The war of the worlds, p.28
The War of the Worlds, p.28H. G. Wells
I cannot but regret, now that I am concluding my story, how littleI am able to contribute to the discussion of the many debatablequestions which are still unsettled. In one respect I shall certainlyprovoke criticism. My particular province is speculative philosophy.My knowledge of comparative physiology is confined to a book or two,but it seems to me that Carver's suggestions as to the reason of therapid death of the Martians is so probable as to be regarded almost asa proven conclusion. I have assumed that in the body of my narrative.
At any rate, in all the bodies of the Martians that were examinedafter the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrialspecies were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and thereckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignoranceof the putrefactive process. But probable as this seems, it is by nomeans a proven conclusion.
Neither is the composition of the Black Smoke known, which theMartians used with such deadly effect, and the generator of theHeat-Rays remains a puzzle. The terrible disasters at the Ealingand South Kensington laboratories have disinclined analysts for furtherinvestigations upon the latter. Spectrum analysis of the black powderpoints unmistakably to the presence of an unknown element with abrilliant group of three lines in the green, and it is possible thatit combines with argon to form a compound which acts at once withdeadly effect upon some constituent in the blood. But such unprovenspeculations will scarcely be of interest to the general reader, towhom this story is addressed. None of the brown scum that drifteddown the Thames after the destruction of Shepperton was examined atthe time, and now none is forthcoming.
The results of an anatomical examination of the Martians, so faras the prowling dogs had left such an examination possible, I havealready given. But everyone is familiar with the magnificent andalmost complete specimen in spirits at the Natural History Museum, andthe countless drawings that have been made from it; and beyond thatthe interest of their physiology and structure is purely scientific.
A question of graver and universal interest is the possibility ofanother attack from the Martians. I do not think that nearly enoughattention is being given to this aspect of the matter. At present theplanet Mars is in conjunction, but with every return to opposition I,for one, anticipate a renewal of their adventure. In any case, weshould be prepared. It seems to me that it should be possible todefine the position of the gun from which the shots are discharged, tokeep a sustained watch upon this part of the planet, and to anticipatethe arrival of the next attack.
In that case the cylinder might be destroyed with dynamite orartillery before it was sufficiently cool for the Martians to emerge,or they might be butchered by means of guns so soon as the screwopened. It seems to me that they have lost a vast advantage in thefailure of their first surprise. Possibly they see it in the samelight.
Lessing has advanced excellent reasons for supposing that theMartians have actually succeeded in effecting a landing on the planetVenus. Seven months ago now, Venus and Mars were in alignment withthe sun; that is to say, Mars was in opposition from the point of viewof an observer on Venus. Subsequently a peculiar luminous and sinuousmarking appeared on the unillumined half of the inner planet, andalmost simultaneously a faint dark mark of a similar sinuous characterwas detected upon a photograph of the Martian disk. One needs to seethe drawings of these appearances in order to appreciate fully theirremarkable resemblance in character.
At any rate, whether we expect another invasion or not, our viewsof the human future must be greatly modified by these events. We havelearned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and asecure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen goodor evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space. It may be thatin the larger design of the universe this invasion from Mars is notwithout its ultimate benefit for men; it has robbed us of that sereneconfidence in the future which is the most fruitful source ofdecadence, the gifts to human science it has brought are enormous, andit has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal ofmankind. It may be that across the immensity of space the Martianshave watched the fate of these pioneers of theirs and learned theirlesson, and that on the planet Venus they have found a securersettlement. Be that as it may, for many years yet there willcertainly be no relaxation of the eager scrutiny of the Martian disk,and those fiery darts of the sky, the shooting stars, will bring withthem as they fall an unavoidable apprehension to all the sons of men.
The broadening of men's views that has resulted can scarcely beexaggerated. Before the cylinder fell there was a general persuasionthat through all the deep of space no life existed beyond the pettysurface of our minute sphere. Now we see further. If the Martianscan reach Venus, there is no reason to suppose that the thing isimpossible for men, and when the slow cooling of the sun makes thisearth uninhabitable, as at last it must do, it may be that the threadof life that has begun here will have streamed out and caught oursister planet within its toils.
Dim and wonderful is the vision I have conjured up in my mind oflife spreading slowly from this little seed bed of the solar systemthroughout the inanimate vastness of sidereal space. But that is aremote dream. It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction ofthe Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps, isthe future ordained.
I must confess the stress and danger of the time have left anabiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. I sit in my studywriting by lamplight, and suddenly I see again the healing valleybelow set with writhing flames, and feel the house behind and about meempty and desolate. I go out into the Byfleet Road, and vehicles passme, a butcher boy in a cart, a cabful of visitors, a workman on abicycle, children going to school, and suddenly they become vague andunreal, and I hurry again with the artilleryman through the hot,brooding silence. Of a night I see the black powder darkening thesilent streets, and the contorted bodies shrouded in that layer; theyrise upon me tattered and dog-bitten. They gibber and grow fiercer,paler, uglier, mad distortions of humanity at last, and I wake, coldand wretched, in the darkness of the night.
I go to London and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and theStrand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts ofthe past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched,going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in agalvanised body. And strange, too, it is to stand on Primrose Hill,as I did but a day before writing this last chapter, to see the greatprovince of houses, dim and blue through the haze of the smoke andmist, vanishing at last into the vague lower sky, to see the peoplewalking to and fro among the flower beds on the hill, to see thesight-seers about the Martian machine that stands there still, to hearthe tumult of playing children, and to recall the time when I saw itall bright and clear-cut, hard and silent, under the dawn of that lastgreat day. . . .
And strangest of all is it to hold my wife's hand again, and to thinkthat I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead.
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