At the top of an old brick house in New York two young painters Sue and Johnsy had their studio. They had met in a cheap restaurant and soon discovered that though their characters differed, their views on life and art were the same. Some time later they found a room that was suitable for a studio and began to live even more economically than before. That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, went from place to place in the district where they lived, touching people here and there with his icy fingers.
After examining Johnsy one morning the doctor called Sue out of the room and gave her a prescription, saying: I dont want to frighten you, but at present she has one chance in, let us say, ten, and that chance is for her to want to live. But yoour little lady has made up her mind that she isnt going well. If you could somehow get her to ask one question about the new winter styles in hats, I would promise you a one-in-five chance for her. After the doctor had gone, Sue went out into the hall and cried. As soon as she could manage to check her tears she walked gaily back into the room, whistling a merry tune. Johnsy lay with her eyes towards the window.
Thinking that Johnsy was asleep, Sue stopped whistling. She arranged her drawing board and began working. Soon she heard a low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the beside. Johnsys eyes were wide open. She was looking out of the window and counting – counting backward. Twelve, she said, and a little later, eleven, then ten and nine, and then eight and seven almost together. Sue looked out of the window. What was there to count? There was only the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away. An old grape-vine climbed half way up the brick wall.
What is it, dear ?asked Sue. Six, said Johnsy almost in a whisper. Theyre falling faster now, I can hardly keep up with them. There goes another one. There are only five left now. Five what, darling ? Tell me. Leaves. On the grape-vine. When the last one goes, I must go too. Johnsy, dear, said Sue, behind over her. I must go and call Behrman to be my model. Will you promise me to keep your eyes closed and not look at those leaves until I come back? Ill be back in a minute
Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor below them. He was past sixty and had been a painter for forty years, but he hadnt achieved anything in art. However, he wasnt disappointed, and hoped he would some day paint a masterpiece. He sincerely thought it his duty to protect the two girls upstairs. Sue found Behrman in his poorly-lighted room and told him of Johnsys fancy, and that she didnt know how to handle the situation. Johnsy was asleep when they went upstairs. Sue and Behrman looked out of the window at the grape-vine. Then they looked at each other without speaking. A cold rain was falling, mixed with snow.
When Sue woke up next morning, she found Johnsy looking at the window with wide open eyes. The rain was beating against the windows and a strong wind was blowing, but one leaf still stood out against the brick wall. It was the last on vine. The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the lonely leaf on its branch against the wall. And then with the coming of the night the north wind blew again with greater force. When it was light enough, Johnsy ordered Sue to open the curtains. The vine leaf was still there.
Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it and then said: Ive been a bad girl, Sue. I wish I hadnt been wicked. Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was when wanted to die. You may bring me a little soup now and some milk. The doctor came in the afternoon and said Johnsy was out of danger. And now I must see another patient downstairs, he added. His names Behrman – some kind of artist, I believe. He is a weak old man and theres obviously no hope for him.
Next day Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay and put one arm around her. Ive something to tell you, white mouse, she said. I got a note this morning. Mr Behrman died of pneumonia in hospital. He was only ill two days, so he didnt suffer long – look out of the window, dear, at the last leaf on the wall. Didnt you wonder why it never moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, its Behrmans masterpiece – he painted it there the night the last leaf fell.