Stories by American Authors
THE SPIDER'S EYE BY LUCRETIA P. HALE
A STORY OF THE LATIN QUARTER BY FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
TWO PURSE-COMPANIONS BY GEORGE PARSONS LATHROP
POOR OGLA-MOGA BY DAVID D. LLOYD
A MEMORABLE MURDER BY CELIA THAXTER
VENETIAN GLASS BY BRANDER MATTHEWS
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1884-1885, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
The Stories in this Volume are protected by copyright, and are printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives.
THE SPIDER'S EYE.
BY LUCRETIA P. HALE.
Putnam's Magazine, July, 1856.
There are whispering galleries, where, if the ear is placed in a certain position, it takes in the sound of the lowest whisper from the opposite side of the room. But, to produce this effect, the architecture of the apartment must be of a peculiar nature, and, especially, the rules and laws of sound must be observed.
I have often thought that, were one wise enough, there might be found, in every room, a centre to which all sound must converge. Nay, that perhaps such a focus had already been discovered by some one who has wished to appear wiser than his neighbors, who has made use of some hitherto unknown scientific fact, and has on any one occasion, or on many occasions, thus made himself the centre of information.
These ideas occurred to my mind when I arrived the other night early at the theatre, and was for a time, literally, the only occupant of the house. I fell to marvelling at the skill of the architect who has been so successful in the acoustic arrangements of this theatre. Not a sound, so it is said, is lost from the stage upon any part of the house. The lowest sob of a dying heroine, in her very last agony, is heard as plainly by the occupant of the back seat of the amphitheatre, as are the thundering denunciations of the tragic actor in the wildest of gladiatorial scenes.
I wondered if this were one of those rules that worked both ways; if the stage performer, in a moment of silent by-play, could hear the sentimental whisper of the belle in the box opposite, as well as the noisy applause of the claqueur in the front seat. If so, the audience might become, to him, the peopled stage, filled with the varied and incongruous characters.
Then if art can produce such effects upon what we call an ethereal substance—if the waves of air can be compelled to carry their message only in the directions in which it is taught to go—what influence would such power have on more spiritual media? In other worlds, where it is not necessary for thoughts to express themselves in words, but where some more subtle power than that of air conveys ideas from one being to another, it is possible that an inquiring being might place himself at some central point where he might gather in all the information that is afloat in such a spiritual existence.
Full of these thoughts, and my head, perhaps, a little bewildered by them, I passed unobserved into the orchestra, and ensconced myself in a little niche under the music-desk of the leader. I was surprised to find myself in a little cavity, from which there were loop-holes of observation into every part of the house, while there was a front view of the stage when the curtain should be raised. Seduced by the comfort of this little nook, and my speculations not being of the liveliest nature, it is not to be wondered at that I fell into a gentle sleep.
I was aroused presently by the baton of the leader, struck with some force upon the desk over my head. I was aware, at the same time, of a whispering all around my ears, and an incessant noise, like that of aspen leaves in a summer breeze, which, in spite of its softness and delicacy, overpowered the sound of the loud orchestra. When I was able to recover myself, I began to find that I had indeed placed myself in the centre of the house; not in the centre of sound, but, if I may so express myself, of sensation. I was not listening to the conversations, but suddenly found myself the confidant of the thoughts of all the occupants of this well-filled house. I was lost in the multiplicity of ideas that were poured in upon me, and endeavored to concentrate myself upon one series of thoughts. I looked through my loop-holes, and presently selected one group towards which I might direct the opera-glass of my mental observation.
There sat the five Misses Seymour. We had always distinguished them as the tall one, the light-haired one, the one who painted in oils, the one who had been south, and the little one whom nobody knew anything about. This individuality had been our only guide after having engaged Miss Seymour for a dance, and this was sufficient. The one who painted in oils always refused to dance; the one who had been south spoke with an accent, and said "chick'n" and "fush," if the conversation turned upon the bill of fare; and the others were distinguished by their personal appearance.
Now I felt anxious to discover more certainly which was which. I found, presently, that instead of contenting myself with the superficial layer of thought over my mind, created by the circumstances in which they were placed, I was penetrating into what they really were. A few minutes showed me what had been their occupations for the day, and what were their plans for the next. I saw, at once, all their regrets and ambitions.
It had been the day of Mrs. Jay's famous matinee. I had not been at the reception, but Frank Leslie had told me all about it, and that all the Seymours were there; and about Miss Seymour's fainting. I knew Frank was in love with one of the Miss Seymours, but I never had found out which, and I was not sure that Frank himself knew.
How suddenly did these five characters, whom before I had found it difficult to distinguish, stand out now with differing features. I saw Aurelia—that was the tall one—enter the drawing-room very stately in her beauty. No wonder that every one had turned round to look at her; to admire her first, and then criticise her, because she seemed so cold and statue-like. But to-night she was going over the whole scene in her thoughts. I heard the throbbing of her heart as in memory she was bringing back the morning's events. She had refused to dance, because she was sure she should not have the strength to go through a polka. She had preferred to sink into a seat by the conservatory, and upheld by the excitement of the music to await the meeting.
Oh! in this everyday world, where its repeated succession of events is gone through with in composure, how easy it is to control the wildest passions. A conventional smile and a stiff bow are the draperies that veil the intensest unspoken emotions. It was under this disguise that Miss Seymour was to greet Gerald Lawson. He went to Canton three years ago, and before he went she had promised to marry him. She promised one gay evening after "the German." She had been carried away by the moment. Ever since, all through the three years, she had been regretting it. It was a secret engagement. The untold feeling that had prompted it had never been aired, and died very soon for want of earth and light. To cold indifference for the man to whom she had promised herself, had succeeded an absolute aversion. What was worse, she loved another person. Aurelia Seymour loved Frank! This very morning the news had reached her that the Kumshan was in from Canton. The passengers had arrived last night; she was to meet Gerald at Mrs. Jay's this morning.
Frank Leslie seated himself by her. She was in the midst of a calm, cool conversation with him, when she saw a little commotion in the other corner of the room. Every one was greeting Mr. Lawson on his arriving home. He is making his way through the crowd; he comes to her, he bows; Aurelia smiles.
But this was not all. He asked her if she would come into the conservatory. She had accompanied him there. Half hid by the branches of a camellia-tree all covered with white blossoms, she had said coldly, "Gerald, I cannot marry you." But Gerald had not received the word so coolly. He had burst out into passion. First he had exclaimed in wonder, next he could not believe her.
"Would she treat him so ungenerously? Was she a heartless flirt, a mere coquette?"
He told over his love that had been growing warmer all these three years; of his ambition that was to be crowned by her approval; of his lately gained wealth, valued only for her sake. Passionate words they were, and full of intense feeling; but hidden by the camellia, restrained and kept under from fear of observers. They were frequently interrupted, too.
"Thank you—ninety-nine days; very quick passage. Yes, I go back next week; no, I stay at home," were, with other sentences, thrown in, as answers to the different questions of those who did not know what they were interrupting.
But, at last, Aurelia broke away. Broke away! No; she accepted Middleton's proposal to go into the coffee-room, and left Gerald beneath the camellia.
As I watched her from my loop-holes I could tell that Aurelia was going over all this scene in her mind. While her eyes were fixed upon the stage, she recalled every word and gesture of Gerald's. Yet, his reproaches, his just complaints, hardly weighed upon her now. She was looking on the vacant seat beside her, and wondering when Frank would come to take it.
But "Lilly," the light-haired one, her thoughts were rushing back to the wild, gay polkas of the morning. Now by Aurelia's side, now away again; she had danced continually till the last moment, and when they came to tell her the carriage was ready, and she must come away, she had fainted.
It was as she was going up-stairs into the drawing-room, just before she and her sisters made their grand entree, that Lilly had heard that "Cousin Joe" had not come home in the vessel with Gerald Lawson. He had gone to Europe by the overland route, and wild, mad fellow that he was, had determined to join the Russian troops in the Crimea.
"And be shot there for his pains," Frank Leslie added carelessly.
Cousin Joe hadn't come home! He didn't care to come home! He was going to be shot!
She could think of nothing else. She could not keep still; she could not talk placidly like the rest; she must dance, and dance wildly and passionately.
But a moment of reaction came. When the last strain of music had died away, all power of self-control had died away, too. No wonder that she had fainted! More wonder that she could recover herself; could resist her mother's entreaties, after all that dancing, to spare herself and stay from the opera.
Here she was, outwardly lively and radiant, chatting with Lieutenant Preston, inwardly chafed at all this constraint, and wondering how it was Cousin Joe could stay so long away.
By her side sat Annette. It was the report that she had been sent south last winter to break up a desperate flirtation she was carrying on. However it was, I had always fancied Annette more than either of the other sisters. She had apparently less of our northern reserve, whether for good or evil, than the rest. She said just what she was thinking; danced when she liked; was insolent when she pleased.
To-night she seemed to me fretful. She was angry with Lilly for talking with Lieutenant Preston; and, indeed, I must not, in honor, reveal all I read in Annette's mind. If I found there her opinion of me; if, on the whole, it lowered my opinion of myself, I must take refuge in the old proverb, "Eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves."
But there was Angelina; she was the one who "painted in oils," and she attracted me more than any of the others. There was about her an atmosphere of pleasure, within her an expression of delight, that accounted for the really sunny gleam upon her face. Something had made all the day happy for her. In the morning she had passed nearly all the time in Mrs. Jay's front drawing-room. The fine masterpieces of art, brought from Europe, make this apartment a true picture-gallery. But Angelina's pleasure, artist though she was, was not taken from the figures upon the walls. She walked up and down the room; she lingered awhile in one of the deep fauteuils; she paused before the paintings with Frank Leslie by her side. As she turned, at the theatre, now and then to the vacant seat behind her, next Aurelia's, her anticipation was not embittered by anxiety; she knew he would come in time. Oh, Frank! you did not tell me all that took place at Mrs. Jay's!
But, from all these observations, my thoughts were turned back to the stage by the influence of the little Sophie Seymour. She—about whom we knew nothing—she was the only one of the party entirely absorbed in the opera. Her eyes fixed upon the stage; her heart wrapt up in the intense story that was being enacted; her musical soul throbbing with the glorious chords that swelled out; her whole being reflected the opera.
So I turned me to the stage. My eyes fell first upon the substitute that the illness of Mademoiselle —— required for the night. Just now she was standing on one side, and as she drew her white glove closer, her thoughts were going back to the scenes of the day.
Oh! what a little room she lived in! She was sitting in it when the message came from the manager to summon her to sing to-night! Her brother Franz was copying some music by her side; and now she is smiling at the recollection of the conversation that had followed upon her accepting the manager's unexpected proposal.
She had hastened to get out her last concert dress. It was new once—but oh! would it answer now for the opera?
Those very white kid gloves! They had cost her her dinner.
"Must I have new ones, Franz?" she had asked. "If there were only time to have an old pair cleaned—if, indeed, I have any left worth cleaning!"
"Never mind," answered Franz, "it is worth twenty dinners to have you hear the opera. I have longed so every night to have you there, and to have you on the stage! my highest wishes are granted. Oh! Marie, when you make a great point, I shall have to take my flute from my mouth and cry bravo!"
"Oh, don't speak of the singing. It takes away my breath to think of myself upon the stage! How I waste my time over dress and gloves! I must practice; I must be ready for the rehearsal."
"My poor Marie! To-day, of all days, to go without dinner."
"Don't think of it! When the manager 'pays up,' oh, then, Franz! we'll have dinners. Only part of the money must go to a new concert dress. When my last was new, I overheard, as I left the stage, a young girl saying, to her sister, I suppose, 'What an elegant dress!' I wanted to stop and ask her if she thought it were worth going without meat for a month."
And as Marie recalled these words to-night to her mind, I saw her look up and smile as she glanced over the house, and contrasted the showy dress she wore with the poor home she had left behind.
What a poor home it was, indeed! What a contrast did the gay dress she arranged for the evening make with her room's poor adorning. The dress she thrust quickly away, and had devoted herself to the study of the music for evening. With her brother's assistance, she had prepared herself for the rehearsal, and had gone there with him.
The rehearsal was more alarming to her than the thought of the evening performance. There were the conductor's criticising eyes glaring at her; the unsympathizing glances of some of her stage companions—though many of them had come to her with words of kindly encouragement; there was the silent, untenanted expanse of the theatre before her—none of the excitement of stage scenery, or the brilliancy of light and tinsel; and she must force herself to think of her part, as a technical study of music, all the time she felt she was undergoing a severe criticism from Mademoiselle ——'s friends, who were comparing the new-comer's voice with that of their own ally.
But her thoughts were not sad. There was in her a gayety and strength of spirit that bore her up. The brilliant scene gave her an excitement that helped her to bear the thought of her everyday trials. It had been hard to work all day, preparing for the evening—hard for the mind and body—and she had lately lived on poor fare, and wanted the exercise upon which her physical constitution should support itself. At once these troubles were forgotten. Now was to come the duet with the prima donna.
No timidity restrained her now. She felt, at the moment, that her own voice was of worth only as it harmonized with the leading one. She forgot herself when she thought of that wonderful voice, when once she found her own mingled in its wonderful tones. Now she was supported by it through the whole piece; her own was subdued by it, and at last she felt herself inspired by it; it was no longer herself singing; she was carried away by the power of another, and lifted above herself.
All applauded the magnificent music and harmony; the bravo of Franz was for Marie alone.
At this time my interest was absorbed in my observation of the prima donna. I had perceived at first how indifferently she had entered upon the spirit of the music. Her companion had filled her mind with the meaning of its composer, and was striving to infuse into herself the interpretation that the prima donna would give to its glorious strains.
But the soul of the prima donna was away. It was in a heavily-curtained room, where there were luxury and elegance. Here she had all day been watching by the bedside of her sick child. She had collected round it everything that money could bring to soothe its sufferings. There were flowers in the greatest profusion; these were trophies of her last night's success; and on the table by the bedside she had heaped up her brilliant, gorgeous jewels, for their varied and glowing colors had served to amuse the child for a few minutes. She had sung to him music, that crowds would have collected to hear, had they been allowed. Only to soothe him, all the golden tones of her voice had poured out—now dropping in thrilling, sad melody, now in glad, happy, childish strains.
Nothing through the day could put to rest that one appeal, which now was echoing in her ears: "Will nothing cool my throat!—my head burns!—only a few drops of water!" Over all the tones of the orchestra these words sounded and thrilled so in her ears, that only mechanically could the prima donna repeat the tones that were thrilling all the hearts to which they came.
At last the power of her own voice conquered herself, too. In the closing cadences—in those chords, triumphant and faith-bringing—for the moment her own sorrows melted away, and the thought of herself was lost in the inspiration of the grand, majestic intonations to which she was giving utterance. She was no longer a suffering woman; but her soul and her voice were sounding beneath the touch of a great master-spirit, and giving out a glowing music, compelled by its master-power.
What an enthusiasm! what an excitement! As with the opera-singer on the stage, so with all the audience; all separate joy and grief, all individual passions were swallowed up, and carried away by this all-absorbing inspiration, and lost in its mighty whirl.
For me, now, there was but one character to follow. How grandly the stage-heroine went through her part! As if to crush all other emotion, she flung herself into the character she was portraying, and went through it wildly and passionately.
She overshadowed her little rival—for Marie was her rival, according to the plot of the opera—now threatening, now protecting her, as she was led on by the spirit of the play. Marie shrunk before her, or was inspired by her; and her delicate, entreating figure helped the pathos of her voice. Marie, by this time, had utterly lost herself in her admiration of the great genius who was so impressing her. She gave out her own voice as an offering to this great power. For its sake she would have found it impossible to make any mistake in her own singing, or do anything with her own voice, but just place it at the service of her companion, as a foil to her grand and glorious one.
When in the play the heroine gave up—as she does in the play—her own life for the sake of her rival, the act became more magnanimous and wondrous as being performed for this little delicate Marie, who shrank from so great a sacrifice.
The prima donna gained all the applause. Indeed, it was right—for it was her power that had called out all that was great in her delicate rival. It was she who had inspired her, and made her forget herself and everything but the notes she must give out, true and pure.
They were both called before the stage after the grand closing scene; or rather the prima donna drew forward the retiring Marie. Shouts and peals of enthusiasm greeted the queen of song. But her moment of exaltation had passed away. Over and over again she was repeating to herself, "Will they never let me go home? Perhaps he is dying now—he wants me—I am too late!"
She was at the summit of her greatness; but oh! it was painful to see her there—to see how she would have hushed all those wild, enthusiastic shouts for the sake of one fresh childish tone; how she would have exchanged all those bursts of passion to make sure of a healthy throb in that child's pulse. All this enthusiasm was not new to her. It was part of her existence. It was a restraint upon her now, but she could not have done without it. It was the excitement which would serve to sustain her through another night of watching.
Marie, too, was giving her meed of praise, as she followed her across the stage. She did not think of taking to herself one shout of the enthusiasm, any more than she would have thought of appropriating one flower from the bouquets which were showered before her. There was, indeed, one share of the plaudits which belonged to her entirely. This came from Franz—for I recognized him by his unruly stamping, and unrestrained applause. His thoughts were only for Marie; he was filled with pride at the manner in which she bore herself—at her simple carriage, and modest demeanor. His praise was all for Marie. The famous opera-singer, whom he had heard night after night, was forgotten, in his pride for his little sister.
I sank back into my niche. Varied figures floated before me, and bewildered me.
I have often looked at spiders with deep interest. It is said that their eyes are made up of many faces. What a bewildering world, then, is presented to their view! It is no wonder that, as I have seen them, they have appeared so irresolute in their motions, darting here and there. A world of so many faces stand around the spider, towards which shall he turn his attention? He lives, as it were, in the middle of a kaleidoscope, where many figures are repeated, and form one great figure, and each separate section is like its neighbor. Which of these varied yet too similar pictures shall he choose?
At least this is my idea of the sensations of a spider; but I am not enough of a naturalist to say that it is correct. How is it? When a fly enters that web, which is divided into a symmetry similar to that of the faces of a spider's eye, does mine host, the spider, see twenty-five thousand similar flies approaching, his organ of vision standing as the centre? What a cosmorama there is before him! What a luxurious repast might not his imagination offer him, if his memory did not recall the plain truth that dull reality has so often disclosed to him! We cannot wonder that the spider should lead, apparently, so solitary a life, since his eyes have the power of producing a whole ball-room from the form of one lady visitor. Not one, but twenty-five thousand Robert Bruces inspired the Scottish spider to that homely instance of perseverance, which served for an example for a king. As he hangs his drapery from one cornice to another, the prismatic scenes that come before him serve to lengthen that life which might seem to be cut off before its time. It is not one, but twenty-five thousand brooms which advance to destroy his airy home; to invade his household gods, and bring to the ground that row of bluebottles which his magnifying power of vision has transformed from one to twenty-five thousand! nay, more, perhaps!
Out in the air, as he swings his delicate cordage from one tree to another, he does not need to wear a gorgeous plumage; this old dusty coat and uncomely figure, that make a child shrink and cry out, these may well be forgotten by him who looks into life through prismatic glasses. Every drop of rain wears for him its Iris drapery; the dew on the flowers becomes a jewelled circlet; and the dazzling pictures brought by the sunbeams outshine and transform for him his own dusky garment.
I thought of my friend, the spider, as into my web of thought came such numerous images. They were not alike in form—and so were more distracting. More than I can mention or number had visited me there; had excited my interest for a moment, and been crowded out by another new image. Yes, it was like looking into a kaleidoscope where there were infinite repetitions. In all were the same master-colors and forms. All were swayed by passions that made an under-current beneath a great outward calm. All were wearing an outward form that strove each to resemble the other; not to appear strange or odd. So they flitted before me, coming into shape, and departing from it as they came within and left my reach.
I only roused myself to see the various characters, that had presented themselves on the stage of my mind, return again into their everyday costumes. They passed out of the focus of my observation into their several forms in which they walk through common life. Putting on their opera-cloaks, their paletots, they put on, for me, that mark that hides the inner life, and the veil that conceals all hidden passions.
It is said that there is, no longer, romance in real life. But the truth is that we live the romance that former ages told and sang. The magic carpet of the Arabian tales, the mirror that brought to view most distant objects, have come out of poetry, and present themselves in the prosaic form of steam locomotive and the electric telegraph.
Nowadays, everybody has travelled to some distant land, has seen, with everybody's eyes, the charmed isles and lotos shores that used to be only in books. In this lively, changing age everybody is living his own romance. And this is why the romance of story grows pale and is thrown aside. A domestic sketch of everyday life, of outward calm and simplicity, soothes the unrest of active life, and charms more than three volumes of wild incident that cannot equal the excitement that every reader is enacting in his own drama.
There were as many romances in life around me, that night, as there were persons in the theatre. I had not merely learned that the cold Aurelia was passionately in love, that the gay Lilly was broken-hearted, that the frank Annette was silly, and Angelina and Frank engaged before it was out. Beside all this, I had learned the trials and joys of many others whom I know only in this way; and I left the theatre the last, as I had come in the first.
The next morning I returned to business affairs again. It was a particularly pressing morning. The steamer was in. I had not even time to think of my last night's experiences. Only at the corner of a street I met an acquaintance, whose smiling face amazed me. I knew that all last evening his mind had been preoccupied with the truly critical state of his affairs, and I was at a loss how to greet him. He hurried away from my embarrassment. I had more than one of these encounters; but it was not till the labors of the day were over that I understood how my knowledge of mankind had been lately increased. I went, in the evening, to a small party where I knew I should meet the Seymours. I fell in there with Aurelia first. She was as cold and as stately as ever. I entered into conversation with her, feeling that I could touch the key-note of her life. But no; she was as chilling to me as ever; nothing warmed her—nothing elicited from her the slightest spark. Sometimes she looked at me a little wonderingly, as if I were talking in some style unusual to me; as if my remarks were, in a manner, impertinent; but, in the end, I left her to her icy coldness.
As for Lilly, she appeared to the world, in general, as gay as ever. I fancied I detected a slight listlessness as she accompanied her partner into the dancing-room for the sixth polka. It was no great help with me in talking to Annette, that I knew she was a fool. I won no thanks from Frank or Angelina when I manoeuvred that they should have a little flirtation in the library. For some reason they were determined that their engagement should not be apparent, and I was reproached afterwards by Frank for my clumsiness, and received, in return, no confidences to make up for the reproach.
On the whole I passed a disagreeable evening. I had a feeling all the time that I was in the presence of smothered volcanoes, and a consciousness that I had the advantage of the rest of the world in knowing all its secret history. This became, at last, almost insupportable.
There was no opera this night. The next day it was announced that Mademoiselle —— would take her accustomed place in the performance. I went early to the theatre, and found, to my amazement, there had been some changes made in the orchestra; the prompter's box had been enlarged, and my newly-discovered niche had been rendered inaccessible and almost entirely filled in! In vain did I attempt to find some other position that might correspond to it. I only attracted the attention of the early comers to the theatre. I was obliged to return to my old position of an outside observer of life, and see, quite unoccupied, that centre of all observation which I had enjoyed myself so much two nights before; over which the leader of the orchestra was unconsciously waving his baton.
I made some inquiries for Marie. One day I went down the quiet, secluded street, where they told me she lived. I walked up and down before the house. It was very tantalizing to feel that I had no excuse for approaching her. Of all the figures that had assembled around me that night, hers had remained the most distinct upon my memory. For, through the whole, she had retained an outward bearing which had corresponded with what I could see of her inward self. Even when she threw herself most earnestly into her part, she had scarcely seemed to lose herself. She had always remained a simple, self-devoted girl.
I longed to see more of her. I wanted to see her in that quiet home. While I was wandering up and down, I abused the forms of society which would make my beginning an acquaintance with her so difficult. I saw Franz, brother Franz, the flute-player, leave the house. Scarcely conscious of what I was doing, I went, as soon as he had left the street, to the door which was open to all comers; to the house which contained more than one family. I made my way up stairs and knocked at a door to which Franz's card was attached.
It was opened by Marie. She stood before me with a handkerchief tied over her head, and a broom in her hand, but she looked, to me, as beautiful as she had done behind the glare of the foot-lights. Her simplicity was here even more fascinating.
She held the door partly open, while I, to recover myself, asked for Franz. She told me he was gone out, but would return soon, if I would wait for him. I was never less anxious to see any person than then to see Franz, but I could not resist entering the room, and this, in spite of the apologetic air of Marie. The room looked as neat as I had imagined it, seeing it from the mirror of Marie's mind. I should say it scarcely needed that broom which still remained expectantly in Marie's hand. A piano, spider-legged, in the number and thinness of these supports, stood at one side of the room, weighed down with classic-looking music. A bouquet, that had been given by the hand of the prima donna to Marie, stood upon the piano.
Otherwise it was a common enough looking room. Some remark being necessary, I inquired of Franz's health, and hoped he was not wearing himself out with hard work; I had seen him regularly at the opera. Marie encouraged me with regard to her brother's health, and still, the opera even did not serve to open a conversation with Marie.
Then, indeed, did I wish that I was the hero of a novel. I might have told her I was writing an opera, and have asked her to study for its heroine. I might have retired, and sent her, directly and mysteriously, a grand piano of the very grandest scale. Or, I might have asked her to sit down to that old-fashioned instrument, and have asked her to let me hear her sing, for my nieces were in need of a new teacher. I might have engaged Franz, with promise of a high salary, to write me the music of songs, or a new sonata. But I had neither the salary nor the nieces. I had not even an excuse for standing there. It was very foolish of me, but I could not help feeling that it was exceedingly impertinent of me to be there.
Instead of informing Marie that I was intimately acquainted with her, that I had shared every emotion of her soul, on the exciting opera night, I stated that I could call again upon brother Franz. I regretted, at the same time, that I had not my card, and left the room with a courteous bow of dismissal from Marie.
I have walked that way very often. Once or twice I have seen Marie at the window, when she has not seen me. But I have not attempted to visit her again. Of what use is it for me, then, to have such a knowledge of her, when she does not have a similar one sympathetic with me? She has not sung in public of late, and I do not know the reason why she has not.
My friends are fond of asking me why I, every night, sit in a different place at the theatre; and why I have such a fancy for a seat in the midst of the trumpets of the orchestra, and directly under the leader. I am striving to make new acoustic discoveries.
But I dare not state in what theatre it is that my point of observation can be found, nor ask of the management to make an alteration in the position of the orchestra, lest some night I should be observed, and expose all the secrets of my breast to a less confidential observer.
A STORY OF THE LATIN QUARTER.
BY FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT.
Scribner's Monthly, May, 1879.
"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 opera 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 Hotel 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.
"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.
BY GEORGE PARSONS LATHROP.
Scribner's Monthly, August, 1878.
Everybody in college who knew them at all was curious to see what would come of a friendship between two persons so opposite in tastes, habitudes and appearance as John Silverthorn and Bill Vibbard. John was a hard reader, and Bill a lazy one. John was thin and graceful, with something pensive yet free and vivid in his nature; Bill was robust, prosaic and conventional. There was an air of neglect and a prospective sense of worldly failure about Silverthorn, but you would at once have singled out Vibbard as being well cared for, and adapted to push his way. Their likes and dislikes even in the matter of amusement were dissimilar; and Vibbard was easy-going and popular, while Silverthorn was shy and had few acquaintances. Yet, as far as possible, they were always with each other; they roomed, worked, walked and lounged in company, and often made mutual concessions of taste so that they might avoid being separated. It was also discovered that though their allowances were unequal, they had put them together and paid all expenses out of a common purse. Their very differences made this alliance a great advantage in some respects, and it was rendered stronger by the fact that, however incompatible outwardly, they both agreed in acting with an earnest straightforwardness.
But perhaps I had better describe how I first saw them together. It was on a Saturday, when a good many men were always sure to be found disporting themselves on the ball-field. I used to exercise my own muscles by going to look at them, on these occasions; and on that particular day I came near being hit by a sudden ball, which was caught by an active, darting figure just in time to save my head from an awkward encounter. I nodded to my rescuer, and called out cordially, "Thank you!"
"All right," said he, in a glum tone meant to be good-naturedly modest. "Look out for yourself next time."
It was Bill Vibbard, then in the latter part of his freshman year; and not far distant I discovered his comrade Silverthorn, watching Bill in silent admiration. They continued slowly on their way toward an oak grove, which then stood near the field. Silverthorn, a smaller figure than Vibbard, wore a suit of uniform tint, made of sleazy gray stuff that somehow at once gave me the idea that it was taken out of one of his mother's discarded dresses. His face was nearly colorless without being pallid; and the faint golden down on his cheeks and upper lip, instead of being disagreeably juvenile, really added to the pleasant dreaminess that hung like a haze over his mild young features. He was slender, he carried himself rather quaintly; but his gait was buoyant and spirited. At that season the lilacs were in bloom, and Silverthorn held a glorious plume of the pale blossoms in his hand. What the first touch of fire is to the woods in autumn, the blooming of the lilac is to the new summer—a mystery, a beauty, too exquisite to last long intact; evanescent as human breath, yet, like that, fraught with incalculable values. All this Silverthorn must have felt to the full, judging from the tender way in which he held the flowers, even while absorbed in talk with his friend. His fingers seemed conscious that they were touching the clue to a finer life. In Vibbard's warm, tough fist, the lilacs would have faded within ten minutes. Vibbard was stocky and muscular, and his feet went down at each step as if they never meant to come up again. He wore stylish clothes, kept his hands much in his coat pockets, affected high-colored neck-scarfs, and had a red face with blunt features. When he was excited, his face wore a fierce aspect; when he felt friendly, it became almost foolishly sentimental; as a general thing it was morosely inert.
Being in my senior year, I did not see much of either Vibbard or his friend; but I sometimes occupied myself with attempts to analyze the sources of their intimacy. I remember stating to one of my young acquaintances that Vibbard probably had a secret longing to be feminine and ideal, and that Silverthorn felt himself at fault in masculine toughness and hardihood, so that each sought the companionship of the other, hoping to gain some of the qualities which he himself lacked; and my young acquaintance offended me by replying, as if it had all been perfectly obvious, "Of course."
After I had been graduated, and had entered the Law School, Silverthorn and Vibbard came to my room one day, on a singular errand, which—though I did not guess it then—was to influence their lives for many a year afterward.
"Ferguson," began Bill, rather shyly, when they had seated themselves, "I suppose you know enough of law, by this time, to draw up a paper."
"Yes, I suppose so; or draw it down, either," I replied. But I saw at once that my flippancy did not suit the occasion, for the two young fellows glanced at each other very seriously and seemed embarrassed. "What do you want me to do?" I asked.
Silverthorn now spoke, in his soft light inexperienced voice, which possessed a singular charm.
"It's all Bill's idea," said he, rather carelessly. "I would much rather have the understanding in words, but he—"
"Yes," broke in Bill, growing suddenly red and vehement, "I'm not going to have it a thing that can be forgotten. No one knows what might happen."
"Well, well," said I, "if I'm to help you, you'd better fire away and tell me what it is you're after."
"I will," returned Vibbard, with a touch of that fierceness which marked his resolute moods. "Thorny and I have agreed to stand by each other when we quit college. Men are always forming friendships in the beginning of life, and then getting dragged apart by circumstances, such as wide separation and different interests. We don't want this to happen, and so we've made a compact that whichever one of us, Thorny or me, shall be worth thirty thousand dollars first,—why that one is to give the other half. That is, unless the second one is already well enough off, so that to give him a full half would put him ahead of whichever has the thirty thousand. D'you see?"
"The idea is to keep even as long as we can, you know," said Silverthorn, turning from one of my books which he had begun to glance through, and looking into my eyes with a delighted, straightforward gaze.
"That's a very curious notion!" said I, revolving the plan with a caution born of legal readings. "Before we go on, would you mind telling me which one of you originated this scheme?"
I was facing Silverthorn as I spoke, but felt impelled to turn quickly and include Vibbard in the question. They were both silent. It was plain, after a moment, that they really didn't know which one of them had first thought of this compact.
"Wasn't it you?" queried Silverthorn, musingly, of his comrade.
"I don't know," returned Vibbard; then, as if so much subtilty annoyed him: "What difference does it make, anyway? Can't you draw an agreement for us, Ferguson?"
But I was really so much interested in getting at their minds through this channel, that I couldn't comply at once.
"Now, you two fellows, you know," said I, laughing, "are younger than I, and I think it becomes me to know exactly what this thing means, before proceeding any further in it. How can I tell but one of you is trying to get an advantage over the other?"
The pair looked startled at this, but it was only, I found, because they were so astonished at having such a construction put upon their project.
"Don't be alarmed," I hastened to say. "I wasn't serious."
But Vibbard persisted in a dogged expression of gloom.
"It's always this way," he presently declared, in a heavy, provoked tone. "My father, you know, is a shrewd man, and everybody is forever accusing me of being mean and overreaching. But I never dreamed that it could be imputed in such a move as—well, never mind!" he suddenly exclaimed in a loud voice, and with assumed indifference, getting up from his chair. "Of course it's all over now. I sha'n't do anything more about it, after what Ferguson has said." He was so sulky that he had to resort to thus putting me in the third person, although he was not addressing these words to Silverthorn. Then he gave his thick frame a slight shake, as if to get rid of the disagreeable feelings I had excited, and turned toward his friend. On the instant there came into his unmoved eyes and his matter-of-fact countenance a look of sentiment so incongruous as to be almost laughable. "I wish I could have done it, Thorny," said he, wistfully.
"Hold on, Vibbard," I interposed. "Don't be discouraged."
He paid no attention.
Upon this Silverthorn fired up.
"Hullo, Bill, this won't do! Do you suppose I'm going to let our pet arrangement drop that way and leave you to be so misconstrued? Come back here and sit down." (Vibbard was already at the door.) "As for your getting any advantage out of this, is it likely? Why, you are well off now, to begin with; that is, your father is; and I am poor, downright poor—Ferguson must have seen that."
Here was a surprise! The dreamy youth was proving himself much more sensible than the beefy and practical one. Vibbard, however, seemed to enjoy being admonished by Silverthorn, and resumed his seat quite meekly. To me, in my balancing frame of mind, it occurred that one might go farther than Silverthorn had done, in saying that any advantage to Vibbard was very improbable; one might assume that it was surely Silverthorn who would reap the profit. But I decided not to disturb the already troubled waters any more.
Silverthorn, however, expressed this idea: "You'll be thinking," he said to me, with a smile, "that I am going to get the upper hand in this bargain; and I know there seems a greater chance of it. But then I have hopes—I—" The dreamy look, which I have described by the simile of a haze, gathered and increased on his fair ingenuous young face, and his eyes quite ignored me for a moment, being fixed on some imaginary outlook very entrancing to him, until he recalled his flagging voice, to add: "Well, I don't know that I can put it before you, but there are possibilities which may make a great difference in my fortunes within a few years."
I fancied that Vibbard gave me a quick, confidential glance, as much as to say, "Don't disturb that idea. Let him think so." But the next moment his features were as inert as ever.
It turned out, on inquiry, that only Vibbard was of age; his friend being quick in study, had entered college early, and nearly two years stood between him and his majority; so that, if their contract was to be binding, they would have to defer it for that length of time. I was prepared for their disappointment; but Silverthorn, after an instant's reflection, seemed quite satisfied. As they were going, he hurried back, leaving his friend out of ear-shot, and explained himself,—
"You see, Vibbard has an idea that I shall never succeed in life,—financially, that is,—and so he wants to fasten this agreement on me, to prevent pride or anything making me back out, you know, by and by. But I like all the better to have it left just as it is for a while, so that if we should ever put it on paper he needn't feel that he had hurried into the thing too rashly."
"I understand," I replied; and I pressed his hand warmly, for his frankness and genuineness had pleased me.
When they were gone, I pondered several minutes on the novelty and boyish naivete of the whole proceeding, and found myself a good deal refreshed by the sincerity of the two young fellows and their fine confidence in the perfectibility of the future. It seemed to me, the more I thought of it, that I could hold on to this scheme of theirs as a help to myself in retaining a healthy freshness of spirit. "At any rate," I said, "I won't allow myself to go adrift into cynicism as long as they keep faith with their ideal."
From time to time during the two years, I encountered the friends casually; and I remember having a fancy that their faces—which of course altered somewhat, as they matured—were acquiring a kind of likeness; or, rather, were exchanging expressions. Silverthorn's grew rounder and brightened a degree in color; his glance had less momentum in it; he looked more commonplace and contented. On the other hand, Vibbard, through mental exertion (for he had lately been studying hard) and the society of his junior, had modified the inertia of his own expression. The strength of his features began to be mingled with gentleness. But this I recalled only at a later time.