Go back to The War of the Worlds Bk II 02
H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946)
The War of the Worlds Bk II 02
WHAT WE SAW FROM THE RUINED HOUSE
After eating we crept back to the scullery, and there I must have
dozed again, for when presently I looked round I was alone. The
thudding vibration continued with wearisome persistence. I
whispered for the curate several times, and at last felt my way
to the door of the kitchen. It was still daylight, and I perceived
him across the room, lying against the triangular hole that looked
out upon the Martians. His shoulders were hunched, so that his
head was hidden from me.
I could hear a number of noises almost like those in an engine
shed; and the place rocked with that beating thud. Through the
aperture in the wall I could see the top of a tree touched with gold
and the warm blue of a tranquil evening sky. For a minute or so I
remained watching the curate, and then I advanced, crouching and
stepping with extreme care amid the broken crockery that littered
I touched the curate's leg, and he started so violently that a mass
of plaster went sliding down outside and fell with a loud impact. I
gripped his arm, fearing he might cry out, and for a long time we
crouched motionless. Then I turned to see how much of our rampart
remained. The detachment of the plaster had left a vertical slit open
in the debris, and by raising myself cautiously across a beam I was
able to see out of this gap into what had been overnight a quiet
suburban roadway. Vast, indeed, was the change that we beheld.
The fifth cylinder must have fallen right into the midst of the
house we had first visited. The building had vanished, completely
smashed, pulverised, and dispersed by the blow. The cylinder lay now
far beneath the original foundations-- deep in a hole, already vastly
larger than the pit I had looked into at Woking. The earth all round
it had splashed under that tremendous impact-- "splashed" is the only
word-- and lay in heaped piles that hid the masses of the adjacent
houses. It had behaved exactly like mud under the violent blow of a
hammer. Our house had collapsed backward; the front portion, even
on the ground floor, had been destroyed completely; by a chance the
kitchen and scullery had escaped, and stood buried now under soil and
ruins, closed in by tons of earth on every side save towards the
cylinder. Over that aspect we hung now on the very edge of the great
circular pit the Martians were engaged in making. The heavy beating
sound was evidently just behind us, and ever and again a bright green
vapour drove up like a veil across our peephole.
The cylinder was already opened in the centre of the pit, and on
the farther edge of the pit, amid the smashed and gravel-heaped
shrubbery, one of the great fighting-machines, deserted by its
occupant, stood stiff and tall against the evening sky. At first I
scarcely noticed the pit and the cylinder, although it has been
convenient to describe them first, on account of the extraordinary
glittering mechanism I saw busy in the excavation, and on account of
the strange creatures that were crawling slowly and painfully across
the heaped mould near it.
The mechanism it certainly was that held my attention first. It
was one of those complicated fabrics that have since been called
handling-machines, and the study of which has already given such an
enormous impetus to terrestrial invention. As it dawned upon me
first, it presented a sort of metallic spider with five jointed,
agile legs, and with an extraordinary number of jointed levers, bars,
and reaching and clutching tentacles about its body. Most of its
arms were retracted, but with three long tentacles it was fishing
out a number of rods, plates, and bars which lined the covering and
apparently strengthened the walls of the cylinder. These, as it
extracted them, were lifted out and deposited upon a level surface
of earth behind it.
Its motion was so swift, complex, and perfect that at first I did
not see it as a machine, in spite of its metallic glitter. The
fighting-machines were coordinated and animated to an extraordinary
pitch, but nothing to compare with this. People who have never seen
these structures, and have only the ill-imagined efforts of artists or
the imperfect descriptions of such eye-witnesses as myself to go upon,
scarcely realise that living quality.
I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first
pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had
evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and
there his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff
tripods, without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an
altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing
these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here
simply to warn the reader against the impression they may have
created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a
Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would
have been much better without them.
At first, I say, the handling-machine did not impress me as a
machine, but as a crablike creature with a glittering integument, the
controlling Martian whose delicate tentacles actuated its movements
seeming to be simply the equivalent of the crab's cerebral portion.
But then I perceived the resemblance of its grey-brown, shiny,
leathery integument to that of the other sprawling bodies beyond, and
the true nature of this dexterous workman dawned upon me. With
that realisation my interest shifted to those other creatures, the real
Martians. Already I had had a transient impression of these, and the
first nausea no longer obscured my observation. Moreover, I was
concealed and motionless, and under no urgency of action.
They were, I now saw, the most unearthly creatures it is possible
to conceive. They were huge round bodies-- or, rather, heads-- about
four feet in diameter, each body having in front of it a face. This
face had no nostrils--indeed, the Martians do not seem to have had
any sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large dark-coloured eyes,
and just beneath this a kind of fleshy beak. In the back of this head
or body-- I scarcely know how to speak of it-- was the single tight
tympanic surface, since known to be anatomically an ear, though it
must have been almost useless in our dense air. In a group round the
mouth were sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two
bunches of eight each. These bunches have since been named rather
aptly, by that distinguished anatomist, Professor Howes, the HANDS.
Even as I saw these Martians for the first time they seemed to be
endeavouring to raise themselves on these hands, but of course, with
the increased weight of terrestrial conditions, this was impossible.
There is reason to suppose that on Mars they may have progressed
upon them with some facility.
The internal anatomy, I may remark here, as dissection has since
shown, was almost equally simple. The greater part of the structure
was the brain, sending enormous nerves to the eyes, ear, and tactile
tentacles. Besides this were the bulky lungs, into which the mouth
opened, and the heart and its vessels. The pulmonary distress caused
by the denser atmosphere and greater gravitational attraction was only
too evident in the convulsive movements of the outer skin.
And this was the sum of the Martian organs. Strange as it may seem
to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes
up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians. They were
heads-- merely heads. Entrails they had none. They did not eat, much
less digest. Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other
creatures, and INJECTED it into their own veins. I have myself seen
this being done, as I shall mention in its place. But, squeamish as I
may seem, I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure
even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood obtained from
a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run
directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal. . . .
The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, but at
the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive
our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.
The physiological advantages of the practice of injection are
undeniable, if one thinks of the tremendous waste of human time and
energy occasioned by eating and the digestive process. Our bodies
are half made up of glands and tubes and organs, occupied in turning
heterogeneous food into blood. The digestive processes and their
reaction upon the nervous system sap our strength and colour our
minds. Men go happy or miserable as they have healthy or unhealthy
livers, or sound gastric glands. But the Martians were lifted above
all these organic fluctuations of mood and emotion.
Their undeniable preference for men as their source of nourishment
is partly explained by the nature of the remains of the victims they
had brought with them as provisions from Mars. These creatures, to
judge from the shrivelled remains that have fallen into human hands,
were bipeds with flimsy, silicious skeletons (almost like those of the
silicious sponges) and feeble musculature, standing about six feet
high and having round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets.
Two or three of these seem to have been brought in each cylinder,
and all were killed before earth was reached. It was just as well for
them, for the mere attempt to stand upright upon our planet would
have broken every bone in their bodies.
And while I am engaged in this description, I may add in this place
certain further details which, although they were not all evident to
us at the time, will enable the reader who is unacquainted with them
to form a clearer picture of these offensive creatures.
In three other points their physiology differed strangely from
ours. Their organisms did not sleep, any more than the heart of man
sleeps. Since they had no extensive muscular mechanism to recuperate,
that periodical extinction was unknown to them. They had little or
no sense of fatigue, it would seem. On earth they could never have
moved without effort, yet even to the last they kept in action. In
twenty-four hours they did twenty-four hours of work, as even on
earth is perhaps the case with the ants.
In the next place, wonderful as it seems in a sexual world, the
Martians were absolutely without sex, and therefore without any of
the tumultuous emotions that arise from that difference among men.
A young Martian, there can now be no dispute, was really born upon
earth during the war, and it was found attached to its parent, partially
BUDDED off, just as young lilybulbs bud off, or like the young animals
in the fresh-water polyp.
In man, in all the higher terrestrial animals, such a method of
increase has disappeared; but even on this earth it was certainly the
primitive method. Among the lower animals, up even to those first
cousins of the vertebrated animals, the Tunicates, the two processes
occur side by side, but finally the sexual method superseded its
competitor altogether. On Mars, however, just the reverse has
apparently been the case.
It is worthy of remark that a certain speculative writer of
quasi-scientific repute, writing long before the Martian invasion, did
forecast for man a final structure not unlike the actual Martian
condition. His prophecy, I remember, appeared in November or
December, 1893, in a long-defunct publication, the PALL MALL BUDGET,
and I recall a caricature of it in a pre-Martian periodical called PUNCH.
He pointed out-- writing in a foolish, facetious tone-- that the
perfection of mechanical appliances must ultimately supersede limbs;
the perfection of chemical devices, digestion; that such organs as
hair, external nose, teeth, ears, and chin were no longer essential
parts of the human being, and that the tendency of natural selection
would lie in the direction of their steady diminution through the
coming ages. The brain alone remained a cardinal necessity. Only one
other part of the body had a strong case for survival, and that was
the hand, "teacher and agent of the brain." While the rest of the
body dwindled, the hands would grow larger.
There is many a true word written in jest, and here in the Martians
we have beyond dispute the actual accomplishment of such a suppression
of the animal side of the organism by the intelligence. To me it is
quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not
unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands (the
latter giving rise to the two bunches of delicate tentacles at last)
at the expense of the rest of the body. Without the body the brain
would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence, without any of
the emotional substratum of the human being.
The last salient point in which the systems of these creatures
differed from ours was in what one might have thought a very trivial
particular. Micro-organisms, which cause so much disease and pain on
earth, have either never appeared upon Mars or Martian sanitary
science eliminated them ages ago. A hundred diseases, all the fevers
and contagions of human life, consumption, cancers, tumours and such
morbidities, never enter the scheme of their life. And speaking of
the differences between the life on Mars and terrestrial life, I may
allude here to the curious suggestions of the red weed.
Apparently the vegetable kingdom in Mars, instead of having green
for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red tint. At any rate, the
seeds which the Martians (intentionally or accidentally) brought with
them gave rise in all cases to red-coloured growths. Only that known
popularly as the red weed, however, gained any footing in competition
with terrestrial forms. The red creeper was quite a transitory
growth, and few people have seen it growing. For a time, however, the
red weed grew with astonishing vigour and luxuriance. It spread up
the sides of the pit by the third or fourth day of our imprisonment,
and its cactus-like branches formed a carmine fringe to the edges of
our triangular window. And afterwards I found it broadcast throughout
the country, and especially wherever there was a stream of water.
The Martians had what appears to have been an auditory organ, a
single round drum at the back of the head-body, and eyes with a visual
range not very different from ours except that, according to Philips,
blue and violet were as black to them. It is commonly supposed that
they communicated by sounds and tentacular gesticulations; this is
asserted, for instance, in the able but hastily compiled pamphlet
(written evidently by someone not an eye-witness of Martian actions)
to which I have already alluded, and which, so far, has been the chief
source of information concerning them. Now no surviving human being
saw so much of the Martians in action as I did. I take no credit to
myself for an accident, but the fact is so. And I assert that I
watched them closely time after time, and that I have seen four, five,
and (once) six of them sluggishly performing the most elaborately
complicated operations together without either sound or gesture. Their
peculiar hooting invariably preceded feeding; it had no modulation,
and was, I believe, in no sense a signal, but merely the expiration of
air preparatory to the suctional operation. I have a certain claim to
at least an elementary knowledge of psychology, and in this matter I
am convinced-- as firmly as I am convinced of anything-- that the
Martians interchanged thoughts without any physical intermediation.
And I have been convinced of this in spite of strong preconceptions.
Before the Martian invasion, as an occasional reader here or there may
remember, I had written with some little vehemence against the
The Martians wore no clothing. Their conceptions of ornament and
decorum were necessarily different from ours; and not only were they
evidently much less sensible of changes of temperature than we are,
but changes of pressure do not seem to have affected their health at
all seriously. Yet though they wore no clothing, it was in the other
artificial additions to their bodily resources that their great
superiority over man lay. We men, with our bicycles and road-skates,
our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns and sticks and so forth, are
just in the beginning of the evolution that the Martians have worked
out. They have become practically mere brains, wearing different
bodies according to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and
take a bicycle in a hurry or an umbrella in the wet. And of their
appliances, perhaps nothing is more wonderful to a man than the
curious fact that what is the dominant feature of almost all human
devices in mechanism is absent-- the WHEEL is absent; among all the
things they brought to earth there is no trace or suggestion of their
use of wheels. One would have at least expected it in locomotion.
And in this connection it is curious to remark that even on this earth
Nature has never hit upon the wheel, or has preferred other expedients
to its development. And not only did the Martians either not know of
(which is incredible), or abstain from, the wheel, but in their
apparatus singularly little use is made of the fixed pivot or
relatively fixed pivot, with circular motions thereabout confined
to one plane. Almost all the joints of the machinery present a
complicated system of sliding parts moving over small but beautifully
curved friction bearings. And while upon this matter of detail, it is
remarkable that the long leverages of their machines are in most cases
actuated by a sort of sham musculature of the disks in an elastic
sheath; these disks become polarised and drawn closely and powerfully
together when traversed by a current of electricity. In this way the
curious parallelism to animal motions, which was so striking and
disturbing to the human beholder, was attained. Such quasi-muscles
abounded in the crablike handling-machine which, on my first peeping
out of the slit, I watched unpacking the cylinder. It seemed
infinitely more alive than the actual Martians lying beyond it in the
sunset light, panting, stirring ineffectual tentacles, and moving
feebly after their vast journey across space.
While I was still watching their sluggish motions in the sunlight,
and noting each strange detail of their form, the curate reminded me
of his presence by pulling violently at my arm. I turned to a
scowling face, and silent, eloquent lips. He wanted the slit, which
permitted only one of us to peep through; and so I had to forego
watching them for a time while he enjoyed that privilege.
When I looked again, the busy handling-machine had already put
together several of the pieces of apparatus it had taken out of the
cylinder into a shape having an unmistakable likeness to its own; and
down on the left a busy little digging mechanism had come into view,
emitting jets of green vapour and working its way round the pit,
excavating and embanking in a methodical and discriminating manner.
This it was which had caused the regular beating noise, and the
rhythmic shocks that had kept our ruinous refuge quivering. It piped
and whistled as it worked. So far as I could see, the thing was
without a directing Martian at all.
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