Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The First Men In The Moon by H. G. Wells

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"You've spoilt it all!" panted Cavor. "Nonsense," I cried. "It was that
or death!"

"What are we to do?"

"Hide."

"How can we?"

"It's dark enough."

"But where?"

"Up one of these side caverns."

"And then?"

"Think."

"Right - come on."

We strode on, and presently came to a radiating dark cavern. Cavor was in
front. He hesitated, and chose a black mouth that seemed to promise good
hiding. He went towards it and turned.

"Its dark," he said.

"Your legs and feet will light us. You're wet with that luminous stuff."

"But - "

A tumult of sounds, and in particular a sound like a clanging gong,
advancing up the main tunnel, became audible. It was horribly suggestive
of a tumultuous pursuit. We made a bolt for the unlit side cavern
forthwith. As we ran along it our way was lit by the irradiation of
Cavor's legs. "It's lucky," I panted, "they took off our boots, or we
should fill this place with clatter." On we rushed, taking as small steps
as we could to avoid striking the roof of the cavern. After a time we
seemed to be gaining on the uproar. It became muffled, it dwindled, it
died away.

I stopped and looked back, and I heard the pad, pad of Cavor's feet
receding. Then he stopped also. "Bedford," he whispered; " there's a sort
of light in front of us."

I looked, and at first could see nothing. Then I perceived his head and
shoulders dimly outlined against a fainter darkness. I saw, also, that
this mitigation of the darkness was not blue, as all the other light
within the moon had been, but a pallid gray, a very vague, faint white,
the daylight colour. Cavor noted this difference as soon, or sooner, than
I did, and I think, too, that it filled him with much the same wild hope.

"Bedford," he whispered, and his voice trembled. "That light - it is
possible -"

He did not dare to say the thing he hoped. Then came a pause. Suddenly I
knew by the sound of his feet that he was striding towards that pallor. I
followed him with a beating heart.

Chapter 16

Points of View

THE light grew stronger as we advanced. In a little time it was nearly as
strong as the phosphorescence on Cavor's legs. Our tunnel was expanding
into a cavern, and this new light was at the farther end of it. I
perceived something that set my hopes leaping and bounding.

"Cavor," I said, "it comes from above! I am certain it comes from above!"

He made no answer, but hurried on.

Indisputably it was a gray light, a silvery light.

In another moment we were beneath it. It filtered down through a chink in
the walls of the cavern, and as I stared up, drip, came a drop of water
upon my face. I started and stood aside - drip, fell another drop quite
audibly on the rocky floor.

"Cavor," I said, "if one of us lifts the other, he can reach that crack!"

"I'll lift you," he said, and incontinently hoisted me as though I was a
baby.

I thrust an arm into the crack, and just at my finger tips found a little
ledge by which I could hold. I could see the white light was very much
brighter now. I pulled myself up by two fingers with scarcely an effort,
though on earth I weigh twelve stone, reached to a still higher corner of
rock, and so got my feet on the narrow ledge. I stood up and searched up
the rocks with my fingers; the cleft broadened out upwardly. "It's
climbable," I said to Cavor. "Can you jump up to my hand if I hold it down
to you?"

I wedged myself between the sides of the cleft, rested knee and foot on
the ledge, and extended a hand. I could not see Cavor, but I could hear
the rustle of his movements as he crouched to spring. Then whack and he
was hanging to my arm - and no heavier than a kitten! I lugged him up
until he had a hand on my ledge, and could release me.

"Confound it!" I said, "any one could be a mountaineer on the moon;" and
so set myself in earnest to the climbing. For a few minutes I clambered
steadily, and then I looked up again. The cleft opened out steadily, and
the light was brighter. Only -

It was not daylight after all.

In another moment I could see what it was, and at the sight I could have
beaten my head against the rocks with disappointment. For I beheld simply
an irregularly sloping open space, and all over its slanting floor stood a
forest of little club-shaped fungi, each shining gloriously with that
pinkish silvery light. For a moment I stared at their soft radiance, then
sprang forward and upward among them. I plucked up half a dozen and flung
them against the rocks, and then sat down, laughing bitterly, as Cavor's
ruddy face came into view.

"It's phosphorescence again!" I said. "No need to hurry. Sit down and make
yourself at home." And as he spluttered over our disappointment, I began
to lob more of these growths into the cleft.

"I thought it was daylight," he said.

"Daylight!" cried I. "Daybreak, sunset, clouds, and windy skies! Shall we
ever see such things again?"

As I spoke, a little picture of our world seemed to rise before me, bright
and little and clear, like the background of some old Italian picture.
"The sky that changes, and the sea that changes, and the hills and the
green trees and the towns and cities shining in the sun. Think of a wet
roof at sunset, Cavor! Think of the windows of a westward house!" He made
no answer.

"Here we are burrowing in this beastly world that isn't a world, with its
inky ocean hidden in some abominable blackness below, and outside that
torrid day and that death stillness of night. And all these things that
are chasing us now, beastly men of leather - insect men, that come out of
a nightmare! After all, they're right! What business have we here smashing
them and disturbing their world! For all we know the whole planet is up
and after us already. In a minute we may hear them whimpering, and their
gongs going. What are we to do? Where are we to go? Here we are as
comfortable as snakes from Jamrach's loose in a Surbiton villa!"

"It was your fault," said Cavor.

"My fault! " I shouted. "Good Lord!"

"I had an idea!"

"Curse your ideas!"

"If we had refused to budge"

"Under those goads?"

"Yes. They would have carried us!"

"Over that bridge?"

"Yes. They must have carried us from outside."

"I'd rather be carried by a fly across a ceiling."

"Good Heavens!"

I resumed my destruction of the fungi. Then suddenly I saw something that
struck me even then. "Cavor," I said, "these chains are of gold!"

He was thinking intently, with his hands gripping his cheeks. He turned
his head slowly and stared at me, and when I had repeated my words, at the
twisted chain about his right hand. " So they are," he said, "so they
are." His face lost its transitory interest even as he looked. He
hesitated for a moment, then went on with his interrupted meditation. I
sat for a space puzzling over the fact that I had only just observed this,
until I considered the blue light in which we had been, and which had
taken all the colour out of tlie metal. And from that discovery I also
started upon a train of thought that carried me wide and far. I forgot
that I had just been asking what business we had in the moon. Gold -

It was Cavor who spoke first. "It seems to me that there are two courses
open to us."

"Well"

"Either we can attempt to make our way - fight our way if necessary - out
to the exterior again, and then hunt for our sphere until we find it, or
the cold of the night comes to kill us, or else -"

He paused. "Yes?" I said, though I knew what was coming.

"We might attempt once more to establish some sort of understanding with
the minds of the people in the moon."

"So far as I'm concerned - it's the first."

"I doubt."

"I don't."

"You see," said Cavor, "I do not think we can judge the Selenites by what
we have seen of them. Their central world, their civilised world will be
far below in the profounder caverns about their sea. This region of the
crust in which we are is an outlying district, a pastoral region. At any
rate, that is my interpretation. These Selenites we have seen may be only
the equivalent of cowboys and engine-tenders. Their use of goads - in all
probability mooncalf goads - the lack of imagination they show in
expecting us to be able to do just what they can do, their indisputable
brutality, all seem to point to something of that sort. But if we endured
-"

"Neither of us could endure a six-inch plank across the bottomless pit for
very long."

"No," said Cavor; "but then -"

"I won't," I said.

He discovered a new line of possibilities. "Well, suppose we got ourselves
into some corner, where we could defend ourselves against these hinds and
labourers. If, for example, we could hold out for a week or so, it is
probable that the news of our appearance would filter down to the more
intelligent and populous parts -"

"If they exist."

"They must exist, or whence came those tremendous machines?"

"That's possible, but it's the worst of the two chances."

"We might write up inscriptions on walls"

"How do we know their eyes would see the sort of marks we made?"

"If we cut them - "

"That's possible, of course."

I took up a new thread of thought. "After all," - I said, " I suppose you
don't think these Selenites so infinitely wiser than men."

"They must know a lot more - or at least a lot of different things."

"Yes, but -" I hesitated.

"I think you'll quite admit, Cavor, that you're rather an exceptional
man."

"How?"

"Well, you - you're a rather lonely man - have been, that is. You haven't
married."

"Never wanted to. But why - "

"And you never grew richer than you happened to be? "

"Never wanted that either."

"You've just rooted after knowledge?"

"Well, a certain curiosity is natural - "

"You think so. That's just it. You think every other mind wants to know. I
remember once, when I asked you why you conducted all these researches,
you said you wanted your F.R.S., and to have the stuff called Cavorite,
and things like that. You know perfectly well you didn't do it for that;
but at the time my question took you by surprise, and you felt you ought
to have something to look like a motive. Really you conducted researches
because you had to. It's your twist."

"Perhaps it is -"

"It isn't one man in a million has that twist. Most men want - well,
various things, but very few want knowledge for its own sake. I don't, I
know perfectly well. Now, these Selenites seem to be a driving, busy sort
of being, but how do you know that even the most intelligent will take an
interest in us or our world? I don't believe they'll even know we have a
world. They never come out at night - they'd freeze if they did. They've
probably never seen any heavenly body at all except the blazing sun. How
are they to know there is another world? What does it matter to them if
they do? Well, even if they have had a glimpse of a few stars, or even of
the earth crescent, what of that? Why should people living inside a
planet trouble to observe that sort of thing? Men wouldn't have done it
except for the seasons and sailing; why should the moon people?...

"Well, suppose there are a few philosophers like yourself. They are just
the very Selenites who'll never have heard of our existence. Suppose a
Selenite had I dropped on the earth when you were at Lympne, you'd have
been the last man in the world to hear he had come. You never read a
newspaper! You see the chances against you. Well, it's for these chances
we're sitting here doing nothing while precious time is flying. I tell you
we've got into a fix. We've come unarmed, we've lost our sphere, we've got
no food, we've shown ourselves to the Selenites, and made them think we're
strange, strong, dangerous animals; and unless these Selenites are perfect
fools, they'll set about now and hunt us till they find us, and when they
find us they'll try to take us if they can, and kill us if they can't, and
that's the end of the matter. If they take us, they'll probably kill us,
through some misunderstanding. After we're done for, they may discuss us
perhaps, but we shan't get much fun out of that."

"Go on."

"On the other hand, here's gold knocking about like cast iron at home. If
only we can get some of it back, if only we can find our sphere again
before they do, and get back, then -"

"Yes?"

"We might put the thing on a sounder footing. Come back in a bigger
sphere with guns."

"Good Lord!" cried Cavor, as though that was horrible.

I shied another luminous fungus down the cleft.

"Look here, Cavor," I said, "I've half the voting power anyhow in this
affair, and this is a case for a practical man. I'm a practical man, and
you are not. I'm not going to trust to Selenites and geometrical diagrams
if I can help it. That's all. Get back. Drop all this secrecy - or most
of it. And come again."

He reflected. "When I came to the moon," he said, "I ought to have come
alone."

"The question before the meeting," I said, "is how to get back to the
sphere."

For a time we nursed our knees in silence. Then he seemed to decide for my
reasons.

"I think," he said, "one can get data. It is clear that while the sun is
on this side of the moon the air will be blowing through this planet
sponge from the dark side hither. On this side, at any rate, the air will
be expanding and flowing out of the moon caverns into the craters. ...
Very well, there's a draught here."

"So there is."

"And that means that this is not a dead end; somewhere behind us this
cleft goes on and up. The draught is blowing up, and that is the way we
have to go. If we try to get up any sort of chimney or gully there is, we
shall not only get out of these passages where they are hunting for us - "

"But suppose the gully is too narrow?"

"We'll come down again."

"Ssh!" I said suddenly; "what's that?"

We listened. At first it was an indistinct murmur, and then one picked out
the clang of a gong. "They must think we are mooncalves," said I, "to be
frightened at that."

"They're coming along that passage, said Cavor.

"They must be."

"They'll not think of the cleft. They'll go past."

I listened again for a space. "This time," I whispered, "they're likely to
have some sort of weapon."

Then suddenly I sprang to my feet. "Good heavens, Cavor! " I cried. "But
they will! They'll see the fungi I have been pitching down. They'll - "

I didn't finish my sentence. I turned about and made a leap over the
fungus tops towards the upper end of the cavity. I saw that the space
turned upward and became a draughty cleft again, ascending to impenetrable
darkness. I was about to clamber up into this, and then with a happy
inspiration turned back.

"What are you doing? " asked Cavor.

"Go on! said I, and went back and got two of the shining fungi, and
putting one into the breast pocket of my flannel jacket, so that it stuck
out to light our climbing, went back with the other for Cavor. The noise
of the Selenites was now so loud that it seemed they must be already
beneath the cleft. But it might be they would have difficulty in
clambering in to it, or might hesitate to ascend it against our possible
resistance. At any rate, we had now the comforting knowledge of the
enormous muscular superiority our birth in another planet gave us. In
other minute I was clambering with gigantic vigour after Cavor's blue-lit
heels.

Chapter 17

The Fight in the Cave of the Moon Butchers

I DO not know how far we clambered before we came to the grating. It may
be we ascended only a few hundred feet, but at the time it seemed to me we
might have hauled and jammed and hopped and wedged ourselves through a
mile or more of vertical ascent. Whenever I recall that time,,there comes
into my head the heavy clank of our golden chains that followed every
movement. Very soon my knuckles and knees were raw, and I had a bruise on
one cheek. After a time the first violence of our efforts diminished, and
our movements became more deliberate and less painful. The noise of the
pursuing Selenites had died away altogether. It seemed almost as though
they had not traced us up the crack after all, in spite of the tell-tale
heap of broken fungi that must have lain beneath it. At times the cleft
narrowed so much that we could scarce squeeze up it; at others it expanded
into great drusy cavities, studded with prickly crystals or thickly beset
with dull, shining fungoid pimples. Sometimes it twisted spirally, and at
other times slanted down nearly to the horizontal direction. Ever and
again there was the intermittent drip and trickle of water by us. Once or
twice it seemed to us that small living things had rustled out of our
reach, but what they were we never saw. They may have been venomous beasts
for all I know, but they did us no harm, and we were now tuned to a pitch
when a weird creeping thing more or less mattered little. And at last, far
above, came the familiar bluish light again, and then we saw that it
filtered through a grating that barred our way.

We whispered as we pointed this out to one another, and became more and
more cautious in our ascent. Presently we were close under the grating,
and by pressing my face against its bars I could see a limited portion of
the cavern beyond. It was clearly a large space, and lit no doubt by some
rivulet of the same blue light that we had seen flow from the beating
machinery. An intermittent trickle of water dropped ever and again between
the bars near my face.

My first endeavour was naturally to see what might be upon the floor of
the cavern, but our grating lay in a depression whose rim hid all this
from our eyes. Our foiled attention then fell back upon the suggestion of
the various sounds we heard, and presently my eye caught a number of faint
shadows that played across the dim roof far overhead.

Indisputably there were several Selenites, perhaps a considerable number,
in this space, for we could hear the noises of their intercourse, and
faint sounds that I identified as their footfalls. There was also a
succession of regularly repeated sounds - chid, chid, chid - which began
and ceased, suggestive of a knife or spade hacking at some soft substance.
Then came a clank as if of chains, a whistle and a rumble as of a truck
running over a hollowed place, and then again that chid, chid, chid
resumed. The shadows told of shapes that moved quickly and rhythmically,
in agreement with that regular sound, and rested when it ceased.

We put our heads close together, and began to discuss these things in
noiseless whispers.

"They are occupied," I said, "they are occupied in some way."

"Yes."

"They're not seeking us, or thinking of us."

"Perhaps they have not heard of us."

"Those others are hunting about below. If suddenly we appeared here - "

We looked at one another.

"There might be a chance to parley," said Cavor.

"No," I said. "Not as we are."

For a space we remained, each occupied by his own thoughts.

Chid, chid, chid went the chopping, and the shadows moved to and fro.

I looked at the grating. "It's flimsy," I said. "We might bend two of the
bars and crawl through."

We wasted a little time in vague discussion. Then I took one of the bars
in both hands, and got my feet up against the rock until they were almost
on a level with my head, and so thrust against the bar. It bent so
suddenly that I almost slipped. I clambered about and bent the adjacent
bar in the opposite direction, and then took the luminous fungus from my
pocket and dropped it down the fissure.

"Don't do anything hastily," whispered Cavor, as I twisted myself up
through the opening I had enlarged. I had a glimpse of busy figures as I
came through the grating, and immediately bent down, so that the rim of
the depression in which the grating lay hid me from their eyes, and so lay
flat, signalling advice to Cavor as he also prepared to come through.
Presently we were side by side in the depression, peering over the edge at
the cavern and its occupants.

It was a much larger cavern than we had supposed from our first glimpse of
it, and we looked up from the lowest portion of its sloping floor. It
widened out as it receded from us, and its roof came down and hid the
remoter portion altogether. And lying in a line along its length,
vanishing at last far away in that tremendous perspective, were a number
of huge shapes, huge pallid hulls, upon which the Selenites were busy. At
first they seemed big white cylinders of vague import. Then I noted the
heads upon them lying towards us, eyeless and skinless like the heads of
sheep at a butcher's, and perceived they were the carcasses of mooncalves
being cut up, much as the crew of a whaler might cut up a moored whale.
They were cutting off the flesh in strips, and on some of the farther
trunks the white ribs were showing. It was the sound of their hatchets
that made that chid, chid. Some way away a thing like a trolley cable,
drawn and loaded with chunks of lax meat, was running up the slope of the
cavern floor. This enormous long avenue of hulls that were destined to be
food, gave us a sense of the vast populousness of the moon world second
only to the effect of our first glimpse down the shaft.

It seemed to me at first that the Selenites must be standing on
trestle-supported planks, and then I saw that the planks and supports and
their hatchets were really of the same leaden hue as my fetters had seemed
- before white light came to bear on them. A number of very thick-looking
crowbars lay about the floor, and had apparently assisted to turn the dead
mooncalf over on its side. They were perhaps six feet long, with shaped
handles, very tempting-looking weapons. The whole place was lit by three
transverse streams of the blue fluid.

[I do not remember seeing any wooden things on the moon; doors tables,
everything corresponding to our terrestrial joinery was made of metal, and
I believe for the most part of gold, which as a metal would, of course,
naturally recommend itself - other things being equal - on account of the
ease in working it, and its toughness and durability.]

We lay for a long time noting all these things in silence. "Well?" said
Cavor at last.

I crouched over and turned to him. I had come upon a brilliant idea.
"Unless they lowered those bodies by a crane," I said, "we must be nearer
the surface than I thought."

"Why?"

"The mooncalf doesn't hop, and it hasn't got wings."

He peered over the edge of the hollow again. "I wonder now ..." he began.
"After all, we have never gone far from the surface - "

I stopped him by a grip on his arm. I had heard a noise from the cleft
below us!

We twisted ourselves about, and lay as still as death, with every sense
alert. In a little while I did not doubt that something was quietly
ascending the cleft. Very slowly and quite noiselessly I assured myself
of a good grip on my chain, and waited for that something to appear.

"Just look at those chaps with the hatchets again," I said.

"They're all right," said Cavor.

I took a sort of provisional aim at the gap in the grating. I could hear
now quite distinctly the soft twittering of the ascending Selenites, the
dab of their hands against the rock, and the falling of dust from their
grips as they clambered.

Then I could see that there was something moving dimly in the blackness
below the grating, but what it might be I could not distinguish. The whole
thing I seemed to hang fire just for a moment - then smash! I had sprung
to my feet, struck savagely at something that had flashed out at me. It
was the keen point of a spear. I have thought since that its length in the
narrowness of the cleft must have prevented its being sloped to reach me.
Anyhow, it shot out from the grating like the tongue of a snake, and
missed and flew back and flashed again. But the second time I snatched and
caught it, and wrenched it away, but not before another had darted
ineffectually at me.

I shouted with triumph as I felt the hold of the Selenite resist my pull
for a moment and give, and then I was jabbing down through the bars,
amidst squeals from the darkness, and Cavor had snapped off the other
spear, and was leaping and flourishing it beside me, and making
inefficient jabs. Clang, clang, came up through the grating, and then an
axe hurtled through the air and whacked against the rocks beyond, to
remind me of the fleshers at the carcasses up the cavern.

I turned, and they were all coming towards us in open order waving their
axes. They were short, thick, little beggars, with long arms, strikingly
different from the ones we had seen before. If they had not heard of us
before, they must have realised the situation with incredible swiftness. I
stared at them for a moment, spear in hand. "Guard that grating, Cavor," I
cried, howled to intimidate them, and rushed to meet them. Two of them
missed with their hatchets, and the rest fled incontinently. Then the two
also were sprinting away up the cavern, with hands clenched and heads
down. I never saw men run like them!

I knew the spear I had was no good for me. It was thin and flimsy, only
effectual for a thrust, and too long for a quick recover. So I only chased
the Selenites as far as the first carcass, and stopped there and picked up
one of the crowbars that were lying about. It felt comfortingly heavy, and
equal to smashing any number of Selenites. I threw away my spear, and
picked up a second crowbar for the other hand. I felt five times better
than I had with the spear. I shook the two threateningly at the Selenites,
who had come to a halt in a little crowd far away up the cavern, and then
turned about to look at Cavor.

He was leaping from side to side of the grating, making threatening jabs
with his broken spear. That was all right. It would keep the Selenites
down - for a time at any rate. I looked up the cavern again. What on earth
were we going to do now?

We were cornered in a sort of way already. But these butchers up the
cavern had been surprised, they were probably scared, and they had no
special weapons, only those little hatchets of theirs. And that way lay
escape. Their sturdy little forms - ever so much shorter and thicker than
the mooncalf herds - were scattered up the slope in a way that was
eloquent of indecision. I had the moral advantage of a mad bull in a
street. But for all that, there seemed a tremendous crowd of them. Very
probably there was. Those Selenites down the cleft had certainly some
infernally long spears. It might be they had other surprises for us. ...
But, confound it! if we charged up the cave we should let them up behind
us, and if we didn't those little brutes up the cave would probably get
reinforced. Heaven alone knew what tremendous engines of warfare - guns,
bombs, terrestrial torpedoes - this unknown world below our feet, this
vaster world of which we had only pricked the outer cuticle, might not
presently send up to our destruction. It became clear the only thing to do
was to charge! It became clearer as the legs of a number of fresh
Selenites appeared running down the cavern towards us.

"Bedford! " cried Cavor, and behold! he was halfway between me and the
grating.

"Go back!" I cried. "What are you doing -"

"They've got - it's like a gun!"

And struggling in the grating between those defensive spears appeared the
head and shoulders of a singularly lean and angular Selenite, bearing some
complicated apparatus.

I realised Cavor's utter incapacity for the fight we had in hand. For a
moment I hesitated. Then I rushed past him whirling my crowbars, and
shouting to confound the aim of the Selenite. He was aiming in the
queerest way with the thing against his stomach. "Chuzz!" The thing
wasn't a gun; it went off like cross-bow more, and dropped me in the
middle of a leap.

I didn't fall down, I simply came down a little shorter than I should have
done if I hadn't been hit, and from the feel of my shoulder the thing
might have tapped me and glanced off. Then my left hand hit again the
shaft, and I perceived there was a sort of spear sticking half through my
shoulder. The moment after I got home with the crowbar in my right hand,
and hit the Selenite fair and square. He collapsed - he crushed and
crumpled - his head smashed like an egg.

I dropped a crowbar, pulled the spear out of my shoulder, and began to jab
it down the grating into the darkness. At each jab came a shriek and
twitter. Finally I hurled the spear down upon them with all my strength,
leapt up, picked up the crowbar again, and started for the multitude up
the cavern.

"Bedford!" cried Cavor. "Bedford!" as I flew past him.

I seem to remember his footsteps coming on behind me.

Step, leap ... whack, step, leap. ... Each leap seemed to last ages. With
each, the cave opened out and the number of Selenites visible increased.
At first they seemed all running about like ants in a disturbed ant-hill,
one or two waving hatchets and coming to meet me, more running away, some
bolting sideways into the avenue of carcasses, then presently others came
in sight carrying spears, and then others. I saw a most extraordinary
thing, all hands and feet, bolting for cover. The cavern grew darker
farther up.

Flick! something flew over my head. Flick! As I soared in mid-stride I saw
a spear hit and quiver in one of the carcasses to my left. Then, as I came
down, one hit the ground before me, and I heard the remote chuzz! with
which their things were fired. Flick, flick! for a moment it was a
shower. They were volleying!

I stopped dead.

I don't think I thought clearly then. I seem to remember a kind of
stereotyped phrase running through my mind: "Zone of fire, seek cover!" I
know I made a dash for the space between two ~ the carcasses, and stood
there panting and feeling very wicked.

I looked round for Cavor, and for a moment it seemed as if he had vanished
from the world. Then he came out of the darkness between the row of the
carcasses and the rocky wall of the cavern. I saw his little face, dark
and blue, and shining with perspiration and emotion.

He was saying something, but what it was I did not heed. I had realised
that we might work from mooncalf to mooncalf up the cave until we were
near enough to charge home. It was charge or nothing. "Come on! " I said,
and led the way.

"Bedford! " he cried unavailingly.

My mind was busy as we went up that narrow alley between the dead bodies
and the wall of the cavern. The rocks curved about - they could not
enfilade us. Though in that narrow space we could not leap, yet with our
earth-born strength we were still able to go very much faster than the
Selenites. I reckoned we should presently come right among them. Once we
were on them, they would be nearly as formidable as black beetles. Only -
there would first of all be a volley. I thought of a stratagem. I whipped
off my flannel jacket as I ran.

"Bedford!" panted Cavor behind me.

I glanced back. "What?" said I.

He was pointing upward over the carcasses. "White light!" he said. "White
light again!"

I looked, and it was even so, a faint white ghost of light in the remoter
cavern roof. That seemed to give me double strength.

"Keep close," I said. A flat, long Selenite dashed out of the darkness,
and squealed and fled. I halted, and stopped Cavor with my hand. I hung my
jacket over my crowbar, ducked round the next carcass, dropped jacket and
crowbar, showed myself, and darted back.

"Chuzz-flick," just one arrow came. We were close on the Selenites, and
they were standing in a crowd, broad, short, and tall together, with a
little battery of their shooting implements pointing down the cave. Three
or four other arrows followed the first, then their fire ceased.

I stuck out my head, and escaped by a hair's-breadth. This time I drew a
dozen shots or more, and heard the Selenites shouting and twittering as if
with excitement as they shot. I picked up jacket and crowbar again.

"Now! " said I, and thrust out the jacket.

"Chuzz-zz-zz-zz! Chuzz!" In an instant my jacket had grown a thick beard
of arrows, and they were quivering all over the carcass behind us.
Instantly I slipped the crowbar out of the jacket, dropped the jacket -
for all I know to the contrary it is lying up there in the moon now - and
rushed out upon them.

For a minute perhaps it was massacre. I was too fierce to discriminate,
and the Selenites were probably too scared to fight. At any rate they made
no sort of fight against me. I saw scarlet, as the saying is. I remember I
seemed to be wading among those leathery, thin things as a man wades
through tall grass, mowing and hitting, first right, then left; smash.
Little drops of moisture flew about. I trod on things that crushed and
piped and went slippery. The crowd seemed to open and close and flow like
water. They seemed to have no combined plan whatever. There were spears
flew about me, I was grazed over the ear by one. I was stabbed once in the
arm and once in the cheek, but I only found that out afterwards, when the
blood had had time to run and cool and feel wet.

What Cavor did I do not know. For a space it seemed that this fighting had
lasted for an age, and must needs go on for ever. Then suddenly it was all
over, and there was nothing to be seen but the backs of heads bobbing up
and down as their owners ran in all directions. ... I seemed altogether
unhurt. I ran forward some paces, shouting, then turned about. I was
amazed.

I had come right through them in vast flying strides, they were all behind
me, and running hither and thither to hide.

I felt an enormous astonishment at the evaporation of the great fight into
which I had hurled myself, and not a little exultation. It did not seem to
me that I had discovered the Selenites were unexpectedly flimsy, but that
I was unexpectedly strong. I laughed stupidly. This fantastic moon!

I glanced for a moment at the smashed and writhing bodies that were
scattered over the cavern floor, with a vague idea of further violence,
then hurried on after Cavor.

Chapter 18

In the Sunlight

PRESENTLY we saw that the cavern before us opened upon a hazy void. In
another moment we had emerged upon a sort of slanting gallery, that
projected into a vast circular space, a huge cylindrical pit running
vertically up and down. Round this pit the slanting gallery ran without
any parapet or protection for a turn and a half, and then plunged high
above into the rock again. Somehow it reminded me then one of those spiral
turns of the railway through the Saint Gothard. It was all tremendously
huge. I can scarcely hope to convey to you the Titanic proportion of all
that place, the Titanic effect of it. Our eyes followed up the vast
declivity of the pit wall, and overhead and far above we beheld a round
opening set with faint stars, and half of the lip about it well nigh
blinding with the white light of the sun. At that we cried aloud
simultaneously.

"Come on!" I said, leading the way.

"But there?" said Cavor, and very carefully stepped nearer the edge of the
gallery. I followed his example, and craned forward and looked down, but I
was dazzled by that gleam of light above, and I could see only a
bottomless darkness with spectral patches of crimson and purple floating
therein. Yet if I could not see, I could hear. Out of this darkness came a
sound, a sound like the angry hum one can hear if one puts one's ear
outside a hive of bees, a sound out of that enormous hollow, it may be,
four miles beneath our feet...

For a moment I listened, then tightened my grip on my crowbar, and led the
way up the gallery.

"This must be the shaft we looked down upon," said Cavor. "Under that
lid."

"And below there, is where we saw the lights."

"The lights!" said he. " Yes - the lights of the world that now we shall
never see."

"We'll come back," I said, for now we had escaped so much I was rashly
sanguine that we should recover the sphere.

His answer I did not catch.

"Eh?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter," he answered, and we hurried on in silence.

I suppose that slanting lateral way was four or five miles long, allowing
for its curvature, and it ascended at a slope that would have made it
almost impossibly steep on earth, but which one strode up easily under
lunar conditions. We saw only two Selenites during all that portion of our
flight, and directly they became aware of us they ran headlong. It was
clear that the knowledge of our strength and violence had reached them.
Our way to the exterior was unexpectedly plain. The spiral gallery
straightened into a steeply ascendent tunnel, its floor bearing abundant
traces of the mooncalves, and so straight and short in proportion to its
vast arch, that no part of it was absolutely dark. Almost immediately it
began to lighten, and then far off and high up, and quite blindingly
brilliant, appeared its opening on the exterior, a slope of Alpine
steepness surmounted by a crest of bayonet shrub, tall and broken down
now, and dry and dead, in spiky silhouette against the sun.

And it is strange that we men, to whom this very vegetation had seemed so
weird and horrible a little time ago, should now behold it with the
emotion a home-coming exile might feel at sight of his native land. We
welcomed even the rareness of the air that made us pant as we ran, and
which rendered speaking no longer the easy thing that it had been, but an
effort to make oneself heard. Larger grew the sunlit circle above us, and
larger, and all the nearer tunnel sank into a rim of indistinguishable
black. We saw the dead bayonet shrub no longer with any touch of green in
it, but brown and dry and thick, arid the M shadow of its upper branches
high out of sight made a densely interlaced pattern upon the tumbled
rocks. And at the immediate mouth of the tunnel was a wide trampled space
where the mooncalves had come and gone.

We came out upon this space at last into a light and heat that hit and
pressed upon us. We traversed the exposed area painfully, and clambered up
a slope among the scrub stems, and sat down at last panting in a high
place beneath the shadow of a mass of twisted lava. Even in the shade the
rock felt hot.

The air was intensely hot, and we were in great physical discomfort, but
for all that we were no longer in a nightmare. We seemed to have come to
our own province again, beneath the stars. All the fear and stress of our
flight through the dim passages and fissures below had fallen from us.
That last fight bad filled us with an enormous confidence in ourselves so
far as the Selenites were concerned. We looked back almost incredulously
at the black opening from which we had just emerged. Down there it was, in
a blue glow that now in our memories seemed the next thing to absolute
darkness, we had met with things like mad mockeries of men, helmet-headed
creatures, and had walked in fear before them, and had submitted to them
until we could submit no longer. And behold, they had smashed like wax and
scattered like chaff, and fled and vanished like the creatures of a dream!

I rubbed my eyes, doubting whether we had not slept and dreamt these
things by reason of the fungus we had eaten, and suddenly discovered the
blood upon my face, and then that my shirt was sticking painfully to my
shoulder and arm.

"Confound it!" I said, gauging my injuries with an investigatory hand, and
suddenly that distant tunnel mouth became, as it were, a watching eye.

"Cavor!" I said; "what are they going to do now? And what are we going to
do?"

He shook his head, with his eyes fixed upon the tunnel. "How can one tell
what they will do?"

"It depends on what they think of us, and I don't see how we can begin to
guess that. And it depends upon what they have in reserve. It's as you
say, Cavor, we have touched the merest outside of this world. They may
have all sorts of things inside here. Even with those shooting things they
might make it bad for us....

"Yet after all," I said, "even if we don't find the sphere at once, there
is a chance for us. We might hold out. Even through the night. We might go
down there again and make a fight for it."

I stared about me with speculative eyes. The character of the scenery had
altered altogether by reason of the enormous growth and subsequent drying
of the scrub. The crest on which we sat was high, and commanded a wide
prospect of the crater landscape, and we saw it now all sere and dry in
the late autumn of the lunar afternoon. Rising one behind the other were
long slopes and fields of trampled brown where the mooncalves had
pastured, and far away in the full blaze of the sun a drove of them basked
slumberously, scattered shapes, each with a blot of shadow against it like
sheep on the side of a down. But never a sign of a Selenite was to be
seen. Whether they had fled on our emergence from the interior passages,
or whether they were accustomed to retire after driving out the
mooncalves, I cannot guess. At the time I believed the former was the
case.

"If we were to set fire to all this stuff, I said, "we might find the
sphere among the ashes."

Cavor did not seem to hear me. He was peering under his hand at the stars,
that still, in spite of the intense sunlight, were abundantly visible in
the sky. "How long do you think we've have been here?" he asked at last.

"Been where? "

"On the moon."

"Two earthly days, perhaps."

"More nearly ten. Do you know, the sun is past its zenith, and sinking in
the west. In four days' time or less it will be night."

"But - we've only eaten once!"

"I know that. And - But there are the stars! "

"But why should time seem different because we are on a smaller planet? "

"I don't know. There it is!"

"How does one tell time?"

"Hunger - fatigue - all those things are different. Everything is
different - everything. To me it seems that since first we came out of the
sphere has been only a question of hours - long hours - at most."

"Ten days," I said; "that leaves -" I looked up at the sun for a moment,
and then saw that it was halfway from the zenith to the western edge of
things. "Four days! ... Cavor, we musn't sit here and dream. How do you
think we may begin?"

I stood up. "We must get a fixed point we can recognise - we might hoist a
flag, or a handkerchief, or something - and quarter the ground, and work
round that."

He stood up beside me.

"Yes," he said, "there is nothing for it but to hunt the sphere. Nothing.
We may find it - certainly we may find it. And if not -"

"We must keep on looking."

He look this way and that, glanced up at the sky and down at the tunnel,
and astonished me by a sudden gesture of impatience. "Oh! but we have
done foolishly! To have come to this pass! Think how it might have been,
and the things we might have done!"

"We might do something yet."

"Never the thing we might have done. here below out feet is a world.
Think of what that world must be! Think of that machine we saw, and the
lid and the shaft! They were just remote outlying things, and those
creatures we have seen and fought with no more than ignorant peasants,
dwellers in the outskirts, yokels and labourers half akin to brutes. Down
below! Caverns beneath caverns, tunnels, structures, ways... It must
open out, and be greater and wider and more populous as one descends.
Assuredly. Right down at the last the central sea that washes round the
core of the moon. Think of its inky waters under the spare lights - if,
indeed, their eyes need lights! Think of the cascading tributaries
pouring down their channels to feed it! Think of the tides upon its
surface, and the rush and swirl of its ebb and flow! perhaps they have
ships that go upon it, perhaps down there are mighty cities and swarming
ways, and wisdom and order passing the wit of man. And we may die here
upon it, and never see the masters who must be - ruling over these things!
We may freeze and die here, and the air will freeze and thaw upon us, and
then - ! Then they will come upon us, come on our stiff and silent
bodies, and find the sphere we cannot find, and they will understand at
last too late all the thought and effort that ended here in vain!"

His voice for all that speech sounded like the voice of someone heard in a
telephone, weak and far away.

"But the darkness," I said.

"One might get over that."

"How?"

"I don't know. How am I to know? One might carry a torch, one might have
a lamp - The others - might understand."

He stood for a moment with his hands held down and a rueful face, staring
out over the waste that defied him. Then with a gesture of renunciation
he turned towards me with proposals for the systematic hunting of the
sphere.

"We can return," I said.

He looked about him. "First of all we shall have to get to earth."

"We could bring back lamps to carry and climbing irons, and a hundred
necessary things."

"Yes," he said.

"We can take back an earnest of success in this gold."

He looked at my golden crowbars, and said nothing for a space. He stood
with his hands clasped behind his back, staring across the crater. At
last he signed and spoke. "It was I found the way here, but to find a way
isn't always to be master of a way. If I take my secret back to earth,
what will happen? I do not see how I can keep my secret for a year, for
even a part of a year. Sooner or later it must come out, even if other
men rediscover it. And then ... Governments and powers will struggle to
get hither, they will fight against one another, and against these moon
people; it will only spread warfare and multiply the occasions of war. In
a little while, in a very little while, if I tell my secret, this planet
to its deepest galleries will be strewn with human dead. Other things are
doubtful, but that is certain. It is not as though man had any use for the
moon. What good would the moon be to men? Even of their own planet what
have they made but a battle-ground and theatre of infinite folly? Small
as his world is, and short as his time, he has still in his little life
down there far more than he can do. No! Science has toiled too long
forging weapons for fools to use. It is time she held her hand. Let him
find it out for himself again - in a thousand years' time."

"There are methods of secrecy," I said.

He looked up at me and smiled. "After all," he said, "why should one
worry? There is little chance of our finding the sphere, and down below
things are brewing. It's simply the human habit of hoping till we die that
makes us think of return. Our troubles are only beginning. We have shown
these moon folk violence, we have given them a taste of our quality, and
our chances are about as good as a tiger's that has got loose and killed a
man in Hyde Park. The news of us must be running down from gallery to
gallery, down towards the central parts. ... No sane beings will ever let
us take that sphere back to earth after so much as they have seen of us."

"We aren't improving our chances," said I, "by sitting here."

We stood up side by side.

"After all," he said, we must separate. We must stick up a handkerchief on
these tall spikes here and fasten it firmly, and from this as a centre we
must work over the crater. You must go westward, moving out in semicircles
to and fro towards the setting sun. You must move first with your shadow
on your right until it is at right angles with the direction of your
handkerchief, and then with your shadow on your left. And I will do the
same to the east. We will look into every gully, examine every skerry of
rocks; we will do all we can to find my sphere. If we see the Selenites we
will hide from them as well as we can. For drink we must take snow, and if
we feel the need of food, we must kill a mooncalf if we can, and eat such
flesh as it has - raw - and so each will go his own way."

"And if one of us comes upon the sphere?"

"He must come back to the white handkerchief, and stand by it and signal
to the other."

"And if neither?"

Cavor glanced up at the sun. "We go on seeking until the night and cold
overtake us."

"Suppose the Selenites have found the sphere and hidden it?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Or if presently they come hunting us?"

He made no answer.

"You had better take a club," I said.

He shook his head, and stared away from me across the waste.

But for a moment he did not start. He looked round at me shyly, hesitated.
"Au revoir," he said.

I felt an odd stab of emotion. A sense of how we had galled each other,
and particularly how I must have galled him, came to me. "Confound it,"
thought I, "we might have done better!" I was on the point of asking him
to shake hands - for that, somehow, was how I felt just then - when he put
his feet together and leapt away from me towards the north. He seemed to
drift through the air as a dead leaf would do, fell lightly, and leapt
again. I stood for a moment watching him, then faced westward reluctantly,
pulled myself together, and with something of the feeling of a man who
leaps into icy water, selected a leaping point, and plunged forward to
explore my solitary half of the moon world. I dropped rather clumsily
among rocks, stood up and looked about me, clambered on to a rocky slab,
and leapt again. ...

When presently I looked for Cavor he was hidden from my eyes, but the
handkerchief showed out bravely on its headland, white in the blaze of the
sun.

I determined not to lose sight of that handkerchief whatever might betide.

Chapter 19

Mr. Bedford Alone

IN a little while it seemed to me as though I had always been alone on the
moon. I hunted for a time with a certain intentness, but the heat was
still very great, and the thinness of the air felt like a hoop about one's
chest. I came presently into a hollow basin bristling with tall, brown,
dry fronds about its edge, and I sat down under these to rest and cool. I
intended to rest for only a little while. I put down my clubs beside me,
and sat resting my chin on my hands. I saw with a sort of colourless
interest that the rocks of the basin, where here and there the crackling
dry lichens had shrunk away to show them, were all veined and splattered
with gold, that here and there bosses of rounded and wrinkled gold
projected from among the litter. What did that matter now? A sort of
languor had possession of my limbs and mind, I did not belive for a moment
that we should ever find the sphere in that vast desiccated wilderness. I
seemed to lack a motive for effort until the Selenites should come. Then
I supposed I should exert myself, obeying that unreasonable imperative
that urges a man before all things to preserve and defend his life, albeit
he may preserve it only to die more painfully in a little while.

Why had we come to the moon?

The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem. What is this
spirit in man that urges him for ever to depart from happiness and
security, to toil, to place himself in danger, to risk even a reasonable
certainty of death? It dawned upon me up there in the moon as a thing I
ought always to have known, that man is not made simply to go about being
safe and comfortable and well fed and amused. Almost any man, if you put
the thing to him, not in words, but in the shape of opportunities, will
show that he knob as much. Against his interest, against his happiness, he
is constantly being driven to do unreasonable things. Some force not
himself impels him, and go he must. But why? Why? Sitting there in the
midst of that useless moon gold, amidst the things of another world, I
took count of all my life. Assuming I was to die a castaway upon the moon,
I failed altogether to see what purpose I had served. I got no light on
that point, but at any rate it was clearer to me than it had ever been in
my life before that I was not serving my own purpose, that all my life I
had in truth never served the purposes of my private life. Whose purposes,
what purposes, was I serving? ... I ceased to speculate on why we had come
to the moon, and took a wider sweep. Why had I come to the earth? Why had
I a private life at all? ... I lost myself at last in bottomless
speculations. ...

My thoughts became vague and cloudy, no longer leading in definite
directions. I had not felt heavy or weary - I cannot imagine one doing so
upon the moon - but I suppose I was greatly fatigued. At any rate I slept.

Slumbering there rested me greatly, I think, and the sun was setting and
the violence of the heat abating, through all the time I slumbered. When
at last I was roused from my slumbers by a remote clamour, I felt active
and capable again. I rubbed my eyes and stretched my arms. I rose to my
feet - I was a little stiff - and at once prepared to resume my search. I
shouldered my golden clubs, one on each shoulder, and went on out of the
ravine of the gold-veined rocks.

The sun was certainly lower, much lower than it had been; the air was very
much cooler. I perceived I must have slept some time. It seemed to me that
a faint touch of misty blueness hung about the western cliff I leapt to a
little boss of rock and surveyed the crater. I could see no signs of
mooncalves or Selenites, nor could I see Cavor, but I could see my
handkerchief far off, spread out on its thicket of thorns. I looked bout
me, and then leapt forward to the next convenient view-point.

I beat my round in a semicircle, and back again in a still remoter
crescent. It was very fatiguing and hopeless. The air was really very much
cooler, and it seemed to me that the shadow under the westward cliff was
growing broad. Ever and again I stopped and reconnoitred, but there was no
sign of Cavor, no sign of Selenites; and it seemed to me the mooncalves
must have been driven into the interior again - I could see none of them.
I became more and more desirous of being Cavor. The winged outline of the
sun had sunk now, until it was scarcely the distance of its diameter from
the rim of the sky. I was oppressed by the idea that the Selenites would
presently close their lids and valves, and shut us out under the
inexorable onrush of the lunar night. It seemed to me high time that he
abandoned his search, and that we took counsel together. I felt how urgent
it was that we should decide soon upon our course. We had failed to find
the sphere, we no longer had time to seek it, and once these valves were
closed with us outside, we were lost men. The great night of space would
descend upon us - that blackness of the void which is the only absolute
death. All my being shrank from that approach. We must get into the moon
again, though we were slain in doing it. I was haunted by a vision of our
freezing to death, of our hammering with our last strength on the valve of
the great pit.

I took no thought any more of the sphere. I thought only of finding Cavor
again I was half inclined to go back into the moon without him, rather
than seek him until it was too late. I was already half-way back towards
our handkerchief, when suddenly -

I saw the sphere!

I did not find it so much as it found me. It was lying much farther to the
westward than I had gone, and the sloping rays of the sinking sun
reflected from its glass had suddenly proclaimed its presence in a
dazzling beam. For an instant I thought this was some new device of the
Selenites against us, and then I understood.

I threw up my arms, shouted a ghostly shout, and set off in vast leaps
towards it. I missed one of my leaps and dropped into a deep ravine and
twisted my ankle, and after that I stumbled at almost every leap. I was
in a state of hysterical agitation, trembling violently, and quite
breathless long before I got to it. Three times at least I had to stop
with my hands resting on my side and spite of the thin dryness of the air,
the perspiration was wet upon my face.

I thought of nothing but the sphere until I reached it, I forgot even my
trouble of Cavor's whereabouts. My last leap flung me with my hands hard
against its glass; then I lay against it panting, and trying vainly to
shout, "Cavor! here is the sphere!" When I had recovered a little I peered
through the thick glass, and the things inside seemed tumbled. I stooped
to peer closer. Then I attempted to get in. I had to hoist it over a
little to get my head through the manhole. The screw stopper was inside,
and I could see now that nothing had been touched, nothing had suffered.
It lay there as we had left it when we had dropped out amidst the snow.
For a time I was wholly occupied in making and remaking this inventory. I
found I was trembling violently. It was good to see that familiar dark
interior again! I cannot tell you how good. Presently I crept inside and
sat down among the things. I looked through the glass at the moon world
and shivered. I placed my gold clubs upon the table, and sought out and
took a little food; not so much because I wanted it, but because it was
there. Then it occurred to me that it was time to go out and signal for
Cavor. But I did not go out and signal for Cavor forthwith. Something
held me to the sphere.

After all, everything was coming right. There would be still time for us
to get more of the magic stone that gives one mastery over men. Away
there, close handy, was gold for the picking up; and the sphere would
travel as well half full of gold as though it were empty. We could go
back now, masters of ourselves and our world, and then -

I roused myself at last, and with an effort got myself out of the sphere.
I shivered as I emerged, for the evening air was growing very cold. I
stood in the hollow staring about me. I scrutinised the bushes round me
very carefully before I leapt to the rocky shelf hard by, and took once
more what had been my first leap in the moon. But now I made it with no
effort whatever.

The growth and decay of the vegetation had gone on apace, and the whole
aspect of the rocks had changed, but still it was possible to make out the
slope on which the seeds had germinated, and the rocky mass from which we
had taken our first view of the crater. But the spiky shrub on the slope
stood brown and sere now, and thirty feet high, and cast long shadows that
stretched out of sight, and the little seeds that clustered in its upper
branches were brown and ripe. Its work was done, and it was brittle and
ready to fall and crumple under the freezing air, so soon as the nightfall
came. And the huge cacti, that had swollen as we watched them, had long
since burst and scattered their spores to the four quarters of the moon.
Amazing little corner in the universe - the landing place of men!

Some day, thought I, I will have an inscription standing there right in
the midst of the hollow. It came to me, if only this teeming world within
knew of the full import of the moment, how furious its tumult would
become!

But as yet it could scarcely be dreaming of the significance of our
coming. For if it did, the crater would surely be an uproar of pursuit,
instead of as still as death! I looked about for some place from which I
might signal Cavor, and saw that same patch of rock to which he had leapt
from my present standpoint, still bare and barren in the sun. For a moment
I hesitated at going so far from the sphere. Then with a pang of shame at
that hesitation, I leapt. ...

From this vantage point I surveyed the crater again. Far away at the top
of the enormous shadow I cast was the little white handkerchief fluttering
on the bushes. It was very little and very far, and Cavor was not in
sight. It seemed to me that by this time he ought to be looking for me.
That was the agreement. But he was nowhere to be seen.

I stood waiting and watching, hands shading my eyes, expecting every
moment to distinguish him. Very probably I stood there for quite a long
time. I tried to shout, and was reminded of the thinness of the air. I
made an undecided step back towards the sphere. But a lurking dread of
the Selenites made me hesitate to signal my whereabouts by hoisting one of
our sleeping-blankets on to the adjacent scrub. I searched the crater
again.

It had an effect of emptiness that chilled me. And it was still; Any sound
from the Selenites in the world beneath, even had died away. It was as
still as death. Save for the faint stir of the shrub about me in the
little breeze that was rising, there was no sound nor shadow of a sound.
And the breeze blew chill.

Confound Cavor!

I took a deep breath. I put my hands to the sides of my mouth. "Cavor!" I
bawled, and the sound was like some manikin shouting far away.

I looked at the handkerchief, I looked behind me at the broadening shadow
of the westward cliff I looked under my hand at the sun. It seemed to me
that almost visibly it was creeping down the sky. I felt I must act
instantly if I was to save Cavor. I whipped off my vest and flung it as a
mark on the sere bayonets of the shrubs behind me, and then set off in a
straight line towards the handkerchief. Perhaps it was a couple of miles
away - a matter of a few hundred leaps and strides. I have already told
how one seemed to hang through those lunar leaps. In each suspense I
sought Cavor, and marvelled why he should be hidden. In each leap I could
feel the sun setting behind me. Each time I touched the ground I was
tempted to go back.

A last leap and I was in the depression below our handkerchief, a stride,
and I stood on our former vantage point within arms' reach of it. I stood
up straight and scanned the world about me, between its lengthening bars
of shadow. Far away, down a long declivity, was the opening of the tunnel
up which we had fled, and my shadow reached towards it, stretched towards
it, and touched it, like a finger of the night.

Not a sign of Cavor, not a sound in all the stillness, only the stir and
waving of the scrub and of the shadows increased. And suddenly and
violently I shivered. "Cav-" I began, and realised once more the
uselessness of the human voice in that thin air. Silence. The silence of
death.

Then it was my eye caught something - a little thing lying, perhaps fifty
yards away down the slope, amidst a litter of bent and broken branches.
What was it? I knew, and yet for some reason I would not know. I went
nearer to it. It was the little cricket-cap Cavor had worn. I did not
touch it, I stood looking at it.

I saw then that the scattered branches about it had been forcibly smashed
and trampled. I hesitated, stepped forward, and picked it up.

I stood with Cavor's cap in my hand, staring at the trampled reeds and
thorns about me. On some, of them were little smears of something dark,
something that I dared not touch. A dozen yards away, perhaps, the rising
breeze dragged something into view, something small and vividly white.

It was a little piece of paper crumpled tightly, as though it had been
clutched tightly. I picked it up, and on it were smears of red. My eye
caught faint pencil marks. I smoothed it out, and saw uneven and broken
writing ending at last in a crooked streak up on the paper.

I set myself to decipher this.

"I have been injured about the knee, I think my kneecap is hurt, and I
cannot run or crawl," it began - pretty distinctly written.

Then less legibly: "They have been chasing me for some time, and it is
only a question of" - the word "time" seemed to have been written here and
erased in favour of something illegible - "before they get me. They are
beating all about me."

Then the writing became convulsive. "I can hear them," I guessed the
tracing meant, and then it was quite unreadable for a space. Then came a
little string of words that were quite distinct: "a different sort of
Selenite altogether, who appears to be directing the" The writing became a
mere hasty confusion again.

"They have larger brain cases - much larger, and slenderer bodies, and
very short legs. They make gentle noises, and move with organized
deliberation...

"And though I am wounded and helpless here, their appearance still gives
me hope " That was like Cavor. "They have not shot at me or attempted...
injury. I intend -"

Then came the sudden streak of the pencil across the paper, and on the
back and edges - blood!

And as I stood there stupid, and perplexed, with this dumbfounding relic
in my hand, something very soft and light and chill touched my hand for a
moment and ceased to be, and then a thing, a little white speck, drifted
athwart a shadow. It was a tiny snowflake, the first snowflake, the herald
of the night.

I looked up with a start, and the sky had darkened almost to blackness,
and was thick with a gathering multitude of coldly watchful stars. I
looked eastward, and the light of that shrivelled world was touched with
sombre bronze; westward, and the sun robbed now by a thickening white mist
of half its heat and splendour, was touching the crater rim, was sinking
out of sight, and all the shrubs and jagged and tumbled rocks stood out
against it in a bristling disorder of black shapes. Into the great lake
of darkness westward, a vast wreath of mist was sinking. A cold wind set
all the crater shivering. Suddenly, for a moment, I was in a puff of
falling snow, and all the world about me gray and dim.

And then it was I heard, not loud and penetrating as at first, but faint
and dim like a dying voice, that tolling, that same tolling that had
welcomed the coming of the day: Boom!... Boom!... Boom!...

It echoed about the crater, it seemed to throb with the throbbing of the
greater stars, the blood-red crescent of the sun's disc sank as it tolled
out: Boom!... Boom!... Boom! ...

What had happened to Cavor? All through that tolling I stood there
stupidly, and at last the tolling ceased.

And suddenly the open mouth of the tunnel down below there, shut like an
eye and vanished out of sight.

Then indeed was I alone.

Over me, around me, closing in on me, embracing me ever nearer, was the
Eternal; that which was before the beginning, and that which triumphs over
the end; that enormous void in which all light and life and being is but
the thin and vanishing splendour of a falling star, the cold, the
stillness, the silence - the infinite and final Night of space.

The sense of solitude and desolation became the sense of an overwhelming
presence that stooped towards me, that almost touched me.

"No," I cried. "No! Not yet! not yet! Wait! Wait! Oh, wait!" My voice
went up to a shriek. I flung the crumpled paper from me, scrambled back
to the crest to take my bearings, and then, with all the will that was in
me, leapt out towards the mark I had left, dim and distant now in the very
margin of the shadow.

Leap, leap, leap, and each leap was seven ages.

Before me the pale serpent-girdled section of the sun sank and sank, and
the advancing shadow swept to seize the sphere before I could reach it. I
was two miles away, a hundred leaps or more, and the air about me was
thinning out as it thins under an air-pump, and the cold was gripping at
my joints. But had I died, I should have died leaping. Once, and then
again my foot slipped on the gathering snow as I leapt and shortened my
leap; once I fell short into bushes that crashed and smashed into dusty
chips and nothingness, and once I stumbled as I dropped and rolled head
over heels into a gully, and rose bruised and bleeding and confused as to
my direction.

But such incidents were as nothing to the intervals, those awful pauses
when one drifted through the air towards that pouring tide of night. My
breathing made a piping noise, and it was as though knives were whirling
in my lungs. My heart seemed to beat against the top of my brain. "Shall I
reach it? O Heaven! Shall I reach it?"

My whole being became anguish.

"Lie down!" screamed my pain and despair; "lie down!"

The near I struggled, the more awfully remote it seemed. I was numb, I
stumbled, I bruised and cut myself and did not bleed.

It was in sight.

I fell on all fours, and my lungs whooped.

I crawled. The frost gathered on my lips, icicles hung from my moustache,
I was white with the freezing atmosphere.

I was a dozen yards from it. My eyes had become dim. "Lie down!" screamed
despair; "lie down!"

I touched it, and halted. "Too late!" screamed despair; "lie down!"

I fought stiffly with it. I was on the manhole lip, a stupefied, half-dead
being. The snow was all about me. I pulled myself in. There lurked within
a little warmer air.

The snowflakes - the airflakes - danced in about me, as I tried with
chilling hands to thrust the valve in and spun it tight and hard. I
sobbed. "I will," I chattered in my teeth. And then, with fingers that
quivered and felt brittle, I turned to the shutter studs.

As I fumbled with the switches - for I had never controlled them before -
I could see dimly through the steaming glass the blazing red streamers of
the sinking sun, dancing and flickering through the snowstorm, and the
black forms of the scrub thickening and bending and breaking beneath the
accumulating snow. Thicker whirled the snow and thicker, black against
the light. What if even now the switches overcame me? Then something
clicked under my hands, and in an instant that last vision of the moon
world was hidden from my eyes. I was in the silence and darkness the
inter-planetary sphere.

Chapter 20

Mr. Bedford in Infinite Space

IT was almost as though I had been killed. Indeed, I could imagine a man
suddenly and violently killed would feel very much as I did. One moment, a
passion of agonising existence and fear; the next darkness and stillness,
neither light nor life nor sun, moon nor stars, the blank infinite.
Although the thing was done by my own act, although I had already tasted
this very of effect in Cavor's company, I felt astonished, dumbfounded,
and overwhelmed. I seemed to be borne upward into an enormous darkness. My
fingers floated off the studs, I hung as if I were annihilated, and at
last very softly and gently I came against the bale and the golden chain,
and the crowbars that had drifted to the middle of the sphere.

I do not know how long that drifting took. In the sphere of course, even
more than on the moon, one's earthly time sense was ineffectual. At the
touch of the bale it was as if I had awakened from a dreamless sleep. I
immediately perceived that if I wanted to keep awake and alive I must get
a light or open a window, so as to get a grip of something with my eyes.
And besides, I was cold. I kicked off from the bale, therefore, clawed on
to the thin cords within the glass, crawled along until I got to the
manhole rim, and so got my bearings for the light and blind studs, took a
shove off, and flying once round the bale, and getting a scare from
something big and flimsy that was drifting loose, I got my hand on the
cord quite close to the studs, and reached them. I lit the little lamp
first of all to see what it was I had collided with, and discovered that
old copy of Lloyd's News had slipped its moorings, and was adrift in the
void. That brought me out of the infinite to my own proper dimensions
again. It made me laugh and pant for a time, and suggested the idea of a
little oxygen from one of the cylinders. After that I lit the heater until
I felt warm, and then I took food. Then I set to work in a very gingerly
fashion on the Cavorite blinds, to see if I could guess by any means how
the sphere was travelling.

The first blind I opened I shut at once, and hung for a time flattened and
blinded by the sunlight that had hit me. After thinking a little I started
upon the windows at right angles to this one, and got the huge crescent
moon and the little crescent earth behind it, the second time. I was
amazed to find how far I was from the moon. I had reckoned that not only
should I have little or none of the "kick-off" that the earth's atmosphere
had given us at our start, but that the tangential "fly off" of the moon's
spin would be at least twenty-eight times less than the earth's. I had
expected to discover myself hanging over our crater, and on the edge of
the night, but all that was now only a part of the outline of the white
crescent that filled the sky. And Cavor - ?

He was already infinite.

I tried to imagine what could have happened to him. But at that time I
could think of nothing but death. I seemed to see him, bent and smashed
at the foot of some interminably high cascade of blue. And all about him
the stupid insects stared...

Under the inspiring touch of the drifting newspaper I became practical
again for a while. It was quite clear to me that what I had to do was to
get back to earth, but as far as I could see I was drifting away from it.
Whatever had happened to Cavor, even if he was still alive, which seemed
to me incredible after that blood-stained scrap, I was powerless to help
him. There he was, living or dead behind the mantle of that rayless night,
and there he must remain at least until I could summon our fellow men to
his assistance. Should I do that? Something of the sort I had in my mind;
to come back to earth if it were possible, and then as maturer
consideration might determine, either to show and explain the sphere to a
few discreet persons, and act with them, or else to keep my secret, sell
my gold,, obtain weapons, provisions, and an assistant, and return with
these advantages to deal on equal terms with the flimsy people of the
moon, to rescue Cavor, if that were still possible, and at any rate to
procure a sufficient supply of gold to place my subsequent proceedings on
a firmer basis. But that was hoping far; I had first to get back.

I set myself to decide just exactly how the return to earth could be
contrived. As I struggled with that problem I ceased to worry about what I
should do when I got there. At last my only care was to get back.

I puzzled out at last that my best chance would be to drop back towards
the moon as near as I dared in order to gather velocity, then to shut my
windows, and fly behind it, and when I was past to open my earthward
windows, and so get off at a good pace homeward. But whether I should ever
reach the earth by that device, or whether I might not simply find myself
spinning about it in some hyperbolic or parabolic curve or other, I could
not tell. Later I had a happy inspiration, and by opening certain windows
to the moon, which had appeared in the sky in front of the earth, I turned
my course aside so as to head off the earth, which it had become evident
to me I must pass behind without some such expedient. I did a very great
deal of complicated thinking over these, problems - for I am no
mathematician - and in the end I am certain it was much more my good luck
than my reasoning that enabled me to hit the earth. Had I known then, as I
know now, the mathematical chances there were against me, I doubt if I
should have troubled even to touch the studs to make any attempt. And
having puzzled out what I considered to be the thing to do, I opened all
my moonward windows, and squatted down - the effort lifted me for a time
some feet or so into the air, and I hung there in the oddest way - and
waited for the crescent to get bigger and bigger until I felt I was near
enough for safety. Then I would shut the windows, fly past the moon with
the velocity I had got from it - if I did not smash upon it - and so go on
towards the earth.

And that is what I did.

At last I felt my moonward start was sufficient. I shut out the sight of
the moon from my eyes, and in a state of mind that was, I now recall,
incredibly free from anxiety or any distressful quality, I sat down to
begin a vigil in that little speck of matter in infinite space that would
last until I should strike the earth. The heater had made the sphere
tolerably warm, the air had been refreshed by the oxygen, and except for
that faint congestion of the head that was always with me while I was away
from earth, I felt entire physical comfort. I had extinguished the light
again, lest it should fail me in the end; I was in darkness, save for the
earthshine and the glitter of the stars below me. Everything was so
absolutely silent and still that I might indeed have been the only being
in the universe, and yet, strangely enough, I had no more feeling of
loneliness or fear than if I had been lying in bed on earth. Now, this
seems all the stranger to me, since during my last hours in that crater of
the moon, the sense of my utter loneliness had been an agony. ...

Incredible as it will seem, this interval of time that I spent in space
has no sort of proportion to any other interval of time in my life.
Sometimes it seemed as though I sat through immeasurable eternities like
some god upon a lotus leaf, and again as though there was a momentary
pause as I leapt from moon to earth. In truth, it was altogether some
weeks of earthly time. But I had done with care and anxiety, hunger or
fear, for that space. I floated, thinking with a strange breadth and
freedom of all that we had undergone, and of all my life and motives, and
the secret issues of my being. I seemed to myself to have grown greater
and greater, to have lost all sense of movement; to be floating amidst the
stars, and always the sense of earth's littleness and the infinite
littleness of my life upon it, was implicit in my thoughts.

I can't profess to explain the things that happened in my mind. No doubt
they could all be traced directly or indirectly to the curious physical
conditions under which I was living. I set them down here just for what
they are worth, and without any comment. The most prominent quality of it
was a pervading doubt of my own identity. I became, if I may so express
it, dissociate from Bedford; I looked down on Bedford as a trivial,
incidental thing with which I chanced to be connected. I saw Bedford in
many relations - as an ass or as a poor beast, where I had hitherto been
inclined to regard him with a quiet pride as a very spirited or rather
forcible person. I saw him not only as an ass, but as the son of many
generations of asses. I reviewed his school-days and his early manhood,
and his first encounter with love, very much as one might review the
proceedings of an ant in the sand. Something of that period of lucidity I
regret still hangs about me, and I doubt if I shall ever recover the
full-bodied self satisfaction of my early days. But at the time the thing
was not in the least painful, because I had that extraordinary persuasion
that, as a matter of fact, I was no more Bedford than I was any one else,
but only a mind floating in the still serenity of space. Who should I be
disturbed about this Bedford's shortcomings? I was not responsible for him
or them.

For a time I struggled against this really very grotesque delusion. I
tried to summon the memory of vivid moments, of tender or intense emotions
to my assistance; I felt that if I could recall one genuine twinge of
feeling the growing severance would be stopped. But I could not do it. I
saw Bedford rushing down Chancery Lane, hat on the back of his head, coat
tails flying out, en route for his public examination. I saw him dodging
and bumping against, and even saluting, other similar little creatures in
that swarming gutter of people. Me? I saw Bedford that same evening in the
sitting-room of a certain lady, and his hat was on the table beside him,
and it wanted brushing badly, and he was in tears. Me? I saw him with that
lady in various attitudes and emotions - I never felt so detached before.
... I saw him hurrying off to Lympne to write a play, and accosting Cavor,
and in his shirt sleeves working at the sphere, and walking out to
Canterbury because he was afraid to come! Me? I did not believe it.

I still reasoned that all this was hallucination due to my solitude, and
the fact that I had lost all weight and sense of resistance. I endeavoured
to recover that sense by banging myself about the sphere, by pinching my
hands and clasping them together. Among other things, I lit the light,
captured that torn copy of Lloyd's, and read those convincingly realistic
advertisements about the Cutaway bicycle, and the gentleman of private
means, and the lady in distress who was selling those "forks and spoons."
There was no doubt they existed surely enough, and, said I, "This is your
world, and you are Bedford, and you are going back to live among things
like that for all the rest of your life." But the doubts within me could
still argue: "It is not you that is reading, it is Bedford, but you are
not Bedford, you know. That's just where the mistake comes in."

"Confound it!" I cried; "and if I am not Bedford, what am I?"

But in that direction no light was forthcoming, though the strangest
fancies came drifting into my brain, queer remote suspicions, like shadows
seen from away. Do you know, I had a sort of idea that really I was
something quite outside not only the world, but all worlds, and out of
space and time, and that this poor Bedford was just a peephole through
which I looked at life? ...

Bedford! However I disavowed him, there I was most certainly bound up with
him, and I knew that wherever or whatever I might be, I must needs feel
the stress of his desires, and sympathise with all his joys and sorrows
until his life should end. And with the dying of Bedford - what then? ...

Enough of this remarkable phase of my experiences! I tell it here simply
to show how one's isolation and departure from this planet touched not
only the functions and feeling of every organ of the body, but indeed also
the very fabric of the mind, with strange and unanticipated disturbances.
All through the major portion of that vast space journey I hung thinking
of such immaterial things as these, hung dissociated and apathetic, a
cloudy megalomaniac, as it were, amidst the stars and planets in the void
of space; and not only the world to which I was returning, but the
blue-lit caverns of the Selenites, their helmet faces, their gigantic and
wonderful machines, and the fate of Cavor, dragged helpless into that
world, seemed infinitely minute and altogether trivial things to me.

Until at last I began to feel the pull of the earth upon my being, drawing
me back again to the life that is real for men. And then, indeed, it grew
clearer and clearer to me that I was quite certainly Bedford after all,
and returning after amazing adventures to this world of ours, and with a
life that I was very likely to lose in this return. I set myself to puzzle
out the conditions under which I must fall to earth.

Chapter 21

Mr. Bedford at Littlestone

My line of flight was about parallel with the surface as I came into the
upper air. The temperature of sphere began to rise forthwith. I knew it
behoved me to drop at once. Far below me, in a darkling twilight,
stretched a great expanse of sea. I opened every window I could, and fell
- out of sunshine into evening, and out of evening into night. Vaster grew
the earth and vaster, swallowing up the stars, and the silvery translucent
starlit veil of cloud it wore spread out to catch me. At last the world
seemed no longer a sphere but flat, and then concave. It was no longer a
planet in the sky, but the world of Man. I shut all but an inch or so of
earthward window, and dropped with a slackening velocity. The broadening
water, now so near that I could see the dark glitter of the waves, rushed
up to meet me. The sphere became very hot. I snapped the last strip of
window, and sat scowling and biting my knuckles, waiting for the impact.
...

The sphere hit the water with a huge splash: it must have sent it fathoms
high. At the splash I flung the Cavorite shutters open. Down I went, but
slower and slower, and then I felt the sphere pressing against my feet,
and so drove up again as a bubble drives. And at the last I was floating
and rocking upon the surface of the sea, and my journey in space was at an
end.

The night was dark and overcast. Two yellow pinpoints far away showed the
passing of a ship, and nearer was a red glare that came and went. Had not
the electricity of my glow-lamp exhausted itself, I could have got picked
up that night. In spite of the inordinate fatigue I was beginning to feel,
I was excited now, and for a time hopeful, in a feverish, impatient way,
that so my travelling might end.

But at last I ceased to move about, and sat, wrists on knees, staring at a
distant red light. It swayed up and down, rocking, rocking. My excitement
passed. I realised I had yet to spend another night at least in the
sphere. I perceived myself infinitely heavy and fatigued. And so I fell
asleep.

A change in my rhythmic motion awakened me. I peered through the
refracting glass, and saw that I had come aground upon a huge shallow of
sand. Far away I seemed to see houses and trees, and seaward a curve,
vague distortion of a ship hung between sea and sky.

I stood up and staggered. My one desire was to emerge. The manhole was
upward, and I wrestled with the screw. Slowly I opened the manhole. At
last the air was singing in again as once it had sung out. But this time
I did not wait until the pressure was adjusted. In another moment I had
the weight of the window on my hands, and I was open, wide open, to the
old familiar sky of earth.

The air hit me on the chest so that I gasped. I dropped the glass screw. I
cried out, put my hands to my chest, and sat down. For a time I was in
pain. Then I took deep breaths. At last I could rise and move about
again.

I tried to thrust my head through the manhole, and the sphere rolled over.
It was as though something had lugged my head down directly it emerged. I
ducked back sharply, or I should have been pinned face under water. Alter
some wriggling and shoving I managed to crawl out upon sand, over which
the retreating waves still came and went.

I did not attempt to stand up. It seemed to me that my body must be
suddenly changed to lead. Mother Earth had her grip on me now - no
Cavorite intervening. I sat down heedless of the water that came over my
feet.

It was dawn, a gray dawn, rather overcast but showing here and there a
long patch of greenish gray. Some way out a ship was lying at anchor, a
pale silhouette of a ship with one yellow light. The water came rippling
in in long shallow waves. Away to the right curved the land, a shingle
bank with little hovels, and at last a lighthouse, a sailing mark and a
point. Inland stretched a space of level sand, broken here and there by
pools of water, and ending a mile away perhaps in a low shore of scrub. To
the north-east some isolated watering-place was visible, a row of gaunt
lodging-houses, the tallest things that I could see on earth, dull dabs
against the brightening sky. What strange men can have reared these
vertical piles in such an amplitude of space I do not know. There they
are, like pieces of Brighton lost in the waste.

For a long time I sat there, yawning and rubbing my face. At last I
struggled to rise. It made me feel that I was lifting a weight. I stood
up.

I stared at the distant houses. For the first time since our starvation in
the crater I thought of earthly food. "Bacon," I whispered, "eggs. Good
toast and good coffee. ... And how the devil am I going to all this stuff
to Lympne?" I wondered where I was. It was an east shore anyhow, and I
had seen Europe before I dropped.

I heard footsteps scrunching in the sand, and a little round-faced,
friendly-looking man in flannels, with a bathing towel wrapped about his
shoulders, and his bathing dress over his arm, appeared up the beach. I
knew instantly that I must be in England. He was staring most intently at
the sphere and me. He advanced staring. I dare say I looked a ferocious
savage enough - dirty, unkempt, to an indescribable degree; but it did not
occur to me at the time. He stopped at a distance of twenty yards.
"Hul-lo, my man! " he said doubtfully.

"Hullo yourself!" said I.

He advanced, reassured by that. "What on earth is that thing? " he asked.

"Can you tell me where I am?" I asked.

"That's Littlestone," he said, pointing to the houses; "and that's
Dungeness! Have you just landed? What's that thing you've got? Some sort
of machine?"

"Yes."

"Have you floated ashore? Have you been wrecked or something? What is it?"

I meditated swiftly. I made an estimate of the little man's appearance as
he drew nearer. "By Jove! " he said, "you've had a time of it! I thought
you - Well - Where were you cast away? Is that thing a sort of floating
thing for saving life?"

I decided to take that line for the present. I made a few vague
affirmatives. "I want help," I said hoarsely. " I want to get some stuff
up the beach - stuff I can't very well leave about." I became aware of
three other pleasant-looking young men with towels, blazers, and straw
hats, coming down the sands towards me. Evidently the early bathing
section of this Littlestone.

"Help!" said the young man: "rather!" He became vaguely active. "What
particularly do you want done? " He turned round and gesticulated. The
three young men accelerated their pace. In a minute they there about me,
plying me with questions I was indisposed to answer. "I'll tell all that
later," I said. "I'm dead beat. I'm a rag."

"Come up to the hotel," said the foremost little man. "We'll look after
that thing there."

I hesitated. "I can't," I said. "In that sphere there's two big bars of
gold."

They looked incredulously at one another, then at me with a new inquiry. I
went to the sphere, stooped, crept in, and presently they had the
Selenites' crowbars and the broken chain before them. If I had not been so
horribly fagged I could have laughed at them. It was like kittens round a
beetle. They didn't know what to do with the stuff. The fat little man
stooped and lifted the end of one of the bars, and then dropped it with a
grunt. Then they all did.

"It's lead, or gold!" said one.

"Oh, it's gold!" said another.

"Gold, right enough," said the third.

Then they all stared at me, and then they all stared at the ship lying at
anchor.

"I say!" cried the little man. "But where did you get that?"

I was too tired to keep up a lie. "I got it in the moon."

I saw them stare at one another.

"Look here!" said I, "I'm not going to argue now. Help me carry these
lumps of gold up to the hotel - I guess, with rests, two of you can manage
one, and I'll trail this chain thing - and I'll tell you more when I've
had some food."

"And how about that thing?"

"It won't hurt there," I said. "Anyhow - confound it! - it must stop there
now. If the tide comes up, it will float all right."

And in a state of enormous wonderment, these young men most obediently
hoisted my treasures on their shoulders, and with limbs that felt like
lead I headed a sort of procession towards that distant fragment of
"sea-front." Half-way there we were reinforced by two awe-stricken little
girls with spades, and later a lean little boy, with a penetrating sniff,
appeared. He was, I remember, wheeling a bicycle, and he accompanied us at
a distance of about a hundred yards on our right flank, and then I
suppose, gave us up as uninteresting, mounted his bicycle and rode off
over the level sands in the direction of the sphere.

I glanced back after him.

"He won't touch it," said the stout young man reassuringly, and I was only
too willing to be reassured.

At first something of the gray of the morning was in my mind, but
presently the sun disengaged itself from the level clouds of the horizon
and lit the world, and turned the leaden sea to glittering waters. My
spirits rose. A sense of the vast importance of the things I had done and
had yet to do came with the sunlight into my mind. I laughed aloud as the
foremost man staggered under my gold. When indeed I took my place in the
world, how amazed the world would be!

If it had not been for my inordinate fatigue, the landlord of the
Littlestone hotel would have been amusing, as he hesitated between my gold
and my respectable company on the one and my filthy appearance on the
other. But at last I found myself in a terrestrial bathroom once more with
warm water to wash myself with, and a change of raiment, preposterously
small indeed, but anyhow clean, that the genial little man had lent me. He
lent me a razor too, but I could not screw up my resolution to attack even
the outposts of the bristling beard that covered my face.

I sat down to an English breakfast and ate with a sort of languid appetite
- an appetite many weeks old and very decrepit - and stirred myself to
answer the questions of the four young men. And I told them the truth.

"Well," said I, "as you press me - I got it in the moon."

"The moon?"

"Yes, the moon in the sky."

"But how do you mean?"

"What I say, confound it!"

"Then you have just come from the moon?"

"Exactly! through space - in that ball." And I took a delicious mouthful
of egg. I made a private note that when I went back to the moon I would
take a box of eggs.

I could see clearly that they did not believe one word what I told them,
but evidently they considered me the most respectable liar they had ever
met. They glanced at one another, and then concentrated the fire of their
eyes on me. I fancy they expected a clue to me in the way I helped myself
to salt. They seemed to find something significant in my peppering my egg.
These strangely shaped masses of gold they had staggered under held their
minds. There the lumps lay in front of me, each worth thousands of pounds,
and as impossible for any one to steal as a house or a piece of land. As I
looked at their curious faces over my coffee-cup, I realised something of
the enormous wilderness of explanations into which I should have to wander
to render myself comprehensible again.

"You don't really mean -" began the youngest young man, in the tone of one
who speaks to an obstinate child.

"Just pass me that toast-rack," I said, and shut him up completely.

"But look here, I say," began one of the others. "We're not going to
believe that, you know."

"Ah, well," said I, and shrugged my shoulders.

"He doesn't want to tell us," said the youngest young man in a stage
aside; and then, with an appearance of great sang-froid, " You don't mind
if I take a cigarette?"

I waved him a cordial assent, and proceeded with my breakfast. Two of the
others went and looked out of the farther window and talked inaudibly. I
was struck by a thought. "The tide," I said, "is running out?"

There was a pause, a doubt who should answer me.

"It's near the ebb," said the fat little man.

"Well, anyhow," I said, "it won't float far."

I decapitated my third egg, and began a little speech. "Look here," I
said. " Please don't imagine I'm surly or telling you uncivil lies, or
anything of that sort. I'm forced almost, to be a little short and
mysterious. I can quite understand this is as queer as it can be, and
that your imaginations must be going it. I can assure you, you're in at a
memorable time. But I can't make it clear to you now - it's impossible. I
give you my word of honour I've come from the moon, and that's all I can
tell you. ... All the same, I'm tremendously obliged to you, you know,
tremendously. I hope that my manner hasn't in any way given you offence."

"Oh, not in the least!" said the youngest young man affably. "We can quite
understand," and staring hard at me all the time, he heeled his chair back
until it very nearly upset, and recovered with some exertion. "Not a bit
of it," said the fat young man.

"Don't you imagine that!" and they all got up and dispersed, and walked
about and lit cigarettes, and generally tried to show they were perfectly
amiable and disengaged, and entirely free from the slightest curiosity
about me and the sphere. "I'm going to keep an eye on that ship out there
all the same," I heard one of them remarking in an undertone. If only they
could have forced themselves to it, they would, I believe, even have gone
out and left me. I went on with my third egg.

"The weather," the fat little man remarked presently, "has been immense,
has it not? I don't know when we have had such a summer."

Phoo-whizz! Like a tremendous rocket!

And somewhere a window was broken. ...

"What's that?" said I.

"It isn't - ?" cried the little man, and rushed to the corner window.

All the others rushed to the window likewise. I sat staring at them.

Suddenly I leapt up, knocked over my third egg, rushed for the window
also. I had just thought of something. "Nothing to be seen there," cried
the little man, rushing for the door.

"It's that boy!" I cried, bawling in hoarse fury; "it's that accursed
boy!" and turning about I pushed the waiter aside - he was just bring me
some more toast - and rushed violently out of the room and down and out
upon the queer little esplanade in front of the hotel.

The sea, which had been smooth, was rough now with hurrying cat's-paws,
and all about where the sphere had been was tumbled water like the wake of
a ship. Above, a little puff of cloud whirled like dispersing smoke, and
the three or four people on the beach were bring up with interrogative
faces towards the point of that unexpected report. And that was all! Boots
and waiter and the four young men in blazers came rushing out behind me.
Shouts came from windows and doors, and all sorts of worrying people came
into sight - agape.

For a time I stood there, too overwhelmed by this new development to think

Book of the day: