your online library and language lab
Contents > Author > H. G. Wells > The War of the Worlds 12 1866- 1946
Previous Next

H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds 12
printer friendly version
CHAPTER XII
WHAT I SAW OF THE DESTRUCTION OF WEYBRIDGE AND SHEPPERTON


As the dawn grew brighter we withdrew from the window from which
we had watched the Martians, and went very quietly downstairs.

The artilleryman agreed with me that the house was no place to stay
in. He proposed, he said, to make his way Londonward, and thence
rejoin his battery--No. 12, of the Horse Artillery. My plan was to
return at once to Leatherhead; and so greatly had the strength of the
Martians impressed me that I had determined to take my wife to
Newhaven, and go with her out of the country forthwith. For I already
perceived clearly that the country about London must inevitably be the
scene of a disastrous struggle before such creatures as these could be
destroyed.

Between us and Leatherhead, however, lay the third cylinder, with
its guarding giants. Had I been alone, I think I should have taken my
chance and struck across country. But the artilleryman dissuaded me:
"It's no kindness to the right sort of wife," he said, "to make her a
widow"; and in the end I agreed to go with him, under cover of the
woods, northward as far as Street Cobham before I parted with him.
Thence I would make a big detour by Epsom to reach Leatherhead.

I should have started at once, but my companion had been in active
service and he knew better than that. He made me ransack the house
for a flask, which he filled with whiskey; and we lined every
available pocket with packets of biscuits and slices of meat. Then
we crept out of the house, and ran as quickly as we could down the
ill-made road by which I had come overnight. The houses seemed
deserted. In the road lay a group of three charred bodies close
together, struck dead by the Heat-Ray; and here and there were things
that people had dropped-- a clock, a slipper, a silver spoon, and the
like poor valuables. At the corner turning up towards the post
office a little cart, filled with boxes and furniture, and horseless,
heeled over on a broken wheel. A cash box had been hastily smashed
open and thrown under the debris.

Except the lodge at the Orphanage, which was still on fire, none of
the houses had suffered very greatly here. The Heat-Ray had shaved
the chimney tops and passed. Yet, save ourselves, there did not seem
to be a living soul on Maybury Hill. The majority of the inhabitants
had escaped, I suppose, by way of the Old Woking road-- the road I
had taken when I drove to Leatherhead-- or they had hidden.

We went down the lane, by the body of the man in black, sodden now
from the overnight hail, and broke into the woods at the foot of the
hill. We pushed through these towards the railway without meeting a
soul. The woods across the line were but the scarred and blackened
ruins of woods; for the most part the trees had fallen, but a certain
proportion still stood, dismal grey stems, with dark brown foliage
instead of green.

On our side the fire had done no more than scorch the nearer trees;
it had failed to secure its footing. In one place the woodmen had
been at work on Saturday; trees, felled and freshly trimmed, lay in a
clearing, with heaps of sawdust by the sawing-machine and its engine.
Hard by was a temporary hut, deserted. There was not a breath of wind
this morning, and everything was strangely still. Even the birds were
hushed, and as we hurried along I and the artilleryman talked in
whispers and looked now and again over our shoulders. Once or twice
we stopped to listen.

After a time we drew near the road, and as we did so we heard the
clatter of hoofs and saw through the tree stems three cavalry soldiers
riding slowly towards Woking. We hailed them, and they halted while
we hurried towards them. It was a lieutenant and a couple of privates
of the 8th Hussars, with a stand like a theodolite, which the
artilleryman told me was a heliograph.

"You are the first men I've seen coming this way this morning,"
said the lieutenant. "What's brewing?"

His voice and face were eager. The men behind him stared
curiously. The artilleryman jumped down the bank into the road
and saluted.

"Gun destroyed last night, sir. Have been hiding. Trying to
rejoin battery, sir. You'll come in sight of the Martians, I expect,
about half a mile along this road."

"What the dickens are they like?" asked the lieutenant.

"Giants in armour, sir. Hundred feet high. Three legs and a body
like 'luminium, with a mighty great head in a hood, sir."

"Get out!" said the lieutenant. "What confounded nonsense!"

"You'll see, sir. They carry a kind of box, sir, that shoots fire
and strikes you dead."

"What d'ye mean-- a gun?"

"No, sir," and the artilleryman began a vivid account of the Heat-Ray.
Halfway through, the lieutenant interrupted him and looked up at
me. I was still standing on the bank by the side of the road.

"It's perfectly true," I said.

"Well," said the lieutenant, "I suppose it's my business to see it
too. Look here"-- to the artilleryman-- "we're detailed here clearing
people out of their houses. You'd better go along and report
yourself to Brigadier-General Marvin, and tell him all you know.
He's at Weybridge. Know the way?"

"I do," I said; and he turned his horse southward again.

"Half a mile, you say?" said he.

"At most," I answered, and pointed over the treetops southward.
He thanked me and rode on, and we saw them no more.

Farther along we came upon a group of three women and two
children in the road, busy clearing out a labourer's cottage. They
had got hold of a little hand truck, and were piling it up with
unclean-looking bundles and shabby furniture. They were all too
assiduously engaged to talk to us as we passed.

By Byfleet station we emerged from the pine trees, and found the
country calm and peaceful under the morning sunlight. We were far
beyond the range of the Heat-Ray there, and had it not been for the
silent desertion of some of the houses, the stirring movement of
packing in others, and the knot of soldiers standing on the bridge
over the railway and staring down the line towards Woking, the day
would have seemed very like any other Sunday.

Several farm waggons and carts were moving creakily along the road
to Addlestone, and suddenly through the gate of a field we saw, across
a stretch of flat meadow, six twelve-pounders standing neatly at equal
distances pointing towards Woking. The gunners stood by the guns
waiting, and the ammunition waggons were at a business-like distance.
The men stood almost as if under inspection.

"That's good!" said I. "They will get one fair shot, at any rate."

The artilleryman hesitated at the gate.

"I shall go on," he said.

Farther on towards Weybridge, just over the bridge, there were a
number of men in white fatigue jackets throwing up a long rampart,
and more guns behind.

"It's bows and arrows against the lightning, anyhow," said the
artilleryman. "They 'aven't seen that fire-beam yet."

The officers who were not actively engaged stood and stared over
the treetops southwestward, and the men digging would stop every now
and again to stare in the same direction.

Byfleet was in a tumult; people packing, and a score of hussars,
some of them dismounted, some on horseback, were hunting them about.
Three or four black government waggons, with crosses in white circles,
and an old omnibus, among other vehicles, were being loaded in the
village street. There were scores of people, most of them
sufficiently sabbatical to have assumed their best clothes. The
soldiers were having the greatest difficulty in making them realise
the gravity of their position. We saw one shrivelled old fellow with
a huge box and a score or more of flower pots containing orchids,
angrily expostulating with the corporal who would leave them behind.
I stopped and gripped his arm.

"Do you know what's over there?" I said, pointing at the pine tops
that hid the Martians.

"Eh?" said he, turning. "I was explainin' these is vallyble."

"Death!" I shouted. "Death is coming! Death!" and leaving him to
digest that if he could, I hurried on after the artillery-man. At the
corner I looked back. The soldier had left him, and he was still
standing by his box, with the pots of orchids on the lid of it, and
staring vaguely over the trees.

No one in Weybridge could tell us where the headquarters were
established; the whole place was in such confusion as I had never seen
in any town before. Carts, carriages everywhere, the most astonishing
miscellany of conveyances and horseflesh. The respectable inhabitants
of the place, men in golf and boating costumes, wives prettily
dressed, were packing, river-side loafers energetically helping,
children excited, and, for the most part, highly delighted at this
astonishing variation of their Sunday experiences. In the midst of it
all the worthy vicar was very pluckily holding an early celebration,
and his bell was jangling out above the excitement.

I and the artilleryman, seated on the step of the drinking
fountain, made a very passable meal upon what we had brought with
us. Patrols of soldiers-- here no longer hussars, but grenadiers in
white-- were warning people to move now or to take refuge in their
cellars as soon as the firing began. We saw as we crossed the
railway bridge that a growing crowd of people had assembled in and
about the railway station, and the swarming platform was piled with
boxes and packages. The ordinary traffic had been stopped, I believe,
in order to allow of the passage of troops and guns to Chertsey, and
I have heard since that a savage struggle occurred for places in the
special trains that were put on at a later hour.

We remained at Weybridge until midday, and at that hour we found
ourselves at the place near Shepperton Lock where the Wey and
Thames join. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack
a little cart. The Wey has a treble mouth, and at this point boats are
to be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On the
Shepperton side was an inn with a lawn, and beyond that the tower
of Shepperton Church-- it has been replaced by a spire-- rose above
the trees.

Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet the
flight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far more
people than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross.
People came panting along under heavy burdens; one husband and wife
were even carrying a small outhouse door between them, with some of
their household goods piled thereon. One man told us he meant to try
to get away from Shepperton station.

There was a lot of shouting, and one man was even jesting. The idea
people seemed to have here was that the Martians were simply
formidable human beings, who might attack and sack the town, to be
certainly destroyed in the end. Every now and then people would
glance nervously across the Wey, at the meadows towards Chertsey,
but everything over there was still.

Across the Thames, except just where the boats landed, everything
was quiet, in vivid contrast with the Surrey side. The people who
landed there from the boats went tramping off down the lane. The big
ferryboat had just made a journey. Three or four soldiers stood on
the lawn of the inn, staring and jesting at the fugitives, without
offering to help. The inn was closed, as it was now within prohibited
hours.

"What's that?" cried a boatman, and "Shut up, you fool!" said a man
near me to a yelping dog. Then the sound came again, this time from
the direction of Chertsey, a muffled thud-- the sound of a gun.

The fighting was beginning. Almost immediately unseen batteries
across the river to our right, unseen because of the trees, took up
the chorus, firing heavily one after the other. A woman screamed.
Everyone stood arrested by the sudden stir of battle, near us and yet
invisible to us. Nothing was to be seen save flat meadows, cows
feeding unconcernedly for the most part, and silvery pollard willows
motionless in the warm sunlight.

"The sojers'll stop 'em," said a woman beside me, doubtfully. A
haziness rose over the treetops.

Then suddenly we saw a rush of smoke far away up the river, a puff
of smoke that jerked up into the air and hung; and forthwith the
ground heaved under foot and a heavy explosion shook the air, smashing
two or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.

"Here they are!" shouted a man in a blue jersey. "Yonder! D'yer
see them? Yonder!"

Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armoured
Martians appeared, far away over the little trees, across the flat
meadows that stretched towards Chertsey, and striding hurriedly
towards the river. Little cowled figures they seemed at first, going
with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds.

Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth. Their armoured
bodies glittered in the sun as they swept swiftly forward upon the
guns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer. One on the extreme
left, the remotest that is, flourished a huge case high in the air,
and the ghostly, terrible Heat-Ray I had already seen on Friday night
smote towards Chertsey, and struck the town.

At sight of these strange, swift, and terrible creatures the crowd
near the water's edge seemed to me to be for a moment horror-struck.
There was no screaming or shouting, but a silence. Then a hoarse
murmur and a movement of feet-- a splashing from the water. A man,
too frightened to drop the portmanteau he carried on his shoulder,
swung round and sent me staggering with a blow from the corner of his
burden. A woman thrust at me with her hand and rushed past me. I
turned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified for
thought. The terrible Heat-Ray was in my mind. To get under water!
That was it!

"Get under water!" I shouted, unheeded.

I faced about again, and rushed towards the approaching Martian,
rushed right down the gravelly beach and headlong into the water.
Others did the same. A boatload of people putting back came leaping
out as I rushed past. The stones under my feet were muddy and
slippery, and the river was so low that I ran perhaps twenty feet
scarcely waist-deep. Then, as the Martian towered overhead scarcely
a couple of hundred yards away, I flung myself forward under the
surface. The splashes of the people in the boats leaping into the
river sounded like thunderclaps in my ears. People were landing
hastily on both sides of the river. But the Martian machine took no
more notice for the moment of the people running this way and that
than a man would of the confusion of ants in a nest against which his
foot has kicked. When, half suffocated, I raised my head above water,
the Martian's hood pointed at the batteries that were still firing
across the river, and as it advanced it swung loose what must have
been the generator of the Heat-Ray.

In another moment it was on the bank, and in a stride wading
halfway across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the farther
bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height
again, close to the village of Shepperton. Forthwith the six guns
which, unknown to anyone on the right bank, had been hidden behind the
outskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near
concussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. The
monster was already raising the case generating the Heat-Ray as the
first shell burst six yards above the hood.

I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of the
other four Martian monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearer
incident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the
body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to
dodge, the fourth shell.

The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The hood bulged,
flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red flesh
and glittering metal.

"Hit!" shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.

I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. I
could have leaped out of the water with that momentary exultation.

The decapitated colossus reeled like a drunken giant; but it did
not fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longer
heeding its steps and with the camera that fired the Heat-Ray now
rigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepperton. The living
intelligence, the Martian within the hood, was slain and splashed to
the four winds of heaven, and the Thing was now but a mere intricate
device of metal whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straight
line, incapable of guidance. It struck the tower of Shepperton
Church, smashing it down as the impact of a battering ram might have
done, swerved aside, blundered on and collapsed with tremendous force
into the river out of my sight.

A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam,
mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of
the Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed into
steam. In another moment a huge wave, like a muddy tidal bore but
almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw
people struggling shorewards, and heard their screaming and shouting
faintly above the seething and roar of the Martian's collapse.

For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need
of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water,
pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the
bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the
confusion of the waves. The fallen Martian came into sight
downstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.

Thick clouds of steam were pouring off the wreckage, and through
the tumultuously whirling wisps I could see, intermittently and
vaguely, the gigantic limbs churning the water and flinging a splash
and spray of mud and froth into the air. The tentacles swayed and
struck like living arms, and, save for the helpless purposelessness of
these movements, it was as if some wounded thing were struggling for
its life amid the waves. Enormous quantities of a ruddy-brown fluid
were spurting up in noisy jets out of the machine.

My attention was diverted from this death flurry by a furious
yelling, like that of the thing called a siren in our manufacturing
towns. A man, knee-deep near the towing path, shouted inaudibly to me
and pointed. Looking back, I saw the other Martians advancing with
gigantic strides down the riverbank from the direction of Chertsey.
The Shepperton guns spoke this time unavailingly.

At that I ducked at once under water, and, holding my breath until
movement was an agony, blundered painfully ahead under the surface as
long as I could. The water was in a tumult about me, and rapidly
growing hotter.

When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw the
hair and water from my eyes, the steam was rising in a whirling white
fog that at first hid the Martians altogether. The noise was
deafening. Then I saw them dimly, colossal figures of grey, magnified
by the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over the
frothing, tumultuous ruins of their comrade.

The third and fourth stood beside him in the water, one perhaps two
hundred yards from me, the other towards Laleham. The generators of
the Heat-Rays waved high, and the hissing beams smote down this way
and that.

The air was full of sound, a deafening and confusing conflict of
noises--the clangorous din of the Martians, the crash of falling
houses, the thud of trees, fences, sheds flashing into flame, and the
crackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up to
mingle with the steam from the river, and as the Heat-Ray went to and
fro over Weybridge its impact was marked by flashes of incandescent
white, that gave place at once to a smoky dance of lurid flames. The
nearer houses still stood intact, awaiting their fate, shadowy, faint
and pallid in the steam, with the fire behind them going to and fro.

For a moment perhaps I stood there, breast-high in the almost
boiling water, dumbfounded at my position, hopeless of escape.
Through the reek I could see the people who had been with me
in the river scrambling out of the water through the reeds, like
little frogs hurrying through grass from the advance of a man,
or running to and fro in utter dismay on the towing path.

Then suddenly the white flashes of the Heat-Ray came leaping
towards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch, and
darted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. The Ray
flickered up and down the towing path, licking off the people who ran
this way and that, and came down to the water's edge not fifty yards
from where I stood. It swept across the river to Shepperton, and the
water in its track rose in a boiling weal crested with steam. I
turned shoreward.

In another moment the huge wave, well-nigh at the boiling-point had
rushed upon me. I screamed aloud, and scalded, half blinded,
agonised, I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards the
shore. Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end. I fell
helplessly, in full sight of the Martians, upon the broad, bare
gravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames.
I expected nothing but death.

I have a dim memory of the foot of a Martian coming down within a
score of yards of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel,
whirling it this way and that and lifting again; of a long suspense,
and then of the four carrying the debris of their comrade between
them, now clear and then presently faint through a veil of smoke,
receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space of
river and meadow. And then, very slowly, I realised that by a miracle
I had escaped.


--------------------------------------------------------------
 

Previous Next

17894548 visitors
· 8908 texts · 2350 recordings · 957 authors · 194 readers

· Home · Index · Audio Clips · Links · Feedback · About Us · Contact Us ·


Copyright © RepeatAfterUs.com. All Rights Reserved.



Warning: Unknown: Your script possibly relies on a session side-effect which existed until PHP 4.2.3. Please be advised that the session extension does not consider global variables as a source of data, unless register_globals is enabled. You can disable this functionality and this warning by setting session.bug_compat_42 or session.bug_compat_warn to off, respectively in Unknown on line 0