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The Human Interest A Study in Incompatibilities

The Human Interest
A Study in Incompatibilities
Author: Hunt Violet
Title: The Human Interest A Study in Incompatibilities
Release Date: 2018-12-23
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 27
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One dull afternoon—and it was in summer—aLondon authoress of some repute, whose nom-de-guerrewas Egidia, was wandering along the pavementof a dull and imposing street in Newcastle.Day was beginning to decline, but the approach ofevening was not alone responsible for the heart-feltejaculation of the South-country woman, “Oh, thisNorthern gloom!” as she walked along under thesmoky pall that, summer and winter, shrouds the city.

She stood still presently, carefully scanning thesolemn, stately houses with pillared porticos all ofthe self-same pattern, which run in an interminablerow to a vanishing point seemingly far beyond conjecture.

“Each of the houses is exactly like the other,” shemurmured to herself. “In which, I wonder, doesthe Muse of Newcastle hold her court? Like mostmuses, she gave no number. I must judge by out-{2}sides.Oh, here we are; green Liberty curtains inthe windows—a more daring green on the door—aknocker of mediæval tendencies! I will try.”

She went up the steps of No. 59 Savile Street andrang the bell, and stood there pensive.

“I promised to call on this woman, and I am doingit, but I shall be bored. She will talk of Ibsen, andMeredith, and tell me she had read Plato throughbefore she was fifteen. She will take herself seriously,and me too, and inundate me with questionsabout the people in London. All these provincialsdo. Still, she pressed me so prettily to call that Icould not say No. But I shall be bored!—Is Mrs.Mortimer Elles at home?” she enquired of the handsome,full-blown parlour maid who opened the doorwidely and invitingly.

“Oh, yes, ma’am—this is Mrs. Elles’ day at home.”

“Much too familiar!” thought Egidia, as she followedthe swing of the maid’s cap streamers throughportièred doorways and past Syrian shawl-drapedcornices, and other pathetically futile attempts toconceal the impossible architecture of a commonplacehouse, built in a bad period, and decorated originallyon the worst principles.

“Muslin curtains are a mistake in an atmospherelike this of Newcastle!” she thought, “and a parlour-maidshould not aim at looking like Madame SansGêne.”

She was shown into a drawing-room, “stampedwith the evidences of culture,” as the interviewer{3}would say, and “redolent of a personality.” Bookswere scattered about; the piano stood open, with thelatest “mood” of the latest fashionable composerlying on it; there were magazines, with paper-knivesnegligently bisecting their leaves. There were, onthe walls, some grim old pictures—family portraits,presumably—of ill-tempered, high-stocked old gentlemenand prim, dignified ladies, but they were interspersedwith sundry scratchy and erratic modernetchings and photogravures; there were great bowlsof flowers—whose apparent substance, the authoresscould not help suspecting, was cleverly eked out withartificial imitations procurable at drapers’ shops.The whole effect was rather pretty and French, andthoroughly out of keeping with the grim realities ofNorthern hardness and abnegation of art-feeling thatreigned outside.

A young woman, beautifully dressed, who was sittingover the fire, though it was not cold, rose eagerlyto receive her distinguished guest, exclaiming, withthe most flattering and heart-felt emphasis,

“Oh, Miss Giles, how good of you to come! I wasafraid you would have quite forgotten me and my day!”

She was a slight woman, not tall, but slenderenough to look so. Her eyes were very large andbright, her cheeks, flushed, perhaps with the fire.She made wrinkles when she laughed, but she did notlook more than twenty-eight. A little powder, carelesslyand innocently cast there, showed on cheeks“hollowed a little mournfully,” as the poet has it.{4}Her hair was arranged in hundreds of little waves andcurls, and her dress—Egidia had been in the besthouses in Newcastle, during the last few days, buthad seen nothing to equal the style and taste of thislittle solicitor’s wife. Thought and ingenuity hadgone to the devising of that gown, but the wearer ofit had forgotten to fasten the last two buttons of hersleeve.

“The artistic sense strongly developed—but verylittle power of co-ordination.” So the authoress,taking all these points into consideration and exercisingher own professional faculty of classification,mentally assessed her hostess.

“This is my day,” Mrs. Elles was assuring her.“I partly hope people will come, and partly not. Iwould so much rather have you to myself—but then,some of my friends were so anxious to meet you whenI said I knew you—so I had to give them a chance—youdon’t mind being lionized a little, do you? Wecan’t help it!”

The “celebrity” had been a “celebrity” so longthat she had left off objecting to the outward indicationsof her supremacy. Though she was a lion, andgave lectures, she was modest and easily pacified.She was fascinated by something curiously plaintiveand beguiling about her hostess’s voice and manner;a suggestion of childishness, of almost weakness asshe thought, in its artificial cadences. For it was anaffectation, Miss Giles, whose nom-de-guerre wasEgidia, decided, though a pleasing one.{5}

“I wonder if she scolds her servants in that tone?”she thought, while submitting to the charm, and,lying easily back in her chair, listened to her hostess’secstasies about her books and her lectures, her prettilyexpressed enviousness of the presumably happier conditionsof her guest’s life in London.

“Oh, what it must be to be in the midst of life,really in it—of it—part of it! Here one sits, andyearns, and only catches the far-away echoes, thereverberations of the delightful things that are happening,away down there, where you are—in the very,very heart of it all!”

The peri left out of Paradise clasped her pretty,soft, pliant hands, and the novelist asked her, willingto be instructed,

“Is Newcastle, then, worse than other provincialtowns?”

“I only know Newcastle, but I am sure it’s worse.There are a few nice advanced people, but they goaway all the time, or if they bring nice people downfrom London, they keep them to themselves. I neversee any one worth talking to. Oh, it is hopeless—hopeless!”She shrugged her shoulders. “It issimply a form of Hades,—this life for me, for I have‘glimpses of what might make me less forlorn,’ of alife to live, a world to move in. I feel I was notmeant to merely stagnate—to vegetate—to withergradually away, consumed by my own wasted energies.You laugh! coming straight, as you do, from thatparadise of life and movement, that I am sure London{6}is, you can have no idea of what Newcastle and mylife is! Inertia kills people like me, one’s soul isstarved, don’t you know?—one’s mental life has nothingto feed on, no pabulum, except books—and theyare not easy to get—new books. I am the trial andpest of the libraries here!”

“You read a great deal?”

“Oh, yes. I live on books. They are the greatestpossible comfort to me. They are literally my saviours.I quite sympathize with the heroine of a novelI read lately, who was kept from suicide by the sightof her favourite poets on her book-shelf! I makemyself up a dream-life, don’t you know—the life Ishould like to live if I could choose. One dream-life,do I say?” Her eyes lightened and brightened:she was extraordinarily alert and vivid. “Two orthree—a perfect orgy of dream-lives! They costnothing. But I have always read a great deal. Theclassics I don’t neglect. I read Plato before I wasfifteen—in Jowett’s translation, of course.”

Egidia smiled.

“And your books?”

“Don’t! don’t!” Egidia held up her hands.

“But I love them—I go to them for comfort andhelp. I have them all—on a shelf near my bed—awhole row of my favourites—Browning, and Meredith—andIbsen. I am a great Ibsenite—are not you?”

“It is very fashionable!”

“Oh! but really, don’t you think—?” She wasbecoming quite incoherent in her excitement. “Now,{7}Nora in the ‘Doll’s House’?—It is the story of somany of us. Only it is a mistake of Ibsen to makethe husband a cheat—that seems to put him too muchin the wrong, he is wrong enough, without that.Oh, Nora was so right to leave him, I think. Sostrong! Do you know the sound of the house doorbanging in that play stirs me like the sound of atrumpet?”

“You should write a book yourself!” suggestedEgidia, indulgently, knowing well the answer shewould receive.

“Ah! I haven’t time. But if I did, I could put inthings—things that have happened to me—experience—moreof feeling than of incident, perhaps. I wasan only daughter; my father was in the army; Itravelled a good deal; but I have not had a life ofadventure; I married when I was seventeen. Myhusband was a widower then, and his son, Charles,lives with us—and his aunt, Mrs. Poynder.” Shehad an involuntary little shudder. “He is a solicitor;you know that. And he has a huge practice.He is very much occupied, and takes no interest inthe things you and I care about. Of course, helaughs at me for my—enthusiasms—but I should dieif I didn’t.”

There were tears in her eyes.

“Some day, if you will, you must come and stopwith me in town,” said Egidia, in an access ofwomanly compassion for this somewhat ungrammaticalbut sincere tale of misfortune.{8}

“Shall I? Shall I? Oh, how lovely that wouldbe!” Her brilliant smile came out again. “To see—tohave a glimpse of all those wonderful literarypeople in whose company your life is spent.”

“Well, I happen to know more of artists than I doof literary people,” said Egidia. “You see, my own‘shop’ bores me. Do you collect—I am sure you do?”She had seen the unmistakable flame of the autograph-feverleap into Mrs. Elles’ eyes. “I can sendyou some, if you like. I have one in my pocket nowthat I can give you, from Edmund Rivers, the landscapepainter.”

“The R. A.?” Mrs. Elles, who always took care tohave a Royal Academy Catalogue sent up to herevery year, and learnt it by heart, enquired eagerly.

“Yes, the R. A. and my second cousin!” Egidiaanswered, carelessly pulling a crumpled note outof her pocket and handing it to Mrs. Elles. “Readit!”

“Dear Alice,” (read Mrs. Elles), “I am so sorrythat I cannot have the pleasure of dining with youon the 31st, but I hope to be in the North on the26th, at latest, to begin my summer campaign. I seethe spring buds in the parks, and the Inspector ofNuisances has invited me to clip my sprouting lilacbushes, and it all reminds me too painfully of theparadise of greenness that is growing up in thecountry, and calling me. I shall soon be ‘a greenthought in a green shade’—as Marvel says, and verymuch in my element. Yours ever, Edmund Rivers.{9}

“The twenty-sixth,” said Mrs. Elles, meditating.“This is the thirtieth. Then he is gone.”

“Oh, yes, no one will set eyes on him again tillNovember, when he comes back from what he callshis summer campaign. He takes good care that noneof us shall even know where his happy huntingground is—somewhere in Yorkshire, I believe! Oh,yes, you may keep the letter.”

Mrs. Elles took the letter with her pretty, be-ringedfingers, and scanned it again with the air of a connoisseur.

“Do you know,” she said, “I take a double interestin these things; first of all, because they are autographsof distinguished people, but, in the secondplace, because I can read their characters so wellfrom their handwritings.”

“I wonder if you can tell me anything of thisman’s character, then?” said the novelist, with a lookin her eyes which set Mrs. Elles thinking. MissGiles, in her way, was attractive. It was not Mrs.Elles’ way, but Mrs. Elles had sufficient discernmentto see merit in a style that was not her style at all.Miss Giles had no pose, unless it was that of bonhomie.The charm of her face lay in its nobility,touched with shrewdness; a certain modest mannishnessas of a woman who had to look after herself, andwho had cut out a way for herself, marked her appearance.Her dress was not in any way unfeminine, butMrs. Elles decided that she would have looked well,dressed as a boy. She had beautiful eyes, and dark{10}hair that curled. She must always have

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