Жанр книги: Научная Фантастика
Robert A Heinlein To Sail Beyond The Sunset

Father exchanged salutes with Lieutenant Bozell and with Brian, then headed straight for the streetcar line without coming back into the house. He said to me, ‘You know where I'm going, and why. I'll be back when you see me. '

I agreed that I knew. Father had been increasingly restless ever since his request for active duty had been turned down.

I turned everything over to Nancy and went back to bed. .. for, the second time, as I had impressed Father as baby watcher earlier, so that Brian and I could go back to bed after breakfast; we both guessed that this would be der Tag.

But this time I went to bed just to cry.

About three I got up and Nancy served me tea and milk and toast; I ate some of it. While I was fiddling with it, Father returned home in the most towering rage I had ever seen him in. He offered no explanation. Nancy told him that Mr Bronson had called and had asked for him. .. and that brought it out of him in a flood.

I think ‘poltroon' was the mildest term that he used about Mr Bronson. ‘Pro-German traitor' may have been the bitterest. He did not use profanity, just words of rage and disappointment.

I had great trouble believing it. Mr Bronson a coward? Pro German? But Father was detailed in his account and broken hearted in his response. In my own confused grief - my beloved country, my beloved husband, my secret lover, all the same day - I had to force myself to remember that Father was hit just as hard. His brother's boy - or was Tbeodore Bronson his own son? Father had hinted at the possibility.

I went back to bed, cried some more, then lay there, dry eyed; with this triple ache in my heart.

Father tapped on my door. ‘Daughter? '

‘Yes, Father? '

‘Mr Bronson is on the telephone, asking for you. '

‘I don't want to talk to him! Must I? '

‘Certainly not. Is there anything you wish me to say to him? ,

‘Tell him. .. not to call me. Not to come here. Not to speak to any of my children. .. now or ever. '

‘I'll tell him. With a few words for myself, too. Maureen, his sheer gall amazes me. '

About six Carol brought me a tray. I ate some of it. Then Justin and Eleanor came to see me and I cried on my big sister and they consoled me. Later - I don't know the time but it was after dark. Eight-thirty? Nine? I roused at some commotion downstairs. Shortly my father came up, tapped on the door.

‘Maureen? Mr Bronson is here. '

‘May I come in? I have something to show you. '

I didn't want to let Father in; I hadn't cleaned up and I was afraid Father would notice. But. .. Mr Bronson here? Here? After what Father had said to him? ‘Yes, Father, come in. '

He showed me a piece of paper. I read it; it was a carbon copy of an Army enlistment form. .. which stated that ‘Bronson, Theodore' was enlisted at the rank of Private in the National Army of the United States.

‘Father, is this some sort of bad joke? '

‘No. He's here. That's authentic. He did it. '

I got out of bed. ‘Father, will you start me a tub? I'll be down quickly. '

‘Certainly. '

He went into my bath; I peeled off my gown, went in after him, thanked him. I didn't realise that I was naked in front of him until he looked at me and looked away. ‘Ask Nancy to serve him something, please. Is Nancy still up? '

‘Everyone is up. Get into that tub, dear; we'll wait for you. '

Fifteen minutes later I went downstairs. I suppose my eyes were red but I was smiling and no longer stunk and I was dressed in Sunday best. I hurried to him and offered my hand. ‘Mr Bronson! We are all so proud of you! '

I don't remember details of the next hour or two hours or whatever. I sat there in a golden haze of bittersweet happiness. My country was at war, my husband was off to war, but at last I knew the deeper meaning of ‘better death than dishonour' - I knew now why Roman matrons said, ‘With your shield or on it. ' Those hours of believing that my beloved Theodore was not what I had believed him to be but a coward who would refuse to defend his country - those hours had been the longest, most hateful hours of my life.

I had not really believed that there were such subhuman creatures. I had never known one. Then to have it rum out simply to be a bad dream, the result of a misunderstanding over words. .. I've read somewhere that pleasure is relief from pain. Psychologists are a silly lot, mostly, but that night I enjoyed that sort of ecstatic pleasure. Even my fires of libido were banked and, for the time, I did not worry about Briney, so joyed was I that Theodore was indeed what a man to be loved must be: a hero, a warrior.

My big girls did their best to stuff him full and Carol made him a sandwich and wrapped it to take with him. Father was full of man-to-man advice, old soldier to new recruit; my big boys were falling over each other to try to do things for him, and even Woodrow was almost well-behaved. At last they all lined up to kiss him goodbye, even Brian junior, who had given up kissing save for an occasional peck on his mother's cheek bone.

They all went up to bed but Father. .. and it was my turn.

I have always been of such rugged health that winning testaments for perfect attendance at Sunday School was never any trouble to me - so wasn't it nice that I had two testaments when I needed them? I did not even need to think up a new inscription; what I had written for my husband was right for any Lucasta to any warrior off to the wars:

To Private Theodore Bronson

Be true to self and country.

Maureen J. Smith

April 6, 1917

I gave it to him, saw him read it, then I said, ‘Father? ' He knew what I wanted, a decent amount of privacy.

‘No. ' (Damn him! Did he really think that I would drag Theodore down on to the rug? With the children awake and only a flight of stairs away? )

(Well, perhaps I would. ) ‘Then turn your back. '

I put my arms up and kissed Theodore, firmly -, but chastely. .. then knew that a chaste kiss was not enough to say farewell to a warrior. I let my body grow soft and my lips come open. My tongue met his and I promised him wordlessly that whatever I had was his. ‘Theodore. .. take care of yourself. Come back to me. '