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H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds 14
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CHAPTER XIV
IN LONDON


My younger brother was in London when the Martians fell at Woking.
He was a medical student working for an imminent examination, and
he heard nothing of the arrival until Saturday morning. The morning
papers on Saturday contained, in addition to lengthy special articles
on the planet Mars, on life in the planets, and so forth, a brief and
vaguely worded telegram, all the more striking for its brevity.

The Martians, alarmed by the approach of a crowd, had killed a
number of people with a quick-firing gun, so the story ran. The
telegram concluded with the words: "Formidable as they seem to be,
the Martians have not moved from the pit into which they have fallen,
and, indeed, seem incapable of doing so. Probably this is due to the
relative strength of the earth's gravitational energy." On that last
text their leader-writer expanded very comfortingly.

Of course all the students in the crammer's biology class, to which
my brother went that day, were intensely interested, but there were no
signs of any unusual excitement in the streets. The afternoon papers
puffed scraps of news under big headlines. They had nothing to tell
beyond the movements of troops about the common, and the burning of
the pine woods between Woking and Weybridge, until eight. Then the
ST. JAMES'S GAZETTE, in an extra-special edition, announced the bare
fact of the interruption of telegraphic communication. This was
thought to be due to the falling of burning pine trees across the
line. Nothing more of the fighting was known that night, the night of
my drive to Leatherhead and back.

My brother felt no anxiety about us, as he knew from the
description in the papers that the cylinder was a good two miles from
my house. He made up his mind to run down that night to me, in order,
as he says, to see the Things before they were killed. He dispatched
a telegram, which never reached me, about four o'clock, and spent
the evening at a music hall.

In London, also, on Saturday night there was a thunderstorm, and my
brother reached Waterloo in a cab. On the platform from which the
midnight train usually starts he learned, after some waiting, that an
accident prevented trains from reaching Woking that night. The nature
of the accident he could not ascertain; indeed, the railway
authorities did not clearly know at that time. There was very little
excitement in the station, as the officials, failing to realise that
anything further than a breakdown between Byfleet and Woking junction
had occurred, were running the theatre trains which usually passed
through Woking round by Virginia Water or Guildford. They were busy
making the necessary arrangements to alter the route of the
Southampton and Portsmouth Sunday League excursions. A nocturnal
newspaper reporter, mistaking my brother for the traffic manager, to
whom he bears a slight resemblance, waylaid and tried to interview
him. Few people, excepting the railway officials, connected the
breakdown with the Martians.

I have read, in another account of these events, that on Sunday
morning "all London was electrified by the news from Woking." As a
matter of fact, there was nothing to justify that very extravagant
phrase. Plenty of Londoners did not hear of the Martians until the
panic of Monday morning. Those who did took some time to realise all
that the hastily worded telegrams in the Sunday papers conveyed.
The majority of people in London do not read Sunday papers.

The habit of personal security, moreover, is so deeply fixed in the
Londoner's mind, and startling intelligence so much a matter of course
in the papers, that they could read without any personal tremors:
"About seven o'clock last night the Martians came out of the cylinder,
and, moving about under an armour of metallic shields, have completely
wrecked Woking station with the adjacent houses, and massacred an
entire battalion of the Cardigan Regiment. No details are known.
Maxims have been absolutely useless against their armour; the field
guns have been disabled by them. Flying hussars have been galloping
into Chertsey. The Martians appear to be moving slowly towards
Chertsey or Windsor. Great anxiety prevails in West Surrey, and
earthworks are being thrown up to check the advance Londonward."
That was how the Sunday SUN put it, and a clever and remarkably
prompt "handbook" article in the REFEREE compared the affair to a
menagerie suddenly let loose in a village.

No one in London knew positively of the nature of the armoured
Martians, and there was still a fixed idea that these monsters must be
sluggish: "crawling," "creeping painfully"-- such expressions occurred
in almost all the earlier reports. None of the telegrams could have
been written by an eyewitness of their advance. The Sunday papers
printed separate editions as further news came to hand, some even in
default of it. But there was practically nothing more to tell people
until late in the afternoon, when the authorities gave the press
agencies the news in their possession. It was stated that the people
of Walton and Weybridge, and all the district were pouring along the
roads Londonward, and that was all.

My brother went to church at the Foundling Hospital in the morning,
still in ignorance of what had happened on the previous night. There
he heard allusions made to the invasion, and a special prayer for
peace. Coming out, he bought a REFEREE. He became alarmed at
the news in this, and went again to Waterloo station to find out if
communication were restored. The omnibuses, carriages, cyclists, and
innumerable people walking in their best clothes seemed scarcely
affected by the strange intelligence that the news venders were
disseminating. People were interested, or, if alarmed, alarmed only
on account of the local residents. At the station he heard for the
first time that the Windsor and Chertsey lines were now interrupted.
The porters told him that several remarkable telegrams had been
received in the morning from Byfleet and Chertsey stations, but that
these had abruptly ceased. My brother could get very little precise
detail out of them.

"There's fighting going on about Weybridge" was the extent of their
information.

The train service was now very much disorganised. Quite a number
of people who had been expecting friends from places on the
South-Western network were standing about the station. One
grey-headed old gentleman came and abused the South-Western
Company bitterly to my brother. "It wants showing up," he said.

One or two trains came in from Richmond, Putney, and Kingston,
containing people who had gone out for a day's boating and found the
locks closed and a feeling of panic in the air. A man in a blue and
white blazer addressed my brother, full of strange tidings.

"There's hosts of people driving into Kingston in traps and carts
and things, with boxes of valuables and all that," he said. "They
come from Molesey and Weybridge and Walton, and they say there's
been guns heard at Chertsey, heavy firing, and that mounted soldiers
have told them to get off at once because the Martians are coming.
We heard guns firing at Hampton Court station, but we thought it was
thunder. What the dickens does it all mean? The Martians can't get
out of their pit, can they?"

My brother could not tell him.

Afterwards he found that the vague feeling of alarm had spread to
the clients of the underground railway, and that the Sunday
excursionists began to return from all over the South-Western
"lung"-- Barnes, Wimbledon, Richmond Park, Kew, and so forth-- at
unnaturally early hours; but not a soul had anything more than
vague hearsay to tell of. Everyone connected with the terminus
seemed ill-tempered.

About five o'clock the gathering crowd in the station was immensely
excited by the opening of the line of communication, which is almost
invariably closed, between the South-Eastern and the South-Western
stations, and the passage of carriage trucks bearing huge guns and
carriages crammed with soldiers. These were the guns that were
brought up from Woolwich and Chatham to cover Kingston. There was
an exchange of pleasantries: "You'll get eaten!" "We're the
beast-tamers!" and so forth. A little while after that a squad of
police came into the station and began to clear the public off the
platforms, and my brother went out into the street again.

The church bells were ringing for evensong, and a squad of
Salvation Army lassies came singing down Waterloo Road. On the bridge
a number of loafers were watching a curious brown scum that came
drifting down the stream in patches. The sun was just setting, and the
Clock Tower and the Houses of Parliament rose against one of the most
peaceful skies it is possible to imagine, a sky of gold, barred with
long transverse stripes of reddish-purple cloud. There was talk of a
floating body. One of the men there, a reservist he said he was, told
my brother he had seen the heliograph flickering in the west.

In Wellington Street my brother met a couple of sturdy roughs who
had just been rushed out of Fleet Street with still-wet newspapers and
staring placards. "Dreadful catastrophe!" they bawled one to the
other down Wellington Street. "Fighting at Weybridge! Full
description! Repulse of the Martians! London in Danger!" He had to
give threepence for a copy of that paper.

Then it was, and then only, that he realised something of the full
power and terror of these monsters. He learned that they were not
merely a handful of small sluggish creatures, but that they were minds
swaying vast mechanical bodies; and that they could move swiftly and
smite with such power that even the mightiest guns could not stand
against them.

They were described as "vast spiderlike machines, nearly a hundred
feet high, capable of the speed of an express train, and able to shoot
out a beam of intense heat." Masked batteries, chiefly of field guns,
had been planted in the country about Horsell Common, and especially
between the Woking district and London. Five of the machines had been
seen moving towards the Thames, and one, by a happy chance, had
been destroyed. In the other cases the shells had missed, and the
batteries had been at once annihilated by the Heat-Rays. Heavy
losses of soldiers were mentioned, but the tone of the dispatch was
optimistic.

The Martians had been repulsed; they were not invulnerable. They
had retreated to their triangle of cylinders again, in the circle
about Woking. Signallers with heliographs were pushing forward
upon them from all sides. Guns were in rapid transit from Windsor,
Portsmouth, Aldershot, Woolwich-- even from the north; among others,
long wire-guns of ninety-five tons from Woolwich. Altogether one
hundred and sixteen were in position or being hastily placed, chiefly
covering London. Never before in England had there been such a vast
or rapid concentration of military material.

Any further cylinders that fell, it was hoped, could be destroyed
at once by high explosives, which were being rapidly manufactured
and distributed. No doubt, ran the report, the situation was of the
strangest and gravest description, but the public was exhorted to
avoid and discourage panic. No doubt the Martians were strange and
terrible in the extreme, but at the outside there could not be more
than twenty of them against our millions.

The authorities had reason to suppose, from the size of the
cylinders, that at the outside there could not be more than five in
each cylinder-- fifteen altogether. And one at least was disposed
of-- perhaps more. The public would be fairly warned of the approach
of danger, and elaborate measures were being taken for the protection
of the people in the threatened southwestern suburbs. And so, with
reiterated assurances of the safety of London and the ability of the
authorities to cope with the difficulty, this quasi-proclamation
closed.

This was printed in enormous type on paper so fresh that it was
still wet, and there had been no time to add a word of comment. It
was curious, my brother said, to see how ruthlessly the usual contents
of the paper had been hacked and taken out to give this place.

All down Wellington Street people could be seen fluttering out the
pink sheets and reading, and the Strand was suddenly noisy with the
voices of an army of hawkers following these pioneers. Men came
scrambling off buses to secure copies. Certainly this news excited
people intensely, whatever their previous apathy. The shutters of a
map shop in the Strand were being taken down, my brother said, and
a man in his Sunday raiment, lemon-yellow gloves even, was visible
inside the window hastily fastening maps of Surrey to the glass.

Going on along the Strand to Trafalgar Square, the paper in his
hand, my brother saw some of the fugitives from West Surrey. There
was a man with his wife and two boys and some articles of furniture in
a cart such as greengrocers use. He was driving from the direction of
Westminster Bridge; and close behind him came a hay waggon with five
or six respectable-looking people in it, and some boxes and bundles.
The faces of these people were haggard, and their entire appearance
contrasted conspicuously with the Sabbath-best appearance of the
people on the omnibuses. People in fashionable clothing peeped at
them out of cabs. They stopped at the Square as if undecided which
way to take, and finally turned eastward along the Strand. Some way
behind these came a man in workday clothes, riding one of those
old-fashioned tricycles with a small front wheel. He was dirty and
white in the face.

My brother turned down towards Victoria, and met a number of such
people. He had a vague idea that he might see something of me. He
noticed an unusual number of police regulating the traffic. Some of
the refugees were exchanging news with the people on the omnibuses.
One was professing to have seen the Martians. "Boilers on stilts, I
tell you, striding along like men." Most of them were excited and
animated by their strange experience.

Beyond Victoria the public-houses were doing a lively trade with
these arrivals. At all the street corners groups of people were
reading papers, talking excitedly, or staring at these unusual Sunday
visitors. They seemed to increase as night drew on, until at last the
roads, my brother said, were like Epsom High Street on a Derby Day.
My brother addressed several of these fugitives and got unsatisfactory
answers from most.

None of them could tell him any news of Woking except one man, who
assured him that Woking had been entirely destroyed on the previous
night.

"I come from Byfleet," he said; "man on a bicycle came through the
place in the early morning, and ran from door to door warning us to
come away. Then came soldiers. We went out to look, and there were
clouds of smoke to the south-- nothing but smoke, and not a soul coming
that way. Then we heard the guns at Chertsey, and folks coming from
Weybridge. So I've locked up my house and come on."

At the time there was a strong feeling in the streets that the
authorities were to blame for their incapacity to dispose of the
invaders without all this inconvenience.

About eight o'clock a noise of heavy firing was distinctly audible
all over the south of London. My brother could not hear it for the
traffic in the main thoroughfares, but by striking through the quiet
back streets to the river he was able to distinguish it quite plainly.

He walked from Westminster to his apartments near Regent's Park,
about two. He was now very anxious on my account, and disturbed at
the evident magnitude of the trouble. His mind was inclined to run,
even as mine had run on Saturday, on military details. He thought of
all those silent, expectant guns, of the suddenly nomadic countryside;
he tried to imagine "boilers on stilts" a hundred feet high.

There were one or two cartloads of refugees passing along Oxford
Street, and several in the Marylebone Road, but so slowly was the news
spreading that Regent Street and Portland Place were full of their
usual Sunday-night promenaders, albeit they talked in groups, and
along the edge of Regent's Park there were as many silent couples
"walking out" together under the scattered gas lamps as ever there had
been. The night was warm and still, and a little oppressive; the
sound of guns continued intermittently, and after midnight there
seemed to be sheet lightning in the south.

He read and re-read the paper, fearing the worst had happened to me.
He was restless, and after supper prowled out again aimlessly. He
returned and tried in vain to divert his attention to his examination
notes. He went to bed a little after midnight, and was awakened from
lurid dreams in the small hours of Monday by the sound of door
knockers, feet running in the street, distant drumming, and a clamour
of bells. Red reflections danced on the ceiling. For a moment he lay
astonished, wondering whether day had come or the world gone mad.
Then he jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

His room was an attic and as he thrust his head out, up and down
the street there were a dozen echoes to the noise of his window sash,
and heads in every kind of night disarray appeared. Enquiries were
being shouted. "They are coming!" bawled a policeman, hammering at
the door; "the Martians are coming!" and hurried to the next door.

The sound of drumming and trumpeting came from the Albany Street
Barracks, and every church within earshot was hard at work killing
sleep with a vehement disorderly tocsin. There was a noise of doors
opening, and window after window in the houses opposite flashed from
darkness into yellow illumination.

Up the street came galloping a closed carriage, bursting abruptly
into noise at the corner, rising to a clattering climax under the
window, and dying away slowly in the distance. Close on the rear of
this came a couple of cabs, the forerunners of a long procession of
flying vehicles, going for the most part to Chalk Farm station, where
the North-Western special trains were loading up, instead of coming
down the gradient into Euston.

For a long time my brother stared out of the window in blank
astonishment, watching the policemen hammering at door after door, and
delivering their incomprehensible message. Then the door behind him
opened, and the man who lodged across the landing came in, dressed
only in shirt, trousers, and slippers, his braces loose about his
waist, his hair disordered from his pillow.

"What the devil is it?" he asked. "A fire? What a devil of a
row!"

They both craned their heads out of the window, straining to hear
what the policemen were shouting. People were coming out of the side
streets, and standing in groups at the corners talking.

"What the devil is it all about?" said my brother's fellow lodger.

My brother answered him vaguely and began to dress, running with
each garment to the window in order to miss nothing of the growing
excitement. And presently men selling unnaturally early newspapers
came bawling into the street:

"London in danger of suffocation! The Kingston and Richmond
defences forced! Fearful massacres in the Thames Valley!"

And all about him-- in the rooms below, in the houses on each side
and across the road, and behind in the Park Terraces and in the
hundred other streets of that part of Marylebone, and the Westbourne
Park district and St. Pancras, and westward and northward in Kilburn
and St. John's Wood and Hampstead, and eastward in Shoreditch and
Highbury and Haggerston and Hoxton, and, indeed, through all the
vastness of London from Ealing to East Ham-- people were rubbing their
eyes, and opening windows to stare out and ask aimless questions,
dressing hastily as the first breath of the coming storm of Fear blew
through the streets. It was the dawn of the great panic. London,
which had gone to bed on Sunday night oblivious and inert, was
awakened, in the small hours of Monday morning, to a vivid sense of
danger.

Unable from his window to learn what was happening, my brother went
down and out into the street, just as the sky between the parapets of
the houses grew pink with the early dawn. The flying people on foot
and in vehicles grew more numerous every moment. "Black Smoke!" he
heard people crying, and again "Black Smoke!" The contagion of such
a unanimous fear was inevitable. As my brother hesitated on the
door-step, he saw another news vender approaching, and got a paper
forthwith. The man was running away with the rest, and selling his
papers for a shilling each as he ran-- a grotesque mingling of profit
and panic.

And from this paper my brother read that catastrophic dispatch of
the Commander-in-Chief:

"The Martians are able to discharge enormous clouds of a black and
poisonous vapour by means of rockets. They have smothered our
batteries, destroyed Richmond, Kingston, and Wimbledon, and are
advancing slowly towards London, destroying everything on the way.
It is impossible to stop them. There is no safety from the Black
Smoke but in instant flight."

That was all, but it was enough. The whole population of the great
six-million city was stirring, slipping, running; presently it would
be pouring EN MASSE northward.

"Black Smoke!" the voices cried. "Fire!"

The bells of the neighbouring church made a jangling tumult, a cart
carelessly driven smashed, amid shrieks and curses, against the water
trough up the street. Sickly yellow lights went to and fro in the
houses, and some of the passing cabs flaunted unextinguished lamps.
And overhead the dawn was growing brighter, clear and steady and
calm.

He heard footsteps running to and fro in the rooms, and up and down
stairs behind him. His landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped in
dressing gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating.

As my brother began to realise the import of all these things, he
turned hastily to his own room, put all his available money-- some ten
pounds altogether-- into his pockets, and went out again into the
streets.



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