The war of the worlds, p.21
The War of the Worlds, p.21H. G. Wells
THE DAYS OF IMPRISONMENT
The arrival of a second fighting-machine drove us from our peepholeinto the scullery, for we feared that from his elevation the Martianmight see down upon us behind our barrier. At a later date we beganto feel less in danger of their eyes, for to an eye in the dazzle ofthe sunlight outside our refuge must have been blank blackness, but atfirst the slightest suggestion of approach drove us into the sculleryin heart-throbbing retreat. Yet terrible as was the danger weincurred, the attraction of peeping was for both of us irresistible.And I recall now with a sort of wonder that, in spite of the infinitedanger in which we were between starvation and a still more terribledeath, we could yet struggle bitterly for that horrible privilege ofsight. We would race across the kitchen in a grotesque way betweeneagerness and the dread of making a noise, and strike each other, andthrust and kick, within a few inches of exposure.
The fact is that we had absolutely incompatible dispositions andhabits of thought and action, and our danger and isolation onlyaccentuated the incompatibility. At Halliford I had already come tohate the curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidityof mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I madeto think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up andintensified, almost to the verge of craziness. He was as lacking inrestraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and Iverily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thoughthis weak tears in some way efficacious. And I would sit in thedarkness unable to keep my mind off him by reason of hisimportunities. He ate more than I did, and it was in vain I pointedout that our only chance of life was to stop in the house until theMartians had done with their pit, that in that long patience a timemight presently come when we should need food. He ate and drankimpulsively in heavy meals at long intervals. He slept little.
As the days wore on, his utter carelessness of any consideration sointensified our distress and danger that I had, much as I loatheddoing it, to resort to threats, and at last to blows. That brought himto reason for a time. But he was one of those weak creatures, void ofpride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, whoface neither God nor man, who face not even themselves.
It is disagreeable for me to recall and write these things, but Iset them down that my story may lack nothing. Those who have escapedthe dark and terrible aspects of life will find my brutality, my flashof rage in our final tragedy, easy enough to blame; for they know whatis wrong as well as any, but not what is possible to tortured men. Butthose who have been under the shadow, who have gone down at last toelemental things, will have a wider charity.
And while within we fought out our dark, dim contest of whispers,snatched food and drink, and gripping hands and blows, without, in thepitiless sunlight of that terrible June, was the strange wonder, theunfamiliar routine of the Martians in the pit. Let me return to thosefirst new experiences of mine. After a long time I ventured back tothe peephole, to find that the new-comers had been reinforced by theoccupants of no fewer than three of the fighting-machines. These lasthad brought with them certain fresh appliances that stood in anorderly manner about the cylinder. The second handling-machine was nowcompleted, and was busied in serving one of the novel contrivances thebig machine had brought. This was a body resembling a milk can in itsgeneral form, above which oscillated a pear-shaped receptacle, andfrom which a stream of white powder flowed into a circular basinbelow.
The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of thehandling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine wasdigging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shapedreceptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a doorand removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of themachine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basinalong a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from meby the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a littlethread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked,the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended,telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mereblunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.In another second it had lifted a bar of white aluminium into sight,untarnished as yet, and shining dazzlingly, and deposited it in agrowing stack of bars that stood at the side of the pit. Betweensunset and starlight this dexterous machine must have made more than ahundred such bars out of the crude clay, and the mound of bluish dustrose steadily until it topped the side of the pit.
The contrast between the swift and complex movements of thesecontrivances and the inert panting clumsiness of their masters wasacute, and for days I had to tell myself repeatedly that these latterwere indeed the living of the two things.
The curate had possession of the slit when the first men werebrought to the pit. I was sitting below, huddled up, listening withall my ears. He made a sudden movement backward, and I, fearful thatwe were observed, crouched in a spasm of terror. He came sliding downthe rubbish and crept beside me in the darkness, inarticulate,gesticulating, and for a moment I shared his panic. His gesturesuggested a resignation of the slit, and after a little while mycuriosity gave me courage, and I rose up, stepped across him, andclambered up to it. At first I could see no reason for his franticbehaviour. The twilight had now come, the stars were little andfaint, but the pit was illuminated by the flickering green fire thatcame from the aluminium-making. The whole picture was a flickeringscheme of green gleams and shifting rusty black shadows, strangelytrying to the eyes. Over and through it all went the bats, heeding itnot at all. The sprawling Martians were no longer to be seen, themound of blue-green powder had risen to cover them from sight, and afighting-machine, with its legs contracted, crumpled, and abbreviated,stood across the corner of the pit. And then, amid the clangour ofthe machinery, came a drifting suspicion of human voices, that Ientertained at first only to dismiss.
I crouched, watching this fighting-machine closely, satisfyingmyself now for the first time that the hood did indeed contain aMartian. As the green flames lifted I could see the oily gleam ofhis integument and the brightness of his eyes. And suddenly I hearda yell, and saw a long tentacle reaching over the shoulder of themachine to the little cage that hunched upon its back. Thensomething--something struggling violently--was lifted high against thesky, a black, vague enigma against the starlight; and as this blackobject came down again, I saw by the green brightness that it was aman. For an instant he was clearly visible. He was a stout, ruddy,middle-aged man, well dressed; three days before, he must have beenwalking the world, a man of considerable consequence. I could see hisstaring eyes and gleams of light on his studs and watch chain. Hevanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence. Andthen began a shrieking and a sustained and cheerful hooting from theMartians.
I slid down the rubbish, struggled to my feet, clapped my handsover my ears, and bolted into the scullery. The curate, who had beencrouching silently with his arms over his head, looked up as I passed,cried out quite loudly at my desertion of him, and came running afterme.
That night, as we lurked in the scullery, balanced between ourhorror and the terrible fascination this peeping had, although I feltan urgent need of action I tried in vain to conceive some plan ofescape; but afterwards, during the second day, I was able to considerour position with great clearness. The curate, I found, was quiteincapable of discussion; this new and culminating atrocity had robbedhim of all vestiges of reason or forethought. Practically he hadalready sunk to the level of an animal. But as the saying goes, Igripped myself with both hands. It grew upon my mind, once I couldface the facts, that terrible as our position was, there was as yetno justification for absolute despair. Our chief chance lay in thepossibility of the Martians making the pit nothing more than atemporary encampment. Or even if they kept it permanently, they mightnot consider it necessary to guard it, and a chance of escape might beafforded us. I also weighed very care
It was on the third day, if my memory serves me right, that I sawthe lad killed. It was the only occasion on which I actually saw theMartians feed. After that experience I avoided the hole in the wallfor the better part of a day. I went into the scullery, removed thedoor, and spent some hours digging with my hatchet as silently aspossible; but when I had made a hole about a couple of feet deep theloose earth collapsed noisily, and I did not dare continue. I lostheart, and lay down on the scullery floor for a long time, having nospirit even to move. And after that I abandoned altogether the ideaof escaping by excavation.
It says much for the impression the Martians had made upon me thatat first I entertained little or no hope of our escape being broughtabout by their overthrow through any human effort. But on the fourthor fifth night I heard a sound like heavy guns.
It was very late in the night, and the moon was shining brightly.The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine, and, save for afighting-machine that stood in the remoter bank of the pit and ahandling-machine that was buried out of my sight in a corner of thepit immediately beneath my peephole, the place was deserted by them.Except for the pale glow from the handling-machine and the bars andpatches of white moonlight the pit was in darkness, and, except forthe clinking of the handling-machine, quite still. That night was abeautiful serenity; save for one planet, the moon seemed to have thesky to herself. I heard a dog howling, and that familiar sound it wasthat made me listen. Then I heard quite distinctly a booming exactlylike the sound of great guns. Six distinct reports I counted, andafter a long interval six again. And that was all.
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