In O. Henry's poignant story, Sue and Johnsy are two aspiring artists who come to New York City's Greenwich Village, "prowling for north windows...and low rents." Sue is from Maine, but Johnsy is from California; consequently, when winter arrives, Sue is already acclimated, but Johnsy is not.
In November a cold, unseen stranger whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony touching one here and there with his icy fingers.
"Mr. Pneumonia," as O. Henry refers to the condition, strikes Johnsy, who is unprepared for such icy temperatures. Since there were not such facilities and treatments for pneumonia such as antibiotics at the turn of the twentieth century as there are nowadays, Johnsy lay in her bed, with its painted iron bedstead, staring out the window at the next brick house.
But one morning the harried doctor visits (as doctors made house calls in those days), only to sadly tell Sue that Johnsy has determined that she is not going to recover. The doctor says he will do all that science can, but Johnsy is very depressed and in despair of getting well. Sue, then, solicits the aid of Mr. Behrman.