The conflict of this story is that the landlady, Mrs. Purdy, does not want to tell the young man who comes to rent her room that a young girl committed suicide in the room shortly before he arrived. The young man is searching fruitlessly for this woman, whose name is Eloise Vashner, who sings on the stage. He has traveled everywhere looking for her, and while he is sitting in the decrepit, depressing room, he whiffs a slight odor of her perfume. The scent is personified as O. Henry writes, "It came as upon a single buffet of wind with such sureness and fragrance and emphasis that it almost seemed a living visitant." The odor itself is a teasing visitor.
The man in the story senses that the woman he is searching for has been here, but he searches in vain for any definite evidence of her presence aside from the fleeting scent. He looks at the personal effects in the room, but they are the generic sort that could belong to anybody. When he questions the landlady, she denies that anyone fitting Miss Vashner's description has been in the room. When later speaking with her friend, another landlady, Mrs. Purdy admits that she did not tell the young man about the woman who committed suicide the week before—a woman who fit Miss Vashner's description. Therefore, the young man's desire to find the missing woman conflicts with the landlady's desire to keep the young woman's suicide a secret so that she can continue to rent the room.