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4. Cray's Folly
Paul Harley lay back upon the cushions and glanced at me with a quizzical smile.
The big, up-to-date car which Colonel Menendez had placed at our disposal was
surmounting a steep Surrey lane as though no gradient had existed.
"Some engine!" he said, approvingly.
I nodded in agreement, but felt disinclined for conversation, being absorbed in
watching the characteristically English scenery. This, indeed, was very beautiful.
The lane along which we were speeding was narrow, winding, and over-arched
by trees. Here and there sunlight penetrated to spread a golden carpet before us,
but for the most part the way lay in cool and grateful shadow.
On one side a wooded slope hemmed us in blackly, on the other lay dell after dell
down into the cradle of the valley. It was a poetic corner of England, and I
thought it almost unbelievable that London was only some twenty miles behind. A
fit place this for elves and fairies to survive, a spot in which the presence of a
modern automobile seemed a desecration. Higher we mounted and higher, the
engine running strongly and smoothly; then, presently, we were out upon a
narrow open road with the crescent of the hills sweeping away on the right and
dense woods dipping valleyward to the left and behind us.
The chauffeur turned, and, meeting my glance:
"Cray's Folly, sir," he said.
He jerked his hand in the direction of a square, gray-stone tower somewhat
resembling a campanile, which uprose from a distant clump of woods cresting a
greater eminence.
"Ah," murmured Harley, "the famous tower."
Following the departure of the Colonel on the previous evening, he had looked
up Cray's Folly and had found it to be one of a series of houses erected by the
eccentric and wealthy man whose name it bore. He had had a mania for building
houses with towers, in which his rival--and contemporary--had been William
Beckford, the author of "Vathek," a work which for some obscure reason has
survived as well as two of the three towers erected by its writer.
I became conscious of a keen sense of anticipation. In this, I think, the figure of
Miss Val Beverley played a leading part. There was something pathetic in the
presence of this lonely English girl in so singular a household; for if the menage
at Cray's Folly should prove half so strange as Colonel Menendez had led us to
believe, then truly we were about to find ourselves amid unusual people.
Presently the road inclined southward somewhat and we entered the fringe of the
trees. I noticed one or two very ancient cottages, but no trace of the modern
builder. This was a fragment of real Old England, and I was not sorry when
presently we lost sight of the square tower; for amidst such scenery it was an
anomaly and a rebuke.
What Paul Harley's thoughts may have been I cannot say, but he preserved an
unbroken silence up to the very moment that we came to the gate lodge.