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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 8635

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The Supreme Police Intelligence of the Metropolitan District was doing some heavy thinking, which, modestly enough, bore generally on his own dazzling perspicacity. Just at the moment he couldn't recall any detector of crime whose lustre in any way dimmed his own, or whose mere shadow, even, had a right to fall on the same earth as his; and this lapse of memory so stimulated his admiration for the subject of his thoughts that he lighted a fresh cigar and put his feet in the middle of the desk.

He sat thus when The Thinking Machine called. The Supreme Intelligence-Mr. Mallory-knew Professor Van Dusen well, and, though he received his visitor graciously, he showed no difficulty in restraining any undue outburst of enthusiasm. Instead, the same admirable self-control which prevented him from outwardly evidencing his pleasure prompted him to square back in his chair with a touch of patronising aggressiveness in his manner.

"Ah, Professor," was his noncommittal greeting.

"Good-evening, Mr. Mallory," responded the scientist in the thin, irritated voice which always set Mr. Mallory's nerves a-jangle. "I don't suppose you would tell me by what steps you were led to arrest Mr. Herbert?"

"I would not," declared Mr. Mallory promptly.

"No, nor would you inform me of the nature of the evidence against him in addition to the jewels and plate found in his possession?"

"I would not," replied Mr. Mallory again.

"No, I thought perhaps you would not," remarked The Thinking Machine. "I understand, by the way, that one of your men took a leather cushion from the automobile in which the thieves escaped on the night of the ball?"

"Well, what of it?" demanded the detective.

"I merely wanted to inquire if it would be permissible for me to see that cushion?"

Detective Mallory glared at him suspiciously, then slowly his heavy face relaxed, and he laughed as he arose and produced the cushion.

"If you're trying to make any mystery of this cushion, you're in bad," he informed the scientist. "We know the owner of the automobile in which Herbert and the Girl escaped. The cushion means nothing."

The Thinking Machine examined the heavy leather carefully and paid a great deal of attention to the crusted stains which it bore. He picked at one of the brown spots with his penknife and it flaked off in his hand.

"Herbert was caught with the goods on," declared the detective, and he thumped the desk with his lusty fist. "We've got the right man."

"Yes," admitted The Thinking Machine, "it begins to look very much as if you did have the right man-for once."

Detective Mallory snorted.

"Would you mind telling me if any of the jewelry you found in Mr. Herbert's possession has been identified?"

"Sure thing," replied the detective. "That's where I've got Herbert good. Four people who lost jewelry at the masked ball have appeared and claimed pieces of the stuff."

For an instant a slightly perplexed wrinkle appeared in the brow of The Thinking Machine, and as quickly it passed.

"Of course, of course," he mused.

"It's the biggest haul of stolen goods the police of this city have made for many years," the detective volunteered complacently. "And, if I'm not wrong, there's more of it coming-no man knows how much more. Why, Herbert must have been operating for years, and he got away with it, of course, by the gentlemanly exterior, the polish, and all that. I consider his capture the most important that has happened since I have been connected with the police."

"Indeed?" inquired the scientist thoughtfully. He was still gazing at the cushion.

"And the most important development of all is to come," Detective Mallory rattled on. "That will be the real sensation, and make the arrest of Herbert seem purely incidental. It now looks as if there would be another arrest of a-of a person who is so high socially, and all that--"

"Yes," interrupted The Thinking Machine, "but do you think it would be wise to arrest her now?"

"Her?" demanded Detective Mallory. "What do you know of any woman?"

"You were speaking of Miss Dorothy Meredith, weren't you?" inquired The Thinking Machine blandly. "Well, I merely asked if you thought it would be wise for your men to go so far as to arrest her."

The detective bit his cigar in two in obvi

ous perturbation.

"How-how-did you happen to know her name?" he demanded.

"Oh, Mr. Hatch mentioned it to me," replied the scientist. "He has known of her connection with the case for several days, as well as Herbert's, and has talked to them both, I think."

The Supreme Intelligence was nearly apoplectic.

"If Hatch knew it why didn't he tell me?" he thundered.

"Really, I don't know," responded the scientist. "Perhaps," he added curtly, "he may have had some absurd notion that you would find it out for yourself. He has strange ideas like that sometimes."

And when Detective Mallory had fully recovered The Thinking Machine was gone.

Meanwhile Hatch had seen and questioned Dr. Clarence Walpole in the latter's office, only a stone's throw from Dick Herbert's home. Had Doctor Walpole recently dressed a wound for Mr. Herbert? Doctor Walpole had. A wound caused by a pistol-bullet? Yes.

"When was it, please?" asked Hatch.

"Only a few nights ago."

"Thursday night, perhaps?"

Doctor Walpole consulted a desk-diary.

"Yes, Thursday night, or rather Friday morning," he replied. "It was between two and three o'clock. He came here and I fixed him up."

"Where was the wound, please?"

"In the right shoulder," replied the physician, "just here," and he touched the reporter with one finger. "It wasn't dangerous, but he had lost considerable blood."

Hatch was silent for a moment, dazed. Every new point piled up the evidence against Herbert. The location of the wound-a pistol-wound-the very hour of the dressing of it! Dick would have had plenty of time between the moment of the robbery, which was comparatively early, and the hour of his call on Doctor Walpole to do all those things which he was suspected of doing.

"I don't suppose Mr. Herbert explained how he got the wound?" Hatch asked apprehensively. He was afraid he had.

"No. I asked, but he evaded the question. It was, of course, none of my business, after I had extracted the bullet and dressed the hurt."

"You have the bullet?"

"Yes. It's the usual size-thirty-two calibre."

That was all. The prosecution was in, the case proven, the verdict rendered. Ten minutes later Hatch's name was announced to Dick Herbert. Dick received him gloomily, shook hands with him, then resumed his interrupted pacing.

"I had declined to see men from other papers," he said wearily.

"Now, look here, Dick," expostulated Hatch, "don't you want to make some statement of your connection with this affair? I honestly believe that if you did it would help you."

"No, I cannot make any statement-that's all." Dick's hand closed fiercely. "I can't," he added, "and there's no need to talk of it." He continued his pacing for a moment or so; then turned on the reporter. "Do you believe me guilty?" he demanded abruptly.

"I can't believe anything else," Hatch replied falteringly. "But at that I don't want to believe it." There was an embarrassed pause. "I have just seen Dr. Clarence Walpole."

"Well?" Dick wheeled on him angrily.

"What he said alone would convict you, even if the stuff had not been found here," Hatch replied.

"Are you trying to convict me?" Dick demanded.

"I'm trying to get the truth," remarked Hatch.

"There is just one man in the world whom I must see before the truth can ever be told," declared Dick vehemently. "And I can't find him now. I don't know where he is!"

"Let me find him. Who is he? What's his name?"

"If I told you that I might as well tell you everything," Dick went on. "It was to prevent any mention of that name that I have allowed myself to be placed in this position. It is purely a personal matter between us-at least I will make it so-and if I ever meet him--" his hands closed and unclosed spasmodically, "the truth will be known unless I-I kill him first."

More bewildered, more befuddled, and more generally betangled than ever, Hatch put his hands to his head to keep it from flying off. Finally he glanced around at Dick, who stood with clenched fists and closed teeth. A blaze of madness lay in Dick's eyes.

"Have you seen Miss Meredith again?" inquired the reporter.

Dick burst out laughing.

Half an hour later Hatch left him. On the glass top of an inkstand he carried three precious drops of Herbert's blood.

* * *

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