«In the autumn is better.» Their voices were lazy in the heat.

«Got to work,» he said.

«Autumn,» they reasoned. And they sounded so sensible, so right.

«Autumn would be best,» he thought. «Plenty of time, then.»

No! cried part of himself, deep down, put away, locked tight, suffocating. No! No! «In the autumn,» he said. «Come on, Harry,» they all said.

«Yes,» he said, feeling his flesh melt in the hot liquid air. «Yes, the autumn. I'll begin work again then.» «I got a villa near the Tirra Canal,» said someone. «You mean the Roosevelt Canal, don't you?» «Tirra. The old Martian name.»

«But on the map ?»

«Forget the map. It's Tirra now. Now I found a place in the Pillan mountains ?»

«You mean the Rockefeller range,» said Bittering.

«I mean the Pillan mountains,» said Sam.

«Yes,» said Bittering, buried in the hot, swarming air. «The Pillan mountains.»

Everyone worked at loading the truck in the hot, still afternoon of the next day.

Laura, Tim, and David carried packages. Or, as they preferred to be known, Ttil, Linnl, and Werr carried packages.

The furniture was abandoned in the little white cottage.

«It looked just fine in Boston,» said the mother. «And here in the cottage. But up at the villa? No. We'll get it when we come back in the autumn.»

Bittering himself was quiet.

«I've some ideas on furniture for the villa,» he said, after a time. «Big, lazy furniture.»

«What about your Encyclopedia! You're taking it along, surely?»

Mr.Bittering glanced away. «I'll come and get it next week.»

They turned to their daughter. «What about your New York dresses?»

The bewildered girl stared. «Why, I don't want them any more.»

They shut off the gas, the water, they locked the doors and walked away. Father peered into the truck.

«Gosh, we're not taking much,» he said. «Considering all we brought to Mars, this is only a handful!»

He started the truck.

Looking at the small white cottage for a long moment, he was filled with a desire to rush to it, touch it, say goodbye to it, for he felt as if he were going away on a long journey, leaving something to which he could never quite return, never understand again.

Just then Sam and his family drove by in another truck.

«Hi, Bittering! Here we go!»

The truck swung down the ancient highway out of town. There were sixty others travelling the same direction. The town filled with a silent, heavy dust from their passage. The canal waters lay blue in the sun, and a quiet wind moved in the strange trees.

«Good-bye, town!» said Mr.Bittering.

«Good-bye, good-bye,» said the family, waving to it.

They did not look back again.

Summer burned the canals dry. Summer moved like flame upon the meadows. In the empty Earth settlement, the painted houses flaked and peeled. Rubber tyres upon which children had swung in back yards hung suspended like stopped clock pendulums in the blazing air.

At the metal shop, the rocket frame began to rust.

In the quiet autumn, Mr.Bittering stood, very dark now, very golden-eyed, upon the slope above his villa, looking at the valley.

«It's time to go back,» said Cora.

«Yes, but we're not going,» he said, quietly. «There's nothing there any more.»

«Your books,» she said. «Your fine clothes.»

«Your Illes and your fine ior uele rre,» she said.

«The town's empty. No one's going back,» he said. «There's no reason to, none at all.»

The daughter wove tapestries and the sons played songs on ancient flutes and pipes, their laughter echoing in the marble villa.

Mr.Bittering gazed at the Earth settlement far away in the low valley. «Such odd, such ridiculous houses the Earth people built.»

«They didn't know any better,» his wife mused. «Such ugly People. I'm glad they've gone.»

They both looked at each other, startled by all they had just finished saying. They laughed.

«Where did they go?» he wondered. He glanced at his wife. She was golden and slender as his daughter. She looked at him, and he seemed almost as young as their eldest son.

«I don't know,» she said.

«We'll go back to town maybe next year, or the year after, or the year after that,» he said, calmly. «Now — I'm warm. How about taking a swim?»

They turned their backs to the valley. Arm in arm they walked silently down a path of clear running spring water.

Five years later, a rocket fell out of the sky. It lay steaming in the valley. Men leaped out of it, shouting.

«We won the war on Earth! We're here to rescue you! Hey!»

But the American-built town of cottages, peach trees, and theatres was silent. They found a half-finished rocket frame, rusting in an empty shop.

The rocket men searched the hills. The captain established headquarters in an abandoned bar. His lieutenant came back to report.

«The town's empty, but we found native life in the hills, sir. Dark people. Yellow eyes. Martians. Very friendly. We talked a bit, not much. They learn English fast. I'm sure our relations will be most friendly with them, sir.»

«Dark, eh?» mused the captain. «How many?»

«Six, eight hundred, I'd say, living in those marble ruins in the hills, sir. Tall, healthy. Beautiful women.»

«Did they tell you what became of the men and women who built this Earth settlement, Lieutenant?»

«They hadn't the foggiest notion of what happened to this town or its people.»

«Strange. You think those Martians killed them?»

«They look surprisingly peaceful. Chances are a plague did this town in, sir.»

«Perhaps. I suppose this is one of those mysteries we'll never solve. One of those mysteries you read about.»

The captain looked at the room, the dusty windows, the blue mountains rising beyond, the canals moving in the light, and he heard the soft wind in the air. He shivered. Then, recovering, he tapped a large fresh map he had thumb-tacked to the top of an empty table.

«Lots to be done, Lieutenant.» His voice droned on and quietly on as the sun sank behind the blue hills. «New settlements. Mining sites, minerals to be looked for. Bacteriological specimens taken. The work, all the work. And the old records were lost. We'll have a job of remapping to do, renaming the mountains and rivers and such. Calls for a little imagination.»

«What do you think of naming those mountains the Lincoln Mountains, this canal the Washington Canal, those hills — we can name those hills for you, Lieutenant. Diplomacy. And you, for a favour, might name a town for me. Polishing the apple. And why not make this the Einstein Valley, and further over… are you listening, Lieutenant?»

The lieutenant snapped his gaze from the blue colour and the quiet mist of the hills far beyond the town.

«What? Oh, yes, sir!»

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату