The war of the worlds, p.11
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       The War of the Worlds, p.11

           H. G. Wells
 
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  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  AT THE WINDOW

  I have already said that my storms of emotion have a trick ofexhausting themselves. After a time I discovered that I was cold andwet, and with little pools of water about me on the stair carpet. Igot up almost mechanically, went into the dining room and drank somewhiskey, and then I was moved to change my clothes.

  After I had done that I went upstairs to my study, but why I did soI do not know. The window of my study looks over the trees and therailway towards Horsell Common. In the hurry of our departure thiswindow had been left open. The passage was dark, and, by contrast withthe picture the window frame enclosed, the side of the room seemedimpenetrably dark. I stopped short in the doorway.

  The thunderstorm had passed. The towers of the Oriental Collegeand the pine trees about it had gone, and very far away, lit by avivid red glare, the common about the sand pits was visible. Acrossthe light huge black shapes, grotesque and strange, moved busily toand fro.

  It seemed indeed as if the whole country in that direction was onfire--a broad hillside set with minute tongues of flame, swaying andwrithing with the gusts of the dying storm, and throwing a redreflection upon the cloud-scud above. Every now and then a haze ofsmoke from some nearer conflagration drove across the window and hidthe Martian shapes. I could not see what they were doing, nor theclear form of them, nor recognise the black objects they were busiedupon. Neither could I see the nearer fire, though the reflections ofit danced on the wall and ceiling of the study. A sharp, resinoustang of burning was in the air.

  I closed the door noiselessly and crept towards the window. As Idid so, the view opened out until, on the one hand, it reached to thehouses about Woking station, and on the other to the charred andblackened pine woods of Byfleet. There was a light down below thehill, on the railway, near the arch, and several of the houses alongthe Maybury road and the streets near the station were glowing ruins.The light upon the railway puzzled me at first; there were a blackheap and a vivid glare, and to the right of that a row of yellowoblongs. Then I perceived this was a wrecked train, the fore partsmashed and on fire, the hinder carriages still upon the rails.

  Between these three main centres of light--the houses, the train,and the burning county towards Chobham--stretched irregular patches ofdark country, broken here and there by intervals of dimly glowing andsmoking ground. It was the strangest spectacle, that black expanse setwith fire. It reminded me, more than anything else, of the Potteriesat night. At first I could distinguish no people at all, though Ipeered intently for them. Later I saw against the light of Wokingstation a number of black figures hurrying one after the other acrossthe line.

  And this was the little world in which I had been living securelyfor years, this fiery chaos! What had happened in the last sevenhours I still did not know; nor did I know, though I was beginning toguess, the relation between these mechanical colossi and the sluggishlumps I had seen disgorged from the cylinder. With a queer feeling ofimpersonal interest I turned my desk chair to the window, sat down,and stared at the blackened country, and particularly at the threegigantic black things that were going to and fro in the glare aboutthe sand pits.

  They seemed amazingly busy. I began to ask myself what they couldbe. Were they intelligent mechanisms? Such a thing I felt wasimpossible. Or did a Martian sit within each, ruling, directing,using, much as a man's brain sits and rules in his body? I began tocompare the things to human machines, to ask myself for the first timein my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would seem to anintelligent lower animal.

  The storm had left the sky clear, and over the smoke of the burningland the little fading pinpoint of Mars was dropping into the west,when a soldier came into my garden. I heard a slight scraping at thefence, and rousing myself from the lethargy that had fallen upon me, Ilooked down and saw him dimly, clambering over the palings. At thesight of another human being my torpor passed, and I leaned out of thewindow eagerly.

  "Hist!" said I, in a whisper.

  He stopped astride of the fence in doubt. Then he came over andacross the lawn to the corner of the house. He bent down and steppedsoftly.

  "Who's there?" he said, also whispering, standing under the windowand peering up.

  "Where are you going?" I asked.

  "God knows."

  "Are you trying to hide?"

  "That's it."

  "Come into the house," I said.

  I went down, unfastened the door, and let him in, and locked thedoor again. I could not see his face. He was hatless, and his coatwas unbuttoned.

  "My God!" he said, as I drew him in.

  "What has happened?" I asked.

  "What hasn't?" In the obscurity I could see he made a gesture ofdespair. "They wiped us out--simply wiped us out," he repeated againand again.

  He followed me, almost mechanically, into the dining room.

  "Take some whiskey," I said, pouring out a stiff dose.

  He drank it. Then abruptly he sat down before the table, put hishead on his arms, and began to sob and weep like a little boy, in aperfect passion of emotion, while I, with a curious forgetfulness ofmy own recent despair, stood beside him, wondering.

  It was a long time before he could steady his nerves to answer myquestions, and then he answered perplexingly and brokenly. He was adriver in the artillery, and had only come into action about seven. Atthat time firing was going on across the common, and it was said thefirst party of Martians were crawling slowly towards their secondcylinder under cover of a metal shield.

  Later this shield staggered up on tripod legs and became the firstof the fighting-machines I had seen. The gun he drove had beenunlimbered near Horsell, in order to command the sand pits, and itsarrival it was that had precipitated the action. As the limbergunners went to the rear, his horse trod in a rabbit hole and camedown, throwing him into a depression of the ground. At the samemoment the gun exploded behind him, the ammunition blew up, there wasfire all about him, and he found himself lying under a heap of charreddead men and dead horses.

  "I lay still," he said, "scared out of my wits, with the fore quarterof a horse atop of me. We'd been wiped out. And the smell--goodGod! Like burnt meat! I was hurt across the back by the fall ofthe horse, and there I had to lie until I felt better. Just likeparade it had been a minute before--then stumble, bang, swish!"

  "Wiped out!" he said.

  He had hid under the dead horse for a long time, peeping outfurtively across the common. The Cardigan men had tried a rush, inskirmishing order, at the pit, simply to be swept out of existence.Then the monster had risen to its feet and had begun to walk leisurelyto and fro across the common among the few fugitives, with itsheadlike hood turning about exactly like the head of a cowled humanbeing. A kind of arm carried a complicated metallic case, about whichgreen flashes scintillated, and out of the funnel of this there smokedthe Heat-Ray.

  In a few minutes there was, so far as the soldier could see, not aliving thing left upon the common, and every bush and tree upon itthat was not already a blackened skeleton was burning. The hussarshad been on the road beyond the curvature of the ground, and he sawnothing of them. He heard the Martians rattle for a time and thenbecome still. The giant saved Woking station and its cluster of housesuntil the last; then in a moment the Heat-Ray was brought to bear, andthe town became a heap of fiery ruins. Then the Thing shut off theHeat-Ray, and turning its back upon the artilleryman, began to waddleaway towards the smouldering pine woods that sheltered the secondcylinder. As it did so a second glittering Titan built itself up outof the pit.

  The second monster followed the first, and at that the artillerymanbegan to crawl very cautiously across the hot heather ash towardsHorsell. He managed to get alive into the ditch by the side of theroad, and so escaped to Woking. There his story became ejaculatory.The place was impassable. It seems there were a few people alivethere, frantic for the most part and many burned and scalded. He wasturned aside by the fire, and hid among
some almost scorching heaps ofbroken wall as one of the Martian giants returned. He saw this onepursue a man, catch him up in one of its steely tentacles, and knockhis head against the trunk of a pine tree. At last, after nightfall,the artilleryman made a rush for it and got over the railwayembankment.

  Since then he had been skulking along towards Maybury, in the hopeof getting out of danger Londonward. People were hiding in trenchesand cellars, and many of the survivors had made off towards Wokingvillage and Send. He had been consumed with thirst until he found oneof the water mains near the railway arch smashed, and the waterbubbling out like a spring upon the road.

  That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew calmertelling me and trying to make me see the things he had seen. He hadeaten no food since midday, he told me early in his narrative, and Ifound some mutton and bread in the pantry and brought it into theroom. We lit no lamp for fear of attracting the Martians, and everand again our hands would touch upon bread or meat. As he talked,things about us came darkly out of the darkness, and the trampledbushes and broken rose trees outside the window grew distinct. Itwould seem that a number of men or animals had rushed across the lawn.I began to see his face, blackened and haggard, as no doubt mine wasalso.

  When we had finished eating we went softly upstairs to my study,and I looked again out of the open window. In one night the valleyhad become a valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Whereflames had been there were now streamers of smoke; but the countlessruins of shattered and gutted houses and blasted and blackened treesthat the night had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in thepitiless light of dawn. Yet here and there some object had had theluck to escape--a white railway signal here, the end of a greenhousethere, white and fresh amid the wreckage. Never before in the historyof warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal.And shining with the growing light of the east, three of the metallicgiants stood about the pit, their cowls rotating as though they weresurveying the desolation they had made.

  It seemed to me that the pit had been enlarged, and ever and againpuffs of vivid green vapour streamed up and out of it towards thebrightening dawn--streamed up, whirled, broke, and vanished.

  Beyond were the pillars of fire about Chobham. They became pillarsof bloodshot smoke at the first touch of day.

 
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