The war of the worlds, p.10
The War of the Worlds, p.10H. G. Wells
IN THE STORM
Leatherhead is about twelve miles from Maybury Hill. The scent ofhay was in the air through the lush meadows beyond Pyrford, and thehedges on either side were sweet and gay with multitudes of dog-roses.The heavy firing that had broken out while we were driving downMaybury Hill ceased as abruptly as it began, leaving the evening verypeaceful and still. We got to Leatherhead without misadventure aboutnine o'clock, and the horse had an hour's rest while I took supperwith my cousins and commended my wife to their care.
My wife was curiously silent throughout the drive, and seemedoppressed with forebodings of evil. I talked to her reassuringly,pointing out that the Martians were tied to the Pit by sheerheaviness, and at the utmost could but crawl a little out of it; butshe answered only in monosyllables. Had it not been for my promise tothe innkeeper, she would, I think, have urged me to stay inLeatherhead that night. Would that I had! Her face, I remember, wasvery white as we parted.
For my own part, I had been feverishly excited all day. Somethingvery like the war fever that occasionally runs through a civilisedcommunity had got into my blood, and in my heart I was not so verysorry that I had to return to Maybury that night. I was even afraidthat that last fusillade I had heard might mean the extermination ofour invaders from Mars. I can best express my state of mind by sayingthat I wanted to be in at the death.
It was nearly eleven when I started to return. The night wasunexpectedly dark; to me, walking out of the lighted passage of mycousins' house, it seemed indeed black, and it was as hot and close asthe day. Overhead the clouds were driving fast, albeit not a breathstirred the shrubs about us. My cousins' man lit both lamps. Happily,I knew the road intimately. My wife stood in the light of thedoorway, and watched me until I jumped up into the dog cart. Thenabruptly she turned and went in, leaving my cousins side by sidewishing me good hap.
I was a little depressed at first with the contagion of my wife'sfears, but very soon my thoughts reverted to the Martians. At thattime I was absolutely in the dark as to the course of the evening'sfighting. I did not know even the circumstances that had precipitatedthe conflict. As I came through Ockham (for that was the way Ireturned, and not through Send and Old Woking) I saw along the westernhorizon a blood-red glow, which as I drew nearer, crept slowly up thesky. The driving clouds of the gathering thunderstorm mingled therewith masses of black and red smoke.
Ripley Street was deserted, and except for a lighted window or sothe village showed not a sign of life; but I narrowly escaped anaccident at the corner of the road to Pyrford, where a knot of peoplestood with their backs to me. They said nothing to me as I passed. Ido not know what they knew of the things happening beyond the hill,nor do I know if the silent houses I passed on my way were sleepingsecurely, or deserted and empty, or harassed and watching against theterror of the night.
From Ripley until I came through Pyrford I was in the valley of theWey, and the red glare was hidden from me. As I ascended the littlehill beyond Pyrford Church the glare came into view again, and thetrees about me shivered with the first intimation of the storm thatwas upon me. Then I heard midnight pealing out from Pyrford Churchbehind me, and then came the silhouette of Maybury Hill, with itstree-tops and roofs black and sharp against the red.
Even as I beheld this a lurid green glare lit the road about me andshowed the distant woods towards Addlestone. I felt a tug at thereins. I saw that the driving clouds had been pierced as it were by athread of green fire, suddenly lighting their confusion and fallinginto the field to my left. It was the third falling star!
Close on its apparition, and blindingly violet by contrast, dancedout the first lightning of the gathering storm, and the thunder burstlike a rocket overhead. The horse took the bit between his teeth andbolted.
A moderate incline runs towards the foot of Maybury Hill, and downthis we clattered. Once the lightning had begun, it went on in asrapid a succession of flashes as I have ever seen. The thunderclaps,treading one on the heels of another and with a strange cracklingaccompaniment, sounded more like the working of a gigantic electricmachine than the usual detonating reverberations. The flickeringlight was blinding and confusing, and a thin hail smote gustily at myface as I drove down the slope.
At first I regarded little but the road before me, and thenabruptly my attention was arrested by something that was movingrapidly down the opposite slope of Maybury Hill. At first I took itfor the wet roof of a house, but one flash following another showed itto be in swift rolling movement. It was an elusive vision--a momentof bewildering darkness, and then, in a flash like daylight, the redmasses of the Orphanage near the crest of the hill, the green tops ofthe pine trees, and this problematical object came out clear and sharpand bright.
And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod,higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, andsmashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glitteringmetal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steeldangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage minglingwith the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly,heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappearalmost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yardsnearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violentlyalong the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave.But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery ona tripod stand.
Then suddenly the trees in the pine wood ahead of me were parted,as brittle reeds are parted by a man thrusting through them; they weresnapped off and driven headlong, and a second huge tripod appeared,rushing, as it seemed, headlong towards me. And I was galloping hardto meet it! At the sight of the second monster my nerve wentaltogether. Not stopping to look again, I wrenched the horse's headhard round to the right and in another moment the dog cart had heeledover upon the horse; the shafts smashed noisily, and I was flungsideways and fell heavily into a shallow pool of water.
I crawled out almost immediately, and crouched, my feet still inthe water, under a clump of furze. The horse lay motionless (his neckwas broken, poor brute!) and by the lightning flashes I saw the blackbulk of the overturned dog cart and the silhouette of the wheel stillspinning slowly. In another moment the colossal mechanism wentstriding by me, and passed uphill towards Pyrford.
Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mereinsensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringingmetallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of whichgripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strangebody. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazenhood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitablesuggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a hugemass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs ofgreen smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monsterswept by me. And in an instant it was gone.
So much I saw then, all vaguely for the flickering of thelightning, in blinding highlights and dense black shadows.
As it passed it set up an exultant deafening howl that drowned thethunder--"Aloo! Aloo!"--and in another minute it was with itscompanion, half a mile away, stooping over something in the field. Ihave no doubt this Thing in the field was the third of the tencylinders they had fired at us from Mars.
For some minutes I lay there in the rain and darkness watching, bythe intermittent light, these monstrous beings of metal moving aboutin the distance over the hedge tops. A thin hail was now beginning,and as it came and went their figures grew misty and then flashed intoclearness again. Now and then came a gap in the lightning, and thenight swallowed them up.
I was soaked with hail above and puddle water below. It was sometime before my blank astonishment would let me struggle up the bank toa drier position, or think at all of my imminent peril.
Not far from me was a little one-roomed squatter's hut of wood,surrounded by a patch of potato garden. I struggled t
Under cover of this I pushed on, wet and shivering now, towards myown house. I walked among the trees trying to find the footpath. Itwas very dark indeed in the wood, for the lightning was now becominginfrequent, and the hail, which was pouring down in a torrent, fell incolumns through the gaps in the heavy foliage.
If I had fully realised the meaning of all the things I had seen Ishould have immediately worked my way round through Byfleet to StreetCobham, and so gone back to rejoin my wife at Leatherhead. But thatnight the strangeness of things about me, and my physicalwretchedness, prevented me, for I was bruised, weary, wet to the skin,deafened and blinded by the storm.
I had a vague idea of going on to my own house, and that was asmuch motive as I had. I staggered through the trees, fell into aditch and bruised my knees against a plank, and finally splashed outinto the lane that ran down from the College Arms. I say splashed,for the storm water was sweeping the sand down the hill in a muddytorrent. There in the darkness a man blundered into me and sent mereeling back.
He gave a cry of terror, sprang sideways, and rushed on before Icould gather my wits sufficiently to speak to him. So heavy was thestress of the storm just at this place that I had the hardest task towin my way up the hill. I went close up to the fence on the left andworked my way along its palings.
Near the top I stumbled upon something soft, and, by a flash oflightning, saw between my feet a heap of black broadcloth and a pairof boots. Before I could distinguish clearly how the man lay, theflicker of light had passed. I stood over him waiting for the nextflash. When it came, I saw that he was a sturdy man, cheaply but notshabbily dressed; his head was bent under his body, and he laycrumpled up close to the fence, as though he had been flung violentlyagainst it.
Overcoming the repugnance natural to one who had never beforetouched a dead body, I stooped and turned him over to feel for hisheart. He was quite dead. Apparently his neck had been broken. Thelightning flashed for a third time, and his face leaped upon me. Isprang to my feet. It was the landlord of the Spotted Dog, whoseconveyance I had taken.
I stepped over him gingerly and pushed on up the hill. I made myway by the police station and the College Arms towards my own house.Nothing was burning on the hillside, though from the common therestill came a red glare and a rolling tumult of ruddy smoke beating upagainst the drenching hail. So far as I could see by the flashes, thehouses about me were mostly uninjured. By the College Arms a darkheap lay in the road.
Down the road towards Maybury Bridge there were voices and thesound of feet, but I had not the courage to shout or to go to them. Ilet myself in with my latchkey, closed, locked and bolted the door,staggered to the foot of the staircase, and sat down. My imaginationwas full of those striding metallic monsters, and of the dead bodysmashed against the fence.
I crouched at the foot of the staircase with my back to the wall,shivering violently.
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