The War of the Worlds
H. G. Wells [Herbert George]

Part 4 out of 4

could not bring myself to go on. I turned down St. John's Wood Road,
and ran headlong from this unendurable stillness towards Kilburn. I
hid from the night and the silence, until long after midnight, in a
cabmen's shelter in Harrow Road. But before the dawn my courage
returned, and while the stars were still in the sky I turned once more
towards Regent's Park. I missed my way among the streets, and
presently saw down a long avenue, in the half-light of the early dawn,
the curve of Primrose Hill. On the summit, towering up to the fading
stars, was a third Martian, erect and motionless like the others.

An insane resolve possessed me. I would die and end it. And I
would save myself even the trouble of killing myself. I marched on
recklessly towards this Titan, and then, as I drew nearer and the
light grew, I saw that a multitude of black birds was circling and
clustering about the hood. At that my heart gave a bound, and I began
running along the road.

I hurried through the red weed that choked St. Edmund's Terrace (I
waded breast-high across a torrent of water that was rushing down from
the waterworks towards the Albert Road), and emerged upon the grass
before the rising of the sun. Great mounds had been heaped about the
crest of the hill, making a huge redoubt of it--it was the final and
largest place the Martians had made--and from behind these heaps there
rose a thin smoke against the sky. Against the sky line an eager dog
ran and disappeared. The thought that had flashed into my mind grew
real, grew credible. I felt no fear, only a wild, trembling
exultation, as I ran up the hill towards the motionless monster. Out
of the hood hung lank shreds of brown, at which the hungry birds
pecked and tore.

In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood
upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A
mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it,
huge mounds of material and strange shelter places. And scattered
about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid
handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a
row, were the Martians--DEAD!--slain by the putrefactive and disease
bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red
weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by
the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have
foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs
of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things--
taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by
virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed
resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to
many--those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance --our
living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in
Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and
fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already
when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting
even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a
billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is
his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten
times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.

Here and there they were scattered, nearly fifty altogether, in
that great gulf they had made, overtaken by a death that must have
seemed to them as incomprehensible as any death could be. To me also
at that time this death was incomprehensible. All I knew was that
these things that had been alive and so terrible to men were dead. For
a moment I believed that the destruction of Sennacherib had been
repeated, that God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slain
them in the night.

I stood staring into the pit, and my heart lightened gloriously,
even as the rising sun struck the world to fire about me with his
rays. The pit was still in darkness; the mighty engines, so great and
wonderful in their power and complexity, so unearthly in their
tortuous forms, rose weird and vague and strange out of the shadows
towards the light. A multitude of dogs, I could hear, fought over the
bodies that lay darkly in the depth of the pit, far below me. Across
the pit on its farther lip, flat and vast and strange, lay the great
flying-machine with which they had been experimenting upon our denser
atmosphere when decay and death arrested them. Death had come not a
day too soon. At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked up at the
huge fighting-machine that would fight no more for ever, at the
tattered red shreds of flesh that dripped down upon the overturned
seats on the summit of Primrose Hill.

I turned and looked down the slope of the hill to where, enhaloed
now in birds, stood those other two Martians that I had seen
overnight, just as death had overtaken them. The one had died, even
as it had been crying to its companions; perhaps it was the last to
die, and its voice had gone on perpetually until the force of its
machinery was exhausted. They glittered now, harmless tripod towers of
shining metal, in the brightness of the rising sun.

All about the pit, and saved as by a miracle from everlasting
destruction, stretched the great Mother of Cities. Those who have only
seen London veiled in her sombre robes of smoke can scarcely imagine
the naked clearness and beauty of the silent wilderness of houses.

Eastward, over the blackened ruins of the Albert Terrace and the
splintered spire of the church, the sun blazed dazzling in a clear
sky, and here and there some facet in the great wilderness of roofs
caught the light and glared with a white intensity.

Northward were Kilburn and Hampsted, blue and crowded with houses;
westward the great city was dimmed; and southward, beyond the
Martians, the green waves of Regent's Park, the Langham Hotel, the
dome of the Albert Hall, the Imperial Institute, and the giant
mansions of the Brompton Road came out clear and little in the
sunrise, the jagged ruins of Westminster rising hazily beyond. Far
away and blue were the Surrey hills, and the towers of the Crystal
Palace glittered like two silver rods. The dome of St. Paul's was
dark against the sunrise, and injured, I saw for the first time, by a
huge gaping cavity on its western side.

And as I looked at this wide expanse of houses and factories and
churches, silent and abandoned; as I thought of the multitudinous
hopes and efforts, the innumerable hosts of lives that had gone to
build this human reef, and of the swift and ruthless destruction that
had hung over it all; when I realised that the shadow had been rolled
back, and that men might still live in the streets, and this dear vast
dead city of mine be once more alive and powerful, I felt a wave of
emotion that was near akin to tears.

The torment was over. Even that day the healing would begin. The
survivors of the people scattered over the country--leaderless,
lawless, foodless, like sheep without a shepherd--the thousands who
had fled by sea, would begin to return; the pulse of life, growing
stronger and stronger, would beat again in the empty streets and pour
across the vacant squares. Whatever destruction was done, the hand of
the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the blackened
skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass of the
hill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers and
ringing with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought I extended
my hands towards the sky and began thanking God. In a year, thought
I--in a year. . .

With overwhelming force came the thought of myself, of my wife, and
the old life of hope and tender helpfulness that had ceased for ever.



And now comes the strangest thing in my story. Yet, perhaps, it is
not altogether strange. I remember, clearly and coldly and vividly,
all that I did that day until the time that I stood weeping and
praising God upon the summit of Primrose Hill. And then I forget.

Of the next three days I know nothing. I have learned since that,
so far from my being the first discoverer of the Martian overthrow,
several such wanderers as myself had already discovered this on the
previous night. One man--the first--had gone to St. Martin's-le-
Grand, and, while I sheltered in the cabmen's hut, had contrived to
telegraph to Paris. Thence the joyful news had flashed all over the
world; a thousand cities, chilled by ghastly apprehensions, suddenly
flashed into frantic illuminations; they knew of it in Dublin,
Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, at the time when I stood upon the
verge of the pit. Already men, weeping with joy, as I have heard,
shouting and staying their work to shake hands and shout, were making
up trains, even as near as Crewe, to descend upon London. The church
bells that had ceased a fortnight since suddenly caught the news,
until all England was bell-ringing. Men on cycles, lean-faced,
unkempt, scorched along every country lane shouting of unhoped
deliverance, shouting to gaunt, staring figures of despair. And for
the food! Across the Channel, across the Irish Sea, across the
Atlantic, corn, bread, and meat were tearing to our relief. All the
shipping in the world seemed going Londonward in those days. But of
all this I have no memory. I drifted--a demented man. I found myself
in a house of kindly people, who had found me on the third day
wandering, weeping, and raving through the streets of St. John's Wood.
They have told me since that I was singing some insane doggerel about
"The Last Man Left Alive! Hurrah! The Last Man Left Alive!" Troubled
as they were with their own affairs, these people, whose name, much as
I would like to express my gratitude to them, I may not even give
here, nevertheless cumbered themselves with me, sheltered me, and
protected me from myself. Apparently they had learned something of my
story from me during the days of my lapse.

Very gently, when my mind was assured again, did they break to me
what they had learned of the fate of Leatherhead. Two days after I
was imprisoned it had been destroyed, with every soul in it, by a
Martian. He had swept it out of existence, as it seemed, without any
provocation, as a boy might crush an ant hill, in the mere wantonness
of power.

I was a lonely man, and they were very kind to me. I was a lonely
man and a sad one, and they bore with me. I remained with them four
days after my recovery. All that time I felt a vague, a growing
craving to look once more on whatever remained of the little life that
seemed so happy and bright in my past. It was a mere hopeless desire
to feast upon my misery. They dissuaded me. They did all they could
to divert me from this morbidity. But at last I could resist the
impulse no longer, and, promising faithfully to return to them, and
parting, as I will confess, from these four-day friends with tears, I
went out again into the streets that had lately been so dark and
strange and empty.

Already they were busy with returning people; in places even there
were shops open, and I saw a drinking fountain running water.

I remember how mockingly bright the day seemed as I went back on my
melancholy pilgrimage to the little house at Woking, how busy the
streets and vivid the moving life about me. So many people were
abroad everywhere, busied in a thousand activities, that it seemed
incredible that any great proportion of the population could have been
slain. But then I noticed how yellow were the skins of the people I
met, how shaggy the hair of the men, how large and bright their eyes,
and that every other man still wore his dirty rags. Their faces
seemed all with one of two expressions--a leaping exultation and
energy or a grim resolution. Save for the expression of the faces,
London seemed a city of tramps. The vestries were indiscriminately
distributing bread sent us by the French government. The ribs of the
few horses showed dismally. Haggard special constables with white
badges stood at the corners of every street. I saw little of the
mischief wrought by the Martians until I reached Wellington Street,
and there I saw the red weed clambering over the buttresses of
Waterloo Bridge.

At the corner of the bridge, too, I saw one of the common contrasts
of that grotesque time--a sheet of paper flaunting against a thicket
of the red weed, transfixed by a stick that kept it in place. It was
the placard of the first newspaper to resume publication--the DAILY
MAIL. I bought a copy for a blackened shilling I found in my pocket.
Most of it was in blank, but the solitary compositor who did the thing
had amused himself by making a grotesque scheme of advertisement
stereo on the back page. The matter he printed was emotional; the
news organisation had not as yet found its way back. I learned
nothing fresh except that already in one week the examination of the
Martian mechanisms had yielded astonishing results. Among other
things, the article assured me what I did not believe at the time,
that the "Secret of Flying," was discovered. At Waterloo I found the
free trains that were taking people to their homes. The first rush
was already over. There were few people in the train, and I was in no
mood for casual conversation. I got a compartment to myself, and sat
with folded arms, looking greyly at the sunlit devastation that flowed
past the windows. And just outside the terminus the train jolted over
temporary rails, and on either side of the railway the houses were
blackened ruins. To Clapham Junction the face of London was grimy
with powder of the Black Smoke, in spite of two days of thunderstorms
and rain, and at Clapham Junction the line had been wrecked again;
there were hundreds of out-of-work clerks and shopmen working side by
side with the customary navvies, and we were jolted over a hasty

All down the line from there the aspect of the country was gaunt
and unfamiliar; Wimbledon particularly had suffered. Walton, by virtue
of its unburned pine woods, seemed the least hurt of any place along
the line. The Wandle, the Mole, every little stream, was a heaped
mass of red weed, in appearance between butcher's meat and pickled
cabbage. The Surrey pine woods were too dry, however, for the festoons
of the red climber. Beyond Wimbledon, within sight of the line, in
certain nursery grounds, were the heaped masses of earth about the
sixth cylinder. A number of people were standing about it, and some
sappers were busy in the midst of it. Over it flaunted a Union Jack,
flapping cheerfully in the morning breeze. The nursery grounds were
everywhere crimson with the weed, a wide expanse of livid colour cut
with purple shadows, and very painful to the eye. One's gaze went
with infinite relief from the scorched greys and sullen reds of the
foreground to the blue-green softness of the eastward hills.

The line on the London side of Woking station was still undergoing
repair, so I descended at Byfleet station and took the road to
Maybury, past the place where I and the artilleryman had talked to the
hussars, and on by the spot where the Martian had appeared to me in
the thunderstorm. Here, moved by curiosity, I turned aside to find,
among a tangle of red fronds, the warped and broken dog cart with the
whitened bones of the horse scattered and gnawed. For a time I stood
regarding these vestiges. . . .

Then I returned through the pine wood, neck-high with red weed here
and there, to find the landlord of the Spotted Dog had already found
burial, and so came home past the College Arms. A man standing at an
open cottage door greeted me by name as I passed.

I looked at my house with a quick flash of hope that faded
immediately. The door had been forced; it was unfast and was opening
slowly as I approached.

It slammed again. The curtains of my study fluttered out of the
open window from which I and the artilleryman had watched the dawn. No
one had closed it since. The smashed bushes were just as I had left
them nearly four weeks ago. I stumbled into the hall, and the house
felt empty. The stair carpet was ruffled and discoloured where I had
crouched, soaked to the skin from the thunderstorm the night of the
catastrophe. Our muddy footsteps I saw still went up the stairs.

I followed them to my study, and found lying on my writing-table
still, with the selenite paper weight upon it, the sheet of work I had
left on the afternoon of the opening of the cylinder. For a space I
stood reading over my abandoned arguments. It was a paper on the
probable development of Moral Ideas with the development of the
civilising process; and the last sentence was the opening of a
prophecy: "In about two hundred years," I had written, "we may
expect----" The sentence ended abruptly. I remembered my inability
to fix my mind that morning, scarcely a month gone by, and how I had
broken off to get my DAILY CHRONICLE from the newsboy. I remembered
how I went down to the garden gate as he came along, and how I had
listened to his odd story of "Men from Mars."

I came down and went into the dining room. There were the mutton
and the bread, both far gone now in decay, and a beer bottle
overturned, just as I and the artilleryman had left them. My home was
desolate. I perceived the folly of the faint hope I had cherished so
long. And then a strange thing occurred. "It is no use," said a
voice. "The house is deserted. No one has been here these ten days.
Do not stay here to torment yourself. No one escaped but you."

I was startled. Had I spoken my thought aloud? I turned, and the
French window was open behind me. I made a step to it, and stood
looking out.

And there, amazed and afraid, even as I stood amazed and afraid,
were my cousin and my wife--my wife white and tearless. She gave a
faint cry.

"I came," she said. "I knew--knew----"

She put her hand to her throat--swayed. I made a step forward, and
caught her in my arms.



I cannot but regret, now that I am concluding my story, how little
I am able to contribute to the discussion of the many debatable
questions which are still unsettled. In one respect I shall certainly
provoke criticism. My particular province is speculative philosophy.
My knowledge of comparative physiology is confined to a book or two,
but it seems to me that Carver's suggestions as to the reason of the
rapid death of the Martians is so probable as to be regarded almost as
a proven conclusion. I have assumed that in the body of my narrative.

At any rate, in all the bodies of the Martians that were examined
after the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial
species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and the
reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance
of the putrefactive process. But probable as this seems, it is by no
means a proven conclusion.

Neither is the composition of the Black Smoke known, which the
Martians used with such deadly effect, and the generator of the Heat-
Rays remains a puzzle. The terrible disasters at the Ealing and South
Kensington laboratories have disinclined analysts for further
investigations upon the latter. Spectrum analysis of the black powder
points unmistakably to the presence of an unknown element with a
brilliant group of three lines in the green, and it is possible that
it combines with argon to form a compound which acts at once with
deadly effect upon some constituent in the blood. But such unproven
speculations will scarcely be of interest to the general reader, to
whom this story is addressed. None of the brown scum that drifted
down the Thames after the destruction of Shepperton was examined at
the time, and now none is forthcoming.

The results of an anatomical examination of the Martians, so far
as the prowling dogs had left such an examination possible, I have
already given. But everyone is familiar with the magnificent and
almost complete specimen in spirits at the Natural History Museum, and
the countless drawings that have been made from it; and beyond that
the interest of their physiology and structure is purely scientific.

A question of graver and universal interest is the possibility of
another attack from the Martians. I do not think that nearly enough
attention is being given to this aspect of the matter. At present the
planet Mars is in conjunction, but with every return to opposition I,
for one, anticipate a renewal of their adventure. In any case, we
should be prepared. It seems to me that it should be possible to
define the position of the gun from which the shots are discharged, to
keep a sustained watch upon this part of the planet, and to anticipate
the arrival of the next attack.

In that case the cylinder might be destroyed with dynamite or
artillery before it was sufficiently cool for the Martians to emerge,
or they might be butchered by means of guns so soon as the screw
opened. It seems to me that they have lost a vast advantage in the
failure of their first surprise. Possibly they see it in the same

Lessing has advanced excellent reasons for supposing that the
Martians have actually succeeded in effecting a landing on the planet
Venus. Seven months ago now, Venus and Mars were in alignment with
the sun; that is to say, Mars was in opposition from the point of view
of an observer on Venus. Subsequently a peculiar luminous and sinuous
marking appeared on the unillumined half of the inner planet, and
almost simultaneously a faint dark mark of a similar sinuous character
was detected upon a photograph of the Martian disk. One needs to see
the drawings of these appearances in order to appreciate fully their
remarkable resemblance in character.

At any rate, whether we expect another invasion or not, our views
of the human future must be greatly modified by these events. We have
learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a
secure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good
or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space. It may be that
in the larger design of the universe this invasion from Mars is not
without its ultimate benefit for men; it has robbed us of that serene
confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of
decadence, the gifts to human science it has brought are enormous, and
it has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal of
mankind. It may be that across the immensity of space the Martians
have watched the fate of these pioneers of theirs and learned their
lesson, and that on the planet Venus they have found a securer
settlement. Be that as it may, for many years yet there will
certainly be no relaxation of the eager scrutiny of the Martian disk,
and those fiery darts of the sky, the shooting stars, will bring with
them as they fall an unavoidable apprehension to all the sons of men.

The broadening of men's views that has resulted can scarcely be
exaggerated. Before the cylinder fell there was a general persuasion
that through all the deep of space no life existed beyond the petty
surface of our minute sphere. Now we see further. If the Martians can
reach Venus, there is no reason to suppose that the thing is
impossible for men, and when the slow cooling of the sun makes this
earth uninhabitable, as at last it must do, it may be that the thread
of life that has begun here will have streamed out and caught our
sister planet within its toils.

Dim and wonderful is the vision I have conjured up in my mind of
life spreading slowly from this little seed bed of the solar system
throughout the inanimate vastness of sidereal space. But that is a
remote dream. It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction of
the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps, is
the future ordained.

I must confess the stress and danger of the time have left an
abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. I sit in my study
writing by lamplight, and suddenly I see again the healing valley
below set with writhing flames, and feel the house behind and about me
empty and desolate. I go out into the Byfleet Road, and vehicles pass
me, a butcher boy in a cart, a cabful of visitors, a workman on a
bicycle, children going to school, and suddenly they become vague and
unreal, and I hurry again with the artilleryman through the hot,
brooding silence. Of a night I see the black powder darkening the
silent streets, and the contorted bodies shrouded in that layer; they
rise upon me tattered and dog-bitten. They gibber and grow fiercer,
paler, uglier, mad distortions of humanity at last, and I wake, cold
and wretched, in the darkness of the night.

I go to London and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and the
Strand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts of
the past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched,
going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in a
galvanised body. And strange, too, it is to stand on Primrose Hill,
as I did but a day before writing this last chapter, to see the great
province of houses, dim and blue through the haze of the smoke and
mist, vanishing at last into the vague lower sky, to see the people
walking to and fro among the flower beds on the hill, to see the
sight-seers about the Martian machine that stands there still, to hear
the tumult of playing children, and to recall the time when I saw it
all bright and clear-cut, hard and silent, under the dawn of that last
great day. . . .

And strangest of all is it to hold my wife's hand again, and to think
that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead.


Back to Full Books