And here was Mars like a sea under which they trudged in the guise of submarine biologists, seeking life. Here the territory of hidden sin. Oh, how carefully they must all balance, like gray feathers, in this new element, afraid that walkingitself might be sinful; or breathing, or simple fasting!
And here was the mayor of First Town come to meet them with outstretched hand. “What can I do for you, Father Peregrine?”
“We’d like to know about the Martians. For only if we know about them can we plan our church intelligently. Are they ten feet tall? We will build large doors. Are their skins blue or red or green? We must know when we put human figures in the stained glass so we may use the right skin color. Are they heavy? We will build sturdy seats for them.”
“Father,” said the mayor, “I don’t think you should worry about the Martians. There are two races. One of them is pretty well dead. A few are in hiding. And the second race—well, they’re not quite human.”
“Oh?” Father Peregrine’s heart quickened.
“They’re round luminous globes of light, Father, living in those hills. Man or beast, who can say? But they act intelligently, I hear.” The mayor shrugged. “Of course, they’re not men, so I don’t think you’ll care—
“On the contrary,” said Father Peregrine swiftly. “Intelligent, you say?”
“There’s a story. A prospector broke his leg in those hills and would have died there. The blue spheres of light came at him. When he woke, he was down on a highway and didn’t know how he got there.”
“Drunk,” said Father Stone.
“That’s the story,” said the mayor. “Father Peregrine, with most of the Martians dead, and only these blue spheres, I frankly think you’d be better off in First City. Mars is opening up. It’s a frontier now, like in the old days on Earth, out West, and in Alaska. Men are pouring up here. There’re a couple thousand black Irish mechanics and miners and day laborers in First Town who need saving, because there’re too many wicked women came with them, and too much ten-century-old Martian wine——”
Father Peregrine was gazing into the soft blue hills.
Father Stone cleared his throat. “Well, Father?”
Father Peregrine did not hear. “Spheres of bluefire?”
“Ah,” Father Peregrine sighed.
“Blue balloons.” Father Stone shook his head. “A circus!”
Father Peregrine felt his wrists pounding. He saw the little frontier town with raw, fresh-built sin, and he saw the hills, old with the oldest and yet perhaps an even newer (to him) sin.
“Mayor, could your black Irish laborers cook one more day in hellfire?”
“I’d turn and baste them for you, Father.”
Father Peregrine nodded to the hills. “Then that’s where we’ll go.”
There was a murmur from everyone.
“It would be so simple,” explained Father Peregrine, “to go into town. I prefer to think that if the Lord walked here and people said, ‘Here is the beaten path,’ He would reply, ‘Show me the weeds. I willmake a path.’”
“Father Stone, think how it would weigh upon us if we passed sinners by and did not extend our hands.”
“But globes of fire!”
“I imagine man looked funny to other animals when we first appeared. Yet he has a soul, for all his homeliness. Until we prove otherwise, let us assume that these fiery spheres have souls.”
“All right,” agreed the mayor, “but you’ll be back to town.”
“We’ll see. First, some breakfast. Then you and I, Father Stone, will walk alone into the hills. I don’t want to frighten those fiery Martians with machines or crowds. Shall we have breakfast?”
The Fathers ate in silence.
At nightfall Father Peregrine and Father Stone were high in the hills. They stopped and sat upon a rock to enjoy a moment of relaxation and waiting. The Martians had not as yet appeared and they both felt vaguely disappointed.
“I wonder——” Father Peregrine mopped his face. “Do you think if we called ‘Hello!’ they might answer?”
“Father Peregrine, won’t you ever be serious?”
“Not until the good Lord is. Oh, don’t look so terribly shocked, please. The Lord is not serious. In fact, it is a little hard to know just what else He is except loving. And love has to do with humor, doesn’t it? For you cannot love someone unless you put up with him, can you? And you cannot put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at him. Isn’t that true? And certainly we are ridiculous little animals wallowing in the fudge bowl, and God must love us all the more because we appeal to His humor.”