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H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds 11
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CHAPTER XI
AT THE WINDOW


I have already said that my storms of emotion have a trick of
exhausting themselves. After a time I discovered that I was cold
and wet, and with little pools of water about me on the stair carpet.
I got up almost mechanically, went into the dining room and drank
some whiskey, and then I was moved to change my clothes.

After I had done that I went upstairs to my study, but why I did so
I do not know. The window of my study looks over the trees and the
railway towards Horsell Common. In the hurry of our departure this
window had been left open. The passage was dark, and, by contrast
with the picture the window frame enclosed, the side of the room
seemed impenetrably dark. I stopped short in the doorway.

The thunderstorm had passed. The towers of the Oriental College
and the pine trees about it had gone, and very far away, lit by a
vivid red glare, the common about the sand pits was visible. Across
the light huge black shapes, grotesque and strange, moved busily
to and fro.

It seemed indeed as if the whole country in that direction was on
fire-- a broad hillside set with minute tongues of flame, swaying and
writhing with the gusts of the dying storm, and throwing a red
reflection upon the cloud-scud above. Every now and then a haze of
smoke from some nearer conflagration drove across the window and
hid the Martian shapes. I could not see what they were doing, nor the
clear form of them, nor recognise the black objects they were busied
upon. Neither could I see the nearer fire, though the reflections of
it danced on the wall and ceiling of the study. A sharp, resinous
tang of burning was in the air.

I closed the door noiselessly and crept towards the window. As I
did so, the view opened out until, on the one hand, it reached to the
houses about Woking station, and on the other to the charred and
blackened pine woods of Byfleet. There was a light down below the
hill, on the railway, near the arch, and several of the houses along
the Maybury road and the streets near the station were glowing ruins.
The light upon the railway puzzled me at first; there were a black
heap and a vivid glare, and to the right of that a row of yellow
oblongs. Then I perceived this was a wrecked train, the fore part
smashed and on fire, the hinder carriages still upon the rails.

Between these three main centres of light-- the houses, the train,
and the burning county towards Chobham-- stretched irregular patches
of dark country, broken here and there by intervals of dimly glowing and
smoking ground. It was the strangest spectacle, that black expanse set
with fire. It reminded me, more than anything else, of the Potteries
at night. At first I could distinguish no people at all, though I
peered intently for them. Later I saw against the light of Woking
station a number of black figures hurrying one after the other across
the line.

And this was the little world in which I had been living securely
for years, this fiery chaos! What had happened in the last seven
hours I still did not know; nor did I know, though I was beginning to
guess, the relation between these mechanical colossi and the sluggish
lumps I had seen disgorged from the cylinder. With a queer feeling of
impersonal interest I turned my desk chair to the window, sat down,
and stared at the blackened country, and particularly at the three
gigantic black things that were going to and fro in the glare about
the sand pits.

They seemed amazingly busy. I began to ask myself what they could
be. Were they intelligent mechanisms? Such a thing I felt was
impossible. Or did a Martian sit within each, ruling, directing,
using, much as a man's brain sits and rules in his body? I began to
compare the things to human machines, to ask myself for the first time
in my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would seem to an
intelligent lower animal.

The storm had left the sky clear, and over the smoke of the burning
land the little fading pinpoint of Mars was dropping into the west,
when a soldier came into my garden. I heard a slight scraping at the
fence, and rousing myself from the lethargy that had fallen upon me, I
looked down and saw him dimly, clambering over the palings. At the
sight of another human being my torpor passed, and I leaned out of the
window eagerly.

"Hist!" said I, in a whisper.

He stopped astride of the fence in doubt. Then he came over and
across the lawn to the corner of the house. He bent down and stepped
softly.

"Who's there?" he said, also whispering, standing under the window
and peering up.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"God knows."

"Are you trying to hide?"

"That's it."

"Come into the house," I said.

I went down, unfastened the door, and let him in, and locked the
door again. I could not see his face. He was hatless, and his coat
was unbuttoned.

"My God!" he said, as I drew him in.

"What has happened?" I asked.

"What hasn't?" In the obscurity I could see he made a gesture of
despair. "They wiped us out-- simply wiped us out," he repeated
again and again.

He followed me, almost mechanically, into the dining room.

"Take some whiskey," I said, pouring out a stiff dose.

He drank it. Then abruptly he sat down before the table, put his
head on his arms, and began to sob and weep like a little boy, in a
perfect passion of emotion, while I, with a curious forgetfulness of
my own recent despair, stood beside him, wondering.

It was a long time before he could steady his nerves to answer my
questions, and then he answered perplexingly and brokenly. He was a
driver in the artillery, and had only come into action about seven. At
that time firing was going on across the common, and it was said the
first party of Martians were crawling slowly towards their second
cylinder under cover of a metal shield.

Later this shield staggered up on tripod legs and became the first
of the fighting-machines I had seen. The gun he drove had been
unlimbered near Horsell, in order to command the sand pits, and its
arrival it was that had precipitated the action. As the limber
gunners went to the rear, his horse trod in a rabbit hole and came
down, throwing him into a depression of the ground. At the same
moment the gun exploded behind him, the ammunition blew up, there
was fire all about him, and he found himself lying under a heap of
charred dead men and dead horses.

"I lay still," he said, "scared out of my wits, with the fore quarter
of a horse atop of me. We'd been wiped out. And the smell-- good
God! Like burnt meat! I was hurt across the back by the fall of
the horse, and there I had to lie until I felt better. Just like
parade it had been a minute before-- then stumble, bang, swish!"

"Wiped out!" he said.

He had hid under the dead horse for a long time, peeping out
furtively across the common. The Cardigan men had tried a rush, in
skirmishing order, at the pit, simply to be swept out of existence.
Then the monster had risen to its feet and had begun to walk leisurely
to and fro across the common among the few fugitives, with its
headlike hood turning about exactly like the head of a cowled human
being. A kind of arm carried a complicated metallic case, about which
green flashes scintillated, and out of the funnel of this there smoked
the Heat-Ray.

In a few minutes there was, so far as the soldier could see, not a
living thing left upon the common, and every bush and tree upon it
that was not already a blackened skeleton was burning. The hussars
had been on the road beyond the curvature of the ground, and he saw
nothing of them. He heard the Martians rattle for a time and then
become still. The giant saved Woking station and its cluster of houses
until the last; then in a moment the Heat-Ray was brought to bear, and
the town became a heap of fiery ruins. Then the Thing shut off the
Heat-Ray, and turning its back upon the artilleryman, began to waddle
away towards the smouldering pine woods that sheltered the second
cylinder. As it did so a second glittering Titan built itself up out
of the pit.

The second monster followed the first, and at that the artilleryman
began to crawl very cautiously across the hot heather ash towards
Horsell. He managed to get alive into the ditch by the side of the
road, and so escaped to Woking. There his story became ejaculatory.
The place was impassable. It seems there were a few people alive
there, frantic for the most part and many burned and scalded. He was
turned aside by the fire, and hid among some almost scorching heaps of
broken wall as one of the Martian giants returned. He saw this one
pursue a man, catch him up in one of its steely tentacles, and knock
his head against the trunk of a pine tree. At last, after nightfall,
the artilleryman made a rush for it and got over the railway
embankment.

Since then he had been skulking along towards Maybury, in the hope
of getting out of danger Londonward. People were hiding in trenches
and cellars, and many of the survivors had made off towards Woking
village and Send. He had been consumed with thirst until he found one
of the water mains near the railway arch smashed, and the water
bubbling out like a spring upon the road.

That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew calmer
telling me and trying to make me see the things he had seen. He had
eaten no food since midday, he told me early in his narrative, and I
found some mutton and bread in the pantry and brought it into the
room. We lit no lamp for fear of attracting the Martians, and ever
and again our hands would touch upon bread or meat. As he talked,
things about us came darkly out of the darkness, and the trampled
bushes and broken rose trees outside the window grew distinct. It
would seem that a number of men or animals had rushed across the
lawn. I began to see his face, blackened and haggard, as no doubt
mine was also.

When we had finished eating we went softly upstairs to my study,
and I looked again out of the open window. In one night the valley
had become a valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Where
flames had been there were now streamers of smoke; but the countless
ruins of shattered and gutted houses and blasted and blackened trees
that the night had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in the
pitiless light of dawn. Yet here and there some object had had the
luck to escape-- a white railway signal here, the end of a greenhouse
there, white and fresh amid the wreckage. Never before in the history
of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal.
And shining with the growing light of the east, three of the metallic
giants stood about the pit, their cowls rotating as though they were
surveying the desolation they had made.

It seemed to me that the pit had been enlarged, and ever and again
puffs of vivid green vapour streamed up and out of it towards the
brightening dawn-- streamed up, whirled, broke, and vanished.

Beyond were the pillars of fire about Chobham. They became pillars
of bloodshot smoke at the first touch of day.



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