The Last Leaf
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-storey brick house 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 dhôte of an Eighth street Delmonicos, and found their tasters in art, chicory salad, and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.
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, 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 the 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 the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, grey eyebrow.
She has one chance inlet 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 pharmacopia look silly. Your little lady has made up her mind that shes not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?
Sheshe wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day, said Sue.
Paint?bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking about twicea man, for instance?
A man? said Sue, with a jews-harp twang in her voice. Is a man worthbut 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 Johnsys 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 asleep.
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.
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