Many artists lived in the Greenwich Village area of New York. Two young women named Sue and Johnsy shareda studio apartment at the top of a three-story building. Johnsy's realname was Joanna.
In November, a cold, unseenstranger came to visit the city. This disease, pneumonia, killed many people.Johnsy lay on her bed, hardly moving. She looked through the small window. She could see the side of the brick house next to her building.
One morning, a doctorexamined Johnsy and took her temperature. Then he spoke with Sue inanother room.
"She has one chance in –let us say ten," he said. "And that chance is for her to wantto live. Your friend has made up her mind that she is not going to getwell. Has she anything on her mind?"
"She – she wanted topaint the Bay of Naplesin Italysome day," said Sue.
"Paint?" said thedoctor. "Bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinkingtwice – a man for example?"
"A man?" said Sue."Is a man worth – but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind."
"I will do all thatscience can do," said the doctor. "But whenever my patientbegins to count the carriages at her funeral, I take away fifty percent fromthe curative power of medicines."
After the doctor had gone,Sue went into the workroom and cried. Then she went to Johnsy's room with herdrawing board, whistling ragtime.
Johnsy lay with her facetoward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep. Shebegan making a pen and ink drawing for a story in a magazine. Young artistsmust work their way to "Art" by making pictures for magazinestories. Sue heard a low sound, several times repeated. She wentquickly to the bedside.
Johnsy's eyes were openwide. She was looking out the window and counting – countingbackward. "Twelve," she said, and a little later"eleven"; and then "ten" and "nine;" and then"eight" and "seven," almost together.
Sue looked out the window.What was there to count? There was only an empty yard and the blank side of thehouse seven meters away. An old ivy vine, going bad at the roots, climbed halfway up the wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken leaves from theplant until its branches, almost bare, hung on the bricks.
"What is it, dear?"asked Sue.
"Six," said Johnsy,quietly. "They're falling faster now. Three days ago there werealmost a hundred. It made my head hurt to count them. But now it'seasy. There goes another one. There are only five left now."
"Five what, dear?"asked Sue.
"Leaves. On theplant. When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that forthree days. Didn't the doctor tell you?" Hermione
"Oh, I never heard ofsuch a thing," said Sue. "What have old ivy leaves to do withyour getting well? And you used to love that vine. Don't besilly. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for gettingwell real soon were – let's see exactly what he said – he said the chances wereten to one! Try to eat some soup now. And, let me go back to mydrawing, so I can sell it to the magazine and buy food and wine for us."
"You needn't get anymore wine," said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the window."There goes another one. No, I don't want any soup. That leaves justfour. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I'll go, too."
"Johnsy, dear,"said Sue, "will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look outthe window until I am done working? I must hand those drawings in bytomorrow."
"Tell me as soon as youhave finished," said Johnsy, closing her eyes and lying white and still asa fallen statue. "I want to see the last one fall. I'm tiredof waiting. I'm tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold oneverything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tiredleaves."
"Try to sleep,"said Sue. "I must call Mister Behrman up to be my model for my drawing ofan old miner. Don't try to move until I come back."
Old Behrman was a painter wholived on the ground floor of the apartment building. Behrman was a failure inart. For years, he had always been planning to paint a work of art, but hadnever yet begun it. He earned a little money by serving as a model to artistswho could not pay for a professional model. He was a fierce, little, oldman who protected the two young women in the studio apartment above him.
Sue found Behrman in hisroom. In one area was a blank canvas that had been waiting twenty-fiveyears for the first line of paint. Sue told him about Johnsy and how she fearedthat her friend would float away like a leaf.
Old Behrman was angered atsuch an idea. "Are there people in the world with the foolishness todie because leaves drop off a vine? Why do you let that silly business come inher brain?"
"She is very sick andweak," said Sue, "and the disease has left her mind full of strangeideas."
"This is not any placein which one so good as Miss Johnsy shall lie sick," yelled Behrman."Some day I will paint a masterpiece, and we shall all go away."
Johnsy was sleeping when theywent upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to cover the window. She andBehrman went into the other room. They looked out a window fearfully at the ivyvine. Then they looked at each other without speaking. A cold rain wasfalling, mixed with snow. Behrman sat and posed as the miner.
The next morning, Sue awokeafter an hour's sleep. She found Johnsy with wide-open eyes staring atthe covered window.
"Pull up the shade; Iwant to see," she ordered, quietly.
After the beating rain andfierce wind that blew through the night, there yet stood against the wall oneivy leaf. It was the last one on the vine. It was still dark greenat the center. But its edges were colored with the yellow. It hung bravely fromthe branch about seven meters above theground.
"It is the lastone," said Johnsy. "I thought it would surely fall during thenight. I heard the wind. It will fall today and I shall die at thesame time."
"Dear, dear!" saidSue, leaning her worn face down toward the bed. "Think of me, if youwon't think of yourself. What would I do?"
But Johnsy did not answer.
The next morning, when it waslight, Johnsy demanded that the window shade be raised. The ivy leaf was stillthere. Johnsy lay for a long time, looking at it. And then she called toSue, who was preparing chicken soup.
"I've been a bad girl,"said Johnsy. "Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me howbad I was. It is wrong to want to die. You may bring me a little soupnow."
An hour later she said:"Someday I hope to paint the Bay of Naples."
Later in the day, the doctor came,and Sue talked to him in the hallway.
"Even chances,"said the doctor. "With good care, you'll win. And now I must seeanother case I have in your building. Behrman, his name is – some kind of anartist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man and his case issevere. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital today to ease hispain."
The next day, the doctor saidto Sue: "She's out of danger. You won. Nutrition and care now –that's all."
Later that day, Sue came tothe bed where Johnsy lay, and put one arm around her.
"I have something totell you, white mouse," she said. "Mister Behrman died of pneumoniatoday in the hospital. He was sick only two days. They found himthe morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were completely wet and icy cold. They could notimagine where he had been on such a terrible night.
And then they found alantern, still lighted. And they found a ladder that had been moved fromits place. And art supplies and a painting board with green and yellowcolors mixed on it.
And look out the window, dear, at the last ivyleaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never moved when the wind blew? Ah,darling, it is Behrman's masterpiece – he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell."