The war of the worlds, p.27
The War of the Worlds, p.27H. G. Wells
And now comes the strangest thing in my story. Yet, perhaps, it isnot altogether strange. I remember, clearly and coldly and vividly,all that I did that day until the time that I stood weeping andpraising God upon the summit of Primrose Hill. And then I forget.
Of the next three days I know nothing. I have learned since that,so far from my being the first discoverer of the Martian overthrow,several such wanderers as myself had already discovered this on theprevious night. One man--the first--had gone to St. Martin's-le-Grand,and, while I sheltered in the cabmen's hut, had contrived totelegraph to Paris. Thence the joyful news had flashed all over theworld; a thousand cities, chilled by ghastly apprehensions, suddenlyflashed into frantic illuminations; they knew of it in Dublin,Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, at the time when I stood upon theverge of the pit. Already men, weeping with joy, as I have heard,shouting and staying their work to shake hands and shout, were makingup trains, even as near as Crewe, to descend upon London. The churchbells that had ceased a fortnight since suddenly caught the news,until all England was bell-ringing. Men on cycles, lean-faced,unkempt, scorched along every country lane shouting of unhopeddeliverance, shouting to gaunt, staring figures of despair. And forthe food! Across the Channel, across the Irish Sea, across theAtlantic, corn, bread, and meat were tearing to our relief. All theshipping in the world seemed going Londonward in those days. But ofall this I have no memory. I drifted--a demented man. I found myselfin a house of kindly people, who had found me on the third daywandering, weeping, and raving through the streets of St. John's Wood.They have told me since that I was singing some insane doggerel about"The Last Man Left Alive! Hurrah! The Last Man Left Alive!" Troubledas they were with their own affairs, these people, whose name, much asI would like to express my gratitude to them, I may not even givehere, nevertheless cumbered themselves with me, sheltered me, andprotected me from myself. Apparently they had learned something of mystory from me during the days of my lapse.
Very gently, when my mind was assured again, did they break to mewhat they had learned of the fate of Leatherhead. Two days after Iwas imprisoned it had been destroyed, with every soul in it, by aMartian. He had swept it out of existence, as it seemed, without anyprovocation, as a boy might crush an ant hill, in the mere wantonnessof power.
I was a lonely man, and they were very kind to me. I was a lonelyman and a sad one, and they bore with me. I remained with them fourdays after my recovery. All that time I felt a vague, a growingcraving to look once more on whatever remained of the little life thatseemed so happy and bright in my past. It was a mere hopeless desireto feast upon my misery. They dissuaded me. They did all they couldto divert me from this morbidity. But at last I could resist theimpulse no longer, and, promising faithfully to return to them, andparting, as I will confess, from these four-day friends with tears, Iwent out again into the streets that had lately been so dark andstrange and empty.
Already they were busy with returning people; in places even therewere shops open, and I saw a drinking fountain running water.
I remember how mockingly bright the day seemed as I went back on mymelancholy pilgrimage to the little house at Woking, how busy thestreets and vivid the moving life about me. So many people wereabroad everywhere, busied in a thousand activities, that it seemedincredible that any great proportion of the population could have beenslain. But then I noticed how yellow were the skins of the people Imet, how shaggy the hair of the men, how large and bright their eyes,and that every other man still wore his dirty rags. Their facesseemed all with one of two expressions--a leaping exultation andenergy or a grim resolution. Save for the expression of the faces,London seemed a city of tramps. The vestries were indiscriminatelydistributing bread sent us by the French government. The ribs of thefew horses showed dismally. Haggard special constables with whitebadges stood at the corners of every street. I saw little of themischief wrought by the Martians until I reached Wellington Street,and there I saw the red weed clambering over the buttresses ofWaterloo Bridge.
At the corner of the bridge, too, I saw one of the common contrastsof that grotesque time--a sheet of paper flaunting against a thicketof the red weed, transfixed by a stick that kept it in place. It wasthe placard of the first newspaper to resume publication--the _DailyMail_. I bought a copy for a blackened shilling I found in my pocket.Most of it was in blank, but the solitary compositor who did the thinghad amused himself by making a grotesque scheme of advertisementstereo on the back page. The matter he printed was emotional; thenews organisation had not as yet found its way back. I learnednothing fresh except that already in one week the examination of theMartian mechanisms had yielded astonishing results. Among otherthings, the article assured me what I did not believe at the time,that the "Secret of Flying," was discovered. At Waterloo I found thefree trains that were taking people to their homes. The first rushwas already over. There were few people in the train, and I was in nomood for casual conversation. I got a compartment to myself, and satwith folded arms, looking greyly at the sunlit devastation that flowedpast the windows. And just outside the terminus the train jolted overtemporary rails, and on either side of the railway the houses wereblackened ruins. To Clapham Junction the face of London was grimywith powder of the Black Smoke, in spite of two days of thunderstormsand rain, and at Clapham Junction the line had been wrecked again;there were hundreds of out-of-work clerks and shopmen working side byside with the customary navvies, and we were jolted over a hastyrelaying.
All down the line from there the aspect of the country was gauntand unfamiliar; Wimbledon particularly had suffered. Walton, by virtueof its unburned pine woods, seemed the least hurt of any place alongthe line. The Wandle, the Mole, every little stream, was a heapedmass of red weed, in appearance between butcher's meat and pickledcabbage. The Surrey pine woods were too dry, however, for the festoonsof the red climber. Beyond Wimbledon, within sight of the line, incertain nursery grounds, were the heaped masses of earth about thesixth cylinder. A number of people were standing about it, and somesappers were busy in the midst of it. Over it flaunted a Union Jack,flapping cheerfully in the morning breeze. The nursery grounds wereeverywhere crimson with the weed, a wide expanse of livid colour cutwith purple shadows, and very painful to the eye. One's gaze wentwith infinite relief from the scorched greys and sullen reds of theforeground to the blue-green softness of the eastward hills.
The line on the London side of Woking station was still undergoingrepair, so I descended at Byfleet station and took the road toMaybury, past the place where I and the artilleryman had talked to thehussars, and on by the spot where the Martian had appeared to me inthe thunderstorm. Here, moved by curiosity, I turned aside to find,among a tangle of red fronds, the warped and broken dog cart with thewhitened bones of the horse scattered and gnawed. For a time I stoodregarding these vestiges. . . .
Then I returned through the pine wood, neck-high with red weed hereand there, to find the landlord of the Spotted Dog had already foundburial, and so came home past the College Arms. A man standing at anopen cottage door greeted me by name as I passed.
I looked at my house with a quick flash of hope that fadedimmediately. The door had been forced; it was unfast and was openingslowly as I approached.
It slammed again. The curtains of my study fluttered out of theopen window from which I and the artilleryman had watched the dawn. Noone had closed it since. The smashed bushes were just as I had leftthem nearly four weeks ago. I stumbled into the hall, and the housefelt empty. The stair carpet was ruffled and discoloured where I hadcrouched, soaked to the skin from the thunderstorm the night of thecatastrophe. Our muddy footsteps I saw still went up the stairs.
I followed them to my study, and found lying on my writing-tablestill, with the selenite paper weight upon it, the sheet of work I hadleft on the afternoon of the opening of the cylinder. For a space Istood reading over my abandoned arguments. It was a paper
I came down and went into the dining room. There were the muttonand the bread, both far gone now in decay, and a beer bottleoverturned, just as I and the artilleryman had left them. My home wasdesolate. I perceived the folly of the faint hope I had cherished solong. And then a strange thing occurred. "It is no use," said avoice. "The house is deserted. No one has been here these ten days.Do not stay here to torment yourself. No one escaped but you."
I was startled. Had I spoken my thought aloud? I turned, and theFrench window was open behind me. I made a step to it, and stoodlooking out.
And there, amazed and afraid, even as I stood amazed and afraid,were my cousin and my wife--my wife white and tearless. She gave afaint cry.
"I came," she said. "I knew--knew----"
She put her hand to her throat--swayed. I made a step forward, andcaught her in my arms.
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