“About this occurrence yesterday,” said the captain. “It occurred?”
“You have witnesses?”
“May we talk to them?”
“Talk to any of us,” said the mayor. “We are all witnesses.”
In an aside to Martin the captain said, “Mass hallucination.” To the mayor, “What did this man—this stranger—look like?”
“That would be hard to say,” said the mayor, smiling a little.
“Why would it?”
“Opinions might differ slightly.”
“I’d like your opinion, sir, anyway,” said the captain. “Record this,” he snapped to Martin over his shoulder. The lieutenant pressed the button of a hand recorder.
“Well,” said the mayor of the city, “he was a very gentle and kind man. He was of a great and knowing intelligence.”
“Yes—yes, I know, I know.” The captain waved his fingers. “Generalizations. I want something specific. What did he look like?”
“I don’t believe that is important,” replied the mayor.
“It’s very important,” said the captain sternly. “I want a description of this fellow. If I can’t get it from you, I’ll get it from others.” To Martin, “I’m sure it must have been Burton, pulling one of his practical jokes.”
Martin would not look him in the face. Martin was coldly silent.
The captain snapped his fingers. “There was something or other—a healing?”
“Many healings,” said the mayor.
“May I see one?”
“You may,” said the mayor. “My son.” He nodded at a small boy who stepped forward. “He was afflicted with a withered arm. Now, look upon it.”
At this the captain laughed tolerantly. “Yes, yes. This isn’t even circumstantial evidence, you know. I didn’t see the boy’s withered arm. I see only his arm whole and well. That’s no proof. What proof have you that the boy’s arm was withered yesterday and today is well?”
“My word is my proof,” said the mayor simply.
“My dear man!” cried the captain. “You don’t expect me to go on hearsay, do you? Oh no!”
“I’m sorry,” said the mayor, looking upon the captain with what appeared to be curiosity and pity.
“Do you have any pictures of the boy before today?” asked the captain.
After a moment a large oil portrait was carried forth, showing the son with a withered arm.
“My dear fellow!” The captain waved it away. “Anybody can paint a picture. Paintings lie. I want a photograph of the boy.”
There was no photograph. Photography was not a known art in their society.
“Well,” sighed the captain, face twitching, “let me talk to a few other citizens. We’re getting nowhere.” He pointed at a woman. “You.” She hesitated. “Yes, you; come here,” ordered the captain. “Tell me about thiswonderful man you saw yesterday.”
The woman looked steadily at the captain. “He walked among us and was very fine and good.”
“What color were his eyes?”
“The color of the sun, the color of the sea, the color of a flower, the color of the mountains, the color of the night.”
“That’ll do.” The captain threw up his hands. “See, Martin? Absolutely nothing. Some charlatan wanders through whispering sweet nothings in their ears and——”
“Please, stop it,” said Martin.
The captain stepped back. “What?”
“You heard what I said,” said Martin. “I like these people. I believe what they say. You’re entitled to your opinion, but keep it to yourself, sir.”
“You can’t talk to me this way,” shouted the captain.
“I’ve had enough of your highhandedness,” replied Martin. “Leave these people alone. They’ve got something good and decent, and you come and foul up the nest and sneer at it. Well, I’ve talked to them too. I’ve gone through the city and seen their faces, and they’ve got something you’ll never have—a little simple faith, and they’ll move mountains with it. You, you’re boiled because someone stole your act, got here ahead and made you unimportant!”
“I’ll give you five seconds to finish,” remarked the captain. “I understand. You’ve been under a strain, Martin. Months of traveling in space, nostalgia, loneliness. And now, with this thing happening, I sympathize, Martin. I overlook your petty insubordination.”
“I don’t overlook your petty tyranny,” replied Martin. “I’m stepping out. I’m staying here.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Can’t I? Try and stop me. This is what I came looking for. I didn’t know it, but this is it. This is for me. Take your filth somewhere else and foul up other nests with your doubt and your—scientific method!” He looked swiftly about. “These people have had an experience, and you can’t seem to get it through your head that it’s really happened and we were lucky enough to almost arrive in time to be in on it.