Go back to The War of the Worlds 08
H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946)
The War of the Worlds 08
The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the strange and
wonderful things that happened upon that Friday, was the dovetailing
of the commonplace habits of our social order with the first
beginnings of the series of events that was to topple that social
order headlong. If on Friday night you had taken a pair of compasses
and drawn a circle with a radius of five miles round the Woking sand
pits, I doubt if you would have had one human being outside it, unless
it were some relation of Stent or of the three or four cyclists or
London people lying dead on the common, whose emotions or habits
were at all affected by the new-comers. Many people had heard of
the cylinder, of course, and talked about it in their leisure, but it
certainly did not make the sensation that an ultimatum to Germany
would have done.
In London that night poor Henderson's telegram describing the
gradual unscrewing of the shot was judged to be a canard, and his
evening paper, after wiring for authentication from him and receiving
no reply-- the man was killed-- decided not to print a special edition.
Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people were
inert. I have already described the behaviour of the men and women
to whom I spoke. All over the district people were dining and supping;
working men were gardening after the labours of the day, children
were being put to bed, young people were wandering through the
lanes love-making, students sat over their books.
Maybe there was a murmur in the village streets, a novel and
dominant topic in the public-houses, and here and there a messenger,
or even an eye-witness of the later occurrences, caused a whirl of
excitement, a shouting, and a running to and fro; but for the most
part the daily routine of working, eating, drinking, sleeping, went on
as it had done for countless years-- as though no planet Mars existed
in the sky. Even at Woking station and Horsell and Chobham that
was the case.
In Woking junction, until a late hour, trains were stopping and
going on, others were shunting on the sidings, passengers were
alighting and waiting, and everything was proceeding in the most
ordinary way. A boy from the town, trenching on Smith's monopoly,
was selling papers with the afternoon's news. The ringing impact of
trucks, the sharp whistle of the engines from the junction, mingled
with their shouts of "Men from Mars!" Excited men came into the
station about nine o'clock with incredible tidings, and caused no more
disturbance than drunkards might have done. People rattling
Londonwards peered into the darkness outside the carriage windows,
and saw only a rare, flickering, vanishing spark dance up from the
direction of Horsell, a red glow and a thin veil of smoke driving
across the stars, and thought that nothing more serious than a heath
fire was happening. It was only round the edge of the common that any
disturbance was perceptible. There were half a dozen villas burning
on the Woking border. There were lights in all the houses on the
common side of the three villages, and the people there kept awake
A curious crowd lingered restlessly, people coming and going but
the crowd remaining, both on the Chobham and Horsell bridges. One or
two adventurous souls, it was afterwards found, went into the darkness
and crawled quite near the Martians; but they never returned, for now
and again a light-ray, like the beam of a warship's searchlight swept
the common, and the Heat-Ray was ready to follow. Save for such, that
big area of common was silent and desolate, and the charred bodies lay
about on it all night under the stars, and all the next day. A noise
of 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. Around
it was a patch of silent common, smouldering in places, and with a few
dark, dimly seen objects lying in contorted attitudes here and there.
Here and there was a burning bush or tree. Beyond was a fringe of
excitement, and farther than that fringe the inflammation had not
crept as yet. In the rest of the world the stream of life still
flowed as it had flowed for immemorial years. The fever of war that
would 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,
and ever and again a puff of greenish-white smoke whirled up to
the starlit sky.
About eleven a company of soldiers came through Horsell, and
deployed along the edge of the common to form a cordon. Later a
second company marched through Chobham to deploy on the north
side of the common. Several officers from the Inkerman barracks had
been on the common earlier in the day, and one, Major Eden, was
reported to be missing. The colonel of the regiment came to the
Chobham bridge and was busy questioning the crowd at midnight.
The military authorities were certainly alive to the seriousness of the
business. About eleven, the next morning's papers were able to say,
a squadron of hussars, two Maxims, and about four hundred men
of the Cardigan regiment 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 the
northwest. It had a greenish colour, and caused a silent
brightness like summer lightning. This was the second cylinder.
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