“Thanks.” Marguerite Hathaway was filling his water glass. Impulsively he touched her arm. She did not even mind. Her flesh was warm and soft.
Hathaway, across the table, paused several times, touched his chest with his fingers, painfully, then went on listening to the murmuring talk and sudden loud chattering, glancing now and again with concern at Wilder, who did not seem to like chewing his gingerbread.
Williamson returned. He sat picking at his food until the captain whispered aside to him, “Well?”
“I found it, sir.”
Williamson’s cheeks were white. He kept his eyes on the laughing people. The daughters were smiling gravely and the son was telling a joke. Williamson said, “I went into the graveyard.”
“The four crosses were there?”
“The four crosses were there, sir. The names were still on them. I wrote them down to be sure.” He read from a white paper: “Alice, Marguerite, Susan, and John Hathaway. Died of unknown virus. July 2007.”
“Thank you, Williamson.” Wilder closed his eyes.
“Nineteen years ago, sir,” Williamson’s hand trembled.
“Then who are these!”
“I don’t know.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know that either.”
“Will we tell the other men?”
“Later. Go on with your food as if nothing happened.”
“I’m not very hungry now, sir.”
The meal ended with wine brought from the rocket. Hathaway arose. “A toast to all of you; it’s good to be with friends again. And to my wife and children, without whom I couldn’t have survived alone. It is only through their kindness in caring for me that I’ve lived on, waiting for your arrival.” He moved his wineglass toward his family, who looked back self-consciously, lowering their eyes at last as everyone drank.
Hathaway drank down his wine. He did not cry out as he fell forward onto the table and slipped to the ground. Several men eased him to rest. The doctor bent to him and listened. Wilder touched the doctor’s shoulder. The doctor looked up and shook his head. Wilder knelt and took the old man’s hand. “Wilder?” Hathaway’s voice was barely audible. “I spoiled the breakfast.”
“Say good-by to Alice and the children for me.”
“Just a moment, I’ll call them.”
“No, no, don’t!” gasped Hathaway. “They wouldn’t understand. I wouldn’t want them to understand! Don’t!”
Wilder did not move.
Hathaway was dead.
Wilder waited for a long time. Then he arose and walked away from the stunned group around Hathaway. He went to Alice Hathaway, looked into her face, and said, “Do you know what has just happened?”
“Something about my husband?”
“He’s just passed away; his heart,” said Wilder, watching her.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“He didn’t want us to feel badly. He told us it would happen one day and he didn’t want us to cry. He didn’t teach us how, you know. He didn’t want us to know. He said it was the worst thing that could happen to a man to know how to be lonely and know how to be sad and then to cry. So we’re not to know what crying is, or being sad.”
Wilder glanced at her hands, the soft warm hands and the fine manicured nails and the tapered wrists. He saw her slender, smooth white neck and her intelligent eyes. Finally he said, “Mr. Hathaway did a fine job on you and your children.”
“He would have liked to hear you say that. He was so proud of us. After a while he even forgot that he had made us. At the end he loved and took us as his real wife and children. And, in a way, we are.”
“You gave him a good deal of comfort.”
“Yes, for years on end we sat and talked. He so much loved to talk. He liked the stone hut and the open fire. We could have lived in a regular house in the town, but he liked it up here, where he could be primitive if he liked, or modern if he liked. He told me all about his laboratory and the things he did in it. He wired the entire dead American town below with sound speakers. When he pressed a button the town lit up and made noises as if ten thousand people lived in it. There were airplane noises and car noises and the sounds of people talking. He would sit and light a cigar and talk to us, and the sounds of the town would come up to us, and once in awhile the phone would ring and a recorded voice would ask Mr. Hathaway scientific and surgical questions and he would answer them. With the phone ringing and us here and the sounds of the town and his cigar, Mr. Hathaway was quite happy. There’s only one thing he couldn’t make us do,” she said. “And that was to grow old. He got older every day, but we stayed the same. I guess he didn’t mind. I guess he wanted us this way.”