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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 8672

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Extravagantly brilliant the sun popped up out of the east-not an unusual occurrence-and stared unblinkingly down upon a country road. There were the usual twittering birds and dew-spangled trees and nodding wild-flowers; also a dust that was shoe-top deep. The dawny air stirred lazily and rustling leaves sent long, sinuous shadows scampering back and forth.

Looking upon it all without enthusiasm or poetic exaltation was a Girl-a pretty Girl-a very pretty Girl. She sat on a stone beside the yellow roadway, a picture of weariness. A rough burlap sack, laden heavily, yet economically as to space, wallowed in the dust beside her. Her hair was tawny gold, and rebellious strands drooped listlessly about her face. A beribboned sombrero lay in her lap, supplementing a certain air of dilapidated bravado, due in part to a short skirt, heavy gloves and boots, a belt with a knife and revolver.

A robin, perched impertinently on a stump across the road, examined her at his leisure. She stared back at Signor Redbreast, and for this recognition he warbled a little song.

"I've a good mind to cry!" exclaimed the Girl suddenly.

Shamed and startled, the robin flew away. A mistiness came into the Girl's blue eyes and lingered there a moment, then her white teeth closed tightly and the glimmer of outraged emotion passed.

"Oh," she sighed again, "I'm so tired and hungry and I just know I'll never get anywhere at all!"

But despite the expressed conviction she arose and straightened up as if to resume her journey, turning to stare down at the bag. It was an unsightly symbol of blasted hopes, man's perfidy, crushed aspirations and-Heaven only knows what besides.

"I've a good mind to leave you right there," she remarked to the bag spitefully. "Perhaps I might hide it." She considered the question. "No, that wouldn't do. I must take it with me-and-and-Oh, Dick! Dick! What in the world was the matter with you, anyway?"

Then she sat down again and wept. The robin crept back to look and modestly hid behind a leaf. From this coign of vantage he watched her as she again arose and plodded off through the dust with the bag swinging over one shoulder. At last-there is an at last to everything-a small house appeared from behind a clump of trees. The Girl looked with incredulous eyes. It was really a house. Really! A tiny curl of smoke hovered over the chimney.

"Well, thank goodness, I'm somewhere, anyhow," she declared with her first show of enthusiasm. "I can get a cup of coffee or something."

She covered the next fifty yards with a new spring in her leaden heels and with a new and firmer grip on the precious bag. Then-she stopped.

"Gracious!" and perplexed lines suddenly wrinkled her brow. "If I should go in there with a pistol and a knife they'd think I was a brigand-or-or a thief, and I suppose I am," she added as she stopped and rested the bag on the ground. "At least I have stolen goods in my possession. Now, what shall I say if they ask questions? What am I? They wouldn't believe me if I told them really. Short skirt, boots and gloves: I know! I'm a bicyclist. My wheel broke down, and--"

Whereupon she gingerly removed the revolver from her belt and flung it into the underbrush-not at all in the direction she had intended-and the knife followed to keep it company. Having relieved herself of these sinister things, she straightened her hat, pushed back the rebellious hair, yanked at her skirt, and walked bravely up to the little house.

An Angel lived there-an Angel in a dizzily beflowered wrapper and a crabbed exterior. She listened to a rapidly constructed and wholly inconsistent story of a bicycle accident, which ended with a plea for a cup of coffee. Silently she proceeded to prepare it. After the pot was bubbling cheerfully and eggs had been put on and biscuits thrust into a stove to be warmed over, the Angel sat down at the table opposite the Girl.

"Book agent?" she asked.

"Oh, no!" replied the Girl.

"Sewing-machines?"

"No."

There was a pause as the Angel settled and poured a cup of coffee.

"Make to order, I s'pose?"

"No," the Girl replied uncertainly.

"What do you sell?"

"Nothing, I-I--" She stopped.

"What you got in the bag?" the Angel persisted.

"Some-some-just some-stuff," stammered the Girl, and her face sud

denly flushed crimson.

"What kind of stuff?"

The Girl looked into the frankly inquisitive eyes and was overwhelmed by a sense of her own helplessness. Tears started, and one pearly drop ran down her perfect nose and splashed in the coffee. That was the last straw. She leaned forward suddenly with her head on her arms and wept.

"Please, please don't ask questions!" she pleaded. "I'm a poor, foolish, helpless, misguided, disillusioned woman!"

"Yes'm," said the Angel. She took up the eggs, then came over and put a kindly arm about the Girl's shoulders. "There, there!" she said soothingly. "Don't take on like that! Drink some coffee, and eat a bite, and you'll feel better!"

"I have had no sleep at all and no food since yesterday, and I've walked miles and miles and miles," the Girl rushed on feverishly. "It's all because-because--" She stopped suddenly.

"Eat something," commanded the Angel.

The Girl obeyed. The coffee was weak and muddy and delightful; the biscuits were yellow and lumpy and delicious; the eggs were eggs. The Angel sat opposite and watched the Girl as she ate.

"Husband beat you?" she demanded suddenly.

The Girl blushed and choked.

"No," she hastened to say. "I have no husband."

"Well, there ain't no serious trouble in this world till you marry a man that beats you," said the Angel judicially. It was the final word.

The Girl didn't answer, and, in view of the fact that she had sufficient data at hand to argue the point, this repression required heroism. Perhaps she will never get credit for it. She finished the breakfast in silence and leaned back with some measure of returning content in her soul.

"In a hurry?" asked the Angel.

"No, I have no place to go. What is the nearest village or town?"

"Watertown, but you'd better stay and rest a while. You look all tuckered out."

"Oh, thank you so much," said the Girl gratefully. "But it would be so much trouble for--"

The Angel picked up the burlap bag, shook it inquiringly, then started toward the short stairs leading up.

"Please, please!" exclaimed the Girl suddenly. "I-I-let me have that, please!"

The Angel relinquished the bag without a word. The Girl took it, tremblingly, then, suddenly dropping it, clasped the Angel in her arms and placed upon her unresponsive lips a kiss for which a mere man would have endangered his immortal soul. The Angel wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and went on up the stairs with the Girl following.

For a time the Girl lay, with wet eyes, on a clean little bed, thinking. Humiliation, exhaustion, man's perfidy, disillusionment, and the kindness of an utter stranger all occupied her until she fell asleep. Then she was chased by a policeman with automobile lights for eyes, and there was a parade of hard-boiled eggs and yellow, lumpy biscuits.

When she awoke the room was quite dark. She sat up a little bewildered at first; then she remembered. After a moment she heard the voice of the Angel, below. It rippled on querulously; then she heard the gruff voice of a man.

"Diamond rings?"

The Girl sat up in bed and listened intently. Involuntarily her hands were clasped together. Her rings were still safe. The Angel's voice went on for a moment again.

"Something in a bag?" inquired the man.

Again the Angel spoke.

Terror seized upon the Girl; imagination ran riot, and she rose from the bed, trembling. She groped about the dark room noiselessly. Every shadow lent her new fears. Then from below came the sound of heavy footsteps. She listened fearfully. They came on toward the stairs, then paused. A match was struck and the step sounded on the stairs.

After a moment there was a knock at the door, a pause, then another knock. Finally the door was pushed open and a huge figure-the figure of a man-appeared, sheltering a candle with one hand. He peered about the room as if perplexed.

"Ain't nobody up here," he called gruffly down the stairs.

There was a sound of hurrying feet and the Angel entered, her face distorted by the flickering candlelight.

"For the land's sakes!" she exclaimed.

"Went away without even saying thank you," grumbled the man. He crossed the room and closed a window. "You ain't got no better sense than a chicken," he told the Angel. "Take in anybody that comes."

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