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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7108

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Hatch started back to the city with his brain full of seven-column heads. He thoughtfully lighted a cigar just before he stepped on the car.

"No smoking," said the conductor.

The reporter stared at him with dull eyes and then went in and sat down with the cigar in his mouth.

"No smoking, I told you," bawled the conductor.

"Certainly not," exclaimed Hatch indignantly. He turned and glared at the only other occupant of the car, a little girl. She wasn't smoking. Then he looked at the conductor and awoke suddenly.

"Miss Meredith is the girl," Hatch was thinking. "Mallory doesn't even dream it and never will. He won't send a man out there to do what I did. The Greytons are anxious to keep it quiet, and they won't say anything to anybody else until they know what really happened. I've got it bottled up, and don't know how to pull the cork. Now, the question is: What possible connection can there be between Dorothy Meredith and the Burglar? Was Dick Herbert the Burglar? Why, of course not! Then-what?"

Pondering all these things deeply, Hatch left the car and ran up to see Dick Herbert. He was too self-absorbed to notice that the blinds of the house were drawn. He rang, and after a long time a man-servant answered the bell.

"Mr. Herbert here?" Hatch asked.

"Yes, sir, he's here," replied the servant, "but I don't know if he can see you. He is not very well, sir."

"Not very well?" Hatch repeated.

"No, it's not that he's sick, sir. He was hurt and--"

"Who is it, Blair?" came Herbert's voice from the top of the stair.

"Mr. Hatch, sir."

"Come up, Hatch!" Dick called cordially. "Glad to see you. I'm so lonesome here I don't know what to do with myself."

The reporter ran up the steps and into Dick's room.

"Not that one," Dick smiled as Hatch reached for his right hand. "It's out of business. Try this one--" And he offered his left.

"What's the matter?" Hatch inquired.

"Little hurt, that's all," said Dick. "Sit down. I got it knocked out the other night and I've been here in this big house alone with Blair ever since. The doctor told me not to venture out yet. It has been lonesome, too. All the folks are away, up in Nova Scotia, and took the other servants along. How are you, anyhow?"

Hatch sat down and stared at Dick thoughtfully. Herbert was a good-looking, forceful person of twenty-eight or thirty, and a corking right-guard. Now he seemed a little washed out, and there was a sort of pallor beneath the natural tan. He was a young man of family, unburdened by superlative wealth, but possessing in his own person the primary elements of success. He looked what Hatch had said of him: a "good, clean-cut, straightforward, decent man."

"I came up here to say something to you in my professional capacity," the reporter began at last; "and frankly, I don't know how to say it."

Dick straightened up in his chair with a startled expression on his face. He didn't speak, but there was something in his eyes which interested Hatch immensely.

"Have you been reading the papers?" the reporter asked-"that is, during the last couple of days?"

"Yes."

"Of course, then, you've seen the stories about the Randolph robbery?"

Dick smiled a little.

"Yes," he said. "Clever, wasn't it?"

"It was," Hatch responded enthusiastically. "It was." He was silent for a moment as he accepted and lighted a cigarette. "It doesn't happen," he went on, "that, by any possible chance, you know anything about it, does it?"

"Not beyond what I saw in the papers. Why?"

"I

'll be frank and ask you some questions, Dick," Hatch resumed in a tone which betrayed his discomfort. "Remember I am here in my official capacity-that is, not as a friend of yours, but as a reporter. You need not answer the questions if you don't want to."

Dick arose with a little agitation in his manner and went over and stood beside the window.

"What is it all about?" he demanded. "What are the questions?"

"Do you know where Miss Dorothy Meredith is?"

Dick turned suddenly and glared at him with a certain lowering of his eyebrows which Hatch knew from the football days.

"What about her?" he asked.

"Where is she?" Hatch insisted.

"At home, so far as I know. Why?"

"She is not there," the reporter informed him, "and the Greytons believe that you eloped with her."

"Eloped with her?" Dick repeated. "She is not at home?"

"No. She's been missing since Thursday evening-the evening of the Randolph affair. Mr. Greyton has asked the police to look for her, and they are doing so now, but quietly. It is not known to the newspapers-that is, to other newspapers. Your name has not been mentioned to the police. Now, isn't it a fact that you did intend to elope with her on Thursday evening?"

Dick strode feverishly across the room several times, then stopped in front of Hatch's chair.

"This isn't any silly joke?" he asked fiercely.

"Isn't it a fact that you did intend to elope with her on Thursday evening?" the reporter went on steadily.

"I won't answer that question."

"Did you get an invitation to the Randolph ball?"

"Yes."

"Did you go?"

Dick was staring straight down into his eyes.

"I won't answer that, either," he said after a pause.

"Where were you on the evening of the masked ball?"

"Nor will I answer that."

When the newspaper instinct is fully aroused a reporter has no friends. Hatch had forgotten that he ever knew Dick Herbert. To him the young man was now merely a thing from which he might wring certain information for the benefit of the palpitating public.

"Did the injury to your arm," he went on after the approved manner of attorney for the prosecution, "prevent you going to the ball?"

"I won't answer that."

"What is the nature of the injury?"

"Now, see here, Hatch," Dick burst out, and there was a dangerous undertone in his manner, "I shall not answer any more questions-particularly that last one-unless I know what this is all about. Several things happened on the evening of the masked ball that I can't go over with you or anyone else, but as for me having any personal knowledge of events at the masked ball-well, you and I are not talking of the same thing at all."

He paused, started to say something else, then changed his mind and was silent.

"Was it a pistol shot?" Hatch went on calmly.

Dick's lips were compressed to a thin line as he looked at the reporter, and he controlled himself only by an effort.

"Where did you get that idea?" he demanded.

Hatch would have hesitated a long time before he told him where he got that idea; but vaguely it had some connection with the fact that at least two shots were fired at the Burglar and the Girl when they raced away from Seven Oaks.

While the reporter was rummaging through his mind for an answer to the question there came a rap at the door and Blair appeared with a card. He handed it to Dick, who glanced at it, looked a little surprised, then nodded. Blair disappeared. After a moment there were footsteps on the stairs and Stuyvesant Randolph entered.

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