Jacques Futrelle.

The Chase of the Golden Plate



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Herbert still sat with his head in his hands as The Thinking Machine went out.

It was very late that night – after twelve, in fact – when Hutchinson Hatch called on The Thinking Machine with excitement evident in tone, manner, and act. He was accustomed to calling at any hour; now he found the scientist at work as if it were midday.

"The worst has happened," the reporter told him.

The Thinking Machine didn't look around.

"Detective Mallory and two of his men saw Miss Meredith this evening about nine o'clock," Hatch hurried on, "and bully-ragged her into a confession."

"What sort of a confession?"

"She admitted that she was in the automobile on the night of the ball and that – "

"Mr. Herbert was with her," the scientist supplied.

"Yes."

"And – what else?"

"That her own jewels, valued at twenty thousand dollars, were among those found in Herbert's possession when he was arrested."

The Thinking Machine turned and looked at the reporter, just casually, and raised his hand to his mouth to cover a yawn.

"Well, she couldn't do anything else," he said calmly.

CHAPTER V

Hutchinson Hatch remained with The Thinking Machine for more than an hour, and when he left his head was spinning with the multitude of instructions which had been heaped upon him.

"Meet me at noon in Detective Mallory's office at police headquarters," The Thinking Machine had said in conclusion. "Mr. Randolph and Miss Meredith will be there."

"Miss Meredith?" Hatch repeated. "She hasn't been arrested, you know, and I doubt if she will come."

"She will come," the scientist had replied, as if that settled it.

Next day the Supreme Intelligence was sitting in his private office. He had eaten the canary; mingled triumph and gratification beamed upon his countenance. The smile remained, but to it was added the quality of curiosity when the door opened and The Thinking Machine, accompanied by Dollie Meredith and Stuyvesant Randolph, entered.

"Mr. Hatch called yet?" inquired the scientist.

"No," responded the detective.

"Dear me!" grumbled the other. "It's one minute after twelve o'clock now. What could have delayed him?"

His answer was the clattering rush of a cab and the appearance of Hatch in person a moment later. He came into the room headlong, glanced around, then paused.

"Did you get it?" inquired The Thinking Machine.

"Yes, I got it, but – " began the reporter.

"Nothing else now," commanded the other.

There was a little pause as The Thinking Machine selected a chair. The others also sat down.

"Well?" inquired the Supreme Intelligence at last.

"I would like to ask, Mr. Mallory," the scientist said, "if it would be possible for me to convince you of Mr. Herbert's innocence of the charges against him?"

"It would not," replied the detective promptly. "It would not while the facts are before me, supplemented by the statement of Miss Meredith here – her confession."

Dollie coloured exquisitely and her lips trembled slightly.

"Would it be possible, Miss Meredith," the even voice went on, "to convince you of Mr.

Herbert's innocence?"

"I – I don't think so," she faltered. "I – I know."

Tears which had been restrained with difficulty gushed forth suddenly, and The Thinking Machine squinted at her in pained surprise.

"Don't do that," he commanded. "It's – it's exceedingly irritating." He paused a moment, then turned suddenly to Mr. Randolph. "And you?" he asked.

Mr. Randolph shrugged his shoulders.

The Thinking Machine receded still further into his chair and stared dreamily upward with his long, slender fingers pressed tip to tip. Hatch knew the attitude; something was going to happen. He waited anxiously. Detective Mallory knew it, too, and wriggled uncomfortably.

"Suppose," the scientist began, "just suppose that we turn a little human intelligence on this problem for a change and see if we can't get the truth out of the blundering muddle that the police have helped to bring about. Let's use logic, inevitable logic, to show, simply enough, that instead of being guilty, Mr. Herbert is innocent."

Dolly Meredith suddenly leaned forward in her chair with flushed face, eyes widely opened and lips slightly parted. Detective Mallory also leaned forward in his chair, but there was a different expression on his face – oh, so different.

"Miss Meredith, we know you were in the automobile with the Burglar who stole the plate," The Thinking Machine went on. "You probably knew that he was wounded and possibly either aided in dressing the wound – as any woman would – or else saw him dress it himself?"

"I bound my handkerchief on it," replied the Girl. Her voice was low, almost a whisper.

"Where was the wound?"

"In the right shoulder," she replied.

"Back or front?" insisted the scientist.

"Back," she replied. "Very near the arm, an inch or so below the level of the shoulder."

Except for The Thinking Machine himself Hatch was the only person in the room to whom this statement meant anything, and he restrained a shout with difficulty.

"Now, Mr. Mallory," the scientist went on calmly, "do you happen to know Dr. Clarence Walpole?"

"I know of him, yes," replied the detective. "He is a man of considerable reputation."

"Would you believe him under oath?"

"Why, certainly, of course."

The Supreme Intelligence tugged at his bristly moustache.

"If Doctor Walpole should dress a wound and should later, under oath, point out its exact location, you would believe him?"

"Why, I'd have to, of course."

"Very well," commented The Thinking Machine tersely. "Now I will state an incontrovertible scientific fact for your further enlightenment. You may verify it anyway you choose. This is, briefly, that the blood corpuscles in man average one-thirty-three hundredths of an inch in diameter. Remember that, please: one-thirty-three hundredths of an inch. The system of measurement has reached a state of perfection almost incomprehensible to the man who does not understand."

He paused for so long that Detective Mallory began to wriggle again. The others were leaning forward, listening with widely varied expressions on their faces.

"Now, Mr. Mallory," continued The Thinking Machine at last, "one of your men shot twice at the Burglar in the automobile, as I understand it?"

"Yes – two shots."

"Mr. Cunningham?"

"Yes, Detective Cunningham."

"Is he here now?"

The detective pressed a button on his desk and a uniformed man appeared. Instructions were given, and a moment later Detective Cunningham stood before them wonderingly.

"I suppose you can prove beyond any shadow of a doubt," resumed the scientist, still addressing Mr. Mallory, "that two shots —and only two– were fired?"

"I can prove it by twenty witnesses," was the reply.

"Good, very good," exclaimed the scientist, and he turned to Cunningham.

"You know that only two shots were fired?"

"I know it, yes," replied Cunningham. "I fired 'em."

"May I see your revolver?"

Cunningham produced the weapon and handed it over. The Thinking Machine merely glanced at it.

"This is the revolver you used?"

"Yes."

"Very well, then," remarked the scientist quietly, "on that statement alone Mr. Herbert is proven innocent of the charge against him."

There was an astonished gasp all around. Hatch was beginning to see what The Thinking Machine meant, and curiously watched the bewitchingly sorrowful face of Dollie Meredith. He saw all sorts of strange things there.

"Proven innocent?" snorted Detective Mallory. "Why, you've convicted him out of hand so far as I can see."

"Corpuscles in human blood average, as I said, one-thirty-three hundredths of an inch in diameter," resumed the scientist. "They vary slightly each way, of course. Now, the corpuscles of the Burglar in the automobile measured just one-thirty-one-forty-seven hundredths of an inch. Mr. Herbert's corpuscles, tested the same way, with the same instruments, measure precisely one-thirty-five-sixty hundredths." He stopped as if that were all.

"By George!" exclaimed Mr. Randolph. "By George!"

"That's all tommy-rot," Detective Mallory burst out. "That's nothing to a jury or to any other man with common sense."

"That difference in measurement proves beyond question that Mr. Herbert was not wounded while in the automobile," went on The Thinking Machine as if there had been no interruption. "Now, Mr. Cunningham, may I ask if the Burglar's back was toward you when you fired?"

"Yes. He was going away from me."

"Well, that statement agrees with the statement of Miss Meredith to show that the Burglar was wounded in the back. Doctor Walpole dressed Mr. Herbert's wound between two and three o'clock Friday morning following the masked ball. Mr. Herbert had been shot, but the wound was in the front of his right shoulder."

Delighted amazement radiated from Dollie Meredith's face; she clapped her hands involuntarily as she would have applauded a stage incident. Detective Mallory started to say something, then thought better of it and glared at Cunningham instead.

"Now, Mr. Cunningham says that he shot the Burglar with this revolver." The Thinking Machine waved the weapon under Detective Mallory's nose. "This is the usual police weapon. Its calibre is thirty-eight. Mr. Herbert was shot with a thirty-two calibre. Here is the bullet." And he tossed it on the desk.

CHAPTER VI

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.

CHAPTER VII

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."



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