Voyage From Yesteryear

Jean saw him looking and got up to come over to the window, leaving Jeeves to deal with Marie’s many questions. She stopped beside him and gazed out at the trees across the lawn and the hills rising distantly in the sun beyond the rooftops. “It’s going to be such a beautiful world,” she said. “I’m not sure I can stand much more of this waiting around. Surely it has to be as good as over.”

Bernard looked out again and shook his head. “Not until that ship up there is disarmed somehow.” After a pause he turned to face her again. “So it doesn’t scare you anymore, huh?”

“I don’t think it ever did. What I was afraid of was in my own head. None of it was out there.” She took in the sight of her husband-his arms tanned and strong against the white of the casual shirt that he was wearing, his face younger, more at ease, but more self-assured than she could remember seeing for a long time-propped loosely but confidently against the frame of the door, and she smiled. “Kalens may have to hide himself away in a shell,” she said. “I don’t need mine anymore.”

“SO you’re happy you can handle it,” Bernard said.

“We can handle anything that comes,” she told him.


CELIA KALENS STRAIGHTENED the kimono-styled black-silk top over her gold lamé evening dress, then sat back while a white-jacketed steward cleared the dinner dishes from the table. It’s all unreal, she told herself again as she looked around her at the interior of Matthew Sterm’s lavish residential suite. Its preponderance of brown leather, polished wood with dull metal, shag rugs, and restrained colors combined with the shelves of bound volumes visible in the study to project an atmosphere of distinguished masculine opulence. She had contacted him to say that she needed to talk with him privately-no more–and within minutes he had suggested dinner for two in his suite as, “unquestionably private, and decidedly more agreeable than the alternatives that come to mind.” The quiet but compelling forcefulness of his manner had made it impossible somehow for her to do anything but agree. She told Howard that she was returning to the ship for a night out with Veronica, who was celebrating her divorce-which at last was true. Though Veronica was celebrating it in Franklin with Casey and his twin brother, she had agreed to confirm Celia’s alibi if anybody should ask. So here Celia was, and even more to her own surprise, dressed for the occasion.

Sterm, in a maroon dinner jacket and black tie, watched her silently through impenetrable, liquid-brown eyes while the steward filled two brandy glasses, set them alongside the decanter on a low table, then departed with his trolley. Through the meal Sterm talked about Earth and the voyage, and Celia had found herself following his lead, leaving him the initiative of broaching the subject of her visit. Finally,

he stood, came around the table, and moved her chair back for her to rise. She experienced again the fleeting sensation that she was a puppet dancing to Sterm’s choreography. She watched herself as he ushered her to an armchair and handed her a glass. Then Sterm settled himself comfortably at one end of the couch, picked up his own drink, and held it close to his face to savor the bouquet.

“To your approval, I trust,” he said. Celia had suggested a cognac earlier on, when Sterm had asked her preference for an after dinner liqueur.

She took a sip. It was smooth, warm, and mellowing. “It’s excellent,” she replied.

“I keep a small stock reserved,” Sterm informed her. “It is from Earth-the Grande Champagne region of the Charante. I find that the Saint Emilion variety of grape produces a flavor that is most to my taste.” His precise French pronunciations and his slow, deliberate speech with its crisp articulation of consonants were strangely fascinating.

“The white makes the best brandies, I believe,” Celia said. “And isn’t the amount of limestone in the soil very important?”

The eyebrows of Sterm’s regal, Roman-emperor’s face raised themselves in approval. “I see the subject is not unfamiliar to you. My compliments. Regrettably, rareness of quality is not confined to grapes.”

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