by O. Henry
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by O. Henry
adapted by Don Kisner
1985, 1988, 1998 by Balance Publishing Company
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CAST OF RECORDED
MR. BEHRMAN.............................DENNIS RHODUS
#14, OPUS 27, #2
In New York City, there's a small district just west of Washington Square, where
the narrow, irregular streets have run crazy and broken themselves into short
strips called places. It's an ancient, residential community where many
of the beautiful, old, brick houses date back to the 1820's, when an epidemic
forced people from the city to what was then a rural suburban village. Now, in
the final year of the nineteenth century, we find clusters of colorful
restaurants, theaters, and shops. People interested in the creative lifestyle
were attracted by the quaint, continental atmosphere, and so, to this village of
the big city, they've come: the artists, the actors, the musicians, the dancers,
the writers, hunting for nirth windows and 18th century gables and Dutch attics
and low rents.
It's an evening in late spring,
and the dinner hour finds the little Eighth Street Delmonico's busy as usual.
Most of the patrons this evening, the village old-timers, blend into the
surroundings: but now and then there's one who stands out, a recent arrival.
Joanna Gaines is one of these. Alone in the crowd, she looks new, fragile, out
She pays for her tray of food,
then standing for a moment, awkward, she looks around. Finally, spotting her
goal, chin out, she crosses the room to a tiny table with two chairs and only
§ § §
Excuse me! All the other tables seem to be taken. Do you mind if I sit here?
Oh! No! Of course not! I'd love the company. Please! Join me.
Thank you! My name is Joanna Gaines.
Hello, Joanna! Susan Cross. Friends call me Sue.
Hi, Sue. My friends call me Johnsy.
Johnsy! I like it.
It's really busy in here this time of day, isn't it. Do you eat here often?
Just about every day. It's the cheapest, and the best place around. I haven't
seen you in here before, have I?
No, this is the first time. I just got to town three days ago. It's all so very
different from California.
Oh, California? I was there once. What part are you from?
A small town near San Francisco, Sebastopol. Do you know it?
Afraid not. I only spent a few days there, all of them in Los Angeles. Why'd you
come to New York?
To work, and study, I'm an artist. Or at least I'd like to be.
Oh! Wonderful! So am I.
Have you lived in the Village long?
About four months.
§ § §
That's how Sue and Johnsy met. Soon they found their tastes in art, chicory
salad, and clothes so congenial, and their need for the economics of shared rent
so demanding, that a joint studio resulted. It was at the top of a squatty,
three-story brick that, finally, they found exactly what they wanted.
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 finger. Over on the
east side this ravager strode boldly, swiftly, smiting his victims by scores,
but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown places.
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 windowpanes at the blank side of the
next brick house.
One morning, after the doctor
had finished his third visit, Sue followed him into the small dark space just
outside the apartment that served as a hallway.
§ § §
How is she, Doctor?
Not good. Not good at all, I'm afraid. She has one chance in let us say, ten.
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 field of medicine look silly.
Is there anything that I can do to help, Doctor?
The little lady has made up her mind that she's not going to get well. Has she
anything on her mind?
She… well, she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day.
Paint? Bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking about twice a man, for
A man? Is a man worth… No, doctor, there's nothing of that kind.
Well, it's weakness, then. I'll do everything that medicine, 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 fifty percent from the
curative power from medicines. What can you do to help? Well, if you can get her
to show some interest in something, even the new winter styles in coat sleeves,
then I'll 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. Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her
face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep. She
arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a magazine
[SHE IS COUNTING BACKWARDS.] Twelve! Eleven! Ten! Nine! Eight!
Johnsy's eyes were open wide and she was staring out the window. What was there
to count? There was only a bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of a
brick house forty 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?
Six! 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?
Leaves on the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that
for days. Didn't the doctor tell you?
Oh, I've never heard of such nonsense. What do old ivy leaves have to do with
your getting well? And you used to love that vine so much.
It's just a feeling I have. I don't know how I know, Sue, but somehow I do. I'm
sure that when the last leaf falls off that vine, I'll die.
Don't be a silly goose. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances
of getting well real soon, were… Let's see, exactly what did he say? He said
the chances were ten to one! Why, that's almost as good a chance as when we're
in New York when we ride on the street cars or we pass a new building.
Try to take some broth now,
won't you? And I'll go back to my drawing, so I can sell the editor with it, and
buy port wine for my sick child, and pork chops for my greedy old self.
You needn't get any more wine. 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, will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look out the
window until I'm done working? I must get those drawings done by tomorrow. I
need the light, or I'd pull the shade down.
Couldn't you draw in the other room?
I'd rather be here with you. Besides, I don't want you to keep looking at those
silly ivy leaves.
All right, but tell me as soon as you've finished, because I want to see the
last one fall. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of thinking. I want to turn loose
my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor,
You try to get some sleep, now. I must go downstairs and see if Mr. Behrman will
come up to be my model for the old hermit miner. I'll not be gone a minute.
Don't try to move 'til I come back.
Old Behrman was a painter who lived one floor down. He was past sixty and had a
Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along the body of an imp.
Behrman was a failure in art. For forty years he had wielded the brush without
success. Always, according to his own words, he had been just about to paint a
masterpiece, but had never yet begun it. For several years he had painted nearly
nothing, except now and then an ad for a magazine, or a billboard. And
occasionally, he earned a little by serving as a model to those young artists in
the colony, who couldn't 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 at softness in any one, and thought himself
protector to 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 that had been waiting there for twenty-five years to receive the
first line of the masterpiece.
§ § §
…she was counting backward. I asked her what she was counting and she said,
"The ivy leaves." She's convinced when the last leaf falls, she will
die too. I'm scared!
Vot are you speaking, dot my leetle Johnsy vants not to live? Nonsense! She must
not think this vay. It is crazy. Why do you let it happen?
Oh, I don't know, Mr. Behrman. It's... It's just that she's as light and fragile
as a leaf herself. I guess I'm just afraid it'll all come true and she will die
when the last leaf falls.
Vass! Is dere people in der vorld with der foolishness to die because leafs they
fall from a vine? I have not heard of such a thing. Why do you allow that silly
business to come in der brain of her? No, I will not pose as a model for your
fool hermit-dunderhead. Ach, poor leetle Miss Johnsy.
She's very ill and weak, and the fever has left her mind full of strange, and
morbid thoughts. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if you don't care to pose for me, you
needn't. But I think you're a horrid old… old… old… fibbertigibbett.
You are chust like a voman! Who said I vill not bose? Go on. I will come with
you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to say dat I am ready to bose. Gott! Dis
is not any place in which one so schones as Miss Johnsy shall lie sick. Some day
I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go avay. Goot? Ya!
Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. A cold persistent rain was falling
mingled with snow. Sue pulled Johnsy's shade down to the window sill, and
motioned Behrman into the other room where they peered fearfully out of the
window at the ivy vine. They looked at each other, neither spoke. Then Behrman
in his old blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit-miner on an upturned kettle
for a rock. Later, when the sketch was done, the old man went on his way.
The next morning when Sue awoke
from an hour's sleep, she found Johnsy with dulled, wide-open eyes staring at
the drawn shade.
§ § §
Have something to eat this morning, won't you Johnsy? Just a little broth or a
taste of fruit.
Pull it up! I want to see.
Look! Johnsy! It's still there! All that weather, and it's still there!
It's the last one. I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard so
much wind. It will fall today, and I'll die at the same time.
Dear! Dear, Johnsy! Think of me, if you won't think of yourself. What would I do
if you should die?
§ § §
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. Something seemed to be
drawing her away more strongly now, 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 Dutch eaves.
When the light of the next day spread over the Village, once more making clear
the details of Johnsy's ancient, ivied brick wall, the determined little leaf
was still there.
§ § §
Sue, come in here for a moment, will you? Sit here beside me. I have something I
want to say.
Johnsy, I wish you wouldn't keep on about the leaf. I really can't stand to hear
you talk that way.
I know, Sue. I know. I promise. Don't go! Please don't go.
Well, all right. If you promise not to talk about death.
Oh, Sue! What an awful person I've been! I've been sitting here for the longest
time, staring out the window at the last leaf, thinking of the past few days.
All of a sudden it came to me.
What? What came to you, Dear?
Sue, something made that last leaf stay on the vine so that I'd realize how bad
I've been. It was a message. Don't you see, Sue, something wanted me to live.
Someday, Sue, I'm going to paint the Bay of Naples.
Oh, Johnsy! Johnsy! How wonderful! I'm so happy!
You can bring me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it,
and, no; bring me a hand-mirror first; and pack some pillows about me, and I'll
sit up and watch you cook.
The doctor came in the afternoon, and found Johnsy full of the color of life,
and declared the battle won.
She'll be just fine. All she needs now is good food and nursing.
Thank you, Doctor. I'll see that she gets them.
Good! And now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is.
Some kind of an artist, I believe.
Oh, no, not Mr. Behrman. I hadn't heard. What's wrong with him?
Oh, my God! Is it bad?
Yes, I'm sorry to say. Quite bad! He's an old man, he's very weak, and it was
too late for me to do very much. There's no hope for him. But he goes to the
hospital today to be made more comfortable.
The day passed and Johnsy grew stronger by the hour. Life was once more part of
her world. Everything was beautiful, even the Bay of Naples didn't seem so far
Sue went about her necessary
errands: the drawings had to be delivered; they were out of port wine; and, of
course, there was the hospital and Mr. Behrman.
And late 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 Johnsy, pillows and all.
§ § §
I have something to tell you, dear. Our Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia today.
Oh, dear God, no!
He'd been ill for only two days. On the morning of the first day, the janitor
found him downstairs. His shoes and his clothing were wet, his apartment icy
cold, and he was helpless with pain. At first, they couldn't imagine where he'd
been on such a dreadful night. But then they found a lantern, still burning, and
a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and in his room, they found
brushes and a palette with green and yellow colors on them. Look out the window,
at the last leaf. Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the
wind blew? That leaf is Mr. Behrman's masterpiece. He painted it there that
night--the night the last leaf fell.
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