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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Chase of the Golden Plate By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7610

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Mr. Meredith had stamped out of the room angrily, and Dick Herbert was alone when Dollie, in regal indignation, swept in. The general slant of her ruddy head radiated defiance, and a most depressing chilliness lay in her blue eyes. Her lips formed a scarlet line, and there was a how-dare-you-sir tilt to nose and chin. Dick started up quickly at her appearance.

"Dollie!" he exclaimed eagerly.

"Mr. Herbert," she responded coldly. She sat down primly on the extreme edge of a chair which yawned to embrace her. "What is it, please?"

Dick was a singularly audacious sort of person, but her manner froze him into sudden austerity. He regarded her steadily for a moment.

"I have come to explain why--"

Miss Dollie Meredith sniffed.

"I have come to explain," he went on, "why I did not meet you at the Randolph masked ball, as we had planned."

"Why you did not meet me?" inquired Dollie coldly, with a little surprised movement of her arched brows. "Why you did not meet me?" she repeated.

"I shall have to ask you to believe that, in the circumstances, it was absolutely impossible," Dick continued, preferring not to notice the singular emphasis of her words. "Something occurred early that evening which-which left me no choice in the matter. I can readily understand your indignation and humiliation at my failure to appear, and I had no way of reaching you that evening or since. News of your return last night only reached me an hour ago. I knew you had disappeared."

Dollie's blue eyes were opened to the widest and her lips parted a little in astonishment. For a moment she sat thus, staring at the young man, then she sank back into her chair with a little gasp.

"May I inquire," she asked, after she recovered her breath, "the cause of this-this levity?"

"Dollie, dear, I am perfectly serious," Dick assured her earnestly. "I am trying to make it plain to you, that's all."

"Why you did not meet me?" Dollie repeated again. "Why you did meet me! And that's-that's what's the matter with everything!"

Whatever surprise or other emotion Dick might have felt was admirably repressed.

"I thought perhaps there was some mistake somewhere," he said at last. "Now, Dollie, listen to me. No, wait a minute please! I did not go to the Randolph ball. You did. You eloped from that ball, as you and I had planned, in an automobile, but not with me. You went with some other man-the man who really stole the gold plate."

Dollie opened her mouth to exclaim, then shut it suddenly.

"Now just a moment, please," pleaded Dick. "You spoke to some other man under the impression that you were speaking to me. For a reason which does not appear now, he fell in with your plans. Therefore, you ran away with him-in the automobile which carried the gold plate. What happened after that I cannot even surmise. I only know that you are the mysterious woman who disappeared with the Burglar."

Dollie gasped and nearly choked with her emotions. A flame of scarlet leaped into her face and the glare of the blue eyes was pitiless.

"Mr. Herbert," she said deliberately at last, "I don't know whether you think I am a fool or only a child. I know that no rational human being can accept that as true. I know I left Seven Oaks with you in the auto; I know you are the man who stole the gold plate; I know how you received the shot in your right shoulder; I know how you afterward fainted from loss of blood. I know how I bound up your wound and-and-I know a lot of things else!"

The sudden rush of words left her breathless for an instant. Dick listened quietly. He started to say something-to expostulate-but she got a fresh start and hurried on:

"I recognised you in that silly disguise by the cleft in your chin. I called you Dick and you answered me. I asked if y

ou had received the little casket and you answered yes. I left the ballroom as you directed and climbed into the automobile. I know that horrid ride we had, and how I took the gold plate in the bag and walked-walked through the night until I was exhausted. I know it all-how I lied and connived, and told silly stories-but I did it all to save you from yourself, and now you dare face me with a denial!"

Dollie suddenly burst into tears. Dick now attempted no further denial. There was no anger in his face-only a deeply troubled expression. He arose and walked over to the window, where he stood staring out.

"I know it all," Dollie repeated gurglingly-"all, except what possible idea you had in stealing the miserable, wretched old plate, anyway!" There was a pause and Dollie peered through teary fingers. "How-how long," she asked, "have you been a-a-a-kleptomaniac?"

Dick shrugged his sturdy shoulders a little impatiently.

"Did your father ever happen to tell you why he objects to my attentions to you?" he asked.

"No, but I know now." And there was a new burst of tears. "It's because-because you are a-a-you take things."

"You will not believe what I tell you?"

"How can I when I helped you run away with the horrid stuff?"

"If I pledge you my word of honour that I told you the truth?"

"I can't believe it, I can't!" wailed Dollie desolately. "No one could believe it. I never suspected-never dreamed-of the possibility of such a thing even when you lay wounded out there in the dark woods. If I had, I should certainly have never-have never-kissed you."

Dick wheeled suddenly.

"Kissed me?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, you horrid thing!" sobbed Dollie. "If there had previously been the slightest doubt in my mind as to your identity, that would have convinced me that it was you, because-because-just because! And besides, if it wasn't you I kissed, you ought to have told me!"

Dollie leaned forward suddenly on the arm of the chair with her face hidden in her hands. Dick crossed the room softly toward her and laid a hand caressingly about her shoulders. She shook it off angrily.

"How dare you, sir?" she blazed.

"Dollie, don't you love me?" he pleaded.

"No!" was the prompt reply.

"But you did love me-once?"

"Why-yes, but I-I--"

"And couldn't you ever love me again?"

"I-I don't ever want to again."

"But couldn't you?"

"If you had only told me the truth, instead of making such a silly denial," she blubbered. "I don't know why you took the plate unless-unless it is because you-you couldn't help it. But you didn't tell me the truth."

Dick stared down at the ruddy head moodily for a moment. Then his manner changed and he dropped on his knees beside her.

"Suppose," he whispered, "suppose I should confess that I did take it?"

Dollie looked up suddenly with a new horror in her face.

"Oh, you did do it then?" she demanded. This was worse than ever!

"Suppose I should confess that I did?"

"Oh, Dick!" she sobbed. And her arms went suddenly around his neck. "You are breaking my heart. Why? Why?"

"Would you be satisfied?" he insisted.

"What could have caused you to do such a thing?"

The love-light glimmered again in her blue eyes; the red lips trembled.

"Suppose it had been just a freak of mine, and I had intended to-to return the stuff, as has been done?" he went on.

Dollie stared deeply into the eyes upturned to hers.

"Silly boy," she said. Then she kissed him. "But you must never, never do it again."

"I never will," he promised solemnly.

"'Silly boy,' she said"

Five minutes later Dick was leaving the house, when he met Mr. Meredith in the hall.

"I'm going to marry your daughter," he said quite calmly.

Mr. Meredith raved at him as he went down the steps.

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