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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 6975

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Faithfully, phonographically even, Hatch repeated to The Thinking Machine the conversation he had had with Doctor Walpole, indicating on the person of the eminent scientist the exact spot of the wound as Doctor Walpole had indicated it to him. The scientist listened without comment to the recital, casually studying meanwhile the three crimson drops on the glass.

"Every step I take forward is a step backward," the reporter declared in conclusion with a helpless grin. "Instead of showing that Dick Herbert might not have stolen the plate I am proving conclusively that he was the thief-nailing it to him so hard that he can't possibly get out of it." He was silent a moment. "If I keep on long enough," he added glumly, "I'll hang him."

The Thinking Machine squinted at him aggressively.

"You still don't believe him guilty?" he asked.

"Why, I-I-I--" Hatch burst out savagely. "Damn it, I don't know what I believe," he tapered off. "It's absolutely impossible!"

"Nothing is impossible, Mr. Hatch," snapped The Thinking Machine irritably. "The worst a problem can be is difficult, but all problems can be solved as inevitably as that two and two make four-not sometimes, but all the time. Please don't say things are impossible. It annoys me exceedingly."

Hatch stared at his distinguished friend and smiled whimsically. He was also annoyed exceedingly on his own private, individual account-the annoyance that comes from irresistibly butting into immovable facts.

"Doctor Walpole's statement," The Thinking Machine went on after a moment, "makes this particular problem ludicrously simple. Two points alone show conclusively that Mr. Herbert was not the man in the automobile. I shall reach the third myself."

Hatch didn't say anything. The English language is singularly inadequate at times, and if he had spoken he would have had to invent a phraseology to convey even a faint glimmer of what he really thought.

"Now, Mr. Hatch," resumed the scientist, quite casually, "I understand you graduated from Harvard in ninety-eight. Yes? Well, Herbert was a classmate of yours there. Please obtain for me one of the printed lists of students who were in Harvard that year-a complete list."

"I have one at home," said the reporter.

"Get it, please, immediately, and return here," instructed the scientist.

Hatch went out and The Thinking Machine disappeared into his laboratory. He remained there for one hour and forty-seven minutes by the clock. When he came out he found the reporter sitting in the reception-room again, holding his head. The scientist's face was as blankly inscrutable as ever.

"Here is the list," said Hatch as he handed it over.

The Thinking Machine took it in his long, slender fingers and turned two or three leaves. Finally he stopped and ran a finger down one page.

"Ah," he exclaimed at last. "I thought so."

"Thought what?" asked Hatch curiously.

"I'm going out to see Mr. Meredith now," remarked The Thinking Machine irrelevantly. "Come along. Have you met him?"

"No."

Mr. Meredith had read the newspaper accounts of the arrest of Dick Herbert and the seizure of the gold plate and jewels; he had even taunted his charming daughter with it in a fatherly sort of a way. She was weeping, weeping her heart out over this latest proof of the perfidy and loathsomeness of the man she loved. Incidentally, it may be mentioned here that the astute Mr. Meredith was not aware of any elopement plot-either the f

irst or second.

When a card bearing the name of Mr. Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen was handed to Mr. Meredith he went wonderingly into the reception-room. There was a pause as the scientist and Mr. Meredith mentally sized each other up; then introductions-and The Thinking Machine came down to business abruptly, as always.

"May I ask, Mr. Meredith," he began, "how many sons you have?"

"One," replied Mr. Meredith, puzzled.

"May I ask his present address?" went on the scientist.

Mr. Meredith studied the belligerent eyes of his caller and wondered what business it was of his, for Mr. Meredith was a belligerent sort of a person himself.

"May I ask," he inquired with pronounced emphasis on the personal pronoun, "why you want to know?"

Hatch rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He was wondering what would happen to him when the cyclone struck.

"It may save him and you a great deal of annoyance if you will give me his address," said The Thinking Machine. "I desire to communicate with him immediately on a matter of the utmost importance-a purely personal matter."

"Personal matter?" repeated Mr. Meredith. "Your abruptness and manner, sir, were not calculated to invite confidence."

The Thinking Machine bowed gravely.

"May I ask your son's address?" he repeated.

Mr. Meredith considered the matter at some length and finally arrived at the conclusion that he might ask.

"He is in South America at present-Buenos Ayres," he replied.

"What?" exclaimed The Thinking Machine so suddenly that both Hatch and Mr. Meredith started a little. "What?" he repeated, and wrinkles suddenly appeared in the domelike brow.

"I said he was in South America-Buenos Ayres," repeated Mr. Meredith stiffly, but a little awed. "A letter or cable to him in care of the American Consul at Buenos Ayres will reach him promptly."

The Thinking Machine's narrow eyes were screwed down to the disappearing point, the slender white fingers were twiddled jerkily, the corrugations remained in his brow.

"How long has Mr. Meredith been there?" he asked at last.

"Three months."

"Do you know he is there?"

Mr. Meredith started to say something and swallowed it with an effort.

"I know it positively, yes," he replied. "I received this letter dated the second from him three days ago, and to-day I received a cable-dispatch forwarded to me here from Baltimore."

"Are you positive the letter is in your son's handwriting?"

Mr. Meredith almost choked in mingled bewilderment and resentment at the question and the manner of its asking.

"I am positive, yes," he replied at last, preserving his tone of dignity with a perceptible effort. He noted the inscrutable face of his caller and saw the corrugations in the brow suddenly swept away. "What business of yours is it, anyway?" blazed Mr. Meredith suddenly.

"May I ask where you were last Thursday night?" went on the even, steady voice.

"It's no business of yours," Mr. Meredith blurted. "I was in Baltimore."

"Can you prove it in a court of law?"

"Prove it? Of course I can prove it!" Mr. Meredith was fairly bellowing at his impassive interrogator. "But it's nobody's business."

"If you can prove it, Mr. Meredith," remarked The Thinking Machine quietly, coldly, "you had best make your arrangements to do so, because, believe me, it may be necessary to save you from a charge of having stolen the Randolph gold plate on last Thursday night at the masked ball. Good-day, sir."

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