TOMMY ADAMS slammed his schoolbooks down on the chest in the hall with his customary vigor and his customary disregard of a patina that had been at least two centuries in the making. Then he stood a minute. He found the silence of the big old-fashioned house vaguely oppressive. The only sounds—and these were very faint—came from the direction of the kitchen.
He considered an excursion; but memories of cook’s undoubted grimness in her own domain restrained him He began to call instead:
“Hi, Marsh! Marcia! Where are you?”
Thomas Phelps Adams, Jr., rejoiced in an entirely normal nature. This being so and he being, furthermore, twelve, it might have been expected that the society of a nineteen-year-old sister would be the last thing on earth he’d ever seek. Yet here he was, bellowing her name through the house. Such can be the effect upon even the most normal, of the departure of both mother and father for a month’s vacation in Bermuda.
Pie located her at last in her bedroom, the door of which he did not scruple to push open without knocking. She was lying among the cushions of the window-seat, reading. He said:
“Oh, here you are. I been calling you. Didn’t you hear me calling you?”
“I was reading.” she said. She further pointed out: “I still am.” But then, perhaps remorseful, she looked up at him and smiled. “Well, Tommy, how goes it?”
“Oke,” he answered briefly.
He let himself down into a chair and proceeded to regard her with that silent, expressionless, rather disconcerting gaze, appropriate to his years. As a matter of fact, he had, today, something very special to ask her; but he was not a boy to hurry anything. As he sat silent, she returned to her book.
There followed several minutes, during which nothing at all happened that even the most meticulous reporter would have thought worthy of notice.
The gaze of Thomas, fixed upon Marcia, was primarily just a gaze. If it had to be characterized in any way, it might have been called, perhaps, curious. It was certainly not admiring. Tommy was no aesthete. Pie might recognize dimly that his sister was good-looking; but had she had a hare-lip, his feelings for her would have remained substantially unchanged.
She turned a page at last and looked up, encountering his eyes.
“Good grief, Tommy,” she cried, “why are you staring at me so? You make me nervous.”
He spoke then:
“Are you a necker, Marsh?”
“Where in the world did you get an idea like that?”
“But are you?” he persisted.
“But are you?”
She colored slightly.
“I’m inclined to think the answer would be no. But why do you ask? Whatever started your mind running on such a question?"
“Huh? Oh, nothing,” he said vaguely. “Then you aren’t?”
She shook her head and began to laugh.
“You really make me feel as if I were up before a university committee on undergraduate morals or something.”
Tommy didn’t laugh. He saw nothing to laugh at. He had simply wanted to know whether his sister was a necker or whether she wasn’t a necker. He had only the sketchiest idea of what the term meant and he was entirely without any prejudice either for or against. But he had wanted to know and so he had asked and so she had answered. He was satisfied.
“Well ...” He stood up. “It must be about time for dinner, I guess. I’ll tell Al tomorrow that he was wrong.”
“Al?” she said. “Al who? What are you talking about?”
“Why, Al Joyce. For gosh sakes, you ought to know who Al is!”
HE NOTICED that her eyes had grown rather wide; but he thought little of it. He was impatient with her for asking who Al was. She must have heard him speak of Al at least a million times. Al was just about his best friend at the Country Day. Besides, it was Al’s brother, Grant Joyce— like Marcia, a sophomore at the university—who was always coming around to the house to see her and calling her up on the phone and taking her out to dances and so on.
Marcia said rather sharply:
“Al Joyce. What about him?”
“Why—nothing. I just said I’d tell him he was wrong, that’s all.”
The book slipped from her lap to the floor, but she did not seem to notice. She asked:
“Wrong about what?”
“About your being a necker.”
“What made him think I was a necker?”
“Gosh, I don’t know,” Tommy said.
“But—you’ve got to know ! I—I—just what did Al say?”
Her tone was so very strange, her eyes were so very strange too, that Tommy, looking at her, experienced a certain fascination. He found it difficult, as a result, to remember exactly what had passed between Al and himself that day. But as she continued to press him, and more and more urgently, he recalled that Al had said, “If you don’t believe it, just ask my brother.” Then somebody had thrown a wet towel at somebody else—the scene was the locker room—and the conversation had been suspended in favor of a general rough-house.
Tommy gave what he believed to be a perfectly accurate rendition of Al’s remark; he said:
“Al said his brother says you’re a necker."
Marcia’s breath went out in a little gust; at the same instant, and as if blown away by the same gust, every bit of color left her face. There were only her eyes, very large, very dark, staring out of the window-seat at him. He said:
“Gosh, Marsh, what’s the matter?’’
As she did not answer, he took a step toward her: then, and only then, she appeared to notice him. She said in a strange, trembly voice :
“Go away, Tommy.”
He went ; but his departure had nothing of the precipitate about it. He reached the door of her room, which gave upon the hall, only after a considerable lapse of seconds and after a great number of glances cast back at her over one shoulder or the other. At the door he said:
But he perceived suddenly that she was crying. He had not the vaguest idea what was the matter; but at the sight of her tears—grown-up tears—nineteen-year-old tears—a kind of panic, a kind of deep embarrassment, seized him. He turned and went hurriedly, without looking back, away down the long hall.
DURING the singing of the usual hymn in the school chapel next morning, Tommy was startled to see his good friend, Al Joyce, in the row ahead, turn around and fix him with a decidedly baleful eye. Al also held up under cover of his hymn book a fist significantly clenched.
There was nothing in either the glance or the gesture which seemed quite playful. But it was not until after luncheon—when, for a brief period, boys and masters at the Country Day School go their separate ways, with perhaps an equals relief—that the full seriousness of the situation appeared.
Tommy and Al encountered each other down in the washroom. Al wasted no time but went straight to the point.
“You’re a dirty liar!”
The epithet obviously was one of those which must not be spoken without a smile. A fight was indicated; but Al, after all, was Tommy’s best friend. Tommy left honor crying for satisfaction long enough to ask :
“What do you mean? I am not a dirty liar. You’re a dirty liar yourself, but what do you mean?”
“I guess you know what I mean all right. You went and told your sister that I said Grant said she’s a necker, and so she phoned Grant about it last night and I guess she’s off of Grant all right, and so Grant was off of me until I told him on my word of honor that I never said it.
Tommy was genuinely shocked.
“But you did say it.”
“I did not,” Al denied categorically. “If I’d said it, you can bet I would never have told Grant on my word of honor that I didn’t. I’m not a dirty liar like you. Grant says you’re a dirty liar, and he says if I don’t l am you good and hard I’m no brother of his. I guess you’re yellow too, otherwise you wouldn’t let me call you a dirty liar and get away with it.”
The fight followed almost immediately, behind closed doors in the “dirt room”—originally intended for the running-through of football signals on wet days. A small but enthusiastic audience saw Tommy score a bloody nose against Al, and saw Al retaliate with a split lip for Tommy. The milling, which was furious, lasted perhaps five minutes; it was brought prematurely to an end by the appearance on the scene of Mr. Johnson, English master, who had heard in passing the cheers and the cries of “Fight ! Fight !"
Thus honor was perhaps satisfied; but neither Tommy nor Al were. Had they been allowed to fight to a finish, it would have been better from the standpoint of their continued friendship. As it was—no chance for further hostilities materializing—each went home nursing a decided grudge.
Though it was a cold and grey twilight, Tommy did not go inside as usual after the chauffeur had deposited him under the old-fashioned carriage entrance. He left his books on the doorstep, stuck his hands deep into his pockets and walked slowly, moping, around the house. By the badminton court—at this season, patchily covered with snow—he unexpectedly encountered his sister standing. She looked not much more cheerful than he.
“Hi, Marsh,” he said.
“Oh . . . Oh, hello, Tommy.”
He was conscious that she glanced at him, then glanced away; but then again her eyes returned to him. She took an abrupt step toward him and leaned down. She inspected his face in the failing light.
“What is the matter, Tommy? Your lip’s all swollen.”
He felt, even through his gloom, a certain pleasure.
“Oh, it’s nothing ... I had a fight, that’s all.”
“Why, Tommy! You know mama doesn’t want you to—” She broke off suddenly and her manner changed. It became at once more urgent and less disapproving. “Tommy, tell me! Who were you fighting with?”
His answer was simple and literal. He merely mentioned the name of his antagonist; but it had the most extraordinary effect upon her. Even in that light he could see the way the color mounted to her cheeks, he could see the way her chest went up and down. There was a minute; then she leaned over toward him again. She stared him right in the eyes and asked quite fiercely;
“Did you lick him, Tommy?”
“Well—I would have, you bet, only Mr. Johnson came along and stopped the fight.”
“But you’d already hit him a lot, hadn’t you? You hit him good and hard, didn’t you?”
Tommy had never before thought of his sister as being bloodthirsty, and he was surprised—but pleasantly. He could not but approve a trait in her which made her seem hardly like a girl at all. He told her about Al’s nose, described at length several punches, went into gory detail. She listened to everything with such an eager interest that he himself felt the thrills of the fight all over again.
When they presently went in to dinner, they were both, almost equally, bright of eye and flushed of cheek. It could not be said that their hearts beat exactly as one. For instance. Marcia seemed to believe—and to rejoice in the belief—that Tommy’s friendship for Al was for ever finished, washed up, ended. Tommy was. secretly, less vindictive. He was angry with Al. He intended to renew the fight with him the very first chance he got; but after that, dimly he visualized a handshake, the resumption of relations more or less as they had been before the break. Al and he were still, after all, way underneath, friends.
However, these feelings were for the future, and correspondingly shadowy. About the present, Tommy and Marcia were in accord—more perfectly in accord perhaps than ever sister and brother were before them.
The big dining room seemed less empty than it had at any time since the departure for the south of Mr. and Mrs. Adams. They continued to talk a great deal and they laughed. Old John, serving them with his customary gravity, appeared, behind his butlerish mask, a bit amazed. When he brought in the dessert, he said:
“Miss Marcia, Mr. Grant Joyce called up again just before dinner.”
“Well, didn’t you tell him I was out?"
“Yes, I did. But he said he would call again this evening.”
“Well, just keep on telling him I’m out. And, John, please don’t even let me know about his calling any more. I don’t want to be bothered.”
John looked, in that very private way of his, disappointed ; perhaps he had misinterpreted Marcia’s bright looks and laughter. Tommy knew that John liked Grant. As a matter of fact, nearly everybody liked Grant. Tommy had always liked him. True to the tradition of younger brothers. Tommy had often been present when Grant called on Marcia.
Grant was funny. He said funny things and made everybody laugh. He had on several occasions made even John laugh. But what had impressed Tommy most was the way he blew smoke rings. He had brought this ancient suitorial art to the highest pitch of modern perfection. In a still room, with no draughts, he could blow a smoke ring that looked big as a tire; then very rapidly he would blow two or three smaller rings through the centre of the big one. It was a very wonderful performance. Tommy had always thought.
John retired once more into his pantry; but everything now seemed somehow spoiled. Marcia sat. no longer talking, not even eating her dessert. Tommy ate his dessert all right, but he wondered. He found all this matter of Grant and Marcia confusing. He had not really the faintest idea why Marcia was, as Al had said she was, “off of Grant.” He considered asking her; but he was half-afraid that she might burst into tears again as she had done the night before.
They finished the rest of the meal in silence and went into the living room. Tommy turned on the radio. He kept fiddling with the dial until he had located the liveliest available music; but it still sounded somehow sad.
MARCIA was sitting in a big chair, with her legs drawn up beneath her. She continued to say nothing. Tommy was really a little worried. He had never known his sister well. He had certainly never known her to be the way she was this evening, changing from one thing to another so fast. Girls, he was perfectly aware, were goofy. Still, he was worried. He wished his mother and father were not in Bermuda.
He had just about decided to go upstairs and settle down of his own accord to some homework—a decision certainly illustrative of an upset state of mind—when John appeared at the door of the room. He looked apologetic.
“I’m sorry. Miss Marcia, but it’s Mr. Joyce on the phone.” Her head, which had been bent, snapped right up at that; and she glared.
“Didn’t you hear what I told you at dinner, John! I’m not at home to Mr. Joyce—not ever—not from now on. Tell him that. And tell him if he writes me, I won’t read his letters. If he telegraphs me, I—”
“Yes, miss.” John broke in. His voice betrayed discomfort. He had very definite ideas, John had, as to what should or should not be said in front of him. “Pardon me for interrupting you. Miss Marcia, but you aren’t the one Mr. Joyce asked for this time. He wishes to speak to Tommy.” “Huh?” said Tommy from his post by the radio.
Marcia said : “He wants to speak to Tommy? Why does he want to speak to Tommy?”
“I don’t know, miss.”
Marcia was looking very uncertain. Tommy appealed to John.
“Gosh, John, I don’t want to talk to him. He’s sore at me. Besides, I just had a fight with Al this afternoon. I—” Marcia interrupted.
"I wonder if it could be something about the fight. Maybe, Tommy, you should see what he wants. You couldn't have done Al any—any real injury, could you?”
Tommy had a swift but jarring vision of big men in blue coats; cops. Tommy had read his newspapers. He swallowed and said once more: “Huh?”
Marcia rose decisively.
“John, put Mr. Joyce on the phone in the library. Tommy, you come along and see what he wants. I'll go with you to make sure that ..."
She left the sentence unfinished. Tommy followed her unwillingly into the library. He picked up the phone and held it to his ear; when he heard the click which meant that John out in the kitchen had made the library connection, he started so that the phone nearly fell from his hand.
“Say hello,” Marcia hissed at him.
He said, but feebly: “Hello.”
Grant’s familiar voice which yet sounded not at all familiar--echoed:
“Hello, is this Tommy Adams?”
“Ask him what he wants,” Marcia hissed.
“Ye-yes, this is me. What--what you want?”
The answer was most startling--startling words in a flood.
“I just want to tell you what I think of you, that’s all. I suppose you’re going around telling yourself you’re pretty cute for having caused all this mix-up. Well, maybe you are. Anyway, all that’s done— finished. I’m through trying to explain myself to a stone wall. But I want to tell you this much. You’re going to get yours. Al told me about the fight he had with you today. He told me that if a teacher hadn’t come along, he would have licked the pants off you. Well, get this, my bright boy. You aren’t going to have a teacher to save you every time. Al’s going to whale the holy tar out of you and I’m going to see that he does it, too. You're exactly like your sister, anyway. You wouldn’t know how to stand up and fight a thing out. You — ”
Tommy was aware that the phone had been jerked from his nerveless fingers. Marcia began to talk, the words pouring out of her, too, flood meeting flood :
“I never heard anything more ridiculous in my life. Tommy licked Al and would have licked him worse if the fight hadn’t been stopped. I guess you must know that just as well as that little brat of a brother of yours knows—”
“Want to lay a bet on that?” Grant’s voice interjected; but Marcia wasn’t to be stepped.
“And furthermore, what do you mean calling up this way! What kind of a man are you? I never heard anything more ridiculous in my life. I suppose little Tommy "will have to lick you, too. I should think that a man of nineteen would have something better to do than mix in the quarrels of two boys twelve years old. The idea of your talking to Tommy that way ! Tommy is just going to kill Al the next time they—”
“Want to lay a bet on that?” Grant's voice said again. “Or maybe you’re scared like your brother. Al's willing to fight Tommy any time, anywhere. Right now. if you like. I'll drive him over to your house right now and we'll see. by golly, who— only we’d find you both upstairs in bed probably and the house locked up.”
TOMMY heard it all as if it were something out of a dream. He simply couldn’t imagine Grant really saying these things; he couldn’t imagine Marcia answering the way she did. for. though she kept insisting in a voice that grew shriller and shriller, "I never heard anything more ridiculous in my life!”—though she kept insisting and even laughing in a high unnatural way to emphasize the point—Tommy heard her, in the end, actually making arrangements for the actual fight to be actually held at their house that very evening. And he heard her bet $100 which he knew to be her allowance for a whole month, on the outcome.
Tommy, certainly, laid no pretensions to being a philosopher; but he did have some very definite ideas about the world. One of these was that people who were grown-up people who were, for instance, nineteen years old. were a quite different species from people twelve years old. They didn't have the same impulses; they didn’t, as a matter of fact he had always believed, have impulses at all, but lived rather dully by rule.
The present behavior, therefore, of both Grant and Marcia was blasting to his whole system of cosmology; and he didn’t like it. He infinitely preferred his grown-ups dull. He was shocked.
Through his daze, he heard Marcia saying conclusively:
“Very well, then. We’ll be ready for you just as soon as you can get here. But if this is some kind of trick to see me and attempt to explain what can never, never, never-do you hear—never be explained, then—”
“Don’t, worry!” Grant’s furious voice retorted. “I’ve got that figured out already — that you can’t explain anything to somebody who won’t listen. On the other hand, if you’re getting cold feet now and want to back out ...”
Marcia made it plain that her feet were anything but cold. Having slammed down the phone at last, she turned with blazing eyes on Tommy.
“Tommy, you’re going to lick Al, do you hear!”
Tommy attempted to give some of his feelings articulate form.
“Look, Marsh! Gosh, who ever heard of a thing like this! Why—why, gosh! Why, suppose mom and dad find out! They—”
“Never mind, Tommy. I’m not the one who thought up the ridiculous scheme. You heard him, didn’t you? You wouldn’t have wanted me to play the coward, would you?”
He shook his head. She was right enough about that. But it didn’t, somehow, seem to help very much. Then another thing occurred to him. It occurred to him that perhaps a fight like this would not end on a simple handshake and a resumption of friendly relations. Grant and Marcia seemed both so extraordinarily vindictive. He wondered unhappily if he and AI might be kept somehow from ever being friends again.
His upset state must have been plainly reflected on his face, for Marcia asked anxiously:
“You aren’t—you aren't afraid you can't lick him. Tommy?”
“Gosh, no!” he growled, angered by the suspicion.
“Can I get you something? Would it be good to—to eat something or—”
“Look, Marsh !” He was struck by an idea. “How are we going to fight? It’s dark outside. We can’t fight in the dark, can we? And who ever heard of fighting in a house ! We--”
“You’ll fight upstairs in the old ballroom,” she told him without any hesitation.
So she seemed to have it all figured out, at least. Well, maybe she wasn’t being goofy. Maybe she was being governed by some grown-up rule of conduct that he had never chanced to hear of before. He thought of prizefights.
They went together back into the living room and he placed himself in front of the radio. After a minute he began to try a few practice swings. Noticing how eagerly her eyes followed him, he said:
"That’s an uppercut.”
“Oh, yes.” she said.
He had recovered enough to feel flattered by her attention. He let himself out for her benefit and went through several minutes of really inspired shadow-boxing, until she stopped him and told him that he must not tire himself.
THEY WERE sitting side by side on the couch at one end of the living room, when they heard the sound of tires in the gravel of the drive outside; a minute later, the sound of John going to the front door. Then John appeared in the living room and announced with a face that was a triumph of composure.
"Mr. Joyce and his brother are here, Miss Marcia.”
Marcia said: “Oh. yes, John, will you ask them to wait in the hall, please? I'll be right out.’’
John disappeared and Marcia stood up. Tommy saw that her hands, which were trembling slightly, went to her hair but then went austerely away from her hair without even touching it. She said in a tense but very solemn voice:
“All right. Tommy. Are you ready?”
Tommy kept himself a half-pace ahead of her. Grant and Al were standing in the centre of the hall. When Grant saw them coming, he bowed very formally. Marcia also bowed. Tommy and Al, more realistic, scowled at each other. Marcia said:
“You really wish, then, to go ahead with this ridiculous arrangement, Mr. Joyce?” He bowed again. He didn’t say anything funny the way he usually did. He didn’t say anything. Both he and Marcia were being preternaturally solemn.
Marcia said: “Will you follow me, then?”
She went first up the stairs. Grant followed her. Then came Al, with Tommy bringing up the rear. It occurred to Tommy to trip Al: it obviously also occurred to Al that Tommy might do that very thing. Al, therefore, went up the stairs crabwise, keeping his eyes on Tommy. But neither of them actually did anything. The gravity of the occasion and of their two elders was definitely overpowering.
Marcia led the way along the upstairs hall to where another broad staircase mounted to the old ballroom on the third floor. The ballroom had not been used as such for years. It was a wide, spacious, rather imposing room, almost completely surrounded by windows, one of which now had a broken pane. Tommy’s electric railroad occupied an end of the room, but there was a very ample space of parquet floor in the centre.
“The fight. I take it, is to be with bare fists.” Grant said.
Marcia nodded. He said:
“With your permission. I’ll act as referee. If you have a watch--you have?--then perhaps you will serve as timekeeper. How about the length of the rounds? Say two minutes?”
Marcia said two minutes. She also said that she would be willing, in spite of the unusual circumstances, to trust the refereeing to Mr. Joyce. Grant bowed again. Marcia also bowed.
Grant went and stood directly in the centre of the room and cleared his throat. He said :
“Now that the terms are arranged, the fight is ready to start. When I raise my hand in the air, that will be the signal to start fighting. Are you ready?”
Both Tommy and Al began to make preparatory movements of their fists. But something was lacking. Tommy felt it. Al must have felt it, too, for he made an obvious effort to supply the deficiency.
“You’re a dirty liar,” he said suddenly, sticking out his jaw at Tommy.
“I am not,” Tommy returned promptly.
THEY WERE getting steam up; in another instant they would have been ready to go at each other tooth and nail. And Grant’s hand had already started on its upward path. Unfortunately, Marcia, in the grip of her altogether unprecedented sisterly devotion, was unable to bear in silence this attack on Tommy’s integrity. Her voice rang out, loud and wrathful:
“Tommy is not a liar and that brat has no business to say so!”
Grant’s refereeing hand stopped in midair; the fingers clenched; he swung around.
“Your brother is a liar, Marc--Miss Adams. Do you suppose I would have mixed myself up in a thing like this, if he weren’t if he didn’t really deserve to be punished.”
The two of them were glaring at each other. Tommy brought his eyes back, not without an effort, to Al. He resumed, but distractedly:
“You are.” Al answered with a precisely similar note of distraction.
Grant’s deep voice drowned out both of theirs.
“I’m talking facts. Miss Adams. I’m not trying to change your attitude to me. I’m through trying that—Lord knows! But if you don’t believe. . ..” He turned suddenly on his brother. “Al, I want you to tell Miss Adams, yourself, on your word of honor, just as you told it to me, that what her brother said to her was a lie.”
Al agreed willingly enough.
“Cross my heart and hope to die,” he rattled out. crossing himself somewhere in the region of his lower abdomen. “I never said what Tommy said I said.”
Tommy experienced again that deep sense of shock, which had come to him earlier in the school washroom. That Al, his best friend, could be capable of such out-and-out duplicity! He burst forth indignantly:
“You know perfectly well you said Marcia was a necker.”
Marcia made an exclamation and stepped forward.
“I really see no reason for all this. Why can’t the fight go on?”
Grant said: “You started the discussion, yourself. Now, by golly, we’ll finish it. Al, speak up. Tell her you didn’t tell Tommy she was a necker!”
Al blinked at this; hesitated, but only for an instant.
“Well, I did tell Tommy she was a necker,” he said defiantly, “She is!”
Grant seized his brother by the arm and evidently with some force, for Al yelled:
“Ouch ! Quit pinching me. You never asked me if I told Tommy she was a necker. You only asked me if I told Tommy that you said she was a necker!”
There followed the kind of silence that inevitably does follow the expression of deep and abstruse mental processes. Perhaps Tommy was more overcome than any of them. He had not a mind particularly adapted to fine distinctions, nor had he ever before had any reason to suspect Al of such subtlety. No doubt the prospect of a lamming from Grant had sharpened Al’s wits the night before. At any rate the more Tommy considered what Al had just given expression to, the more it seemed to him to equal exactly nothing. He pronounced with conviction:
“What I said you said was just the same as what you said. It all means the same thing.”
This speech broke the silence; but that was all. No one paid the slightest attention to it. Then, however. Grant moistened his lips and addressed himself to Al.
“Would you mind.” he said in a voice suspiciously soft, “would you mind just telling us where you got the idea that Marcia was a necker?”
“Well, let go my arm, then,” his brother returned. “The way I knew was I saw you one day.”
“You and her. You were in that bridle path over behind our house. You had got down off your horses and were necking. That’s how I knew she was a—ouch ! Let go!”
With a twist that might have shamed an eel, Al sprang loose. He retired immediately to the other side of the room; but Grant made no move to follow him, Grant was looking at Marcia. She was looking at the floor. After a little pause. Grant said :
“It seems that there were two people and they each had a kid brother.”
THIS WAS the very tone in which he always said funny things; and Tommy, watching, saw Marcia’s shoulders begin to shake. But then he saw that they were not shaking with laughter but with repressed sobs. Evidently Grant saw also, for, without another word, he took her arm very tenderly and as if it were something very precious and tucked it under his own. He drew her toward the stairs.
Tommy came to himself with a start, just as their heads were disappearing.
“But say, Marsh,” he cried. “Wait a minute. How about the fight?”
She did not answer. She did not even turn her head. Nor did Grant. The two of them kept right on going down the stairs; then they could be heard traversing the hall ; they could be heard descending the other stairs to the first floor. The sounds became very faint, died away. Tommy looked at Al. Al looked at Tommy.
To say that they were disconcerted would be putting it much too mildly. Even a Jack Dempsey, a John L. Sullivan, might have felt rather at a loss, if, immediately before the opening gong of the Fight of the Century. timekeeper, referee and audience linked arms and marched off en masse.
The particular look that Tommy cast on Al reflected this inner perturbation far too plainly to be a successful scowl. The same was true of the look Al bent on Tommy. After a long minute, during which, perhaps, their whole future relationship hung in the balance, Tommy delivered himself of a remark, which instantly and most fortunately established a common ground between them once more.
The remark was simply “Nuts!” and it was accompanied by a gesture, no doubt unnecessary, toward those lower regions into which the footsteps had departed.