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H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds 03
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CHAPTER III

ON HORSELL COMMON


I found a little crowd of perhaps twenty people surrounding the
huge hole in which the cylinder lay. I have already described the
appearance of that colossal bulk, embedded in the ground. The
turf and gravel about it seemed charred as if by a sudden
explosion. No doubt its impact had caused a flash of fire. Henderson
and Ogilvy were not there. I think they perceived that nothing
was to be done for the present, and had gone away to breakfast
at Henderson's house.

There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the Pit, with
their feet dangling, and amusing themselves-- until I stopped
them-- by throwing stones at the giant mass. After I had spoken
to them about it, they began playing at "touch" in and out of
the group of bystanders.

Among these were a couple of cyclists, a jobbing gardener I
employed sometimes, a girl carrying a baby, Gregg the butcher
and his little boy, and two or three loafers and golf caddies
who were accustomed to hang about the railway station. There
was very little talking. Few of the common people in England
had anything but the vaguest astronomical ideas in those days.
Most of them were staring quietly at the big table like end of
the cylinder, which was still as Ogilvy and Henderson had left it.
I fancy the popular expectation of a heap of charred corpses
was disappointed at this inanimate bulk. Some went away
while I was there, and other people came. I clambered
into the pit and fancied I heard a faint movement under my feet.
The top had certainly ceased to rotate.

It was only when I got thus close to it that the strangeness of
this object was at all evident to me. At the first glance it was
really no more exciting than an overturned carriage or a tree blown
across the road. Not so much so, indeed. It looked like a rusty gas
float. It required a certain amount of scientific education to
perceive that the grey scale of the Thing was no common oxide, that
the yellowish-white metal that gleamed in the crack between the lid
and the cylinder had an unfamiliar hue. "Extra-terrestrial" had no
meaning for most of the onlookers.

At that time it was quite clear in my own mind that the Thing had
come from the planet Mars, but I judged it improbable that it
contained any living creature. I thought the unscrewing might be
automatic. In spite of Ogilvy, I still believed that there were men
in Mars. My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of its
containing manuscript, on the difficulties in translation that might
arise, whether we should find coins and models in it, and so forth.
Yet it was a little too large for assurance on this idea. I felt an
impatience to see it opened. About eleven, as nothing seemed
happening, I walked back, full of such thought, to my home in
Maybury. But I found it difficult to get to work upon my abstract
investigations.

In the afternoon the appearance of the common had altered very
much. The early editions of the evening papers had startled
London with enormous headlines:

"A MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MARS."

"REMARKABLE STORY FROM WOKING,"

and so forth. In addition, Ogilvy's wire to the Astronomical
Exchange had roused every observatory in the three kingdoms.

There were half a dozen flies or more from the Woking station
standing in the road by the sand pits, a basket-chaise from Chobham,
and a rather lordly carriage. Besides that, there was quite a heap
of bicycles. In addition, a large number of people must have walked,
in spite of the heat of the day, from Woking and Chertsey, so that
there was altogether quite a considerable crowd-- one or two
gaily dressed ladies among the others.

It was glaringly hot, not a cloud in the sky nor a breath of wind,
and the only shadow was that of the few scattered pine trees.
The burning heather had been extinguished, but the level ground
towards Ottershaw was blackened as far as one could see, and
still giving off vertical streamers of smoke. An enterprising
sweet-stuff dealer in the Chobham Road had sent up his son
with a barrow-load of green apples and ginger beer.

Going to the edge of the pit, I found it occupied by a group of
about half a dozen men-- Henderson, Ogilvy, and a tall, fair-haired
man that I afterwards learned was Stent, the Astronomer Royal,
with several workmen wielding spades and pickaxes. Stent was
giving directions in a clear, high-pitched voice. He was standing
on the cylinder, which was now evidently much cooler; his face
was crimson and streaming with perspiration, and something
seemed to have irritated him.

A large portion of the cylinder had been uncovered, though its
lower end was still embedded. As soon as Ogilvy saw me
among the staring crowd on the edge of the pit he called to me
to come down, and asked me if I would mind going over to see
Lord Hilton, the lord of the manor.

The growing crowd, he said, was becoming a serious impediment
to their excavations, especially the boys. They wanted a light
railing put up, and help to keep the people back. He told me that
a faint stirring was occasionally still audible within the case, but
that the workmen had failed to unscrew the top, as it afforded
no grip to them. The case appeared to be enormously thick, and
it was possible that the faint sounds we heard represented a
noisy tumult in the interior.

I was very glad to do as he asked, and so become one of the
privileged spectators within the contemplated enclosure. I failed to
find Lord Hilton at his house, but I was told he was expected from
London by the six o'clock train from Waterloo; and as it was then
about a quarter past five, I went home, had some tea, and walked
up to the station to waylay him.


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