A young man entered a district in which a goodly number of houses catered to transients. He inquired in vain at eleven different houses. On his twelfth try, he finally found an empty room.
Though the room had a foul odor, the housekeeper said that it was a popular room and never stayed vacant for long. The young man decided to take it and paid a week in advance.
The young man was searching for a young lady named Miss Eloise Vashner, who he thought would be singing on the stage. He asked the housekeeper if Miss Vashner had ever lodged in her house. He explained that she was a slender girl of medium height. She had reddish gold hair and a mole near her left eyebrow.
The housekeeper said that she did not remember the name. She suggested that she may have changed her name, as many stage people were accustomed to do.
The young man had asked about Miss Vashner many times. He thought that she must have gone to New York City after disappearing from home, and he had searched everywhere, visiting schools, choruses, managers, and agents. He could not find her anywhere.
As the young man relaxed in a chair, the room seemed to speak to him about all the different people who had lived within its walls. Previous lodgers had left behind tokens that testified to their residence in the room, such as a vase, a medicine bottle, pictures of actresses, and stray cards out of a deck. There were stains, chipped furniture, and fingerprints that revealed the activity of previous guests.
Various sounds assailed the senses of the young man. From neighboring rooms, he heard incontinent laughter, a lullaby, scolding, and the rattling of dice.
Suddenly the room was filled with the fragrance of mignonette. Since Miss Vashner loved this fragrance, the young man was convinced that the girl that he lived in this room at some past time. He rose from his chair and diligently searched the room for further evidence of her identity. He ransacked the drawers and searched every corner of the room, but he found nothing that unequivocally evoked the presence of Miss Vashner. Such items as abandoned hairpins did not help him, since they could have belonged to any lady.
He decided to consult the housekeeper. He asked her to explain who lived in the room before he arrived.
The housekeeper had already given him some of this information, but she did not mind repeating it. She claimed that a Mr. and Mrs. Moony had been there before him. Mrs. Moony was a black-haired girl who called herself Miss Scowls when she appeared on stage. Before them a single gentleman stayed in the room. Before him, Mrs. Chowder and her two children lived in the room. Finally, Mr. Doyle lived in the room before Mrs. Chowder rented it.
This explanation discouraged the young man. When he returned to his room, he no longer detected the presence of his beloved. He turned on the gas and laid down in bed, waiting for death.
Mrs. Purdy, the housekeeper, went to a subterranean retreat and had a beer with another housekeeper named Mrs. McCool. If the young man had witnessed their conversation, he would have learned that just a week earlier, Miss Vashner had rented the same room and had committed suicide in the very same way that he did. Mrs. Purdy had not told the young man because it was hard to rent a room if people knew that someone had committed suicide in it.
Arkive: Selected Stories from O. Henry