The war of the worlds, p.4
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       The War of the Worlds, p.4

           H. G. Wells
 

  CHAPTER FOUR

  THE CYLINDER OPENS

  When I returned to the common the sun was setting. Scattered groupswere hurrying from the direction of Woking, and one or two personswere returning. The crowd about the pit had increased, and stood outblack against the lemon yellow of the sky--a couple of hundred people,perhaps. There were raised voices, and some sort of struggle appearedto be going on about the pit. Strange imaginings passed through mymind. As I drew nearer I heard Stent's voice:

  "Keep back! Keep back!"

  A boy came running towards me.

  "It's a-movin'," he said to me as he passed; "a-screwin' anda-screwin' out. I don't like it. I'm a-goin' 'ome, I am."

  I went on to the crowd. There were really, I should think, two orthree hundred people elbowing and jostling one another, the one or twoladies there being by no means the least active.

  "He's fallen in the pit!" cried some one.

  "Keep back!" said several.

  The crowd swayed a little, and I elbowed my way through. Every oneseemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar humming sound from thepit.

  "I say!" said Ogilvy; "help keep these idiots back. We don't knowwhat's in the confounded thing, you know!"

  I saw a young man, a shop assistant in Woking I believe he was,standing on the cylinder and trying to scramble out of the hole again.The crowd had pushed him in.

  The end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within. Nearlytwo feet of shining screw projected. Somebody blundered against me,and I narrowly missed being pitched onto the top of the screw. Iturned, and as I did so the screw must have come out, for the lid ofthe cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing concussion. I stuckmy elbow into the person behind me, and turned my head towards theThing again. For a moment that circular cavity seemed perfectly black.I had the sunset in my eyes.

  I think everyone expected to see a man emerge--possibly something alittle unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I knowI did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within theshadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then twoluminous disks--like eyes. Then something resembling a little greysnake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of thewrithing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me--and then another.

  A sudden chill came over me. There was a loud shriek from a womanbehind. I half turned, keeping my eyes fixed upon the cylinder still,from which other tentacles were now projecting, and began pushing myway back from the edge of the pit. I saw astonishment giving place tohorror on the faces of the people about me. I heard inarticulateexclamations on all sides. There was a general movement backwards.I saw the shopman struggling still on the edge of the pit. I foundmyself alone, and saw the people on the other side of the pit runningoff, Stent among them. I looked again at the cylinder, andungovernable terror gripped me. I stood petrified and staring.

  A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, wasrising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up andcaught the light, it glistened like wet leather.

  Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. Themass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded, and had,one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the liplessbrim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The wholecreature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacularappendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air.

  Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine thestrange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth withits pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of achin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of thismouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of thelungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulnessof movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth--aboveall, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes--were atonce vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There wassomething fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsydeliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at thisfirst encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust anddread.

  Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of thecylinder and fallen into the pit, with a thud like the fall of a greatmass of leather. I heard it give a peculiar thick cry, and forthwithanother of these creatures appeared darkly in the deep shadow of theaperture.

  I turned and, running madly, made for the first group of trees,perhaps a hundred yards away; but I ran slantingly and stumbling, forI could not avert my face from these things.

  There, among some young pine trees and furze bushes, I stopped,panting, and waited further developments. The common round the sandpits was dotted with people, standing like myself in a half-fascinatedterror, staring at these creatures, or rather at the heaped gravel atthe edge of the pit in which they lay. And then, with a renewedhorror, I saw a round, black object bobbing up and down on the edge ofthe pit. It was the head of the shopman who had fallen in, butshowing as a little black object against the hot western sun. Now hegot his shoulder and knee up, and again he seemed to slip back untilonly his head was visible. Suddenly he vanished, and I could havefancied a faint shriek had reached me. I had a momentary impulse togo back and help him that my fears overruled.

  Everything was then quite invisible, hidden by the deep pit and theheap of sand that the fall of the cylinder had made. Anyone comingalong the road from Chobham or Woking would have been amazed at thesight--a dwindling multitude of perhaps a hundred people or morestanding in a great irregular circle, in ditches, behind bushes,behind gates and hedges, saying little to one another and that inshort, excited shouts, and staring, staring hard at a few heaps ofsand. The barrow of ginger beer stood, a queer derelict, blackagainst the burning sky, and in the sand pits was a row of desertedvehicles with their horses feeding out of nosebags or pawing theground.

 
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