The Skylight Room by O Henry
First Mrs. Parker would show you the double parlours. You would not
dare to interrupt her description of their advantages and of the
merits of the gentleman who had occupied them for eight years. Then
you would manage to stammer forth the confession that you were
neither a doctor nor a dentist. Mrs. Parker's manner of receiving
the admission was such that you could never afterward entertain the
same feeling toward your parents, who had neglected to train you up
in one of the professions that fitted Mrs. Parker's parlours.
Next you ascended one flight of stairs and looked at the second-
floor-back at $8. Convinced by her second-floor manner that it was
worth the $12 that Mr. Toosenberry always paid for it until he left
to take charge of his brother's orange plantation in Florida near
Palm Beach, where Mrs. McIntyre always spent the winters that had the
double front room with private bath, you managed to babble that you
wanted something still cheaper.
If you survived Mrs. Parker's scorn, you were taken to look at Mr.
Skidder's large hall room on the third floor. Mr. Skidder's room was
not vacant. He wrote plays and smoked cigarettes in it all day long.
But every room-hunter was made to visit his room to admire the
lambrequins. After each visit, Mr. Skidder, from the fright caused
by possible eviction, would pay something on his rent.
Then--oh, then--if you still stood on one foot, with your hot hand
clutching the three moist dollars in your pocket, and hoarsely
proclaimed your hideous and culpable poverty, nevermore would Mrs.
Parker be cicerone of yours. She would honk loudly the word" Clara,"
she would show you her back, and march downstairs. Then Clara, the
coloured maid, would escort you up the carpeted ladder that served
for the fourth flight, and show you the Skylight Room. It occupied
7x8 feet of floor space at the middle of the hall. On each side of
it was a dark lumber closet or storeroom.
In it was an iron cot, a washstand and a chair. A shelf was the
dresser. Its four bare walls seemed to close in upon you like the
sides of a coffin. Your hand crept to your throat, you gasped, you
looked up as from a well--and breathed once more. Through the glass
of the little skylight you saw a square of blue infinity.
"Two dollars, suh," Clara would say in her half-contemptuous, half-
One day Miss Leeson came hunting for a room. She carried a
typewriter made to be lugged around by a much larger lady. She was
a very little girl, with eyes and hair that had kept on growing after
she had stopped and that always looked as if they were saying:
"Goodness me ! Why didn't you keep up with us?"
Mrs. Parker showed her the double parlours. "In this closet," she
said, "one could keep a skeleton or anaesthetic or coal "
"But I am neither a doctor nor a dentist," said Miss Leeson, with
Mrs. Parker gave her the incredulous, pitying, sneering, icy stare
that she kept for those who failed to qualify as doctors or dentists,
and led the way to the second floor back.
"Eight dollars?" said Miss Leeson. "Dear me! I'm not Hetty if I do
look green. I'm just a poor little working girl. Show me something
higher and lower."
Mr. Skidder jumped and strewed the floor with cigarette stubs at the
rap on his door.
"Excuse me, Mr. Skidder," said Mrs. Parker, with her demon's smile at
his pale looks. "I didn't know you were in. I asked the lady to
have a look at your lambrequins."
"They're too lovely for anything," said Miss Leeson, smiling in
exactly the way the angels do.
After they had gone Mr. Skidder got very busy erasing the tall,
black-haired heroine from his latest (unproduced) play and inserting
a small, roguish one with heavy, bright hair and vivacious features.
"Anna Held'll jump at it," said Mr. Skidder to himself, putting his
feet up against the lambrequins and disappearing in a cloud of smoke
like an aerial cuttlefish.
Presently the tocsin call of "Clara!" sounded to the world the state
of Miss Leeson's purse. A dark goblin seized her, mounted a Stygian
stairway, thrust her into a vault with a glimmer of light in its top
and muttered the menacing and cabalistic words "Two dollars!"
"I'll take it!" sighed Miss Leeson, sinking down upon the squeaky
Every day Miss Leeson went out to work. At night she brought home
papers with handwriting on them and made copies with her typewriter.
Sometimes she had no work at night, and then she would sit on the
steps of the high stoop with the other roomers. Miss Leeson was not
intended for a sky-light room when the plans were drawn for her
creation. She was gay-hearted and full of tender, whimsical fancies.
Once she let Mr. Skidder read to her three acts of his great
(unpublished) comedy, "It's No Kid; or, The Heir of the Subway."
There was rejoicing among the gentlemen roomers whenever Miss Leeson
had time to sit on the steps for an hour or two. But Miss
Longnecker, the tall blonde who taught in a public school and said,
"Well, really!" to everything you said, sat on the top step and
sniffed. And Miss Dorn, who shot at the moving ducks at Coney every
Sunday and worked in a department store, sat on the bottom step and
sniffed. Miss Leeson sat on the middle step and the men would
quickly group around her.
Especially Mr. Skidder, who had cast her in his mind for the star
part in a private, romantic (unspoken) drama in real life. And
especially Mr. Hoover, who was forty-five, fat, flush and foolish.
And especially very young Mr. Evans, who set up a hollow cough to
induce her to ask him to leave off cigarettes. The men voted her
"the funniest and jolliest ever," but the sniffs on the top step and
the lower step were implacable.
* * * * * *
I pray you let the drama halt while Chorus stalks to the footlights
and drops an epicedian tear upon the fatness of Mr. Hoover. Tune the
pipes to the tragedy of tallow, the bane of bulk, the calamity of
corpulence. Tried out, Falstaff might have rendered more romance to
the ton than would have Romeo's rickety ribs to the ounce. A lover
may sigh, but he must not puff. To the train of Momus are the fat
men remanded. In vain beats the faithfullest heart above a 52-inch
belt. Avaunt, Hoover! Hoover, forty-five, flush and foolish, might
carry off Helen herself; Hoover, forty-five, flush, foolish and fat
is meat for perdition. There was never a chance for you, Hoover.
As Mrs. Parker's roomers sat thus one summer's evening, Miss Leeson
looked up into the firmament and cried with her little gay laugh:
"Why, there's Billy Jackson! I can see him from down here, too."
All looked up--some at the windows of skyscrapers, some casting about
for an airship, Jackson-guided.
"It's that star," explained Miss Leeson, pointing with a tiny finger.
"Not the big one that twinkles--the steady blue one near it. I can
see it every night through my skylight. I named it Billy Jackson."
"Well, really!" said Miss Longnecker. "I didn't know you were an
astronomer, Miss Leeson."
"Oh, yes," said the small star gazer, "I know as much as any of them
about the style of sleeves they're going to wear next fall in Mars."
"Well, really!" said Miss Longnecker. "The star you refer to is
Gamma, of the constellation Cassiopeia. It is nearly of the second
magnitude, and its meridian passage is--"
"Oh," said the very young Mr. Evans, "I think Billy Jackson is a much
better name for it."
"Same here," said Mr. Hoover, loudly breathing defiance to Miss
Longnecker. "I think Miss Leeson has just as much right to name
stars as any of those old astrologers had."
"Well, really!" said Miss Longnecker.
"I wonder whether it's a shooting star," remarked Miss Dorn. "I hit
nine ducks and a rabbit out of ten in the gallery at Coney Sunday."
"He doesn't show up very well from down here," said Miss Leeson.
"You ought to see him from my room. You know you can see stars even
in the daytime from the bottom of a well. At night my room is like
the shaft of a coal mine, and it makes Billy Jackson look like the
big diamond pin that Night fastens her kimono with."
There came a time after that when Miss Leeson brought no formidable
papers home to copy. And when she went out in the morning, instead
of working, she went from office to office and let her heart melt
away in the drip of cold refusals transmitted through insolent office
boys. This went on.
There came an evening when she wearily climbed Mrs. Parker's stoop at
the hour when she always returned from her dinner at the restaurant.
But she had had no dinner.
As she stepped into the hall Mr. Hoover met her and seized his
chance. He asked her to marry him, and his fatness hovered above her
like an avalanche. She dodged, and caught the balustrade. He tried
for her hand, and she raised it and smote him weakly in the face.
Step by step she went up, dragging herself by the railing. She
passed Mr. Skidder's door as he was red-inking a stage direction for
Myrtle Delorme (Miss Leeson) in his (unaccepted) comedy, to
"pirouette across stage from L to the side of the Count." Up the
carpeted ladder she crawled at last and opened the door of the
She was too weak to light the lamp or to undress. She fell upon the
iron cot, her fragile body scarcely hollowing the worn springs. And
in that Erebus of the skylight room, she slowly raised her heavy
eyelids, and smiled.
For Billy Jackson was shining down on her, calm and bright and
constant through the skylight. There was no world about her. She
was sunk in a pit of blackness, with but that small square of pallid
light framing the star that she had so whimsically and oh, so
ineffectually named. Miss Longnecker must be right; it was Gamma,
of the constellation Cassiopeia, and not Billy Jackson. And yet she
could not let it be Gamma.
As she lay on her back she tried twice to raise her arm. The third
time she got two thin fingers to her lips and blew a kiss out of the
black pit to Billy Jackson. Her arm fell back limply.
"Good-bye, Billy," she murmured faintly. "You're millions of miles
away and you won't even twinkle once. But you kept where I could see
you most of the time up there when there wasn't anything else but
darkness to look at, didn't you? . . . Millions of miles. . . .
Good-bye, Billy Jackson."
Clara, the coloured maid, found the door locked at 10 the next day,
and they forced it open. Vinegar, and the slapping of wrists and
burnt feathers proving of no avail, some one ran to 'phone for an
In due time it backed up to the door with much gong-clanging, and the
capable young medico, in his white linen coat, ready, active,
confident, with his smooth face half debonair, half grim, danced up
"Ambulance call to 49," he said briefly. "What's the trouble?"
"Oh, yes, doctor," sniffed Mrs. Parker, as though her trouble that
there should be trouble in the house was the greater. "I can't think
what can be the matter with her. Nothing we could do would bring her
to. It's a young woman, a Miss Elsie--yes, a Miss Elsie Leeson.
Never before in my house--"
"What room?" cried the doctor in a terrible voice, to which Mrs.
Parker was a stranger.
"The skylight room. It--
Evidently the ambulance doctor was familiar with the location of
skylight rooms. He was gone up the stairs, four at a time. Mrs.
Parker followed slowly, as her dignity demanded.
On the first landing she met him coming back bearing the astronomer
in his arms. He stopped and let loose the practised scalpel of his
tongue, not loudly. Gradually Mrs. Parker crumpled as a stiff
garment that slips down from a nail. Ever afterward there remained
crumples in her mind and body. Sometimes her curious roomers would
ask her what the doctor said to her.
"Let that be," she would answer. "If I can get forgiveness for
having heard it I will be satisfied."
The ambulance physician strode with his burden through the pack of
hounds that follow the curiosity chase, and even they fell back along
the sidewalk abashed, for his face was that of one who bears his own
They noticed that he did not lay down upon the bed prepared for it in
the ambulance the form that he carried, and all that he said was:
"Drive like h**l, Wilson," to the driver.
That is all. Is it a story? In the next morning's paper I saw a
little news item, and the last sentence of it may help you (as it
helped me) to weld the incidents together.
It recounted the reception into Bellevue Hospital of a young woman
who had been removed from No. 49 East -- street, suffering from
debility induced by starvation. It concluded with these words:
"Dr. William Jackson, the ambulance physician who attended the case,
says the patient will recover."