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7. At The Lavender Arms
In certain moods Paul Harley was impossible as a companion, and I, who knew
him well, had learned to leave him to his own devices at such times. These
moods invariably corresponded with his meeting some problem to the heart of
which the lance of his keen wit failed to penetrate. His humour might not display
itself in the spoken word, he merely became oblivious of everything and
everybody around him. People might talk to him and he scarce noted their
presence, familiar faces appear and he would see them not. Outwardly he
remained the observant Harley who could see further into a mystery than any
other in England, but his observation was entirely introspective; although he
moved amid the hustle of life he was spiritually alone, communing with the
solitude which dwells in every man's heart.
Presently, then, as we came to the lake at the foot of the sloping lawns, where
water lilies were growing and quite a number of swans had their habitation, I
detected the fact that I had ceased to exist so far as Harley was concerned.
Knowing this mood of old, I pursued my way alone, pressing on across the valley
and making for a swing gate which seemed to open upon a public footpath.
Coming to this gate I turned and looked back.
Paul Harley was standing where I had left him by the edge of the lake, staring as
if hypnotized at the slowly moving swans. But I would have been prepared to
wager that he saw neither swans nor lake, but mentally was far from the spot,
deep in some complex maze of reflection through which no ordinary mind could
hope to follow him.
I glanced at my watch and found that it was but little after two o'clock. Luncheon
at Cray's Folly was early. I therefore had some time upon my hands and I
determined to employ it in exploring part of the neighbourhood. Accordingly I
filled and lighted my pipe and strolled leisurely along the footpath, enjoying the
beauty of the afternoon, and admiring the magnificent timber which grew upon
the southerly slopes of the valley.
Larks sang high above me and the air was fragrant with those wonderful earthy
scents which belong to an English countryside. A herd of very fine Jersey cattle
presently claimed inspection, and a little farther on I found myself upon a high
road where a brown-faced fellow seated aloft upon a hay-cart cheerily gave me
good-day as I passed.
Quite at random I turned to the left and followed the road, so that presently I
found myself in a very small village, the principal building of which was a very
small inn called the "Lavender Arms."
Colonel Menendez's curacao, combined with the heat of the day, had made me
thirsty; for which reason I stepped into the bar-parlour determined to sample the
local ale. I wars served by the landlady, a neat, round, red little person, and as
she retired, having placed a foam-capped mug upon the counter, her glance
rested for a moment upon the only other occupant of the room, a man seated in
an armchair immediately to the right of the door. A glass of whisky stood on the