The Last Leaf

2 Nov 2022

In the poorer parts of New York, there was a colony
where many struggling artists lived. Among them were
Sue and Johnsy. They had come to New York from different
parts of the United States. When they met, they found that
they shared the same interest, and they became friends.
They shared a flat and set up a joint ‘studio’ trying to earn
a living through art.
Johnsy was small, thin and not very strong. After
spending a few months in New York, she became ill with
pneumonia. In those days, it was not easy to cure pneumonia
patients. Though Sue looked after her well, Johnsy, showed
no signs of improvement.
One day, the doctor told Sue that Johnsy had one
chance in ten. “And that chance is for her to want to live,”
he said. “Your little lady has made up her mind that she’s
not going to get well.” He told Sue that medicines alone did
not help if the patient did not wish to live.
That day, Johnsy just lay in bed without making any
sound or movement, First, Sue thought that she had fallen
asleep but then she noticed that Johnsy was looking out of
the window and was counting something again and again
in a very low voice - almost a whisper.
Sue, too looked out of the window, but there was
nothing to see - only an old, old ivy vine, gnarled and
decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick wall.
The cold breath of autumn had taken away most of the
leaves. Only the skeleton branches were left, clinging to
the bricks.
“What is it, dear ?”
asked Sue.
“Six,” said Johnsy.
“They are 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 ?”
“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,” said Sue. “What
have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well ? And you
used to love that vine so ! Don’t be silly. The doctor said
that you had excellent chances of getting well. Take some
broth now, and let me get back to my work.”
But Johnsy just kept looking out of 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,” said Sue, “will you promise me to keep your
eyes closed and not look out of the window until I am done
working? I must hand those drawings in tomorrow. I need
the light. Otherwise I would have closed the window. 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, “because I want to see the last one fall.”
“Try to sleep,” said Sue. “I must call Behrman up to
be my model for the old man that I’m drawing. I’ll not be
gone a minute.”
Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground
floor, but he was a failure in art. For forty years he had
wielded the brush but had not made any money. He had
been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never
yet begun it. For several years, he had only made a few
paintings. He earned a little by serving as a model to the
young artists in the colony, who could not affored other
models. He always talked of his coming masterpiece.
Sue told Behrman about Johnsy’s fancy. Old
Behrman was shocked that anyone could have such idiotic
‘imaginings’. “What!” he cried. “Are there people in theworld foolish enough to die because of leaves dropping offfrom a vine ? I have not heard of such a thing. Why did you
allow this thought to enter her brain?”
“She is very ill and weak,” said Sue. “The fever has
made her mind full of fancies.”
“This place is not good for Miss Johnsy. Some day I’ll
paint a masterpiece and we shall all go away. Yes !” said
Johnsy was sleeping when the two went upstairs. Sue
showed Behrman the ivy vine that Johnsy saw through the
window. They looked at each other for a moment without
speaking, and then began their work. Outside a cold rain
was falling continuously, mingled with snow. Sue closed
the window.
Next morning, when Sue woke up, she found that
Johnsy was staring at the closed window again with dull,
wide-open eyes.
“Open the window ; I want to see,” she ordered. Sue
But, lo ! even after the rain and the fierce wind that
blew throughout the night, there yet stood against the brick
wall one ivy leaf. It was the last on the vine. Still dark
green near its stem, but with its edges tinted with yellow,
it hung bravely from a branch some twenty feet above the
“It is the last one”, said Johnsy. “I thought it would
surely fall during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall
today and I shall die at the same time.”
Johnsy was preparing herself for the last journey that
one makes alone.The feeling was very strong within her.
The ties of Sue’s friendship and other things on earth
became loose one by one.
The day wore away but even through the twilight, they
could see the lone ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the
wall. At night, again the wind raged and the rain poured.
Next day, when it was light enough, Johnsy asked Sue
to open the window.
The ivy leaf was still there.Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. Then she called
Sue. “Sue dear,” she said, “I’ve been a bad girl. Something
has made a last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I
was. It is a sin to want to die.”After that she was ready to take the broth and milk that
Sue brought her. She wanted to sit up in bed . ‘‘Someday I
hope to paint the Bay of Naples.’’
Mr Behrman downstairs was now ill with pneumonia.
The sweeper had found him lying helpless in his room in
very wet clothes and shoes. He also found some scattered
brushes and a palette with green and yellow colours mixed
on it. Two days later, Mr. Behrman died in a hospital.
The last ivy leaf was still there on the wall. It never
fluttered or moved when the wind blew. It was Behrman’s
masterpiece. He had painted it there that night when the last
leaf had fallen.

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