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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 6472

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was late Sunday afternoon. Hutchinson Hatch did not run lightly up the steps of the Greyton home and toss his cigar away as he rang the bell. He did go up the steps, but it was reluctantly, dragging one foot after the other, this being an indication rather of his mental condition than of physical weariness. He did not throw away his cigar as he rang the bell because he wasn't smoking-but he did ring the bell. The maid whom he had seen on his previous visit opened the door.

"Is Mrs. Greyton in?" he asked with a nod of recognition.

"No, sir."

"Mr. Greyton?"

"No, sir."

"Did Mr. Meredith arrive from Baltimore?"

"Yes, sir. Last midnight."

"Ah! Is he in?"

"No, sir."

The reporter's disappointment showed clearly in his face.

"I don't suppose you've heard anything further from Miss Meredith?" he ventured hopelessly.

"She's upstairs, sir."

Anyone who has ever stepped on a tack knows just how Hatch felt. He didn't stand on the order of being invited in-he went in. Being in, he extracted a plain calling-card from his pocketbook with twitching fingers and handed it to the waiting maid.

"When did she return?" he asked.

"Last night, about nine, sir."

"Where has she been?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Kindly hand her my card and explain to her that it is imperative that I see her for a few minutes," the reporter went on. "Impress upon her the absolute necessity of this. By the way, I suppose you know where I came from, eh?"

"Police headquarters, yes, sir."

Hatch tried to look like a detective, but a gleam of intelligence in his face almost betrayed him.

"You might intimate as much to Miss Meredith," he instructed the maid calmly.

The maid disappeared. Hatch went in and sat down in the reception-room, and said "Whew!" several times.

"The gold plate returned to Randolph last night by express," he mused, "and she returned also, last night. Now what does that mean?"

After a minute or so the maid reappeared to state that Miss Meredith would see him. Hatch received the message gravely and beckoned mysteriously as he sought for a bill in his pocketbook.

"Do you have any idea where Miss Meredith was?"

"No, sir. She didn't even tell Mrs. Greyton or her father."

"What was her appearance?"

"She seemed very tired, sir, and hungry. She still wore the masked ball costume."

The bill changed hands and Hatch was left alone again. There was a long wait, then a rustle of skirts, a light step, and Miss Dollie Meredith entered.

She was nervous, it is true, and pallid, but there was a suggestion of defiance as well as determination on her pretty mouth. Hatch stared at her in frank admiration for a moment, then, with an effort, proceeded to business.

"I presume, Miss Meredith," he said solemnly, "that the maid informed you of my identity?"

"Yes," replied Dollie weakly. "She said you were a detective."

"Ah!" exclaimed the reporter meaningly, "then we understand each other. Now, Miss Meredith, will you tell me, please, just where you have been?"

"No."

The answer was so prompt and so emphatic that Hatch was a little disconcerted. He cleared his throat and started over again.

"Will you inform me, then, in the interest of

justice, where you were on the evening of the Randolph ball?" An ominous threat lay behind the words, Hatch hoped she believed.

"I will not."

"Why did you disappear?"

"I will not tell you."

"There was a suggestion of defiance as well as determination on her pretty mouth"

Hatch paused to readjust himself. He was going at things backward. When next he spoke his tone had lost the official tang-he talked like a human being.

"May I ask if you happen to know Richard Herbert?"

The pallor of the girl's face was relieved by a delicious sweep of colour.

"I will not tell you," she answered.

"And if I say that Mr. Herbert happens to be a friend of mine?"

"Well, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"

Two distracting blue eyes were staring him out of countenance; two scarlet lips were drawn tightly together in reproof of a man who boasted such a friendship; two cheeks flamed with indignation that he should have mentioned the name. Hatch floundered for a moment, then cleared his throat and took a fresh start.

"Will you deny that you saw Richard Herbert on the evening of the masked ball?"

"I will not."

"Will you admit that you saw him?"

"I will not."

"Do you know that he was wounded?"

"Certainly."

Now, Hatch had always held a vague theory that the easiest way to make a secret known was to intrust it to a woman. At this point he revised his draw, threw his hand in the pack, and asked for a new deal.

"Miss Meredith," he said soothingly after a pause, "will you admit or deny that you ever heard of the Randolph robbery?"

"I will not," she began, then: "Certainly I know of it."

"You know that a man and a woman are accused of and sought for the theft?"

"Yes, I know that."

"You will admit that you know the man was in Burglar's garb, and that the woman was dressed in a Western costume?"

"The newspapers say that, yes," she replied sweetly.

"You know, too, that Richard Herbert went to that ball in Burglar's garb and that you went there dressed as a Western girl?" The reporter's tone was strictly professional now.

Dollie stared into the stern face of her interrogator and her courage oozed away. The colour left her face and she wept violently.

"I beg your pardon," Hatch expostulated. "I beg your pardon. I didn't mean it just that way, but--"

He stopped helplessly and stared at this wonderful woman with the red hair. Of all things in the world tears were quite the most disconcerting.

"I beg your pardon," he repeated awkwardly.

Dollie looked up with tear-stained, pleading eyes, then arose and placed both her hands on Hatch's arm. It was a pitiful, helpless sort of a gesture; Hatch shuddered with sheer delight.

"I don't know how you found out about it," she said tremulously, "but, if you've come to arrest me, I'm ready to go with you."

"Arrest you?" gasped the reporter.

"Certainly. I'll go and be locked up. That's what they do, isn't it?" she questioned innocently.

The reporter stared.

"I wouldn't arrest you for a million dollars!" he stammered in dire confusion. "It wasn't quite that. It was--"

And five minutes later Hutchinson Hatch found himself wandering aimlessly up and down the sidewalk.

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