The Hillman - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Hillman ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

John Strangeways lives the life of a country Gentleman farmer with his puritan brother in the hills of Cumberland. Far from the world of cities and noise he lived the clean, healthy, out-of-door life. When actress Louise Maurel’s car breaks down near their farm, she is forced to seek refuge with the misogynist brothers. Love ensues. Life no longer was quite the same to him, and in a short time he followed her to London. The coming of an unsophisticated though well educated, handsome young man into the semi-Bohemian circle brings about dramatic situations which the author knows well how to handle. Some wonderful minor characters aid the story also.

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Liczba stron: 431

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Contents

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

XVII

XVIII

XIX

XX

XXI

XXII

XXIII

XXIV

XXV

XXVI

XXVII

XXVIII

XXIX

XXX

XXXI

XXXII

XXXIII

XXXIV

XXXV

XXXVI

XXXVII

XXXVIII

CHAPTER I

Louise, self-engrossed, and with a pleasant sense of detachment from the prospective inconveniences of the moment, was leaning back among the cushions of the motionless car. Her eyes, lifted upward, traveled past the dimly lit hillside, with its patchwork of wall-enclosed fields, up to where the leaning clouds and the unseen heights met in a misty sea of obscurity.

The moon had not yet risen, but a faint and luminous glow, spreading like a halo about the topmost peak of that ragged line of hills, heralded its approach. Louise sat with clasped hands, rapt and engrossed in the esthetic appreciation of a beauty which found its way but seldom into her town-enslaved life. She listened to the sound of a distant sheepbell. Her eyes swept the hillsides, vainly yet without curiosity, for any sign of a human dwelling. The voices of her chauffeur and her maid, who stood talking heatedly together by the bonnet of the car, seemed to belong to another world. She had the air of one completely yet pleasantly detached from all material surroundings.

The maid, leaving her discomfited companion with a final burst of reproaches, came to the side of the car. Her voice, when she addressed her mistress, sank to a lower key, but her eyes still flashed with anger.

“But would madame believe it?” she exclaimed. “It is incredible! The man Charles there, who calls himself a chauffeur of experience, declares that we are what he calls ‘hung up’! Something unexpected has happened to the magneto. There is no spark. Whose fault can that be, I ask, but the chauffeur’s? And such a desert we have reached! We have searched the map together. We are thirty miles from any town, many miles from even a village. What a misfortune!”

Louise turned her head regretfully away from the mysterious spaces. She listened patiently, but without any sort of emotion, to her maid’s flow of distressed words. She even smiled very faintly when the girl had finished.

“Something will happen,” she remarked indifferently. “There is no need for you to distress yourself. There must be a farmhouse or shelter of some sort near. If the worst comes to the worst, we can spend the night in the car. We have plenty of furs and rugs. You are not a good traveler, Aline. You lose heart too soon.”

The girl’s face was a study.

“Madame speaks of spending the night in the car!” she exclaimed. “Why, one has not eaten since luncheon, and of all the country through which we have passed, this is the loneliest and dreariest spot.”

Louise leaned forward and called to the chauffeur.

“Charles,” she asked, “what has happened? Are we really stranded here?”

The man’s head emerged from the bonnet. He came round to the side of the car.

“I am very sorry, madam,” he reported, “but something has gone wrong with the magneto. I shall have to take it to pieces before I can tell exactly what is wrong. At present I can’t get a spark of any sort.”

“There is no hope of any immediate repair, then?”

The chauffeur shook his head dolefully.

“I shall have to take the magneto down, madam,” he said. “It will take several hours, and it ought to be done by daylight.”

“And in the meantime, what do you suggest that we do?” she asked.

The man looked a little helpless. His battle of words with Aline had depressed him.

“I heard a dog bark a little while ago,” he remarked. “Perhaps I had better go and see whether there isn’t a farm somewhere near.”

“And leave us here alone?” Aline exclaimed indignantly. “It is a good suggestion. It comes well from the man who has got us into such trouble!”

Her mistress smiled at her reassuringly.

“What have we to fear, you foolish girl? For myself, I would like better than anything to remain here until the moon comes over the top of that round hill. But listen! It is just as I told you. There is no necessity for Charles to leave us.”

They all turned their heads. From some distance behind on the hard, narrow road, curling like a piece of white tape around the hillside, there came, faintly at first, but more distinctly every moment, the sound of horse’s hoofs.

“It is as I told you,” Louise said composedly. “Some one approaches–on horseback, too. He will be able to fetch assistance.”

The chauffeur walked back a few yards, prepared to give early warning to the approaching horseman. The two women, standing up in the car, watched the spot where the road, hidden for some time in the valley, came into sight.

Louder and louder came the sound of the beating of hoofs. Louise gave a little cry as a man on horseback appeared in sight at the crest of the hill. The narrow strip of road seemed suddenly dwarfed, an unreasonable portion of the horizon blotted out. In the half light there was something almost awesome in the unusual size of the horse and of the man who rode it.

“It is a world of goblins, this, Aline!” her mistress exclaimed softly. “What is it that comes?”

“It is a human being, Dieu merci!” the maid replied, with a matter-of-fact little sigh of content.

Conscious of the obstruction in the road, the rider slackened his speed. His horse, a great, dark-colored animal, pricked up his ears when scarcely a dozen yards away from the car, stopped short, and suddenly bolted out on the open moor. There was the sound of a heavy whip, a loud, masterful voice, and a very brief struggle, during which the horse once plunged and reared so high that Louise, watching, cried out in fear. A few moments later, however, horse and rider, the former quivering and subdued, were beside the car.

“Has anything happened?” the newcomer asked, raising his whip to his hat.

He addressed Louise, instinctively conscious, even in that dim light, that she was the person in authority.

She did not at once reply. Her eyes were fixed upon the face of her questioner. There was little enough of him to be seen, yet she was aware of an exceptional interest in his dimly revealed personality. He was young, unusually tall, and his voice was cultivated. Beyond that, she could see or divine nothing.

He, for his part, with his attention still largely engaged in keeping his horse under control, yet knew, in those first few moments, that he was looking into the face of a woman who had no kinship with the world in which he had been born and had lived his days. Those were fugitive thoughts which passed between them, only half conceived, yet strong enough to remain as first and unforgettable impressions. Then the commonplace interests of the situation became insistent.

“I have broken down,” Louise said. “My chauffeur tells me that it will take hours to effect some necessary repair to the car. And meanwhile–here we are!”

“You couldn’t have chosen a worse place for a breakdown,” the young man observed. “You are miles away from anywhere.”

“You are indeed a comforter!” Louise murmured. “Do you think that you could possibly get down and advise us what to do? You look so far away up there.”

There was another brief struggle between the man and his still frightened horse. Then the former swung himself down, and, with the bridle through his arm, came and stood by the car.

“If there is any way in which I can help,” he ventured, “I am quite at your service.”

Louise smiled at him. She remained unoppressed by any fear of inconvenience or hardship. She had the air of one rather enjoying her plight.

“Well, you have begun very nicely by doing what I asked you,” she said. “Really, you know, to an impressionable person there was something rather terrifying about you when you appeared suddenly from out of the shadows in such a lonely place. I was beginning to wonder whether you were altogether real, whether one of those black hills there had not opened to let you out. You see, I know something of the legends of your country, although I have never been here before.”

The young man was less at his ease. He stood tapping his boot nervously with his long riding-whip.

“I am sorry if I frightened you,” he said. “My horse is a little restive, and the acetylene light which your chauffeur turned on him was sufficiently alarming.”

“You did not exactly frighten me,” she assured him, “but you looked so abnormally large. Please tell us what you would advise us to do. Is there a village near, or an inn, or even a barn? Or shall we have to spend the night in the car?”

“The nearest village,” he replied, “is twelve miles away. Fortunately, my own home is close by. I shall be very pleased–I and my brother–if you will honor us. I am afraid I cannot offer you very much in the way of entertainment–”

She rose briskly to her feet and beamed upon him.

“You are indeed a good Samaritan!” she exclaimed. “A roof is more than we had dared to hope for, although when one looks up at this wonderful sky and breathes this air, one wonders, perhaps, whether a roof, after all, is such a blessing.”

“It gets very cold toward morning,” the young man said practically.

“Of course,” she assented. “Aline, you will bring my dressing-bag and follow us. This gentleman is kind enough to offer us shelter for the night. Dear me, you really are almost as tall as you appeared!” she added, as she stood by his side. “For the first time in my life you make me feel undersized.”

He looked down at her, a little more at his ease now by reason of the friendliness of her manner, although he had still the air of one embarked upon an adventure, the outcome of which was to be regarded with some qualms. She was of little more than medium height, and his first impressions of her were that she was thin, and too pale to be good-looking; that her eyes were large and soft, with eyebrows more clearly defined than is usual among Englishwomen; and that she moved without seeming to walk.

“I suppose I am tall,” he admitted, as they started off along the road. “One doesn’t notice it around here. My name is John Strangewey, and our house is just behind that clump of trees there, on the top of the hill. We will do our best to make you comfortable,” he added a little doubtfully; “but there are only my brother and myself, and we have no women servants in the house.”

“A roof of any sort will be a luxury,” she assured him. “I only hope that we shall not be a trouble to you in any way.”

“And your name, please?” he asked.

She was a little amazed at his directness, but she answered him without hesitation.

“My name,” she told him, “is Louise.”

He leaned down toward her, a little puzzled.

“Louise? But your surname?”

She laughed softly. It occurred to him that nothing like her laugh had ever been heard on that gray-walled stretch of mountain road.

“Never mind! I am traveling incognito. Who I am, or where I am going–well, what does that matter to anybody? Perhaps I do not know myself. You can imagine, if you like, that we came from the heart of your hills, and that to-morrow they will open again and welcome us back.”

“I don’t think there are any motor-cars in fairyland,” he objected.

“We represent a new edition of fairy lore,” she told him. “Modern romance, you know, includes motor-cars and even French maids.”

“All the same,” he protested, with masculine bluntness, “I really don’t see how I can introduce you to my brother as ‘Louise from fairyland.’”

She evaded the point.

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