The war of the worlds, p.6
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       The War of the Worlds, p.6

           H. G. Wells
 

  CHAPTER SIX

  THE HEAT-RAY IN THE CHOBHAM ROAD

  It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slaymen so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they areable to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolutenon-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beamagainst any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolicmirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of alighthouse projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely provedthese details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heatis the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead ofvisible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at itstouch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass,and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.

  That night nearly forty people lay under the starlight about thepit, charred and distorted beyond recognition, and all night long thecommon from Horsell to Maybury was deserted and brightly ablaze.

  The news of the massacre probably reached Chobham, Woking, andOttershaw about the same time. In Woking the shops had closed whenthe tragedy happened, and a number of people, shop people and soforth, attracted by the stories they had heard, were walking over theHorsell Bridge and along the road between the hedges that runs out atlast upon the common. You may imagine the young people brushed upafter the labours of the day, and making this novelty, as they wouldmake any novelty, the excuse for walking together and enjoying atrivial flirtation. You may figure to yourself the hum of voicesalong the road in the gloaming. . . .

  As yet, of course, few people in Woking even knew that the cylinderhad opened, though poor Henderson had sent a messenger on a bicycle tothe post office with a special wire to an evening paper.

  As these folks came out by twos and threes upon the open, theyfound little knots of people talking excitedly and peering at thespinning mirror over the sand pits, and the newcomers were, no doubt,soon infected by the excitement of the occasion.

  By half past eight, when the Deputation was destroyed, there mayhave been a crowd of three hundred people or more at this place,besides those who had left the road to approach the Martians nearer.There were three policemen too, one of whom was mounted, doing theirbest, under instructions from Stent, to keep the people back and deterthem from approaching the cylinder. There was some booing from thosemore thoughtless and excitable souls to whom a crowd is always anoccasion for noise and horse-play.

  Stent and Ogilvy, anticipating some possibilities of a collision,had telegraphed from Horsell to the barracks as soon as the Martiansemerged, for the help of a company of soldiers to protect thesestrange creatures from violence. After that they returned to lead thatill-fated advance. The description of their death, as it was seen bythe crowd, tallies very closely with my own impressions: the threepuffs of green smoke, the deep humming note, and the flashes of flame.

  But that crowd of people had a far narrower escape than mine. Onlythe fact that a hummock of heathery sand intercepted the lower part ofthe Heat-Ray saved them. Had the elevation of the parabolic mirrorbeen a few yards higher, none could have lived to tell the tale. Theysaw the flashes and the men falling and an invisible hand, as it were,lit the bushes as it hurried towards them through the twilight. Then,with a whistling note that rose above the droning of the pit, the beamswung close over their heads, lighting the tops of the beech treesthat line the road, and splitting the bricks, smashing the windows,firing the window frames, and bringing down in crumbling ruin aportion of the gable of the house nearest the corner.

  In the sudden thud, hiss, and glare of the igniting trees, thepanic-stricken crowd seems to have swayed hesitatingly for somemoments. Sparks and burning twigs began to fall into the road, andsingle leaves like puffs of flame. Hats and dresses caught fire. Thencame a crying from the common. There were shrieks and shouts, andsuddenly a mounted policeman came galloping through the confusion withhis hands clasped over his head, screaming.

  "They're coming!" a woman shrieked, and incontinently everyone wasturning and pushing at those behind, in order to clear their way toWoking again. They must have bolted as blindly as a flock of sheep.Where the road grows narrow and black between the high banks the crowdjammed, and a desperate struggle occurred. All that crowd did notescape; three persons at least, two women and a little boy, werecrushed and trampled there, and left to die amid the terror and thedarkness.

 
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