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05! CALIF* LIlRaHY, LOS



THE HUMAN INTEREST



THE



HUMAN INTEREST



A STUDY IN INCOMPATIBILITIES



BY



VIOLET HUNT

AUTHOR Of
"A HARD WOMAN," " UNKI8T UNKIND," " THE MAIDEN'S PROGRESS."





HERBERT S. STONE AND COMPANY
CHICAGO AND NEW YORK

MDCCCXCIX

\ fo '



COPYRIGHT 1899, BY
HERBERT 8. STONE & CO



THE HUMAN INTEREST



CHAPTEE I

One dull afternoon and it was in summer a
London authoress of some repute, whose nom-de-
gnerre was Egidia, was wandering along the pave-
ment of a dull and imposing street in Newcastle.
Day was beginning to decline, but the approach of
evening was not alone responsible for the heartfelt
ejaculation of the South-country woman, "Oh, this
Northern gloom!" as she walked along under the
smoky pall that, summer and winter, shrouds the city.

She stood still presently, carefully scanning the
solemn, stately houses with pillared porticos all of
the self -same pattern, which run in an interminable
row to a vanishing point seemingly far beyond con-
jecture.

"Each of the houses is exactly like the other," she
murmured to herself. "In which, I wonder, does
the Muse of Newcastle hold her court? Like most
muses, she gave no number. I must judge by out-

1



THE HUMAN INTEREST



sides. Oh, here we are; green Liberty curtains in
the windows a more daring green on the door a
knocker of mediaeval tendencies! I will try."

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

"I promised to call on this woman, and I am doing
it, but I shall be bored. She will talk of Ibsen, and
Meredith, and tell me she had read Plato through
before she was fifteen. She will take herself seri-
ously, and me too, and inundate me with questions
about the people in London. All these provincials
do. Still, she pressed me so prettily to call that I
could not say No. But I shall be bored! Is Mrs.
Mortimer Elles at home?" she enquired of the hand-
some, full-blown parlour maid who opened the door
widely and invitingly.

"Oh, yes, ma'am this is Mrs. Elles' day at home."

"Much too familiar!" thought Egidia, as she fol-
lowed the swing of the maid's cap streamers through
portiered doorways and past Syrian shawl-draped
cornices, and other pathetically futile attempts to
conceal the impossible architecture of a commonplace
house, built in a bad period, and decorated originally
on the worst principles.

"Muslin curtains are a mistake in an atmosphere
like this of Newcastle!" she thought, "and a parlour-
maid should not aim at looking like Madame Sans
Gene."

She was shown into a drawing-room, "stamped
with the evidences of culture," as the interviewer



THE HUMAN INTEKEST



would say, and "redolent of a personality." Books
were scattered about ; the piano stood open, with the
latest "mood" of the latest fashionable composer
lying on it; there were magazines, with paper-knives
negligently bisecting their leaves. There were, on
the walls, some grim old pictures family portraits,
presumably of ill-tempered, high-stocked old gentle-
men and prim, dignified ladies, but they were inter-
spersed with sundry scratchy and erratic modern
etchings and photogravures; there were great bowls
of flowers whose apparent substance, the authoress
could not help suspecting, was cleverly eked out with
artificial imitations procurable at drapers' shops.
The whole effect was rather pretty and French, and
thoroughly out of keeping with the grim realities of
Northern hardness and abnegation of art-feeling that
reigned outside.

A young woman, beautifully dressed, who was sit-
ting over the fire, though it was not cold, rose eagerly
to receive her distinguished guest, exclaiming, with
the most flattering and heart-felt emphasis,

"Oh, Miss Giles, how good of you to come! I was
afraid you would have quite forgotten me and my day ! ' '

She was a slight woman, not tall, but slender
enough to look so. Her eyes were very large and
bright, her cheeks, flushed, perhaps with the fire.
She made wrinkles when she laughed, but she did not
look more than twenty-eight. A little powder, care-
lessly and innocently cast there, showed on cheeks
"hollowed a little mournfully," as the poet has it.



THE HUMAN INTEREST



Her hair was arranged in hundreds of little waves and
curls, and her dress Egidia had been in the best
houses in Newcastle, during the last few days, but
had seen nothing to equal the style and taste of this
little solicitor's wife. Thought and ingenuity had
gone to the devising of that gown, but the wearer of
it had forgotten to fasten the last two buttons of her
sleeve.

"The artistic sense strongly developed but very
little power of co-ordination." So the authoress,
taking all these points into consideration and exercis-
ing her 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. I
would so much rather have you to myself but then,
some of my friends were so anxious to meet you when
I said I knew you so I had to give them a chance
you don't mind being lionized a little, do you? We
can't help it!"

The "celebrity" had been a "celebrity" so long
that she had left off objecting to the outward indica-
tions of her supremacy. Though she was a lion, and
gave lectures, she was modest and easily pacified.
She was fascinated by something curiously plaintive
and beguiling about her hostess's voice and manner ;
a suggestion of childishness, of almost weakness as
she thought, in its artificial cadences. For it was an
affectation, Miss Giles, whose nom-de-guerre was
Egidia, decided, though a pleasing one.



THE HUMAN INTEREST



"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's
ecstasies about her books and her lectures, her prettily
expressed enviousness of the presumably happier con-
ditions of her guest's life in London.

4 'Oh, what it must be to be in the midst of life,
really in it of it part of it! Here one sits, and
yearns, and only catches the far-away echoes, the
reverberations of the delightful things that are hap-
pening, 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, willing
to be instructed,

"Is Newcastle, then, worse than other provincial
towns?"

"I only know Newcastle, but I am sure it's worse.
There are a few nice advanced people, but they go
away all the time, or if they bring nice people down
from London, they keep them to themselves. I never
see any one worth talking to. Oh, it is hopeless
hopeless!" She shrugged her shoiilders. "It is
simply a form of Hades, this life for me, for I have
'glimpses of what might make me less forlorn,' of a
life to live, a world to move in. I feel I was not
meant to merely stagnate to vegetate to wither
gradually away, consumed by my own wasted energies.
You laugh! coming straight, as you do, from that
paradise of life and movement, that I am sure London



6 THE HUMAN INTEREST

i

is, you can have no idea of what Newcastle and my
life is! Inertia kills people like me, one's soul is
starved, don't you know? one's mental life has noth-
ing to feed on, no pabulum, except books and they
are not easy to get new books. I am the trial and
pest of the libraries here!"

"You read a great deal?"

"Oh, yes. I live on books. They are the greatest
possible comfort to me. They are literally my sav-
iours. I quite sympathize with the heroine of a novel
I read lately, who was kept from suicide by the sight
of her favourite poets on her book -shelf! I make
myself up a dream-life, don't you know the life I
should 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 or
three a perfect orgy of dream-lives! They cost
nothing. But I have always read a great deal. The
classics I don't neglect. I read Plato before I was
fifteen 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 and
help. I have them all on a shelf near my bed a
whole row of my favourites Browning, and Meredith
and Ibsen. I am a great Ibsenite are not you?"

"It is very fashionable!"

"Oh! but really, don't you think?" She was
becoming quite incoherent in her excitement. "Now,



THE HUMAN INTEREST



Nora in the 'Doll's House'? It is the story of so
many of us. Only it is a mistake of Ibsen to make
the husband a cheat that seems to put him too much
in the wrong, he is wrong enough, without that.
Oh, Nora was so right to leave him, I think. So
strong ! Do you know the sound of the house door
banging in that play stirs me like the sound of a
trumpet?"

"You should write a book yourself!" suggested
Egidia, indulgently, knowing well the answer she
would receive.

"Ah! I haven't time. But if I did, I could put in
things things that have happened to me experience
more of feeling than of incident, perhaps. I was
an only daughter; my father was in the army; I
travelled a good deal ; but I have not had a life of
adventure; I married when I was seventeen. My
husband was a widower then, and his son, Charles,
lives with us and his aunt, Mrs. Poynder." She
had an involuntary little shudder. "He is a solici-
tor; you know that. And he has a huge practice.
He is very much occupied, and takes no interest in
the things you and I care about. Of course, he
laughs at me for my enthusiasms but I should die
if I didn't."

There were tears in her eyes.

"Some day, if you will, you must come and stop
with me in town," said Egidia, in an access of
womanly compassion for this somewhat ungrammat-
ical but sincere tale of misfortune.



8 THE HUMAN INTEREST

"Shall I? Shall I? Oh, how lovely that would
be!" Her brilliant smile came out again. "To see
to have a glimpse of all those wonderful literary
people in whose company your life is spent."

"Well, I happen to know more of artists than I do
of 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 auto-
graph-fever leap into Mrs. Elles' eyes. "I can send
you some, if you like. I have one in my pocket now
that I can give you, from Edmund Rivers, the land-
scape painter. "

"The R. A.?" Mrs. Elles, who always took care to
have a Royal Academy Catalogue sent up to her
every year, and learnt it by heart, enquired eagerly.

"Yes, the R. A. and my second cousin!" Egidia
answered, carelessly pulling a crumpled note out
of her pocket and handing it to Mrs. Elles. "Read
it!"

"Dear Alice," (read Mrs. Elles), "I am so sorry
that I cannot have the pleasure of dining with you
on the 31st, but I hope to be in the North on the
26th, at latest, to begin my summer campaign. I see
the spring buds in the parks, and the Inspector of
Nuisances has invited me to clip my sprouting lilac
bushes, and it all reminds me too painfully of the
paradise of greenness that is growing up in the
country, and calling me. I shall soon be 'a green
thought in a green shade' as Marvel says, and very
much in my element. Yours ever, Edmund Rivers."



THE HUMAN INTEREST 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 till
November, when he comes back from what he calls
his summer campaign. He takes good care that none
of us shall even know where his happy hunting
ground is somewhere in Yorkshire, I believe ! Oh,
yes, you may keep the letter."

Mrs. Elles took the letter with her pretty, be-ringed
fingers, and scanned it again with the air of a con-
noisseur.

"Do you know," she said, "I take a double inter-
est in these things ; first of all, because they are auto-
graphs of distinguished people, but, in the second
place, because I can read their characters so well
from their handwritings."

"I wonder if you can tell me anything of this
man's character, then?" said the novelist, with a look
in her eyes which set Mrs. Elles thinking. Miss
Giles, in her way, was attractive. It was not Mrs.
Elles' way, but Mrs. Elles had sufficient discernment
to see merit in a style that was not her style at all.
Miss Giles had no pose, unless it was that of bon-
homie. The charm of her face lay in its nobility,
touched with shrewdness ; a certain modest mannish-
ness as of a woman who had to look after herself, and
who had cut out a way for herself, marked her appear-
ance. Her dress was not in any way unfeminine, but
Mrs. Elles decided that she would have looked well,
dressed as a boy. She had beautiful eyes, and dark



10 THE HUMAN INTEREST

hair that curled. She must always have looked
thirty-six, and would probably never look any older
than she looked now.

"It is a very odd, characteristic handwriting
indeed," she began gravely, "he is complicated, tre-
mendously complicated, I should say."

"He is an artist, a genius indeed, in my opinion,"
said the novelist, soberly.

"Ah! then, of course, he has a right to be eccen-
tric. They all are, aren't they? Well, isn't he a little
how shall I say it? fanciful, faddish, difficult to
got on with?"

"You have, in the words of the song, 'got to know
him first,' " quoted Egidia, laughing.

"And you do know him, well, of course! But still,
I should say he is what is called a misogynist."

She was watching the effect of her words on the
other. Even the strong-minded authoress of novels
with a purpose has her weak spot, she was glad to see.

"Hating women! Well, I can't say he pays them
much attention. I don't suppose he ever looked at
a woman in his life!" There was certainly a touch of
bitterness in this speech, and Mrs. Elles was delighted.

"Not married then!" she exclaimed. "And yet, I
should say that he is not obtuse to the charm of
material things that he is even a great lover of
beauty in the abstract, then, I suppose. Nature
you said he was a landscape painter, didn't you?
Does he never put people into his pictures never put
you, for instance?"



THE HUMAN INTEREST 11

Egidia laughed.

"No? Well, I must say I don't care for pictures
without any human interest at all."

"Then you wouldn't care for Edmund Rivers' work,
unless you could get your romance out of the scarred,
weather-beaten face of an old windmill or a ruined
castle ! He leaves the human interest entirely out of
his pictures."

"And out of his life, too, it seems," said the other,
"and both suffer in consequence. Don't tell me;
there is something wrong about a man who doesn't
care for women ! Some day one will awaken him.
But meantime I see a certain want of sympathy in the
determined uprightness of these capital N's that
refuse to merge properly into the letters that come
after, and obstinacy in the blunt endings of those g's.
And yet he must have great delicacy of touch he
seems to feel certain words as he writes them. Isn't
his painting very refined and delicate?"

"It is all sorts, strong and delicate at once," Egidia
asseverated with enthusiasm.

"And he is a great friend of yours!" Mrs. Elles
remarked conclusively, folding up the letter and put-
ting it in her pocket. She was now quite confirmed
in her theory that the authoress had a secret passion
for the painter. "Is he young?"

"Fifty!" said Egidia, bluntly; she was beginning
to guess the drift of her companion's thoughts, and,
though secretly amused at them, was minded to put
her off a little, "and his hair is turning grey. "



12



"But I adore grey hair," Mrs. Elles exclaimed
hastily and enthusiastically, as the door opened and
a Miss Drummond was announced.

"Oh dear!" ejaculated the hostess, almost in the
new arrival's hearing, but made amends for her dis-
courtesy by a very effusive greeting. She introduced
"Miss Giles Egidia, you know;" with a flourish as
one" with whom she was on deeply intimate terms,
casting at the same time a pathetic, imploring look in
the latter's direction, as much as to ask her not to
discount her statement. Then more people came in.
The room was filling.

"Don't go," she whispered to Egidia, more as an
appeal than a civility, and the good-natured authoress
stayed and watched her, and studied her.

She saw that dim notions of Madame Recamier to
be emulated and a salon to be held prevailed in the
mind of the lady whom she had dubbed the Muse of
Newcastle. Such culture, such an atmosphere of
literary gossip as is current in many a second-class
literary centre in London, flourished here, and Mrs.
Elles led the inferior revels with aplomb and discrimi-
nation. She manoeuvred her guests very cleverly, on
the whole, and talked much and well with the slight
tendency to exaggerate which Egidia had already
noticed in her. Like many restless, excitable people,
she did not seem able to both talk and look at a per-
son at the same time, and her restless eyes were con-
tinually directed towards the door, as if expecting
and dreading a fresh arrival.



THE HUMAN INTEREST 13

About half -past five the mystery was solved; a tall,
well set-up woman of fifty walked in, bonnetless, who
seemed to know nearly everybody and shook hands
with all the painful effect of a bone-crushing machine,
as Egidia experienced when "my aunt, Mrs. Poyn-
der," was introduced to her. The stout lady then
took a tiny seat near Miss Drummond, and Egidia
was much diverted by her loudly -spoken comments on
her niece's guests. She was a woman to whom a
whisper was obviously an impossible operation.

"And which is Fibby's grand London authoress
she's so set up with?" she was heard to ask. "Fibby
mumbles names so that I haven't a notion which it
is! Oh, deary me, here's the Newcastle poet. I'm
sure he has no call to stoop as he comes in; he
needn't think he's tall enough to graze the lintel.
. . . But I would dearly like to cut his hair for him.
. . . Po-uttry! No! po-uttry I can't stand . . .
why, if a man's got anything to say, can't he say it
straight without so much ado?" The Newcastle poet,
who wore his hair nearly as long as poets do in Lon-
don, shook hands and presented a slim, green volume
to Mrs. Elles.

"You must write 'Phoebe Elles' in it!" his hostess
said, imperiously, and led him to a side table, where,
with many a dedicatory flourish, he did as she required.
Then she introduced him to Egidia, with the air of
one introducing Theocritus and Sappho.

"And do you kill the lovers?" she asked, alluding,
presumably, to characters in the volume she held.



14 THE HUMAN INTEREST

"How relentless of you!" She added to her guests,
"I had the privilege of reading it in the proof, you
know."

"Ah! I had to kill them," he murmured, plaint-
ively, "sooner than let them know the sad satiety of
love."

"My goodness!" Mrs. Poynder muttered.

The conversation, appallingly immoral as it was, yet
seemed to interest the good lady, for she drew nearer
and formed a chorus to the very modern discussion
that ensued between the poet and Egidia and her
niece, of which London and London literary society
was the theme. The epigrams that were flying about
she visibly and audibly pooh-poohed. "Give me
Newcastle!" she murmured at intervals, and "You,
a mere lad, too!" was elicited from her by any
world-weary extravagance of the poet's. He was in
self-defence ; driven to incidentally mention his age
quite a respectable age, as it appeared. Mrs. Elles
was not to be outdone

"I am twenty -six," he remarked, with an air of
reluctant candour.

"And a very good age to stop at!" observed her
aunt, with intention.

The novelist looked with compassion on this poor
woman who, like Widrington, fought the battle of
pose and society, at such frightful odds. The poet
presently drifted in her direction and they held a
short but epoch-making as regarded Mrs. Elles
conversation.



THE HUMAN INTEREST 15

"Mrs. Poynder is to me just like an upas-tree," he
confided to Egidia, wringing his hands together.
"In her shadow, any poetical idea would wither and
die!"

"There is, indeed, a good deal of shadow!"
remarked Egidia, alluding to Mrs. Poynder 's truly
majestic proportions. "She is a handsome woman in
her way!"

"l^es," he replied wearily, "plenty of presence,
and all of it bad, as they said of George III. But
seriously, you know, she leads our dear friend a sad
life. She contradicts her in everything, and thwarts
every instinct of culture. If Mrs. Elles had not
plenty of pluck, she would have given in long ago.
And her husband!" he held up his hands.

The poet's indiscretions bore fruit in a hearty invi-
tation from Egidia to Mrs. Elles, to visit her often at
the house where she was staying in Newcastle.

"Brave little woman! I will try and cheer her up
a bit!" she thought, as she left the house.

The little party broke up soon after, and Mrs. Elles
was left alone with her aunt, who, as the door closed
on the last guest, opened her lips and gave, uncalled
for, her opinions of the guest.

"That's a real nice woman!" she said, "that littry
friend of yours; I approve of her. It's a good thing
I didn't take your advice, Fibby, and go trapesing up
to Jesmond, this afternoon, to call on Miss Drum-
mond. Why, the girl was here. And such a crowd, too.
You said there wouldn't be anybody here to-day!"



16 THE HUMAN INTEREST

"Did I? One never knows," replied her niece
negligently, sauntering up to the piano, and opening
it.

"I'll be bound you knew well enough, Fibby.
Wanted to be rid of the old woman, eh? Well, I'm
glad I defeated your little plans, and saw your friend,
who seemed a sensible sort of woman, not the flyabas-
tic sort you generally get here. Pity but she'd seen
Mortimer!"

"Do you think Mortimer would have impressed
her?" asked his wife, bitterly.

"And why not? Are you ashamed of your hus-
band, Fibby? It's my belief that you are ashamed of
us all, and hankering after those London people and
the ramshackle life they seem to lead. Gallant times
they have, to be sure! Thinking only of themselves
and their pleasures and making love to each other's
wives ! And you are just savage because you aren't
there, too! Oh! I know you!"

Mrs. Elles had broken out into a stormy mazurka
that nearly drowned Mrs. Poynder's words, as possibly
she intended it to do. "Ay! ay!" the latter
remarked, "work it off that way I advise you!"

"Don't insult me, aunt!"

Mrs. Poynder laughed in her own harsh fashion,
and, looking towards the door whose handles just
then turned, called out, "Come in, Mortimer! Come
and speak to this wife of yours!"

The clumsy, thick-necked man who entered stopped
short and looked round stupidly ; his wife sat with her



THE HUMAN INTEREST 17

back turned, playing; his aunt stood there, smiling
her cruel, blighting smile, that showed a set of the
most perfectly formed teeth that money could buy.
He took his cue from her, and going across the room,
laid a heavy hand on his wife's shoulder, saying
kindly,

"What's the matter, old lady?"

"Oh, Mortimer, please don't call me that. I can't
bear it!"

She hid her face in the keyboard and sobbed vio-
lently.

"Well, really! "said he.

"Hysterical!" said the aunt, still smiling. "I
don't wonder, after the conversation we have been
having, and the things we have been hearing!
Fibby's had grand new London friends here to put
her out of love with us all. We're all too plain and
common for Fibby now!"

Still smiling was a smile ever so denuded of grace
and benevolence? she gathered up her crochet and
left the room. Mrs. Elles then rose from the piano,
and, dabbing her handkerchief to her eyes, made a
step in the direction of the door. But she changed
her mind and stood still by the mantelpiece with the
figure half averted.

"I'm sure I beg all your pardons," she murmured,
almost inaudibly. "Oh, damn! where 's the paper?"
said Mortimer Elles. Securing it, and sinking into
an arm-chair with a great, puffing breath, he hid his
face behind the broad white sheet. His coat tails



18 THE HUMAN INTEREST

caught the Oriental cloth on a small table near him
and dragged it nearly off. Mrs. Elles rushed forward
and saved one of the many pieces of china that rested
on it from destruction.

"Throw the beastly thing on the fire!" he growled
out, without looking up. "This house is far too full."
A gong sounded.

"I am going up to dress for dinner," she said,
aggressively, standing in front of him. "Shan't you,
Mortimer?"

"There's nobody coming, is there?"


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