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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7264

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Low-bent over the steering-wheel, the Burglar sent the automobile scuttling breathlessly along the flat road away from Seven Oaks. At the first shot he crouched down in the seat, dragging the Girl with him; at the second, he winced a little and clenched his teeth tightly. The car's headlights cut a dazzling pathway through the shadows, and trees flitted by as a solid wall. The shouts of pursuers were left behind, and still the Girl clung to his arm.

"Don't do that," he commanded abruptly. "You'll make me smash into something."

"Why, Dick, they shot at us!" she protested indignantly.

The Burglar glanced at her, and, when he turned his eyes to the smooth road again, there was a flicker of a smile about the set lips.

"Yes, I had some such impression myself," he acquiesced grimly.

"Why, they might have killed us!" the Girl went on.

"It is just barely possible that they had some such absurd idea when they shot," replied the Burglar. "Guess you never got caught in a pickle like this before?"

"I certainly never did!" replied the Girl emphatically.

The whir and grind of their car drowned other sounds-sounds from behind-but from time to time the Burglar looked back, and from time to time he let out a new notch in the speed-regulator. Already the pace was terrific, and the Girl bounced up and down beside him at each trivial irregularity in the road, while she clung frantically to the seat.

"Is it necessary to go so awfully fast?" she gasped at last.

The wind was beating on her face, her mask blew this way and that; the beribboned sombrero clung frantically to a fast-failing strand of ruddy hair. She clutched at the hat and saved it, but her hair tumbled down about her shoulders, a mass of gold, and floated out behind.

"Oh," she chattered, "I can't keep my hat on!"

The Burglar took another quick look behind, then his foot went out against the speed-regulator and the car fairly leaped with suddenly increased impetus. The regulator was in the last notch now, and the car was one that had raced at Ormonde Beach.

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed the Girl again. "Can't you go a little slower?"

"Look behind," directed the Burglar tersely.

She glanced back and gave a little cry. Two giant eyes stared at her from a few hundred yards away as another car swooped along in pursuit, and behind this ominously glittering pair was still another.

"They're chasing us, aren't they?"

"They are," replied the Burglar grimly, "but if these tires hold, they haven't got a chance. A breakdown would--" He didn't finish the sentence. There was a sinister note in his voice, but the Girl was still looking back and did not heed it. To her excited imagination it seemed that the giant eyes behind were creeping up, and again she clutched the Burglar's arm.

"Don't do that, I say," he commanded again.

"But, Dick, they mustn't catch us-they mustn't!"

"They won't."

"But if they should--"

"They won't," he repeated.

"It would be perfectly awful!"

"Worse than that."

For a time the Girl silently watched him bending over the wheel, and a singular feeling of security came to her. Then the car swept around a bend in the road, careening perilously, and the glaring eyes were lost. She breathed more freely.

"I never knew you handled an auto so well," she said admiringly.

"I do lots of things people don't know I do," he replied. "Are those lights still there?"

"No, thank goodness!"

The Burglar touched a lever with his left hand and the whir of the machine became less pronounced. After a moment it began to slow down. The Girl noticed it and looked at h

im with new apprehension.

"Oh, we're stopping!" she exclaimed.

"I know it."

They ran on for a few hundred feet; then the Burglar set the brake and, after a deal of jolting, the car stopped. He leaped out and ran around behind. As the Girl watched him uneasily there came a sudden crash and the auto trembled a little.

"What is it?" she asked quickly.

"I smashed that tail lamp," he answered. "They can see it, and it's too easy for them to follow."

He stamped on the shattered fragments in the road, then came around to the side to climb in again, extending his left hand to the Girl.

"Quick, give me your hand," he requested.

She did so wonderingly and he pulled himself into the seat beside her with a perceptible effort. The car shivered, then started on again, slowly at first, but gathering speed each moment. The Girl was staring at her companion curiously, anxiously.

"Are you hurt?" she asked at last.

He did not answer at the moment, not until the car had regained its former speed and was hurtling headlong through the night.

"My right arm's out of business," he explained briefly, then: "I got that second bullet in the shoulder."

"Oh, Dick, Dick," she exclaimed, "and you hadn't said anything about it! You need assistance!"

A sudden rush of sympathy caused her to lay her hands again on his left arm. He shook them off roughly with something like anger in his manner.

"Don't do that!" he commanded for the third time. "You'll make me smash hell out of this car."

Startled by the violence of his tone, she recoiled dumbly, and the car swept on. As before, the Burglar looked back from time to time, but the lights did not reappear. For a long time the Girl was silent and finally he glanced at her.

"I beg your pardon," he said humbly. "I didn't mean to speak so sharply, but-but it's true."

"It's really of no consequence," she replied coldly. "I am sorry-very sorry."

"Thank you," he replied.

"Perhaps it might be as well for you to stop the car and let me out," she went on after a moment.

The Burglar either didn't hear or wouldn't heed. The dim lights of a small village rose up before them, then faded away again; a dog barked lonesomely beside the road. The streaming lights of their car revealed a tangle of crossroads just ahead, offering a definite method of shaking off pursuit. Their car swerved widely, and the Burglar's attention was centred on the road ahead.

"Does your arm pain you?" asked the Girl at last timidly.

"No," he replied shortly. "It's a sort of numbness. I'm afraid I'm losing blood, though."

"Hadn't we better go back to the village and see a doctor?"

"Not this evening," he responded promptly in a tone which she did not understand. "I'll stop somewhere soon and bind it up."

At last, when the village was well behind, the car came to a dark little road which wandered off aimlessly through a wood, and the Burglar slowed down to turn into it. Once in the shelter of the overhanging branches they proceeded slowly for a hundred yards or more, finally coming to a standstill.

"We must do it here," he declared.

He leaped from the car, stumbled and fell. In an instant the Girl was beside him. The reflected light from the auto showed her dimly that he was trying to rise, showed her the pallor of his face where the chin below the mask was visible.

"I'm afraid it's pretty bad," he said weakly. Then he fainted.

The Girl, stooping, raised his head to her lap and pressed her lips to his feverishly, time after time.

"Dick, Dick!" she sobbed, and tears fell upon the Burglar's sinister mask.

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