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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 10147

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Half an hour later The Thinking Machine walked in, unannounced, upon Dick Herbert. The front door had not been locked; Blair was somewhere in the rear. Herbert, in some surprise, glanced up at his visitor just in time to see him plank himself down solidly into a chair.

"Mr. Herbert," the scientist began, "I have gone out of my way to prove to the police that you were not in the automobile with Miss Meredith, and that you did not steal the gold plate found in your possession. Now, I happen to know the name of the thief, and--"

"And if you mention it to one living soul," Dick added suddenly, hotly, "I shall forget myself and-and--"

"His name is George Francis Hayden," the scientist continued.

Dick started a little and straightened up; the menace dropped from him and he paused to gaze curiously into the wizened face before him. After a moment he drew a sigh of deep relief.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Oh!"

"I know that that isn't who you thought it was," resumed the other, "but the fact remains that Hayden is the man with whom Miss Meredith unwittingly eloped, and that Hayden is the man who actually stole the plate and jewels. Further, the fact remains that Hayden--"

"Is dead," Dick supplemented grimly. "You are talking through your--" He coughed a little. "You are talking without any knowledge of what you are saying."

"He can't be dead," remarked the scientist calmly.

"But he is dead!" Dick insisted.

"He can't be dead," snapped the other abruptly. "It's perfectly silly to suppose such a thing. Why, I have proven absolutely, by the simplest rules of logic, that he stole the gold plate, therefore he cannot be dead. It's silly to say so."

Dick wasn't quite certain whether to be angry or amused. He decided to hold the matter in abeyance for the moment and see what other strange thing would develop.

"How long has he been dead?" continued the scientist.

"About two years."

"You know it?"

"Yes, I know it."

"How do you know it?"

"Because I attended his funeral," was the prompt reply. Dick saw a shadow of impatience flash into his visitor's face and instantly pass.

"How did he die?" queried the scientist.

"He was lost from his catboat," Dick answered. "He had gone out sailing, alone, while in a bathing-suit. Several hours after the boat drifted in on the tide without him. Two or three weeks later the body was recovered."

"Ah!" exclaimed The Thinking Machine.

Then, for half an hour or so, he talked, and-as he went on, incisively, pointedly, dramatically, even, at times-Dick Herbert's eyes opened wider and wider. At the end he rose and gripped the scientist's slender white fingers heartily in his own with something approaching awe in his manner. Finally he put on his hat and they went out together.

That evening at eight o'clock Detective Mallory, Hutchinson Hatch, Mr. Randolph, Mr. Meredith, Mr. Greyton, and Dollie Meredith gathered in a parlour of the Greyton home by request of The Thinking Machine. They were waiting for something-no one knew exactly what.

Finally there came a tinkle at the bell and The Thinking Machine entered. Behind him came Dick Herbert, Dr. Clarence Walpole, and a stranger. Mr. Meredith glanced up quickly at Herbert, and Dollie lifted her chin haughtily with a stony stare which admitted of no compromise. Dick pleaded for recognition with his eyes, but it was no use, so he sat down where he could watch her unobserved.

Singular expressions flitted over the countenance of the Supreme Intelligence. Right here, now, he knew the earth was to be jerked out from under him and he was not at all certain that there would be anything left for him to cling to. This first impression was strengthened when The Thinking Machine introduced Doctor Walpole with an ostentatious squint at Mr. Mallory. The detective set his teeth hard.

The Thinking Machine sat down, stretched out his slender legs, turned his eyes upward, and adjusted his fingers precisely, tip to tip. The others watched him anxiously.

"We will have to go back a few years to get the real beginning of the events which have culminated so strangely within the past week," he said. "This was a close friendship of three young men in college. They were Mr. Herbert here, a freshman, and Harry Meredith and George Francis Hayden, juniors. This friendship, not an unusual one in college, was made somewhat romantic by the young men styling themselves The Triangle. They occupied the same apartments and were exclusive to a degree. Of necessity Mr. Herbert was drawn from that exclusiveness, to a certain extent by his participation in football."

A germ of memory was working in Hatch's mind.

"At someone's suggestion three triangular watch charms were made, identical in every way save for initials on the back. They bore a symbol which was meaningless except to The Triangle. They were made to order and are, therefore, the only three of the kind in the world. Mr. Herbert has one now on his watch chain, with his own initials; there is another with the initials 'G. F. H.' in

the lot of jewelry Mr. Mallory recovered from Mr. Herbert. The third is worn by Harry Meredith, who is now in Buenos Ayres. The American Consul there has confirmed, by cable, that fact.

"In the senior year the three young men of The Triangle were concerned in the mysterious disappearance of a valuable diamond ring. It was hushed up in college after it seemed established that Mr. Herbert was a thief. Knowing his own innocence and seeing what seemed to be an exclusive opportunity for Harry Meredith to have done what was charged, Mr. Herbert laid the matter to him, having at that time an interview with Harry's father. The result of that interview was more than ever to convince Mr. Meredith of Mr. Herbert's guilt. As a matter of fact, the thief in that case was George Francis Hayden."

There were little murmurs of astonishment, and Mr. Meredith turned and stared at Dick Herbert. Dollie gave him a little glance out of a corner of her eye, smiled, then sat up primly.

"This ended The Triangle," resumed the scientist. "A year or so later Mr. Herbert met Miss Meredith. About two years ago George Francis Hayden was reported drowned from his catboat. This was confirmed, apparently, by the finding of his body, and an insurance company paid over a large sum-I think it was $25,000-to a woman who said she was his wife. But George Francis Hayden was not drowned; he is alive now. It was a carefully planned fraud against the insurance company, and it succeeded.

"This, then, was the situation on last Thursday-the night of the masked ball at Seven Oaks-except that there had grown up a love affair between Miss Meredith and Mr. Herbert. Naturally, the father opposed this because of the incident in college. Both Miss Meredith and Mr. Herbert had invitations to that ball. It was an opportunity for an elopement and they accepted it. Mr. Herbert sent word to her what costume to wear; she did not know the nature of his.

"On Thursday afternoon Miss Meredith sent her jewel-casket, with practically all her jewels, to Mr. Herbert. She wanted them, naturally; they probably planned a trip abroad. The maid in this house took the casket and gave it into Mr. Herbert's own hands. Am I right?" He turned squarely and squinted at Dollie.

"Yes," she gasped quickly. She smiled distractingly upon her father and he made some violent remarks to himself.

"At this point, Fate, in the guise of a masked Burglar, saw fit to step into the affair," the scientist went on after a moment. "About nine-thirty, Thursday evening, while Mr. Herbert was alone, the masked Burglar, George Francis Hayden, entered Mr. Herbert's house, possibly thinking everyone was away. There, still masked, he met Mr. Herbert, who-by something the Burglar said and by the triangular charm he wore-recognised him as Harry Meredith. Remember, he thought he knew George Francis Hayden was dead.

"There were some words and a personal encounter between the two men. George Francis Hayden fired a shot which struck Mr. Herbert in the right shoulder-in front-took the jewel-casket in which Mr. Herbert had placed his card of invitation to the ball, and went away, leaving Mr. Herbert senseless on the floor."

Dollie's face blanched suddenly and she gasped. When she glanced involuntarily at Dick she read the love-light in his eyes, and her colour returned with a rush.

"Several hours later, when Mr. Herbert recovered consciousness," the unruffled voice went on, "he went to Doctor Walpole, the nearest physician, and there the bullet was extracted and the wound dressed. The ball was thirty-two calibre?"

Doctor Walpole nodded.

"And Mr. Cunningham's revolver carried a thirty-eight," added the scientist. "Now we go back to the Burglar. He found the invitation in the casket, and the bold scheme, which later he carried out so perfectly, came to him as an inspiration. He went to the ball just as he was. Nerve, self-possession, and humour took him through. We know the rest of that.

"Naturally, in the circumstances, Mr. Herbert, believing that Harry Meredith was the thief, would say nothing to bring disgrace upon the name of the girl he loved. Instead, he saw Miss Meredith, who would not accept his denial then, and in order to get her first-explanations might come later-he confessed to the theft, whereupon they planned the second elopement.

"When Miss Meredith returned the plate by express there was no anticipation of a second theft. Here is where we get a better understanding of the mettle of the real Burglar-George Francis Hayden. He went back and got the plate from Seven Oaks. Instantly that upset the second elopement plan. Then Mr. Herbert undertook the search, got a clew, followed it, and recovered not only the plate, but a great lot of jewels."

There was a pause. A skyrocket ascended in Hatch's mind and burst, illuminating the whole tangled story. Detective Mallory sat dumbly, thinking harsh words. Mr. Meredith arose, went over to Dick Herbert, and solemnly shook his hand, after which he sat down again. Dollie smiled charmingly.

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