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SACRIFICE

by

STEPHEN FRENCH WHITMAN

Author of "Predestined," Etc.

[Frontispiece: "COME CLOSER, I WANT TO LOOK AT YOU."]

D. Appleton and Company New York :: 1922 :: London

Copyright, 1922, by D. Appleton and Company

Copyright, 1921 1922, by The Ridgway Company

SACRIFICE

PART ONE

CHAPTER I

Lilla Delliver's parents, killed in a railway accident, left their child a legacy other than the fortune that the New York newspapers mentioned in the obituaries.

The mother had been tall, blonde, rather wildly handsome, with the look of one of those neurotic queens who suppress under a proud manner many psychic disturbances. Painfully fastidious in her tastes, she had avoided every unnecessary contact with mediocrity. Reclining on a couch in her boudoir, she read French novels saturated with an exquisite sophistication. Then, letting the book slip from her fingers, she gazed into space, as listless as a lady immured in a seraglio on the Bosphorous. At night, if the opera was Tristan , she went down to her limousine with the furtive eagerness of a woman escaping from monotony into a secret world. She drove home with feverish cheeks, and when her husband spoke to her she gave him the blank stare of a somnambulist.

After a busy social season she was liable to melancholia. She sat by the window in a charming negligée, paler than a camellia, hardly turning her head when, at twilight, her child was led in to kiss her.

Recovering, somehow, she traveled.

On those journeys every possible hardship was neutralized by wealth. Yet even for her the sea could not always be calm, or the skies of the Midi and the Riviera blue. In Venice, at midnight, the soft, hoarse cries of the gondoliers made her toss fretfully on her canopied bed. In Switzerland, as dawn flushed the snow peaks, awakened by the virile voices of the guides, she started up from her pillow in a daze of resentment and perverse antipathy.

She calmed herself by listening to the sermons of swamis in yellow robes, and by sitting in cathedrals with her eyes fixed upon the splendor of the altar.

Wherever they traveled, her husband went about inquiring for new physicians "specialists in neurasthenia." But then he usually felt the need of a physician's services also.

He was taller than his wife, a brownish, meager, handsome man with dark circles round his eyes. A doctor had once told him that some persons never had more than a limited amount of nervous energy; so he was always trying to conserve his share, as if the prolongation of his idle life were very important. Yet he was not dull. He had written several essays, on classical subjects, that were privately circulated in sumptuous bindings. He played Brahms with unusual talent. But certain colors and perfumes set his nerves on edge, while the sight of blood, if more than a drop or two, made him feel faint.

Disillusioned from travel, because they had viewed all those fair, exotic scenes through the blurred auras of their emotional infirmities, he and his wife returned to their home in New York. There they were protected against all contact with ugliness, all ignoble influences, all sources of unhappiness except themselves.

It was a stately old house for two hundred years the Dellivers and the Balbians had been stately families a house always rather dim, its shadows aglimmer with richness, and here and there a beam of light illuminating some flawless, precious object. It was a house of silent servants, of faces imprinted with a gracious weariness, of beautifully modulated low voices, of noble reticence. Yet all the while the place quivered from secret transports of anguish.

In this atmosphere Lilla, the child, was like a delicate instrument on which are recorded, to be ultimately reproduced, myriad vibrations too subtle for appreciation by the five senses. Or, one might say, the small, apparent form that this man and this woman had created in their likeness as it were a fatal sublimation of their blended physical selves became the fragile vessel into which, drop by drop, the essences of all their most unfortunate emotions were being distilled... Continue reading book >>




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