It was raining too hard to allow them to read but not hard enough to drive them to shelter. It seemed as though the bus would never come, and the three men standing at an Arlington bus stop grew not quite bored enough to strike up a conversation.

Nearest the stop was a silver-haired, striped-suited gentlemen wearing a classic homburg and holding what looked like a brolly bought in London.

Downhill on the streaming sidewalk was a faintly scruffy-looking fellow, dressed blue-colar but with the unmarked hands and soft physique of a man who doesn't really work for a living. He carried no umbrella, and the rain ran down his neck every time he looked up or down, which was often.

Uphill and therefore upstream was a young man on the rise, turned out in a symphony of wool, polyester and Naugahyde that suggested dash rather than flash, verve rather than vivacity, and depths as well as drive. From time to time he twirled his wine-dark umbrella, which looked smart by itself but gaudy next to the brolly.

Some minutes passed. Scruffy began to sigh a good deal and toe the sidewalk. Several times he seemed about to speak, but the older gentleman's eye was uncatchable. The surface of the sidewalk was frost-shattered and loose, and after a while Scruffy had piled up a fair mound of loose stones, which he finally pushed over the curb into the gutter. Dammed, the water began to back and swirl, and the iridescent film of oil on it made intricate patterns, one after another.He scraped in more stones, and soon had a backwater nearly six inches deep.

By now he had pretty well used up the gravel in his territory, and began to work his way up the sidewalk. The elderly gentleman, who had watched without expression as the engineering work progressed, abruptly made a swipe with one shiny black shoe that sent a cascade of stones into the gutter; with unbending and stonyfaced dignity he added to it until his dam was twice as big.

The third man observed all this with an indulgent smile until he noticed that before him lay a brick-sized section of broken curb. He toppled it into the gutter where, for a minute or two, it completely cut off the supply downstream.

No word or glance passed among the men as they scraped away at the sidewalk, turning in slow circles and dragging their feet as the search for stones expanded. The pools behind their dams waxed and waned, but notice was not noticeably taken.

The bus driver had to toot his horn to get their attention; the men boarded and sat as far from one another as space permitted.