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

JANE SUSPECTS

The journey to London was accomplished without mishap. Carl was a good driver; the car sped along at a rapid pace. Jane enjoyed the ride; the scenery was new to her, and she was observant.

Arriving at the city he drove to the Fairfax Hotel, a quiet place mostly used by families. There was no garage. Leaving Jane there, he went to put up the car.

She waited for him. He seemed a long time coming. She did not care to leave the room in his absence.

At last he came. He made no apology for being away so long; he seemed preoccupied and said little.

They dined together, and then he took her out. The streets were dull and dark, very few lights in the shops, hardly any in the streets. The noise and bustle confused her.

“There’s not much to see at night,” he said; “we’ll have a look round to-morrow.”

“What’s that?” she asked in alarm.

“A searchlight,” he replied laughing. “There’s any amount of them but they don’t appear to be of much service.”

“What are they used for?”

“To discover the whereabouts of Zeppelins.”

“It can’t be very safe here?”

“It’s safe enough; they won’t drop bombs near where we are staying.”

“How do you know?”

“Oh well, it’s not likely; they’ll go for something more important than the Fairfax Hotel,” he replied.

Jane was tired. They went to bed early. She awoke in the middle of the night and found Carl missing. She thought this strange. There was a dim light burning. She sat up; perhaps he had only gone out of the room, then she noticed his clothes were not there; he had evidently dressed.

She tried to sleep but could not. She was afraid and shivered under the bed-clothes. He had no right to leave her in the hotel at this hour. His actions were mysterious; he always appeared to have something to do in the night. She had no watch and wondered what time it was; then she heard a clock strike one. He must have gone out when she fell asleep.

Soon after she heard an explosion. It sounded some distance away. Then she heard movements in the house, people hurrying about, voices calling. It was strange and disquieting.

Some one paused outside her door; then she heard the handle turn and Carl came into the room, swiftly, silently, closing the door after him and locking it.

She pretended to be asleep, heard him come to the bedside and breathed heavily. He seemed satisfied she did not hear him. He moved away. She opened her eyes and saw him unlocking his suitcase; his back was toward her. He took out some papers, sorted them, put a couple on the dressing-table, then placed the others in the case.

He lit a candle but first turned round and looked at her. She breathed heavily.

She was cautious but she watched him over the top of the clothes, which were drawn up to her face. She was surprised to see him carefully burn the papers. He placed the candle on a newspaper so that the ashes would fall on it. He pressed the pieces with his hand as they fell. When they were consumed he wrapped the remains in a piece of the paper, screwed it tightly, then put the small package in the case. He then undressed and came to the bed.

There was a knock at the door but he made no response. It was repeated, this time louder, sharper.

Carl said in a half-sleepy voice:

“Who’s there?”

“It’s me, the hall porter; I want to see you for a moment.”

Carl got out of bed grumbling. Jane thought he was a long time unlocking the door. She moved restlessly but still pretended to be asleep.

“What is it? Why the deuce do you rouse me at this hour of the night?” asked Carl angrily.

“Mr. Hurd, the manager, said he thought he saw you come into the house a few minutes ago; I said you had not, that you were in your room; I did not see you and I was in the hall.”

“Confound him! I shan’t stay here if I’m roused up at this unearthly hour. It’s abominable! You are disturbing my wife’s rest. What are the people tearing about the place for?” asked Carl as he heard footsteps.

“Didn’t you hear the explosion? They are at it again.”

“Hush!” said Carl. “You’ll wake my wife; it will frighten her. You’ve all gone mad. I heard nothing.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Hurd was so certain he saw you come in I thought I’d see for myself.”

“And what the devil does it matter to him whether I was out or in?” asked Carl sharply.

“That’s not my business, sir. Please excuse me. I’ll tell him you are in your room,” said the man, shuffling away. “Queer smell of burning,” he muttered as he went along the landing; “seemed to be in his room.”

The manager was in the hall. With him were an inspector of police and a detective.

“Well?” asked Hurd.

“He’s in his room, undressed and in bed. I knew he didn’t come in.”

“You’re mistaken,” said the Inspector. “He did. I saw him.”

“He gave me an accurate description of Mr. Meason,” said Hurd, “and I am certain I saw him come in.”

The hall porter shook his head.

“I was here when you came downstairs and I didn’t see him.”

“It’s very strange,” said the Inspector, looking at the detective. “Are you sure he’s the man you followed, that he came in here?”

“We both saw him,” said the detective dryly.

“If it is the man, he’s been precious quick undressing and getting into bed,” said the Inspector doubtfully.

Several people were in the hall. The explosion roused them. They made anxious inquiries; the manager assured them.

Carl Meason listening upstairs little knew what a narrow escape he had. He was not aware he was followed as he hurried back to the hotel nor was he aware that an accurate description of him was in the hands of the police.

It was Valentine Braund, the American millionaire, who had given information to the authorities. He had been to Little Trent the day after Meason left the Sherwood Inn, and a piece of paper found in Carl’s room by Abel Head confirmed his suspicions that the man was Karl Shultz who he was convinced was the organizer of the explosion at the Valentine Steel Works. He had asked Head to give him the paper. It did not appear to be of much importance but the name Mannie Kerrnon was written on it. Braund knew this was the woman who worked with Shultz, and his interest became active. He was a determined man and had made up his mind never to forget Shultz. He had already spent money freely trying to find him. He left Head very much mystified and proceeded to interview Tom Thrush.

Thrush recognized him and as usual scented money. Braund proceeded cautiously, asking all sorts of questions about the country, Mr. Chesney, and the stud, also speaking of the two matches at Newmarket which he saw decided.

Tom was completely off his guard and replied with a laugh to his question as to Jane’s marriage:

“I don’t think she’s done amiss. He seems a good sort of man and he has money.”

“Well, I hope it will turn out all right,” said Braund. “Where did they spend the honeymoon?”

Tom explained. He had heard from Jane. They were at H .

Braund had some difficulty in restraining his impatience.

“Nice place, isn’t it?” he said.

“Quiet, she found it a bit dull; expect they’ve left by this.”

Braund remained with him some little time and then drove away in his motor. He did not return to the Sherwood Inn but told his chauffeur to go the nearest way to H , “and get there as fast as you can without running into danger.”

He soon discovered where Meason and his wife stayed, made inquiries, Frank Spatts gave him every information.

“He was out till nearly three in the morning,” said Spatts.

“The night the Zeppelins were over?”

“Yes; he left the next afternoon,” said Spatts.

Valentine Braund also discovered that Meason’s car had not taken the York road but had traveled London way. He followed quickly and arrived in town not long after Meason. It was Braund who set the police on his track. He was with them when he found they had allowed him to leave the Fairfax Hotel. The Inspector told him they had not sufficient evidence to go upon and were not justified in arresting him.

“You might have stretched a point,” grumbled Braund.

“That’s all very well. I don’t say you’re not right, but we have to be very careful in such cases,” said the Inspector.

“You are so careful that you allow fellows in motor cars to scour the country and pilot these raiders,” snapped Braund.

Carl Meason was alarmed. The police had been informed as to his movements; he had very little doubt about that. He told Jane he must leave London at once, it was very important; he was going to Margate, but she must not tell anybody.

She was disappointed. He had promised to take her about London; she had seen nothing of it.

He answered her sharply. His business was more important than tramping about London.

What was his business, she asked again, and her constant repetition irritated him. He gave no satisfactory replies and she resented this. Jane was sharp, her faculties developed. She was not so simple as he imagined. He was surprised at her persistence. Was she beginning to suspect him? If so what did she think?

The journey to Margate by road was interesting. There was not much conversation. When she spoke he answered in monosyllables. He drove to the White Hart Hotel facing the harbor and engaged a front room.

“You’ll be able to pass the time watching the people,” he said, “and the harbor is always interesting.”

“What shall you be doing?” she asked.

“Don’t keep cross-examining me,” he replied. “It puts me in a bad temper.”

“You are generally in a bad temper,” she said.

“Look here, Jane, my girl, we’d better understand each other,” he replied. “I have work to do and I mean to carry it out whether you like it or not.”

“Are you tired of me already?” she asked.

“Not exactly, but you are going the right way to bring it about,” he answered.

“I have a right to know what you are doing.”

“Some day if you are very good I may tell you,” he said.

Jane became suspicious. The more she was left to herself, the more time she had to think matters over. It seemed strange that Carl was always about where there were Zeppelin raids. She began to connect him with them. Abel Head had called him a spy, perhaps he was, at any rate his movements were suspicious.

The conversations she had heard were disquieting. It was evident several people had doubts about him. She was his wife and she was determined if he did not treat her well not to put up with his conduct. She had money she took care of that and she could always go home.