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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 9817

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Hutchinson Hatch was a newspaper reporter, a long, lean, hungry looking young man with an insatiable appetite for facts. This last was, perhaps, an astonishing trait in a reporter; and Hatch was positively finicky on the point. That's why his City Editor believed in him. If Hatch had come in and told his City Editor that he had seen a blue elephant with pink side-whiskers his City Editor would have known that that elephant was blue-mentally, morally, physically, spiritually and everlastingly-not any washed-out green or purple, but blue.

Hatch was remarkable in other ways, too. For instance, he believed in the use of a little human intelligence in his profession. As a matter of fact, on several occasions he had demonstrated that it was really an excellent thing-human intelligence. His mind was well poised, his methods thorough, his style direct.

Along with dozens of others Hatch was at work on the Randolph robbery, and knew what the others knew-no more. He had studied the case so closely that he was beginning to believe, strangely enough, that perhaps the police were right in their theory as to the identity of the Burglar and the Girl-that is, that they were professional crooks. He could do a thing like that sometimes-bring his mind around to admit the possibility of somebody else being right.

It was on Saturday afternoon-two days after the Randolph affair-that Hatch was sitting in Detective Mallory's private office at Police Headquarters laboriously extracting from the Supreme Intelligence the precise things he had not found out about the robbery. The telephone-bell rang. Hatch got one end of the conversation-he couldn't help it. It was something like this:

"Hello!... Yes, Detective Mallory.... Missing?... What's her name?... What?... Oh, Dorothy!... Yes?... Merritt?... Oh, Merryman!... Well, what the deuce is it then?... SPELL IT!... M-e-r-e-d-i-t-h. Why didn't you say that at first?... How long has she been gone?... Huh?... Thursday evening?... What does she look like?... Auburn hair. Red, you mean?... Oh, ruddy! I'd like to know what's the difference."

The detective had drawn up a pad of paper and was jotting down what Hatch imagined to be the description of a missing girl. Then:

"Who is this talking?" asked the detective.

There was a little pause as he got the answer, and, having the answer, he whistled his astonishment, after which he glanced around quickly at the reporter, who was staring dreamily out a window.

"No," said the Supreme Intelligence over the 'phone. "It wouldn't be wise to make it public. It isn't necessary at all. I understand. I'll order a search immediately. No. The newspapers will get nothing of it. Good-by."

"A story?" inquired Hatch carelessly as the detective hung up the receiver.

"Doesn't amount to anything," was the reply.

"Yes, that's obvious," remarked the reporter drily.

"Well, whatever it is, it is not going to be made public," retorted the Supreme Intelligence sharply. He never did like Hatch, anyway. "It's one of those things that don't do any good in the newspapers, so I'll not let this one get there."

Hatch yawned to show that he had no further interest in the matter, and went out. But there was the germ of an idea in his head which would have startled Detective Mallory, and he paced up and down outside to develop it. A girl missing! A red-headed girl missing! A red-headed girl missing since Thursday! Thursday was the night of the Randolph masked ball. The missing Girl of the West was red-headed! Mallory had seemed astonished when he learned the name of the person who reported this last case! Therefore the person who reported it was high up-perhaps! Certainly high enough up to ask and receive the courtesy of police suppression-and the missing girl's name was Dorothy Meredith!

Hatch stood still for a long time on the curb and figured it out. Suddenly he rushed off to a telephone and called up Stuyvesant Randolph at Seven Oaks. He asked the first question with trepidation:

"Mr. Randolph, can you give me the address of Miss Dorothy Meredith?"

"Miss Meredith?" came the answer. "Let's see. I think she is stopping with the Morgan Greytons, at their suburban place."

The reporter gulped down a shout. "Worked, by thunder!" he exclaimed to himself. Then, in a deadly, forced calm:

"She attended the masked ball Thursday evening, didn't she?"

"Well, she was invited."

"You didn't see her there?"

"No. Who is this?"

Then Hatch hung up the receiver. He was nearly choking with excitement, for, in addition to all those virtues which have been enumerated, he possessed, too, the quality of enthusiasm. It was no part of his purpose to tell anybody anything. Mallory didn't know, he was confident, anything of the girl having been a possible guest at the ball. And what Mallory didn't know now wouldn't be found out, all of which was a sad re

flection upon the detective.

In this frame of mind Hatch started for the suburban place of the Greytons. He found the house without difficulty. Morgan Greyton was an aged gentleman of wealth and exclusive ideas-and wasn't in. Hatch handed a card bearing only his name, to a maid, and after a few minutes Mrs. Greyton appeared. She was a motherly, sweet-faced old lady of seventy, with that grave, exquisite courtesy which makes mere man feel ashamed of himself. Hatch had that feeling when he looked at her and thought of what he was going to ask.

"I came up direct from Police Headquarters," he explained diplomatically, "to learn any details you may be able to give us as to the disappearance of Miss Meredith."

"Oh, yes," replied Mrs. Greyton. "My husband said he was going to ask the police to look into the matter. It is most mysterious-most mysterious! We can't imagine where Dollie is, unless she has eloped. Do you know that idea keeps coming to me and won't go away?"

She spoke as if it were a naughty child.

"If you'll tell me something about Miss Meredith-who she is and all that?" Hatch suggested.

"Oh, yes, to be sure," exclaimed Mrs. Greyton. "Dollie is a distant cousin of my husband's sister's husband," she explained precisely. "She lives in Baltimore, but is visiting us. She has been here for several weeks. She's a dear, sweet girl, but I'm afraid-afraid she has eloped."

The aged voice quivered a little, and Hatch was more ashamed of himself than ever.

"Some time ago she met a man named Herbert-Richard Herbert, I think, and--"

"Dick Herbert?" the reporter exclaimed suddenly.

"Do you know the young gentleman?" inquired the old lady eagerly.

"Yes, it just happens that we were classmates in Harvard," said the reporter.

"And is he a nice young man?"

"A good, clean-cut, straightforward, decent man," replied Hatch. He could speak with a certain enthusiasm about Dick Herbert. "Go on, please," he urged.

"Well, for some reason I don't know, Dollie's father objects to Mr. Herbert's attentions to her-as a matter of fact, Mr. Meredith has absolutely prohibited them-but she's a young, headstrong girl, and I fear that, although she had outwardly yielded to her father's wishes, she had clandestinely kept up a correspondence with Mr. Herbert. Last Thursday evening she went out unattended and since then we have not heard from her-not a word. We can only surmise-my husband and I-that they have eloped. I know her father and mother will be heart-broken, but I have always noticed that if a girl sets her heart on a man, she will get him. And perhaps it's just as well that she has eloped now since you assure me he is a nice young man."

Hatch was choking back a question that rose in his throat. He hated to ask it, because he felt this dear, garrulous old woman would have hated him for it, if she could have known its purpose. But at last it came.

"Do you happen to know," he asked, "if Miss Meredith attended the Randolph ball at Seven Oaks on Thursday evening?"

"I dare say she received an invitation," was the reply. "She receives many invitations, but I don't think she went there. It was a costume affair, I suppose?"

The reporter nodded.

"Well, I hardly believe she went there then," Mrs. Greyton replied. "She has had no costume of any sort made. No, I am positive she has eloped with Mr. Herbert, but I should like to hear from her to satisfy myself and explain to her parents. We did not permit Mr. Herbert to come here, and it will be very hard to explain."

Hatch heard the slight rustle of a skirt in the hall and glanced toward the door. No one appeared, and he turned back to Mrs. Greyton.

"I don't suppose it possible that Miss Meredith has returned to Baltimore?" he asked.

"Oh, no!" was the positive reply. "Her father there telegraphed to her to-day-I opened it-saying he would be here, probably to-night, and I-I haven't the heart to tell him the truth when he arrives. Somehow, I have been hoping that we would hear and-and--"

Then Hatch took his shame in his hand and excused himself. The maid attended him to the door.

"How much is it worth to you to know if Miss Meredith went to the masked ball?" asked the maid cautiously.

"Eavesdropping, eh?" asked Hatch in disgust.

The maid shrugged her shoulders.

"How much is it worth?" she repeated.

Hatch extended his hand. She took a ten-dollar bill which lay there and secreted it in some remote recess of her being.

"Miss Meredith did go to the ball," she said. "She went there to meet Mr. Herbert. They had arranged to elope from there and she had made all her plans. I was in her confidence and assisted her."

"What did she wear?" asked Hatch eagerly.

"Her costume was that of a Western Girl," the maid responded. "She wore a sombrero, and carried a Bowie knife and revolver."

Hatch nearly swallowed his palate.

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