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In O.l Henry's "The Last Leaf," Old Behrman lives downstairs from the two aspiring artists, Johnsy and Sue, in the little Greenwich Village apartments. He is over sixty years old, and has always thought of painting a masterpiece, but he has yet to begin it. A failure at painting, Behrman earns a meagre living by posing as a model for the young artists who cannot afford professional models.
Sue has Behrman come to her apartment to pose, but she points out to him the ivy vine upon which leaves has fallen. They both look at each other; then, Behrman takes his seat to pose. In Sue's painting, he is supposed to be a miner who stays to himself and is seated on a kettle set upside down; this kettle will be painted as a rock.
In "The Last Leaf," Behrman is a sixty-year-old painter who lives in the same Greenwich Village apartment building as Sue and Johnsy. Behrman is a failed artist who models for young painters, as he has a "Michelangelo's Moses beard." Sue, who is sketching a picture of an Idaho cowboy for a magazine, goes to get Behrman while Johnsy is sick in bed with pneumonia. The phrase in the question means Behrman is posing as the hermit miner in the picture of the Old West that Sue is sketching. Instead of sitting on a rock, as the real miner might have, he sits on an upturned kettle that Sue gives him in her apartment. Sue tells Behrman that her roommate Johnsy thinks she will die when the last leaf has fallen from the ivy plant on the brick wall outside. Strangely, the leaf never falls, giving Johnsy encouragement to live. Sadly, Behrman dies of pneumonia that he contracts while painting the leaf on the wall outside in the cold.
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