In "The Last Leaf," by O. Henry, Behrman is a seemingly defeated character. He makes very little money as an artist. He is always about to do something, but never quite gets it done:
He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it.
Behrman poses from time to time for Sue and Johnsy. He is simply a pathetic artist who has never been able to become successful at painting. He drinks until his eyes are red:
He drank gin to excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece.
Behrman does care about Sue and Johnsy. He feels he is to protect them. he has come to think of himself as Sue's and Johnsy's protector:
For the rest he was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.
Behrman smells strongly of juniper berries. He lives in a dimly lighted den below Sue and Johnsy. A blank canvas stands in the corner waiting for Behrman to create a masterpiece. It has been blank for twenty-five years.
Sue tells Behrman that Johnsy is deathly ill from pneumonia. She adds that Johnsy has given up and declares she will die when the last leaf falls form the vine outside the window she is looking through. Behrman claims that Johnsy's sentiments are pure nonsense:
Old Behrman, with his red eyes plainly streaming, shouted his contempt and derision for such idiotic imaginings.
In the cold, icy rain, Behrman spends the night painting a masterpiece. He paints one last leaf on the vine. Now, Johnsy will not give up and die.
Sadly, Behrman catches pneumonia from painting in the icy rain. He dies, but not before he had finally painted his masterpiece.