Or is that a wartime casualty? No, indeed, dear.
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As a matter of fact, Mary Randal often stays to tea. His mother waved her hands vaguely, with a questioning glance at Brooke. Brooke seemed delighted, for some reason. He was sure she would When Steve was fourteen and nearly as tall as his father, he challenged Red Lombard on the subject. This was the only time Steve had caught the old man with his guard down. There was no answer to that, no reasoning with him. Gut instinct would prevail. Red Lombard remembered the threat he had once posed to his own father a threat he had delighted in carrying out Mama, shall we have our little party right in here?
Randi and Steve seem to have fallen in love with this tacky old room.
Lombard took the little bell off the round center table with its crocheted cover, went to the door and rang the bell to call the downstairs maid. All the old home touches, he thought.
Nothing had changed here. Brooke was as scatterbrained as ever, his mother as vague and out-of-step with.
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The maid who had let him in was sloppy and almost rude, but apparently neither Brooke nor his mother noticed. To judge by the Lombard house, one would think there had never been a war. For an instant her face showed concern. Hogging was an odd word for her to use. Intriguing girl, Steve decided. No woman.
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The maid brought in a tray carelessly laid by the day-cook. Lombard sighed. Cold again. Schultz to heat the pot. Stephen, do you think she does it deliberately? I doubt it. Schultz is a born and bred San Franciscan. Or stinking dead. He noted that Randi Gallegher raised her head as if she were studying him. Steve enjoyed making show-off remarks like that In some way every wince of distaste was a tiny price extracted of civilians, a kind of bloodless offering to those few painful memories he carried.
Not for the dead. They were nothing now but part of the rich, dark earth of France. The offering was rather to the men he had known who were maimed, or those so badly burned by the chlorine gas experiments of the enemy that no one could look at these men without shuddering. In honor of the dead Colin Huntington who had been his brother-in-law all too briefly, Steve had visited the hospital ward devoted to the gas victims before they were shipped back to Britain and oblivion.
The sight had made him ashamed of the relatively insignificant shrapnel wounds that had invalided him out of the army Curiously enough, Randi Gallegher seemed to understand his deliberate attempt to shock the women. She did not smile but took the brandy snifter he offered and held it between her palms, warming and swirling it.
Steve raised his own glass, got a whiff of the aged liquor that recalled so many moments in France, snatches of memory mostly pleasant. Almost as if fate had decreed it, Randi Gallegher had raised her own glass and was studying him over its gold rim. He tried to translate that look: interest, puzzlement. Why should she look at him with such passionate intensity?
She had only known him for half an hour. But he enjoyed the curious bond they seemed to be forging. It warmed him in a way that reminded him of his carefree days before the war. I really have to go, Randi spoke up, startling him out of his reveries. Brooke cried, running to hug Red, who had suddenly appeared in the doorway behind Steve. Steve noticed with a touch of resentment that both his mother and Miss Gallegher seemed shaken by the arrival of his father.
Red behaved well, however. Remembering childhood experiences, Steve had half-expected to be greeted by a rumble of criticism. But his father surprised him by coming into the room and throwing his arms around his son. Embarrassed, Steve patted him on the back. Good to see you, father. But Red persisted.
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He exchanged a squeeze of the arm and offered him the brandy bottle. For a minute he thought his father was disappointed. Maybe the old man had actually wanted to greet him first, and open the bottle with Steve alone. But it was hard to tell as Red Lombard poured a generous tot of brandy into one of the teacups and drank it down. Good quality stuff.
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Better be careful with it. Imagine this country this city going dry. They must be crazy. A bunch of crotchety old battleaxes behind it, you mark my words. Steve laughed, glad he could agree. One thing you can count on. His attention was divided between his father and Randi Gallegher. She had sipped most of her brandy and gotten up. She meant to leave. A woman of her word. Steve, who had been lounging against the wall, straightened up. Did you meet any of those Bolsheviks in Paris? Red Lombard wanted to know.
Europe is having a worse time with the Spanish influenza than with the Bolsheviks. I saw flu masks down at the Ferry Building two hours ago. Is it very bad here? In the Tenderloin, and among the South-of- Marketers. Not much up here. Everyone of them, children and all. I heard that they actually chopped. Just like the old days. Randi cleared her throat. Steve felt an unexpected twinge of tenderness toward her.
He felt a strong urge to break the bubble of that illusion. Her good, strong Irish background might be superior to the weaknesses he saw after only a couple of hours in his own home. Randi turned to protest again but he rode right over her objections and asked Brooke, Has anyone driven my Ford lately? Ran into a parked car down Mason Street, Red put in. Ruined the damned car. They must be made of tin these days. My Locomobile could have stood up to a dozen grazes like that.
Overland roadster. Brooke gave him her most endearing little-girl look. Something happened to the crank on your Model T this morning. I left it in the garage on Van Ness and hopped on the cable. But it will be ready by the first of next week. Really, the streetcar is handy. I live downtown on Sutter Street, Randi said. She was obviously being polite. Maybe she thought she was imposing on him. But to Steve she was a breath of fresh air, the only person in the room who appeared on top of things. He took her arm.
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