The war of the worlds, p.14
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The War of the Worlds, p.14

           H. G. Wells
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28



  My younger brother was in London when the Martians fell at Woking.He was a medical student working for an imminent examination, and heheard nothing of the arrival until Saturday morning. The morningpapers on Saturday contained, in addition to lengthy special articleson the planet Mars, on life in the planets, and so forth, a brief andvaguely worded telegram, all the more striking for its brevity.

  The Martians, alarmed by the approach of a crowd, had killed anumber of people with a quick-firing gun, so the story ran. Thetelegram concluded with the words: "Formidable as they seem to be, theMartians have not moved from the pit into which they have fallen, and,indeed, seem incapable of doing so. Probably this is due to therelative strength of the earth's gravitational energy." On that lasttext their leader-writer expanded very comfortingly.

  Of course all the students in the crammer's biology class, to whichmy brother went that day, were intensely interested, but there were nosigns of any unusual excitement in the streets. The afternoon paperspuffed scraps of news under big headlines. They had nothing to tellbeyond the movements of troops about the common, and the burning ofthe pine woods between Woking and Weybridge, until eight. Then the_St. James's Gazette_, in an extra-special edition, announced the barefact of the interruption of telegraphic communication. This wasthought to be due to the falling of burning pine trees across theline. Nothing more of the fighting was known that night, the night ofmy drive to Leatherhead and back.

  My brother felt no anxiety about us, as he knew from thedescription in the papers that the cylinder was a good two miles frommy house. He made up his mind to run down that night to me, in order,as he says, to see the Things before they were killed. He dispatcheda telegram, which never reached me, about four o'clock, and spent theevening at a music hall.

  In London, also, on Saturday night there was a thunderstorm, and mybrother reached Waterloo in a cab. On the platform from which themidnight train usually starts he learned, after some waiting, that anaccident prevented trains from reaching Woking that night. The natureof the accident he could not ascertain; indeed, the railwayauthorities did not clearly know at that time. There was very littleexcitement in the station, as the officials, failing to realise thatanything further than a breakdown between Byfleet and Woking junctionhad occurred, were running the theatre trains which usually passedthrough Woking round by Virginia Water or Guildford. They were busymaking the necessary arrangements to alter the route of theSouthampton and Portsmouth Sunday League excursions. A nocturnalnewspaper reporter, mistaking my brother for the traffic manager, towhom he bears a slight resemblance, waylaid and tried to interviewhim. Few people, excepting the railway officials, connected thebreakdown with the Martians.

  I have read, in another account of these events, that on Sundaymorning "all London was electrified by the news from Woking." As amatter of fact, there was nothing to justify that very extravagantphrase. Plenty of Londoners did not hear of the Martians until thepanic of Monday morning. Those who did took some time to realise allthat the hastily worded telegrams in the Sunday papers conveyed. Themajority of people in London do not read Sunday papers.

  The habit of personal security, moreover, is so deeply fixed in theLondoner's mind, and startling intelligence so much a matter of coursein the papers, that they could read without any personal tremors:"About seven o'clock last night the Martians came out of the cylinder,and, moving about under an armour of metallic shields, have completelywrecked Woking station with the adjacent houses, and massacred anentire battalion of the Cardigan Regiment. No details are known.Maxims have been absolutely useless against their armour; the fieldguns have been disabled by them. Flying hussars have been gallopinginto Chertsey. The Martians appear to be moving slowly towardsChertsey or Windsor. Great anxiety prevails in West Surrey, andearthworks are being thrown up to check the advance Londonward." Thatwas how the Sunday _Sun_ put it, and a clever and remarkably prompt"handbook" article in the _Referee_ compared the affair to a menageriesuddenly let loose in a village.

  No one in London knew positively of the nature of the armouredMartians, and there was still a fixed idea that these monsters must besluggish: "crawling," "creeping painfully"--such expressions occurredin almost all the earlier reports. None of the telegrams could havebeen written by an eyewitness of their advance. The Sunday papersprinted separate editions as further news came to hand, some even indefault of it. But there was practically nothing more to tell peopleuntil late in the afternoon, when the authorities gave the pressagencies the news in their possession. It was stated that the peopleof Walton and Weybridge, and all the district were pouring along theroads Londonward, and that was all.

  My brother went to church at the Foundling Hospital in the morning,still in ignorance of what had happened on the previous night. Therehe heard allusions made to the invasion, and a special prayer forpeace. Coming out, he bought a _Referee_. He became alarmed at thenews in this, and went again to Waterloo station to find out ifcommunication were restored. The omnibuses, carriages, cyclists, andinnumerable people walking in their best clothes seemed scarcelyaffected by the strange intelligence that the news venders weredisseminating. People were interested, or, if alarmed, alarmed onlyon account of the local residents. At the station he heard for thefirst time that the Windsor and Chertsey lines were now interrupted.The porters told him that several remarkable telegrams had beenreceived in the morning from Byfleet and Chertsey stations, but thatthese had abruptly ceased. My brother could get very little precisedetail out of them.

  "There's fighting going on about Weybridge" was the extent of theirinformation.

  The train service was now very much disorganised. Quite a numberof people who had been expecting friends from places on theSouth-Western network were standing about the station. Onegrey-headed old gentleman came and abused the South-Western Companybitterly to my brother. "It wants showing up," he said.

  One or two trains came in from Richmond, Putney, and Kingston,containing people who had gone out for a day's boating and found thelocks closed and a feeling of panic in the air. A man in a blue andwhite blazer addressed my brother, full of strange tidings.

  "There's hosts of people driving into Kingston in traps and cartsand things, with boxes of valuables and all that," he said. "Theycome from Molesey and Weybridge and Walton, and they say there's beenguns heard at Chertsey, heavy firing, and that mounted soldiers havetold them to get off at once because the Martians are coming. Weheard guns firing at Hampton Court station, but we thought it wasthunder. What the dickens does it all mean? The Martians can't getout of their pit, can they?"

  My brother could not tell him.

  Afterwards he found that the vague feeling of alarm had spread tothe clients of the underground railway, and that the Sundayexcursionists began to return from all over the South-Western"lung"--Barnes, Wimbledon, Richmond Park, Kew, and so forth--atunnaturally early hours; but not a soul had anything more than vaguehearsay to tell of. Everyone connected with the terminus seemedill-tempered.

  About five o'clock the gathering crowd in the station was immenselyexcited by the opening of the line of communication, which is almostinvariably closed, between the South-Eastern and the South-Westernstations, and the passage of carriage trucks bearing huge guns andcarriages crammed with soldiers. These were the guns that werebrought up from Woolwich and Chatham to cover Kingston. There wasan exchange of pleasantries: "You'll get eaten!" "We're thebeast-tamers!" and so forth. A little while after that a squad ofpolice came into the station and began to clear the public off theplatforms, and my brother went out into the street again.

  The church bells were ringing for evensong, and a squad ofSalvation Army lassies came singing down Waterloo Road. On the bridgea number of loafers were watching a curious brown scum that camedrifting down the stream in patches. The sun was just setting, and theClock Tower and the Houses of Parliament rose against one of the mostpeaceful skies it is possible to i
magine, a sky of gold, barred withlong transverse stripes of reddish-purple cloud. There was talk of afloating body. One of the men there, a reservist he said he was, toldmy brother he had seen the heliograph flickering in the west.

  In Wellington Street my brother met a couple of sturdy roughs whohad just been rushed out of Fleet Street with still-wet newspapers andstaring placards. "Dreadful catastrophe!" they bawled one to theother down Wellington Street. "Fighting at Weybridge! Fulldescription! Repulse of the Martians! London in Danger!" He had togive threepence for a copy of that paper.

  Then it was, and then only, that he realised something of the fullpower and terror of these monsters. He learned that they were notmerely a handful of small sluggish creatures, but that they were mindsswaying vast mechanical bodies; and that they could move swiftly andsmite with such power that even the mightiest guns could not standagainst them.

  They were described as "vast spiderlike machines, nearly a hundredfeet high, capable of the speed of an express train, and able to shootout a beam of intense heat." Masked batteries, chiefly of field guns,had been planted in the country about Horsell Common, and especiallybetween the Woking district and London. Five of the machines had beenseen moving towards the Thames, and one, by a happy chance, had beendestroyed. In the other cases the shells had missed, and thebatteries had been at once annihilated by the Heat-Rays. Heavylosses of soldiers were mentioned, but the tone of the dispatch wasoptimistic.

  The Martians had been repulsed; they were not invulnerable. Theyhad retreated to their triangle of cylinders again, in the circleabout Woking. Signallers with heliographs were pushing forward uponthem from all sides. Guns were in rapid transit from Windsor,Portsmouth, Aldershot, Woolwich--even from the north; among others,long wire-guns of ninety-five tons from Woolwich. Altogether onehundred and sixteen were in position or being hastily placed, chieflycovering London. Never before in England had there been such a vastor rapid concentration of military material.

  Any further cylinders that fell, it was hoped, could be destroyedat once by high explosives, which were being rapidly manufactured anddistributed. No doubt, ran the report, the situation was of thestrangest and gravest description, but the public was exhorted toavoid and discourage panic. No doubt the Martians were strange andterrible in the extreme, but at the outside there could not be morethan twenty of them against our millions.

  The authorities had reason to suppose, from the size of thecylinders, that at the outside there could not be more than five ineach cylinder--fifteen altogether. And one at least was disposedof--perhaps more. The public would be fairly warned of the approachof danger, and elaborate measures were being taken for the protectionof the people in the threatened southwestern suburbs. And so, withreiterated assurances of the safety of London and the ability of theauthorities to cope with the difficulty, this quasi-proclamationclosed.

  This was printed in enormous type on paper so fresh that it wasstill wet, and there had been no time to add a word of comment. Itwas curious, my brother said, to see how ruthlessly the usual contentsof the paper had been hacked and taken out to give this place.

  All down Wellington Street people could be seen fluttering out thepink sheets and reading, and the Strand was suddenly noisy with thevoices of an army of hawkers following these pioneers. Men camescrambling off buses to secure copies. Certainly this news excitedpeople intensely, whatever their previous apathy. The shutters of amap shop in the Strand were being taken down, my brother said, and aman in his Sunday raiment, lemon-yellow gloves even, was visibleinside the window hastily fastening maps of Surrey to the glass.

  Going on along the Strand to Trafalgar Square, the paper in hishand, my brother saw some of the fugitives from West Surrey. Therewas a man with his wife and two boys and some articles of furniture ina cart such as greengrocers use. He was driving from the direction ofWestminster Bridge; and close behind him came a hay waggon with fiveor six respectable-looking people in it, and some boxes and bundles.The faces of these people were haggard, and their entire appearancecontrasted conspicuously with the Sabbath-best appearance of thepeople on the omnibuses. People in fashionable clothing peeped atthem out of cabs. They stopped at the Square as if undecided whichway to take, and finally turned eastward along the Strand. Some waybehind these came a man in workday clothes, riding one of thoseold-fashioned tricycles with a small front wheel. He was dirty andwhite in the face.

  My brother turned down towards Victoria, and met a number of suchpeople. He had a vague idea that he might see something of me. Henoticed an unusual number of police regulating the traffic. Some ofthe refugees were exchanging news with the people on the omnibuses.One was professing to have seen the Martians. "Boilers on stilts, Itell you, striding along like men." Most of them were excited andanimated by their strange experience.

  Beyond Victoria the public-houses were doing a lively trade withthese arrivals. At all the street corners groups of people werereading papers, talking excitedly, or staring at these unusual Sundayvisitors. They seemed to increase as night drew on, until at last theroads, my brother said, were like Epsom High Street on a Derby Day. Mybrother addressed several of these fugitives and got unsatisfactoryanswers from most.

  None of them could tell him any news of Woking except one man, whoassured him that Woking had been entirely destroyed on the previousnight.

  "I come from Byfleet," he said; "man on a bicycle came through theplace in the early morning, and ran from door to door warning us tocome away. Then came soldiers. We went out to look, and there wereclouds of smoke to the south--nothing but smoke, and not a soul comingthat way. Then we heard the guns at Chertsey, and folks coming fromWeybridge. So I've locked up my house and come on."

  At the time there was a strong feeling in the streets that theauthorities were to blame for their incapacity to dispose of theinvaders without all this inconvenience.

  About eight o'clock a noise of heavy firing was distinctly audibleall over the south of London. My brother could not hear it for thetraffic in the main thoroughfares, but by striking through the quietback streets to the river he was able to distinguish it quite plainly.

  He walked from Westminster to his apartments near Regent's Park,about two. He was now very anxious on my account, and disturbed atthe evident magnitude of the trouble. His mind was inclined to run,even as mine had run on Saturday, on military details. He thought ofall those silent, expectant guns, of the suddenly nomadic countryside;he tried to imagine "boilers on stilts" a hundred feet high.

  There were one or two cartloads of refugees passing along OxfordStreet, and several in the Marylebone Road, but so slowly was the newsspreading that Regent Street and Portland Place were full of theirusual Sunday-night promenaders, albeit they talked in groups, andalong the edge of Regent's Park there were as many silent couples"walking out" together under the scattered gas lamps as ever there hadbeen. The night was warm and still, and a little oppressive; thesound of guns continued intermittently, and after midnight thereseemed to be sheet lightning in the south.

  He read and re-read the paper, fearing the worst had happened to me.He was restless, and after supper prowled out again aimlessly. Hereturned and tried in vain to divert his attention to his examinationnotes. He went to bed a little after midnight, and was awakened fromlurid dreams in the small hours of Monday by the sound of doorknockers, feet running in the street, distant drumming, and a clamourof bells. Red reflections danced on the ceiling. For a moment he layastonished, wondering whether day had come or the world gone mad.Then he jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

  His room was an attic and as he thrust his head out, up and downthe street there were a dozen echoes to the noise of his window sash,and heads in every kind of night disarray appeared. Enquiries werebeing shouted. "They are coming!" bawled a policeman, hammering atthe door; "the Martians are coming!" and hurried to the next door.

  The sound of drumming and trumpeting came from the Albany StreetBarracks, and every church within
earshot was hard at work killingsleep with a vehement disorderly tocsin. There was a noise of doorsopening, and window after window in the houses opposite flashed fromdarkness into yellow illumination.

  Up the street came galloping a closed carriage, bursting abruptlyinto noise at the corner, rising to a clattering climax under thewindow, and dying away slowly in the distance. Close on the rear ofthis came a couple of cabs, the forerunners of a long procession offlying vehicles, going for the most part to Chalk Farm station, wherethe North-Western special trains were loading up, instead of comingdown the gradient into Euston.

  For a long time my brother stared out of the window in blankastonishment, watching the policemen hammering at door after door, anddelivering their incomprehensible message. Then the door behind himopened, and the man who lodged across the landing came in, dressedonly in shirt, trousers, and slippers, his braces loose about hiswaist, his hair disordered from his pillow.

  "What the devil is it?" he asked. "A fire? What a devil of arow!"

  They both craned their heads out of the window, straining to hearwhat the policemen were shouting. People were coming out of the sidestreets, and standing in groups at the corners talking.

  "What the devil is it all about?" said my brother's fellow lodger.

  My brother answered him vaguely and began to dress, running witheach garment to the window in order to miss nothing of the growingexcitement. And presently men selling unnaturally early newspaperscame bawling into the street:

  "London in danger of suffocation! The Kingston and Richmonddefences forced! Fearful massacres in the Thames Valley!"

  And all about him--in the rooms below, in the houses on each sideand across the road, and behind in the Park Terraces and in thehundred other streets of that part of Marylebone, and the WestbournePark district and St. Pancras, and westward and northward in Kilburnand St. John's Wood and Hampstead, and eastward in Shoreditch andHighbury and Haggerston and Hoxton, and, indeed, through all thevastness of London from Ealing to East Ham--people were rubbing theireyes, and opening windows to stare out and ask aimless questions,dressing hastily as the first breath of the coming storm of Fear blewthrough the streets. It was the dawn of the great panic. London,which had gone to bed on Sunday night oblivious and inert, wasawakened, in the small hours of Monday morning, to a vivid sense ofdanger.

  Unable from his window to learn what was happening, my brother wentdown and out into the street, just as the sky between the parapets ofthe houses grew pink with the early dawn. The flying people on footand in vehicles grew more numerous every moment. "Black Smoke!" heheard people crying, and again "Black Smoke!" The contagion of sucha unanimous fear was inevitable. As my brother hesitated on thedoor-step, he saw another news vender approaching, and got a paperforthwith. The man was running away with the rest, and selling hispapers for a shilling each as he ran--a grotesque mingling of profitand panic.

  And from this paper my brother read that catastrophic dispatch ofthe Commander-in-Chief:

  "The Martians are able to discharge enormous clouds of a black andpoisonous vapour by means of rockets. They have smothered ourbatteries, destroyed Richmond, Kingston, and Wimbledon, and areadvancing slowly towards London, destroying everything on the way. Itis impossible to stop them. There is no safety from the Black Smokebut in instant flight."

  That was all, but it was enough. The whole population of the greatsix-million city was stirring, slipping, running; presently it wouldbe pouring _en masse_ northward.

  "Black Smoke!" the voices cried. "Fire!"

  The bells of the neighbouring church made a jangling tumult, a cartcarelessly driven smashed, amid shrieks and curses, against the watertrough up the street. Sickly yellow lights went to and fro in thehouses, and some of the passing cabs flaunted unextinguished lamps.And overhead the dawn was growing brighter, clear and steady and calm.

  He heard footsteps running to and fro in the rooms, and up and downstairs behind him. His landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped indressing gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating.

  As my brother began to realise the import of all these things, heturned hastily to his own room, put all his available money--some tenpounds altogether--into his pockets, and went out again into thestreets.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up