A Story of the Latin Quarter

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

He is one of the Americans,” his fellow locataires said among themselves. “Poor and alone and in bad health. A queer fellow.”

Having made this reply to those who questioned them, they were in the habit of dismissing the subject lightly. After all, it was nothing to them, since he had never joined their circle.

They were a gay, good-natured lot, and made a point of regarding life as airily as possible, and taking each day as it came with fantastic good cheer. The house—which stood in one of the shabbiest corners of the Latin Quarter—was full of them from floor to garret—artists, students, models, French, English, Americans, living all of them merrily, by no means the most regular of lives. But there were good friends among them; their world was their own, and they found plenty of sympathy in their loves and quarrels, their luck and ill-luck. Upon the whole there was more ill-luck than luck. Lucky men did not choose for their head-quarters such places as this rather dilapidated building,—they could afford to go elsewhere, to places where the Quarter was better, where the stairs were less rickety, the passages less dark, and the concierge not given to chronic intoxication. Here came the unlucky ones, whose ill-luck was of various orders and degrees: the young ones who were some day to paint pictures which would be seen in the Palais de l’Industrie and would be greeted with acclamations by an appreciative public; the older ones who had painted pictures which had been seen at the Palais de l’Industrie and had not been appreciated at all; the poets whose sonnets were of too subtle an order to reach the common herd; the students who had lived beyond the means allowed them by their highly respectable families, and who were consequently somewhat off color in the eyes of the respectable families in question—these and others of the same class, all more or less poor, more or less out at elbows, and more or less in debt. And yet, as I have said, they lived gayly. They painted, and admired or criticised each other’s pictures; they lent and borrowed with equal freedom; they bemoaned their wrongs loudly, and sang and laughed more loudly still as the mood seized them; and any special ill-fortune befalling one of their number generally aroused a display of sympathy which, though it might not last long, was always a source of consolation to the luckless one.

But the American, notwithstanding he had been in the house for months, had never become one of them. He had been seen in the early spring going up the stairway to his room, which was a mere garret on the sixth story, and it had been expected among them that in a day or so he would present himself for inspection. But this he did not do, and when he encountered any of their number in his out-goings or in-comings he returned their greetings gently in imperfect French. He spoke slowly and with difficulty, but there was no coldness in his voice or manners, and yet none got much further than the greeting.

He was a young fellow, scarcely of middle height, frail in figure, hollow-chested, and with a gentle face and soft, deeply set dark eyes. That he worked hard and lived barely it was easy enough to discover. Part of each day he spent in the various art galleries, and after his return from these visits he was seen no more until the following morning.

“Until the last ray of light disappears he is at his easel,” said a young student whom a gay escapade had temporarily banished to the fifth floor. “I hear him move now and then and cough. He has a villainous cough.”

“He is one of the enthusiasts,” said another. “One can read it in his face. What fools they are—these enthusiasts! They throw away life that a crown of laurel may be laid upon their coffins.”

In the summer some of them managed to leave Paris, and the rest had enough to do to organize their little excursions and make the best of the sunshine, shade and warmth. But when those who had been away returned and all settled down for the winter, they found the “American” as they called him, in his old place. He had not been away at all; he had worked as hard as ever through midsummer heat and autumn rain; he was frailer in figure, his clothes were more worn, his face was thinner and his eyes far too hollow and bright, but he did not look either discouraged or unhappy.

“How does he live?” exclaimed the concierge dramatically. “The good God knows! He eats nothing, he has no fire, he wears the clothing of midsummer—he paints—he paints—he paints! Perhaps that is enough for him. It would not be for me.”

At this time—just as the winter entered with bleak winds and rains and falls of powdery snow—there presented herself among them an arrival whose appearance created a sensation.

One night on his way up-stairs, the American found himself confronted on the fourth floor by a flood of light streaming through the open door of a before unoccupied room. It was a small room, meagerly furnished, but there was a fire in it and half a dozen people who laughed and talked at the top of their voices. Five of them were men he had seen before,—artists who lived in the house,—but the sixth was a woman whom he had never seen and whose marvellous beauty held him spell-bound where he stood.

She was a woman of twenty-two or three, with an oval face whose fairness was the fairness of ivory. She was dark-eyed and low-browed, and as she leaned forward upon the table and looked up at the man who spoke to her, even the bright glow of the lamp, which burned directly before her face, showed no flaw in either tint or outline.

“Why should we ask the reason of your return?” said the man. “Let us rejoice that you are here.”

“I will tell you the reason,” she answered, without lowering her eyes. “I was tired.”

“A good reason,” was the reply.

She pushed her chair back and stood upright; her hands hung at her side; the men were all looking at her; she smiled down at them with fine irony.

“Who among you wishes to paint me?” she said. “I am again at your service, and I am not less handsome than I was.”

Then there arose among them a little rapturous murmur, and somehow it broke the spell which had rested upon the man outside. He started, shivered slightly and turned away. He went up to the bare coldness of his own room and sat down, forgetting that it was either cold or bare. Suddenly, as he had looked at the woman’s upturned face, a great longing had seized upon him.

“I should like to paint you—I,” he found himself saying to the silence about him. “If I might paint you!”

He heard the next day who she was. The concierge was ready enough to give him more information than he had asked.

“Mademoiselle Natalie, Monsieur means,” he said; “a handsome girl that; a celebrated model. They all know her. Her face has been the foundation of more than one great picture. There are not many like her. One model has this beauty—another that; but she, mon Dieu, she has all. A great creature, Mademoiselle.”

Afterward, as the days went by, he found that she sat often to the other artists. Sometimes he saw her as she went to their rooms or came away; sometimes he caught a glimpse of her as he passed her open door, and each time there stirred afresh within him the longing he had felt at first. So it came about that one afternoon, as she came out of a studio in which she had been giving a sitting, she found waiting outside for her the thinly clad, frail figure of the American. He made an eager yet hesitant step forward, and began to speak awkwardly in French.

She stopped him.

“Speak English,” she said, “I know it well.”

“Thank you,” he answered simply, “that is a great relief. My French is so bad. I am here to ask a great favor from you, and I am sure I could not ask it well in French.”

“What is the favor?” she inquired, looking at him with some wonder.

He was a new type to her, with his quiet directness of speech and his gentle manner.

“I have heard that you are a professional model,” he replied, “and I have wished very much to paint what—what I see in your face. I have wished it from the first hour I saw you. The desire haunts me. But I am a very poor man; I have almost nothing; I cannot pay you what the rest do. To-day I came to the desperate resolve that I would throw myself upon your mercy—that I would ask you to sit to me, and wait until better fortune comes.”

She stood still a moment and gazed at him.

“Monsieur,” she said at length, “are you so poor as that?”

He colored a little, but it was not as if with shame.

“Yes,” he answered, “I am very poor. I have asked a great deal of you, have I not?”

She gave him still another long look.

“No,” she said, “I will come to you to-morrow, if you will direct me to your room.”

“It is on the sixth floor,” he replied; “the highest of all. It is a bare little place.”

“I will come,” she said, and was turning away when he stopped her.

“I—I should like to tell you how grateful I am—” he began.

“There is no need,” she responded with bitter lightness. “You will pay me some day—when you are a great artist.” But when she reached the next landing she glanced down and saw that he still stood beneath watching her.

The next day she kept her word and went to him. She found his room poorer and barer even than she had fancied it might be. The ceiling was low and slanting; in one corner stood a narrow iron bedstead, in another a wooden table; in the best light the small window gave his easel was placed with a chair before it.

When he had opened the door in answer to her summons, and she saw all this, she glanced quickly at his face to see if there was any shade of confusion upon it, but there was none. He appeared only rejoiced and eager.

“I felt sure it was you,” he said.

“Were you then so sure that I would come?” she asked.

“You said you would,” he answered. He placed her as he wished to paint her, and then sat down to his work. In a few moments he was completely absorbed in it. For a long time he did not speak at all. The utter silence which reigned—a silence which was not only a suspension of speech but a suspension of any other thought beyond his task—was a new experience to her. His cheek flushed, his eyes burned dark and bright; it seemed as if he scarcely breathed. When he turned to look at her she was conscious each time of a sudden thrill of feeling. More than once he paused for several moments, brush and palette in hand, simply watching her face. At one of these pauses she herself broke the silence.

“Why do you look at me so?” she asked. “You look at me as if—as if—” And she broke off with an uneasy little laugh.

He roused himself with a slight start and colored sensitively, passing his hand across his forehead.

“What I want to paint is not always in your face,” he answered. “Sometimes I lose it, and then I must wait a little until—until I find it again. It is not only your face I want, it is yourself—yourself!” And he made a sudden unconscious gesture with his hands.

She tried to laugh again,—hard and lightly as before,—but failed.

“Myself!” she said. “Mon Dieu! Do not grasp at me, Monsieur. It will not pay you. Paint my flesh, my hair, my eyes,—they are good,—but do not paint me.”

He looked troubled.

“I am afraid my saying that sounded stilted,” he returned. “I explained myself poorly. It is not easy for me to explain myself well.”

“I understood,” she said; “and I have warned you.”

They did not speak to each other again during the whole sitting except once, when he asked her if she was warm enough.

“I have a fire to-day,” he said.

“Have you not always a fire?” she asked.

“No,” he answered with a smile; “but when you come here there will always be one.”

“Then,” she said, “I will come often, that I may save you from death.”

“Oh!” he replied, “it is easier than you think to forget that one is cold.”

“Yes,” she returned. “And it is easier than you think for one to die.”

When she was going away, she made a movement toward the easel, but he stopped her.

“Not yet,” he said. “Not just yet.”

She drew back.

“I have never cared to look at myself before,” she said. “I do not know why I should care now. Perhaps,” with the laugh again, “it is that I wish to see what you will make of me!”

Afterward, as she sat over her little porcelain stove in her room below, she scarcely comprehended her own mood.

“He is not like the rest,” she said. “He knows nothing of the world. He is one of the good. He cares only for his art. How simple, and kind, and pure! The little room is like a saint’s cell.” And then, suddenly, she flung her arms out wearily, with a heavy sigh. “Ah, Dieu!” she said, “how dull the day is! The skies are lead!”

A few days later she gave a sitting to an old artist whose name was Masson, and she found that he had heard of what had happened.

“And so you sit to the American,” he said.


“Well—and you find him—?”

“I find him,” she repeated after him. “Shall I tell you what I find him?”

“I shall listen with delight.”

“I find him—a soul! You and I, my friend—and the rest of us—are bodies; he is a soul!”

The artist began to whistle softly as he painted.

“It is dangerous work,” he said at length, “for women to play with souls.”

“That is true,” she answered, coldly.

The same day she went again to the room on the sixth floor. She again sat through an hour of silence in which the American painted eagerly, now and then stopping to regard her with searching eyes.

“But not as the rest regard me,” she said to herself. “He forgets that it is a woman who sits here. He sees only what he would paint.”

As time went by, this fact, which she always felt, was in itself a fascination.

In the chill, calm atmosphere of the place there was repose for her. She found nothing to resent, nothing to steel herself against, she need no longer think of herself at all. She had time to think of the man in whose presence she sat. From the first she had seen something touching in his slight stooping figure, thin young face and dark womanish eyes, and after she had heard the simple uneventful history of his life, she found them more touching still.

He was a New Englander, the last surviving representative of a frail and short-lived family. His parents had died young, leaving him quite alone, with a mere pittance to depend upon, and throughout his whole life he had cherished but one aim.

“When I was a child I used to dream of coming here,” he said, “and as I grew older I worked and struggled for it. I knew I must gain my end some day, and the time came when it was gained.”

“And this is the end?” she asked, glancing round at the poor place. “This is all of life you desire?”

He did not look up at her.

“It is all I have,” he answered.

She wondered if he would not ask her some questions regarding herself, but he did not.

“He does not care to know,” she thought sullenly. And then she told herself that he did know, and a mocking devil of a smile settled on her lip and was there when he turned toward her again.

But the time never came when his manner altered, when he was less candid and gentle, or less grateful for the favor she was bestowing upon him.

She scarcely knew how it was that she first began to know the sound of his foot upon the stairway and to listen for it. Her earliest consciousness of it was when once she awakened suddenly out of a dead sleep at night and found herself sitting upright with her hand upon her heavily throbbing heart.

“What is it?” she cried in a loud whisper. But she spoke only to herself and the darkness. She knew what it was and did not lie down again until the footsteps had reached the top of the last flight and the door above had opened and closed.

The time arrived when there was scarcely a trifling incident in his everyday life which escaped her. She saw each sign of his poverty and physical weakness. He grew paler day by day. There were days when his step flagged as he went up and down the staircase; some mornings he did not go out at all. She discovered that each Sunday he went twice to the little American chapel in the Rue de Berri, and she had seen in his room a small Protestant Bible.

“You read that?” she asked him when she first saw it.


She leaned forward, her look curious, bewildered, even awed.

“And you believe in—God?”


She resumed her former position, but she did not remove her eyes from his face, and unconsciously she put her hand up to her swelling throat.

When at length the sitting was over and she left her chair he was standing before the easel. He turned to her and spoke hesitantly.

“Will you come and look at it?” he asked.

She went and stood where he bade her, and looked. He watched her anxiously while she did so. For the first moment there was amazement in her face, then some mysterious emotion he could not comprehend—a dull red crept slowly over brow and cheek.

She turned upon him.

“Monsieur!” she cried, passionately. “You mock me! It is a bad picture.”

He fell back a pace, staring at her and suddenly trembling with the shock.

“A bad picture!” he echoed. “I mock you—I?

“It is my face,” she said, pointing to it, “but you have made it what I am not! It is the face of a good woman—of a woman who might be a saint! Does not that mock me?”

He turned to it with a troubled, dreamy look.

“It is what I have seen in your face,” he said in a soft, absent voice. “It is a truth to me. It is what I have seen.”

“It is what no other has seen,” she said. “I tell you it mocks me.”

“It need not mock you,” he answered. “I could not have painted it if I had not felt it. It is yourself—yourself.”

“Myself?” she said. “Do you think, Monsieur, that the men who have painted me before would know it?”

She gave it another glance and a shrill laugh burst from her, but the next instant it broke off and ended in another sound. She fell upon her knees by the empty chair, her open hands flung outward, her sobs strangling her.

He stood quite near her, looking down.

“I have not thought of anything but my work,” he said. “Why should I?”

The following Sunday night the artist Masson met in going down-stairs a closely veiled figure coming up. He knew it and spoke.

“What, Natalie?” he said. “You? One might fancy you had been to church.”

“I have been,” she returned in a cold voice,—“to the church of the Americans in the Rue de Berri.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Has it done you good?” he asked.

“No,” she answered, and walked past him, leaving him to look after her and think the matter over.

She went to her own apartment and locked herself in. Having done so, she lighted every candle and lamp—flooding the place with a garish mockery of brightness. She sang as she did it—a gay, shrill air from some opéra bouffe. She tore off her dark veil and wrappings. Her eyes and cheeks flamed as if touched by some unholy fire. She moved with feverish rapidity here and there—dragging a rich dress from a trunk, and jewels and laces from their places of safe keeping, and began to attire herself in them. The simple black robe she had worn to the chapel lay on the floor. As she moved to and fro she set her feet upon it again and again, and as she felt it beneath her tread a harsh smile touched her lips.

“I shall not wear you again,” she stopped her song once to say.

In half an hour she had made her toilette. She stood before her glass, a blaze of color and jewels. For a moment she sang no more. From one of the rooms below there floated up to her sounds of riotous merriment.

This is myself,” she said; “this is no other.”

She opened her door and ran down the staircase swiftly and lightly. The founder of the feast whose sounds she had heard was a foolish young fellow who adored her madly. He was rich, and wicked, and simple. Because he had heard of her return he had taken an apartment in the house. She heard his voice above the voices of the rest.

In a moment she had flung open the door of the salon and stood upon the threshold.

At sight of her there arose a rapturous shout of delight.

“Natalie! Natalie! Welcome!”

But instantaneously it died away. One second she stood there, brilliant, smiling, defiant. The next, they saw that a mysterious change had seized upon her. She had become deathly white, and was waving them from her with a wild gesture.

“I am not coming,” she cried, breathlessly. “No! No! No!”

And the next instant they could only gaze at each others’ terror-stricken faces, at the place she had left vacant,—for she was gone.

She went up the stairs blindly and uncertainly. When she reached the turn of the fourth floor where the staircase was bare and unlighted, she staggered and sank against the balustrades, her face upturned.

“I cannot go back,” she whispered to the darkness and silence above. “Do you hear? I cannot! And it is you—you who restrain me!”

But there were no traces of her passion in her face when she went to the little studio the next day as usual. When the artist opened the door for her, it struck him that she was calm even to coldness.

Instead of sitting down, she went to the easel and stood before it.

“Monsieur,” she said, “I have discovered where your mistake lies. You have tried to paint what you fancied must once have existed, though it exists no longer. That is your mistake. It has never existed at all. I remember no youth, no childhood. Life began for me as it will end. It was my fate that it should. I was born in the lowest quarter of Paris. I knew only poverty, brutality, and crime. My beauty simply raised me beyond their power. Where should I gain what you have insisted in bestowing upon me?”

He simply stood still and looked at her.

“God knows!” he answered at length. “I do not.”

“God!” she returned with her bitter little laugh. “Yes—God!”

Then she went to her place, and said no more.

But the next Sunday she was at the American chapel again, and the next, and the next. She could scarcely have told why herself. She did not believe the doctrines she heard preached, and she did not expect to be converted to belief in them. Often, as the service proceeded, a faint smile of derision curved her lips; but from her seat in the obscure corner she had chosen she could see a thin, dark face and a stooping figure, and could lean back against the wall with a sense of repose.

“It is quiet here,” was her thought. “One can be quiet, and that is much.”

“What is the matter with her?” the men who knew her began to ask one another. But it was not easy for them to discover how the subtle change they saw had been wrought. They were used to her caprices and to occasional fits of sullenness, but they had never seen her in just such a mood as she was now. She would bear no jests from them, she would not join in their gayeties. Sometimes for days together she shut herself up in her room, and they did not see her at all.

The picture progressed but slowly. Sometimes the artist’s hand so trembled with weakness that he could not proceed with his work. More than once Natalie saw the brush suddenly fall from his nerveless fingers. He was very weak in these days, and the spot of hectic red glowed brightly on his cheek.

“I am a poor fellow at best,” he would say to her, “and now I am at my worst. I am afraid I shall be obliged to rest sooner than I fancied. I wish first I could have finished my work. I must not leave it unfinished.”

One morning when he had been obliged to give up painting, through a sudden fit of prostration, on following her to the door, he took her hand and held it a moment.

“I was awake all last night,” he said. “Yesterday I saw a poor fellow who had fallen ill on the street, carried into the Hôtel Dieu, and the memory clung to me. I began to imagine how it would be if such a thing happened to me—what I should say when they asked for my friends,—how there would be none to send for. And at last, suddenly I thought of you. I said to myself, ‘I would send for her, and I think she would come.’”

“Yes, Monsieur,” she answered. “You might depend upon my coming.”

“I am used to being alone,” he went on; “but it seemed to me as I lay in the dark thinking it over, that to die alone would be a different matter. One would want some familiar face to look at—”

“Monsieur!” she burst forth. “You speak as if Death were always near you!”

“Do I?” he said. And he was silent for a few seconds, and looked down at her hand as he held it. Then he dropped it gently with a little sigh. “Good-bye,” he said, and so they parted.

In the afternoon she sat to Masson.

“How much longer,” he said to her in the course of the sitting,—“how much longer does he mean to live—this American? He has lasted astonishingly. They are wonderful fellows, these weaklings who burn themselves out. One might fancy that the flame which finally destroys them, also kept them alive.”

“Do you then think that he is so very ill?” she asked in a low voice.

“He will go out,” he answered, “like a candle. Shall I tell you a secret?”

She made a gesture of assent.

“He starves! The concierge who has watched him says he does not buy food enough to keep body and soul together. But how is one to offer him anything? It is easy to see that he would not take it.”

There was a moment of silence, in which he went on painting.

“The trouble is,” he said at last, “that a man would not know how to approach him. It is only women who can do these things.”

Until the sitting was over neither the one nor the other spoke again. When it was over and Natalie was on the point of leaving the room, Masson looked at her critically.

“You are pale,” he remarked. “You are like a ghost.”

“Is it not becoming?” she asked.


“Then why complain?”

She went to her own room and spent half an hour in collecting every valuable she owned. They were not many; she had always been recklessly improvident. She put together in a package her few jewels, and even the laces she considered worth the most. Then she went out, and, taking a fiacre at the nearest corner, drove away.

She was absent two hours, and when she returned she stopped at the entrance, intending to ask the concierge a question. But the man himself spoke first. He was evidently greatly disturbed and not a little alarmed.

“Mademoiselle,” he began, “the young man on the sixth floor—”

“What of him?” she demanded.

“He desires to see you. He went out in spite of my warnings. Figure to yourself on such a day, in such a state of health. He returned almost immediately, wearing the look of Death itself. He sank upon the first step of the staircase. When I rushed to his assistance he held to his lips a handkerchief stained with blood! We were compelled to carry him up-stairs.”

She stood a moment, feeling her throat and lips suddenly become dry and parched.

“And he asked—for me?” she said at last.

“When he would speak, Mademoiselle—yes. We do not know why. He said, in a very faint voice, ‘She said she would come.’”

She went up the staircase slowly and mechanically, as one who moves in a dream. And yet when she reached the door of the studio she was obliged to wait for a few seconds before opening it. When she did open it she saw the attic seemed even more cold and bare than usual; that there was no fire; that the American lay upon the bed, his eyes closed, the hectic spots faded from his cheeks. But when she approached and stood near him, he opened his eyes and looked at her with a faint smile.

“If—I play you—the poor trick of—dying,” he said, “you will remember—that the picture—if you care for it—is yours.”

After a while, the doctor, who had been sent for, arrived. Perhaps he had been in no great hurry when he had heard that his services were required by an artist who lay in a garret in the Latin Quarter. His visit was a short one. He asked a few questions, wrote a prescription, and went away. He looked at Natalie oftener than at the sick man. She followed him out on to the landing, and then he regarded her with greater interest than before.

“He is very ill?” she said.

“Yes,” he answered. “He will die, of course, sooner or later.”

“You speak calmly, Monsieur,” she said.

“Such cases are an old story,” he replied. “And—you are not his wife?”


“I thought not. Nevertheless, perhaps you will remain with him until—”

“As Monsieur says,” she returned, “I will remain with him ‘until—’”

When the sick man awoke from the sleep into which he had fallen, a fire burned in the stove and a woman’s figure was seated before it.

“You are here yet?” he said faintly. She rose and moved toward him.

“I am not going away,” she answered, “if you will permit me to remain.”

His eyes shone with pathetic brightness, and he put out his hand.

“You are very kind—to a poor—weak fellow,” he whispered. “After all—it is a desolate thing—to lie awake through the night—in a place like this.”

When the doctor returned the next morning, he appeared even a shade disconcerted. He had thought it quite likely that upon his second visit he might find a scant white sheet drawn over the narrow bed, and that it would not be necessary for him to remain or call again; but it appeared that his patient might require his attention yet a few days longer.

“You have not left him at all,” he said to Natalie. “It is easy to see you did not sleep last night.”

It was true that she had not slept. Through the night she had sat in the dim glow of the fire, scarcely stirring unless some slight sound of movement from the bed attracted her attention. During the first part of the night her charge had seemed to sleep; but as the hours wore on there had been no more rest for him, and then she had known that he lay with his eyes fixed upon her; she had felt their gaze even before she had turned to meet it. Just before the dawn he became restless, and called her to his side.

“I owe you a heavy debt,” he said drearily. “And I shall leave it unpaid. I wish—I wish it was finished.”

“It?” she said.

“The picture,” he answered, “the—picture.”

Usually he was too weak for speech; but occasionally a fit of restlessness seized upon him, and then it seemed as if he was haunted continually by the memory of his unfinished work.

“It only needed a few touches,” he said once. “One day of strength would complete it—if such a day would but come to me, I know the look so well now—I see it on your face so often.” And then he lay watching her, his eyes following her yearningly, as she moved to and fro.

In the studios below, the artists waited in vain for their model. They neither saw nor heard anything of her, and they knew her moods too well to be officiously inquisitive. So she was left alone to the task she had chosen, and was faithful to it to the end.

It was not so very long it lasted, though to her it seemed a life-time. A few weeks the doctor made his visits, and at last one afternoon, in going away, he beckoned her out of the room.

He spoke in an undertone.

“To-night you may watch closely,” he said; “perhaps toward morning—but it will be very quiet.”

It was very quiet. The day had been bitter cold, and as it drew to a close it became colder still, and a fierce wind rose and whistled about the old house, shaking the ill-fitting windows and doors. But the sick man did not seem to hear it. Toward midnight he fell into a deep and quiet sleep.

Before the fire Natalie sat waiting. Now and then a little shudder passed over her as if she could not resist the cold. And yet the fire in the stove was a bright one. She had smiled to herself as she had heaped the coal upon it, seeing that there was so little left.

“It will last until morning,” she said, “and that will be long enough.” Through all the nights during which she had watched she had never felt the room so still as it seemed now between the gusts and soughing of the wind. “Something is in the air which has not been in it before,” she said.

About one o’clock she rose and replenished the fire, putting the last fragment of coal upon it, and then sat down to watch it again.

Its slow kindling and glowing into life fascinated her. It was not long before she could scarcely remove her eyes from it. She was trying to calculate—with a weird fancy in her mind—how long it would last, and whether it would die out suddenly or slowly.

As she cowered over it, if one of the men who admired her had entered he might well scarcely have known her. She was hollow-eyed, haggard and pallid—for the time even her great beauty was gone. As he had left her that day, the doctor had said to himself discontentedly that after all, these wonderful faces last but a short time.

The fire caught at the coal, lighted fitful blazes among it, and crept over it in a dull red, which brightened into hot scarlet.

And the sick man lay sleeping, breathing faintly but lightly.

“It will last until dawn,” she said,—“until dawn, and no longer.”

When the first cinder dropped with a metallic sound, she started violently and laid her hand upon her breast, but after that she scarcely stirred.

The fitful blazes died down, the hot scarlet deepened to red again, the red grew dull, a gray film of ashes showed itself upon it, and then came the first faint gray of dawn, and she sat with beating heart saying to herself,

“It will go out soon—suddenly.” And the dying man was awake, speaking to her.

“Come here,” he said in a low, clear voice. “Come here.”

She went to him and stood close by the bedside. The moment of her supreme anguish had come. But he showed no signs of pain or dread, only there was a little moisture upon his forehead and about his mouth.

His eyes shone large and bright in the snowy pallor of his face, and when he fixed them upon her she knew he would not move them away.

“I am glad—that it is—finished,” he said. “It did not tire me to work—as I thought it would. I am glad—that it is—finished.”

She fell upon her knees.

“That it is finished?” she said.

His smile grew brighter.

“The picture,” he whispered—“the picture.”

And then what she had waited for came. There was a moment of silence; the wind outside hushed itself, his lips parted, but no sound came from them, not even a fluttering breath; his eyes were still fixed upon her face, open, bright, smiling.

“I may speak now,” she cried. “I may speak now—since you cannot hear. I love you! I love you!”

But there came to her ears only one sound—the little grating shudder of the fire as it fell together and was dead.

The next morning when they heard that “the American” had at last fulfilled their prophecies, the locataires showed a spasmodic warmth of interest. They offered their services promptly, and said to each other that he must have been a good fellow, after all—that it was a pity they had not known him better. They even protested that he should not be made an object of charity—that among themselves they would do all that was necessary. But it appeared that their help was not needed—that there was in the background a friend who had done all, but whom nobody knew.

Hearing this they expressed their sympathy by going up by twos and threes to the little garret where there was now only icy coldness and silence.

Not a few among them were so far touched by the pathos they found in this as to shed a tear or so—most of them were volatile young Frenchmen who counted their sensibilities among their luxuries.

Toward evening there came two older than the rest, who had not been long in the house.

When they entered, a woman stood at the bed’s head—a woman in black drapery, with a pale and haggard face which they saw only for a moment.

As they approached she moved away, and going to the window stood there with her back toward them, gazing out at the drifted snow upon the roof. The men stood uncovered, looking down.

“It is the face of an Immortal,” said the elder of the two. “It is such men who die young.”

And then they saw the easel in the shadow of the corner, and went and turned it from the wall. When they saw the picture resting upon it, there was a long silence. It was broken at last by the older man.

“It is some woman he has known and loved,” he said. “He has painted her soul—and his own.”

The figure near them stirred—the woman’s hand crept up to the window’s side and clung to the wooden frame.

But she did not turn, and was standing so when the strangers moved away, opened the door and passed, with heads still uncovered, down the dark rickety stairs.

A fiercer cold had never frozen Paris than held it ice and snow bound through this day and the next. When the next came to its close all was over and the studios were quiet again—perhaps a little quieter for a few hours than was their wont.

Through this second day Natalie lived—slowly: through the first part of the morning in which people went heavily up and down the stairs; through the later hours when she heard them whispering among themselves upon the landings; through the hour when the footsteps that came down were heavier still, and slower, and impeded with some burden borne with care; through the moment when they rested with this burden upon the landing outside her very door, and inside she crouched against the panels—listening.

Then it was all done, and upon those upper floors there was no creature but herself.

She had lighted no fire and eaten nothing. She had neither food, fuel, nor money. All was gone.

“It is well,” she said, “that I am not hungry, and that I would rather be colder than warmer.”

She did not wish for warmth, even when night fell and brought more biting iciness. She sat by her window in the dark until the moon rose, and though shudders shook her from head to foot, she made no effort to gain warmth. She heard but few sounds from below, but she waited until all was still before she left her place.

But at midnight perfect silence had settled upon the house, and she got up and left her room, leaving the key unturned in the lock. “To-morrow, or the day after, perhaps,” she said, “they will wish to go in.” Then she went up the stairs for the last time.

Since she had heard the heavy feet lumbering with their burden past her door, a singular calm had settled upon her. It was not apathy so much as a repose born of the knowledge that there was nothing more to bear—no future to be feared.

But when she opened the door of the little room this calmness was for a moment lost.

It was so cold, so still, so bare in the moonlight which streamed through the window and flooded it. There were left in it only two things—the narrow, vacant bed covered with its white sheet, and the easel on which the picture rested, gazing out at her from the canvas with serene, mysterious eyes.

She staggered forward and sank down before it, uttering a low, terrible cry.

“Do not reproach me!” she cried. “There is no longer need. Do you not see? This is my expiation!”

For a while there was dead silence again. She crouched before the easel with bowed head and her face veiled upon her arms, making no stir or sound. But at length she rose again, numbly and stiffly. She stood up and glanced slowly about her—at the bareness, at the moonlight, at the narrow, white-draped bed.

“It will be—very cold,” she whispered as she moved toward the door. “It will be—very cold.”

And then the little room was empty, and the face upon the easel turned toward the entrance seemed to listen to her stealthily descending feet.

The next morning the two artists who had visited the dead man’s room together, were walking—together again—upon the banks of the Seine, when they found themselves drawing near a crowd of men and women who were gathered at the water’s edge.

“What has happened?” they asked, as they approached the group. “What has been found?”

A cheerful fellow in a blue blouse, standing with his hands in his pockets, answered.

“A woman. Ma foi! what a night to drown oneself in! Imagine the discomfort!”

The older man pushed his way into the centre, and a moment later uttered an exclamation.

Mon Dieu!

“What is it?” cried his companion.

His friend turned to him, breathlessly pointing to what lay upon the frozen earth.

“We asked each other who the original of the picture was,” he said. “We did not know. The face lies there. Look!”

For that which life had denied her, Death had given.