The war of the worlds, p.8
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       The War of the Worlds, p.8

           H. G. Wells
 

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  FRIDAY NIGHT

  The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the strange andwonderful things that happened upon that Friday, was the dovetailingof the commonplace habits of our social order with the firstbeginnings of the series of events that was to topple that socialorder headlong. If on Friday night you had taken a pair of compassesand drawn a circle with a radius of five miles round the Woking sandpits, I doubt if you would have had one human being outside it, unlessit were some relation of Stent or of the three or four cyclists orLondon people lying dead on the common, whose emotions or habits wereat all affected by the new-comers. Many people had heard of thecylinder, of course, and talked about it in their leisure, but itcertainly did not make the sensation that an ultimatum to Germanywould have done.

  In London that night poor Henderson's telegram describing thegradual unscrewing of the shot was judged to be a canard, and hisevening paper, after wiring for authentication from him and receivingno reply--the man was killed--decided not to print a special edition.

  Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people wereinert. I have already described the behaviour of the men and women towhom I spoke. All over the district people were dining and supping;working men were gardening after the labours of the day, childrenwere being put to bed, young people were wandering through the laneslove-making, students sat over their books.

  Maybe there was a murmur in the village streets, a novel anddominant topic in the public-houses, and here and there a messenger,or even an eye-witness of the later occurrences, caused a whirl ofexcitement, a shouting, and a running to and fro; but for the mostpart the daily routine of working, eating, drinking, sleeping, went onas it had done for countless years--as though no planet Mars existedin the sky. Even at Woking station and Horsell and Chobham that wasthe case.

  In Woking junction, until a late hour, trains were stopping andgoing on, others were shunting on the sidings, passengers werealighting and waiting, and everything was proceeding in the mostordinary way. A boy from the town, trenching on Smith's monopoly, wasselling papers with the afternoon's news. The ringing impact oftrucks, the sharp whistle of the engines from the junction, mingledwith their shouts of "Men from Mars!" Excited men came into thestation about nine o'clock with incredible tidings, and caused no moredisturbance than drunkards might have done. People rattlingLondonwards peered into the darkness outside the carriage windows, andsaw only a rare, flickering, vanishing spark dance up from thedirection of Horsell, a red glow and a thin veil of smoke drivingacross the stars, and thought that nothing more serious than a heathfire was happening. It was only round the edge of the common that anydisturbance was perceptible. There were half a dozen villas burningon the Woking border. There were lights in all the houses on thecommon side of the three villages, and the people there kept awaketill dawn.

  A curious crowd lingered restlessly, people coming and going butthe crowd remaining, both on the Chobham and Horsell bridges. One ortwo adventurous souls, it was afterwards found, went into the darknessand crawled quite near the Martians; but they never returned, for nowand again a light-ray, like the beam of a warship's searchlight sweptthe common, and the Heat-Ray was ready to follow. Save for such, thatbig area of common was silent and desolate, and the charred bodies layabout on it all night under the stars, and all the next day. A noiseof hammering from the pit was heard by many people.

  So you have the state of things on Friday night. In the centre,sticking into the skin of our old planet Earth like a poisoned dart,was this cylinder. But the poison was scarcely working yet. Aroundit was a patch of silent common, smouldering in places, and with a fewdark, dimly seen objects lying in contorted attitudes here and there.Here and there was a burning bush or tree. Beyond was a fringe ofexcitement, and farther than that fringe the inflammation had notcrept as yet. In the rest of the world the stream of life stillflowed as it had flowed for immemorial years. The fever of war thatwould presently clog vein and artery, deaden nerve and destroy brain,had still to develop.

  All night long the Martians were hammering and stirring, sleepless,indefatigable, at work upon the machines they were making ready, andever and again a puff of greenish-white smoke whirled up to thestarlit sky.

  About eleven a company of soldiers came through Horsell, anddeployed along the edge of the common to form a cordon. Later asecond company marched through Chobham to deploy on the north side ofthe common. Several officers from the Inkerman barracks had been onthe common earlier in the day, and one, Major Eden, was reported to bemissing. The colonel of the regiment came to the Chobham bridge andwas busy questioning the crowd at midnight. The military authoritieswere certainly alive to the seriousness of the business. Abouteleven, the next morning's papers were able to say, a squadron ofhussars, two Maxims, and about four hundred men of the Cardiganregiment started from Aldershot.

  A few seconds after midnight the crowd in the Chertsey road,Woking, saw a star fall from heaven into the pine woods to thenorthwest. It had a greenish colour, and caused a silent brightnesslike summer lightning. This was the second cylinder.

 
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