The war of the worlds, p.19
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       The War of the Worlds, p.19

           H. G. Wells
 
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  CHAPTER ONE

  UNDER FOOT

  In the first book I have wandered so much from my own adventures totell of the experiences of my brother that all through the last twochapters I and the curate have been lurking in the empty house atHalliford whither we fled to escape the Black Smoke. There I willresume. We stopped there all Sunday night and all the next day--theday of the panic--in a little island of daylight, cut off by the BlackSmoke from the rest of the world. We could do nothing but wait inaching inactivity during those two weary days.

  My mind was occupied by anxiety for my wife. I figured her atLeatherhead, terrified, in danger, mourning me already as a dead man.I paced the rooms and cried aloud when I thought of how I was cut offfrom her, of all that might happen to her in my absence. My cousin Iknew was brave enough for any emergency, but he was not the sort ofman to realise danger quickly, to rise promptly. What was needed nowwas not bravery, but circumspection. My only consolation was tobelieve that the Martians were moving London-ward and away from her.Such vague anxieties keep the mind sensitive and painful. I grew veryweary and irritable with the curate's perpetual ejaculations; I tiredof the sight of his selfish despair. After some ineffectualremonstrance I kept away from him, staying in a room--evidently achildren's schoolroom--containing globes, forms, and copybooks. Whenhe followed me thither, I went to a box room at the top of the houseand, in order to be alone with my aching miseries, locked myself in.

  We were hopelessly hemmed in by the Black Smoke all that day andthe morning of the next. There were signs of people in the next houseon Sunday evening--a face at a window and moving lights, and later theslamming of a door. But I do not know who these people were, nor whatbecame of them. We saw nothing of them next day. The Black Smokedrifted slowly riverward all through Monday morning, creeping nearerand nearer to us, driving at last along the roadway outside the housethat hid us.

  A Martian came across the fields about midday, laying the stuffwith a jet of superheated steam that hissed against the walls, smashedall the windows it touched, and scalded the curate's hand as he fledout of the front room. When at last we crept across the sodden roomsand looked out again, the country northward was as though a blacksnowstorm had passed over it. Looking towards the river, we wereastonished to see an unaccountable redness mingling with the black ofthe scorched meadows.

  For a time we did not see how this change affected our position,save that we were relieved of our fear of the Black Smoke. But laterI perceived that we were no longer hemmed in, that now we might getaway. So soon as I realised that the way of escape was open, my dreamof action returned. But the curate was lethargic, unreasonable.

  "We are safe here," he repeated; "safe here."

  I resolved to leave him--would that I had! Wiser now for theartilleryman's teaching, I sought out food and drink. I had found oiland rags for my burns, and I also took a hat and a flannel shirt thatI found in one of the bedrooms. When it was clear to him that I meantto go alone--had reconciled myself to going alone--he suddenly rousedhimself to come. And all being quiet throughout the afternoon, westarted about five o'clock, as I should judge, along the blackenedroad to Sunbury.

  In Sunbury, and at intervals along the road, were dead bodies lyingin contorted attitudes, horses as well as men, overturned carts andluggage, all covered thickly with black dust. That pall of cinderypowder made me think of what I had read of the destruction of Pompeii.We got to Hampton Court without misadventure, our minds full ofstrange and unfamiliar appearances, and at Hampton Court our eyes wererelieved to find a patch of green that had escaped the suffocatingdrift. We went through Bushey Park, with its deer going to and frounder the chestnuts, and some men and women hurrying in the distancetowards Hampton, and so we came to Twickenham. These were the firstpeople we saw.

  Away across the road the woods beyond Ham and Petersham were stillafire. Twickenham was uninjured by either Heat-Ray or Black Smoke,and there were more people about here, though none could give us news.For the most part they were like ourselves, taking advantage of a lullto shift their quarters. I have an impression that many of the houseshere were still occupied by scared inhabitants, too frightened evenfor flight. Here too the evidence of a hasty rout was abundant alongthe road. I remember most vividly three smashed bicycles in a heap,pounded into the road by the wheels of subsequent carts. We crossedRichmond Bridge about half past eight. We hurried across the exposedbridge, of course, but I noticed floating down the stream a numberof red masses, some many feet across. I did not know what thesewere--there was no time for scrutiny--and I put a more horribleinterpretation on them than they deserved. Here again on the Surreyside were black dust that had once been smoke, and dead bodies--a heapnear the approach to the station; but we had no glimpse of theMartians until we were some way towards Barnes.

  We saw in the blackened distance a group of three people runningdown a side street towards the river, but otherwise it seemeddeserted. Up the hill Richmond town was burning briskly; outside thetown of Richmond there was no trace of the Black Smoke.

  Then suddenly, as we approached Kew, came a number of peoplerunning, and the upperworks of a Martian fighting-machine loomed insight over the housetops, not a hundred yards away from us. We stoodaghast at our danger, and had the Martian looked down we mustimmediately have perished. We were so terrified that we dared not goon, but turned aside and hid in a shed in a garden. There the curatecrouched, weeping silently, and refusing to stir again.

  But my fixed idea of reaching Leatherhead would not let me rest,and in the twilight I ventured out again. I went through a shrubbery,and along a passage beside a big house standing in its own grounds,and so emerged upon the road towards Kew. The curate I left in theshed, but he came hurrying after me.

  That second start was the most foolhardy thing I ever did. For itwas manifest the Martians were about us. No sooner had the curateovertaken me than we saw either the fighting-machine we had seenbefore or another, far away across the meadows in the direction of KewLodge. Four or five little black figures hurried before it across thegreen-grey of the field, and in a moment it was evident this Martianpursued them. In three strides he was among them, and they ranradiating from his feet in all directions. He used no Heat-Ray todestroy them, but picked them up one by one. Apparently he tossedthem into the great metallic carrier which projected behind him, muchas a workman's basket hangs over his shoulder.

  It was the first time I realised that the Martians might have anyother purpose than destruction with defeated humanity. We stood for amoment petrified, then turned and fled through a gate behind us into awalled garden, fell into, rather than found, a fortunate ditch, andlay there, scarce daring to whisper to each other until the stars wereout.

  I suppose it was nearly eleven o'clock before we gathered courageto start again, no longer venturing into the road, but sneaking alonghedgerows and through plantations, and watching keenly through thedarkness, he on the right and I on the left, for the Martians, whoseemed to be all about us. In one place we blundered upon a scorchedand blackened area, now cooling and ashen, and a number of scattereddead bodies of men, burned horribly about the heads and trunks butwith their legs and boots mostly intact; and of dead horses, fiftyfeet, perhaps, behind a line of four ripped guns and smashed guncarriages.

  Sheen, it seemed, had escaped destruction, but the place was silentand deserted. Here we happened on no dead, though the night was toodark for us to see into the side roads of the place. In Sheen mycompanion suddenly complained of faintness and thirst, and we decidedto try one of the houses.

  The first house we entered, after a little difficulty with thewindow, was a small semi-detached villa, and I found nothing eatableleft in the place but some mouldy cheese. There was, however, waterto drink; and I took a hatchet, which promised to be useful in ournext house-breaking.

  We then crossed to a place where the road turns towards Mortlake.Here there stood a white house within a walled garden, and in thepantry of this domicil
e we found a store of food--two loaves of breadin a pan, an uncooked steak, and the half of a ham. I give thiscatalogue so precisely because, as it happened, we were destined tosubsist upon this store for the next fortnight. Bottled beer stoodunder a shelf, and there were two bags of haricot beans and some limplettuces. This pantry opened into a kind of wash-up kitchen, and inthis was firewood; there was also a cupboard, in which we found nearlya dozen of burgundy, tinned soups and salmon, and two tins ofbiscuits.

  We sat in the adjacent kitchen in the dark--for we dared not strikea light--and ate bread and ham, and drank beer out of the same bottle.The curate, who was still timorous and restless, was now, oddlyenough, for pushing on, and I was urging him to keep up his strengthby eating when the thing happened that was to imprison us.

  "It can't be midnight yet," I said, and then came a blinding glareof vivid green light. Everything in the kitchen leaped out, clearlyvisible in green and black, and vanished again. And then followed sucha concussion as I have never heard before or since. So close on theheels of this as to seem instantaneous came a thud behind me, a clashof glass, a crash and rattle of falling masonry all about us, and theplaster of the ceiling came down upon us, smashing into a multitude offragments upon our heads. I was knocked headlong across the flooragainst the oven handle and stunned. I was insensible for a longtime, the curate told me, and when I came to we were in darknessagain, and he, with a face wet, as I found afterwards, with blood froma cut forehead, was dabbing water over me.

  For some time I could not recollect what had happened. Then thingscame to me slowly. A bruise on my temple asserted itself.

  "Are you better?" asked the curate in a whisper.

  At last I answered him. I sat up.

  "Don't move," he said. "The floor is covered with smashed crockeryfrom the dresser. You can't possibly move without making a noise, andI fancy _they_ are outside."

  We both sat quite silent, so that we could scarcely hear each otherbreathing. Everything seemed deadly still, but once something nearus, some plaster or broken brickwork, slid down with a rumbling sound.Outside and very near was an intermittent, metallic rattle.

  "That!" said the curate, when presently it happened again.

  "Yes," I said. "But what is it?"

  "A Martian!" said the curate.

  I listened again.

  "It was not like the Heat-Ray," I said, and for a time I wasinclined to think one of the great fighting-machines had stumbledagainst the house, as I had seen one stumble against the tower ofShepperton Church.

  Our situation was so strange and incomprehensible that for three orfour hours, until the dawn came, we scarcely moved. And then the lightfiltered in, not through the window, which remained black, but througha triangular aperture between a beam and a heap of broken bricks inthe wall behind us. The interior of the kitchen we now saw greyly forthe first time.

  The window had been burst in by a mass of garden mould, whichflowed over the table upon which we had been sitting and lay about ourfeet. Outside, the soil was banked high against the house. At thetop of the window frame we could see an uprooted drainpipe. The floorwas littered with smashed hardware; the end of the kitchen towards thehouse was broken into, and since the daylight shone in there, it wasevident the greater part of the house had collapsed. Contrastingvividly with this ruin was the neat dresser, stained in the fashion,pale green, and with a number of copper and tin vessels below it, thewallpaper imitating blue and white tiles, and a couple of colouredsupplements fluttering from the walls above the kitchen range.

  As the dawn grew clearer, we saw through the gap in the wall thebody of a Martian, standing sentinel, I suppose, over the stillglowing cylinder. At the sight of that we crawled as circumspectly aspossible out of the twilight of the kitchen into the darkness of thescullery.

  Abruptly the right interpretation dawned upon my mind.

  "The fifth cylinder," I whispered, "the fifth shot from Mars, hasstruck this house and buried us under the ruins!"

  For a time the curate was silent, and then he whispered:

  "God have mercy upon us!"

  I heard him presently whimpering to himself.

  Save for that sound we lay quite still in the scullery; I for mypart scarce dared breathe, and sat with my eyes fixed on the faintlight of the kitchen door. I could just see the curate's face, a dim,oval shape, and his collar and cuffs. Outside there began a metallichammering, then a violent hooting, and then again, after a quietinterval, a hissing like the hissing of an engine. These noises, forthe most part problematical, continued intermittently, and seemed ifanything to increase in number as time wore on. Presently a measuredthudding and a vibration that made everything about us quiver and thevessels in the pantry ring and shift, began and continued. Once thelight was eclipsed, and the ghostly kitchen doorway became absolutelydark. For many hours we must have crouched there, silent andshivering, until our tired attention failed. . . .

  At last I found myself awake and very hungry. I am inclined tobelieve we must have spent the greater portion of a day before thatawakening. My hunger was at a stride so insistent that it moved me toaction. I told the curate I was going to seek food, and felt my waytowards the pantry. He made me no answer, but so soon as I beganeating the faint noise I made stirred him up and I heard him crawlingafter me.

 
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