The war of the worlds, p.3
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       The War of the Worlds, p.3

           H. G. Wells
 

  CHAPTER THREE

  ON HORSELL COMMON

  I found a little crowd of perhaps twenty people surrounding thehuge hole in which the cylinder lay. I have already described theappearance of that colossal bulk, embedded in the ground. The turfand gravel about it seemed charred as if by a sudden explosion. Nodoubt its impact had caused a flash of fire. Henderson and Ogilvywere not there. I think they perceived that nothing was to be donefor the present, and had gone away to breakfast at Henderson's house.

  There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the Pit, withtheir feet dangling, and amusing themselves--until I stopped them--bythrowing stones at the giant mass. After I had spoken to them aboutit, they began playing at "touch" in and out of the group ofbystanders.

  Among these were a couple of cyclists, a jobbing gardener Iemployed sometimes, a girl carrying a baby, Gregg the butcher and hislittle boy, and two or three loafers and golf caddies who wereaccustomed to hang about the railway station. There was very littletalking. Few of the common people in England had anything but thevaguest astronomical ideas in those days. Most of them were staringquietly at the big table like end of the cylinder, which was still asOgilvy and Henderson had left it. I fancy the popular expectation ofa heap of charred corpses was disappointed at this inanimate bulk.Some went away while I was there, and other people came. I clamberedinto the pit and fancied I heard a faint movement under my feet. Thetop had certainly ceased to rotate.

  It was only when I got thus close to it that the strangeness ofthis object was at all evident to me. At the first glance it wasreally no more exciting than an overturned carriage or a tree blownacross the road. Not so much so, indeed. It looked like a rusty gasfloat. It required a certain amount of scientific education toperceive that the grey scale of the Thing was no common oxide, thatthe yellowish-white metal that gleamed in the crack between the lidand the cylinder had an unfamiliar hue. "Extra-terrestrial" had nomeaning for most of the onlookers.

  At that time it was quite clear in my own mind that the Thing hadcome from the planet Mars, but I judged it improbable that itcontained any living creature. I thought the unscrewing might beautomatic. In spite of Ogilvy, I still believed that there were menin Mars. My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of itscontaining manuscript, on the difficulties in translation that mightarise, whether we should find coins and models in it, and so forth.Yet it was a little too large for assurance on this idea. I felt animpatience to see it opened. About eleven, as nothing seemedhappening, I walked back, full of such thought, to my home in Maybury.But I found it difficult to get to work upon my abstractinvestigations.

  In the afternoon the appearance of the common had altered verymuch. The early editions of the evening papers had startled Londonwith enormous headlines:

  "A MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MARS."

  "REMARKABLE STORY FROM WOKING,"

  and so forth. In addition, Ogilvy's wire to the Astronomical Exchangehad roused every observatory in the three kingdoms.

  There were half a dozen flies or more from the Woking stationstanding in the road by the sand pits, a basket-chaise from Chobham,and a rather lordly carriage. Besides that, there was quite a heap ofbicycles. In addition, a large number of people must have walked, inspite of the heat of the day, from Woking and Chertsey, so that therewas altogether quite a considerable crowd--one or two gaily dressedladies among the others.

  It was glaringly hot, not a cloud in the sky nor a breath of wind,and the only shadow was that of the few scattered pine trees. Theburning heather had been extinguished, but the level ground towardsOttershaw was blackened as far as one could see, and still giving offvertical streamers of smoke. An enterprising sweet-stuff dealer inthe Chobham Road had sent up his son with a barrow-load of greenapples and ginger beer.

  Going to the edge of the pit, I found it occupied by a group ofabout half a dozen men--Henderson, Ogilvy, and a tall, fair-haired manthat I afterwards learned was Stent, the Astronomer Royal, withseveral workmen wielding spades and pickaxes. Stent was givingdirections in a clear, high-pitched voice. He was standing on thecylinder, which was now evidently much cooler; his face was crimsonand streaming with perspiration, and something seemed to haveirritated him.

  A large portion of the cylinder had been uncovered, though itslower end was still embedded. As soon as Ogilvy saw me among thestaring crowd on the edge of the pit he called to me to come down, andasked me if I would mind going over to see Lord Hilton, the lord ofthe manor.

  The growing crowd, he said, was becoming a serious impediment totheir excavations, especially the boys. They wanted a light railingput up, and help to keep the people back. He told me that a faintstirring was occasionally still audible within the case, but that theworkmen had failed to unscrew the top, as it afforded no grip to them.The case appeared to be enormously thick, and it was possible that thefaint sounds we heard represented a noisy tumult in the interior.

  I was very glad to do as he asked, and so become one of theprivileged spectators within the contemplated enclosure. I failed tofind Lord Hilton at his house, but I was told he was expected fromLondon by the six o'clock train from Waterloo; and as it was thenabout a quarter past five, I went home, had some tea, and walked up tothe station to waylay him.

 
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