The war of the worlds, p.12
The War of the Worlds, p.12H. G. Wells
WHAT I SAW OF THE DESTRUCTION OF WEYBRIDGE AND SHEPPERTON
As the dawn grew brighter we withdrew from the window from which wehad watched the Martians, and went very quietly downstairs.
The artilleryman agreed with me that the house was no place to stayin. He proposed, he said, to make his way Londonward, and thencerejoin his battery--No. 12, of the Horse Artillery. My plan was toreturn at once to Leatherhead; and so greatly had the strength of theMartians impressed me that I had determined to take my wife toNewhaven, and go with her out of the country forthwith. For I alreadyperceived clearly that the country about London must inevitably be thescene of a disastrous struggle before such creatures as these could bedestroyed.
Between us and Leatherhead, however, lay the third cylinder, withits guarding giants. Had I been alone, I think I should have taken mychance and struck across country. But the artilleryman dissuaded me:"It's no kindness to the right sort of wife," he said, "to make her awidow"; and in the end I agreed to go with him, under cover of thewoods, northward as far as Street Cobham before I parted with him.Thence I would make a big detour by Epsom to reach Leatherhead.
I should have started at once, but my companion had been in activeservice and he knew better than that. He made me ransack the housefor a flask, which he filled with whiskey; and we lined everyavailable pocket with packets of biscuits and slices of meat. Thenwe crept out of the house, and ran as quickly as we could down theill-made road by which I had come overnight. The houses seemeddeserted. In the road lay a group of three charred bodies closetogether, struck dead by the Heat-Ray; and here and there were thingsthat people had dropped--a clock, a slipper, a silver spoon, and thelike poor valuables. At the corner turning up towards the postoffice a little cart, filled with boxes and furniture, and horseless,heeled over on a broken wheel. A cash box had been hastily smashedopen and thrown under the debris.
Except the lodge at the Orphanage, which was still on fire, none ofthe houses had suffered very greatly here. The Heat-Ray had shavedthe chimney tops and passed. Yet, save ourselves, there did not seemto be a living soul on Maybury Hill. The majority of the inhabitantshad escaped, I suppose, by way of the Old Woking road--the road I hadtaken when I drove to Leatherhead--or they had hidden.
We went down the lane, by the body of the man in black, sodden nowfrom the overnight hail, and broke into the woods at the foot of thehill. We pushed through these towards the railway without meeting asoul. The woods across the line were but the scarred and blackenedruins of woods; for the most part the trees had fallen, but a certainproportion still stood, dismal grey stems, with dark brown foliageinstead of green.
On our side the fire had done no more than scorch the nearer trees;it had failed to secure its footing. In one place the woodmen hadbeen at work on Saturday; trees, felled and freshly trimmed, lay in aclearing, with heaps of sawdust by the sawing-machine and its engine.Hard by was a temporary hut, deserted. There was not a breath of windthis morning, and everything was strangely still. Even the birds werehushed, and as we hurried along I and the artilleryman talked inwhispers and looked now and again over our shoulders. Once or twicewe stopped to listen.
After a time we drew near the road, and as we did so we heard theclatter of hoofs and saw through the tree stems three cavalry soldiersriding slowly towards Woking. We hailed them, and they halted whilewe hurried towards them. It was a lieutenant and a couple of privatesof the 8th Hussars, with a stand like a theodolite, which theartilleryman told me was a heliograph.
"You are the first men I've seen coming this way this morning,"said the lieutenant. "What's brewing?"
His voice and face were eager. The men behind him staredcuriously. The artilleryman jumped down the bank into the road andsaluted.
"Gun destroyed last night, sir. Have been hiding. Trying torejoin battery, sir. You'll come in sight of the Martians, I expect,about half a mile along this road."
"What the dickens are they like?" asked the lieutenant.
"Giants in armour, sir. Hundred feet high. Three legs and a bodylike 'luminium, with a mighty great head in a hood, sir."
"Get out!" said the lieutenant. "What confounded nonsense!"
"You'll see, sir. They carry a kind of box, sir, that shoots fireand strikes you dead."
"What d'ye mean--a gun?"
"No, sir," and the artilleryman began a vivid account of the Heat-Ray.Halfway through, the lieutenant interrupted him and looked up atme. I was still standing on the bank by the side of the road.
"It's perfectly true," I said.
"Well," said the lieutenant, "I suppose it's my business to see ittoo. Look here"--to the artilleryman--"we're detailed here clearingpeople out of their houses. You'd better go along and report yourselfto Brigadier-General Marvin, and tell him all you know. He's atWeybridge. Know the way?"
"I do," I said; and he turned his horse southward again.
"Half a mile, you say?" said he.
"At most," I answered, and pointed over the treetops southward. Hethanked me and rode on, and we saw them no more.
Farther along we came upon a group of three women and two childrenin the road, busy clearing out a labourer's cottage. They hadgot hold of a little hand truck, and were piling it up withunclean-looking bundles and shabby furniture. They were all tooassiduously engaged to talk to us as we passed.
By Byfleet station we emerged from the pine trees, and found thecountry calm and peaceful under the morning sunlight. We were farbeyond the range of the Heat-Ray there, and had it not been for thesilent desertion of some of the houses, the stirring movement ofpacking in others, and the knot of soldiers standing on the bridgeover the railway and staring down the line towards Woking, the daywould have seemed very like any other Sunday.
Several farm waggons and carts were moving creakily along the roadto Addlestone, and suddenly through the gate of a field we saw, acrossa stretch of flat meadow, six twelve-pounders standing neatly at equaldistances pointing towards Woking. The gunners stood by the gunswaiting, and the ammunition waggons were at a business-like distance.The men stood almost as if under inspection.
"That's good!" said I. "They will get one fair shot, at any rate."
The artilleryman hesitated at the gate.
"I shall go on," he said.
Farther on towards Weybridge, just over the bridge, there were anumber of men in white fatigue jackets throwing up a long rampart, andmore guns behind.
"It's bows and arrows against the lightning, anyhow," said theartilleryman. "They 'aven't seen that fire-beam yet."
The officers who were not actively engaged stood and stared overthe treetops southwestward, and the men digging would stop every nowand again to stare in the same direction.
Byfleet was in a tumult; people packing, and a score of hussars,some of them dismounted, some on horseback, were hunting them about.Three or four black government waggons, with crosses in white circles,and an old omnibus, among other vehicles, were being loaded in thevillage street. There were scores of people, most of themsufficiently sabbatical to have assumed their best clothes. Thesoldiers were having the greatest difficulty in making them realisethe gravity of their position. We saw one shrivelled old fellow witha huge box and a score or more of flower pots containing orchids,angrily expostulating with the corporal who would leave them behind.I stopped and gripped his arm.
"Do you know what's over there?" I said, pointing at the pine topsthat hid the Martians.
"Eh?" said he, turning. "I was explainin' these is vallyble."
"Death!" I shouted. "Death is coming! Death!" and leaving him todigest that if he could, I hurried on after the artillery-man. At thecorner I looked back. The soldier had left him, and he was stillstanding by his box, with the pots of orchids on the lid of it, andstaring vaguely over the trees.
No one in Weybridge could tell us where the headquarters wereestablished; the whole place was in such confusion as I had never seenin any town before.
I and the artilleryman, seated on the step of the drinkingfountain, made a very passable meal upon what we had brought withus. Patrols of soldiers--here no longer hussars, but grenadiers inwhite--were warning people to move now or to take refuge in theircellars as soon as the firing began. We saw as we crossed therailway bridge that a growing crowd of people had assembled in andabout the railway station, and the swarming platform was piled withboxes and packages. The ordinary traffic had been stopped, I believe,in order to allow of the passage of troops and guns to Chertsey, andI have heard since that a savage struggle occurred for places in thespecial trains that were put on at a later hour.
We remained at Weybridge until midday, and at that hour we foundourselves at the place near Shepperton Lock where the Wey and Thamesjoin. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack alittle cart. The Wey has a treble mouth, and at this point boats areto be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On theShepperton side was an inn with a lawn, and beyond that the tower ofShepperton Church--it has been replaced by a spire--rose above thetrees.
Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet theflight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far morepeople than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross.People came panting along under heavy burdens; one husband and wifewere even carrying a small outhouse door between them, with some oftheir household goods piled thereon. One man told us he meant to tryto get away from Shepperton station.
There was a lot of shouting, and one man was even jesting. The ideapeople seemed to have here was that the Martians were simplyformidable human beings, who might attack and sack the town, to becertainly destroyed in the end. Every now and then people wouldglance nervously across the Wey, at the meadows towards Chertsey, buteverything over there was still.
Across the Thames, except just where the boats landed, everythingwas quiet, in vivid contrast with the Surrey side. The people wholanded there from the boats went tramping off down the lane. The bigferryboat had just made a journey. Three or four soldiers stood onthe lawn of the inn, staring and jesting at the fugitives, withoutoffering to help. The inn was closed, as it was now within prohibitedhours.
"What's that?" cried a boatman, and "Shut up, you fool!" said a mannear me to a yelping dog. Then the sound came again, this time fromthe direction of Chertsey, a muffled thud--the sound of a gun.
The fighting was beginning. Almost immediately unseen batteriesacross the river to our right, unseen because of the trees, took upthe chorus, firing heavily one after the other. A woman screamed.Everyone stood arrested by the sudden stir of battle, near us and yetinvisible to us. Nothing was to be seen save flat meadows, cowsfeeding unconcernedly for the most part, and silvery pollard willowsmotionless in the warm sunlight.
"The sojers'll stop 'em," said a woman beside me, doubtfully. Ahaziness rose over the treetops.
Then suddenly we saw a rush of smoke far away up the river, a puffof smoke that jerked up into the air and hung; and forthwith theground heaved under foot and a heavy explosion shook the air, smashingtwo or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.
"Here they are!" shouted a man in a blue jersey. "Yonder! D'yersee them? Yonder!"
Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armouredMartians appeared, far away over the little trees, across the flatmeadows that stretched towards Chertsey, and striding hurriedlytowards the river. Little cowled figures they seemed at first, goingwith a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds.
Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth. Their armouredbodies glittered in the sun as they swept swiftly forward upon theguns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer. One on the extremeleft, the remotest that is, flourished a huge case high in the air,and the ghostly, terrible Heat-Ray I had already seen on Friday nightsmote towards Chertsey, and struck the town.
At sight of these strange, swift, and terrible creatures the crowdnear the water's edge seemed to me to be for a moment horror-struck.There was no screaming or shouting, but a silence. Then a hoarsemurmur and a movement of feet--a splashing from the water. A man, toofrightened to drop the portmanteau he carried on his shoulder, swunground and sent me staggering with a blow from the corner of hisburden. A woman thrust at me with her hand and rushed past me. Iturned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified forthought. The terrible Heat-Ray was in my mind. To get under water!That was it!
"Get under water!" I shouted, unheeded.
I faced about again, and rushed towards the approaching Martian,rushed right down the gravelly beach and headlong into the water.Others did the same. A boatload of people putting back came leapingout as I rushed past. The stones under my feet were muddy andslippery, and the river was so low that I ran perhaps twenty feetscarcely waist-deep. Then, as the Martian towered overhead scarcelya couple of hundred yards away, I flung myself forward under thesurface. The splashes of the people in the boats leaping into theriver sounded like thunderclaps in my ears. People were landinghastily on both sides of the river. But the Martian machine took nomore notice for the moment of the people running this way and thatthan a man would of the confusion of ants in a nest against which hisfoot has kicked. When, half suffocated, I raised my head above water,the Martian's hood pointed at the batteries that were still firingacross the river, and as it advanced it swung loose what must havebeen the generator of the Heat-Ray.
In another moment it was on the bank, and in a stride wadinghalfway across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the fartherbank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full heightagain, close to the village of Shepperton. Forthwith the six gunswhich, unknown to anyone on the right bank, had been hidden behind theoutskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden nearconcussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. Themonster was already raising the case generating the Heat-Ray as thefirst shell burst six yards above the hood.
I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of theother four Martian monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearerincident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near thebody as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time tododge, the fourth shell.
The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The hood bulged,flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red fleshand glittering metal.
"Hit!" shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.
I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. Icould have leaped out of the water with that momentary exultation.
The decapitated colossus reeled like a drunken giant; but it didnot fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longerheeding its steps and with the camera that fired the Heat-Ray nowrigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepperton. The livingintelligence, the Martian within the hood, was slain and splashed tothe four winds of heaven, and the Thing was now but a mere intricatedevice of metal whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straightline, incapable of guidance. It struck the tower of SheppertonChurch, smashing it down as the impact of a battering ram might havedone, swerved aside, blundered on and collapsed with tremendous forceinto the river out of my sight.
A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam,mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera ofthe Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed intosteam. In another moment a huge wave, like a muddy tidal bore butalmost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw
For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent needof self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water,pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round thebend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon theconfusion of the waves. The fallen Martian came into sightdownstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.
Thick clouds of steam were pouring off the wreckage, and throughthe tumultuously whirling wisps I could see, intermittently andvaguely, the gigantic limbs churning the water and flinging a splashand spray of mud and froth into the air. The tentacles swayed andstruck like living arms, and, save for the helpless purposelessness ofthese movements, it was as if some wounded thing were struggling forits life amid the waves. Enormous quantities of a ruddy-brown fluidwere spurting up in noisy jets out of the machine.
My attention was diverted from this death flurry by a furiousyelling, like that of the thing called a siren in our manufacturingtowns. A man, knee-deep near the towing path, shouted inaudibly to meand pointed. Looking back, I saw the other Martians advancing withgigantic strides down the riverbank from the direction of Chertsey.The Shepperton guns spoke this time unavailingly.
At that I ducked at once under water, and, holding my breath untilmovement was an agony, blundered painfully ahead under the surface aslong as I could. The water was in a tumult about me, and rapidlygrowing hotter.
When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw thehair and water from my eyes, the steam was rising in a whirling whitefog that at first hid the Martians altogether. The noise wasdeafening. Then I saw them dimly, colossal figures of grey, magnifiedby the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over thefrothing, tumultuous ruins of their comrade.
The third and fourth stood beside him in the water, one perhaps twohundred yards from me, the other towards Laleham. The generators ofthe Heat-Rays waved high, and the hissing beams smote down this wayand that.
The air was full of sound, a deafening and confusing conflict ofnoises--the clangorous din of the Martians, the crash of fallinghouses, the thud of trees, fences, sheds flashing into flame, and thecrackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up tomingle with the steam from the river, and as the Heat-Ray went to andfro over Weybridge its impact was marked by flashes of incandescentwhite, that gave place at once to a smoky dance of lurid flames. Thenearer houses still stood intact, awaiting their fate, shadowy, faintand pallid in the steam, with the fire behind them going to and fro.
For a moment perhaps I stood there, breast-high in the almostboiling water, dumbfounded at my position, hopeless of escape. Throughthe reek I could see the people who had been with me in the riverscrambling out of the water through the reeds, like little frogshurrying through grass from the advance of a man, or running to andfro in utter dismay on the towing path.
Then suddenly the white flashes of the Heat-Ray came leapingtowards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch, anddarted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. The Rayflickered up and down the towing path, licking off the people who ranthis way and that, and came down to the water's edge not fifty yardsfrom where I stood. It swept across the river to Shepperton, and thewater in its track rose in a boiling weal crested with steam. Iturned shoreward.
In another moment the huge wave, well-nigh at the boiling-point hadrushed upon me. I screamed aloud, and scalded, half blinded,agonised, I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards theshore. Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end. I fellhelplessly, in full sight of the Martians, upon the broad, baregravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames.I expected nothing but death.
I have a dim memory of the foot of a Martian coming down within ascore of yards of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel,whirling it this way and that and lifting again; of a long suspense,and then of the four carrying the debris of their comrade betweenthem, now clear and then presently faint through a veil of smoke,receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space ofriver and meadow. And then, very slowly, I realised that by a miracleI had escaped.
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