The setting is a Dickensian one: a seedier side of life in New York City, a huge city that is impersonal, uncaring, and rife with misfortune. One furnished room is the specific area where the drama of life takes place, when a young man stops at the twelfth house in the red brick district of the lower West Side.
New York City at the turn of the nineteenth century was a city that lured the innocent with false promises of fame and fortune. Many a musician and a would-be actress or actor have stayed in these rented furnished rooms. In one particular room, rented out by a housekeeper with "a furry throat," this young man decides to stay. He inquires if she has seen a Miss Eloise Vashner who has aspired to become an actress; he describes her:
A fair girl girl, of medium height and slender, with reddish gold hair and a a dark mole near her left eyebrow.
The great irony of this tale is that Miss Vashner has, indeed, been in this very room, but the landlady is afraid to tell the young man this because she committed suicide. But, because he cannot find anything of hers, the young man reaches a level of despair equal to that of the pretty woman he seeks, and he, too, turns on the gas in this room furnished with only hopelessness and death.