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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7376

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

When the Burglar awoke to consciousness he was as near heaven as any mere man ever dares expect to be. He was comfortable-quite comfortable-wrapped in a delicious, languorous lassitude which forbade him opening his eyes to realisation. A woman's hand lay on his forehead, caressingly, and dimly he knew that another hand cuddled cosily in one of his own. He lay still, trying to remember, before he opened his eyes. Someone beside him breathed softly, and he listened, as if to music.

Gradually the need of action-just what action and to what purpose did not occur to him-impressed itself on his mind. He raised the disengaged hand to his face and touched the mask, which had been pushed back on his forehead. Then he recalled the ball, the shot, the chase, the hiding in the woods. He opened his eyes with a start. Utter darkness lay about him-for a moment he was not certain whether it was the darkness of blindness or of night.

"Dick, are you awake?" asked the Girl softly.

He knew the voice and was content.

"Yes," he answered languidly.

He closed his eyes again and some strange, subtle perfume seemed to envelop him. He waited. Warm lips were pressed to his own, thrilling him strangely, and the Girl rested a soft cheek against his.

"We have been very foolish, Dick," she said, sweetly chiding, after a moment. "It was all my fault for letting you expose yourself to danger, but I didn't dream of such a thing as this happening. I shall never forgive myself, because--"

"But--" he began protestingly.

"Not another word about it now," she hurried on. "We must go very soon. How do you feel?"

"I'm all right, or will be in a minute," he responded, and he made as if to rise. "Where is the car?"

"Right here. I extinguished the lights and managed to stop the engine for fear those horrid people who were after us might notice."

"Good girl!"

"When you jumped out and fainted I jumped out, too. I'm afraid I was not very clever, but I managed to bind your arm. I took my handkerchief and pressed it against the wound after ripping your coat, then I bound it there. It stopped the flow of blood, but, Dick, dear, you must have medical attention just as soon as possible."

The Burglar moved his shoulder a little and winced.

"Just as soon as I did that," the Girl went on, "I made you comfortable here on a cushion from the car."

"Good girl!" he said again.

"Then I sat down to wait until you got better. I had no stimulant or anything, and I didn't dare to leave you, so-so I just waited," she ended with a weary little sigh.

"How long was I knocked out?" he queried.

"I don't know; half an hour, perhaps."

"The bag is all right, I suppose?"

"The bag?"

"The bag with the stuff-the one I threw in the car when we started?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so! Really, I hadn't thought of it."

"Hadn't thought of it?" repeated the Burglar, and there was a trace of astonishment in his voice. "By George, you're a wonder!" he added.

He started to get on his feet, then dropped back weakly.

"Say, girlie," he requested, "see if you can find the bag in the car there and hand it out. Let's take a look."

"Where is it?"

"Somewhere in front. I felt it at my feet when I jumped out."

There was a rustle of skirts in the darkness, and after a moment a faint muffled clank as of one heavy metal striking dully against another.

"Goodness!" exclaimed the Girl. "It's heavy enough. What's in it?"

"What's in it?" repeated the Burglar, and he chuckled. "A fortune, nearly. It's worth being punctured for. Let me see."

In the darkness he took the bag from her hands and fumbled with it a moment. She heard the metallic sou

nd again and then several heavy objects were poured out on the ground.

"A good fourteen pounds of pure gold," commented the Burglar. "By George, I haven't but one match, but we'll see what it's like."

The match was struck, sputtered for a moment, then flamed up, and the Girl, standing, looked down upon the Burglar on his knees beside a heap of gold plate. She stared at the glittering mass as if fascinated, and her eyes opened wide.

"Why, Dick, what is that?" she asked.

"It's Randolph's plate," responded the Burglar complacently. "I don't know how much it's worth, but it must be several thousands, on dead weight."

"What are you doing with it?"

"What am I doing with it?" repeated the Burglar. He was about to look up when the match burned his finger and he dropped it. "That's a silly question."

"But how came it in your possession?" the Girl insisted.

"I acquired it by the simple act of-of dropping it into a bag and bringing it along. That and you in the same evening--" He stretched out a hand toward her, but she was not there. He chuckled a little as he turned and picked up eleven plates, one by one, and replaced them in the bag.

"Nine-ten-eleven," he counted. "What luck did you have?"

"Dick Herbert, explain to me, please, what you are doing with that gold plate?" There was an imperative command in the voice.

The Burglar paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Oh, I'm taking it to have it fixed!" he responded lightly.

"Fixed? Taking it this way at this time of the night?"

"'It must be several thousands, on dead weight'"

"Sure," and he laughed pleasantly.

"You mean you-you-you stole it?" The words came with an effort.

"Well, I'd hardly call it that," remarked the Burglar. "That's a harsh word. Still, it's in my possession; it wasn't given to me, and I didn't buy it. You may draw your own conclusions."

The bag lay beside him and his left hand caressed it idly, lovingly. For a long time there was silence.

"What luck did you have?" he asked again.

There was a startled gasp, a gurgle and accusing indignation in the Girl's low, tense voice.

"You-you stole it!"

"Well, if you prefer it that way-yes."

The Burglar was staring steadily into the darkness toward that point whence came the voice, but the night was so dense that not a trace of the Girl was visible. He laughed again.

"It seems to me it was lucky I decided to take it at just this time and in these circumstances," he went on tauntingly-"lucky for you, I mean. If I hadn't been there you would have been caught."

Again came the startled gasp.

"What's the matter?" demanded the Burglar sharply, after another silence. "Why don't you say something?"

He was still peering unseeingly into the darkness. The bag of gold plate moved slightly under his hand. He opened his fingers to close them more tightly. It was a mistake. The bag was drawn away; his hand grasped-air.

"Stop that game now!" he commanded angrily. "Where are you?"

He struggled to his feet. His answer was the crackling of a twig to his right. He started in that direction and brought up with a bump against the automobile. He turned, still groping blindly, and embraced a tree with undignified fervour. To his left he heard another slight noise and ran that way. Again he struck an obstacle. Then he began to say things, expressive things, burning things from the depths of an impassioned soul. The treasure had gone-disappeared into the shadows. The Girl was gone. He called, there was no answer. He drew his revolver fiercely, then reconsidered and flung it down angrily.

"And I thought I had nerve!" he declared. It was a compliment.

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