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   Chapter 20 No.20

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7886

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Strange emotions all tangled up with turbulent, night-marish impressions scrambled through Dollie Meredith's pretty head in garish disorder. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Finally she compromised by blushing radiantly at the memory of certain lingering kisses she had bestowed upon-upon-Dick Herbert? No, it wasn't Dick Herbert. Oh, dear!

Detective Mallory pounced upon the bullet as a hound upon a hare, and turned and twisted it in his hands. Cunningham leaned over his shoulder, then drew a cartridge from the revolver and compared it, as to size, with the bullet. Hatch and Mr. Randolph, looking on, saw him shake his head. The ball was too small for the revolver.

The Supreme Intelligence turned suddenly, fiercely, upon Dollie and thrust an accusing finger into her startled face.

"Mr. Herbert confessed to you that he was with you in the automobile, didn't he?"

"Y-yes," she faltered.

"You know he was with you?"

"I thought I knew it."

"You wouldn't have gone with any other man?"

"Certainly not!" A blaze of indignation suffused her cheeks.

"Your casket of jewels was found among the stolen goods in his possession?"

"Yes, but--"

With a wave of his hand the Supreme Intelligence stopped explanations and turned to glare at The Thinking Machine. That imperturbable gentleman did not alter his position in the slightest, nor did he change the steady, upward squint of his eyes.

"If you have quite finished, Mr. Mallory," he said after a moment, "I will explain how and in what circumstances the stolen plate and jewels came into Mr. Herbert's possession."

"Go on," urged Mr. Randolph and Hatch in a breath.

"Explain all you please; I've got him with the goods on," declared the Supreme Intelligence doggedly.

"When the simplest rules of logic establish a fact it becomes incontrovertible," resumed the scientist. "I have shown that Mr. Herbert was not the man in the automobile-the Burglar. Now, what did happen to Mr. Herbert? Twice since his arrest he has stated that it would be useless for him to explain because no one would believe it, and no one would have believed it unsupported, least of all you, Mr. Mallory.

"It's an admitted fact that Miss Meredith and Mr. Herbert had planned to elope from Seven Oaks the night of the ball. I daresay that Mr. Herbert did not deem it wise for Miss Meredith to know his costume, although he must, of necessity, have known hers. Therefore, the plan was for him to recognise her, but as it developed she recognised him-or thought she did-and that was the real cause of this remarkable muddle." He glanced at Dollie. "Is that correct?"

Dollie nodded blushingly.

"Now, Mr. Herbert did not go to the ball-why not I will explain later. Therefore, Miss Meredith recognised the real Burglar as Mr. Herbert, and we know how they ran away together after the Burglar had stolen the plate and various articles of jewelry. We must credit the Burglar with remarkable intelligence, so that when a young and attractive woman-I may say a beautiful woman-spoke to him as someone else he immediately saw an advantage in it. For instance, when there came discovery of the theft the girl might unwittingly throw the police off the track by revealing to them what she believed to be the identity of the thief. Further, he was a daring, audacious sort of person; the pure love of such an adventure might have appealed to him. Still, again, it is possible that he believed Miss Meredith a thief who was in peril of discovery or capture, and a natural gallantry for one of his own craft prompted him to act as he did. There is always, too, the possibility that he knew he was mistaken for Mr. Herbert."

Dollie was beginning to see, too.

"We know the method of escape, the pursuit, and all that," continued the Professor, "therefore we jump to the return of the gold plate. Logic makes it instantly apparent that that was the work of Miss Meredith

here. Not having the plate, Mr. Herbert did not send it back, of course; and the Burglar would not have sent it back. Realising, too late, that the man she was with was really a thief-and still believing him, perhaps, to be Mr. Herbert-she must have taken the plate and escaped under cover of darkness?"

The tone carried a question and The Thinking Machine turned squintingly upon Dollie. Again she nodded. She was enthralled, fascinated, by the recital.

"It was a simple matter for her to return the gold plate by express, taking advantage of an unoccupied house and the willingness of a stranger to telephone for an express wagon. Thus, we have the plate again at Seven Oaks, and we have it there by the only method it could have been returned there when we account for, and consider, every known fact."

The Thinking Machine paused and sat silently staring upward. His listeners readjusted themselves in their chairs and waited impatiently.

"Now, why did Mr. Herbert confess to Miss Meredith that he stole the plate?" asked the scientist, as if of himself. "Perhaps she forced him to it. Mr. Herbert is a young man of strong loyalty and a grim sense of humour, this latter being a quality the police are not acquainted with. However, Mr. Herbert did confess to Miss Meredith that he was the Burglar, but he made this confession, obviously, because she would believe nothing else, and when a seeming necessity of protecting the real Burglar was still uppermost in his mind. What he wanted was the Girl. If the facts never came out he was all right; if they did come out they would implicate one whom he was protecting, but through no fault of his-therefore, he was still all right."

"Bah!" exclaimed the Supreme Intelligence. "My experience has shown that a man doesn't confess to a theft unless--"

"So we may safely assume," The Thinking Machine continued almost pleasantly, "that Mr. Herbert, by confessing the theft as a prank, perhaps, won back Miss Meredith's confidence; that they planned an elopement for the second time. A conversation Mr. Hatch had with Mr. Herbert immediately after Mr. Herbert saw Miss Meredith practically confirms it. Then, with matters in this shape, the real Burglar, to whom I have accredited unusual powers, stole the plate the second time-we know how."

"Herbert stole it, you mean!" blazed Detective Mallory.

"This theft came immediately on top of the reconciliation of Miss Meredith and Mr. Herbert," The Thinking Machine went on steadily, without heeding the remark by the slightest sign. "Therefore, it was only natural that he should be the person most vitally interested in seeing that the plate was again returned. He undertook to do this himself. The result was that, where the police had failed, he found the plate and a lot of jewels, took them from the Burglar, and was about to return Mr. Randolph's property when the detectives walked in on him. That is why he laughed."

Detective Mallory arose from his seat and started to say something impolite. The presence of Dollie Meredith choked the words back and he swallowed hard.

"Who then," he demanded after a couple of gulps-"who do you say is the thief if Herbert is not?"

The Thinking Machine glanced up into his face, then turned to Hatch.

"Mr. Hatch, what is that name I asked you to get?"

"George Francis Hayden," was the stammering reply, "but-but--"

"Then George Francis Hayden is the thief," declared The Thinking Machine emphatically.

"But I-I started to say," Hatch blurted-"I started to say that George Francis Hayden has been dead for two years."

The Thinking Machine rose suddenly and glared at the reporter. There was a tense silence, broken at last by a chuckle from Detective Mallory.

"Dead?" repeated the scientist incredulously. "Do you know that?"

"Yes, I-I know it."

The Thinking Machine stood for another moment squinting at him, then, turning, left the room.

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