O. Henry is the pen name for a short story writer named William Sidney Porter (1862- 1910). His stories resemble newspaper articles and they usually end with an interesting twist.
An ailing woman named Johnsy who thought of dying by the time the last leaf falls from an old vine. She lost hope of becoming better and having recovered from pneumonia even with her friend Sue’s comfort. It is only when the leaf never fall when she realized she wanted to live so she could paint the Bay of Naples someday. Little did she knew, that the old Mr. Behrman made his masterpiece my painting the last leaf’s replica, the night it actually fell.
Mr. Behrman played a very important role in the story. His masterpiece made a huge impact on Johnsy’s life. Without him painting the last leaf, Johnsy may have lost hope and welcomed death.
This story is very much inspiring for me because it is full of beautiful thoughts, teaching us how to appreciate life more as well as its purpose.
READ STORY HERE
Many people who are interested in art come to Greenwich Village, which is a section of New York City. They like the Bohemian life of the village, and they enjoy living among so many artists. The buildings and apartments are often very old and dirty, but this only adds to the interest of the place.
At the top of the old, three- story brick house, Sue and Johnsy had their studio. One of them was from the state of Maine, the Eighth Street Hotel. Both were artists who had recently come to New York to make their living.
That was in May. In November, a cold unseen stranger, whom the doctors called pneumonia, visited the city, touching one here and one there with his icy finger.
He touched Johnsy and she lay scarcely moving, on her painted iron bed, looking through the small window at the blank wall of the opposite building.
One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hall.
“She has about one chance in ten to live,” he said as he shook down the mercury in his clinical thermometer. “And that one chance depends upon her desire to get better. But your little friend has made up her mind that she is going to die. Is she worrying about something?”
“She wanted to paint a picture of the Bay of Naples some day,” said Sue.
“No, something more important– a man perhaps?”
“Well, perhaps it is a result of her fever and her general physical weakness. But when a patient begins to feel sure that she is going to die, then I subtract fifty percent from the power of medicines. If you can succeed in making her interested in something, in asking, for instance, about the latest exhibit at a local gallery or some other art news, then I can promise you a one- in- five chance for her instead of one- in- ten.”
After the doctor had gone, Sue went into her own room and cried. Later, trying not to show her sadness, she went into Johnsy’s room, whistling.
Johnsy lay under the bedclothes, with her face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking Johnsy was asleep. But soon Sue heard a low sound, several times repeated. Sue went quickly to the bedside.
Johnsy’s eyes were wide open. She was looking out of the window and counting backwards.
“Twelve,” she said, and a little later, “eleven,” and then “ten” and “nine”, and then “eight”– “seven.”
Sue looked out of the window. What was Johnsy counting? There was only a gray backyard and the black wall of the opposite house. And old, old vine, dead at the roots, climbed halfway up the wall. The cold breath of autumn had blown almost all the leaves from the vine until it’s branches were almost bare.
“What is it, dear?” asked Sue.
“Six,” said Johnsy very quietly. “They are falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It makes my head ache to count them. But now it’s easy. There goes another one. There were only five left now.”
“Five what, dear? Tell me!” said Sue.
“Leaves. The leaves of that vine. When the last leaf of that vine falls, I must go too. I’ve known for three days. Didn’t the doctor tell you?”
“The doctor didn’t say any such thing. That is pure foolishness,” said Sue. “What connection have those old leaves with your getting well? And you used to love that old vine so much. Please don’t be silly. The doctor told me this morning that your chances of getting well soon were excellent. Now try to take some of your soup so that I could make money to buy you some good port wine”.
“There’s no use buying any more wine”, said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed on the blank wall of the house opposite. “There goes another leaf. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I’ll go too.”
“Johnsy, dear,” said Sue, bending over her, “will you promise me to keep your eyes closed and not look out of the window until I have finished working? I must deliver these drawings tomorrow. I need the light, otherwise I would pull down the curtain.”
“Can’t you draw in your room?” said Johnsy told.
“I’d rather stay here with you”, said Sue. “Besides, I don’t want you to keep looking at those silly leaves.”
“Tell me as soon as you have finished,” said Johnsy, closing her eyes and lying white and still. “Because I want to see the last leaf fall. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tied of thinking.”
“Try to sleep,” said Sue a little later. “I must go down stairs for a minute to get Mr. Behrman, who is going to sit as my model. But I will be right back. And don’t move, and also please promise me not to look out of the window.”
Old Mr. Behrman was a painter who lived on the first floor beneath Johnsy and Sue. He was more than sixty years old. Behrman was a failure in art. He had always wanted to paint a masterpiece, but had never begun to paint it. For many years, he had painted nothing, except now and then a piece of commercial or advertising work. He earned a little money by serving as a model for those young artists who could not pay the price for a regular model. He drank a great deal of whiskey and, when he was drunk, always talked about the great masterpiece he was going to paint. He was a fierce, intense little man who considered himself as a watchdog and protector for the two young artists living above him, of whom he was very fond.
Sue found Behrman in his poorly lighted studio. In one corner of the room stood a blank canvas which had been waiting for twenty-five years to receive the first line of the promised masterpiece. Sue told him of the strange idea which Johnsy had concerning the last leaf, and said that she feared that Johnsy would really die when the last leaf fell.
Old Behrman shouted, “Are there people in the world who are foolish enough to die simply because leaves fall from an old vine? I have never heard such of a thing. Why do you permit such silly ideas to come to her mind? Oh, that poor little Miss Johnsy.”
“She is very ill and very weak,” explained Sue, “and the fever has left her mind full of strange ideas.”
Johnsy was sleeping when they both went upstairs. Sue pulled down the curtain and motioned to Behrman to go into the other room. There they looked out the window fearfully at the vine. Then they looked at each other for a moment without speaking. A cold rain was falling, mixed with snow. Berhman took a seat and prepared himself to pose for Sue as a model.
When Sue woke up the next morning, she found Johnsy with dull, wide open eyes, looking at the window.
“Put up the curtain. I want to see,” Johnsy said quietly.
But, oh, after the heavy rain and strong wind, one leaf was still hanging on the vine. The last leaf. Still dark green, it hung from a branch some twenty feet above ground.
“It is the last one,” said Johnsy. “I thought it woudl surely fall during the night. I heard the wind and the rain. It will fall today and I shall die at the same time.”
“Dear Johnsy,” said Sue, placing her face close to Johnsy’s on the pillow, “think of me if you won’t think of youself. What shall I do?”
The day passed slowly, and even though the growing darkness of the evening they could see the lone leaf still hanging from the branch against the wall. And then, with the coming of the night, the wind began to blow again, and the rain began to fall heavily.
But the next morning, when Johnsy commanded that the curtain be raised again, the leaf was still there.
Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called Sue.
“I’ve been a bad girl, Sue,” said Johnsy. “Something has made that last leaf stay there just to show me how bad I was. It was a sin to want to die.. You may bring me a little soup now- and then put some pillows behind me and I will sit up and watch you cook.”
An hour later Johnsy said, “Sue, some day I want to paint a picture of the Bay of the Naples.”
The doctor came in the afternoon. “You are doing fine,” he said, taking Johnsy’s thin hand in his. “In another week or so you will be perfectly well. And now I must go see another patient downstairs. His name is Berhman. He is some kind of artist, I beleive. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man, and the attack was very severe. There is no hope for him, but I am sending him to the hospital in order to make him more comfortable.”
The next day, Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay. “The doctor tells me that soon you will be perfectly well again,” Sue saidm putting her arm around Johnsy. She smiled at her happily.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Sue continued. “But now I have something sad to tell you. Old Mr. Behrman died this morning of pneumonia. They found him two daus ago in this room. He was helpless with pain and fever. His shoes and clothing were wet and icy. No one could understand where he had gone on such a terrible night. Then they found a ladder and a lantern which was still lighted. They also found some paint and a brush which was still wet with green pain.”
“Do you understand what happened?’ Sue asked with tears in her eyes. “During that night– in all that wind and rain– Mr. Behrman climbed up and painted a green leaf on the wall of the house across us. Didn’t you think it was strange that the leaf never moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it was Behrman’s true masterpiece- he painted it there the night the last leaf fell.”