BLTC Press Titles

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The Characters of Theophrastus


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Mastering flame

by Unknown


Which was exactly what every one else did—at least for a period. And Lilith Armistead was that singular nonentity—a person without an enemy. Before her marriage, when as Wayne had guessed, she lived in the comparative poverty of a small New Hampshire parsonage, she had been too unvaryingly simple with people to invite even jealousy of her loveliness. Perhaps she had always had an uncanny realization of the market value of herself—" herself" with Lilith meaning her wonderful hair and queer long eyes, that scarcely tinted skin and curved scarlet mouth—most appealing of all. She spoke but one language, and that the visible; but she spoke it without a phantom flaw, and there was no trouble in finding others equally conversant in it. More than one man had wanted to annex her before she finally was satisfied to belong to John Armistead (whom she met on a Sunday School picnic excursion to Nantucket); but Lilith had an excellent though unconscious sense of values, as long as they came under the tangible, and she held out until she got ample exchange.

With Armistead her ideals, after long years of starvation, received complete reward; and even her father, a mild unworldly soul, who had shrunk from the marriage as savouring of materialism, rejoiced to see "Lillie" so contented. The gentle minister had been, in the secret of his confession, relieved at his only child's leaving him. Always pliable, considerate, and making for his comfort, there was yet some evasive quality about her which disquieted him —a lack so subtle that he could not have given voice to it. But he laid their discrepancies—hers and his— at the door of his youthful marriage with Elena Tanguey, a New Orleans girl—a beauty too in an odd Spanish way, and a Catholic by instinct, as well as by birth. His wife's father had been at school with his father, and when the young man was asked to visit in the Southern city, his case of first love had run the gamut of folly, and resulted in marriage: hence Lilith's mother. People wondered then that he had not fancied Nanon, the more even-tempered half-sister (Zona's mother), who, though a few months older than he, was beautiful and charming and altogether more on the New England pattern. But men will love wrong, and ridiculously incompatible matches will be made as long as two headstrong sexes people the world. So Robert Marlowe and Elena Tanguey made what best they could of their blunder. Elena, coming of a long line of hot-headed Castilians, not a few of whom had shown traces of insanity, froze in her husband's New England home under the combined chill of climate and provincial distrust. But before her pathetically eager death she had spent ten ineradicable years with her child—the child whose extravagant beauty and slow swaying grace was a wonderful compensation to the woman who had failed in the biggest game. The old minister often thought of those years, when he came suddenly into contact with one of Lilith's incomprehensibilities; and he sighed sometimes over the duplicate defalcation of the two women—the dead and the living— who should have meant to him the most in life.

With the help of his own sister, and of Nanon Raimund—she too had ultimately married a Northerner—he attempted to "raise" Lilith in the orthodox New Hampshire way, even altering her heathenish name so that it conformed more nearly to the bylaws of Puritan nomenclature. But he was not, like John Armistead, without a sense of applicability, and in his heart he knew that the liquid pagan syllables chosen by her mother, matched his child's nature to the defiance of inane, insipid " Lillie." He had been shamefacedly glad of the necessity of acknowledging it in her marriage service; and on the rare occasions when he had seen her since then, he had as far as he could avoided calling her name. She was happy, and married to a "good man"; and the white-haired little minister returned to his books and his people with a breath of great relief, each time he came from visiting her.

Lilith herself was serenely unconscious of having failed her father's spirituality. With him as with her husband, she had followed the smooth line of least resistance, until she fitted its groove with what seemed an irrevocable exactness. In Nevada, and later in New York, she lived as irreproachablyaccepting as she had in her father's village; the only difference lay in a certain crystallization of her standards, which, in turn, led to a settling of feature, although with regard to this also, Lilith was unconscious. She knew that with money—that is the right clothes and careful grooming—she was more beautiful than she had been before; and she knew that to be beautiful, and to have everything and every individual around her de luxe of its kind, was her paramount object in existing. But she had never said so, not even to herself—for it goes without asserting that she was not self-communicative. Few true Epicureans—and there are but few—have time for themselves. The pursuit of perfect things is absorbing, and never-ending. Only once in a long while the ego puts forward its claim, and then in the person of the most fastidious.

Lilith's ego was but just beginning to stir out of its fixed somnolence. In the few days since she had arrived in Hong-kong, and especially during that day since she had come within the actual walls that bounded it, the influence of awakening had whispered its advent. And—as though it feared to startle that prolonged sleep—even the whisper was slow, indolent, and full of the grace she had been born adoring. Lilith scarcely heard it, as yet; she was by habit so taken up with those inanimate whispers we have come to call surroundings.

"Do you like your room?" she asked her cousin kindly. Zona was pulling photographs out of a halfunpacked trunk. Lilith noticed without curiosity that she looked at one of them for a full half minute before she answered

"Oh, well enough. It's rather an odd room for a man's house, don't you think? Yours is much more obvious." She glanced about with a sort of comprehensive inventory of the nun-gray walls, soft golden hangings and dull-cushioned chairs. It was an undeniable antithesis to the rose and white luxury of Lilith's apartment, but Zona decided that she was flattered at the consul's assignation. It would have exasperated her if he had put her in a corresponding blue and white bower; for none of her impatiences was more violent than impatience of the trite.

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