In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run
crazy and broken themselves into small strips called "places." These
"places" make strange angles and curves. One street crosses itself
a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in
this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and
canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself
coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!
So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came
prowling, hunting for north windows and eighteenth-century gables
and Dutch attics and low rents. Then they imported some pewter mugs
and a chafing dish or two from Sixth avenue, and became a "colony."
At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their
studio. "Johnsy" was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the
other from California. They had met at the _table d'hote_ of an
Eighth street "Delmonico's," and found their tastes in art, chicory
salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio
That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the
doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one
here and there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this
ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet
trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown "places."
Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman.
A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs
was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer.
But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely moving, on her painted
iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes at the
blank side of the next brick house.
One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a
shaggy, gray eyebrow.
"She has one chance in--let us say, ten," he said, as he shook down
the mercury in his clinical thermometer. "And that chance is for her
to want to live. This way people have of lining-up on the side of
the undertaker makes the entire pharmacopeia look silly. Your little
lady has made up her mind that she's not going to get well. Has she
anything on her mind?"
"She--she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day," said Sue.
"Paint?--bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking about
twice--a man, for instance?"
"A man?" said Sue, with a jew's-harp twang in her voice. "Is a man
worth--but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind."
"Well, it is the weakness, then," said the doctor. "I will do all
that science, so far as it may filter through my efforts, can
accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages
in her funeral procession I subtract 50 per cent. from the curative
power of medicines. If you will get her to ask one question about
the new winter styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a
one-in-five chance for her, instead of one in ten."
After the doctor had gone Sue went into the workroom and cried a
Japanese napkin to a pulp. Then she swaggered into Johnsy's room
with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.
Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her
face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was
She arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate
a magazine story. Young artists must pave their way to Art by
drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to
pave their way to Literature.
As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horseshow riding trousers and
a monocle on the figure of the hero, an Idaho cowboy, she heard a
low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.
Johnsy's eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and
"Twelve," she said, and a little later "eleven;" and then "ten," and
"nine;" and then "eight" and "seven," almost together.
Sue looked solicitously out the window. What was there to count?
There was only a bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of
the brick house twenty feet away. An old, old ivy vine, gnarled and
decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick wall. The cold
breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its
skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.
"What is it, dear?" asked Sue.
"Six," said Johnsy, in almost a whisper. "They're falling faster
now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head
ache to count them. But now it's easy. There goes another one. There
are only five left now."
"Five what, dear. Tell your Sudie."
"Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too.
I've known that for three days. Didn't the doctor tell you?"
"Oh, I never heard of such nonsense," complained Sue, with
magnificent scorn. "What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting
well? And you used to love that vine so, you naughty girl. Don't be
a goosey. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for
getting well real soon were--let's see exactly what he said--he said
the chances were ten to one! Why, that's almost as good a chance as
we have in New York when we ride on the street cars or walk past a
new building. Try to take some broth now, and let Sudie go back to
her drawing, so she can sell the editor man with it, and buy port
wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self."
"You needn't get any more wine," said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed
out the window. "There goes another. No, I don't want any broth.
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 the window until I am done
working? I must hand those drawings in by to-morrow. I need the
light, or I would draw the shade down."
"Couldn't you draw in the other room?" asked Johnsy, coldly.
"I'd rather be here by you," said Sue. "Besides I don't want you to
keep looking at those silly ivy leaves."
"Tell me as soon as you have finished," said Johnsy, closing her
eyes, and lying white and still as a fallen statue, "because I
want to see the last one fall. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of
thinking. I went to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing
down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves."
"Try to sleep," said Sue. "I must call Behrman up to be my model for
the old hermit miner. I'll not be gone a minute. Don't try to move
'till I come back."
Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor beneath
them. He was past sixty and had a Michael Angelo's Moses beard
curling down from the head of a satyr along the body of an imp.
Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush
without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress's robe.
He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet
begun it. For several years he had painted nothing except now and
then a daub in the line of commerce or advertising. He earned a
little by serving as a model to those young artists in the colony
who could not pay the price of a professional. He drank gin to
excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece. For the rest he
was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in
any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to
protect the two young artists in the studio above.
Sue found Behrman smelling strongly of juniper berries in his dimly
lighted den below. In one corner was a blank canvas on an easel that
had been waiting there for twenty-five years to receive the first
line of the masterpiece. She told him of Johnsy's fancy, and how she
feared she would, indeed, light and fragile as a leaf herself, float
away when her slight hold upon the world grew weaker.
Old Behrman, with his red eyes, plainly streaming, shouted his
contempt and derision for such idiotic imaginings.
"Vass!" he cried. "Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness
to die because leafs dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not
heard of such a thing. No, I will not bose as a model for your fool
hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der
prain of her? Ach, dot poor lettle Miss Johnsy."
"She is very ill and weak," said Sue, "and the fever has left her
mind morbid and full of strange fancies. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if
you do not care to pose for me, you needn't. But I think you are a
horrid old--old flibbertigibbet."
"You are just like a woman!" yelled Behrman. "Who said I will not
bose? Go on. I come mit you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to
say dot I am ready to bose. Gott! dis is not any blace in which
one so goot as Miss Yohnsy shall lie sick. Some day I vill baint a
masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes."
Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade
down to the window-sill, and motioned Behrman into the other room.
In there they peered out the window fearfully at the ivy vine.
Then they looked at each other for a moment without speaking. A
persistent, cold rain was falling, mingled with snow. Behrman, in
his old blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit-miner on an upturned
kettle for a rock.
When Sue awoke from an hour's sleep the next morning she found
Johnsy with dull, wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade.
"Pull it up; I want to see," she ordered, in a whisper.
Wearily Sue obeyed.
But, lo! after the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind that had
endured through the livelong night, there yet stood out against the
brick wall one ivy leaf. It was the last on the vine. Still dark
green near its stem, but with its serrated edges tinted with the
yellow of dissolution and decay, it hung bravely from a branch some
twenty feet above the ground.
"It is the last one," said Johnsy. "I thought it would surely fall
during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall to-day, and I shall
die at the same time."
"Dear, dear!" said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow,
"think of me, if you won't think of yourself. What would I do?"
But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is
a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey.
The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties
that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.
The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the
lone ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall. And then, with
the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the
rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low
When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the
shade be raised.
The ivy leaf was still there.
Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called to
Sue, who was stirring her chicken broth over the gas stove.
"I've been a bad girl, Sudie," said Johnsy. "Something has made that
last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to
want to die. You may bring me a little broth now, and some milk with
a little port in it, and--no; bring me a hand-mirror first, and then
pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook."
An hour later she said.
"Sudie, some day I hope to paint the Bay of Naples."
The doctor came in the afternoon, and Sue had an excuse to go into
the hallway as he left.
"Even chances," said the doctor, taking Sue's thin, shaking hand in
his. "With good nursing you'll win. And now I must see another case
I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is--some kind of an artist, I
believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man, and the attack is
acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital to-day
to be made more comfortable."
The next day the doctor said to Sue: "She's out of danger. You've
won. Nutrition and care now--that's all."
And that afternoon Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, contentedly
knitting a very blue and very useless woolen shoulder scarf, and put
one arm around her, pillows and all.
"I have something to tell you, white mouse," she said. "Mr. Behrman
died of pneumonia to-day in the hospital. He was ill only two days.
The janitor found him on the morning of the first day in his room
downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were wet
through and icy cold. They couldn't imagine where he had been
on such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still
lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and some
scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed
on it, and--look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the
wall. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the
wind blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece--he painted it
there the night that the last leaf fell."