THE RIDER IN KHAKI
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
Copyright, 1918, by
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
All rights reserved
I. "WILL HE MARRY HER?" II. TRENT PARK III. "HE'S A SPY" IV. THE AUSTRALIAN GIRL V. ROBIN HOOD'S SPEED VI. A FLYING FILLY VII. A WALK AND A TALK VIII. FRASER'S INFORMATION IX. THE MAN UNDER THE LAMP X. CARL MAKES LOVE XI. THE BARON'S TIP XII. A FINE FINISH XIII. ALAN IS BLIND XIV. INSIDE THE KEEP XV. A SUDDEN PROPOSAL XVI. JANE'S LOVE AFFAIR XVII. THE LAY OF THE LAND XVIII. TOM'S WEAKNESS XIX. HALF A HEAD XX. TWO STAYERS XXI. THE RAID XXII. JANE SUSPECTS XXIII. ALAN'S DANGER XXIV. TAKEN PRISONER XXV. ALIVE AND WELL XXVI. THE RIDER IN KHAKI XXVII. THE STEEPLECHASE XXVIII. JANE'S DISCLOSURES XXIX. A SPLASH IN THE DARK XXX. NEWS FROM HOME
THE RIDER IN KHAKI
"WILL HE MARRY HER?"
"Do you think he will marry her?" asked Harry Morby.
"Does anybody know what he will do," replied Vincent Newport, discussing their host Alan Chesney, of Trent Park, a beautiful estate in Nottinghamshire, close to the Dukeries, Sherwood Forest, and the picturesque village of Ollerton.
In the billiard room they had just finished a game of a hundred up, it was an even battle but Morby won by a few points; they were Chesney's friends, captains in the same regiment—the Guards—from which Alan Chesney resigned his commission some twelve months ago. Why he resigned was best known to himself; they had not heard the reason; nobody in the regiment appeared to have any idea.
"She's a splendid woman," said Harry, with a sigh.
"Granted, perhaps one of the most conspicuous of the reigning beauties. It may not be a question of will he marry her but whether she will have him if he asks her," answered Vincent.
Harry Morby shook his head.
"She'll marry him right enough. Why not? By Jove, Vin, what a handsome couple they'd make!" he said.
"Yes, but I doubt if it would be a happy union," said Vincent.
"Good Lord, man, why shouldn't it be? They'd have everything they wanted: money on both sides, estates close together, many things in common, love of racing, sport in general, hunting in particular; they're made for each other."
"What about temperaments?"
"All right in that way. No doubt there'd be some friction at times, but very few married people go through life without jars."
"Evelyn Berkeley has had one or two affairs."
"Nothing to her discredit. She's always been allowed to have her head; her father was proud of her in his way, but he was a selfish man, thought more of his pleasures than anything, a bit of an old rip too, if all one hears be correct. As for her mother—you know the story—possibly Berkeley drove her to it."
"Yes, I've heard it. Of course everybody blames her; they always do, the woman pays," said Vincent.
"Marcus Berkeley left her his riches; everything he had went to her. She can't be thirty, at least I should think not," said Harry.
"Is her mother dead?" asked Vincent.
"I don't know; if alive she is not likely to come into her life again," said Harry.
Alan Chesney generally had friends staying with him at Trent Park; it was a hospitable house, where everything was done well. His father was a successful man, head of a great brewery firm, a wonderful manager, a staunch sportsman, the owner of a famous stud, and a conspicuous figure on the turf; his death was a blow to racing, his colors were popular, and his outlay lavish.
Alan Chesney inherited his love for horses and racing, but the immense business of William Chesney & Company, Limited, did not appeal to him, although the bulk of his wealth came from that source. It was a disappointment to his father when Alan elected to go into the army, but as he was bent on it he gave way on condition he resign his commission when he died and become the head of the firm. This was the real reason for Alan's leaving the army; there were others also weighed with him. He had the makings of a good soldier in him but "the piping times of peace," did not bring out his best qualities; there was more pleasure than work and the calls of duty were not very arduous for a rich man.
The manager of William Chesney & Company was Duncan Fraser, a Scotsman, whose whole life had been spent in England, the bulk of it with Chesney. An upright, honorable, keen man of business, Duncan Fraser was a tower of strength in the firm. Force of character was stamped on him; he was unyielding when he felt he was in the right, and many tussles William Chesney had with him about fresh moves connected with new departments in the company's procedure. The two men were, however, friends, and had respect for the abilities they both possessed.
It was Duncan Fraser's opposition to Alan Chesney going into the army induced William Chesney to protest against it and give way only upon the stipulation stated.
"He is your only son, and his place is at the head of the firm when you think fit to retire," said Duncan. "He has no right to neglect his responsibilities, and he ought to be trained for the position; if he goes into a crack cavalry regiment he'll never settle down to the work here."
William Chesney agreed with Duncan Fraser, but made excuses for Alan.
"I fancy he considers you will be capable of looking after things when I am gone," he said.
"That's not the point. I'm capable now, but you are the head, and he ought to take your place."
Alan Chesney and Duncan Fraser did not agree well, the former knew of Fraser's opposition to his joining the army and resented it as an impertinence.
"After all he's a servant of the company," he said to his father.
"And the best servant a company ever had. He's a big shareholder too; don't forget that important fact, Alan," was the answer.
Duncan Fraser was a careful man; he had a large salary, and, being a bachelor, saved most of it and bought shares in the brewery. When William Chesney died he held the second interest to Alan, which gave him considerable power.
To do Fraser justice he always desired, was anxious, that Alan Chesney should be the active head of the firm; but his disinclination for the work threw more and more responsibility on the manager, and although Alan was nominally the head, Duncan Fraser was the man everybody looked to.
Alan recognized this and resented it, although he knew it was his fault.
Duncan Fraser had the tact to handle the situation delicately; he treated Alan with almost the same deference as his father, but did not consult him to the same extent, or take so much notice of his suggestions.
Fraser was a good-looking man, verging on fifty, tall, well-built, an athlete in his younger days, a good shot and an enthusiastic angler. He was a frequent visitor at Trent Park, and to all outward appearances he and Alan were the best of friends; there was a rift in the lute which they concealed.
Alan was popular in the county, his liberality was great, appeals to him always met with a response. His fine commanding presence made him noticeable, his military training had done him good, he was strong, powerful, a good boxer, and no man could ride better. Despite his height and strong frame, he could ride a reasonable weight on the flat, and over fences, and he often mounted his horses and those of his friends. Exercise kept his weight down; he walked miles at a stretch, through the glorious forest, or over his estates.
He had known Evelyn Berkeley since she was in her teens, and when he came home from Harrow, and she was at "The Forest" for her holidays, they were often together; their love for the country was strong and they explored every nook and corner of Sherwood Forest.
When Evelyn Berkeley was five and twenty it was reported, with some semblance of authority, that William Chesney, the wealthy brewer, was anxious to make her his wife, that he would willingly have done so but she refused him. There was truth in this, but the whole facts were not known. Evelyn Berkeley liked William Chesney but she was very fond of Alan, and it seemed to her ridiculous that she should wed the father when she admired the son, although Marcus Berkeley strongly urged her to accept the brewer's offer.
"You'll be safe with him, Eve," said her father. "He's a good sort; he idolizes you. Oh yes, I know you prefer Alan, that's perhaps natural, but he's not sown his wild oats yet and you'll have a long time to wait before you can get him to the post. You're young, marry William Chesney, and before the bloom's off your cheeks you'll be the richest and handsomest widow in the land."
Evelyn Berkeley was very sorry when William Chesney died. He proved a better guide than her father, and her refusal of his offer made no difference in his manner toward her.
Alan Chesney knew of his father's partiality for Evelyn Berkeley but did not know he proposed to her, and the rumors of it had not reached him. He admired Evelyn, but was not at all certain he loved her, and so far had not considered it conducive to his happiness that he should take a wife; he was fond of his freedom, of the bachelor life he was leading, he did many things that would be impossible if he married.
He had a habit of doing unexpected things, and this was the reason Vincent Newport said, "Does anybody know what he will do?" in answer to Harry Morby's question.
Alan Chesney came into the billiard room.
"Did you beat him, Harry?" he asked.
"Just pipped him on the post," was the answer.
"I'm just going to have a look at the horses; will you come?" he said.
"Only too pleased," said Vincent, and Harry acquiesced eagerly.
"Think we'll drive; horses are more enjoyable than motors—that's if you haven't to go any distance."
A pair of beautiful bays were brought round, the shooting wagon was spic and span, almost new, the groom smart and dapper, everything in perfect style.
Alan handled the reins and they drove along the well-kept road in the direction of Trent Stud.
Their way skirted past "The Forest" and as they passed the gates Evelyn Berkeley came out in her motor. Alan pulled up, she stopped the car, and greetings were exchanged.
"We're going to see the horses. Will you come?" asked Alan.
She thanked him, said she had an appointment in Nottingham, and from there had to go to Newark.
"You'll be in town for the Derby, I suppose?" said Alan.
"Yes. Are you running anything at the meeting?"
"Three or four. Might pick up a race or two."
"You'll not forget to put me on," she said, smiling.
"Oh no, I'll not forget. I'll call and see you and give you all particulars; shall you have a house full?" said Alan.
"Half a dozen single friends and two married couples; you can stay with me if you like, it will be quite proper," she said, laughing.
Alan did not give a direct answer; he merely repeated that he would call.
"By Jove, she is handsome!" said Harry enthusiastically.
"Not a doubt about that," said Alan placidly, as he touched the horses with the whip and they went along at a fast pace.
Trent Park was a wonderful place; the house was modern, the new mansion having been built by William Chesney, but the park was full of ancient trees and there were some old buildings. A venerable keep, surrounded by a moat full of water and only reached by a boat, there being no bridge, was not far from the stud buildings.
It was a picturesque spot and many visitors came to see it. History attached to it, romance threw a halo round, there were many stories associated with it, some true, others doubtful, the more doubtful the more interesting. Murder had been committed within its walls in the time of the first Edward; and even down to the Georges; it possessed an unenviable reputation for dark deeds and mysterious crimes.
It was used as a prison in the Tudor times and tradition said many a man had been done to death there without just cause.
Men employed at Trent Park in various capacities reported having seen weird sights: shadowy, wailing figures, mostly women, flitting about, even rising out of the moat where, it was said, bodies had been found, or, to be more correct, skeletons.
The villagers of Little Trent shunned it after nightfall; youngsters were frightened into obedience by threats to bring the moat ghosts after them.
It was a round keep, built of massive stone, the walls ivy-covered, the base green with moss, damp and age.
A massive oak door studded with large-headed nails creaked on its rusty hinges when opened, which was seldom.
A visitor from New York received permission to examine the keep, tower, and moat in search of historical data and facts. He stayed at the Sherwood Inn at Little Trent. One evening he returned from his explorations with a white, frightened face; when questioned he shivered but gave no answers. He hurriedly took his departure and, from stray bits of paper in the fire-grate in his room, it was surmised he had burnt his copious notes about the keep, no doubt being terrified by some ghostly warning to destroy them.
The ruins of a monastery stood at the other end of the Park. A stately pile of crumbling mortar, and stones shifting from places they occupied for centuries. The outer walls stood and inside the square was a keeper's cottage hidden in a warm snug corner, concealed from prying eyes, unnoticeable until the ruin was entered.
A curious place to build a cottage, and nobody seemed to know who put it up or for what purpose the place was selected. It was there when William Chesney bought the estate and it was a long time before he knew of its existence.
Tom Thrush, head gamekeeper at Trent Park, occupied it, living there with his daughter Jane, a pretty girl of twenty, a lonely place for her; yet she liked it and loved to wander in the woods and roam about in the great forest bordering on the Park.
Tom Thrush, for many years, was employed at Chesney's Brewery; it was at his own request he was sent to Trent Park and installed as second keeper and then raised to head keeper in the course of a few years. He was a strange man, lonely, taciturn, passionately fond of his daughter, and spent the bulk of his time in the forest, where he studied wood-craft and the habits of all wild birds and animals. There was something almost uncanny in the way he made friends with the wild things of the woods and forests; no living bird or animal seemed to fear him, and he taught Jane much wild lore and how to make friends with the denizens of the woods.
The preserving of game was strictly carried out at Trent Park and thousands of birds were killed every season; in this Tom Thrush was most successful, a prince among keepers.
The Park abounded with massive oaks, and no doubt at one time had been part of Sherwood Forest, and these were ancient trees that had been spared when others fell. Centuries old some of them, with vast trunks and huge gnarled, twisted branches which seemed to have suffered from terrible convulsions of nature, been put on the wrack, as it were, and come forth mutilated in a hundred deformities.
There were deer in the Park, and white cattle, almost wild, sometimes dangerous, they were confined in a strong ring fence.
One part of the Park was laid out in paddocks for the blood stock, and here the young thoroughbreds from the Trent Stud galloped about and played their games until it was time for them to be broken in and sent to the trainer.
Well-kept roads ran in various directions through the Park, there was plenty of water, a minor river running through on its way to join the Trent. It was indeed a glorious place and Alan Chesney might well be counted a lucky man to own it.
His two friends had gone, after staying a week, and it was arranged they should meet at Epsom for the Derby.
It was seldom Alan Chesney was alone in the big house; many times he wished it smaller, not so roomy, more cosy, in keeping with his bachelor habits. There were parts of it he had only been in once or twice. The long picture gallery he shunned, although some exquisite modern paintings hung there.
When he came into possession he had some of the smaller and brighter pictures removed into the living rooms and the spaces were still left vacant. The windows in this gallery overlooked the Park, in the distance the keep could be seen, and farther away a corner of the monastery. There were large reception-rooms, and bedrooms the size of the ground floor of a small house. The dining-room was oak panelled, the ceiling oak, and it was furnished with massive chairs and a huge table. There was a great sideboard, carved by Gibbons, which cost an enormous sum, carvings adorned the wood mantelpiece over the open fireplace. It was a room in which fifty guests might sit down with ease.
Alan had his favorite rooms, the smallest in the house; his study was a model of comfort, and there was another room opening from it which contained all his sporting paraphernalia. There were guns of various makes, over a dozen; Harry Morby had tested some of them and expressed the opinion that a bad shot might kill birds with such weapons.
A case of fishing-rods occupied one side of the room. Half a dozen saddles, some racing jackets, bridles, dog collars, boxing gloves, foils, whips, boots, spurs, miscellaneous tools handy for sporting purposes.
Pictures of racing and hunting scenes hung on the walls; there was a life-like painting of Fred Archer, the beautiful eyes being perfect, also another of Tom Cannon, Mornington Cannon, George Fordham, portraits of Maher, Frank Wotton and several well-known gentleman riders who were friends of Alan's.
This was the room where guests were wont to congregate and talk over the day's shooting, or discuss the merits of horses and jockeys.
Alan had breakfast, and came into this room to read the papers before going for his customary ride; he was always ready and fit to accept a mount in a welter race, or ride over the sticks in the hurdle and chasing season.
He looked carelessly at half a dozen papers but his attention wandered, he could not concentrate his thoughts on anything he saw, he read bits here and there but they were not fixed in his mind. He tossed the papers in a heap on the table, filled his pipe and smoked dreamily.
There were a dozen servants in the house but he was the only occupant of the owner's quarters. He did not feel exactly lonely, but he liked somebody to talk with, and having been a few days by himself he wished for company.
Evelyn Berkeley was at The Forest and he thought he would ride over and see her; she was always good company and he liked her, but she was dangerously charming and he acknowledged he felt the influence when in her presence.
Why not marry her? He was sure she would accept him if he proposed, and there was no woman more fitted to be the mistress of Trent Park.
More than once he had been on the verge of putting the question to her but something prevented him and he was rather glad he had escaped.
Over and over again he had asked himself if he loved her and found no satisfactory answer.
He knew many of his male friends accepted it as a foregone conclusion he would marry Evelyn Berkeley, and he smiled as he thought how they discussed him and his matrimonial prospects.
It pleased him to think she preferred his society to that of other men, it flattered him when he recalled she might have been a countess had she wished. He asked her why she did not accept the titled suitor and she replied that titles had no attraction for her, that her mind was made up; there was somebody she liked very much, he might ask her to be his wife some day and she would wait.
He rode several miles at a fast pace in the Park before turning his horse's head in the direction of The Forest.
As he was passing the monastery ruins he saw Jane Thrush. She looked very sweet and winsome in her plain brown frock which matched the color of her hair; she had no hat, and its luxurious growth added to her rather refined rustic beauty.
Alan was always courteous to women, and Jane was one of his favorites; so was her father, he had a sincere regard for the sturdy, silent gamekeeper.
"Beautiful morning, Jane," he said. "You love to be out in the sun?"
She smiled at him. How handsome he looked on his horse, and how well he sat the animal!
"I am going to Little Trent to buy a few things for the house. I generally go through the wood," she said.
"You and your father live quiet lives here. Wouldn't you like to be in the village?" he asked.
"Oh no. I love the old ruin, and the cottage is so sweet I couldn't bear to leave it, and I'm sure Father would sooner be here than anywhere," said Jane eagerly.
Alan laughed as he replied:
"Don't be alarmed, you shall live in the cottage as long as you like. Do you ever feel afraid when you are alone at night?"
"No; why should I? No one ever comes here, and there's Jack always on guard."
"Wonderful dog, Jack," said Alan smiling.
"He is. It's three years since you gave him to me. He is my constant companion."
"He's a well-bred dog anyway; these black retrievers are hard to beat."
"If anything happened to him I don't know what I'd do," she said.
"I do," he answered. "I'd give you another in his place."
"That wouldn't be the same at all," she said.
"You prefer old friends?"
"Then I hope Jack will live a long time to be your faithful companion," said Alan.
"HE'S A SPY"
Evelyn Berkeley was at home, instructions were given that Mr. Chesney was to be admitted when he called. She greeted him cordially; he saw she was pleased to see him.
"You bring the fresh air in with you. I suppose you have been riding in the Park?" she said, as she gave him her hand and a bright smile.
"It's the best part of the day for riding. I wonder you do not go out more on horseback, you are a good rider."
"You really think so?"
"I have no one to ride with."
"There's me, won't I do?" he asked laughing.
"Oh yes, you'll do very well indeed, but I have to be careful; I'm a lone woman and people talk."
"Let 'em," said Alan.
"That's all very well from your standpoint; you're a man, that makes all the difference."
"Not in these days. Women are taking a hand in most things, giving the men a lead. They are independent; probably they are right."
"Yes, I think they are, but still there are some things they cannot do; women are more likely to be talked about than men, it matters more to them."
"Why should it?"
"Because women are women, I can't give you a better answer," she said laughing.
"I met Jane Thrush as I came past the monastery," he said. "Pretty girl, is she not? She seems to like her lonely life at the cottage, at least she says so."
"A very pretty girl, and a good girl," was her reply.
"Do you see her sometimes?" he asked.
"Yes, very often; she comes here when she likes, Hannah is fond of her."
"You're lucky to have Hannah Moss."
"I am; she's a treasure."
"Been at The Forest for years, hasn't she?"
"She nursed me, that's a long time ago."
He laughed as he said:
"Not so very long ago, Eve; we were playmates, I am not very ancient."
"Well, it seems a long time since I was a girl and you a boy."
"We were good pals."
"And we are now?" he questioned.
"Pals? Does that fit the case?" she asked.
"I hope so; I trust it always will."
She hoped not, she wanted a deeper feeling to develop.
Alan looked well, such a fine healthy man, strong, athletic, and she loved him; he little knew the strength of her feelings for him, how she longed to be his, to be conquered by him, to feel his strength pitted against her woman weakness. She kept herself in check, there was very little outward show of her love for him, although sometimes it would not be banished from her eyes, and they were beautiful eyes, eloquent, expressive, and this morning as she looked at him the love-light shone there, and he felt its power.
She was a beautiful woman, he would not have been the man he was had he not felt her charm. She was a woman well developed in mind and body, her taste in dress was exquisite, she knew what suited her and declined to be fashioned by her dressmaker. She stood facing him, close to him, and his senses were intoxicated by her fragrance. The scent she used was delicate, the perfume exquisite, it was peculiar to her; a very dangerous woman when she cared to exercise her powers.
"By Jove, Eve, you do look splendid!" he exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm.
She flushed slightly. It was a tribute to her charm and she accepted it; there could be no doubt about his sincerity.
"Do I look better than usual?" she asked.
"You always look well, but this morning you excel yourself, you are grand! I mean it. What a prize for some lucky man to win!"
"The lucky man has not come along yet apparently; I am near thirty," she said.
"At the height of your charms; you'll meet the right man one day and he'll be carried off his feet and surrender at once, he'll have no option."
"Can't he see, oh, can't he see he is the right man! I'd fling myself into his arms if he asked me," she thought with longing.
"He will have to hurry up," she answered smiling.
He remained an hour or so and then left.
"Be sure and come to my house in town in Derby week," she said.
"I'll be there. You asked me to stay."
"I dare not," he said with a laugh, as he mounted his horse and rode away. She stood on the steps watching; at the gate he turned and raised his hat, she waved her hand, and with a sigh, went into the house.
Hannah Moss, at one of the upstairs windows, saw him ride away.
"Drat the man," she murmured, "why doesn't he marry her; they're made for each other."
Eve went for a walk after lunch and her way took her to the village of Little Trent. She was popular with the villagers, the lady bountiful of the district, and gave with a liberal hand.
Abel Head stood outside the Sherwood Inn as she came along, he touched his cap, she stopped.
"We're having glorious weather," she said. "I suppose you are going to the Derby?"
"Never miss if I can help," he replied. "What's going to win, Miss Berkeley?"
"Merry Monarch," she answered promptly.
"No!" exclaimed Abel. "Who told you?"
"That's a secret," she said laughing.
"He's at a good price."
"A hundred to eight."
"I'll risk a trifle on him," said Abel.
"Don't back him because I've told you," she said; "he may lose."
"He belongs to Baron Childs; he's a straight 'un."
"He's as straight as they make them," said Eve. "How's Richard? Have you heard from him?"
"Not lately, thank you for asking. I wish he'd not joined the army; he'd have done better to stay here and help me," said Abel.
"Why did he join?" she asked.
"Got restless, I suppose and——" he hesitated.
"And what else?"
"He was very fond of Jane Thrush," said Abel.
"And Jane did not give him much encouragement?"
"That's about the strength of it," said Abel.
"Jane is devoted to her father," said Eve.
"No doubt about that, but she'll wed someday, and Dick's not a bad sort," said Abel.
"He'll make a good soldier, Abel."
"Perhaps he will; he'll be a fighter, and it looks to me as though there'll be a burst up before long."
"You think so?"
"Certain sure I do; there'll be no peace anywhere until the Germans are licked."
"I understood we were better friends than ever with Germany," she replied.
"Some folks will tell you that, but don't you believe them, Miss Berkeley. They're a nasty spying lot, I'd trust none of 'em," said Abel.
"I hope you are wrong, war is a terrible thing," she said.
"So it is in a way, but we've been asleep too long, it won't do us any harm to be roused up," said Abel. "There's a man staying at my place I have my doubts about," he said mysteriously.
"What sort of doubts?" she asked.
"He goes by the name of Carl Meason, but he's a German, I'm sure of it, and he's a spy," said Abel.
She looked surprised as she said:
"What would a German spy find to do in Little Trent?"
"That's more than I can tell; probably he's spying out the land."
"What sort of a man is he?" she asked.
"Not a bad-looking chap, talks well, but there's something suspicious about him.
"Does he speak with a foreign accent?"
"No; speaks English as well as I do," said Abel.
Eve smiled: Abel's English was at times a trifle weird.
"Then I'm sure he's not a German if he speaks as well as you, Abel," she said.
"Now you're chaffing me," he replied.
"Not at all; I am sure you speak very well."
"If he's not a German he's a spy of some sort I'm certain. He's always looking at maps, drawing plans, making notes and figuring up things. It's my belief he's hit on Little Trent by chance and came to my place because it's quiet and out of the way. There's something wrong with him; if he's not German he's in the pay of somebody connected with 'em. I'd bet my last bob he's a spy of some sort, and I'll keep my eye on him," said Abel.
When Abel went into the Inn he found a map spread on the table in the room occupied by Carl Meason. He glanced at it and saw small pins stuck in various places where lines were printed. Putting on his glasses he saw these were road lines and noticed most of them in which the pins were sticking ran from the coast inland; he had no time for further observation, as Meason entered the room.
"Rather a good map, is it not?" asked the man.
"Should think so; I don't know much about maps," said Abel. "What's all these pins for?"
"I am a surveyor. I am going through some of the roads on this map; I shall have to inspect them shortly. I came here to do my work quietly. I daresay you wondered what I was at Little Trent for?" said Carl.
"I have been wondering," said Abel. "So you're a surveyor?"
"Yes; I'm considered clever at the work."
"You're a Government surveyor?" asked Abel.
"I notice most of the roads you have marked run from the coast inland."
"That's my division; I am doing this for army purposes."
"Oh!" exclaimed Abel. "For our Government?"
Carl Meason looked at him quickly; Abel's face made him smile, he did not look extra sharp.
"I'm not likely to survey roads for army purposes for any other Government," he said.
"No, I suppose not. It must be interesting work."
"It is, very; the more you get into this business, the better you like it," said Carl.
Abel left him bending over the map. When Carl heard the door closed he looked up, a scowl on his face. "Curse the old fool," he muttered. "Wonder why he asked me if it was our Government I was working for?"
He rolled up the map carefully, ticking the place where he had left the pins in red ink.
THE AUSTRALIAN GIRL
Derby week, London hummed and bustled with excitement. Sport was in the air, racing; everybody talking about the great event. There were thousands of visitors in the city; it was easy to pick out the strangers.
Evelyn Berkeley's house overlooked Regent's Park. It was some way out of town, but she found this recompensed by the view, and it was easy to get about in her motor. Alan Chesney called when he arrived in London, before her visitors came.
Conversation turned on the Derby and the Epsom meeting generally.
"Merry Monarch is my tip," she said. "I had it from the Baron; he fancies his horse tremendously."
"It would be a popular win," answered Alan.
"Have you heard anything?"
"The tip at the club last night was Gold Star," he said.
"A very hot favorite. I fancy he'll be even money on Wednesday. Have you known Baron Childs long?"
"Some months; I was introduced to him at Goodwood last year, in fact he was one of the house party at Colonel Buxton's."
"Very rich man, is he not?" asked Alan.
"A millionaire I believe; he is very unassuming, I like him," she said.
Alan smiled as he said:
"He is a bachelor, the head of a great banking firm, I wonder he does not marry."
"He has a wide choice, many lovely women would be glad of a chance to accept him."
Alan wondered if the Baron had given a thought to Evelyn Berkeley; it was highly probable.
"The all-scarlet jacket has won many big races but not a Derby; perhaps it's his turn this year," said Alan.
"I hope so, I have backed Merry Monarch," she said.
"I called to give you some information about my horses. I am likely to win three races, so my trainer says, and he is not an over-confident man."
"Lucky fellow, three races in Derby week; your colors will be worth following."
"On the opening day Robin Hood should win the Epsom Plate," said Alan.
"That will be a good beginning. We shall all have our pockets filled for Derby Day," laughed Evelyn.
"He's a pretty good horse, make a note of him."
"I shan't forget, no need to write down the names of your horses," she replied.
"The Duke has a big chance in the Royal Stakes; I have a first-class two-year-old running in the Acorn Stakes. It will be her first appearance; she's a splendid creature, a real beauty," said Alan.
"That's Robin Hood, The Duke, and what's this wonderful two-year-old's name?"
"Evelyn," he replied.
Of course she knew it was named after her and she was gratified.
"Oh, Alan!" she exclaimed, "that's splendid of you."
"If she were not a real flyer, with every prospect of winning at the first time of asking, I'd not have named her Evelyn. I waited until Skane pronounced her one of the best before risking it," he said.
"And you think she'll win?" asked Evelyn.
"I shall be very disappointed if she fails. With such a name she can't fail," he said, smiling.
Alan stood near the window; he saw a lady coming up the walk.
"A visitor," he said. "I'll be off."
"It is Ella Hallam; I don't think you have met her. She's an Australian girl, I went to school with her. She returned to Sydney when she finished her education, and only came to London a month ago. We have corresponded regularly. I like her very much; perhaps you may have heard me speak of her."
"I don't think I have," he said.
"Please don't go, I want to introduce you. She is coming to stay with me at The Forest when the Epsom meeting is over; her father races in Australia, I believe he once won the Melbourne Cup," she said.
Ella Hallam came into the room. When she saw Alan she said:
"I did not know you had a visitor. I ought to have asked. It is rude of me."
"Alan Chesney is an old friend," said Eve. "Allow me to introduce you."
They shook hands, their eyes met, and Ella Hallam felt something in her life was changed from that moment; as for Alan, he seemed quite unconscious he had created any interest out of the common.
"Yes, I come from Sydney," replied Ella, in answer to his question about Australia.
"And your father owns racers?" he asked.
"Yes; racing is his chief amusement. He's always saying it is a very expensive hobby, and exhorts me to economize in order that he may keep things going," she replied, laughing. "He is coming to England. I expect him in about a month. He may bring one or two horses, he was thinking of doing so I know. He has a very high opinion of our thoroughbreds, thinks they are equal to your best."
Alan laughed as he replied:
"I have seen some of your horses run here. They are good, but equal to our best, no; at least I do not think so. I have two I'd like to match against any colonial-bred horse."
"Perhaps my father will give you a chance if he brings Rainstorm," she said.
"Is he a good horse?"
"Rather, he won the Melbourne Cup," she replied.
"Then I shall be taking something on if I tackle him?" he said.
"You will—and you'll be beaten," she answered confidently.
He shook his head.
"I do not think so," he replied.
"Mr. Chesney hopes to win three races at Epsom this week," said Eve. She spoke sharply, she thought they were having the conversation to themselves. It was evident they would soon be on a very friendly footing if sufficient opportunity offered.
"I'd love to see your horses win—and back them," said Ella, still speaking to Alan.
Eve looked at Alan, something in her expression warned him she was not in the best of tempers—why?
He spoke to her, answering Ella's remark.
"I am glad your friend will be pleased to see my horses victorious," he said.
"It would be strange if she were not, especially as she says she will back them—eh, Ella?" said Eve.
"And you? You will back them?" she asked.
"Of course; he has just given me the tips, that is what he called about," said Eve.
"And also to see you," thought Ella.
"What do you think of Mr. Chesney?" asked Eve when Alan left.
"He's a very good-looking man and I should think extremely agreeable and excellent company. Is he an old friend?" said Ella.
"We have known each other since we were children."
"My goodness, how jolly! And I suppose you are quite chums still," exclaimed Ella.
Eve laughed as she replied:
"We are staunch friends. His estate joins my little place where you are coming to stay with me," said Eve.
"I shall have opportunities of meeting him," thought Ella. "You must see him often?" she said aloud.
"Oh, yes; sometimes two or three times a week. He calls when he likes and I am always at home to him."
"It must be ripping to have a man friend like that; no silly sentiment, no love business about it; but he would be blind if he did not admire you, Eve," she said.
Eve laughed. She wondered what Ella would think if she knew how she loved Alan, loved him desperately.
"I don't think love has ever entered into his calculations in connection with me," she said.
"But he must admire you, he couldn't help it," said Ella heartily.
"I daresay he does. He has an eye for beauty in women and horses."
"Couples them together, does he," said Ella; "and probably prefers the four-legged creatures."
"He looked you over pretty well," said Eve.
She blushed slightly as she replied:
"I didn't notice it. Do you think he was satisfied with the scrutiny?"
"It's hard to tell when he's pleased, he takes everything as it comes, but I think he has decided in your favor."
"Do you? That's rather good of him, most condescending," said Ella.
Next day they went to Epsom. There was a party of ten, a merry lot; there was no mistaking they were on pleasure bent and on good terms with themselves.
Eve had a box. She always did things well, and took care when she went racing she was comfortable and had plenty of elbow-room. Alan came into the box after the first race; he was cordially greeted.
"I expect Miss Berkeley has told you Robin Hood is likely to win the Epsom Plate," he said.
"Yes, we've got the straight tip," said one of the party.
"I can confirm it, you can put a bit extra on him, it's a real good thing," he said with a laugh.
He stood close to Ella, his arm touched hers, she felt a thrill; turning to him she said:
"What a strange place Epsom is! Such a crowd, and there's no comfort; we're all right here, thanks to Eve, but over there it's horrible," and she pointed to the hill.
"There will be twice as many people to-morrow," he said. "Perhaps three or four times as many; Derby Day is one of the sights of the world, it is never equalled anywhere."
"We can beat you at Flemington," she replied, "and Randwick. Not so many people, but as for comfort, well, you simply don't know what it is here. Where's the paddock?" she asked, looking round.
"Over there," said Alan, pointing in that direction. "Would you like to go? There's more room to-day, it will be crowded to-morrow. It's rather a good paddock, when you get to it, picturesque."
"I should like to see it very much."
"Then I'll take you there," he said, and turning to Eve asked:
"Are you going to the paddock?"
"It's hardly worth while. We'll go to-morrow and see the Derby horses," she said.
"Miss Hallam wishes to see it. I'll just take her and bring her back safely; we shan't be long. Come along," he said to Ella.
"You don't mind?" said Ella to Eve as they passed.
"Not at all; why should I?" was the sharp reply, and from her tone Ella gathered she did mind, and felt mischievous.
"I'll take good care of her," said Alan.
"No doubt," said Eve quietly.
"What a trouble it is to get there!" said Ella as Alan led her through the crowd.
"Yes, a bit bumpy, but they're a good-natured lot, although a trifle rough."
There were not many people in the paddock. Alan pointed out The Duddans and other points of interest.
"Come and see Robin Hood and tell me what you think of him," he said.
"Where is he?"
"Surrounded by his merry men," she said, laughing, as she saw a dozen or more people looking at the horse.
ROBIN HOOD'S SPEED
Among the group looking at Robin Hood was Harry Morby. Alan introduced him to Ella, he thought her very attractive.
"He's a beauty," said Ella, as she patted the horse's neck.
"And he'll win the Plate," said the trainer.
"Your team looks like playing a strong part this week," said Harry.
"I hope so," replied Alan, who took the trainer on one side.
"So you're an Australian?" said Harry.
"Yes, I hail from Sydney. I was educated here, at the same school as Miss Berkeley. She has invited me to stay with her at The Forest."
"That's jolly for you, she's one of the right sort, everybody likes her."
"Including Mr. Chesney?"
Harry laughed as he replied:
"We, that is Alan's male friends, think it will be a match in time. They are great friends and much together."
"It is not to be wondered at, she is a beautiful woman," said Ella.
"Very; it is strange she has not married."
"Perhaps she is waiting until Mr. Chesney asks her."
"Pity he can't make up his mind," said Harry, smiling.
"You think he'll win, Fred?" said Alan to his trainer.
"Haven't much doubt about it; here's Tommy, ask him," was the reply.
Tommy Colley was Alan's jockey. He came up wearing the brown jacket, with blue sleeves and cap—the Chesney colors. He was one of the old school, rode with longer stirrups than the modern jockeys, although he had in a measure conformed to the crouching seat. Alan's friends wondered why he stuck to Tommy, some of them considered he was getting past it, but Alan had a knack of keeping to old hands who had done him good service. In business this caused many a split with the manager, Duncan Fraser.
"Like his chance, Tommy?" asked Alan, looking at Robin.
"Very much. I rode him in his gallop, he ought to win; and that filly of yours is a hummer," said the jockey enthusiastically.
"And The Duke?"
"Good, but Evelyn and Robin Hood are better."
"Is this your jockey?" asked Ella.
"Yes; Tommy, this is Miss Hallam, an Australian, a friend of Miss Berkeley's."
"They bring some good horses from Australia," said Tommy.
"And probably my father will have two or three of the best when he arrives," she said.
There was little time to spare and they returned to the stand, Harry Morby with them.
Having seen Ella to the box Alan went with Harry to the ring. The second race was over and the numbers had been called out for the Epsom Plate; the bookmakers were already shouting the odds.
"Craker's horse is a hot pot," said Harry, "there'll be danger in that quarter. When Peet puts his money down he generally has good reason for it."
Peet Craker was a big bookmaker, owner of horses, a heavy bettor on his own animals; he had an enormous business on the course and off.
The horse in question was Bittern, a champion over seven furlongs, he could not quite stay the mile, and he was conceding ten pounds to Robin Hood.
Alan knew Craker well, the bookmaker often did business with him and for him. Sometimes he went to Trent Park. He was a man of good education, there was no coarseness about him.
"Your horse is favorite, Peet," said Alan.
"He has a big chance if he can beat yours," was the reply.
"Ten pounds is a lot to give Robin Hood over seven furlongs," said Alan.
"My fellow's very well."
"So is mine."
"I'll save a monkey with you," said the bookmaker.
"All right, I'm agreeable," was Alan's reply.
Peet Craker looked at him as he walked away.
"Wonder if Robin Hood is as good as Skane thinks," he muttered. "If he beats Bittern he's a good 'un. I'll stand mine, but I'm glad we're saving a monkey."
Alan put money on freely when he fancied his horses, but he seldom bet on other people's. He backed Robin Hood to win a large sum. Having finished his business in the ring he returned to Evelyn's box with Harry Morby.
The horses got away as they entered; a black jacket, white sash and cap, in front.
"Peet's luck's in, that's Bittern," said Alan; "a good start makes all the difference over this distance."
The field came down the slope at a great pace. There were fifteen horses; in the center was Robin Hood, he seemed to be hemmed in.
Tommy was savage. Not only had Robin Hood been kicked at the post, but also badly bumped and knocked out of his stride when they were going. He used forcible language to the offending jockey, who retaliated in kind.
Bittern liked to make the running, and his rider, Will Gunner, knew his mount well. He had not the slightest doubt about winning; everything was in the horse's favor. Peet Craker looked through his glasses, saw his colors a couple of lengths in front, and lowered them, quite satisfied.
At the foot of the slope Bittern still led, followed by Lantern, Topsy, and Retreat; Robin Hood seemed out of it.
"Rotten luck, Alan," said Harry. "He was knocked about at the start."
"Was he? I didn't see it," he replied.
"He's coming now!" said Ella excitedly.
"So he is!" said Eve. "He has a chance yet."
Alan smiled as he said:
"It's remote. He's a greater horse than I think if he can win."
Tommy Colley's hopes revived. Robin Hood was going great guns, his speed was tremendous. In a second or two he ran into third place, then going on he came behind Bittern, and Will Gunner scented danger. The two jockeys were old rivals, and great friends. Gunner's style was the crouch seat for all it was worth; he often chaffed Tommy about his long legs. The different attitudes of the two were apparent as they joined issue at the distance.
Robin Hood never flinched under the whip, and sometimes required a reminder that a little extra exertion was required. Tommy gave him a couple of sharp cuts, and the brown and blue drew level with the black and white.
Both jockeys were hard at it. Bittern was game, but the ten pounds he was giving away began to tell.
In Evelyn's box there was much excitement, the finish being watched with breathless interest. Neck and neck the pair raced, and the struggle was continued up to the winning-post. Nobody knew which won until Robin Hood's number went up.
There followed congratulations all round. The party had won, there was much jubilation.
In the evening Alan came round to Regent's House and found bridge in full swing; he cared little for cards. Evelyn, who was playing, greeted him with a smile; so did Ella, who sat at the same table as her hostess.
Later on there was music. Ella had a fine voice, she sang well, there was evidence of careful training. Evelyn played as few amateurs play, and as an accompanist she was hard to equal.
"Thanks so much," said Ella. "You play splendidly."
"And your singing is lovely," answered Eve.
Ella received the compliments modestly. She knew she sang well and there was no hesitation when asked. She found herself talking to Alan; Evelyn was distributing her conversation among her guests. She knew how to play the hostess, and it was easy to see how popular she was; the men gathered round paying court to her. She saw Alan and his companion at the head of the card-room and frowned slightly. Harry Morby saw the direction of her glance, noted the expression of her face, and thought:
"Alan's making a mess of it. Can't he see she loves him? He must be blind if he can't. She'll be taking on somebody else just to show him she doesn't care, but she does very much indeed."
It was not a late night. Evelyn said they must be fresh for Derby Day.
Ella bade Evelyn good-night as she was about to enter her room.
"I hope you have enjoyed your day," said Eve.
"Very much indeed. How well you do everything!" answered Ella.
"Glad you think so. Do you know, Ella, I fancy you've made a conquest!"
"I haven't had much time," was the laughing reply, "but I don't mind telling you I'm out for conquest if I come across the right man. I have Dad's permission; he thinks I shall be left on his hands, and I don't wish to be a burden to the poor dear."
She spoke lightly, but Eve thought she meant more than she intended to convey.
"Mr. Chesney admires you I am sure," she said.
"You're quite wrong, my dear; he has eyes for nobody but you. I noticed it when he was talking to me to-night," said Ella.
As Evelyn had seen Alan much interested in Ella's conversation, and never had a glance from him, she had her doubts about this.
"Don't talk nonsense," she answered. "You know very well you occupied the whole of his attention, and one can't blame him; you are really very charming, and looked quite winning to-night."
Eve went along the corridor and Ella entered her room. She sat in an easy-chair thinking over the events of the day. The scene at Epsom, the racing, the excitement of winning did not occupy her; Alan Chesney predominated to the exclusion of all else. From the first he had roused her interest, if not something deeper. She found it easy to tread love's way where he was concerned; she would race along it in her gladness of heart hoping to win the prize in the end. He had already, in so short a time, shown her many little attentions. It was his way with women, but she accepted it exclusively for herself. That evening he had been interested in what she said; she had been frank and candid, telling him freely about herself and it had not bored him. She was in doubt as to how he felt toward Eve. He did not show any special feeling toward her, of that she was sure, yet some men conceal their thoughts admirably. When she came to consider Eve it was different; they were friends, comrades of many years' standing; she was Eve's guest, had been invited to The Forest to spend some weeks. It would never do to come between Eve and Alan Chesney if—if there was anything between them. She hoped there was nothing, but was not sure. She tried to persuade herself Chesney was nothing more to Eve than a good friend, but in this she failed. She was almost sure Eve loved him, and if so she must not attempt to rival her. She smiled, a little sadly, as she thought it would be a difficult matter for any woman to rival Eve in the affections of a man; also she had a conscience, and it was apt to be particular on questions of principle.
It was Derby Day to-morrow, there was no reason why she should not look at her best, so, like a sensible woman, she went to rest.
A FLYING FILLY
A great crowd at Epsom, a Derby Day crowd bent on enjoyment and backing winners. Ella gazed at the wonderful scene in astonishment; it was different from anything she had seen.
It was not a new sight to Eve, and she smiled at her friend's amazement.
"I never expected anything like this," said Ella.
"Is it equal to a Melbourne Cup crowd?" asked Eve.
"More people, of course; but it is quite different."
"In what way?"
"I hardly know, everything is different, the course, the people, the stands, the ring, that seething mass down there," and she pointed to Tattersalls.
"Wait till you see the favorite's number go up, then there'll be something to look at," said Alan.
"Is Merry Monarch favorite?" she asked.
"No, Gold Star and he'll about win."
"Don't you believe him," said Eve, "he's deceiving you; my tip will win, Merry Monarch, I had it straight from the Baron."
"Who's the Baron?" asked Ella.
"A great admirer of Eve's," said Alan.
"Is that true?" asked Ella.
"Mr. Chesney states it as a fact; I am not aware of it," was the reply.
They went into the paddock and inspected some of the horses, but the crush was so great they were glad to return to the box.
Half an hour before the great race there was a scene of unparalleled excitement, for there had been much wagering for some weeks and several of the runners were heavily backed. Orbit came with a rush in the market and touched four to one; Merry Monarch was at eights, a good price, for the Baron was a popular idol with the public.
Nothing, however, shook the position of Gold Star, who was firm as a rock, and Alan accepted five to four about him in thousands; somehow, he was not inclined to save on Merry Monarch, was it because the Baron had given Eve the tip?
The parade was interesting; the new colors of the sixteen riders flashed in the sun, the horses' coats shone like satin.
Gunner was on the favorite. Tommy Colley rode Orbit, Ben Bradley Merry Monarch. He was a great horseman, quite at the top of the tree. His finishes were superb, he had snatched many a race out of the fire—on the post.
Nothing looked better than the Baron's horse as they went past on the way to the post; the scarlet jacket glided along quickly, heading the others. Gold Star and Orbit were much fancied. Curlew, Halton, and Sniper had friends. Postman was the outsider, a two-hundred-to-one chance; only a few pounds went on him for the sake of the odds.
Thousands of people watched the horses, little dreaming that in another twelve months Epsom Downs would be vacant on Derby Day and wounded soldiers the only occupants of the stand, turned into a hospital. There was, however, a shadow of war over the land, and rumors had been ripe for some time that all was not well. Nobody on this wonderful day, however, anticipated the storm would burst so soon. There had been false alarms before, rumblings of thunder from Europe, but the country was lulled with a sense of security which events completely shattered. Hundreds of men watching the Derby were lying dead on the battlefields before twelve months had passed.
The race commenced, and after a roar of "They're off!" the shouting ceased, there was a peculiar stillness for a few moments, then the hubbub broke out again, gradually increasing as the horses came along.
"What's that in white?" asked Eve.
"Postman, a two-hundred-to-one chance," said Alan.
The outsider was lengths in front, his jockey had been instructed to come right away and do the best he could. It was a forlorn hope, such tactics were more likely to succeed than others because they would not be anticipated.
Gold Star and Merry Monarch were racing together in good positions; so were Orbit and Curlew; while Sniper was at the tail end of the field.
Ella thought it a strange uphill and down course, very different from the flat tracks of Flemington, Caulfield, and Ranwick. She would not have been surprised to see a spill at one of the bends, and when Tattenham Corner was reached she gave a gasp as she saw two or three riders dangerously near the rails. Once in the straight the excitement broke loose, the strange, wonderful excitement a race for the Derby causes and which is like no other vast human emotion anywhere, and for any cause. The Derby thrill has a hold upon people that nothing else has, and is repeated year after year. There are men who have seen many Derbies decided and for thirty years or more in succession have experienced the thrill of the race.
A Derby transplanted from Epsom is a mere ordinary race. It is the famous surroundings cause the fascination, and Epsom Downs shares the fame of Derby Day.
Gold Star picked his way through to the front, and as he took the lead there was a tremendous shout for the favorite. It made Ella start, and Eve said:
"Something worth seeing and hearing, is it not?"
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Ella, her face eager with excitement.
Although Gold Star held such a prominent position his victory was not yet assured, for on the right, in the center of the course, came Merry Monarch, and Orbit, with Postman still struggling gamely. They reached the stands amid terrific din, a pandemonium of sound, and people pressed hard on to the rails, five or six deep, in the vain hope of seeing the tops of the riders' heads, and gleaning some information as to the likely winner from the color of their caps.
As they neared the Judge's box Ben Bradley prepared for his famous rush. He had Merry Monarch well in hand, the horse had not yet felt the pressure, that was to come suddenly, in a second. Gold Star strode up the rise followed by Orbit, and again and again he was proclaimed the winner.
But a race is never won until the winning-post is passed, and much may happen in a few strides. Tommy's vigorous riding gave his mount a chance; but Bradley pushed Merry Monarch on, and inch by inch, yard by yard, he raced up to the favorite, joined issue, and a great finish began.
The tumult was tremendous. Ella was amazed; she had seen the excitement of a Melbourne Cup but it was nothing to this. The crowd swayed in masses, the movement dazzled; it resembled a flickering film before the "movies" were improved upon.
Down the course thousands of people, commencing at Tattenham Corner were running at top speed, anxious to discover what had won. Before they knew, the result was out in Fleet Street and the boys were careering toward the City and the West End spreading the tidings.
Bradley's great rush proved effective. He got every ounce out of his mount and Merry Monarch beat Gold Star by half a length. The usual scene followed as the winner was turned round and came back to the enclosure through a living lane, the Baron proudly leading his horse, raising his hat in answer to the deafening cheers. It was the great moment of his life, as it is to every man who has experienced the sensation of leading in a Derby winner.
Eve was delighted, she had a good win. She chaffed Alan unmercifully; he took it in good part. Ella looked at him sympathetically, she had lost her money.
"I suppose you were on the winner?" said Harry Morby.
"No, I followed Mr. Chesney's advice," said Ella ruefully.
Eve heard her and said:
"It's your own fault; I gave you the tip, the Baron's tip—it was worth following."
Next day The Duke won the Royal Stakes and Evelyn Berkeley's friends had another good win.
Oaks Day turned out most enjoyable. The sun shone brightly, the ladies were in force, the dresses worthy of the occasion.
Alan had paid particular attention to Eve after the Derby, and any little jealousy she might have felt regarding Ella was dispelled.
Harry Morby devoted himself to Ella, and they appeared to get on well together.
The Acorn Stakes brought out ten runners, a beautiful lot of fillies, all trained to the hour; but Evelyn stood out from the rest as the gem of the lot and was a raging hot favorite at even money.
Eve wore the Chesney colors and never looked better; all eyes were on her in the paddock as she moved gracefully about with Alan and her friends. From the box they looked down into the ring and heard the cries of "Even money the field."
"The money is being piled on your namesake," said Harry. "She is splendid; and by Jove, Miss Berkeley, you're more than a match for her! You're positively dazzling! She must win—she can't help it. I saw her eying you in the paddock—wonder what she thought?"
Eve laughed heartily as she said:
"So you think she will win. I hope so. Evelyn's a good name for a winner."
"It is, you are always a winner," said Harry.
"I'm not so sure about that," replied Eve; and he saw her glance rested on Alan.
"He's having a wonderful week," said Harry, following her glance.
"Splendid. Don't you think he deserves his luck?"
"Yes; he's a generous, warm-hearted fellow, but in some things he's blind."
"Indeed? What are they?"
"I will not venture to say; perhaps you can guess," answered Harry, laughing.
Baron Childs entered the box. He soon monopolized Eve; it was evident he admired her.
"Better chance it," said Harry to Alan; "you may lose her."
He laughed as he said:
"I can't compete with the Baron."
When the tapes went up Evelyn jumped off in front, racing down the slope at a great pace.
Fred Skane had said it was the best thing of the meeting and he proved right. It was marvelous how the flying filly galloped; there was no fault in her movements. Tommy sat still, letting her run her own race. It was her first appearance and she showed no signs of nervousness.
She lead from start to finish, winning in a canter by five lengths in very fast time; a great performance, recognized and cheered as such.
"It was good of you, Alan, to call such a flyer Evelyn," said Eve.
A WALK AND A TALK
Carl Meason was active, traveling about the country in his motor, waxing enthusiastic over the scenery, expatiating to Abel Head on the beauties of Nottinghamshire.
"Never been on such roads; they are splendid. You can go the pace, there's plenty of room, not too much traffic. I like to bowl along without endangering lives. I'm a careful driver and avoid danger."
At night he still worked at his maps, the occupation being congenial.
"The reason I'm a good surveyor," he said, "is because I like my work; a man never does well when his occupation is against his inclinations."
Abel listened, making few remarks. He had his opinion about Meason and his motoring tours. Letters seldom came to the Sherwood Inn for Meason, he had but little correspondence, his instructions were explicit, requiring no reminders. He seemed fond of the country life, walked in the parks when he had nothing special on hand. His figure became familiar, but so far he had hardly spoken to anybody.
Once or twice he met Jane Thrush and admired her good looks, but was careful not to offend, and had not spoken to her although he wished to do so. Jane took very little notice of people she did not know, but she could not fail to see that Carl went out of his way to meet her. This amused her. She wondered why he crossed her path. If he spoke to her she would not be offended; in the country greetings were often passed without an introduction.
Meason saw her go into the old ruins and wondered what she did there. Once he waited a long time for her to come out and she did not appear.
Next time he was in that direction he went into the place and was surprised to see a neat, pretty cottage almost hidden away in one corner. He wondered who lived there, probably the girl and her parents. He asked Abel about the place and found the head-keeper and his daughter occupied it.
"Is that the pretty girl I sometimes see in the Park?" he asked.
"No doubt," said Abel: "that's Jane Thrush. She's lived there with her father nearly all her life."
"Queer place for a young girl; it must be lonely," said Carl.
"She doesn't find it so. She'd rather live there than anywhere; and she's quite safe, nobody would dare interfere with her. Tom's a roughish customer; any slight or insult to his daughter would be resented," said Abel, looking at him in a peculiar way.
A few days later Carl met Jane Thrush going toward Little Trent. He bade her good-morning and she replied. Her tone was friendly. He made advances which she did not resent and said, in answer to his question, she had no objection to his walking with her to the village. Carl was delighted; he was never short of conversation, and he was the man to interest such a girl. He spoke with deference, explaining he was staying at the Sherwood Inn and found it lonely. It was quite a treat to have somebody to talk to, Abel Head was not very loquacious.
Jane laughed as she said:
"Abel can talk fast enough sometimes; you ought to hear him and Father, they are never at a loss for something to say."
"I don't think I have met your father," he said.
"He's seldom out in the daytime; his duties are mostly at night. He's Mr. Chesney's game-keeper."
"That's an important position I should think; there seems to be plenty of game in Trent Park."
"There is when you know where to find it. Do you know Mr. Chesney?"
"I have not that pleasure. Of course you know him?"
"Very well; he is a nice man, so friendly. He gave me Jack," said Jane.
"My dog, a big black retriever; he's generally with me but I left him at home to-day; there have been tramps about lately."
"Oh no, they are quite different, but Father can't bear the sight of such men. He says they are useless vagabonds and will steal anything they can lay their hands on."
"I wonder if he thinks I'm one of that sort?" he said.
"He knows you are not. Abel told him you are always very busy making maps, that you are a surveyor."
"So he's talked me over with Abel?"
"Yes; I fancy they both wonder why you picked on Sherwood Inn to work in."
"That's easily explained; because it's quiet, and such a splendid country. I love the country; I came across it quite by accident, I was motoring and stopped there for lunch; it struck me as an ideal place to work in," he said.
"And when you are not at work you like to ramble about the country."
"Yes, it is a pleasant relaxation. There are many charming spots about here I have not seen, there is no one to guide me," he said. "That old ruin where your cottage is must have an interesting history, and the keep with the moat round."
"It is, very interesting. I know a good deal about it. Mr. Chesney lent me a book which gives a very good description of it and what it used to be," said Jane.
"Perhaps you will let me see it?" he said.
"I cannot lend it to you, but I will show it to you if——" she hesitated.
"Will you allow me to call and see it?" he asked.
"I do not know whether my father would like it; I will ask him."
"Do, please; I shall be so much obliged. Perhaps he will show me round when he has a little spare time?"
"Father does not take to everybody, but I think he will like you," said Jane naively.
Carl Meason felt gratified at this remark.
"Why do you think he will like me?" he asked.
"Because you talk well; he likes a chat with a well-informed man."
"You think I am well informed?"
"Yes; you have traveled in many countries; it must be interesting. I have not gone far from here, only Nottingham."
"No farther, never been to London?"
"Would you like to go?"
"Yes, but not to stay there; I do not care for cities."
They were in Little Trent and as they passed the Sherwood Inn Abel Head saw them.
"Well, I'm dashed!" he exclaimed. "I wonder what Tom would say to that. Confound the fellow, he seems to make headway. Wonder how Jane came across him?"
Carl left her shortly after and went into the Inn. He knew Abel had seen them, saw him looking through the window.
"Nice girl, Jane Thrush," said Carl; "a very nice girl, and seems well brought up."
"She is a nice girl," replied Abel; "also well brought up. How came you to know her?"
"Quite casually; said good-morning; she responded. Asked her if I might have the pleasure of walking to the village with her; no harm done, I assure you. What I like about this country is people are so free and easy; it's far better, much pleasanter, don't you think so?" said Carl.
"It all depends. It is as well not to trust strangers. I don't think Tom Thrush would like his daughter to talk to anybody," said Abel.
"Good Lord, why not? Why shouldn't she talk to me?" exclaimed Carl.
"Ask him; perhaps he'll tell you," said Abel.
"I will. She's promised to ask him to show me round when he has a bit of spare time."
"Has she now? Well, I'm blessed! I wonder what he'll say?"
"I'll make it worth his while. I don't suppose he'll be too proud to accept a fiver," said Carl.
To this Abel said nothing. He knew Tom Thrush's failing—love of money. The game-keeper was not miserly, but he dearly loved handling gold, and Abel surmised he had saved a "tidy sum."
As Jane walked home alone, she thought what a pleasant gentleman the stranger was, and how nicely he talked; she never for a moment dreamed there was any harm in speaking to him or allowing him to walk with her to the village. Jane Thrush never knew a mother's care, at least not long enough to influence her life, and her father left her very much to herself. She was accustomed to talk to people she met, tourists, and visitors to Trent Park and the Forest. Intercourse with them broadened her views; she regarded Carl Meason as one of them and he had proved agreeable.
As for Carl Meason, he was eager to meet her again; he had few scruples where such girls as Jane Thrush were concerned, and he felt he had made a favorable impression which he meant to cultivate.
"She's a very pretty lass indeed," he said to himself. "Quite innocent, sees no harm in anything, not even me. I'll beard her father in his cottage; it won't take me long to find out his weaknesses, I'm used to it. I'm glad I spoke to her; she'll help to kill time in this infernal slow hole. I shall be glad when things get a move on. By Jove, if the folks round here ever find out what I am when the business begins in earnest, there'll be ructions. I shall have to clear out quick. There's a lot of risk in what I'm doing but the pay's good and it will be a lot better later on. What fools they are in England! Can't see danger, never suspect anybody."
Jane spoke to her father about meeting Carl Meason. He did not consider it anything out of the way for his daughter to walk to the village with him; he knew she was often asked questions about the neighborhood by strangers; sometimes he showed them round when they made it worth his while; he was always eager to add a few pounds to his store. He had every confidence in Jane; she was self-reliant, not a "silly wench" whose head was likely to be turned by compliments.
"What sort of man is he?" he asked. "Abel don't seem to think much of him anyhow."
"You'll like his company; he talks well, and knows a lot. Abel's not accustomed to a man like this," said Jane.
"It puzzles me what he is doing at a place like Little Trent," said her father.
"He told me he came across the Sherwood Inn when he was motoring and thought it just the place for him to work quietly in," she said.
"A surveyor, Abel says; not much he don't find out," said Tom.
"There's company at The Forest," said Jane. "A beautiful lady, almost a match for Miss Berkeley."
"Never a match for her, there couldn't be; she's the most beautiful woman of her time, and also a good 'un; I often think Mr. Chesney is a fool not to marry her," said Tom.
"Perhaps she'll not have him, Father; he may have asked her," answered Jane.
"I saw him to-day," said Tom.
"Yes; he gave me a present, and there's one for you, Jane. Here it is; he never forgets folks when he has a win," said Tom, handing her a small parcel.
Jane opened it eagerly, then gave a gasp and an exclamation of delighted surprise.
"Isn't it beautiful, Father! How good of him!" And she showed him a small horseshoe brooch set with rubies; it was an exquisite piece of jewelry.
"Must have cost a tidy bit," said Tom, as he handled it tenderly.
Duncan Fraser sat in his private room at the brewery in deep thought; no one interrupted him: he gave orders and they were never disobeyed. A stern-looking man, not given to making many friends, yet there was a kindly heart beneath a severe exterior. The manager of a great concern, he was admirably suited to the position, accustomed to handle and make decisions promptly, no shilly-shallying or "wait and see" about his actions. Very few people were aware he possessed unique opportunities of getting behind the scenes, learning government moves, acquiring knowledge beforehand which was advantageous in his dealings.
Information had recently come to him from a valued and trusted correspondent in Germany, and he was considering how best to use it to the advantage of the firm. The heavy taxes on the brewers hit Chesney's hard, but they were able to stand them better than most firms; still he knew there must be a considerable diminution in dividends, consequently in Alan Chesney's income.
It irritated him when he thought how careless the head of the firm was in money matters. Alan appeared to regard the brewery as a huge concern from which he could drain money as freely as beer ran into the casks. He made up his mind to talk seriously to Alan; he had a high opinion of his judgment and intelligence when he cared to exert those qualities. He expected him to arrive in half an hour and knew what to expect. Alan would rush up in his motor, say he had only a few minutes to spare, then dash off again as he arrived—in a hurry.
The head of the firm was always in a hurry; never seemed to have a minute to spare; the "racing rush" took hold of him. Duncan Fraser smiled grimly as he thought how Alan careered about the country in pursuit of his favorite pastime.
"Here he is," said Duncan, as he heard the powerful motor stop, and thud.
Alan came into the room in a hurry. He was not in the best of humors; why the deuce couldn't Fraser manage without dragging him there? He had carte blanche as to how he should act.
"Suppose you'll not keep me long," said Alan impatiently.
"Longer than usual," was the reply.
"Hang it all, I want to go to the races this afternoon. You must cut it short, please, Fraser."
"This is more important than racing; I have just received some valuable information from Berlin."
Alan became interested.
"Berlin!" he exclaimed. "What's up there?"
"War; it will break out before long."
"Who is your informant?"
Fraser handed him the letter.
"Read that," he said.
Alan did so.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "This looks serious. Can you rely upon it?"
"Yes," said Fraser, with a characteristic snap of his firm lips.
Alan put the letter down and a gloomy look settled on his face.
"War," he said, "and I'll be out of it, confound the thing! I'm sorry I don't hold a commission."
"I am not. You can't be in the army and look after things here," said Fraser.
"You look after them. It's no use trying to convince me I'm necessary to the existence of the firm, because I'm not; I haven't the governor's capacity for business," said Alan.
"I don't know so much about that; you've never been properly tested."
"And have no desire to be," he said.
"I have drawn up some figures; they are formidable. If you agree to my plans, and war breaks out, we shall save hundreds of thousands of pounds. It means a tremendous outlay, but it's worth it; just go into this, I'll be back in half an hour," said Fraser, as he placed some long sheets on the table.
"I'm no hand at figures," said Alan.
"You'll see the force of these in five minutes," said Fraser.
"Then why give me half an hour?"
"Because I want you to thoroughly master them; I can't undertake the responsibility alone."
"Would you undertake it if you owned the brewery?"
"That's enough for me, but I'll go into them to satisfy you."
"And yourself, you'll be more than satisfied," said Fraser as he left the room.
Alan became interested in the figures, which related to the buying of barley, hops, and a variety of brewing necessaries.
"What a grasp of figures he has!" muttered Alan. "Convincing too; I can see it plain enough. Hundreds of thousands saved; he's right—if there's war."
That was the main point—war; and all depended on the information Duncan Fraser had received from his correspondent in Berlin. He was still studying the papers, making pencil notes, when Fraser entered the room. The manager smiled as he saw him.
"You're a wonderful man," said Alan, looking up.
Fraser shook his head.
"You're wrong; there's nothing wonderful about me. I'm a fair business man, I look ahead, and I know my own mind once I see things clearly. How does it work out?" he asked.
"It's splendid, the outlay is enormous, it will be perfectly justified if war breaks out; everything will rise rapidly, and there'll be a tremendous taxation," said Alan.
"What would you advise?" asked Fraser.
"Risk it and buy as you suggest," said Alan.
"There is no risk if you allude to war; it's bound to come. Do you know there are thousands of German spies in this country? There are two or three here in the firm, and they've got to go," said Fraser.
"You'll make a clean sweep of them?" he said.
"Yes, and no delay about it. There's——" and he mentioned the names. "Are you of my opinion?"
"Yes; you must give them some reason, they work well."
"They all do, but it's in their interests—I mean the interests of their country. They worm out secrets, they are utterly unscrupulous, nothing is safe from them," said Fraser.
"Then out with them. I say, Fraser, you get hold of some remarkable information; how do you manage it?" asked Alan.
"I pick my friends; I am careful. What do you think that letter from Berlin is worth?" asked Fraser.
"A good round sum."
"Then he shall have it."
"You think it is worth that?"
"Then we can't be far out in giving it," said Alan.
"You think I am too careful?"
"It would be better if you were," was the answer.
Alan moved impatiently in his chair.
"I don't consider I spend too much."
Duncan Fraser looked at him with a kindly light in his somewhat hard eyes.
"This is a great business," he said slowly, "or it would never stand the strain. Take my advice and cut down expenses; we're in for lean years."
Alan laughed as he replied:
"What an old croaker you are!"
He got up, put on his motor coat and held out his hand.
"I am glad you sent for me," he said. "I shall just have time to get to the course before the first race."
"Would it matter if you missed it?" said Fraser quietly.
"No actual damage would be done if I did miss it. Still, I'd rather be there; I promised to meet some friends."
"Then I conclude you agree with me and will buy?"
"Certainly; it will be a great stroke of business. I wonder if others are thinking of the same thing?"
"They do not know as much as we—yet," replied Fraser.
"Will you join me at Trent Park for the weekend?" said Alan. "There will be no visitors."
"With pleasure," replied Fraser. "I always enjoy a few days at your lovely place."
On Friday Duncan went to Trent Park. Alan welcomed him cordially, although he had half repented asking him: the manager's presence always seemed to subdue everything, even Alan's exuberant spirits. This feeling, however, quickly vanished on the present occasion, for Duncan Fraser was in an unusually cheerful mood and for once in a way left business behind him.
Alan had to meet a prospective buyer at the Stud, and as Duncan knew nothing, and cared less, about horses he preferred to go for a stroll in the Park. During his walk he met Eve Berkeley and her friend, Ella Hallam. The manager saw little of ladies' society, but he knew Eve and liked her; he could hardly fail to be attracted by her.
He went to The Forest with them and remained for lunch. He knew Alan would not miss him, probably surmise where he was. He rather liked Ella, she was unaffected and talked freely on many subjects; when he left she told Eve she thought him a very agreeable man.
Eve laughed as she replied:
"He is a very sensible man. It is lucky for Alan he has him in charge at Chesney's, or I'm afraid the business would be sadly neglected."
"Is Mr. Chesney not a good business man?" asked Ella.
"Not according to Mr. Fraser."
Ella was rather disappointed she had not met Alan Chesney since her stay at The Forest. She wondered why he did not call; Eve told her he often came.
Duncan Fraser explained where he had been and pronounced in favor of Ella Hallam.
"By Jove! I forgot all about her being at The Forest," said Alan. "I met her in Derby week, a jolly girl; I daresay she improves on acquaintance."
"She evidently did not make much of an impression on you," said Duncan smiling.
"I wonder how long she will stay?" said Alan, half to himself.
"I think she said she was going to London to meet her father."
"He's bringing one or two horses from Australia; he has a great opinion of them; I must try and convince him ours are better."
"Strange how some men are so fascinated by horses," said Fraser.
"You care nothing about them?" said Alan, with a tinge of contempt in his voice.
"No, they have never interested me; perhaps it is because I never had any spare time for them; I've been a worker all my life."
"You despise racing men?"
"Oh no; I think some of them are uncommonly sharp," said Duncan.
"They are too sharp sometimes," laughed Alan.
THE MAN UNDER THE LAMP
"Sorry I have not called before," said Alan, as he shook hands with Ella Hallam, "but by way of a change I have been busy."
"I thought you were always busy," she replied.
"On the contrary, I am afraid I neglect my duties sometimes, but then I have such an excellent manager."
"Yes. You have met him; what do you think of him?" asked Alan.
"I like him. He struck me as a man of strong character," she answered.
"He is. He has a wonderful grasp of everything connected with the firm," said Alan.
Eve entered the room. She said:
"I thought you had forgotten I lived at The Forest."
"I'm not likely to forget that," he said.
"My father arrives next week," said Ella. "I have written to him; he will get the letter at Naples. I told him you were anxious to test the merits of his horses."
"He is coming here," said Eve. "I thought it would be nice for Ella to welcome him at The Forest."
"And I shall be delighted to show him round; he will be interested in my stud," said Alan.
"I hear it is one of the best in England," said Ella.
"I think it compares favorably with most of them," he answered.
He remained about an hour, declined to stay for lunch, and Eve did not press him.
He motored to the stud and found Sam Kerridge, his stud groom, waiting for him. Sam had been at the stud since its foundation. He was a clever man with horses, an excellent judge, and a shrewd buyer.
"That American has been here again," he said. "He's dead set on buying Mameluke; I have tried to convince him he's not for sale."
"So have I," said Alan with a laugh. "Perhaps he thinks you can persuade me to part with him; Valentine Braund is a persevering man."
"Like most Americans, he has plenty of cheek," said Sam. "It's a big offer he has made."
"Thirty thousand, and Mameluke's not a young horse," said Alan.
"It's tempting," said Sam.
"I have half a mind to take it," said Alan. "There's Alfonso coming on; he ought to make a name for himself."
"He will. I think he'll beat Mameluke's record," said Sam.
"That will be difficult. What did you say to Braund?"
"Not much; he didn't seem to believe me when I said money would not buy him."
"I'll think it over; it's a big price," said Alan.
He went round the stud with Sam and as usual found everything in order. Mameluke was a splendid dark bay horse, Alfonso a bright chestnut; there was little to choose between them in point of appearance. Alan was very fond of Mameluke; the horse had done good service at the stud, sired many big winners, and he was reluctant to part with him. Alfonso was worthy to take his place as the leading sire. He was a much younger horse and his stock already showed great promise.
The mares were a splendid lot; the best blood in the world coursed through their veins, and Alan never spared expense when he wished to purchase. When he left, Sam Kerridge wondered what had induced him to change his mind.
"He's inclined to consider the American's offer," he thought. "It's a tall price, and I don't think Mameluke, at his age, is worth any more. I shan't be surprised if the deal comes off."
The reason Alan was inclined to consider Valentine Braund's offer for Mameluke favorably was because of the information he had received from Duncan Fraser's Berlin correspondent. He knew if there was war it would make a vast difference to racing, and that the price of thoroughbreds would be considerably lowered. Thirty thousand is not a sum to be ignored, even by a very rich man, and Alan knew Mameluke had seen his best days. He did not care to part with an old favorite, but it was folly to refuse such an offer when prospects, on looking ahead, were not favorable to breeders. He decided to write to Braund and ask if he were still inclined to make his offer for the horse. He did so, and had not long to wait for a reply.
Valentine Braund came to Trent Park next day and said he was ready to pay the money and take Mameluke over when he had made arrangements to ship him to New York. The bargain was concluded and, under the circumstances, Alan thought he could do no better than invite the purchaser to stay a few days with him. This Braund readily agreed to, and Alan found him a pleasant companion.
Valentine Braund was the head of an American steel trust, and a man of many millions. Thirty thousand pounds for a horse, or for anything he wanted, mattered little to him. A self-made man, he had worked up from a humble position until he piled up wealth beyond his most sanguine dreams. His energies were unbounded, he possessed a never-ending flow of animal spirits, his confidence in himself was immense, he talked and expressed his opinions freely.
Alan could not help liking the man although his manners were hardly to his taste. Braund did not brag, but it was easy to see that he considered money a passport to any society. He was good-looking although his features were somewhat coarse, and his abrupt manner of speaking might have offended some fastidious people.
Eve Berkeley heard the American was at Trent Park; Alan had already described him to her, also told her of his offer for Mameluke. She was interested, thought she would like to meet him. She invited Alan to bring him to The Forest. He mentioned it to Braund, who was eager to accept, and accordingly they went.
Valentine thought American women "licked creation," and said so most emphatically, but when he saw Eve Berkeley he was astonished at her beauty, and acknowledged to himself that he had never seen a woman to beat her, "not even in New York." Alan was amused at his open admiration of Eve; he laughed when Braund said:
"What a woman, splendid! She's a tip-top beauty; she'd create a sensation in New York."
"I thought you'd like her," said Alan.
"Like her! Good heavens, she's past liking, miles beyond it; she's adorable."
"And her friend, Miss Hallam?" asked Alan.
"A beauty, but not the equal of Miss Berkeley, not by a long way," said Braund.
This conversation took place before dinner when they were alone for a few minutes.
"I thought American women 'licked creation,'" said Alan, imitating him.
"Now there you have me. As a rule they do, but Miss Berkeley—she's superb," said Braund enthusiastically.
The dinner was a success; they were lively. Braund devoted himself to Eve, and Alan was occupied with Ella.
"I've bought Mr. Chesney's horse Mameluke," said Braund. "I gave him thirty thousand for him and I don't consider him dear. What do you think of the horse?"
"He's one of the best we have, and I am surprised Mr. Chesney has parted with him," said Eve.
"So am I, but then money is money and it was cash down," said Braund.
"Mr. Chesney has plenty of money—I wonder why he sold him?" said Eve.
"You don't think there's anything wrong with the horse?" asked Braund sharply.
"Oh no," laughed Eve; "don't be alarmed. Mr. Chesney would not have sold him to you had such been the case."
"No, I suppose not; but I've known men who would," said Braund.
"In America?" asked Eve, with a merry twinkle in her eyes.
"Yes; there's some pretty cute hands at a bargain in my country."
"But it would be dishonest," protested Eve.
"We don't call it that," said Braund.
"Then what do you call it?" she asked.
"It would be regarded as a cute bit of business. A man is supposed to look after his interests; if another man gets the better of him, it's all in the game. We admire the man who gets the better of another man," said Braund.
Eve laughed as she said:
"I am afraid that is not my way of looking at things."
"No, of course not; how could it be?" said Braund quickly.
Eve was amused at him. He had an unending flow of conversation, his remarks were original, he expressed opinions freely in a way she was not accustomed to hear. On the whole he created, if not an altogether favorable impression, at least a curiosity to know more of him.
It was a pleasant evening, and as they motored back to Trent Park the American expressed his entire approval of the visit.
"Two very sensible women," he said; "also very charming. You're lucky to live here; I suppose you see a good deal of them?"
Alan said he did, and changed the subject. He was not inclined to discuss Eve Berkeley with him.
"We'll go through the village," said Alan. "It won't be dark for a long time, in fact it's light almost all night now."
He drove slowly through Little Trent. Abel Head was about to close the Sherwood Inn; Carl Meason stood near him, full in the light of the lamp, which Abel always lit, whether required or not, at the same hour.
"Quaint inns and places you have in this country," said Braund, as he noticed the sign.
Abel recognized Alan and touched his cap. Carl Meason stared at them. As his glance rested on the American he gave a slight start of surprise.
"Who is that with Mr. Chesney?" he asked.
"Don't know for sure; fancy a gentleman down here after buying one of the horses. I heard it was likely Mameluke would be sold; it's a pity, he's a great horse," said Abel.
Carl gave what sounded like a sigh of relief.
"Doesn't happen to come from America, does he?" he asked carelessly.
"Not that I'm aware of," said Abel.
Valentine Braund caught sight of Carl Meason's face in the light; he turned quickly to look again as the motor went past.
"Funny," he said. "Fancied I'd seen that fellow before."
"Which fellow?" asked Alan.
"The man under the lamp. I'm almost sure of it, but it can't be possible in this quiet place," said Braund.
"His name is Carl Meason, a surveyor I believe; he's studying maps, planning road improvements, and he wants to be quiet," said Alan.
When they arrived at the house and were seated for a quiet smoke Braund said quickly:
"I can't get that fellow out of my head—it's strange."
"How strange?" asked Alan.
"He reminds me of a man I had dealings with in America," said Braund half to himself.
"What sort of dealings?" questioned Alan.
"It's impossible of course; what would he be doing here? He reminds me of a man who once caused a lot of bloodshed at our steel works—a strike leader, if not worse," said Braund.
Alan smiled as he replied:
"Such a man would not be likely to remain at the Sherwood Inn, Little Trent, for many weeks. He'd find it too slow for him."
"That's just it, he would; but I'd like to see him again just out of curiosity," said Braund.
CARL MAKES LOVE
"I'm going away for a few days. You'll keep my room; I'll be back at the end of the week," said Meason.
"I'll keep your room," said Abel, wishing he was leaving altogether.
Carl Meason left in his motor car. He took the road to Nottingham, which skirted Trent Park, and ran past the old monastery; he slowed down as he neared the ruin and hooted.
Jane heard it and came out; there was a small door opening on to the road.
"Thought you'd know who it was," he said smiling. "I'm off for a few days' tour, but I'll be back at the end of the week. Tell your father I shall be glad if he'll show me round on my return."
"Going away?" said Jane, rather surprised.
"Not for good. Should you be sorry if I were?"
"I'm glad. We seem to be on good terms," he answered.
"Why shouldn't we?"
"No reason at all; on the contrary, I like you. I hope you like me?"
"I do—that is, I think I do," said Jane.
"Not quite sure, eh?" he asked, still smiling.
She shook her head. She looked very charming in her homely dress, her cheeks glowing with health. She was not at all abashed; the self-confidence of innocence, purity of mind, protected her. At this moment Carl Meason was really in love with her; he wanted her badly. It flashed across his mind that he might do worse than marry her; she would make an excellent wife, and not ask too many questions. His look puzzled her; it meant something she did not understand. She lowered her eyes.
"Jane," he said softly, "you are a wonderful girl; I believe I am desperately in love with you."
So it was this caused him to look at her strangely; she understood now. She never doubted what he said; she raised her eyes, they met his.
"Love me?" she said quietly. "Why should you love me?"
"Because you are adorable, lovely, the best little woman in the world," he said.
She laughed merrily as she replied:
"Oh no, I'm not. Father says I have a temper."
"That's not true; you have a very lovable disposition."
"Yes, I think I have. I love lots of things; still that does not prevent one from having a bad temper."
"Step on the car; let me have just one kiss," he spoke pleadingly.
"No, it would not be right; we are strangers."
"I hope not. I feel as though I were parting from an old and valued friend."
"I'll shake hands with you," she said.
He leaned over the side of the car and took her hand; he drew her toward him; she slipped away.
"Not yet," she said. "Someday, perhaps, when I know who and what you are."
"And if I prove desirable in every way, what then?" he asked eagerly.
"Who knows? You say you almost think you love me; perhaps, only perhaps, I may come to love you," she said.
He thought it not advisable to press her farther; he had made good headway, she was prepossessed in his favor, that was evident from her manner. He shook her hand again, then started the car; as he went round a bend in the road he turned and waved to her; she responded, then went inside and shut the gate. She sat down on a seat in the garden; the smile on her face betokened pleasant thoughts.
Carl Meason stopped the car at a well-known hotel facing the Market Place; he had been there before. From the orders he gave it appeared he had no intention of going on that day at any rate. He took his dispatch box to his room; he always carried it, never trusted it to anybody.
"You can bring my bag to my room at once," he said as he passed through the hall and went upstairs. When the hall porter put it down he was about to unstrap it.
"Never mind that; I'll do it," said Carl, handing him a tip.
He locked the door and opened his case, taking out some letters and several newspaper cuttings, which he proceeded to read carefully.
"It's Valentine Braund right enough," he muttered. "What the deuce brings him to Trent Park? Buying a horse, that's one reason. Wonder if he heard I was at Little Trent? Don't see how he could as I'm not sailing under my own name. Better perhaps if I'd not given Carl, but it's far enough from Karl Shultz to be safe. He'd like to have me laid by the heels, but he has no evidence to go upon. I got out of that mess well. It was a blow up and no mistake; nearly a hundred killed, and double the number injured. It had to be done; it frightened him and a lot more; there's several men hate me like poison over that job. They suffered while I got off free and had most of the money. Wonder if he recognized me? Don't think so; he'd never expect to come across me in such a place. Much better go away until the coast's clear. He'll not stay at Trent Park long."
He placed the letters and papers in his bag again. More than once he had made up his mind to destroy them, but something stayed his hand; they were dangerous if discovered but this was not likely to happen.
His thoughts turned to a more pleasant subject—Jane Thrush. Utterly unscrupulous though he was, even Carl Meason, as he chose to style himself, had some hesitation in plotting her downfall. She fascinated him. The women who had come into his life were totally different from her; there wasn't a point of resemblance. It was her innocence, her pure country charms, held him spellbound. Many women had helped him in his nefarious designs; they fell easy victims to his blandishments and his payments. He found them useful; one woman in particular had proved invaluable in the case of the great explosion at the Valentine Steel Works. It was Mannie Kerrnon who actually carried out his designs. He had some of her letters in his case. There was no love between them, there had been none between them; she reaped her reward in money, which she much preferred to affections.
Mannie Kerrnon was an Irishwoman on the mother's side. Her father was a blackmailer, a despicable ruffian, in the pay of a notorious New York Inspector of Police. She suspected him of killing her mother and she hated him as a murderer. It was mainly because her father, Dirk Kerrnon, was employed at the Valentine Steel Works that she undertook to help Carl Meason in his nefarious plot. It was a sad disappointment when Dirk Kerrnon escaped with a few scratches; he never suspected his daughter's hand in the affair. He entered the steel works in order to spy on Valentine Braund. The Inspector had given him some useful hints to go upon, but Braund was a careful man and more than a match for half a dozen Kerrnons.
After the affair Mannie Kerrnon quarreled with Carl Meason over the money due to her. She was outwitted and, being the woman she was, she intended being revenged on him. So far she had not succeeded, nor had she any idea where he was, or what he was doing; and he had no intention of enlightening her if he could help it. He was safe as regards the great explosion at the steel works. She could not "split" on him without compromising herself.