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H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds 07
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CHAPTER VII
HOW I REACHED HOME


For my own part, I remember nothing of my flight except the stress
of blundering against trees and stumbling through the heather. All
about me gathered the invisible terrors of the Martians; that pitiless
sword of heat seemed whirling to and fro, flourishing overhead before
it descended and smote me out of life. I came into the road between
the crossroads and Horsell, and ran along this to the crossroads.

At last I could go no further; I was exhausted with the violence of
my 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.
I fell and lay still.

I must have remained there some time.

I sat up, strangely perplexed. For a moment, perhaps, I could not
clearly understand how I came there. My terror had fallen from me
like a garment. My hat had gone, and my collar had burst away from
its fastener. A few minutes before, there had only been three real
things before me-- the immensity of the night and space and nature,
my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death.
Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered
abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to
the other. I was immediately the self of every day again-- a decent,
ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the
starting flames, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself
had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it.

I rose and walked unsteadily up the steep incline of the bridge. My
mind was blank wonder. My muscles and nerves seemed drained of
their strength. I dare say I staggered drunkenly. A head rose over the
arch, and the figure of a workman carrying a basket appeared. Beside
him ran a little boy. He passed me, wishing me good night. I was
minded to speak to him, but did not. I answered his greeting with a
meaningless mumble and went on over the bridge.

Over the Maybury arch a train, a billowing tumult of white, firelit
smoke, and a long caterpillar of lighted windows, went flying
south-- clatter, clatter, clap, rap, and it had gone. A dim group of
people talked in the gate of one of the houses in the pretty little
row of gables that was called Oriental Terrace. It was all so real
and 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 my
experience is common. At times I suffer from the strangest sense of
detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all
from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time,
out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all. This feeling
was very strong upon me that night. Here was another side to my
dream.

But the trouble was the blank incongruity of this serenity and the
swift death flying yonder, not two miles away. There was a noise of
business from the gasworks, and the electric lamps were all alight.
I stopped 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
the gate. "What's it all abart?"

"Haven't you heard of the men from Mars?" said I; "the creatures
from Mars?"

"Quite enough," said the woman over the gate. "Thenks"; and all
three of them laughed.

I felt foolish and angry. I tried and found I could not tell them
what 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 into
the dining room, sat down, drank some wine, and so soon as I
could collect myself sufficiently I told her the things I had seen. The
dinner, which was a cold one, had already been served, and
remained neglected 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
keep the pit and kill people who come near them, but they cannot
get out of it. . . . But the horror of them!"

"Don't, dear!" said my wife, knitting her brows and putting her
hand 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 saw
how 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 had
told me of the impossibility of the Martians establishing themselves
on the earth. In particular I laid stress on the gravitational
difficulty. On the surface of the earth the force of gravity is three
times what it is on the surface of Mars. A Martian, therefore, would
weigh three times more than on Mars, albeit his muscular strength
would 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
DAILY TELEGRAPH, for instance, insisted on it the next morning,
and both overlooked, just as I did, two obvious modifying influences.

The atmosphere of the earth, we now know, contains far more oxygen
or far less argon (whichever way one likes to put it) than does Mars.
The invigorating influences of this excess of oxygen upon the Martians
indisputably did much to counterbalance the increased weight of their
bodies. And, in the second place, we all overlooked the fact that
such mechanical intelligence as the Martian possessed was quite able
to dispense with muscular exertion at a pinch.

But I did not consider these points at the time, and so my
reasoning was dead against the chances of the invaders. With wine
and food, the confidence of my own table, and the necessity of
reassuring my 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 no
intelligent living things."

"A shell in the pit" said I, "if the worst comes to the worst will
kill them all."

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my
perceptive powers in a state of erethism. I remember that dinner
table with extraordinary vividness even now. My dear wife's sweet
anxious face peering at me from under the pink lamp shade, the
white cloth with its silver and glass table furniture-- for in those days
even philosophical writers had many little luxuries-- the crimson-purple
wine in my glass, are photographically distinct. At the end of
it I sat, tempering nuts with a cigarette, regretting Ogilvy's
rashness, and denouncing the shortsighted timidity of the Martians.

So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it
in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless
sailors 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 to
eat for very many strange and terrible days.



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