In the Noon of the Moon can be found in






IN THE NOON OF THE MOON

by Horace Hazeltine

HALF hidden in the dusky shadows of the great room's farthest corner, the tall, lean, white-haired old gentleman, stooping, swung feebly flush the heavy metal door of the small fire-proof safe and secured it by a twirl of its nickeled knob. The bent, shrunken figure in the shabby leather armchair before the fireplace, disregarded and unheeded, watched him furtively.

He had come of late, old Peter Hemming, eldest survivor of a long line of honorable but parsimonious Connecticut landowners to ignore his imbecile brother in many matters. For Henry's mental weakness had developed within recent years into a derangement, and his always meager understanding had grown seriously warped. Peter saw no reason, therefore, why this evening's transfer of jeweled family heirlooms, precious plate and hoarded currency, from the ancient brass-bound, padlocked chest to the new repository of combination-guarded steel, should hold for that clouded, twisted mind the smallest measure of interest.

Much more likely, indeed, to arouse those dull wits from their lethargic contemplation of the dimly glowing coals, before which it was Henry's habit to sit hour after hour, were the tidings Peter now conveyed, as, coming forward, he paused at his brother's side.

"It's snowing—snowing hard. I say it's snowing—snowing hard."

The head of the seated old man, bald of crown and parchment-yellow like his vacant, wrinkled face, swayed slowly back and forth in signal that he understood the iterated sentences. "And the moon's at the full," he croaked in return, iterating too. "The moon's at the full."

In the earlier stages of his dementia Henry Hemming had been inclined to craft at these seasons. There was more than one ugly waif word afloat among the neighbors which had to do with his acts of cunning at such times. But in recent years the moons had waxed and waned without exerting any perceptible ill influence upon the crippled intellect. Yet he never failed to note the passing of this lunar phase.

"It's a March blizzard," Peter told him. "It's been raging since three o'clock, and the drifts are already high. If it keeps on, the roads will be impassable before morning."

He repeated each sentence, and his brother's old head swayed again, understandingly. "The moon's at the full," he said, once more. This time he added: "And it's cold; dead cold."

Peter agreed with him. His own fingers were numb. The room was very chill. He pulled an old-fashioned bell-cord, and presently, just as he had seated himself in the leathern chair opposite his brother's, turned up the lamp, adjusted his spectacles and spread out the newspaper that had come in the evening mail—just, too, as the antique hall clock in the passage, in solemn tone, tolled the hour of nine, a hunchbacked servitor, old like his masters, appeared in the doorway.

"The house is a tomb, Abijah," said Peter, a little querulously. " Put more coal in the furnace, and open the drafts. The night is bitter."

Then, for a half-hour and more, the long, somber room was silent, save for the ceaseless whirl of the snow against the windowpanes, the intermittent protest of the wind-lashed sashes, and the occasional rustle of the newspaper as Peter Hemming turned its pages. Henry, meanwhile, his faded eyes dim as the dying coals on which they rested, sat crouching, dumb and motionless, like a carven gnome.

It was the habit of the brothers to rise as the clock struck ten, and mount the winding, low-treaded colonial stairway to their second-floor bedchambers. Night after night the practise was invariable. Until the signal was given, Peter read his paper without comment, and Henry never moved, never spoke. But to-night, to the astonishment of the elder of the two men, the crouching figure across the hearth stirred before the clock-stroke; stirred, indeed, fully twenty minutes in advance of the accustomed hour for stirring; and stirred in a quite unusual and alarming manner.

It was the sharpness of the sound made by his withered hands dropping with sudden clutch upon his chair-arms that drew Peter's eyes from the printed column he had been engrossed in and caused him, precipitately, to drop his paper into his lap. Henry was sitting up, very straight; straighter of back, indeed, than Peter remembered ever to have seen him; yet with his naked, yellowish head perkingly slanted and listeningly alert. His eyes, wontedly expressionless, seemed, strangely enough, to have taken on an undreamed-of luster; and as the startled brother stared, the cup of his amazement was brimmed to overflowing by a sharply penetrating, hissing sort of whisper.

"Listen!"

"It's the wind," said Peter soothingly, though his heart fluttered, "it's the wind.' He had heard nothing else.

But Henry irritably shook his head.

"Listen!" he hissed again. And Peter, holding his breath, strained his ears. To him the stillness now seemed abysmal; the wind had passed; the snow no longer smote the panes.

"They're at the door!" Henry cried, suddenly springing from his chair. "Keep 'em out! Keep 'em out!" And he shuffled into the shadows of the room's end.

To Peter it was but another distressing, racking and unlooked for turn of the life-old infirmity. The moon, as he had been reminded, was at the full. He rose, sadly, and started to follow. It must be his mission now to pacify. All his years, it seemed ...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.