking off his detaining hand, darted across the street and sprang into a passing taxi bearing the sign, "For Hire," and that was the last Kent had seen of his elusive partner.
Kent dropped into his chair and glanced askance at the mail piled in neat array on his desk; he was not in a frame of mind to handle routine office business. Other clients would have to wait until later in the day. A memorandum pad, bearing a message in Sylvester's precise penmanship attracted his wandering attention and he picked it up.
"Mr. Kent:" he read. "Colonel McIntyre called just after I talked with you on the 'phone; he waited in your office for half an hour, then left, stating he would come back. Miss Barbara McIntyre called immediately afterwards, but would not wait more than five minutes. Mr. Clymer came as she was going out and left a note on your desk. I will return soon.
Kent laid down the pad and picked up a twisted three-cornered note bearing his name in pencil. Unfolding it, he scanned the hurriedly written lines:
"Dear Kent—McIntyre telephoned there were new developments in the Turnbull affair. Will be back later.
"B. A. CLYMER."
Kent judged from the use of his initials that Clymer was stirred out of his ordinary calm, nothing else explained his failure to sign his full name, and he wondered what confidences McIntyre had made to the bank president.
Tossing down the note, Kent lighted his pipe, tilted back in his swivel chair, and reviewed the facts which implicated Rochester in Jimmie Turnbull's murder. Rochester's quarrels with Jimmie, his persistent assertion that his friend had died from angina pectoris, his unexplained disappearance on Tuesday night, the fake telegram from Cleveland stating he was there, the withdrawal of his bank deposits, the forged checks, his mysterious visits to his own apartment, when considered together, presented a chain of circumstantial evidence connecting him with the crime. But in the light of Dr. Stone's testimony, the poison "could not have been administered in the glass of water Rochester had given Jimmie in the police court."
Four hours at least had to elapse before the fatal dose of aconitine could take effect—four hours! Kent told them off on his fingers; it placed the crime in the McIntyre house. Which one of its inmates administered the poison to Jimmie and how had it been done? What motive had prompted the cashier's murder?
It was preposterous to think that either of the twins was guilty of the crime. Helen's devotion to Jimmie, her insistence upon an autopsy being held indicated her innocence. She had stated at the inquest that she had not known the burglar's identity; Kent paused as the thought occurred to him—the twins had swapped identities on the witness stand, and therefore Helen had not been called upon to answer that question! To the best of his recollection she had only been asked if she had recognized Jimmie in the court room and not at her home. But Helen it was who had summoned Officer O'Ryan on discovering the burglar and had him arrested. She surely would never have done so had she guessed his identity.
As for Barbara McIntyre—Kent's heart beat faster at thought of the girl he loved so well. Circumstantial evidence had seemed for a time to involve her in the crime. Grimes' outrageous insinuation that he had been assaulted on account of confiding to her that the box of aconitine pills had been left on the hall table where any one could get them, was the outcome of his battered condition. When physical strength returned, the butler would forget his hallucinations. The handkerchief with its embroidered letter "B," used by Jimmie to inhale the fumes from his amyl nitrite capsules, was finally traced to its rightful owner—Mrs. Brewster.
And Mrs. Brewster was due in his office within a very short time. Kent's square jaw became more pronounced; she should not leave until she had either confessed her connection with Turnbull's death, or established her innocence. Surely it would be easy for Mrs. Brewster to do so, but—aconitine had been prescribed for her; she was familiar with the poison, she had it at hand, she went to the police court, and kept her trip a secret, and she had laughed when Jimmie was carried dying from the court room. But what motive could have inspired her to murder Jimmie? Was he an old lover—Kent, unable to keep quiet any longer, rose and paced up and down the office, stopping a moment to glance out of the window. As he passed the safe he saw the door was ajar. Kent paused abruptly. Who had opened the safe?
Crossing to the outer office he looked around; no one was there. It flashed into Kent's mind that he had seen Rochester's light top coat and walking stick in the coat closet as he hung up his hat on his arrival, and he again opened the closet door. The coat and stick were still there; so Rochester had come to the office immediately after leaving him, and carelessly left the safe open! Kent smiled in spite of his vexation; the act was typical of his eccentric partner.
Going back to his own office Kent opened the safe and glanced inside. The pigeon holes and compartments appeared untouched, except the door of one small compartment on Rochester's side. An envelope was wedged in such a manner that the small door would not shut and that had prevented the closing of the outer safe door.
Kent, preparatory to shutting the safe, drew out the envelope intending to place it in another pigeon-hole where there was more room. As he turned the envelope over he was thunderstruck to recognize it as the one which Helen McIntyre had placed in the safe on Wednesday morning. He had last seen the envelope lying on the table in the smoking porch of the Club de Vingt, from whence it had mysteriously disappeared, and now it was back again in Rochester's safe!
Had it ever been missing from the safe? The question forced itself on Kent as he returned to his chair, envelope in hand, and sat down before his desk. He had accepted Detective Ferguson's statement that he had removed the envelope from the safe, and therefore had never looked in the compartment where Helen had put it to verify its disappearance.
Ferguson had removed it, Kent concluded as he examined the envelope with more care; it was the identical one, unaddressed, with the same red seal holding down the flap. The same red seal, but with a difference—a corner was missing.
Kent stared at the seal for a moment in doubt, then his fingers sought his vest pocket and fumbled about for a minute. Taking out Mrs. Brewster's check, he laid it on the desk alongside the envelope, unfolded it, and picked out a piece of red sealing wax which had slid inside the check. Kent placed the red wax on the broken section of the seal—it fitted exactly, forming a perfect letter "B."
Kent sat in dumbfounded silence, regarding the red seal and the envelope. The piece of wax broken off from the seal had caught on his coat sleeve when he had been in the Venetian casket in the library at the McIntyre house. It was proof positive that not only he had been in the casket, but the sealed envelope also. Helen McIntyre had left the envelope in his care. Mrs. Brewster and Colonel McIntyre had both been present when the envelope was stolen from him. Which of them had taken it? Which one had afterwards secreted it in the Venetian casket? And which had brought it back to the safe in his office?
Colonel McIntyre had been in his office within the hour—the question was answered, and Kent's eyes brightened, then clouded—Barbara had been there as well, and Grimes had stated that before he received a knock-out blow in the McIntyre library he heard the swish of skirts!
Kent laid his hand on the envelope. It was time that he found out what it contained; but his finger, inserted under the flap, paused as his eyes fell on the check bearing Mrs. Brewster's signature. It was the check he had picked up from the floor of the McIntyre limousine that morning and inadvertently carried away with him.
From her signature his glance wandered to Sylvester's memorandum pad; it was uncanny the way his eye picked out the letter "B" as he stared at Clymer's note and its signature. Slowly his hand dropped away from the envelope and he left it lying forgotten on the desk as he picked up piece after piece of blotting paper, glancing intently at each and finally, pulling open a drawer of his desk, he hunted in feverish haste for a hand-mirror.
Some ten minutes later Kent rose, placed the papers he had been examining in the inside pocket of his coat and, using the private entrance from his office into the corridor, he hurried away.
When Helen McIntyre entered the office of Rochester and Kent for the second time that afternoon she found Sylvester transcribing stenographic notes on his typewriter.
"Mr. Kent is expecting you, miss," he said, holding open the inner office door, and with a courteous word of thanks, Helen passed the clerk and the door closed behind her. Kent rose at her approach and bowed formally.
"Take this chair," he suggested, and not until she was seated did Helen realize he had placed her where the light fell full upon her. "I asked you to come here," he began, as she waited for him to speak, "Because I must have your confidence—if I am to aid you. Did you meet, recognize, and talk to Jimmie Turnbull in your house sometime between Monday midnight and his arrest on Tuesday morning?"
She colored hotly, then paled. "My testimony at the inquest,"—she commenced, but he gave her no opportunity to add more.
"Your testimony there does not cover the question," he explained. "You stated then that you had not recognized Jimmie in the court room. Had you already penetrated his disguise at your house?"
"And if I had?"
"Did you?" Kent was doggedly persistent, and Helen's fingers closed around her handbag with convulsive force. Why had she not sent Barbara to see Kent in her place?
"Did I what?" she parried.
"Did you recognize and talk with Jimmie Turnbull in your house?"
"I talked with him, yes," she admitted, and her voice dropped almost to a whisper.
"As Jimmie Turnbull or Smith the burglar?"
"As Jimmie"—she confessed, after a slight pause.
"Then why did you go through the farce of having Jimmie arrested as a burglar?" Kent demanded.
"So that Barbara might win her wager," promptly. Kent stared at her incredulously.
"Do you mean that, notwithstanding the risk to which you were subjecting him with his weak heart, you kept up the farce simply that Barbara might win an idiotic wager?" Kent asked.
Helen passed one nervous hand over the other; her palms were hot and dry, and two hectic spots had appeared in each white cheek.
"Jimmie was quite well Monday night," she protested. "He—he—had some heart medicine with him."
"I—I think that was it, I am not quite sure," she spoke with uncertainty, and Kent knew that she lied. His heart sank.
"Did he swallow any medicine in your presence?"
She shook her head vigorously. "No, he did not."
Kent lowered his voice. "Did you see him take Mrs. Brewster's aconitine pills off the hall table?"
Helen shifted her gaze to his face and then back to her ever restless hands. "No," she said. "I did not see him take the pills."
Kent studied her in a silence which, to her, seemed never-ending.
"I want the true answer to this question," he announced with meaning emphasis. "Why did Jimmie go in disguise to your house on Monday night?"
Helen blanched. "How should I know," she muttered evasively. "He—he didn't come to see me—the admission was barely above a whisper.
"But you know what transpired in your house on Monday night?" demanded Kent eagerly.
His question met with no response, and he repeated it, but still the girl remained silent. Kent gave her a moment's grace, then drawing out the unaddressed envelope from his pocket he held it toward her. A low cry broke from her, and her expression changed as she caught sight of the broken seal.
"You have opened it!"
"Not yet," Kent held the envelope just beyond her reach. "I will only give it to you with the understanding that you open the envelope now in my presence and let me see its contents."
Helen drew back, then impulsively extended her hand.
"I agree," she said. "Give me the envelope."
"Stop!" The word rang out, startling Kent as well as Helen, and Mrs. Brewster, whose noiseless entrance a few seconds before had gone unobserved, hurried to them. "The envelope is mine."
CHAPTER XX. THE UNKNOWN EQUATION
"No, no," protested Helen vehemently. "You shall not give the envelope to Margaret—you must not."
"It is mine," insisted the widow with equal vehemence.
"Mrs. Brewster." Kent withheld the envelope from both women. "Will you tell me the contents of this envelope?"
"No," curtly. "It is not your affair."
"It is my affair," retorted Kent with equally shortness of manner. "I insist on an answer to my questions in the limousine this morning. How came your handkerchief in Jimmie's possession, and why did you go to the police court and, yet keep your presence there a secret?"
"Jimmie must have picked up the handkerchief when in the McIntyre house," she answered sullenly. "I presume he forgot to provide him self with one in his make-up as burglar. As regards your second question I admit I did go to the police court out of curiosity—I wanted to find out what was going on. You," with a resentful glance at Helen, "treated me as an outsider, and I was determined to find out for myself how the burglar farce would end."
"Ah, you term it a farce—is that why you laughed in court?" asked Kent quickly.
Mrs. Brewster changed color. "I feel badly about that," she stammered. "I meant no disrespect to Jimmie, but I have a nervous inclination to laugh—almost hysteria—when excited and overwrought."
"I see," answered Kent slowly. He was distinctly puzzled; Mrs. Brewster's air of candor disarmed suspicion, but—"You saw and talked with Jimmie Turnbull on Monday night?"
"I did not." Her denial was firm.
"Then how did you learn of his arrest?" asked Kent swiftly.
"I overheard him conversing—"
"With whom?" Kent demanded eagerly as she paused as if to reconsider her confidences. Helen, one hand on the desk and the other on the arm of her chair, tried to rise, but her strength had deserted her. "With whom?" repeated Kent as the widow remained silent.
"Jimmie was talking with Grimes," Mrs. Brewster stated slowly. "From what I overheard, he paid Grimes to let him inside the house."
Kent looked perplexed as he gazed first at the widow and then at Helen, who had sunk back in her chair.
"Mrs. Brewster," he began after a pause. "Who gave Jimmie your aconitine pills which Grimes left on the hall table?"
"Yes, of course." Kent was watching her closely and he detected the tiny beads of perspiration which were gathering on her upper lip. "And who, in your opinion, was the murderer?"
Mrs. Brewster's expression changed—she looked hunted, and her eyes fell before Kent's; abruptly she turned her back on him, to find Colonel McIntyre at her elbow and Barbara just entering the room. Her eyes traveled past the girl until they rested on Philip Rochester and Detective Ferguson hovering behind him. Her face altered.
"I saw Philip Rochester," pointing dramatically toward him, "crawl out of the reception room window and dart into the street just as O'Ryan came in the front door with Helen."
Detective Ferguson could not restrain a joyful exclamation. "So that was it!" he cried. "You were at the McIntyre house, and gave the poison to Turnbull there—and not in the court room—four hours before he died. You'll swing for that crime, my buck, in spite of your glib tongue and slippery ways."
As he ceased speaking Ferguson's ever ready handcuffs swung suggestively from his hand, but Helen's agonized cry checked his approach toward Rochester, who stood stolidly waiting for him.
"Father! You cannot permit this monstrous injustice, Philip shall not suffer for another. No, Barbara," as her sister strove to quiet her, "we must tell the truth."
"Suppose I tell it for Colonel McIntyre," Rochester advanced as the door opened and Sylvester ushered in Benjamin Clymer. "You have come in time, Clymer," his voice deepened, the voice of a man accustomed to present a case and sway a court. "Wait, Sylvester, sit at that table and take down these charges—"
"Charges?" questioned Kent, watching his partner narrowly; he tossed a stenographic pad to Sylvester and made a place for him at his desk. "Go on, Rochester; charges against whom?"
"Charges against the man who, occupying a position of trust, planned to swindle the Metropolis Trust Company through forged notes and checks," Rochester stated with slow emphasis. "Jimmie Turnbull learned that you, Clymer, were to visit Colonel McIntyre on Monday night, and he went there in disguise to find out if his suspicions were correct. The investigation cost him his life."
Clymer, who had followed Rochester's statement, first with bewilderment and then with rising wrath, found his voice.
"You drunken scoundrel!" he roared. "How dare you!"
"Dare!" Rochester laughed recklessly. "Jimmie kept his wits to the last; his mind was clear; he recognized you in the prisoner's pen and he tried to call you, but his palsied tongue could not say Ben, but stuttered—B—b—b."
"And what did he wish to tell me?" gasped Clymer, down whose colorless face perspiration trickled.
"Aye, what?" broke in Kent significantly.
"Jimmie may not have gotten the information he wished at your house, Colonel McIntyre, but his presence there on Monday night showed the forger he was in danger, and like the human snake he is, he poisoned without warning. Don't move—Sylvester!"
With a backward spring Kent caught his clerk as he sped for the door.
"Don't make any mistake in putting on the handcuffs this time, Ferguson," he shouted. "A forger and a contortionist make a bad customer to reckon with."
CHAPTER XXI. THE RIDDLE ANSWERED
There was absolute stillness in the room; then a babble of exclamations broke out as Sylvester, his expression of dumb surprise giving place to one of fury, struggled to free himself from the detective's firm grip.
"You cannot escape, Sylvester," declared Kent, observing his efforts. "Your carelessness in using your peculiar gift of penmanship in copying Barbara McIntyre's signature in this memorandum of her visit here"—Kent held up a sheet torn from his pad, "gave me the first clew. These, the second," he showed several pieces of blotting paper freshly used. "See, in the mirror here is reflected the impression from your clever imitations of the handwritings of Barbara, Colonel McIntyre, and Mrs. Brewster."
They crowded about Kent, all but Ferguson and his prisoner, who had subsided in his chair with what the detective concluded was dangerous quietude.
"My next step, now that suspicion was directed against Sylvester, was to make personal inquiries regarding him," went on Kent. "Judge Hildebrand, who had just returned to Washington, said that he first met Sylvester at a circus sideshow where he gave exhibitions as a contortionist. One of his special stunts was to slip out of handcuffs and ropes."
"So that explains last night," Ferguson grinned. "You'll not do it again, Sylvester," and he shook an admonitory finger at the erstwhile clerk.
"Judge Hildebrand became interested in Sylvester, found he was handy with his pen and tired of the show business, and gave him an opening by engaging him as confidential clerk," continued Kent. "You will recall, Colonel McIntyre, that you sent business papers in your handwriting and that of your daughters to Judge Hildebrand's office to be typed by his staff. That is how Sylvester became so well acquainted with your writing and was able to forge a letter to the bank treasurer directing him to turn over your negotiable securities to Jimmie Turnbull."
"But how in the world did Sylvester induce Jimmie to present the forged letter?" asked Colonel McIntyre.
Kent turned to the sullen prisoner. "Answer that question, Sylvester," he commanded, and the man roused himself from his dejected attitude.
"Anything in it for me if I do?" he asked with a cunning leer.
"That's for the courts to decide," declared Kent.
The man thought a minute. "I'll take a chance," he said finally. "But that I waited for an opportunity to get my swag out of this safe, I wouldn't have been caught—curse you!" and he scowled at Kent.
"Cut that out," admonished Ferguson with a none too gentle dig in the ribs, and Sylvester continued his statement.
"I overheard Colonel McIntyre tell Judge Hildebrand about his securities and their present value, and the next day he came to consult the judge about engaging a secretary. I fixed up credentials and went to Mr. Turnbull; he believed my story that I was the colonel's new secretary and got the securities." Sylvester paused. "If I'd rested content with that success I'd been all right," he added. "But I was in too great a hurry and forged Mr. Clymer's signature to a check for five thousand dollars and presented it at the Metropolis Trust Company. As luck would have it Mr. Turnbull cashed it for me himself."
"But didn't he suspect you?" exclaimed Clymer. He had gradually recovered from the shock of Rochester's charges on his arrival, and was listening with keen attention to Sylvester's confession.
"No. I made the check payable to Colonel McIntyre and forged his endorsement," Sylvester spoke with an air of pride, and he smiled in malicious enjoyment as, catching his eye, Barbara shrank back and sheltered herself behind Kent. "Mr. Turnbull accepted the check; later something must have aroused his suspicions, and I found when he questioned me that he believed Colonel McIntyre had forged the check."
"Good heavens! You let him think that?" gasped McIntyre; then wrath gained the mastery. "You scoundrel!"
"Oh, I encouraged him to think it," Sylvester grinned again. "You must have handed Mr. Turnbull a raw deal; he was so ready to think evil of you."
"That is a lie!" exclaimed Helen hotly. "When I went downstairs to investigate the noise I heard in the library, father, Jimmie told me who he was to quiet my fright. He showed me a letter, which he had just found on your desk in the library, confessing that you had forged Mr. Clymer's name on the check, and begging Jimmie to conceal your crime and save Barbara and me from the shame of having you exposed as a forger and a thief."
"I never wrote such a letter!" shouted McIntyre, deeply incensed.
"No, it was a clever plan," acknowledged Sylvester. "On one of my trips to your house, Colonel McIntyre, I secured wax impressions of your front door lock. I went to your house Monday night and put the letter among your papers just before Turnbull was admitted by your fool of a butler."
"And you gave Jimmie Turnbull a dose of poison—charged Kent, but Sylvester, his lips gone dry, raised his manacled hands in protest.
"I did not poison him," he cried. "I waited just to see if Turnbull got the letter and to find out what he'd do with the securities, which he had refused to turn over to me. After he had read the forged letter Mr. Turnbull acted sort of faint and went out in the hall. I could just see him put down a box on the hall table and lean against the wall. Then he went into the dining room and came back a second later carrying a glass of water, and I saw him take up and open a small box and toss some white pills into his mouth; then he took a good drink, and, picking up a handkerchief lying on the table, he went back into the library."
There was silence as Sylvester's callous recital of the tragedy ended. Helen, her eyes tearless and dark with suffering, sank slowly back in her chair and rested her head against Barbara's sympathetic shoulder.
"So Turnbull's death was accidental after all," exclaimed Ferguson. "Or was it suicide?"
"Accident," answered Kent. "I found some nitro-glycerine pills in the umbrella stand by the hall table." Colonel McIntyre nodded. "Evidently Turnbull put down his pill box before getting a glass of water, and in his attack of giddiness accidentally opened your box of aconitine pills, Mrs. Brewster, instead of his own, and swallowed a fatal dose, thinking they were nitroglycerine."
Mrs. Brewster bowed her head in agreement. "That must have been it," she said. "However, I saw Colonel McIntyre tear off the paper wrapping and open my package of pills just before dinner, and when I heard that Jimmie had died from aconitine I—I—" she stammered and stopped short.
"You suspected I had murdered him?" asked McIntyre softly.
"Yes," she looked appealingly at him. "Forgive me, I should never have suspected you, but the pills, box and all, were missing the next morning from the hall table."
"Turnbull must have thrown the box into the umbrella stand," explained Kent. "That was where I found it. Did you get the securities, Sylvester?" turning to the prisoner.
"No," sullenly. "She did," and a jerk of his thumb indicated Helen McIntyre.
Helen raised her head and addressed them slowly.
"Jimmie and I expected Barbara to come in at any moment, and he started to leave when we saw you coming downstairs," she turned to Mrs. Brewster. "Jimmie declared that if we were found together I might be compromised. He couldn't explain his presence without exposing father—we both thought you a forger, father," she interpolated, as McIntyre took her hand and pressed it understandingly. "So he insisted that I should treat him like an ordinary burglar—we had both forgotten Barbara's silly wager in our horror about father. Jimmie didn't dare take the securities and father's confession with him for fear he'd be searched at the police station, and the scandal would have come out then."
"True," agreed McIntyre. "Go on, Helen."
"So Jimmie thrust the securities and father's confession into an envelope and sealed it with red wax, using Barbara's seal," explained Helen. "He hadn't time to write an address or message on it, but he told me to return the envelope to him later in the day or give it to Philip Rochester and ask his aid. I brought it here on Wednesday morning and with Harry's permission put the envelope in the safe."
"I tried to get it from there," volunteered Sylvester, "for I overheard Turnbull's plan, before I left by the reception room window."
"So it was you and not Mr. Rochester whom I saw steal out of the window," exclaimed Mrs. Brewster.
"It's not the first time I've been mistaken for him," exclaimed Sylvester calmly.
Kent started and, gazing at Rochester and the clerk, saw there was a general resemblance in coloring and physique.
"Did you present the checks to McDonald at the Metropolis Trust Company bearing Rochester's and my forged signatures?" he asked.
"I did," acknowledged Sylvester. "Mr. Rochester's wardrobe came in very handy for deceiving the casual glance. You know, 'clothes make the man, and want of it the fellow.'"
Kent looked up quickly, struck by an idea.
"Sylvester, did you steal the envelope containing the securities from me at the Club de Vingt?" he asked.
Sylvester shook his head. "No, but she did," pointing to Mrs. Brewster. "It's no lie," as McIntyre uttered an indignant denial. "When Ferguson left here carrying off the securities from under my nose almost—I had spent the whole day trying to learn the safe's combination; I trailed him to the Club de Vingt, and heard the head waiter tell him you, Mr. Kent, were sitting in the small smoking porch, so I climbed up the trumpet vine; oh, it was strong and no climb for one who has done the feats I have in the circus. I reached the porch just in time to see Mrs. Brewster drop her fan, and when the men bent to pick it up she 'lifted' the envelope and concealed it under her scarf."
"Don't," Mrs. Brewster laid a detaining hand on McIntyre as he stepped forward. "The man is telling the truth. I thought it was the envelope you gave me earlier in the evening—it was unaddressed and the red seal was the same."
"Just a moment," interrupted Kent. "What did you do with the envelope?"
"When I returned home I dropped it inside one of the Venetian caskets," Mrs. Brewster replied. "No one ever went near them, and I thought it would be safe there. You see, I was puzzled to know how it had disappeared from the desk in the reception room, where I had left it in one of the pigeon holes, intending to take it later to my room."
"I took the envelope—your envelope—out of the desk," confessed McIntyre. "I would have spoken of it, Margaret, but was hurt that you had left our marriage certificate lying around so carelessly."
"Your what?" Barbara sprang up, astounded.
"Our marriage certificate," repeated McIntyre firmly. "Margaret and I were married last week in Baltimore. We would have told you, Helen, but your peculiar conduct and Barbara's, so angered me that I forbade Margaret to take you into our confidence."
"Father!" Barbara got no further, for Helen had risen. She spoke with quiet dignity.
"You forget, father, that since Monday night we have thought you a forger and, worse, a murderer," her voice faltered. "In our effort to guard you we have become estranged. Margaret"—she held out her hand with an affectionate gesture and with a sob her step-mother kissed her.
"How did this envelope get back inside our safe?" asked Kent a moment later, picking it up and displaying the red seal, intact save for the broken corner.
"I went downstairs about midnight or a little later and into the library," confessed Helen. "What was my surprise and terror to see Grimes holding the envelope. To me it meant father's exposure as a forger. I had a revolver in my hand and struck before I thought. Then I must temporarily have lost my reason. It was only my thought to save father that lent me courage and strength to thrust Grimes inside the casket where Babs and I used to hide. I then returned to my room, and was just coming downstairs again after secreting the envelope, to release Grimes and get medical assistance if need be, when Margaret's screams aroused the household."
McIntyre interrupted his daughter with a hasty gesture, and addressed his wife. "When Detective Ferguson questioned me as to your reason for being in the library, Margaret, I stated you had gone down to get a book left lying on the Venetian casket," he said. "I waited for you to volunteer an explanation of your presence there, but you never made any."
"I went down to get our marriage certificate." Margaret forgot the presence of others and spoke only to him, the love-light in her eyes pleading against the censure she dreaded, as she made her brief confession. "Mr. Clymer sent me a note, inclosing a canceled check, stating the bank officials had decided my signature was a forgery. The check was drawn to Barbara, and on examining it I noticed the peculiar formation of the letter 'B'; it is characteristic of your handwriting and Helen's." She paused, and added:
"I was at a loss what to think. I knew you and Helen wrote alike; Helen's extraordinary behavior to me led me to believe that perhaps she had been short of funds, and forged my name to a check in desperation. Then I remembered seeing you, Charles, open the box containing my aconitine pills, the box's disappearance, and Jimmie's death from that poison"—she raised her hands in an expressive gesture. "Although my reason told me that you might be guilty, my loyalty and love refuted the accusation."
"Margaret!" McIntyre's voice shook with emotion; then controlling himself he turned to Sylvester. "I presume this check was some more of your deviltry?"
Helen answered for the clerk. Removing a soiled paper from her bag she laid it on Kent's desk. "This note was handed to me by Grimes," she explained. "It reads: 'Helen, please cash this check and give money to Mrs. Brewster's dressmaker. Father.' I followed the instructions."
"And gave the money to my sister," Sylvester chuckled at their surprise. "My sister was taught in a French convent, and she is an excellent seamstress, when she isn't drunk, as Mrs. McIntyre knows."
"See here, Sylvester," Clymer broke his long silence. "You were in the police court on a charge of assault and battery brought by your wife on Tuesday morning, and you were in the prisoner's cage at the moment Turnbull died. How then was it possible for you to be at the McIntyre's at midnight on Monday?"
"I was out on bail and appeared in the courtroom just in time for my trial," Sylvester explained. "I did not have to sit in the cage, but recognizing Turnbull I went there to be with him."
Kent placed the forged check bearing Margaret Brewster's signature on the desk. "I take it this check is your work, Sylvester," he said. "You reaped the benefit by having the money paid to your sister. Did you also have the fake telegram delivered to me stating Mr. Rochester was in Cleveland?"
"I faked that," broke in Rochester, before the clerk could make a disclaimer. "I thought it best to disappear for a few days down in Virginia, where I could think things over in peace."
"So it was you, Sylvester, and not Mr. Rochester whom I encountered in his apartment," exclaimed Kent. "How did you get in the apartment?"
"From the fire-escape and along the window ledge to the bathroom window." Sylvester hitched his shoulders. "It was nothing for a man of my agility."
Ferguson eyed him with doubtful respect.
"You have courage," he admitted grudgingly. "Come, we must get to Headquarters," and he aided Sylvester to his feet, but once standing, Sylvester refused to move. Instead he turned to Helen.
"What was that you passed to Mr. Rochester in the police court and he later gave to Mr. Turnbull?" he asked. "Oh, don't deny it, I saw you palm a note, Mr. Rochester, from the young lady."
"There is nothing now to conceal," declared Helen. "After O'Ryan and Jimmie left the house for the police station I grew fearful that Jimmie might over-tax his strength in carrying out the farce of his arrest. So as soon as I could I telephoned to Philip to meet me at the police court and to bring some amyl nitrite capsules with him."
"And the note, Sylvester, which you saw Miss McIntyre give me in court," concluded Rochester, as Helen paused, "told me to hand the capsules to the burglar and to defend him in court. I did both, although badly puzzled by the request." Rochester hesitated. "I carried out your wishes, Helen, without question; but when the burglar's identity was revealed, I jumped to the conclusion that you had used me as an instrument to kill him, for I knew something of the effects of amyl nitrite."
"Great Heavens!" exclaimed Helen, aghast.
Rochester looked at her and bit his lip; he knew of her affection for Jimmie and her attachment to his memory, but he could not kill the hope that when Time had healed the loss, his devotion might some day win her for his own.
"I did you great injustice," he admitted humbly. "But I was fearfully shocked by the scene. I strove to divert suspicion by insisting that Jimmie died from angina pectoris, and then you came, Helen, and demanded an autopsy."
"I had to," Helen broke in. "I could not believe that Jimmie's death was due to natural causes," her voice quivered. "He had been so loyal—so faithful—I could not be less true to him, even if, as I feared, my own dear father was guilty of the crime."
Kent turned and faced Sylvester, who had made a few shuffling steps toward the door.
"You have done incalculable harm by your criminal acts," he said sternly. "But for your lying and trickery Jimmie Turnbull would be alive to-day. I trust the Court will give you the maximum sentence."
Sylvester eyed him insolently. "I've had a run for my money, and I stood to win large sums if things had only gone right," he announced; then addressed Helen directly. "What did you do with the securities?"
"I put the envelope back in the open safe when I was here early this afternoon," she explained.
An oath ripped from Sylvester. "I mistook you for your sister," he snarled. "Had I known it was you, I'd have wrung the securities from you."
Helen stared at his suddenly contorted face. "Ah, you are the man who looked in at the window of the reception room yesterday morning when I was talking to Mr. Kent," she cried. "I recognize you now."
He continued to glare at her. "I also sent you a note by your sister outside the Caf St. Marks to secrete the letter 'B'," his voice rose almost into a shout in his ungovernable rage. "I heard Turnbull tell you to take the envelope to Rochester, and I banked on your bringing it here or to his apartment. D-mn you! You've thwarted me at every turn."
Rochester's powerful hand was clapped across his mouth with such force that the clerk staggered against Ferguson.
"Here you, out you go." The detective shoved the struggling man toward the door leading into the corridor and Clymer sprang to his assistance; a second later Rochester closed the door on their receding figures and found Helen standing by his elbow.
"I must go," she said, turning back to look at her father and his bride.
"Wait a minute." Kent held up an envelope with its fateful red seal. "This was delivered empty at Rochester's apartment last night—it is addressed to him. Who wrote it?"
"I did," exclaimed Mrs. McIntyre. "I felt I must consult either you, Mr. Kent, or Mr. Rochester, so I sent the note to his apartment, but the messenger boy hurried me, and it was not until hours later that I found the note lying on the desk in the reception room and realized I had sent an empty envelope."
"I see." Kent held up another envelope, the red seal broken at the corner. "This is yours, Helen."
Helen hesitated perceptibly before taking the envelope and tearing it open. She handed the securities to her father.
"Here is father's forged confession," she said as she took the remaining paper from the envelope.
"It is a marvelous imitation of my handwriting," declared McIntyre, looking at it carefully, then tearing it into tiny bits he flung them into the scrap-basket and pocketed the securities.
"And to think that I aided Sylvester's plot to gain the securities by engaging him as our clerk," groaned Rochester.
"It was clever of him to seek employment here," agreed Kent. "But like many crooks he over-reached himself through over-confidence. Must you go, Colonel McIntyre?"
"Yes." McIntyre walked over to Helen.
"My dear little girl," he began and his voice was husky with feeling. "How can I show my appreciation of your loyalty to me?"
"By being kind to Harry and Barbara." Helen smiled bravely, although her lips were trembling and for a moment she could not trust herself to speak. "My romance is over; Barbara's is just beginning. And, father, will you and Margaret come home with me—I am so lonely;" then turning blindly away she fairly ran out of the office.
"Go with her," said Rochester, a trifle unsteadily. "It has been a terrible ordeal; God help her to forget!" His voice failed and he swept his hand across his eyes as he held open the door into the corridor and followed McIntyre and his wife outside.
Kent turned impulsively to Barbara, and his arms closed around her as she raised her eyes to meet his, for she knew that the promise they spoke would be loyally fulfilled, and that her haven of love and happiness was reached at last.