The War of the Worlds
H. G. Wells [Herbert George]
Part 2 out of 4
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
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
"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
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
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
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.
HOW I FELL IN WITH THE CURATE
After getting this sudden lesson in the power of terrestrial
weapons, the Martians retreated to their original position upon
Horsell Common; and in their haste, and encumbered with the debris of
their smashed companion, they no doubt overlooked many such a stray
and negligible victim as myself. Had they left their comrade and
pushed on forthwith, there was nothing at that time between them and
London but batteries of twelve-pounder guns, and they would certainly
have reached the capital in advance of the tidings of their approach;
as sudden, dreadful, and destructive their advent would have been as
the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon a century ago.
But they were in no hurry. Cylinder followed cylinder on its
interplanetary flight; every twenty-four hours brought them
reinforcement. And meanwhile the military and naval authorities, now
fully alive to the tremendous power of their antagonists, worked with
furious energy. Every minute a fresh gun came into position until,
before twilight, every copse, every row of suburban villas on the
hilly slopes about Kingston and Richmond, masked an expectant black
muzzle. And through the charred and desolated area--perhaps twenty
square miles altogether--that encircled the Martian encampment on
Horsell Common, through charred and ruined villages among the green
trees, through the blackened and smoking arcades that had been but a
day ago pine spinneys, crawled the devoted scouts with the heliographs
that were presently to warn the gunners of the Martian approach. But
the Martians now understood our command of artillery and the danger of
human proximity, and not a man ventured within a mile of either
cylinder, save at the price of his life.
It would seem that these giants spent the earlier part of the
afternoon in going to and fro, transferring everything from the second
and third cylinders--the second in Addlestone Golf Links and the third
at Pyrford--to their original pit on Horsell Common. Over that, above
the blackened heather and ruined buildings that stretched far and
wide, stood one as sentinel, while the rest abandoned their vast
fighting-machines and descended into the pit. They were hard at work
there far into the night, and the towering pillar of dense green smoke
that rose therefrom could be seen from the hills about Merrow, and
even, it is said, from Banstead and Epsom Downs.
And while the Martians behind me were thus preparing for their next
sally, and in front of me Humanity gathered for the battle, I made my
way with infinite pains and labour from the fire and smoke of burning
Weybridge towards London.
I saw an abandoned boat, very small and remote, drifting down-
stream; and throwing off the most of my sodden clothes, I went after
it, gained it, and so escaped out of that destruction. There were no
oars in the boat, but I contrived to paddle, as well as my parboiled
hands would allow, down the river towards Halliford and Walton, going
very tediously and continually looking behind me, as you may well
understand. I followed the river, because I considered that the water
gave me my best chance of escape should these giants return.
The hot water from the Martian's overthrow drifted downstream with
me, so that for the best part of a mile I could see little of either
bank. Once, however, I made out a string of black figures hurrying
across the meadows from the direction of Weybridge. Halliford, it
seemed, was deserted, and several of the houses facing the river were
on fire. It was strange to see the place quite tranquil, quite
desolate under the hot blue sky, with the smoke and little threads of
flame going straight up into the heat of the afternoon. Never before
had I seen houses burning without the accompaniment of an obstructive
crowd. A little farther on the dry reeds up the bank were smoking and
glowing, and a line of fire inland was marching steadily across a late
field of hay.
For a long time I drifted, so painful and weary was I after the
violence I had been through, and so intense the heat upon the water.
Then my fears got the better of me again, and I resumed my paddling.
The sun scorched my bare back. At last, as the bridge at Walton was
coming into sight round the bend, my fever and faintness overcame my
fears, and I landed on the Middlesex bank and lay down, deadly sick,
amid the long grass. I suppose the time was then about four or five
o'clock. I got up presently, walked perhaps half a mile without
meeting a soul, and then lay down again in the shadow of a hedge. I
seem to remember talking, wanderingly, to myself during that last
spurt. I was also very thirsty, and bitterly regretful I had drunk no
more water. It is a curious thing that I felt angry with my wife; I
cannot account for it, but my impotent desire to reach Leatherhead
worried me excessively.
I do not clearly remember the arrival of the curate, so that
probably I dozed. I became aware of him as a seated figure in soot-
smudged shirt sleeves, and with his upturned, clean-shaven face
staring at a faint flickering that danced over the sky. The sky was
what is called a mackerel sky--rows and rows of faint down-plumes of
cloud, just tinted with the midsummer sunset.
I sat up, and at the rustle of my motion he looked at me quickly.
"Have you any water?" I asked abruptly.
He shook his head.
"You have been asking for water for the last hour," he said.
For a moment we were silent, taking stock of each other. I dare
say he found me a strange enough figure, naked, save for my water-
soaked trousers and socks, scalded, and my face and shoulders
blackened by the smoke. His face was a fair weakness, his chin
retreated, and his hair lay in crisp, almost flaxen curls on his low
forehead; his eyes were rather large, pale blue, and blankly staring.
He spoke abruptly, looking vacantly away from me.
"What does it mean?" he said. "What do these things mean?"
I stared at him and made no answer.
He extended a thin white hand and spoke in almost a complaining
"Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? The
morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my
brain for the afternoon, and then--fire, earthquake, death! As if it
were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work---- What
are these Martians?"
"What are we?" I answered, clearing my throat.
He gripped his knees and turned to look at me again. For half a
minute, perhaps, he stared silently.
"I was walking through the roads to clear my brain," he said. "And
suddenly--fire, earthquake, death!"
He relapsed into silence, with his chin now sunken almost to his
Presently he began waving his hand.
"All the work--all the Sunday schools--What have we done--what has
Weybridge done? Everything gone--everything destroyed. The church!
We rebuilt it only three years ago. Gone! Swept out of existence!
Another pause, and he broke out again like one demented.
"The smoke of her burning goeth up for ever and ever!" he shouted.
His eyes flamed, and he pointed a lean finger in the direction of
By this time I was beginning to take his measure. The tremendous
tragedy in which he had been involved--it was evident he was a
fugitive from Weybridge--had driven him to the very verge of his
"Are we far from Sunbury?" I said, in a matter-of-fact tone.
"What are we to do?" he asked. "Are these creatures everywhere?
Has the earth been given over to them?"
"Are we far from Sunbury?"
"Only this morning I officiated at early celebration----"
"Things have changed," I said, quietly. "You must keep your head.
There is still hope."
"Yes. Plentiful hope--for all this destruction!"
I began to explain my view of our position. He listened at first,
but as I went on the interest dawning in his eyes gave place to their
former stare, and his regard wandered from me.
"This must be the beginning of the end," he said, interrupting me.
"The end! The great and terrible day of the Lord! When men shall
call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them and hide
them--hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne!"
I began to understand the position. I ceased my laboured
reasoning, struggled to my feet, and, standing over him, laid my hand
on his shoulder.
"Be a man!" said I. "You are scared out of your wits! What good
is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes
and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you
think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent."
For a time he sat in blank silence.
"But how can we escape?" he asked, suddenly. "They are
invulnerable, they are pitiless."
"Neither the one nor, perhaps, the other," I answered. "And the
mightier they are the more sane and wary should we be. One of them
was killed yonder not three hours ago."
"Killed!" he said, staring about him. "How can God's ministers be
"I saw it happen." I proceeded to tell him. "We have chanced to
come in for the thick of it," said I, "and that is all."
"What is that flicker in the sky?" he asked abruptly.
I told him it was the heliograph signalling--that it was the sign
of human help and effort in the sky.
"We are in the midst of it," I said, "quiet as it is. That flicker
in the sky tells of the gathering storm. Yonder, I take it are the
Martians, and Londonward, where those hills rise about Richmond and
Kingston and the trees give cover, earthworks are being thrown up and
guns are being placed. Presently the Martians will be coming this way
And even as I spoke he sprang to his feet and stopped me by a
"Listen!" he said.
From beyond the low hills across the water came the dull resonance
of distant guns and a remote weird crying. Then everything was still.
A cockchafer came droning over the hedge and past us. High in the
west the crescent moon hung faint and pale above the smoke of
Weybridge and Shepperton and the hot, still splendour of the sunset.
"We had better follow this path," I said, "northward."
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 from this paper my brother read that catastrophic dispatch of
"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
WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN SURREY
It was while the curate had sat and talked so wildly to me under
the hedge in the flat meadows near Halliford, and while my brother was
watching the fugitives stream over Westminster Bridge, that the
Martians had resumed the offensive. So far as one can ascertain from
the conflicting accounts that have been put forth, the majority of
them remained busied with preparations in the Horsell pit until nine
that night, hurrying on some operation that disengaged huge volumes of
But three certainly came out about eight o'clock and, advancing
slowly and cautiously, made their way through Byfleet and Pyrford
towards Ripley and Weybridge, and so came in sight of the expectant
batteries against the setting sun. These Martians did not advance in
a body, but in a line, each perhaps a mile and a half from his nearest
fellow. They communicated with one another by means of sirenlike
howls, running up and down the scale from one note to another.
It was this howling and firing of the guns at Ripley and St.
George's Hill that we had heard at Upper Halliford. The Ripley
gunners, unseasoned artillery volunteers who ought never to have been
placed in such a position, fired one wild, premature, ineffectual
volley, and bolted on horse and foot through the deserted village,
while the Martian, without using his Heat-Ray, walked serenely over
their guns, stepped gingerly among them, passed in front of them, and
so came unexpectedly upon the guns in Painshill Park, which he
The St. George's Hill men, however, were better led or of a better
mettle. Hidden by a pine wood as they were, they seem to have been
quite unsuspected by the Martian nearest to them. They laid their
guns as deliberately as if they had been on parade, and fired at about
a thousand yards' range.
The shells flashed all round him, and he was seen to advance a few
paces, stagger, and go down. Everybody yelled together, and the guns
were reloaded in frantic haste. The overthrown Martian set up a
prolonged ululation, and immediately a second glittering giant,
answering him, appeared over the trees to the south. It would seem
that a leg of the tripod had been smashed by one of the shells. The
whole of the second volley flew wide of the Martian on the ground,
and, simultaneously, both his companions brought their Heat-Rays to
bear on the battery. The ammunition blew up, the pine trees all about
the guns flashed into fire, and only one or two of the men who were
already running over the crest of the hill escaped.
After this it would seem that the three took counsel together and
halted, and the scouts who were watching them report that they
remained absolutely stationary for the next half hour. The Martian
who had been overthrown crawled tediously out of his hood, a small
brown figure, oddly suggestive from that distance of a speck of
blight, and apparently engaged in the repair of his support. About
nine he had finished, for his cowl was then seen above the trees
It was a few minutes past nine that night when these three
sentinels were joined by four other Martians, each carrying a thick
black tube. A similar tube was handed to each of the three, and the
seven proceeded to distribute themselves at equal distances along a
curved line between St. George's Hill, Weybridge, and the village of
Send, southwest of Ripley.
A dozen rockets sprang out of the hills before them so soon as they
began to move, and warned the waiting batteries about Ditton and
Esher. At the same time four of their fighting machines, similarly
armed with tubes, crossed the river, and two of them, black against
the western sky, came into sight of myself and the curate as we
hurried wearily and painfully along the road that runs northward out
of Halliford. They moved, as it seemed to us, upon a cloud, for a
milky mist covered the fields and rose to a third of their height.
At this sight the curate cried faintly in his throat, and began
running; but I knew it was no good running from a Martian, and I
turned aside and crawled through dewy nettles and brambles into the
broad ditch by the side of the road. He looked back, saw what I was
doing, and turned to join me.
The two halted, the nearer to us standing and facing Sunbury, the
remoter being a grey indistinctness towards the evening star, away
The occasional howling of the Martians had ceased; they took up
their positions in the huge crescent about their cylinders in absolute
silence. It was a crescent with twelve miles between its horns. Never
since the devising of gunpowder was the beginning of a battle so
still. To us and to an observer about Ripley it would have had
precisely the same effect--the Martians seemed in solitary possession
of the darkling night, lit only as it was by the slender moon, the
stars, the afterglow of the daylight, and the ruddy glare from St.
George's Hill and the woods of Painshill.
But facing that crescent everywhere--at Staines, Hounslow, Ditton,
Esher, Ockham, behind hills and woods south of the river, and across
the flat grass meadows to the north of it, wherever a cluster of trees
or village houses gave sufficient cover--the guns were waiting. The
signal rockets burst and rained their sparks through the night and
vanished, and the spirit of all those watching batteries rose to a
tense expectation. The Martians had but to advance into the line of
fire, and instantly those motionless black forms of men, those guns
glittering so darkly in the early night, would explode into a
thunderous fury of battle.
No doubt the thought that was uppermost in a thousand of those
vigilant minds, even as it was uppermost in mine, was the riddle--how
much they understood of us. Did they grasp that we in our millions
were organized, disciplined, working together? Or did they interpret
our spurts of fire, the sudden stinging of our shells, our steady
investment of their encampment, as we should the furious unanimity of
onslaught in a disturbed hive of bees? Did they dream they might
exterminate us? (At that time no one knew what food they needed.) A
hundred such questions struggled together in my mind as I watched that
vast sentinel shape. And in the back of my mind was the sense of all
the huge unknown and hidden forces Londonward. Had they prepared
pitfalls? Were the powder mills at Hounslow ready as a snare? Would
the Londoners have the heart and courage to make a greater Moscow of
their mighty province of houses?
Then, after an interminable time, as it seemed to us, crouching and
peering through the hedge, came a sound like the distant concussion of
a gun. Another nearer, and then another. And then the Martian beside
us raised his tube on high and discharged it, gunwise, with a heavy
report that made the ground heave. The one towards Staines answered
him. There was no flash, no smoke, simply that loaded detonation.
I was so excited by these heavy minute-guns following one another
that I so far forgot my personal safety and my scalded hands as to
clamber up into the hedge and stare towards Sunbury. As I did so a
second report followed, and a big projectile hurtled overhead towards
Hounslow. I expected at least to see smoke or fire, or some such
evidence of its work. But all I saw was the deep blue sky above, with
one solitary star, and the white mist spreading wide and low beneath.
And there had been no crash, no answering explosion. The silence was
restored; the minute lengthened to three.
"What has happened?" said the curate, standing up beside me.
"Heaven knows!" said I.
A bat flickered by and vanished. A distant tumult of shouting
began and ceased. I looked again at the Martian, and saw he was now
moving eastward along the riverbank, with a swift, rolling motion,
Every moment I expected the fire of some hidden battery to spring
upon him; but the evening calm was unbroken. The figure of the Martian
grew smaller as he receded, and presently the mist and the gathering
night had swallowed him up. By a common impulse we clambered higher.
Towards Sunbury was a dark appearance, as though a conical hill had
suddenly come into being there, hiding our view of the farther
country; and then, remoter across the river, over Walton, we saw
another such summit. These hill-like forms grew lower and broader
even as we stared.
Moved by a sudden thought, I looked northward, and there I
perceived a third of these cloudy black kopjes had risen.
Everything had suddenly become very still. Far away to the
southeast, marking the quiet, we heard the Martians hooting to one
another, and then the air quivered again with the distant thud of
their guns. But the earthly artillery made no reply.
Now at the time we could not understand these things, but later I
was to learn the meaning of these ominous kopjes that gathered in the
twilight. Each of the Martians, standing in the great crescent I have
described, had discharged, by means of the gunlike tube he carried, a
huge canister over whatever hill, copse, cluster of houses, or other
possible cover for guns, chanced to be in front of him. Some fired
only one of these, some two--as in the case of the one we had seen;
the one at Ripley is said to have discharged no fewer than five at
that time. These canisters smashed on striking the ground--they did
not explode--and incontinently disengaged an enormous volume of heavy,
inky vapour, coiling and pouring upward in a huge and ebony cumulus
cloud, a gaseous hill that sank and spread itself slowly over the
surrounding country. And the touch of that vapour, the inhaling of
its pungent wisps, was death to all that breathes.
It was heavy, this vapour, heavier than the densest smoke, so that,
after the first tumultuous uprush and outflow of its impact, it sank
down through the air and poured over the ground in a manner rather
liquid than gaseous, abandoning the hills, and streaming into the
valleys and ditches and watercourses even as I have heard the
carbonic-acid gas that pours from volcanic clefts is wont to do. And
where it came upon water some chemical action occurred, and the
surface would be instantly covered with a powdery scum that sank
slowly and made way for more. The scum was absolutely insoluble, and
it is a strange thing, seeing the instant effect of the gas, that one
could drink without hurt the water from which it had been strained.
The vapour did not diffuse as a true gas would do. It hung together
in banks, flowing sluggishly down the slope of the land and driving
reluctantly before the wind, and very slowly it combined with the mist
and moisture of the air, and sank to the earth in the form of dust.
Save that an unknown element giving a group of four lines in the blue
of the spectrum is concerned, we are still entirely ignorant of the
nature of this substance.
Once the tumultuous upheaval of its dispersion was over, the black
smoke clung so closely to the ground, even before its precipitation,
that fifty feet up in the air, on the roofs and upper stories of high
houses and on great trees, there was a chance of escaping its poison
altogether, as was proved even that night at Street Cobham and Ditton.
The man who escaped at the former place tells a wonderful story of
the strangeness of its coiling flow, and how he looked down from the
church spire and saw the houses of the village rising like ghosts out
of its inky nothingness. For a day and a half he remained there,
weary, starving and sun-scorched, the earth under the blue sky and
against the prospect of the distant hills a velvet-black expanse, with
red roofs, green trees, and, later, black-veiled shrubs and gates,
barns, outhouses, and walls, rising here and there into the sunlight.
But that was at Street Cobham, where the black vapour was allowed
to remain until it sank of its own accord into the ground. As a rule
the Martians, when it had served its purpose, cleared the air of it
again by wading into it and directing a jet of steam upon it.
This they did with the vapour banks near us, as we saw in the
starlight from the window of a deserted house at Upper Halliford,
whither we had returned. From there we could see the searchlights on
Richmond Hill and Kingston Hill going to and fro, and about eleven the
windows rattled, and we heard the sound of the huge siege guns that
had been put in position there. These continued intermittently for
the space of a quarter of an hour, sending chance shots at the
invisible Martians at Hampton and Ditton, and then the pale beams of
the electric light vanished, and were replaced by a bright red glow.
Then the fourth cylinder fell--a brilliant green meteor--as I
learned afterwards, in Bushey Park. Before the guns on the Richmond
and Kingston line of hills began, there was a fitful cannonade far
away in the southwest, due, I believe, to guns being fired haphazard
before the black vapour could overwhelm the gunners.
So, setting about it as methodically as men might smoke out a
wasps' nest, the Martians spread this strange stifling vapour over the
Londonward country. The horns of the crescent slowly moved apart,
until at last they formed a line from Hanwell to Coombe and Malden.
All night through their destructive tubes advanced. Never once, after
the Martian at St. George's Hill was brought down, did they give the
artillery the ghost of a chance against them. Wherever there was a
possibility of guns being laid for them unseen, a fresh canister of
the black vapour was discharged, and where the guns were openly
displayed the Heat-Ray was brought to bear.
By midnight the blazing trees along the slopes of Richmond Park and
the glare of Kingston Hill threw their light upon a network of black
smoke, blotting out the whole valley of the Thames and extending as
far as the eye could reach. And through this two Martians slowly
waded, and turned their hissing steam jets this way and that.
They were sparing of the Heat-Ray that night, either because they
had but a limited supply of material for its production or because
they did not wish to destroy the country but only to crush and overawe
the opposition they had aroused. In the latter aim they certainly
succeeded. Sunday night was the end of the organised opposition to
their movements. After that no body of men would stand against them,
so hopeless was the enterprise. Even the crews of the torpedo-boats
and destroyers that had brought their quick-firers up the Thames
refused to stop, mutinied, and went down again. The only offensive
operation men ventured upon after that night was the preparation of
mines and pitfalls, and even in that their energies were frantic and
One has to imagine, as well as one may, the fate of those batteries
towards Esher, waiting so tensely in the twilight. Survivors there
were none. One may picture the orderly expectation, the officers
alert and watchful, the gunners ready, the ammunition piled to hand,
the limber gunners with their horses and waggons, the groups of
civilian spectators standing as near as they were permitted, the
evening stillness, the ambulances and hospital tents with the burned
and wounded from Weybridge; then the dull resonance of the shots the
Martians fired, and the clumsy projectile whirling over the trees and
houses and smashing amid the neighbouring fields.
One may picture, too, the sudden shifting of the attention, the
swiftly spreading coils and bellyings of that blackness advancing
headlong, towering heavenward, turning the twilight to a palpable
darkness, a strange and horrible antagonist of vapour striding upon
its victims, men and horses near it seen dimly, running, shrieking,
falling headlong, shouts of dismay, the guns suddenly abandoned, men
choking and writhing on the ground, and the swift broadening-out of
the opaque cone of smoke. And then night and extinction--nothing but
a silent mass of impenetrable vapour hiding its dead.
Before dawn the black vapour was pouring through the streets of
Richmond, and the disintegrating organism of government was, with a
last expiring effort, rousing the population of London to the
necessity of flight.
THE EXODUS FROM LONDON
So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the
greatest city in the world just as Monday was dawning--the stream of
flight rising swiftly to a torrent, lashing in a foaming tumult round
the railway stations, banked up into a horrible struggle about the
shipping in the Thames, and hurrying by every available channel
northward and eastward. By ten o'clock the police organisation, and
by midday even the railway organisations, were losing coherency,
losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in
that swift liquefaction of the social body.
All the railway lines north of the Thames and the South-Eastern
people at Cannon Street had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and
trains were being filled. People were fighting savagely for standing-
room in the carriages even at two o'clock. By three, people were
being trampled and crushed even in Bishopsgate Street, a couple of
hundred yards or more from Liverpool Street station; revolvers were
fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct
the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the
people they were called out to protect.
And as the day advanced and the engine drivers and stokers refused
to return to London, the pressure of the flight drove the people in an
ever-thickening multitude away from the stations and along the
northward-running roads. By midday a Martian had been seen at Barnes,
and a cloud of slowly sinking black vapour drove along the Thames and
across the flats of Lambeth, cutting off all escape over the bridges
in its sluggish advance. Another bank drove over Ealing, and
surrounded a little island of survivors on Castle Hill, alive, but
unable to escape.
After a fruitless struggle to get aboard a North-Western train at
Chalk Farm--the engines of the trains that had loaded in the goods
yard there PLOUGHED through shrieking people, and a dozen stalwart men
fought to keep the crowd from crushing the driver against his
furnace--my brother emerged upon the Chalk Farm road, dodged across
through a hurrying swarm of vehicles, and had the luck to be foremost
in the sack of a cycle shop. The front tire of the machine he got was
punctured in dragging it through the window, but he got up and off,
notwithstanding, with no further injury than a cut wrist. The steep
foot of Haverstock Hill was impassable owing to several overturned
horses, and my brother struck into Belsize Road.
So he got out of the fury of the panic, and, skirting the Edgware
Road, reached Edgware about seven, fasting and wearied, but well ahead
of the crowd. Along the road people were standing in the roadway,
curious, wondering. He was passed by a number of cyclists, some
horsemen, and two motor cars. A mile from Edgware the rim of the
wheel broke, and the machine became unridable. He left it by the
roadside and trudged through the village. There were shops half
opened in the main street of the place, and people crowded on the
pavement and in the doorways and windows, staring astonished at this
extraordinary procession of fugitives that was beginning. He
succeeded in getting some food at an inn.
For a time he remained in Edgware not knowing what next to do. The
flying people increased in number. Many of them, like my brother,
seemed inclined to loiter in the place. There was no fresh news of
the invaders from Mars.
At that time the road was crowded, but as yet far from congested.
Most of the fugitives at that hour were mounted on cycles, but there
were soon motor cars, hansom cabs, and carriages hurrying along, and
the dust hung in heavy clouds along the road to St. Albans.
It was perhaps a vague idea of making his way to Chelmsford, where
some friends of his lived, that at last induced my brother to strike
into a quiet lane running eastward. Presently he came upon a stile,
and, crossing it, followed a footpath northeastward. He passed near
several farmhouses and some little places whose names he did not
learn. He saw few fugitives until, in a grass lane towards High
Barnet, he happened upon two ladies who became his fellow travellers.
He came upon them just in time to save them.
He heard their screams, and, hurrying round the corner, saw a
couple of men struggling to drag them out of the little pony-chaise in
which they had been driving, while a third with difficulty held the
frightened pony's head. One of the ladies, a short woman dressed in
white, was simply screaming; the other, a dark, slender figure,
slashed at the man who gripped her arm with a whip she held in her
My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and hurried
towards the struggle. One of the men desisted and turned towards him,
and my brother, realising from his antagonist's face that a fight was
unavoidable, and being an expert boxer, went into him forthwith and
sent him down against the wheel of the chaise.
It was no time for pugilistic chivalry and my brother laid him
quiet with a kick, and gripped the collar of the man who pulled at the
slender lady's arm. He heard the clatter of hoofs, the whip stung
across his face, a third antagonist struck him between the eyes, and
the man he held wrenched himself free and made off down the lane in
the direction from which he had come.
Partly stunned, he found himself facing the man who had held the
horse's head, and became aware of the chaise receding from him down
the lane, swaying from side to side, and with the women in it looking
back. The man before him, a burly rough, tried to close, and he
stopped him with a blow in the face. Then, realising that he was
deserted, he dodged round and made off down the lane after the chaise,
with the sturdy man close behind him, and the fugitive, who had turned
now, following remotely.
Suddenly he stumbled and fell; his immediate pursuer went headlong,
and he rose to his feet to find himself with a couple of antagonists
again. He would have had little chance against them had not the
slender lady very pluckily pulled up and returned to his help. It
seems she had had a revolver all this time, but it had been under the
seat when she and her companion were attacked. She fired at six
yards' distance, narrowly missing my brother. The less courageous of
the robbers made off, and his companion followed him, cursing his
cowardice. They both stopped in sight down the lane, where the third
man lay insensible.
"Take this!" said the slender lady, and she gave my brother her
"Go back to the chaise," said my brother, wiping the blood from his
She turned without a word--they were both panting--and they went
back to where the lady in white struggled to hold back the frightened
The robbers had evidently had enough of it. When my brother looked
again they were retreating.
"I'll sit here," said my brother, "if I may"; and he got upon the
empty front seat. The lady looked over her shoulder.
"Give me the reins," she said, and laid the whip along the pony's
side. In another moment a bend in the road hid the three men from my
So, quite unexpectedly, my brother found himself, panting, with a
cut mouth, a bruised jaw, and bloodstained knuckles, driving along an
unknown lane with these two women.
He learned they were the wife and the younger sister of a surgeon
living at Stanmore, who had come in the small hours from a dangerous
case at Pinner, and heard at some railway station on his way of the
Martian advance. He had hurried home, roused the women--their servant
had left them two days before--packed some provisions, put his
revolver under the seat--luckily for my brother--and told them to
drive on to Edgware, with the idea of getting a train there. He
stopped behind to tell the neighbours. He would overtake them, he
said, at about half past four in the morning, and now it was nearly
nine and they had seen nothing of him. They could not stop in Edgware
because of the growing traffic through the place, and so they had come
into this side lane.
That was the story they told my brother in fragments when presently
they stopped again, nearer to New Barnet. He promised to stay with
them, at least until they could determine what to do, or until the
missing man arrived, and professed to be an expert shot with the
revolver--a weapon strange to him--in order to give them confidence.
They made a sort of encampment by the wayside, and the pony became
happy in the hedge. He told them of his own escape out of London, and
all that he knew of these Martians and their ways. The sun crept
higher in the sky, and after a time their talk died out and gave place
to an uneasy state of anticipation. Several wayfarers came along the
lane, and of these my brother gathered such news as he could. Every
broken answer he had deepened his impression of the great disaster
that had come on humanity, deepened his persuasion of the immediate
necessity for prosecuting this flight. He urged the matter upon them.
"We have money," said the slender woman, and hesitated.
Her eyes met my brother's, and her hesitation ended.
"So have I," said my brother.
She explained that they had as much as thirty pounds in gold,
besides a five-pound note, and suggested that with that they might get
upon a train at St. Albans or New Barnet. My brother thought that was
hopeless, seeing the fury of the Londoners to crowd upon the trains,
and broached his own idea of striking across Essex towards Harwich and
thence escaping from the country altogether.
Mrs. Elphinstone--that was the name of the woman in white--would
listen to no reasoning, and kept calling upon "George"; but her
sister-in-law was astonishingly quiet and deliberate, and at last
agreed to my brother's suggestion. So, designing to cross the Great
North Road, they went on towards Barnet, my brother leading the pony
to save it as much as possible. As the sun crept up the sky the day
became excessively hot, and under foot a thick, whitish sand grew
burning and blinding, so that they travelled only very slowly. The
hedges were grey with dust. And as they advanced towards Barnet a
tumultuous murmuring grew stronger.
They began to meet more people. For the most part these were
staring before them, murmuring indistinct questions, jaded, haggard,
unclean. One man in evening dress passed them on foot, his eyes on
the ground. They heard his voice, and, looking back at him, saw one
hand clutched in his hair and the other beating invisible things. His
paroxysm of rage over, he went on his way without once looking back.
As my brother's party went on towards the crossroads to the south
of Barnet they saw a woman approaching the road across some fields on
their left, carrying a child and with two other children; and then
passed a man in dirty black, with a thick stick in one hand and a
small portmanteau in the other. Then round the corner of the lane,
from between the villas that guarded it at its confluence with the
high road, came a little cart drawn by a sweating black pony and
driven by a sallow youth in a bowler hat, grey with dust. There were
three girls, East End factory girls, and a couple of little children
crowded in the cart.
"This'll tike us rahnd Edgware?" asked the driver, wild-eyed,
white-faced; and when my brother told him it would if he turned to the
left, he whipped up at once without the formality of thanks.
My brother noticed a pale grey smoke or haze rising among the
houses in front of them, and veiling the white facade of a terrace
beyond the road that appeared between the backs of the villas. Mrs.
Elphinstone suddenly cried out at a number of tongues of smoky red
flame leaping up above the houses in front of them against the hot,
blue sky. The tumultuous noise resolved itself now into the
disorderly mingling of many voices, the gride of many wheels, the
creaking of waggons, and the staccato of hoofs. The lane came round
sharply not fifty yards from the crossroads.
"Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Elphinstone. "What is this you are
driving us into?"
My brother stopped.
For the main road was a boiling stream of people, a torrent of
human beings rushing northward, one pressing on another. A great bank
of dust, white and luminous in the blaze of the sun, made everything
within twenty feet of the ground grey and indistinct and was
perpetually renewed by the hurrying feet of a dense crowd of horses
and of men and women on foot, and by the wheels of vehicles of every
"Way!" my brother heard voices crying. "Make way!"
It was like riding into the smoke of a fire to approach the meeting
point of the lane and road; the crowd roared like a fire, and the dust
was hot and pungent. And, indeed, a little way up the road a villa
was burning and sending rolling masses of black smoke across the road
to add to the confusion.
Two men came past them. Then a dirty woman, carrying a heavy
bundle and weeping. A lost retriever dog, with hanging tongue,
circled dubiously round them, scared and wretched, and fled at my
So much as they could see of the road Londonward between the houses
to the right was a tumultuous stream of dirty, hurrying people, pent
in between the villas on either side; the black heads, the crowded
forms, grew into distinctness as they rushed towards the corner,
hurried past, and merged their individuality again in a receding
multitude that was swallowed up at last in a cloud of dust.
"Go on! Go on!" cried the voices. "Way! Way!"
One man's hands pressed on the back of another. My brother stood
at the pony's head. Irresistibly attracted, he advanced slowly, pace
by pace, down the lane.
Edgware had been a scene of confusion, Chalk Farm a riotous tumult,
but this was a whole population in movement. It is hard to imagine
that host. It had no character of its own. The figures poured out
past the corner, and receded with their backs to the group in the
lane. Along the margin came those who were on foot threatened by the
wheels, stumbling in the ditches, blundering into one another.
The carts and carriages crowded close upon one another, making
little way for those swifter and more impatient vehicles that darted
forward every now and then when an opportunity showed itself of doing
so, sending the people scattering against the fences and gates of the
"Push on!" was the cry. "Push on! They are coming!"
In one cart stood a blind man in the uniform of the Salvation Army,
gesticulating with his crooked fingers and bawling, "Eternity!
Eternity!" His voice was hoarse and very loud so that my brother
could hear him long after he was lost to sight in the dust. Some of
the people who crowded in the carts whipped stupidly at their horses
and quarrelled with other drivers; some sat motionless, staring at
nothing with miserable eyes; some gnawed their hands with thirst, or
lay prostrate in the bottoms of their conveyances. The horses' bits
were covered with foam, their eyes bloodshot.
There were cabs, carriages, shop cars, waggons, beyond counting; a
mail cart, a road-cleaner's cart marked "Vestry of St. Pancras," a
huge timber waggon crowded with roughs. A brewer's dray rumbled by
with its two near wheels splashed with fresh blood.
"Clear the way!" cried the voices. "Clear the way!"
"Eter-nity! Eter-nity!" came echoing down the road.
There were sad, haggard women tramping by, well dressed, with
children that cried and stumbled, their dainty clothes smothered in
dust, their weary faces smeared with tears. With many of these came
men, sometimes helpful, sometimes lowering and savage. Fighting side
by side with them pushed some weary street outcast in faded black
rags, wide-eyed, loud-voiced, and foul-mouthed. There were sturdy
workmen thrusting their way along, wretched, unkempt men, clothed like
clerks or shopmen, struggling spasmodically; a wounded soldier my
brother noticed, men dressed in the clothes of railway porters, one
wretched creature in a nightshirt with a coat thrown over it.
But varied as its composition was, certain things all that host had
in common. There were fear and pain on their faces, and fear behind
them. A tumult up the road, a quarrel for a place in a waggon, sent
the whole host of them quickening their pace; even a man so scared and
broken that his knees bent under him was galvanised for a moment into
renewed activity. The heat and dust had already been at work upon
this multitude. Their skins were dry, their lips black and cracked.
They were all thirsty, weary, and footsore. And amid the various
cries one heard disputes, reproaches, groans of weariness and fatigue;
the voices of most of them were hoarse and weak. Through it all ran a
"Way! Way! The Martians are coming!"
Few stopped and came aside from that flood. The lane opened
slantingly into the main road with a narrow opening, and had a
delusive appearance of coming from the direction of London. Yet a
kind of eddy of people drove into its mouth; weaklings elbowed out of
the stream, who for the most part rested but a moment before plunging
into it again. A little way down the lane, with two friends bending
over him, lay a man with a bare leg, wrapped about with bloody rags.
He was a lucky man to have friends.
A little old man, with a grey military moustache and a filthy black
frock coat, limped out and sat down beside the trap, removed his
boot--his sock was blood-stained--shook out a pebble, and hobbled on
again; and then a little girl of eight or nine, all alone, threw
herself under the hedge close by my brother, weeping.
"I can't go on! I can't go on!"
My brother woke from his torpor of astonishment and lifted her up,
speaking gently to her, and carried her to Miss Elphinstone. So soon
as my brother touched her she became quite still, as if frightened.
"Ellen!" shrieked a woman in the crowd, with tears in her
voice--"Ellen!" And the child suddenly darted away from my brother,
"They are coming," said a man on horseback, riding past along the
"Out of the way, there!" bawled a coachman, towering high; and my
brother saw a closed carriage turning into the lane.
The people crushed back on one another to avoid the horse. My
brother pushed the pony and chaise back into the hedge, and the man
drove by and stopped at the turn of the way. It was a carriage, with
a pole for a pair of horses, but only one was in the traces. My
brother saw dimly through the dust that two men lifted out something
on a white stretcher and put it gently on the grass beneath the privet
One of the men came running to my brother.
"Where is there any water?" he said. "He is dying fast, and very
thirsty. It is Lord Garrick."
"Lord Garrick!" said my brother; "the Chief Justice?"
"The water?" he said.
"There may be a tap," said my brother, "in some of the houses. We
have no water. I dare not leave my people."
The man pushed against the crowd towards the gate of the corner
"Go on!" said the people, thrusting at him. "They are coming! Go
Then my brother's attention was distracted by a bearded, eagle-
faced man lugging a small handbag, which split even as my brother's
eyes rested on it and disgorged a mass of sovereigns that seemed to
break up into separate coins as it struck the ground. They rolled
hither and thither among the struggling feet of men and horses. The
man stopped and looked stupidly at the heap, and the shaft of a cab
struck his shoulder and sent him reeling. He gave a shriek and dodged
back, and a cartwheel shaved him narrowly.
"Way!" cried the men all about him. "Make way!"
So soon as the cab had passed, he flung himself, with both hands
open, upon the heap of coins, and began thrusting handfuls in his
pocket. A horse rose close upon him, and in another moment, half
rising, he had been borne down under the horse's hoofs.
"Stop!" screamed my brother, and pushing a woman out of his way,
tried to clutch the bit of the horse.
Before he could get to it, he heard a scream under the wheels, and
saw through the dust the rim passing over the poor wretch's back. The
driver of the cart slashed his whip at my brother, who ran round
behind the cart. The multitudinous shouting confused his ears. The
man was writhing in the dust among his scattered money, unable to
rise, for the wheel had broken his back, and his lower limbs lay limp
and dead. My brother stood up and yelled at the next driver, and a
man on a black horse came to his assistance.
"Get him out of the road," said he; and, clutching the man's collar
with his free hand, my brother lugged him sideways. But he still
clutched after his money, and regarded my brother fiercely, hammering
at his arm with a handful of gold. "Go on! Go on!" shouted angry
There was a smash as the pole of a carriage crashed into the cart
that the man on horseback stopped. My brother looked up, and the man
with the gold twisted his head round and bit the wrist that held his
collar. There was a concussion, and the black horse came staggering
sideways, and the carthorse pushed beside it. A hoof missed my
brother's foot by a hair's breadth. He released his grip on the
fallen man and jumped back. He saw anger change to terror on the face
of the poor wretch on the ground, and in a moment he was hidden and my
brother was borne backward and carried past the entrance of the lane,
and had to fight hard in the torrent to recover it.
He saw Miss Elphinstone covering her eyes, and a little child, with
all a child's want of sympathetic imagination, staring with dilated
eyes at a dusty something that lay black and still, ground and crushed
under the rolling wheels. "Let us go back!" he shouted, and began
turning the pony round. "We cannot cross this--hell," he said and they
went back a hundred yards the way they had come, until the fighting
crowd was hidden. As they passed the bend in the lane my brother saw
the face of the dying man in the ditch under the privet, deadly white
and drawn, and shining with perspiration. The two women sat silent,
crouching in their seat and shivering.
Then beyond the bend my brother stopped again. Miss Elphinstone
was white and pale, and her sister-in-law sat weeping, too wretched
even to call upon "George." My brother was horrified and perplexed.
So soon as they had retreated he realised how urgent and unavoidable
it was to attempt this crossing. He turned to Miss Elphinstone,
"We must go that way," he said, and led the pony round again.
For the second time that day this girl proved her quality. To force
their way into the torrent of people, my brother plunged into the
traffic and held back a cab horse, while she drove the pony across its
head. A waggon locked wheels for a moment and ripped a long splinter
from the chaise. In another moment they were caught and swept forward
by the stream. My brother, with the cabman's whip marks red across
his face and hands, scrambled into the chaise and took the reins from
"Point the revolver at the man behind," he said, giving it to her,
"if he presses us too hard. No!--point it at his horse."
Then he began to look out for a chance of edging to the right
across the road. But once in the stream he seemed to lose volition,
to become a part of that dusty rout. They swept through Chipping
Barnet with the torrent; they were nearly a mile beyond the centre of
the town before they had fought across to the opposite side of the
way. It was din and confusion indescribable; but in and beyond the
town the road forks repeatedly, and this to some extent relieved the
They struck eastward through Hadley, and there on either side of
the road, and at another place farther on they came upon a great
multitude of people drinking at the stream, some fighting to come at
the water. And farther on, from a lull near East Barnet, they saw two
trains running slowly one after the other without signal or order--
trains swarming with people, with men even among the coals behind the
engines--going northward along the Great Northern Railway. My brother
supposes they must have filled outside London, for at that time the
furious terror of the people had rendered the central termini
Near this place they halted for the rest of the afternoon, for the
violence of the day had already utterly exhausted all three of them.
They began to suffer the beginnings of hunger; the night was cold, and
none of them dared to sleep. And in the evening many people came
hurrying along the road nearby their stopping place, fleeing from
unknown dangers before them, and going in the direction from which my
brother had come.
THE "THUNDER CHILD"
Had the Martians aimed only at destruction, they might on Monday
have annihilated the entire population of London, as it spread itself
slowly through the home counties. Not only along the road through
Barnet, but also through Edgware and Waltham Abbey, and along the
roads eastward to Southend and Shoeburyness, and south of the Thames
to Deal and Broadstairs, poured the same frantic rout. If one could
have hung that June morning in a balloon in the blazing blue above
London every northward and eastward road running out of the tangled
maze of streets would have seemed stippled black with the streaming
fugitives, each dot a human agony of terror and physical distress. I
have set forth at length in the last chapter my brother's account of
the road through Chipping Barnet, in order that my readers may realise
how that swarming of black dots appeared to one of those concerned.
Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human
beings moved and suffered together. The legendary hosts of Goths and
Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop
in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a
stampede--a stampede gigantic and terrible--without order and without
a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving
headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the
massacre of mankind.
Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of
streets far and wide, houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens--
already derelict--spread out like a huge map, and in the southward
BLOTTED. Over Ealing, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if
some monstrous pen had flung ink upon the chart. Steadily,
incessantly, each black splash grew and spread, shooting out
ramifications this way and that, now banking itself against rising
ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-found valley,
exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper.
And beyond, over the blue hills that rise southward of the river,
the glittering Martians went to and fro, calmly and methodically
spreading their poison cloud over this patch of country and then over
that, laying it again with their steam jets when it had served its
purpose, and taking possession of the conquered country. They do not
seem to have aimed at extermination so much as at complete
demoralisation and the destruction of any opposition. They exploded
any stores of powder they came upon, cut every telegraph, and wrecked
the railways here and there. They were hamstringing mankind. They
seemed in no hurry to extend the field of their operations, and did
not come beyond the central part of London all that day. It is
possible that a very considerable number of people in London stuck to
their houses through Monday morning. Certain it is that many died at
home suffocated by the Black Smoke.
Until about midday the Pool of London was an astonishing scene.
Steamboats and shipping of all sorts lay there, tempted by the
enormous sums of money offered by fugitives, and it is said that many
who swam out to these vessels were thrust off with boathooks and
drowned. About one o'clock in the afternoon the thinning remnant of a
cloud of the black vapour appeared between the arches of Blackfriars
Bridge. At that the Pool became a scene of mad confusion, fighting,
and collision, and for some time a multitude of boats and barges
jammed in the northern arch of the Tower Bridge, and the sailors and
lightermen had to fight savagely against the people who swarmed upon
them from the riverfront. People were actually clambering down the
piers of the bridge from above.
When, an hour later, a Martian appeared beyond the Clock Tower and
waded down the river, nothing but wreckage floated above Limehouse.
Of the falling of the fifth cylinder I have presently to tell. The
sixth star fell at Wimbledon. My brother, keeping watch beside the
women in the chaise in a meadow, saw the green flash of it far beyond
the hills. On Tuesday the little party, still set upon getting across
the sea, made its way through the swarming country towards Colchester.
The news that the Martians were now in possession of the whole of
London was confirmed. They had been seen at Highgate, and even, it
was said, at Neasden. But they did not come into my brother's view
until the morrow.
That day the scattered multitudes began to realise the urgent need
of provisions. As they grew hungry the rights of property ceased to
be regarded. Farmers were out to defend their cattle-sheds,
granaries, and ripening root crops with arms in their hands. A number
of people now, like my brother, had their faces eastward, and there
were some desperate souls even going back towards London to get food.
These were chiefly people from the northern suburbs, whose knowledge
of the Black Smoke came by hearsay. He heard that about half the
members of the government had gathered at Birmingham, and that
enormous quantities of high explosives were being prepared to be used
in automatic mines across the Midland counties.
He was also told that the Midland Railway Company had replaced the
desertions of the first day's panic, had resumed traffic, and was
running northward trains from St. Albans to relieve the congestion of
the home counties. There was also a placard in Chipping Ongar
announcing that large stores of flour were available in the northern
towns and that within twenty-four hours bread would be distributed
among the starving people in the neighbourhood. But this intelligence
did not deter him from the plan of escape he had formed, and the three
pressed eastward all day, and heard no more of the bread distribution
than this promise. Nor, as a matter of fact, did anyone else hear
more of it. That night fell the seventh star, falling upon Primrose
Hill. It fell while Miss Elphinstone was watching, for she took that
duty alternately with my brother. She saw it.
On Wednesday the three fugitives--they had passed the night in a
field of unripe wheat--reached Chelmsford, and there a body of the
inhabitants, calling itself the Committee of Public Supply, seized the
pony as provisions, and would give nothing in exchange for it but the
promise of a share in it the next day. Here there were rumours of
Martians at Epping, and news of the destruction of Waltham Abbey
Powder Mills in a vain attempt to blow up one of the invaders.
People were watching for Martians here from the church towers. My
brother, very luckily for him as it chanced, preferred to push on at
once to the coast rather than wait for food, although all three of
them were very hungry. By midday they passed through Tillingham,
which, strangely enough, seemed to be quite silent and deserted, save
for a few furtive plunderers hunting for food. Near Tillingham they
suddenly came in sight of the sea, and the most amazing crowd of
shipping of all sorts that it is possible to imagine.
For after the sailors could no longer come up the Thames, they came
on to the Essex coast, to Harwich and Walton and Clacton, and
afterwards to Foulness and Shoebury, to bring off the people. They
lay in a huge sickle-shaped curve that vanished into mist at last
towards the Naze. Close inshore was a multitude of fishing smacks--
English, Scotch, French, Dutch, and Swedish; steam launches from the
Thames, yachts, electric boats; and beyond were ships of large burden,
a multitude of filthy colliers, trim merchantmen, cattle ships,
passenger boats, petroleum tanks, ocean tramps, an old white transport
even, neat white and grey liners from Southampton and Hamburg; and
along the blue coast across the Blackwater my brother could make out
dimly a dense swarm of boats chaffering with the people on the beach,
a swarm which also extended up the Blackwater almost to Maldon.
About a couple of miles out lay an ironclad, very low in the water,
almost, to my brother's perception, like a water-logged ship. This
was the ram THUNDER CHILD. It was the only warship in sight, but far
away to the right over the smooth surface of the sea--for that day
there was a dead calm--lay a serpent of black smoke to mark the next
ironclads of the Channel Fleet, which hovered in an extended line,
steam up and ready for action, across the Thames estuary during the
course of the Martian conquest, vigilant and yet powerless to prevent
At the sight of the sea, Mrs. Elphinstone, in spite of the
assurances of her sister-in-law, gave way to panic. She had never
been out of England before, she would rather die than trust herself
friendless in a foreign country, and so forth. She seemed, poor woman,
to imagine that the French and the Martians might prove very similar.
She had been growing increasingly hysterical, fearful, and depressed
during the two days' journeyings. Her great idea was to return to
Stanmore. Things had been always well and safe at Stanmore. They
would find George at Stanmore.
It was with the greatest difficulty they could get her down to the
beach, where presently my brother succeeded in attracting the
attention of some men on a paddle steamer from the Thames. They sent
a boat and drove a bargain for thirty-six pounds for the three. The
steamer was going, these men said, to Ostend.
It was about two o'clock when my brother, having paid their fares
at the gangway, found himself safely aboard the steamboat with his
charges. There was food aboard, albeit at exorbitant prices, and the
three of them contrived to eat a meal on one of the seats forward.
There were already a couple of score of passengers aboard, some of
whom had expended their last money in securing a passage, but the
captain lay off the Blackwater until five in the afternoon, picking up
passengers until the seated decks were even dangerously crowded. He
would probably have remained longer had it not been for the sound of
guns that began about that hour in the south. As if in answer, the
ironclad seaward fired a small gun and hoisted a string of flags. A
jet of smoke sprang out of her funnels.
Some of the passengers were of opinion that this firing came from
Shoeburyness, until it was noticed that it was growing louder. At the
same time, far away in the southeast the masts and upperworks of three
ironclads rose one after the other out of the sea, beneath clouds of
black smoke. But my brother's attention speedily reverted to the
distant firing in the south. He fancied he saw a column of smoke
rising out of the distant grey haze.
The little steamer was already flapping her way eastward of the big
crescent of shipping, and the low Essex coast was growing blue and
hazy, when a Martian appeared, small and faint in the remote distance,
advancing along the muddy coast from the direction of Foulness. At
that the captain on the bridge swore at the top of his voice with fear
and anger at his own delay, and the paddles seemed infected with his
terror. Every soul aboard stood at the bulwarks or on the seats of
the steamer and stared at that distant shape, higher than the trees or
church towers inland, and advancing with a leisurely parody of a human
It was the first Martian my brother had seen, and he stood, more
amazed than terrified, watching this Titan advancing deliberately
towards the shipping, wading farther and farther into the water as the
coast fell away. Then, far away beyond the Crouch, came another,
striding over some stunted trees, and then yet another, still farther
off, wading deeply through a shiny mudflat that seemed to hang halfway
up between sea and sky. They were all stalking seaward, as if to
intercept the escape of the multitudinous vessels that were crowded
between Foulness and the Naze. In spite of the throbbing exertions of
the engines of the little paddle-boat, and the pouring foam that her
wheels flung behind her, she receded with terrifying slowness from
this ominous advance.
Glancing northwestward, my brother saw the large crescent of
shipping already writhing with the approaching terror; one ship
passing behind another, another coming round from broadside to end on,
steamships whistling and giving off volumes of steam, sails being let
out, launches rushing hither and thither. He was so fascinated by
this and by the creeping danger away to the left that he had no eyes
for anything seaward. And then a swift movement of the steamboat (she
had suddenly come round to avoid being run down) flung him headlong
from the seat upon which he was standing. There was a shouting all
about him, a trampling of feet, and a cheer that seemed to be answered
faintly. The steamboat lurched and rolled him over upon his hands.
He sprang to his feet and saw to starboard, and not a hundred yards
from their heeling, pitching boat, a vast iron bulk like the blade of
a plough tearing through the water, tossing it on either side in huge
waves of foam that leaped towards the steamer, flinging her paddles
helplessly in the air, and then sucking her deck down almost to the
A douche of spray blinded my brother for a moment. When his eyes
were clear again he saw the monster had passed and was rushing
landward. Big iron upperworks rose out of this headlong structure,
and from that twin funnels projected and spat a smoking blast shot
with fire. It was the torpedo ram, THUNDER CHILD, steaming headlong,
coming to the rescue of the threatened shipping.
Keeping his footing on the heaving deck by clutching the bulwarks,
my brother looked past this charging leviathan at the Martians again,
and he saw the three of them now close together, and standing so far
out to sea that their tripod supports were almost entirely submerged.
Thus sunken, and seen in remote perspective, they appeared far less
formidable than the huge iron bulk in whose wake the steamer was
pitching so helplessly. It would seem they were regarding this new
antagonist with astonishment. To their intelligence, it may be, the
giant was even such another as themselves. The THUNDER CHILD fired no
gun, but simply drove full speed towards them. It was probably her
not firing that enabled her to get so near the enemy as she did. They
did not know what to make of her. One shell, and they would have sent
her to the bottom forthwith with the Heat-Ray.
She was steaming at such a pace that in a minute she seemed halfway
between the steamboat and the Martians--a diminishing black bulk
against the receding horizontal expanse of the Essex coast.
Suddenly the foremost Martian lowered his tube and discharged a
canister of the black gas at the ironclad. It hit her larboard side
and glanced off in an inky jet that rolled away to seaward, an
unfolding torrent of Black Smoke, from which the ironclad drove clear.
To the watchers from the steamer, low in the water and with the sun in
their eyes, it seemed as though she were already among the Martians.
They saw the gaunt figures separating and rising out of the water
as they retreated shoreward, and one of them raised the camera-like
generator of the Heat-Ray. He held it pointing obliquely downward,
and a bank of steam sprang from the water at its touch. It must have
driven through the iron of the ship's side like a white-hot iron rod
A flicker of flame went up through the rising steam, and then the
Martian reeled and staggered. In another moment he was cut down, and
a great body of water and steam shot high in the air. The guns of the
THUNDER CHILD sounded through the reek, going off one after the other,
and one shot splashed the water high close by the steamer, ricocheted
towards the other flying ships to the north, and smashed a smack to
But no one heeded that very much. At the sight of the Martian's
collapse the captain on the bridge yelled inarticulately, and all the
crowding passengers on the steamer's stern shouted together. And then
they yelled again. For, surging out beyond the white tumult, drove
something long and black, the flames streaming from its middle parts,
its ventilators and funnels spouting fire.
She was alive still; the steering gear, it seems, was intact and
her engines working. She headed straight for a second Martian, and
was within a hundred yards of him when the Heat-Ray came to bear. Then
with a violent thud, a blinding flash, her decks, her funnels, leaped
upward. The Martian staggered with the violence of her explosion, and
in another moment the flaming wreckage, still driving forward with the
impetus of its pace, had struck him and crumpled him up like a thing
of cardboard. My brother shouted involuntarily. A boiling tumult of
steam hid everything again.
"Two!," yelled the captain.
Everyone was shouting. The whole steamer from end to end rang with
frantic cheering that was taken up first by one and then by all in the
crowding multitude of ships and boats that was driving out to sea.
The steam hung upon the water for many minutes, hiding the third
Martian and the coast altogether. And all this time the boat was
paddling steadily out to sea and away from the fight; and when at last
the confusion cleared, the drifting bank of black vapour intervened,
and nothing of the THUNDER CHILD could be made out, nor could the
third Martian be seen. But the ironclads to seaward were now quite
close and standing in towards shore past the steamboat.
The little vessel continued to beat its way seaward, and the
ironclads receded slowly towards the coast, which was hidden still by
a marbled bank of vapour, part steam, part black gas, eddying and
combining in the strangest way. The fleet of refugees was scattering
to the northeast; several smacks were sailing between the ironclads
and the steamboat. After a time, and before they reached the sinking
cloud bank, the warships turned northward, and then abruptly went
about and passed into the thickening haze of evening southward. The
coast grew faint, and at last indistinguishable amid the low banks of
clouds that were gathering about the sinking sun.
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