The slamming of the doors had aroused mother: she peered out of her room. ‘What on earth are you boys doing?’ she demanded. Herman ventured out of his room. ‘Nothing,’ he said, gruffly, but he was, in colour, a light green. ‘What was all that running around downstairs?’ said mother. So she had heard the steps, too! We just looked at her. ‘Burglars!’ she shouted, intuitively. I tried to quieten her by starting lightly downstairs.
‘Come on, Herman,’ I said.
I’ll stay with mother,’ he said. ‘She’s all excited.’
I stepped back onto the landing.
It is essential to know the house's structure to understand the story. In "The Night the Bed fell", the first of the nine stories, the narrator describes the rooms' layout. He says,
Back to the story, we see the mother glancing out of her bedroom, demanding what her sons were doing late in the night. Herman comes out of his hiding, telling her that it was 'nothing' in a 'gruff' tone that suggests he was both scared and anxious. He probably decided to keep his mother in the dark about the "ghosts" as the latter tended to get worked up or become hysterical.
Though Herman had displayed the courage to come out of his room, "the presence of a ghost" visibly shook him. His skin had turned almost light green, says the narrator. Going or turning green suggests that someone looks ill or frightened in a figurative sense.
Mother wasn't convinced with Herman's answer, for she soon retorted, enquiring about the commotion downstairs. She asked, ‘What was all that running around downstairs?’
The boys were shocked in learning that she'd heard the steps as well. This further proved that the footsteps weren't figments of their imagination. But they were in a tight spot as they couldn't reveal that the house was possibly haunted. So they merely stood staring at her.
Mother immediately decided that there was a break-in. So she shouted, 'Burglars!'. The narrator wanted to calm her down. So before she could turn frenzy, he decided to go downstairs to investigate. He took a step slowly while calling out his brother to accompany him.
But Herman backed out, stating that his mother needed company. Citing that their mother was all worked up, he said ‘he would stay with her'. He might have wanted to stay back for either of the two reasons: as said, he didn't want to leave his mother alone. Or, he didn't dare to go downstairs and face the "ghost".
Herman's response suggested that the narrator would have to go alone. However, the latter probably deduced that it wasn't wise to encounter a potential ghost all by himself. So, he took the step back onto the landing.
|Arouse||Awaken someone from sleep|
|Peer||To look with difficulty or concentration at someone or something; come into view|
|Venture||A risky or daring journey or undertaking|
|Gruff||(Of a person's voice) low or displaying lack of patience|
|Intuitively||Without conscious reasoning; instinctively|
|Excited||(In the context) Feeling or showing great or abnormal excitement or emotional disturbance|