And a voice touched his mind, and the voice said:
“We have come for a little while.”
“You may stay,” said Father Peregrine.
“For a little while only,” said the voice quietly. “We have come to tell you certain things. We should have spoken sooner. But we had hoped that you might go on your way if left alone.”
Father Peregrine started to speak, but the voice hushed him.
“We are the Old Ones,” the voice said, and it entered him like a blue gaseous flare and burned in the chambers of his head. “We are the old Martians, who left our marble cities and went into the hills, forsaking the material life we had lived. So very long ago we became these things that we now are. Once we were men, with bodies and legs and arms such as yours. The legend has it that one of us, a good man, discovered a way to free man’s soul and intellect, to free him of bodily ills and melancholies, of deaths and transfigurations, of ill humors and senilities, and so we took on the look of lightning and blue fire and have lived in the winds and skies and hills forever after that, neither prideful nor arrogant, neither rich nor poor, passionate nor cold. We have lived apart from those we left behind, those other men of this world, and how we came to be has been forgotten, the process lost; but we shall never die, nor do harm. We have put away the sins of the body and live in God’s grace. We covet no other property; we have no property. We do not steal, nor kill, nor lust, nor hate. We live in happiness. We cannot reproduce; we no not eat or drink or make war. All the sensualities and childishnesses and sins of the body were stripped away when our bodies were put aside. We have left sin behind, Father Peregrine, and it is burned like the leaves in the autumn, and it is gone like the soiled snow of an evil winter, and it is gone like the sexual flowers of a red-and-yellow spring, and it is gone like the panting nights of hottest summer, and our season is temperate and our clime is rich in thought.”
Father Peregrine was standing now, for the voice touched him at such a pitch that it almost shook him from his senses. It was an ecstasy and a fire washing through him.
“We wish to tell you that we appreciate your building this place for us, but we have no need of it, for each of us is a temple unto himself and needs no place wherein to cleanse himself. Forgive us for not coming to you sooner, but we are separate and apart and have talked to no one for ten thousand years, nor have we interfered in any way with the life of this planet. It has come into your mind now that we are the lilies of the field; we toil not, neither do we spin. You are right. And so we suggest that you take the parts of this temple into your own new cities and there cleanse others. For, rest assured, we are happy and at peace.
The Fathers were on their knees in the vast blue light, and Father Peregrine was down, too, and they were weeping, and it did not matter that their time had been wasted; it did not matter to them at all.
The blue spheres murmured and began to rise once more, on a breath of cool air.
“May I”—cried Father Peregrine, not daring to ask, eyes closed—”may I come again, someday, that I may learn from you?”
The blue fires blazed. The air trembled.
Yes. Someday he might come again. Someday.
And then the Fire Balloons blew away and were gone, and he was like a child, on his knees, tears streaming from his eyes, crying to himself, “Come back, come back!” And at any moment Grandfather might lift him and carry him upstairs to his bedroom in a long-gone Ohio town. . . .
They filed down out of the hills at sunset. Looking back, Father Peregrine saw the blue fires burning. No, he thought, we couldn’t build a church for the likes of you. You’re Beauty itself. What church could compete with the fireworks of the pure soul?