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The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 8079

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Stuyvesant Randolph, millionaire, owner of Seven Oaks and host of the masked ball, was able to tell the police only what happened, and not the manner of its happening. Briefly, this was that a thief, cunningly disguised as a Burglar with dark lantern and revolver in hand, had surreptitiously attended the masked ball by entering at the front door and presenting an invitation card. And when Mr. Randolph got this far in his story even he couldn't keep his face straight.

The sum total of everyone's knowledge, therefore, was this:

Soon after the grand march a servant entered the smoking room and found the Burglar there alone, standing beside an open window, looking out. This smoking room connected, by a corridor, with a small dining room where the Randolph gold plate was kept in ostentatious seclusion. As the servant entered the smoking-room the Burglar turned away from the window and went out into the ballroom. He did not carry a bundle; he did not appear to be excited.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later the servant discovered that eleven plates of the gold service, valued roughly at $15,000, were missing. He informed Mr. Randolph. The information, naturally enough, did not elevate the host's enjoyment of the ball, and he did things hastily.

Meanwhile-that is, between the time when the Burglar left the smoking-room and the time when he passed out the front door-the Burglar had talked earnestly with a masked Girl of the West. It was established that, when she left him in the conservatory, she went out the front door. There she was joined by the Burglar, and then came their sensational flight in the automobile-a 40 horse-power car that moved like the wind. The automobile in which the Burglar had gone to Seven Oaks was left behind; thus far it had not been claimed.

The identity of the Burglar and the Girl made the mystery. It was easy to conjecture-that's what the police said-how the Burglar got away with the gold plate. He went into the smoking-room, then into the dining-room, dropped the gold plate into a sack and threw the sack out of a window. It was beautifully simple. Just what the Girl had to do with it wasn't very clear; perhaps a score or more articles of jewelry, which had been reported missing by guests, engaged her attention.

It was also easy to see how the Burglar and the Girl had been able to shake off pursuit by the police in two other automobiles. The car they had chosen was admittedly the fastest of the scores there, the night was pitch-dark, and, besides, a Burglar like that was liable to do anything. Two shots had been fired at him by the lumpy courtier, who was really Detective Cunningham, but they had only spurred him on.

These things were easy to understand. But the identity of the pair was a different and more difficult proposition, and there remained the task of yanking them out of obscurity. This fell to the lot of Detective Mallory, who represented the Supreme Police Intelligence of the Metropolitan District, happily combining a No. 11 shoe and a No. 6 hat. He was a cautious, suspicious, far-seeing man-as police detectives go. For instance, it was he who explained the method of the theft with a lucidity that was astounding.

Detective Mallory and two or three of his satellites heard Mr. Randolph's story, then the statements of his two men who had attended the ball in costume, and the statements of the servants. After all this Mr. Mallory chewed his cigar and thought violently for several minutes. Mr. Randolph looked on expectantly; he didn't want to miss anything.

"As I understand it, Mr. Randolph," said the Supreme Police Intelligence at last, "each invitation-card presented at the door by your guests bore the name of the person to whom it was issued?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Randolph.

"Ah!" exclaimed the detective shrewdly. "Then we have a clue."

"Where are those cards, Curtis?" asked Mr. Randolph of the servant who had received them at the door.

"I didn't know they were of further value, sir, and they were thrown a

way-into the furnace."

Mr. Mallory was crestfallen.

"Did you notice if the card presented at the door by the Burglar on the evening of the masked ball at Seven Oaks bore a name?" he asked. He liked to be explicit like that.

"Yes, sir. I noticed it particularly because the gentleman was dressed so queerly."

"Do you remember the name?"

"No, sir."

"Would you remember it if you saw it or heard it again?"

The servant looked at Mr. Randolph helplessly.

"I don't think I would, sir," he answered.

"And the Girl? Did you notice the card she gave you?"

"I don't remember her at all, sir. Many of the ladies wore wraps when they came in, and her costume would not have been noticeable if she had on a wrap."

The Supreme Intelligence was thoughtful for another few minutes. At last he turned to Mr. Randolph again.

"You are certain there was only one man at that ball dressed as a Burglar?" he asked.

"Yes, thank Heaven," replied Mr. Randolph fervently. "If there'd been another one they might have taken the piano."

The Supreme Intelligence frowned.

"And this girl was dressed like a Western girl?" he asked.

"Yes. A sort of Spirit-of-the-West costume."

"And no other woman there wore such a dress?"

"No," responded Mr. Randolph.

"No," echoed the two detectives.

"Now, Mr. Randolph, how many invitations were issued for the ball?"

"Three or four hundred. It's a big house," Mr. Randolph apologised, "and we tried to do the thing properly."

"How many persons do you suppose actually attended the ball?"

"Oh, I don't know. Three hundred, perhaps."

Detective Mallory thought again.

"It's unquestionably the work of two bold and clever professional crooks," he said at last judicially, and his satellites hung on his words eagerly. "It has every ear-mark of it. They perhaps planned the thing weeks before, and forged invitation-cards, or perhaps stole them-perhaps stole them."

He turned suddenly and pointed an accusing finger at the servant, Curtis.

"Did you notice the handwriting on the card the Burglar gave you?" he demanded.

"No, sir. Not particularly."

"I mean, do you recall if it was different in any way from the handwriting on the other cards?" insisted the Supreme Intelligence.

"I don't think it was, sir."

"If it had been would you have noticed it?"

"I might have, sir."

"Were the names written on all the invitation-cards by the same hand, Mr. Randolph?"

"Yes: my wife's secretary."

Detective Mallory arose and paced back and forth across the room with wrinkles in his brow.

"Ah!" he said at last, "then we know the cards were not forged, but stolen from someone to whom they had been sent. We know this much, therefore--" he paused a moment.

"Therefore all that must be done," Mr. Randolph finished the sentence, "is to find from whom the card or cards were stolen, who presented them at my door, and who got away with the plate."

The Supreme Intelligence glared at him aggressively. Mr. Randolph's face was perfectly serious. It was his gold plate, you know.

"Yes, that's it," Detective Mallory assented. "Now we'll get after this thing right. Downey, you get that automobile the Burglar left at Seven Oaks and find its owner; also find the car the Burglar and the Girl escaped in. Cunningham, you go to Seven Oaks and look over the premises. See particularly if the Girl left a wrap-she didn't wear one away from there-and follow that up. Blanton, you take a list of invited guests that Mr. Randolph will give you, check off those persons who are known to have been at the ball, and find out all about those who were not, and-follow that up."

"That'll take weeks!" complained Blanton.

The Supreme Intelligence turned on him fiercely.

"Well?" he demanded. He continued to stare for a moment, and Blanton wrinkled up in the baleful glow of his superior's scorn. "And," Detective Mallory added magnanimously, "I will do the rest."

Thus the campaign was planned against the Burglar and the Girl.

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