Lindley looked after him as he strode quickly away across the green lawn, turning, at the street, in the direction Cora had taken; and the troubled Richard felt his heart sink with vague but miserable apprehension. There was a gasp of desperation beside him, and the sound of Ray Vilas’s lips parting and closing with little noises of pain.
“So he knows her,” said the boy, his thin body shaking. “Look at him, damn him! See his deep chest, that conqueror’s walk, the easy, confident, male pride of him: a true-born, natural rake—the Toreador all over!”
His agitation passed suddenly; he broke into a loud laugh, and flung a reckless hand to his companion’s shoulder.
“You good old fool,” he cried. “You’ll never play Don Jose!”
Hedrick Madison, like too many other people, had never thought seriously about the moon; nor ever had he encouraged it to become his familiar; and he underwent his first experience of its incomparable betrayals one brilliant night during the last week of that hot month. The preface to this romantic evening was substantial and prosaic: four times during dinner was he copiously replenished with hash, which occasioned so rich a surfeit within him that, upon the conclusion of the meal, he found himself in no condition to retort appropriately to a solicitous warning from Cora to keep away from the cat. Indeed, it was half an hour later, and he was sitting—to his own consciousness too heavily—upon the back fence, when belated inspiration arrived. But there is no sound where there is no ear to hear, and no repartee, alas! when the wretch who said the first part has gone, so that Cora remained unscathed as from his alley solitude Hedrick hurled in the teeth of the rising moon these bitter words:
“Oh, no; our cat only eats soft meat!”
He renewed a morbid silence, and the moon, with its customary deliberation, swung clear of a sweeping branch of the big elm in the front yard and shone full upon him. Nothing warned the fated youth not to sit there; no shadow of imminent catastrophe tinted that brightness: no angel whisper came to him, bidding him begone—and to go in a hurry and as far as possible. No; he sat upon the fence an inoffensive lad, and—except for still feeling his hash somewhat, and a gradually dispersing rancour concerning the cat—at peace. It is for such lulled mortals that the ever-lurking Furies save their most hideous surprises.
Chin on palms, he looked idly at the moon, and the moon inscrutably returned his stare. Plausible, bright, bland, it gave no sign that it was at its awful work. For the bride of night is like a card-dealer whose fingers move so swiftly through the pack the trickery goes unseen.
This moon upon which he was placidly gazing, because he had nothing else to do, betokened nought to Hedrick: to him it was the moon of any other night, the old moon; certainly no moon of his delight. Withal, it may never be gazed upon so fixedly and so protractedly—no matter how languidly—with entire impunity. That light breeds a bug in the brain. Who can deny how the moon wrought this thing under the hair of unconscious Hedrick, or doubt its responsibility for the thing that happened?