The Hangman's Whip
The Hangman's Whip
"THIS ISN'T SAFE," SAID Howland.
Search lifted her face from the note she was writing at the small desk across the room.
He was standing at the wide window looking down. His blocky figure looked big and heavy in the small living room of the apartment with its delicate light woods and beige rug. His dark, rather short face was bent in a way that brought an unexpected memory flashing out of all the memories she had of Howland Stacy, and that was his face, beside her, bent like that in profile with its blunt nose and dark mustache, as they walked out of the church together after Richard's wedding.
That was three years ago in June. She had wondered then, fleetingly and only in the very top surface of her mind, if he had noticed the stiff hard clutch of her gloved hand upon his arm.
"It isn't safe," he repeated. "You ought to have bars or a railing put up here."
She rose and went to him without finishing the note she was writing-that innocuous, small note to the milkman with its unfinished joking reference to the milkman's own joke about the heat which he delivered through the panel in the door as regularly as he delivered her bottle of cream.
"What isn't safe?" she said, linking her arm lightly through Howland's and following his own gaze downward to the white, hot pavement far below where dark figures of pedestrians were immensely foreshortened so they looked like flat, animated little dolls scurrying along. "Oh, you mean the height?"
"It's this-this ledge," said Howland disapprovingly. "It's too low." The long window was open, and a wide ledge rising perhaps two feet above the floor was all that separated them from the dizzying plunge downward. She glanced at the ledge and then looked outward, far above Chicago traffic and sounds and heaped-up ranks of other buildings with their brick and stone and glittering windowpanes, to where the long blue-gray reaches of Lake Michigan joined in the far distance the blue sky. That afternoon in mid-July it was hot, and a soft blue haze away off there in the distance blended the horizons of lake and sky so she could not see where one met the other.
"That's why I chose the apartment," she said. "The height and the view. Look."
He followed her gaze out toward lake and sky only briefly and looked again down at the street directly but very far below them.
"All very nice. But even if you've a good head for height yourself, or think you have, it's still not safe. You'd hate to have one of your guests go plunging over. You do give cocktail parties sometimes, don't you?"
"Not often, Howie, as you know very well. Life is real and life is earnest for a gal earning her own living. Although I've just had a ten-dollar raise; you can't tell to what orgies of extravagance it will lead me."
"Well, it's your own doing," said Howland after a pause while he watched the scurrying figures far below with a withdrawn look on his short dark face. "How long has it been now since you left the family rooftree? Three years, isn't it?"
"Three years this summer."
There was another pause. Then Howland said: "You ought to let Diana keep you. She's got money enough now."
"She would keep me if I would let her."
As a matter of fact, thought Search, life would have been more serious for her during the past three years if Diana had not been so generous. The rent for her tiny apartment took a surprisingly large proportion of her salary; food took another slice of it. She could manage those two items and incidentals-gloves and dentist and even birthday and Christmas presents if she devoted enough time to looking for them-but she could never have managed smart clothes. Anything Diana chose was sure to be good and sure to cost quite a lot of money.
Howland said: "That outfit you are wearing now came from Diana, didn't it?"
She glanced down at her print dr