The war of the worlds, p.26
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The War of the Worlds, p.26

           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

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  DEAD LONDON

  After I had parted from the artilleryman, I went down the hill, andby the High Street across the bridge to Fulham. The red weed wastumultuous at that time, and nearly choked the bridge roadway; but itsfronds were already whitened in patches by the spreading disease thatpresently removed it so swiftly.

  At the corner of the lane that runs to Putney Bridge station Ifound a man lying. He was as black as a sweep with the black dust,alive, but helplessly and speechlessly drunk. I could get nothingfrom him but curses and furious lunges at my head. I think I shouldhave stayed by him but for the brutal expression of his face.

  There was black dust along the roadway from the bridge onwards, andit grew thicker in Fulham. The streets were horribly quiet. I gotfood--sour, hard, and mouldy, but quite eatable--in a baker's shophere. Some way towards Walham Green the streets became clear ofpowder, and I passed a white terrace of houses on fire; the noise ofthe burning was an absolute relief. Going on towards Brompton, thestreets were quiet again.

  Here I came once more upon the black powder in the streets and upondead bodies. I saw altogether about a dozen in the length of theFulham Road. They had been dead many days, so that I hurried quicklypast them. The black powder covered them over, and softened theiroutlines. One or two had been disturbed by dogs.

  Where there was no black powder, it was curiously like a Sunday inthe City, with the closed shops, the houses locked up and the blindsdrawn, the desertion, and the stillness. In some places plunderershad been at work, but rarely at other than the provision and wineshops. A jeweller's window had been broken open in one place, butapparently the thief had been disturbed, and a number of gold chainsand a watch lay scattered on the pavement. I did not trouble to touchthem. Farther on was a tattered woman in a heap on a doorstep; thehand that hung over her knee was gashed and bled down her rusty browndress, and a smashed magnum of champagne formed a pool across thepavement. She seemed asleep, but she was dead.

  The farther I penetrated into London, the profounder grew thestillness. But it was not so much the stillness of death--it was thestillness of suspense, of expectation. At any time the destructionthat had already singed the northwestern borders of the metropolis,and had annihilated Ealing and Kilburn, might strike among thesehouses and leave them smoking ruins. It was a city condemned andderelict. . . .

  In South Kensington the streets were clear of dead and of blackpowder. It was near South Kensington that I first heard the howling.It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbingalternation of two notes, "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," keeping onperpetually. When I passed streets that ran northward it grew involume, and houses and buildings seemed to deaden and cut it offagain. It came in a full tide down Exhibition Road. I stopped,staring towards Kensington Gardens, wondering at this strange, remotewailing. It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voicefor its fear and solitude.

  "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," wailed that superhuman note--great wavesof sound sweeping down the broad, sunlit roadway, between the tallbuildings on each side. I turned northwards, marvelling, towards theiron gates of Hyde Park. I had half a mind to break into the NaturalHistory Museum and find my way up to the summits of the towers, inorder to see across the park. But I decided to keep to the ground,where quick hiding was possible, and so went on up the ExhibitionRoad. All the large mansions on each side of the road were empty andstill, and my footsteps echoed against the sides of the houses. Atthe top, near the park gate, I came upon a strange sight--a busoverturned, and the skeleton of a horse picked clean. I puzzled overthis for a time, and then went on to the bridge over the Serpentine.The voice grew stronger and stronger, though I could see nothing abovethe housetops on the north side of the park, save a haze of smoke tothe northwest.

  "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," cried the voice, coming, as it seemed tome, from the district about Regent's Park. The desolating cry workedupon my mind. The mood that had sustained me passed. The wailingtook possession of me. I found I was intensely weary, footsore, andnow again hungry and thirsty.

  It was already past noon. Why was I wandering alone in this cityof the dead? Why was I alone when all London was lying in state, andin its black shroud? I felt intolerably lonely. My mind ran on oldfriends that I had forgotten for years. I thought of the poisons inthe chemists' shops, of the liquors the wine merchants stored; Irecalled the two sodden creatures of despair, who so far as I knew,shared the city with myself. . . .

  I came into Oxford Street by the Marble Arch, and here again wereblack powder and several bodies, and an evil, ominous smell from thegratings of the cellars of some of the houses. I grew very thirstyafter the heat of my long walk. With infinite trouble I managed tobreak into a public-house and get food and drink. I was weary aftereating, and went into the parlour behind the bar, and slept on a blackhorsehair sofa I found there.

  I awoke to find that dismal howling still in my ears, "Ulla, ulla,ulla, ulla." It was now dusk, and after I had routed out somebiscuits and a cheese in the bar--there was a meat safe, but itcontained nothing but maggots--I wandered on through the silentresidential squares to Baker Street--Portman Square is the only one Ican name--and so came out at last upon Regent's Park. And as Iemerged from the top of Baker Street, I saw far away over the trees inthe clearness of the sunset the hood of the Martian giant from whichthis howling proceeded. I was not terrified. I came upon him as ifit were a matter of course. I watched him for some time, but he didnot move. He appeared to be standing and yelling, for no reason thatI could discover.

  I tried to formulate a plan of action. That perpetual sound of"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," confused my mind. Perhaps I was too tiredto be very fearful. Certainly I was more curious to know the reasonof this monotonous crying than afraid. I turned back away from thepark and struck into Park Road, intending to skirt the park, wentalong under the shelter of the terraces, and got a view of thisstationary, howling Martian from the direction of St. John's Wood. Acouple of hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus,and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in his jawscoming headlong towards me, and then a pack of starving mongrels inpursuit of him. He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he fearedI might prove a fresh competitor. As the yelping died away down thesilent road, the wailing sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," reasserteditself.

  I came upon the wrecked handling-machine halfway to St. John's Woodstation. At first I thought a house had fallen across the road. Itwas only as I clambered among the ruins that I saw, with a start, thismechanical Samson lying, with its tentacles bent and smashed andtwisted, among the ruins it had made. The forepart was shattered. Itseemed as if it had driven blindly straight at the house, and had beenoverwhelmed in its overthrow. It seemed to me then that this mighthave happened by a handling-machine escaping from the guidance of itsMartian. I could not clamber among the ruins to see it, and thetwilight was now so far advanced that the blood with which its seatwas smeared, and the gnawed gristle of the Martian that the dogs hadleft, were invisible to me.

  Wondering still more at all that I had seen, I pushed on towardsPrimrose Hill. Far away, through a gap in the trees, I saw a secondMartian, as motionless as the first, standing in the park towards theZoological Gardens, and silent. A little beyond the ruins about thesmashed handling-machine I came upon the red weed again, and found theRegent's Canal, a spongy mass of dark-red vegetation.

  As I crossed the bridge, the sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,"ceased. It was, as it were, cut off. The silence came like athunderclap.

  The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim; the treestowards the park were growing black. All about me the red weedclambered among the ruins, writhing to get above me in the dimness.Night, the mother of fear and mystery, was coming upon me. But whilethat voice sounded the solitude, the desolation, had been endurable;by virtue of it London had still seemed alive, and the sense of lifeabout me had upheld me. Then suddenly
a change, the passing ofsomething--I knew not what--and then a stillness that could be felt.Nothing but this gaunt quiet.

  London about me gazed at me spectrally. The windows in the whitehouses were like the eye sockets of skulls. About me my imaginationfound a thousand noiseless enemies moving. Terror seized me, a horrorof my temerity. In front of me the road became pitchy black as thoughit was tarred, and I saw a contorted shape lying across the pathway. Icould not bring myself to go on. I turned down St. John's Wood Road,and ran headlong from this unendurable stillness towards Kilburn. Ihid from the night and the silence, until long after midnight, in acabmen's shelter in Harrow Road. But before the dawn my couragereturned, and while the stars were still in the sky I turned once moretowards Regent's Park. I missed my way among the streets, andpresently saw down a long avenue, in the half-light of the early dawn,the curve of Primrose Hill. On the summit, towering up to the fadingstars, was a third Martian, erect and motionless like the others.

  An insane resolve possessed me. I would die and end it. And Iwould save myself even the trouble of killing myself. I marched onrecklessly towards this Titan, and then, as I drew nearer and thelight grew, I saw that a multitude of black birds was circling andclustering about the hood. At that my heart gave a bound, and I beganrunning along the road.

  I hurried through the red weed that choked St. Edmund's Terrace (Iwaded breast-high across a torrent of water that was rushing down fromthe waterworks towards the Albert Road), and emerged upon the grassbefore the rising of the sun. Great mounds had been heaped about thecrest of the hill, making a huge redoubt of it--it was the final andlargest place the Martians had made--and from behind these heaps thererose a thin smoke against the sky. Against the sky line an eager dogran and disappeared. The thought that had flashed into my mind grewreal, grew credible. I felt no fear, only a wild, tremblingexultation, as I ran up the hill towards the motionless monster. Outof the hood hung lank shreds of brown, at which the hungry birdspecked and tore.

  In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stoodupon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. Amighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it,huge mounds of material and strange shelter places. And scatteredabout it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigidhandling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in arow, were the Martians--_dead_!--slain by the putrefactive and diseasebacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the redweed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, bythe humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

  For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might haveforeseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. Thesegerms of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning ofthings--taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here.But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developedresisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and tomany--those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance--ourliving frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria inMars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank andfed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Alreadywhen I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rottingeven as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of abillion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it ishis against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians tentimes as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.

  Here and there they were scattered, nearly fifty altogether, inthat great gulf they had made, overtaken by a death that must haveseemed to them as incomprehensible as any death could be. To me alsoat that time this death was incomprehensible. All I knew was thatthese things that had been alive and so terrible to men were dead.For a moment I believed that the destruction of Sennacherib had beenrepeated, that God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slainthem in the night.

  I stood staring into the pit, and my heart lightened gloriously,even as the rising sun struck the world to fire about me with hisrays. The pit was still in darkness; the mighty engines, so great andwonderful in their power and complexity, so unearthly in theirtortuous forms, rose weird and vague and strange out of the shadowstowards the light. A multitude of dogs, I could hear, fought over thebodies that lay darkly in the depth of the pit, far below me. Acrossthe pit on its farther lip, flat and vast and strange, lay the greatflying-machine with which they had been experimenting upon our denseratmosphere when decay and death arrested them. Death had come not aday too soon. At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked up at thehuge fighting-machine that would fight no more for ever, at thetattered red shreds of flesh that dripped down upon the overturnedseats on the summit of Primrose Hill.

  I turned and looked down the slope of the hill to where, enhaloednow in birds, stood those other two Martians that I had seenovernight, just as death had overtaken them. The one had died, evenas it had been crying to its companions; perhaps it was the last todie, and its voice had gone on perpetually until the force of itsmachinery was exhausted. They glittered now, harmless tripod towersof shining metal, in the brightness of the rising sun.

  All about the pit, and saved as by a miracle from everlastingdestruction, stretched the great Mother of Cities. Those who have onlyseen London veiled in her sombre robes of smoke can scarcely imaginethe naked clearness and beauty of the silent wilderness of houses.

  Eastward, over the blackened ruins of the Albert Terrace and thesplintered spire of the church, the sun blazed dazzling in a clearsky, and here and there some facet in the great wilderness of roofscaught the light and glared with a white intensity.

  Northward were Kilburn and Hampsted, blue and crowded with houses;westward the great city was dimmed; and southward, beyond theMartians, the green waves of Regent's Park, the Langham Hotel, thedome of the Albert Hall, the Imperial Institute, and the giantmansions of the Brompton Road came out clear and little in thesunrise, the jagged ruins of Westminster rising hazily beyond. Faraway and blue were the Surrey hills, and the towers of the CrystalPalace glittered like two silver rods. The dome of St. Paul's wasdark against the sunrise, and injured, I saw for the first time, by ahuge gaping cavity on its western side.

  And as I looked at this wide expanse of houses and factories andchurches, silent and abandoned; as I thought of the multitudinoushopes and efforts, the innumerable hosts of lives that had gone tobuild this human reef, and of the swift and ruthless destruction thathad hung over it all; when I realised that the shadow had been rolledback, and that men might still live in the streets, and this dear vastdead city of mine be once more alive and powerful, I felt a wave ofemotion that was near akin to tears.

  The torment was over. Even that day the healing would begin. Thesurvivors of the people scattered over the country--leaderless,lawless, foodless, like sheep without a shepherd--the thousands whohad fled by sea, would begin to return; the pulse of life, growingstronger and stronger, would beat again in the empty streets and pouracross the vacant squares. Whatever destruction was done, the hand ofthe destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the blackenedskeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass of thehill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers andringing with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought I extendedmy hands towards the sky and began thanking God. In a year, thoughtI--in a year. . .

  With overwhelming force came the thought of myself, of my wife, andthe old life of hope and tender helpfulness that had ceased for ever.

 
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
Scroll