The war of the worlds, p.7
The War of the Worlds, p.7H. G. Wells
HOW I REACHED HOME
For my own part, I remember nothing of my flight except the stressof blundering against trees and stumbling through the heather. Allabout me gathered the invisible terrors of the Martians; that pitilesssword of heat seemed whirling to and fro, flourishing overhead beforeit descended and smote me out of life. I came into the road betweenthe crossroads and Horsell, and ran along this to the crossroads.
At last I could go no further; I was exhausted with the violence ofmy emotion and of my flight, and I staggered and fell by the wayside.That was near the bridge that crosses the canal by the gasworks. Ifell and lay still.
I must have remained there some time.
I sat up, strangely perplexed. For a moment, perhaps, I could notclearly understand how I came there. My terror had fallen from melike a garment. My hat had gone, and my collar had burst away fromits fastener. A few minutes before, there had only been three realthings before me--the immensity of the night and space and nature, myown feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now itwas as if something turned over, and the point of view alteredabruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind tothe other. I was immediately the self of every day again--a decent,ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, thestarting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myselfhad these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it.
I rose and walked unsteadily up the steep incline of the bridge. Mymind was blank wonder. My muscles and nerves seemed drained of theirstrength. I dare say I staggered drunkenly. A head rose over thearch, and the figure of a workman carrying a basket appeared. Besidehim ran a little boy. He passed me, wishing me good night. I wasminded to speak to him, but did not. I answered his greeting with ameaningless mumble and went on over the bridge.
Over the Maybury arch a train, a billowing tumult of white, firelitsmoke, and a long caterpillar of lighted windows, went flyingsouth--clatter, clatter, clap, rap, and it had gone. A dim group ofpeople talked in the gate of one of the houses in the pretty littlerow of gables that was called Oriental Terrace. It was all so realand so familiar. And that behind me! It was frantic, fantastic!Such things, I told myself, could not be.
Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods. I do not know how far myexperience is common. At times I suffer from the strangest sense ofdetachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it allfrom the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time,out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all. This feelingwas very strong upon me that night. Here was another side to mydream.
But the trouble was the blank incongruity of this serenity and theswift death flying yonder, not two miles away. There was a noise ofbusiness from the gasworks, and the electric lamps were all alight. Istopped at the group of people.
"What news from the common?" said I.
There were two men and a woman at the gate.
"Eh?" said one of the men, turning.
"What news from the common?" I said.
"'Ain't yer just _been_ there?" asked the men.
"People seem fair silly about the common," said the woman over thegate. "What's it all abart?"
"Haven't you heard of the men from Mars?" said I; "the creaturesfrom Mars?"
"Quite enough," said the woman over the gate. "Thenks"; and allthree of them laughed.
I felt foolish and angry. I tried and found I could not tell themwhat I had seen. They laughed again at my broken sentences.
"You'll hear more yet," I said, and went on to my home.
I startled my wife at the doorway, so haggard was I. I went intothe dining room, sat down, drank some wine, and so soon as I couldcollect myself sufficiently I told her the things I had seen. Thedinner, which was a cold one, had already been served, and remainedneglected on the table while I told my story.
"There is one thing," I said, to allay the fears I had aroused;"they are the most sluggish things I ever saw crawl. They may keepthe pit and kill people who come near them, but they cannot get outof it. . . . But the horror of them!"
"Don't, dear!" said my wife, knitting her brows and putting herhand on mine.
"Poor Ogilvy!" I said. "To think he may be lying dead there!"
My wife at least did not find my experience incredible. When I sawhow deadly white her face was, I ceased abruptly.
"They may come here," she said again and again.
I pressed her to take wine, and tried to reassure her.
"They can scarcely move," I said.
I began to comfort her and myself by repeating all that Ogilvy hadtold me of the impossibility of the Martians establishing themselveson the earth. In particular I laid stress on the gravitationaldifficulty. On the surface of the earth the force of gravity is threetimes what it is on the surface of Mars. A Martian, therefore, wouldweigh three times more than on Mars, albeit his muscular strengthwould be the same. His own body would be a cope of lead to him. That,indeed, was the general opinion. Both _The Times_ and the _DailyTelegraph_, for instance, insisted on it the next morning, and bothoverlooked, just as I did, two obvious modifying influences.
The atmosphere of the earth, we now know, contains far more oxygenor far less argon (whichever way one likes to put it) than does Mars.The invigorating influences of this excess of oxygen upon the Martiansindisputably did much to counterbalance the increased weight of theirbodies. And, in the second place, we all overlooked the fact thatsuch mechanical intelligence as the Martian possessed was quite ableto dispense with muscular exertion at a pinch.
But I did not consider these points at the time, and so myreasoning was dead against the chances of the invaders. With wine andfood, the confidence of my own table, and the necessity of reassuringmy wife, I grew by insensible degrees courageous and secure.
"They have done a foolish thing," said I, fingering my wineglass."They are dangerous because, no doubt, they are mad with terror.Perhaps they expected to find no living things--certainly nointelligent living things."
"A shell in the pit" said I, "if the worst comes to the worst willkill them all."
The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left myperceptive powers in a state of erethism. I remember that dinnertable with extraordinary vividness even now. My dear wife's sweetanxious face peering at me from under the pink lamp shade, the whitecloth with its silver and glass table furniture--for in those dayseven philosophical writers had many little luxuries--the crimson-purplewine in my glass, are photographically distinct. At the end ofit I sat, tempering nuts with a cigarette, regretting Ogilvy'srashness, and denouncing the shortsighted timidity of the Martians.
So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it inhis nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitilesssailors in want of animal food. "We will peck them to death tomorrow,my dear."
I did not know it, but that was the last civilised dinner I was toeat for very many strange and terrible days.
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