“So are we. We’ve got a regular arsenal with us.”
“Tell the men to stand by the guns then. Come on, Lustig, Hinkston.”
The three men walked together down through the levels of the ship.
It was a beautiful spring day. A robin sat on a blossoming apple tree and sang continuously. Showers of petal snow sifted down when the wind touched the green branches, and the blossom scent drifted upon the air. Somewhere in the town someone was playing the piano and the music came and went, came and went, softly, drowsily. The song was “Beautiful Dreamer.” Somewhere else a phonograph, scratchy and faded, was hissing out a record of “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’,” sung by Harry Lauder.
The three men stood outside the ship. They sucked and gasped at the thin, thin air and moved slowly so as not to tire themselves.
Now the phonograph record being played was:
“_Oh, give me a June night
The moonlight and you_ … ”
Lustig began to tremble. Samuel Hinkston did likewise.
The sky was serene and quiet, and somewhere a stream of water ran through the cool caverns and tree shadings of a ravine. Somewhere a horse and wagon trotted and rolled by, bumping.
“Sir,” said Samuel Hinkston, “it must be, it has to be, that rocket travel to Mars began in the years before the first World War!”
“How else can you explain these houses, the iron deer, the pianos, the music?” Hinkston took the captain’s elbow persuasively and looked into the captain’s face. “Say that there were people in the year 1905 who hated war and got together with some scientists in secret and built a rocket and came out here to Mars—“
“No, no, Hinkston.”
“Why not? The world was a different world in 1905; they could have kept it a secret much more easily.”
“But a complex thing like a rocket, no, you couldn’t keep it secret.”
“And they came up here to live, and naturally the houses they built were similar to Earth houses because they brought the culture with them.”
“And they’ve lived here all these years?” said the captain.
“In peace and quiet, yes. Maybe they made a few trips, enough to bring enough people here for one small town, and then stopped for fear of being discovered. That’s why this town seems so old-fashioned. I don’t see a thing, myself, older than the year 1927, do you? Or maybe, sir, rocket travel is older than we think. Perhaps it started in some part of the world centuries ago and was kept secret by the small number of men who came to Mars with only occasional visits to Earth over the centuries.”
“You make it sound almost reasonable.”
“It has to be. We’ve the proof here before us; all we have to do is find some people and verify it.”
Their boots were deadened of all sound in the thick green grass. It smelled from a fresh mowing. In spite of himself, Captain John Black felt a great peace come over him. It had been thirty years since he had been in a small town, and the buzzing of spring bees on the air lulled and quieted him, and the fresh look of things was a balm to the soul.
They set foot upon the porch. Hollow echoes sounded from under the boards as they walked to the screen door. Inside they could see a bead curtain hung across the hall entry, and a crystal chandelier and a Maxfield Parrish painting framed on one wall over a comfortable Morris chair. The house smelled old, and of the attic, and infinitely comfortable. You could hear the tinkle of ice in a lemonade pitcher. In a distant kitchen, because of the heat of the day, someone was preparing a cold lunch. Someone was humming under her breath, high and sweet.
Captain John Black rang the bell.
Footsteps, dainty and thin, came along the hall, and a kind-faced lady of some forty years, dressed in a sort of dress you might expect in the year 1909, peered out at them.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Beg your pardon,” said Captain Black uncertainly. “But we’re looking for—that is, could you help us—“ He stopped. She looked out at him with dark, wondering eyes.