But the party had died too.
The men stood upright against the dark cold sky.
“Come on, gents, come on!” Biggs bounded from the ship in a fresh uniform, not looking at Spender even once. His voice was like someone in an empty auditorium. It was alone. “Come on!”
“Come on, Whitie, your harmonica!”
Whitie blew a chord. It sounded funny and wrong. Whitie knocked the moisture from his harmonica and put it away.
“What kinda party is this?” Biggs wanted to know.
Someone hugged the accordion. It gave a sound like a dying animal. That was all.
“Okay, me and my bottle will go have our own party.” Biggs squatted against the rocket, drinking from a flask.
Spender watched him. Spender did not move for a long time. Then his fingers crawled up along his trembling leg to his holstered pistol, very quietly, and stroked and tapped the leather sheath.
“All those who want to can come into the city with me,” announced the captain. “We’ll post a guard here at the rocket and go armed, just in case.”
The men counted off. Fourteen of them wanted to go, including Biggs, who laughingly counted himself in, waving his bottle. Six others stayed behind.
“Here we go!” Biggs shouted.
The party moved out into the moonlight, silently. They made their way to the outer rim of the dreaming dead city in the light of the racing twin moons. Their shadows, under them, were double shadows. They did not breathe, or seemed not to, perhaps, for several minutes. They were waiting for something to stir in the dead city, some gray form to rise, some ancient, ancestral shape to come galloping across the vacant sea bottom on an ancient, armored steel of impossible lineage, of unbelievable derivation.
Spender filled the streets with his eyes and his mind. People moved like blue vapor lights on the cobbled avenues, and there were faint murmurs of sound, and odd animals scurrying across the gray-red sands. Each window was given a person who leaned from it and waved slowly, as if under a timeless water, at some moving form in the fathoms of space below the moon-silvered towers. Music was played on some inner ear, and Spender imagined the shape of such instruments to evoke such music. The land was haunted.
“Hey!” shouted Biggs, standing tall, his hands around his open mouth. “Hey, you people in the city there, you!”
“Biggs!” said the captain.
They walked forward on a tiled avenue. They were all whispering now, for it was like entering a vast open library or a mausoleum in which the wind lived and over which the stars shone. The captain spoke quietly. He wondered where the people had gone, and what they had been, and who their kings were, and how they had died. And he wondered, quietly aloud, how they had built this city to last the ages through, and had they ever come to Earth? Were they ancestors of Earth Men ten thousand years removed? And had they loved and hated similar loves and hates, and done similar silly things when silly things were done?
Nobody moved. The moons held and froze them; the wind beat slowly around them.
“Lord Byron,” said Jeff Spender.
“Lord who?” The captain turned and regarded him.
“Lord Byron, a nineteenth-century poet. He wrote a poem a long time ago that fits this city and how the Martians must feel, if there’s anything left of them to feel. It might have been written by the last Martian poet.”
The men stood motionless, their shadows under them.
The captain said, “How does the poem go, Spender?”
Spender shifted, put out his hand to remember, squinted silently a moment; then, remembering, his slow quiet voice repeated the words and the men listened to everything he said:
“_So we’ll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright_.”
The city was gray and high and motionless. The men’s faces were turned in the light.
“_For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,