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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 8377

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Dick Herbert lay stretched lazily on a couch in his room with hands pressed to his eyes. He had just read the Sunday newspapers announcing the mysterious return of the Randolph plate, and naturally he had a headache. Somewhere in a remote recess of his brain mental pyrotechnics were at play; a sort of intellectual pinwheel spouted senseless ideas and suggestions of senseless ideas. The late afternoon shaded off into twilight, twilight into dusk, dusk into darkness, and still he lay motionless.

After a while, from below, he heard the tinkle of a bell and Blair entered with light tread:

"Beg pardon, sir, are you asleep?"

"Who is it, Blair?"

"Mr. Hatch, sir."

"Let him come up."

Dick arose, snapped on the electric lights, and stood blinkingly in the sudden glare. When Hatch entered they faced each other silently for a moment. There was that in the reporter's eyes that interested Dick immeasurably; there was that in Dick's eyes that Hatch was trying vainly to fathom. Dick relieved a certain vague tension by extending his left hand. Hatch shook it cordially.

"Well?" Dick inquired.

Hatch dropped into a chair and twirled his hat.

"Heard the news?" he asked.

"The return of the gold plate, yes," and Dick passed a hand across his fevered brow. "It makes me dizzy."

"Heard anything from Miss Meredith?"

"No. Why?"

"She returned to the Greytons last night."

"Returned to the--" and Dick started up suddenly. "Well, there's no reason why she shouldn't have," he added. "Do you happen to know where she was?"

The reporter shook his head.

"I don't know anything," he said wearily, "except--" he paused.

Dick paced back and forth across the room several times with one hand pressed to his forehead. Suddenly he turned on his visitor.

"Except what?" he demanded.

"Except that Miss Meredith, by action and word, has convinced me that she either had a hand in the disappearance of the Randolph plate or else knows who was the cause of its disappearance."

Dick glared at him savagely.

"You know she didn't take the plate?" he demanded.

"Certainly," replied the reporter. "That's what makes it all the more astonishing. I talked to her this afternoon, and when I finished she seemed to think I had come to arrest her, and she wanted to go to jail. I nearly fainted."

Dick glared incredulously, then resumed his nervous pacing. Suddenly he stopped.

"Did she mention my name?"

"I mentioned it. She wouldn't admit even that she knew you."

There was a pause.

"I don't blame her," Dick remarked enigmatically. "She must think me a cad."

Another pause.

"Well, what about it all, anyhow?" Dick went on finally. "The plate has been returned, therefore the matter is at an end."

"Now look here, Dick," said Hatch. "I want to say something, and don't go crazy, please, until I finish. I know an awful lot about this affair-things the police never will know. I haven't printed anything much for obvious reasons."

Dick looked at him apprehensively.

"Go on," he urged.

"I could print things I know," the reporter resumed; "swear out a warrant for you in connection with the gold plate affair and have you arrested and convicted on your own statements, supplemented by those of Miss Meredith. Yet, remember, please, neither your name nor hers has been mentioned as yet."

Dick took it calmly; he only stared.

"Do you believe that I stole the plate?" he asked.

"Certainly I do not," replied Hatch, "but I can prove that you did; prove it to the satisfaction of any jury in the world, and no denial of yours would have any effect."

"Well?" asked Dick, after a moment.

"Further, I can, on information in my possession, swear out a warrant for Miss Meredith, prove she was in the automobile, and convict her as your accomplice. Now that's a silly state of affairs, isn't it?"

"But, man, you can't believe that she had anything to do with it! She's-she's not that kind."

"I could take oath that she didn't have anything to do with it, but all the same I can prove that she did," replied Hatch. "Now what I am getting at is this: if the police should happen to find out what I know they woul

d send you up-both of you."

"Well, you are decent about it, old man, and I appreciate it," said Dick warmly. "But what can we do?"

"It behoves us-Miss Meredith and you and myself-to get the true facts in the case all together before you get pinched," said the reporter judicially. "Suppose now, just suppose, that we three get together and tell each other the truth for a change, the whole truth, and see what will happen?"

"If I should tell you the truth," said Dick dispassionately, "it would bring everlasting disgrace on Miss Meredith, and I'd be a beast for doing it; if she told you the truth she would unquestionably send me to prison for theft."

"But here--" Hatch expostulated.

"Just a minute!" Dick disappeared into another room, leaving the reporter to chew on what he had, then returned in a little while, dressed for the street. "Now, Hatch," he said, "I'm going to try to get to Miss Meredith, but I don't believe she'll see me. If she will, I may be able to explain several things that will clear up this affair in your mind, at any rate. If I don't see her-- By the way, did her father arrive from Baltimore?"

"Yes."

"Good!" exclaimed Dick. "I'll see him, too-make a show-down of it, and when it's all over I'll let you know what happened."

Hatch went back to his shop and threatened to kick the office-boy into the waste-basket.

At just about that moment Mr. Meredith, in the Greyton home, was reading a card on which appeared the name, "Mr. Richard Hamilton Herbert." Having read it, he snorted his indignation and went into the reception-room. Dick arose to greet him and offered a hand, which was promptly declined.

"I'd like to ask you, Mr. Meredith," Dick began with a certain steely coldness in his manner, "just why you object to my attention to your daughter, Dorothy?"

"You know well enough!" raged the old man.

"It is because of the trouble I had in Harvard with your son, Harry. Well and good, but is that all? Is that to stand forever?"

"You proved then that you were not a gentleman," declared the old man savagely. "You're a puppy, sir."

"Mr. Meredith ... was reading a card on which appeared the name 'Mr. Richard Hamilton Herbert'"

"If you didn't happen to be the father of the girl I'm in love with I'd poke you in the nose," Dick replied, almost cheerfully. "Where is your son now? Is there no way I can place myself right in your eyes?"

"No!" Mr. Meredith thundered. "An apology would only be a confession of your dishonour!"

Dick was nearly choking, but managed to keep his voice down.

"Does your daughter know anything of that affair?"

"Certainly not."

"Where is your son?"

"None of your business, sir!"

"I don't suppose there's any doubt in your mind of my affection for your daughter?"

"I suppose you do admire her," snapped the old man. "You can't help that, I suppose. No one can," he added na?vely.

"And I suppose you know that she loves me, in spite of your objections?" went on the young man.

"Bah! Bah!"

"And that you are breaking her heart by your mutton-headed objection to me?"

"You-you--" sputtered Mr. Meredith.

Dick was still calm.

"May I see Miss Meredith for a few minutes?" he went on.

"She won't see you, sir," stormed the irate parent. "She told me last night that she would never consent to see you again."

"Will you give me your permission to see her here and now, if she will consent?" Dick insisted steadily.

"She won't see you, I say."

"May I send a card to her?"

"She won't see you, sir," repeated Mr. Meredith doggedly.

Dick stepped out into the hall and beckoned to the maid.

"Please take my card to Miss Meredith," he directed.

The maid accepted the white square, with a little uplifting of her brows, and went up the stairs. Miss Meredith received it languidly, read it, then sat up indignantly.

"Dick Herbert!" she exclaimed incredulously. "How dare he come here? It's the most audacious thing I ever heard of! Certainly I will not see him again in any circumstances." She arose and glared defiantly at the demure maid. "Tell Mr. Herbert," she said emphatically, "tell him-that I'll be right down."

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