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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
He fell back a pace, staring at her and suddenly trembling with the
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“It is quiet here,” was her thought. “One can be quiet, and that is
“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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
She stood a moment, feeling her throat and lips suddenly become dry
“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
“I thought not. Nevertheless, perhaps you will remain with him
“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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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,
“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
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
“A woman. Ma foi! what a night to drown oneself in! Imagine the
The older man pushed his way into the centre, and a moment later
uttered an exclamation.
“What is it?” cried his companion.
His friend turned to him, breathlessly pointing to what lay upon the
“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.