Read CHAPTER VII of The Rider in Khaki A Novel , free online book, by Nat Gould, on ReadCentral.com.

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.

“Who’s Jack?”

“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.”

“Poachers?”

“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.”

Carl smiled.

“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?”

“Never.”

“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.

“Mr. Chesney?”

“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.