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The Four Million

The Furnished Room
Restless, shifting, fugacious as time itself is a certain vast bulk of the population of the
red brick district of the lower West Side. Homeless, they have a hundred homes. They flit
from furnished room to furnished room, transients forever—transients in abode,
transients in heart and mind. They sing "Home, Sweet Home" in ragtime; they carry their
lares et penates in a bandbox; their vine is entwined about a picture hat; a rubber plant is
their fig tree.
Hence the houses of this district, having had a thousand dwellers, should have a thousand
tales to tell, mostly dull ones, no doubt; but it would be strange if there could not be
found a ghost or two in the wake of all these vagrant guests.
One evening after dark a young man prowled among these crumbling red mansions,
ringing their bells. At the twelfth he rested his lean hand-baggage upon the step and
wiped the dust from his hatband and forehead. The bell sounded faint and far away in
some remote, hollow depths.
To the door of this, the twelfth house whose bell he had rung, came a housekeeper who
made him think of an unwholesome, surfeited worm that had eaten its nut to a hollow
shell and now sought to fill the vacancy with edible lodgers.
He asked if there was a room to let.
"Come in," said the housekeeper. Her voice came from her throat; her throat seemed
lined with fur. "I have the third floor back, vacant since a week back. Should you wish to
look at it?"
The young man followed her up the stairs. A faint light from no particular source
mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own
loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in
that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase
and was viscid under the foot like organic matter. At each turn of the stairs were vacant
niches in the wall. Perhaps plants had once been set within them. If so they had died in
that foul and tainted air. It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but it was not
difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them forth in the darkness and
down to the unholy depths of some furnished pit below.
"This is the room," said the housekeeper, from her furry throat. "It's a nice room. It ain't
often vacant. I had some most elegant people in it last summer—no trouble at all, and
paid in advance to the minute. The water's at the end of the hall. Sprowls and Mooney
kept it three months. They done a vaudeville sketch. Miss B'retta Sprowls—you may
have heard of her—Oh, that was just the stage names—right there over the dresser is
where the marriage certificate hung, framed. The gas is here, and you see there is plenty
of closet room. It's a room everybody likes. It never stays idle long."
 
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