The Furnished Room
This is perhaps the bleakest of O. Henry’s best-known stories. Although the basic ironic plot can be summarized in a sentence—a young man commits suicide in the same room where a young woman for whom he has vainly searched killed herself—it is the musty atmosphere of the room and the suggestion that every place bears the traces of the lives that have inhabited it that makes the story so compelling. It is a story of transience, of lives that move through a bleak, indifferent world, leaving only bits of themselves, which the young man uncovers as he searches through drawers and pokes into every corner and crevice of the room looking for something that remains of the woman he seeks. However, all that is left is an illusory sweet familiar smell, which melodramatically becomes the sweet smell of the gas he turns on in despair, as she did only one week previously. Although the fact that the young man ends up in the very same room in which his lost sweetheart took her life is one of the most extreme coincidences in all of O. Henry’s fiction, the power of the atmosphere of the story is so strong that readers are willing to accept it.
A man searching for his lost love finds her ghost in a New York City tenement calling to him. This ghost story is a very unusual tale for O. Henry—longer than most and one of the few he wrote that dealt with the supernatural. The author tells a sad story of how two lovers have committed a suicide successively in the same room by heightening the air of mystery.
Then, suddenly, as he rested there, the room was filled with the strong, sweet odour of mignonette.It came as upon a single buffet of wind with such sureness and fragrance and emphasis that it almost seemed a living visitant.And the man cried aloud: “What, dear?” as if he had been called, and sprang up and faced about.The rich odour clung to him and wrapped him around.He reached out his arms for it, all his senses for the time confused and commingled.How could one be peremptorily called by an odour? Surely it must have been a sound.But, was it not the sound that had touched, that had caressed him?
O. Henry's stories are gems of their kind; mellow, humorous, ironic, ingenious and shot through with that eminently salable quality known as 'human interest.'" —Bennet Cerf and Van Cartmell
- The Furnished Room