“None of that!”
“My mistake,” he apologized.
She considered it promiscuous and cheap, and you know her aversion for cheapness.
Then she obtained, after a few forays in and out of brownstone houses in West Forty-fifth Street, one of those hall bedrooms so familiar to human-interest stories—the iron-bed, washstand, and slop-jar kind. There was a five-dollar advance required. That left her twenty dollars.
She shopped a bit then in an Eighth Avenue department store, and, with the day well on the wane, took a street car up to the Ivy Funeral Rooms. This time she entered, but the proprietor did not recognize her until she explained. As you know, she looked smaller and younger, and there was no tan car at the curb.
“I want to pay this off by the week,” she said, handing him out the statement and a much-folded ten-dollar bill. He looked at her, surprised. “Yes,” she said, her teeth biting off the word in a click.
“Certainly,” he replied, handing her out a receipt for the ten.
“I will pay five dollars a week hereafter.”
“That will stretch it out to twenty-eight weeks,” he said, still doubtfully.
“I can’t help it; I must.”
“Certainly,” he said, “that will be all right,” but looked puzzled.
That night she slept in the hall bedroom in the Eighth Avenue, machine-stitched nightgown. She dropped off about midnight, praying not to awaken at four. But she did—with a slight start, sitting up in bed, her eyes where the wall and ceiling joined.
Gerald’s face was there, and his blue eyes were open, but the steel points were gone. They were smiling eyes. They seemed to embrace her, to wash her in their fluid.
All her fear and the pain in her head were gone. She sat up, looking at him, the tears streaming down over her smile and her lips moving.
Then, sighing out like a child, she lay back on the pillow, turned over, and went to sleep.
* * * * *
And this is the story of Hester which so insisted to be told. I think she must have wanted you to know. And wanted Gerald to know that you know, and, in the end, I rather think she wanted God to know.
THE VERTICAL CITY
In the most vertical city in the world men have run up their dreams and their ambitions into slim skyscrapers that seem to exclaim at the audacity of the mere mortar that sustains them.
Minarets appear almost to tamper with the stars; towers to impale the moon. There is one fifty-six-story rococo castle, built from the five-and-ten-cent-store earnings of a merchant prince, that shoots upward with the beautiful rush of a Roman candle.
Any Manhattan sunset, against a sky that looks as if it might give to the poke of a finger, like a dainty woman’s pink flesh, there marches a silhouetted caravan of tower, dome, and the astonished crests of office buildings.