Part 3 out of 4
Then suddenly out of the golden haze of the sunset came the
vibration of guns, and a form of black shadows moving. Everyone
struggled to the rail of the steamer and peered into the blinding
furnace of the west, but nothing was to be distinguished clearly. A
mass of smoke rose slanting and barred the face of the sun. The
steamboat throbbed on its way through an interminable suspense.
The sun sank into grey clouds, the sky flushed and darkened, the
evening star trembled into sight. It was deep twilight when the
captain cried out and pointed. My brother strained his eyes.
Something rushed up into the sky out of the greyness--rushed
slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above
the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very
large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly,
and vanished again into the grey mystery of the night. And as it flew
it rained down darkness upon the land.
THE EARTH UNDER THE MARTIANS
In the first book I have wandered so much from my own adventures to
tell of the experiences of my brother that all through the last two
chapters I and the curate have been lurking in the empty house at
Halliford whither we fled to escape the Black Smoke. There I will
resume. We stopped there all Sunday night and all the next day--the
day of the panic--in a little island of daylight, cut off by the Black
Smoke from the rest of the world. We could do nothing but wait in
aching inactivity during those two weary days.
My mind was occupied by anxiety for my wife. I figured her at
Leatherhead, terrified, in danger, mourning me already as a dead man.
I paced the rooms and cried aloud when I thought of how I was cut off
from her, of all that might happen to her in my absence. My cousin I
knew was brave enough for any emergency, but he was not the sort of
man to realise danger quickly, to rise promptly. What was needed now
was not bravery, but circumspection. My only consolation was to
believe that the Martians were moving London-ward and away from her.
Such vague anxieties keep the mind sensitive and painful. I grew very
weary and irritable with the curate's perpetual ejaculations; I tired
of the sight of his selfish despair. After some ineffectual
remonstrance I kept away from him, staying in a room--evidently a
children's schoolroom--containing globes, forms, and copybooks. When
he followed me thither, I went to a box room at the top of the house
and, in order to be alone with my aching miseries, locked myself in.
We were hopelessly hemmed in by the Black Smoke all that day and
the morning of the next. There were signs of people in the next house
on Sunday evening--a face at a window and moving lights, and later the
slamming of a door. But I do not know who these people were, nor what
became of them. We saw nothing of them next day. The Black Smoke
drifted slowly riverward all through Monday morning, creeping nearer
and nearer to us, driving at last along the roadway outside the house
that hid us.
A Martian came across the fields about midday, laying the stuff
with a jet of superheated steam that hissed against the walls, smashed
all the windows it touched, and scalded the curate's hand as he fled
out of the front room. When at last we crept across the sodden rooms
and looked out again, the country northward was as though a black
snowstorm had passed over it. Looking towards the river, we were
astonished to see an unaccountable redness mingling with the black of
the scorched meadows.
For a time we did not see how this change affected our position,
save that we were relieved of our fear of the Black Smoke. But later
I perceived that we were no longer hemmed in, that now we might get
away. So soon as I realised that the way of escape was open, my dream
of action returned. But the curate was lethargic, unreasonable.
"We are safe here," he repeated; "safe here."
I resolved to leave him--would that I had! Wiser now for the
artilleryman's teaching, I sought out food and drink. I had found oil
and rags for my burns, and I also took a hat and a flannel shirt that
I found in one of the bedrooms. When it was clear to him that I meant
to go alone--had reconciled myself to going alone--he suddenly roused
himself to come. And all being quiet throughout the afternoon, we
started about five o'clock, as I should judge, along the blackened
road to Sunbury.
In Sunbury, and at intervals along the road, were dead bodies lying
in contorted attitudes, horses as well as men, overturned carts and
luggage, all covered thickly with black dust. That pall of cindery
powder made me think of what I had read of the destruction of Pompeii.
We got to Hampton Court without misadventure, our minds full of
strange and unfamiliar appearances, and at Hampton Court our eyes were
relieved to find a patch of green that had escaped the suffocating
drift. We went through Bushey Park, with its deer going to and fro
under the chestnuts, and some men and women hurrying in the distance
towards Hampton, and so we came to Twickenham. These were the first
people we saw.
Away across the road the woods beyond Ham and Petersham were still
afire. Twickenham was uninjured by either Heat-Ray or Black Smoke,
and there were more people about here, though none could give us news.
For the most part they were like ourselves, taking advantage of a lull
to shift their quarters. I have an impression that many of the houses
here were still occupied by scared inhabitants, too frightened even
for flight. Here too the evidence of a hasty rout was abundant along
the road. I remember most vividly three smashed bicycles in a heap,
pounded into the road by the wheels of subsequent carts. We crossed
Richmond Bridge about half past eight. We hurried across the exposed
bridge, of course, but I noticed floating down the stream a number of
red masses, some many feet across. I did not know what these were--
there was no time for scrutiny--and I put a more horrible
interpretation on them than they deserved. Here again on the Surrey
side were black dust that had once been smoke, and dead bodies--a heap
near the approach to the station; but we had no glimpse of the
Martians until we were some way towards Barnes.
We saw in the blackened distance a group of three people running
down a side street towards the river, but otherwise it seemed
deserted. Up the hill Richmond town was burning briskly; outside the
town of Richmond there was no trace of the Black Smoke.
Then suddenly, as we approached Kew, came a number of people
running, and the upperworks of a Martian fighting-machine loomed in
sight over the housetops, not a hundred yards away from us. We stood
aghast at our danger, and had the Martian looked down we must
immediately have perished. We were so terrified that we dared not go
on, but turned aside and hid in a shed in a garden. There the curate
crouched, weeping silently, and refusing to stir again.
But my fixed idea of reaching Leatherhead would not let me rest,
and in the twilight I ventured out again. I went through a shrubbery,
and along a passage beside a big house standing in its own grounds,
and so emerged upon the road towards Kew. The curate I left in the
shed, but he came hurrying after me.
That second start was the most foolhardy thing I ever did. For it
was manifest the Martians were about us. No sooner had the curate
overtaken me than we saw either the fighting-machine we had seen
before or another, far away across the meadows in the direction of Kew
Lodge. Four or five little black figures hurried before it across the
green-grey of the field, and in a moment it was evident this Martian
pursued them. In three strides he was among them, and they ran
radiating from his feet in all directions. He used no Heat-Ray to
destroy them, but picked them up one by one. Apparently he tossed
them into the great metallic carrier which projected behind him, much
as a workman's basket hangs over his shoulder.
It was the first time I realised that the Martians might have any
other purpose than destruction with defeated humanity. We stood for a
moment petrified, then turned and fled through a gate behind us into a
walled garden, fell into, rather than found, a fortunate ditch, and
lay there, scarce daring to whisper to each other until the stars were
I suppose it was nearly eleven o'clock before we gathered courage
to start again, no longer venturing into the road, but sneaking along
hedgerows and through plantations, and watching keenly through the
darkness, he on the right and I on the left, for the Martians, who
seemed to be all about us. In one place we blundered upon a scorched
and blackened area, now cooling and ashen, and a number of scattered
dead bodies of men, burned horribly about the heads and trunks but
with their legs and boots mostly intact; and of dead horses, fifty
feet, perhaps, behind a line of four ripped guns and smashed gun
Sheen, it seemed, had escaped destruction, but the place was silent
and deserted. Here we happened on no dead, though the night was too
dark for us to see into the side roads of the place. In Sheen my
companion suddenly complained of faintness and thirst, and we decided
to try one of the houses.
The first house we entered, after a little difficulty with the
window, was a small semi-detached villa, and I found nothing eatable
left in the place but some mouldy cheese. There was, however, water
to drink; and I took a hatchet, which promised to be useful in our
We then crossed to a place where the road turns towards Mortlake.
Here there stood a white house within a walled garden, and in the
pantry of this domicile we found a store of food--two loaves of bread
in a pan, an uncooked steak, and the half of a ham. I give this
catalogue so precisely because, as it happened, we were destined to
subsist upon this store for the next fortnight. Bottled beer stood
under a shelf, and there were two bags of haricot beans and some limp
lettuces. This pantry opened into a kind of wash-up kitchen, and in
this was firewood; there was also a cupboard, in which we found nearly
a dozen of burgundy, tinned soups and salmon, and two tins of
We sat in the adjacent kitchen in the dark--for we dared not strike
a light--and ate bread and ham, and drank beer out of the same bottle.
The curate, who was still timorous and restless, was now, oddly
enough, for pushing on, and I was urging him to keep up his strength
by eating when the thing happened that was to imprison us.
"It can't be midnight yet," I said, and then came a blinding glare
of vivid green light. Everything in the kitchen leaped out, clearly
visible in green and black, and vanished again. And then followed such
a concussion as I have never heard before or since. So close on the
heels of this as to seem instantaneous came a thud behind me, a clash
of glass, a crash and rattle of falling masonry all about us, and the
plaster of the ceiling came down upon us, smashing into a multitude of
fragments upon our heads. I was knocked headlong across the floor
against the oven handle and stunned. I was insensible for a long
time, the curate told me, and when I came to we were in darkness
again, and he, with a face wet, as I found afterwards, with blood from
a cut forehead, was dabbing water over me.
For some time I could not recollect what had happened. Then things
came to me slowly. A bruise on my temple asserted itself.
"Are you better?" asked the curate in a whisper.
At last I answered him. I sat up.
"Don't move," he said. "The floor is covered with smashed crockery
from the dresser. You can't possibly move without making a noise, and
I fancy THEY are outside."
We both sat quite silent, so that we could scarcely hear each other
breathing. Everything seemed deadly still, but once something near
us, some plaster or broken brickwork, slid down with a rumbling sound.
Outside and very near was an intermittent, metallic rattle.
"That!" said the curate, when presently it happened again.
"Yes," I said. "But what is it?"
"A Martian!" said the curate.
I listened again.
"It was not like the Heat-Ray," I said, and for a time I was
inclined to think one of the great fighting-machines had stumbled
against the house, as I had seen one stumble against the tower of
Our situation was so strange and incomprehensible that for three or
four hours, until the dawn came, we scarcely moved. And then the light
filtered in, not through the window, which remained black, but through
a triangular aperture between a beam and a heap of broken bricks in
the wall behind us. The interior of the kitchen we now saw greyly for
the first time.
The window had been burst in by a mass of garden mould, which
flowed over the table upon which we had been sitting and lay about our
feet. Outside, the soil was banked high against the house. At the
top of the window frame we could see an uprooted drainpipe. The floor
was littered with smashed hardware; the end of the kitchen towards the
house was broken into, and since the daylight shone in there, it was
evident the greater part of the house had collapsed. Contrasting
vividly with this ruin was the neat dresser, stained in the fashion,
pale green, and with a number of copper and tin vessels below it, the
wallpaper imitating blue and white tiles, and a couple of coloured
supplements fluttering from the walls above the kitchen range.
As the dawn grew clearer, we saw through the gap in the wall the
body of a Martian, standing sentinel, I suppose, over the still
glowing cylinder. At the sight of that we crawled as circumspectly as
possible out of the twilight of the kitchen into the darkness of the
Abruptly the right interpretation dawned upon my mind.
"The fifth cylinder," I whispered, "the fifth shot from Mars, has
struck this house and buried us under the ruins!"
For a time the curate was silent, and then he whispered:
"God have mercy upon us!"
I heard him presently whimpering to himself.
Save for that sound we lay quite still in the scullery; I for my
part scarce dared breathe, and sat with my eyes fixed on the faint
light of the kitchen door. I could just see the curate's face, a dim,
oval shape, and his collar and cuffs. Outside there began a metallic
hammering, then a violent hooting, and then again, after a quiet
interval, a hissing like the hissing of an engine. These noises, for
the most part problematical, continued intermittently, and seemed if
anything to increase in number as time wore on. Presently a measured
thudding and a vibration that made everything about us quiver and the
vessels in the pantry ring and shift, began and continued. Once the
light was eclipsed, and the ghostly kitchen doorway became absolutely
dark. For many hours we must have crouched there, silent and
shivering, until our tired attention failed. . . .
At last I found myself awake and very hungry. I am inclined to
believe we must have spent the greater portion of a day before that
awakening. My hunger was at a stride so insistent that it moved me to
action. I told the curate I was going to seek food, and felt my way
towards the pantry. He made me no answer, but so soon as I began
eating the faint noise I made stirred him up and I heard him crawling
WHAT WE SAW FROM THE RUINED HOUSE
After eating we crept back to the scullery, and there I must have
dozed again, for when presently I looked round I was alone. The
thudding vibration continued with wearisome persistence. I whispered
for the curate several times, and at last felt my way to the door of
the kitchen. It was still daylight, and I perceived him across the
room, lying against the triangular hole that looked out upon the
Martians. His shoulders were hunched, so that his head was hidden
I could hear a number of noises almost like those in an engine
shed; and the place rocked with that beating thud. Through the
aperture in the wall I could see the top of a tree touched with gold
and the warm blue of a tranquil evening sky. For a minute or so I
remained watching the curate, and then I advanced, crouching and
stepping with extreme care amid the broken crockery that littered the
I touched the curate's leg, and he started so violently that a mass
of plaster went sliding down outside and fell with a loud impact. I
gripped his arm, fearing he might cry out, and for a long time we
crouched motionless. Then I turned to see how much of our rampart
remained. The detachment of the plaster had left a vertical slit open
in the debris, and by raising myself cautiously across a beam I was
able to see out of this gap into what had been overnight a quiet
suburban roadway. Vast, indeed, was the change that we beheld.
The fifth cylinder must have fallen right into the midst of the
house we had first visited. The building had vanished, completely
smashed, pulverised, and dispersed by the blow. The cylinder lay now
far beneath the original foundations--deep in a hole, already vastly
larger than the pit I had looked into at Woking. The earth all round
it had splashed under that tremendous impact--"splashed" is the only
word--and lay in heaped piles that hid the masses of the adjacent
houses. It had behaved exactly like mud under the violent blow of a
hammer. Our house had collapsed backward; the front portion, even on
the ground floor, had been destroyed completely; by a chance the
kitchen and scullery had escaped, and stood buried now under soil and
ruins, closed in by tons of earth on every side save towards the
cylinder. Over that aspect we hung now on the very edge of the great
circular pit the Martians were engaged in making. The heavy beating
sound was evidently just behind us, and ever and again a bright green
vapour drove up like a veil across our peephole.
The cylinder was already opened in the centre of the pit, and on
the farther edge of the pit, amid the smashed and gravel-heaped
shrubbery, one of the great fighting-machines, deserted by its
occupant, stood stiff and tall against the evening sky. At first I
scarcely noticed the pit and the cylinder, although it has been
convenient to describe them first, on account of the extraordinary
glittering mechanism I saw busy in the excavation, and on account of
the strange creatures that were crawling slowly and painfully across
the heaped mould near it.
The mechanism it certainly was that held my attention first. It was
one of those complicated fabrics that have since been called handling-
machines, and the study of which has already given such an enormous
impetus to terrestrial invention. As it dawned upon me first, it
presented a sort of metallic spider with five jointed, agile legs, and
with an extraordinary number of jointed levers, bars, and reaching and
clutching tentacles about its body. Most of its arms were retracted,
but with three long tentacles it was fishing out a number of rods,
plates, and bars which lined the covering and apparently strengthened
the walls of the cylinder. These, as it extracted them, were lifted
out and deposited upon a level surface of earth behind it.
Its motion was so swift, complex, and perfect that at first I did
not see it as a machine, in spite of its metallic glitter. The
fighting-machines were coordinated and animated to an extraordinary
pitch, but nothing to compare with this. People who have never seen
these structures, and have only the ill-imagined efforts of artists or
the imperfect descriptions of such eye-witnesses as myself to go upon,
scarcely realise that living quality.
I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first
pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had
evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and
there his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff
tripods, without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an
altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing
these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here
simply to warn the reader against the impression they may have
created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a
Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have
been much better without them.
At first, I say, the handling-machine did not impress me as a
machine, but as a crablike creature with a glittering integument, the
controlling Martian whose delicate tentacles actuated its movements
seeming to be simply the equivalent of the crab's cerebral portion.
But then I perceived the resemblance of its grey-brown, shiny,
leathery integument to that of the other sprawling bodies beyond, and
the true nature of this dexterous workman dawned upon me. With that
realisation my interest shifted to those other creatures, the real
Martians. Already I had had a transient impression of these, and the
first nausea no longer obscured my observation. Moreover, I was
concealed and motionless, and under no urgency of action.
They were, I now saw, the most unearthly creatures it is possible
to conceive. They were huge round bodies--or, rather, heads--about
four feet in diameter, each body having in front of it a face. This
face had no nostrils--indeed, the Martians do not seem to have had any
sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large dark-coloured eyes,
and just beneath this a kind of fleshy beak. In the back of this head
or body--I scarcely know how to speak of it--was the single tight
tympanic surface, since known to be anatomically an ear, though it
must have been almost useless in our dense air. In a group round the
mouth were sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two
bunches of eight each. These bunches have since been named rather
aptly, by that distinguished anatomist, Professor Howes, the HANDS.
Even as I saw these Martians for the first time they seemed to be
endeavouring to raise themselves on these hands, but of course, with
the increased weight of terrestrial conditions, this was impossible.
There is reason to suppose that on Mars they may have progressed upon
them with some facility.
The internal anatomy, I may remark here, as dissection has since
shown, was almost equally simple. The greater part of the structure
was the brain, sending enormous nerves to the eyes, ear, and tactile
tentacles. Besides this were the bulky lungs, into which the mouth
opened, and the heart and its vessels. The pulmonary distress caused
by the denser atmosphere and greater gravitational attraction was only
too evident in the convulsive movements of the outer skin.
And this was the sum of the Martian organs. Strange as it may seem
to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes
up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians. They were
heads--merely heads. Entrails they had none. They did not eat, much
less digest. Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other
creatures, and INJECTED it into their own veins. I have myself seen
this being done, as I shall mention in its place. But, squeamish as I
may seem, I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure
even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood obtained from
a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run
directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal. . . .
The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, but at
the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our
carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.
The physiological advantages of the practice of injection are
undeniable, if one thinks of the tremendous waste of human time and
energy occasioned by eating and the digestive process. Our bodies are
half made up of glands and tubes and organs, occupied in turning
heterogeneous food into blood. The digestive processes and their
reaction upon the nervous system sap our strength and colour our
minds. Men go happy or miserable as they have healthy or unhealthy
livers, or sound gastric glands. But the Martians were lifted above
all these organic fluctuations of mood and emotion.
Their undeniable preference for men as their source of nourishment
is partly explained by the nature of the remains of the victims they
had brought with them as provisions from Mars. These creatures, to
judge from the shrivelled remains that have fallen into human hands,
were bipeds with flimsy, silicious skeletons (almost like those of the
silicious sponges) and feeble musculature, standing about six feet
high and having round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets.
Two or three of these seem to have been brought in each cylinder, and
all were killed before earth was reached. It was just as well for
them, for the mere attempt to stand upright upon our planet would have
broken every bone in their bodies.
And while I am engaged in this description, I may add in this place
certain further details which, although they were not all evident to
us at the time, will enable the reader who is unacquainted with them
to form a clearer picture of these offensive creatures.
In three other points their physiology differed strangely from
ours. Their organisms did not sleep, any more than the heart of man
sleeps. Since they had no extensive muscular mechanism to recuperate,
that periodical extinction was unknown to them. They had little or no
sense of fatigue, it would seem. On earth they could never have moved
without effort, yet even to the last they kept in action. In twenty-
four hours they did twenty-four hours of work, as even on earth is
perhaps the case with the ants.
In the next place, wonderful as it seems in a sexual world, the
Martians were absolutely without sex, and therefore without any of the
tumultuous emotions that arise from that difference among men. A
young Martian, there can now be no dispute, was really born upon earth
during the war, and it was found attached to its parent, partially
BUDDED off, just as young lilybulbs bud off, or like the young animals
in the fresh-water polyp.
In man, in all the higher terrestrial animals, such a method of
increase has disappeared; but even on this earth it was certainly the
primitive method. Among the lower animals, up even to those first
cousins of the vertebrated animals, the Tunicates, the two processes
occur side by side, but finally the sexual method superseded its
competitor altogether. On Mars, however, just the reverse has
apparently been the case.
It is worthy of remark that a certain speculative writer of quasi-
scientific repute, writing long before the Martian invasion, did
forecast for man a final structure not unlike the actual Martian
condition. His prophecy, I remember, appeared in November or
December, 1893, in a long-defunct publication, the PALL MALL BUDGET,
and I recall a caricature of it in a pre-Martian periodical called
PUNCH. He pointed out--writing in a foolish, facetious tone--that the
perfection of mechanical appliances must ultimately supersede limbs;
the perfection of chemical devices, digestion; that such organs as
hair, external nose, teeth, ears, and chin were no longer essential
parts of the human being, and that the tendency of natural selection
would lie in the direction of their steady diminution through the
coming ages. The brain alone remained a cardinal necessity. Only one
other part of the body had a strong case for survival, and that was
the hand, "teacher and agent of the brain." While the rest of the
body dwindled, the hands would grow larger.
There is many a true word written in jest, and here in the Martians
we have beyond dispute the actual accomplishment of such a suppression
of the animal side of the organism by the intelligence. To me it is
quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not
unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands (the
latter giving rise to the two bunches of delicate tentacles at last)
at the expense of the rest of the body. Without the body the brain
would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence, without any of
the emotional substratum of the human being.
The last salient point in which the systems of these creatures
differed from ours was in what one might have thought a very trivial
particular. Micro-organisms, which cause so much disease and pain on
earth, have either never appeared upon Mars or Martian sanitary
science eliminated them ages ago. A hundred diseases, all the fevers
and contagions of human life, consumption, cancers, tumours and such
morbidities, never enter the scheme of their life. And speaking of
the differences between the life on Mars and terrestrial life, I may
allude here to the curious suggestions of the red weed.
Apparently the vegetable kingdom in Mars, instead of having green
for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red tint. At any rate, the
seeds which the Martians (intentionally or accidentally) brought with
them gave rise in all cases to red-coloured growths. Only that known
popularly as the red weed, however, gained any footing in competition
with terrestrial forms. The red creeper was quite a transitory
growth, and few people have seen it growing. For a time, however, the
red weed grew with astonishing vigour and luxuriance. It spread up
the sides of the pit by the third or fourth day of our imprisonment,
and its cactus-like branches formed a carmine fringe to the edges of
our triangular window. And afterwards I found it broadcast throughout
the country, and especially wherever there was a stream of water.
The Martians had what appears to have been an auditory organ, a
single round drum at the back of the head-body, and eyes with a visual
range not very different from ours except that, according to Philips,
blue and violet were as black to them. It is commonly supposed that
they communicated by sounds and tentacular gesticulations; this is
asserted, for instance, in the able but hastily compiled pamphlet
(written evidently by someone not an eye-witness of Martian actions)
to which I have already alluded, and which, so far, has been the chief
source of information concerning them. Now no surviving human being
saw so much of the Martians in action as I did. I take no credit to
myself for an accident, but the fact is so. And I assert that I
watched them closely time after time, and that I have seen four, five,
and (once) six of them sluggishly performing the most elaborately
complicated operations together without either sound or gesture. Their
peculiar hooting invariably preceded feeding; it had no modulation,
and was, I believe, in no sense a signal, but merely the expiration of
air preparatory to the suctional operation. I have a certain claim to
at least an elementary knowledge of psychology, and in this matter I
am convinced--as firmly as I am convinced of anything--that the
Martians interchanged thoughts without any physical intermediation.
And I have been convinced of this in spite of strong preconceptions.
Before the Martian invasion, as an occasional reader here or there may
remember, I had written with some little vehemence against the
The Martians wore no clothing. Their conceptions of ornament and
decorum were necessarily different from ours; and not only were they
evidently much less sensible of changes of temperature than we are,
but changes of pressure do not seem to have affected their health at
all seriously. Yet though they wore no clothing, it was in the other
artificial additions to their bodily resources that their great
superiority over man lay. We men, with our bicycles and road-skates,
our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns and sticks and so forth, are
just in the beginning of the evolution that the Martians have worked
out. They have become practically mere brains, wearing different
bodies according to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and
take a bicycle in a hurry or an umbrella in the wet. And of their
appliances, perhaps nothing is more wonderful to a man than the
curious fact that what is the dominant feature of almost all human
devices in mechanism is absent--the WHEEL is absent; among all the
things they brought to earth there is no trace or suggestion of their
use of wheels. One would have at least expected it in locomotion. And
in this connection it is curious to remark that even on this earth
Nature has never hit upon the wheel, or has preferred other expedients
to its development. And not only did the Martians either not know of
(which is incredible), or abstain from, the wheel, but in their
apparatus singularly little use is made of the fixed pivot or
relatively fixed pivot, with circular motions thereabout confined to
one plane. Almost all the joints of the machinery present a
complicated system of sliding parts moving over small but beautifully
curved friction bearings. And while upon this matter of detail, it is
remarkable that the long leverages of their machines are in most cases
actuated by a sort of sham musculature of the disks in an elastic
sheath; these disks become polarised and drawn closely and powerfully
together when traversed by a current of electricity. In this way the
curious parallelism to animal motions, which was so striking and
disturbing to the human beholder, was attained. Such quasi-muscles
abounded in the crablike handling-machine which, on my first peeping
out of the slit, I watched unpacking the cylinder. It seemed
infinitely more alive than the actual Martians lying beyond it in the
sunset light, panting, stirring ineffectual tentacles, and moving
feebly after their vast journey across space.
While I was still watching their sluggish motions in the sunlight,
and noting each strange detail of their form, the curate reminded me
of his presence by pulling violently at my arm. I turned to a
scowling face, and silent, eloquent lips. He wanted the slit, which
permitted only one of us to peep through; and so I had to forego
watching them for a time while he enjoyed that privilege.
When I looked again, the busy handling-machine had already put
together several of the pieces of apparatus it had taken out of the
cylinder into a shape having an unmistakable likeness to its own; and
down on the left a busy little digging mechanism had come into view,
emitting jets of green vapour and working its way round the pit,
excavating and embanking in a methodical and discriminating manner.
This it was which had caused the regular beating noise, and the
rhythmic shocks that had kept our ruinous refuge quivering. It piped
and whistled as it worked. So far as I could see, the thing was
without a directing Martian at all.
THE DAYS OF IMPRISONMENT
The arrival of a second fighting-machine drove us from our peephole
into the scullery, for we feared that from his elevation the Martian
might see down upon us behind our barrier. At a later date we began
to feel less in danger of their eyes, for to an eye in the dazzle of
the sunlight outside our refuge must have been blank blackness, but at
first the slightest suggestion of approach drove us into the scullery
in heart-throbbing retreat. Yet terrible as was the danger we
incurred, the attraction of peeping was for both of us irresistible.
And I recall now with a sort of wonder that, in spite of the infinite
danger in which we were between starvation and a still more terrible
death, we could yet struggle bitterly for that horrible privilege of
sight. We would race across the kitchen in a grotesque way between
eagerness and the dread of making a noise, and strike each other, and
thrust add kick, within a few inches of exposure.
The fact is that we had absolutely incompatible dispositions and
habits of thought and action, and our danger and isolation only
accentuated the incompatibility. At Halliford I had already come to
hate the curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity
of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made
to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and
intensified, almost to the verge of craziness. He was as lacking in
restraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and I
verily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought
his weak tears in some way efficacious. And I would sit in the
darkness unable to keep my mind off him by reason of his
importunities. He ate more than I did, and it was in vain I pointed
out that our only chance of life was to stop in the house until the
Martians had done with their pit, that in that long patience a time
might presently come when we should need food. He ate and drank
impulsively in heavy meals at long intervals. He slept little.
As the days wore on, his utter carelessness of any consideration so
intensified our distress and danger that I had, much as I loathed
doing it, to resort to threats, and at last to blows. That brought him
to reason for a time. But he was one of those weak creatures, void of
pride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, who
face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves.
It is disagreeable for me to recall and write these things, but I
set them down that my story may lack nothing. Those who have escaped
the dark and terrible aspects of life will find my brutality, my flash
of rage in our final tragedy, easy enough to blame; for they know what
is wrong as well as any, but not what is possible to tortured men. But
those who have been under the shadow, who have gone down at last to
elemental things, will have a wider charity.
And while within we fought out our dark, dim contest of whispers,
snatched food and drink, and gripping hands and blows, without, in the
pitiless sunlight of that terrible June, was the strange wonder, the
unfamiliar routine of the Martians in the pit. Let me return to those
first new experiences of mine. After a long time I ventured back to
the peephole, to find that the new-comers had been reinforced by the
occupants of no fewer than three of the fighting-machines. These last
had brought with them certain fresh appliances that stood in an
orderly manner about the cylinder. The second handling-machine was now
completed, and was busied in serving one of the novel contrivances the
big machine had brought. This was a body resembling a milk can in its
general form, above which oscillated a pear-shaped receptacle, and
from which a stream of white powder flowed into a circular basin
The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of the
handling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine was
digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped
receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door
and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the
machine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basin
along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me
by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little
thread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked,
the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended,
telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mere
blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.
In another second it had lifted a bar of white aluminium into sight,
untarnished as yet, and shining dazzlingly, and deposited it in a
growing stack of bars that stood at the side of the pit. Between
sunset and starlight this dexterous machine must have made more than a
hundred such bars out of the crude clay, and the mound of bluish dust
rose steadily until it topped the side of the pit.
The contrast between the swift and complex movements of these
contrivances and the inert panting clumsiness of their masters was
acute, and for days I had to tell myself repeatedly that these latter
were indeed the living of the two things.
The curate had possession of the slit when the first men were
brought to the pit. I was sitting below, huddled up, listening with
all my ears. He made a sudden movement backward, and I, fearful that
we were observed, crouched in a spasm of terror. He came sliding down
the rubbish and crept beside me in the darkness, inarticulate,
gesticulating, and for a moment I shared his panic. His gesture
suggested a resignation of the slit, and after a little while my
curiosity gave me courage, and I rose up, stepped across him, and
clambered up to it. At first I could see no reason for his frantic
behaviour. The twilight had now come, the stars were little and
faint, but the pit was illuminated by the flickering green fire that
came from the aluminium-making. The whole picture was a flickering
scheme of green gleams and shifting rusty black shadows, strangely
trying to the eyes. Over and through it all went the bats, heeding it
not at all. The sprawling Martians were no longer to be seen, the
mound of blue-green powder had risen to cover them from sight, and a
fighting-machine, with its legs contracted, crumpled, and abbreviated,
stood across the corner of the pit. And then, amid the clangour of
the machinery, came a drifting suspicion of human voices, that I
entertained at first only to dismiss.
I crouched, watching this fighting-machine closely, satisfying
myself now for the first time that the hood did indeed contain a
Martian. As the green flames lifted I could see the oily gleam of his
integument and the brightness of his eyes. And suddenly I heard a
yell, and saw a long tentacle reaching over the shoulder of the
machine to the little cage that hunched upon its back. Then
something--something struggling violently--was lifted high against the
sky, a black, vague enigma against the starlight; and as this black
object came down again, I saw by the green brightness that it was a
man. For an instant he was clearly visible. He was a stout, ruddy,
middle-aged man, well dressed; three days before, he must have been
walking the world, a man of considerable consequence. I could see his
staring eyes and gleams of light on his studs and watch chain. He
vanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence. And
then began a shrieking and a sustained and cheerful hooting from the
I slid down the rubbish, struggled to my feet, clapped my hands
over my ears, and bolted into the scullery. The curate, who had been
crouching silently with his arms over his head, looked up as I passed,
cried out quite loudly at my desertion of him, and came running after
That night, as we lurked in the scullery, balanced between our
horror and the terrible fascination this peeping had, although I felt
an urgent need of action I tried in vain to conceive some plan of
escape; but afterwards, during the second day, I was able to consider
our position with great clearness. The curate, I found, was quite
incapable of discussion; this new and culminating atrocity had robbed
him of all vestiges of reason or forethought. Practically he had
already sunk to the level of an animal. But as the saying goes, I
gripped myself with both hands. It grew upon my mind, once I could
face the facts, that terrible as our position was, there was as yet no
justification for absolute despair. Our chief chance lay in the
possibility of the Martians making the pit nothing more than a
temporary encampment. Or even if they kept it permanently, they might
not consider it necessary to guard it, and a chance of escape might be
afforded us. I also weighed very carefully the possibility of our
digging a way out in a direction away from the pit, but the chances of
our emerging within sight of some sentinel fighting-machine seemed at
first too great. And I should have had to do all the digging myself.
The curate would certainly have failed me.
It was on the third day, if my memory serves me right, that I saw
the lad killed. It was the only occasion on which I actually saw the
Martians feed. After that experience I avoided the hole in the wall
for the better part of a day. I went into the scullery, removed the
door, and spent some hours digging with my hatchet as silently as
possible; but when I had made a hole about a couple of feet deep the
loose earth collapsed noisily, and I did not dare continue. I lost
heart, and lay down on the scullery floor for a long time, having no
spirit even to move. And after that I abandoned altogether the idea
of escaping by excavation.
It says much for the impression the Martians had made upon me that
at first I entertained little or no hope of our escape being brought
about by their overthrow through any human effort. But on the fourth
or fifth night I heard a sound like heavy guns.
It was very late in the night, and the moon was shining brightly.
The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine, and, save for a
fighting-machine that stood in the remoter bank of the pit and a
handling-machine that was buried out of my sight in a corner of the
pit immediately beneath my peephole, the place was deserted by them.
Except for the pale glow from the handling-machine and the bars and
patches of white moonlight the pit was in darkness, and, except for
the clinking of the handling-machine, quite still. That night was a
beautiful serenity; save for one planet, the moon seemed to have the
sky to herself. I heard a dog howling, and that familiar sound it was
that made me listen. Then I heard quite distinctly a booming exactly
like the sound of great guns. Six distinct reports I counted, and
after a long interval six again. And that was all.
THE DEATH OF THE CURATE
It was on the sixth day of our imprisonment that I peeped for the
last time, and presently found myself alone. Instead of keeping close
to me and trying to oust me from the slit, the curate had gone back
into the scullery. I was struck by a sudden thought. I went back
quickly and quietly into the scullery. In the darkness I heard the
curate drinking. I snatched in the darkness, and my fingers caught a
bottle of burgundy.
For a few minutes there was a tussle. The bottle struck the floor
and broke, and I desisted and rose. We stood panting and threatening
each other. In the end I planted myself between him and the food, and
told him of my determination to begin a discipline. I divided the
food in the pantry, into rations to last us ten days. I would not let
him eat any more that day. In the afternoon he made a feeble effort
to get at the food. I had been dozing, but in an instant I was awake.
All day and all night we sat face to face, I weary but resolute, and
he weeping and complaining of his immediate hunger. It was, I know, a
night and a day, but to me it seemed--it seems now--an inter- minable
length of time.
And so our widened incompatibility ended at last in open conflict.
For two vast days we struggled in undertones and wrestling contests.
There were times when I beat and kicked him madly, times when I
cajoled and persuaded him, and once I tried to bribe him with the last
bottle of burgundy, for there was a rain-water pump from which I could
get water. But neither force nor kindness availed; he was indeed
beyond reason. He would neither desist from his attacks on the food
nor from his noisy babbling to himself. The rudimentary precautions
to keep our imprisonment endurable he would not observe. Slowly I
began to realise the complete overthrow of his intelligence, to
perceive that my sole companion in this close and sickly darkness was
a man insane.
From certain vague memories I am inclined to think my own mind
wandered at times. I had strange and hideous dreams whenever I slept.
It sounds paradoxical, but I am inclined to think that the weakness
and insanity of the curate warned me, braced me, and kept me a sane
On the eighth day he began to talk aloud instead of whispering, and
nothing I could do would moderate his speech.
"It is just, O God!" he would say, over and over again. "It is
just. On me and mine be the punishment laid. We have sinned, we have
fallen short. There was poverty, sorrow; the poor were trodden in the
dust, and I held my peace. I preached acceptable folly--my God, what
folly!--when I should have stood up, though I died for it, and called
upon them to repent-repent! . . . Oppressors of the poor and needy . .
. ! The wine press of God!"
Then he would suddenly revert to the matter of the food I withheld
from him, praying, begging, weeping, at last threatening. He began to
raise his voice--I prayed him not to. He perceived a hold on me--he
threatened he would shout and bring the Martians upon us. For a time
that scared me; but any concession would have shortened our chance of
escape beyond estimating. I defied him, although I felt no assurance
that he might not do this thing. But that day, at any rate, he did
not. He talked with his voice rising slowly, through the greater part
of the eighth and ninth days--threats, entreaties, mingled with a
torrent of half-sane and always frothy repentance for his vacant sham
of God's service, such as made me pity him. Then he slept awhile, and
began again with renewed strength, so loudly that I must needs make
"Be still!" I implored.
He rose to his knees, for he had been sitting in the darkness near
"I have been still too long," he said, in a tone that must have
reached the pit, "and now I must bear my witness. Woe unto this
unfaithful city! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! To the inhabitants of
the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet----"
"Shut up!" I said, rising to my feet, and in a terror lest the
Martians should hear us. "For God's sake----"
"Nay," shouted the curate, at the top of his voice, standing
likewise and extending his arms. "Speak! The word of the Lord is
In three strides he was at the door leading into the kitchen.
"I must bear my witness! I go! It has already been too long
I put out my hand and felt the meat chopper hanging to the wall. In
a flash I was after him. I was fierce with fear. Before he was
halfway across the kitchen I had overtaken him. With one last touch
of humanity I turned the blade back and struck him with the butt. He
went headlong forward and lay stretched on the ground. I stumbled
over him and stood panting. He lay still.
Suddenly I heard a noise without, the run and smash of slipping
plaster, and the triangular aperture in the wall was darkened. I
looked up and saw the lower surface of a handling-machine coming
slowly across the hole. One of its gripping limbs curled amid the
debris; another limb appeared, feeling its way over the fallen beams.
I stood petrified, staring. Then I saw through a sort of glass plate
near the edge of the body the face, as we may call it, and the large
dark eyes of a Martian, peering, and then a long metallic snake of
tentacle came feeling slowly through the hole.
I turned by an effort, stumbled over the curate, and stopped at the
scullery door. The tentacle was now some way, two yards or more, in
the room, and twisting and turning, with queer sudden movements, this
way and that. For a while I stood fascinated by that slow, fitful
advance. Then, with a faint, hoarse cry, I forced myself across the
scullery. I trembled violently; I could scarcely stand upright. I
opened the door of the coal cellar, and stood there in the darkness
staring at the faintly lit doorway into the kitchen, and listening.
Had the Martian seen me? What was it doing now?
Something was moving to and fro there, very quietly; every now and
then it tapped against the wall, or started on its movements with a
faint metallic ringing, like the movements of keys on a split-ring.
Then a heavy body--I knew too well what--was dragged across the floor
of the kitchen towards the opening. Irresistibly attracted, I crept
to the door and peeped into the kitchen. In the triangle of bright
outer sunlight I saw the Martian, in its Briareus of a handling-
machine, scrutinizing the curate's head. I thought at once that it
would infer my presence from the mark of the blow I had given him.
I crept back to the coal cellar, shut the door, and began to cover
myself up as much as I could, and as noiselessly as possible in the
darkness, among the firewood and coal therein. Every now and then I
paused, rigid, to hear if the Martian had thrust its tentacles through
the opening again.
Then the faint metallic jingle returned. I traced it slowly
feeling over the kitchen. Presently I heard it nearer--in the
scullery, as I judged. I thought that its length might be
insufficient to reach me. I prayed copiously. It passed, scraping
faintly across the cellar door. An age of almost intolerable suspense
intervened; then I heard it fumbling at the latch! It had found the
door! The Martians understood doors!
It worried at the catch for a minute, perhaps, and then the door
In the darkness I could just see the thing--like an elephant's
trunk more than anything else--waving towards me and touching and
examining the wall, coals, wood and ceiling. It was like a black worm
swaying its blind head to and fro.
Once, even, it touched the heel of my boot. I was on the verge of
screaming; I bit my hand. For a time the tentacle was silent. I
could have fancied it had been withdrawn. Presently, with an abrupt
click, it gripped something--I thought it had me!--and seemed to go
out of the cellar again. For a minute I was not sure. Apparently it
had taken a lump of coal to examine.
I seized the opportunity of slightly shifting my position, which
had become cramped, and then listened. I whispered passionate prayers
Then I heard the slow, deliberate sound creeping towards me again.
Slowly, slowly it drew near, scratching against the walls and tapping
While I was still doubtful, it rapped smartly against the cellar
door and closed it. I heard it go into the pantry, and the biscuit-
tins rattled and a bottle smashed, and then came a heavy bump against
the cellar door. Then silence that passed into an infinity of
Had it gone?
At last I decided that it had.
It came into the scullery no more; but I lay all the tenth day in
the close darkness, buried among coals and firewood, not daring even
to crawl out for the drink for which I craved. It was the eleventh day
before I ventured so far from my security.
My first act before I went into the pantry was to fasten the door
between the kitchen and the scullery. But the pantry was empty; every
scrap of food had gone. Apparently, the Martian had taken it all on
the previous day. At that discovery I despaired for the first time. I
took no food, or no drink either, on the eleventh or the twelfth day.
At first my mouth and throat were parched, and my strength ebbed
sensibly. I sat about in the darkness of the scullery, in a state of
despondent wretchedness. My mind ran on eating. I thought I had
become deaf, for the noises of movement I had been accustomed to hear
from the pit had ceased absolutely. I did not feel strong enough to
crawl noiselessly to the peephole, or I would have gone there.
On the twelfth day my throat was so painful that, taking the chance
of alarming the Martians, I attacked the creaking rain-water pump that
stood by the sink, and got a couple of glassfuls of blackened and
tainted rain water. I was greatly refreshed by this, and emboldened
by the fact that no enquiring tentacle followed the noise of my
During these days, in a rambling, inconclusive way, I thought much
of the curate and of the manner of his death.
On the thirteenth day I drank some more water, and dozed and
thought disjointedly of eating and of vague impossible plans of
escape. Whenever I dozed I dreamt of horrible phantasms, of the death
of the curate, or of sumptuous dinners; but, asleep or awake, I felt a
keen pain that urged me to drink again and again. The light that came
into the scullery was no longer grey, but red. To my disordered
imagination it seemed the colour of blood.
On the fourteenth day I went into the kitchen, and I was surprised
to find that the fronds of the red weed had grown right across the
hole in the wall, turning the half-light of the place into a crimson-
It was early on the fifteenth day that I heard a curious, familiar
sequence of sounds in the kitchen, and, listening, identified it as
the snuffing and scratching of a dog. Going into the kitchen, I saw a
dog's nose peering in through a break among the ruddy fronds. This
greatly surprised me. At the scent of me he barked shortly.
I thought if I could induce him to come into the place quietly I
should be able, perhaps, to kill and eat him; and in any case, it
would be advisable to kill him, lest his actions attracted the
attention of the Martians.
I crept forward, saying "Good dog!" very softly; but he suddenly
withdrew his head and disappeared.
I listened--I was not deaf--but certainly the pit was still. I
heard a sound like the flutter of a bird's wings, and a hoarse
croaking, but that was all.
For a long while I lay close to the peephole, but not daring to
move aside the red plants that obscured it. Once or twice I heard a
faint pitter-patter like the feet of the dog going hither and thither
on the sand far below me, and there were more birdlike sounds, but
that was all. At length, encouraged by the silence, I looked out.
Except in the corner, where a multitude of crows hopped and fought
over the skeletons of the dead the Martians had consumed, there was
not a living thing in the pit.
I stared about me, scarcely believing my eyes. All the machinery
had gone. Save for the big mound of greyish-blue powder in one
corner, certain bars of aluminium in another, the black birds, and the
skeletons of the killed, the place was merely an empty circular pit in
Slowly I thrust myself out through the red weed, and stood upon the
mound of rubble. I could see in any direction save behind me, to the
north, and neither Martians nor sign of Martians were to be seen. The
pit dropped sheerly from my feet, but a little way along the rubbish
afforded a practicable slope to the summit of the ruins. My chance of
escape had come. I began to tremble.
I hesitated for some time, and then, in a gust of desperate
resolution, and with a heart that throbbed violently, I scrambled to
the top of the mound in which I had been buried so long.
I looked about again. To the northward, too, no Martian was
When I had last seen this part of Sheen in the daylight it had been
a straggling street of comfortable white and red houses, interspersed
with abundant shady trees. Now I stood on a mound of smashed
brickwork, clay, and gravel, over which spread a multitude of red
cactus-shaped plants, knee-high, without a solitary terrestrial growth
to dispute their footing. The trees near me were dead and brown, but
further a network of red thread scaled the still living stems.
The neighbouring houses had all been wrecked, but none had been
burned; their walls stood, sometimes to the second story, with smashed
windows and shattered doors. The red weed grew tumultuously in their
roofless rooms. Below me was the great pit, with the crows struggling
for its refuse. A number of other birds hopped about among the ruins.
Far away I saw a gaunt cat slink crouchingly along a wall, but traces
of men there were none.
The day seemed, by contrast with my recent confinement, dazzlingly
bright, the sky a glowing blue. A gentle breeze kept the red weed
that covered every scrap of unoccupied ground gently swaying. And oh!
the sweetness of the air!
THE WORK OF FIFTEEN DAYS
For some time I stood tottering on the mound regardless of my
safety. Within that noisome den from which I had emerged I had
thought with a narrow intensity only of our immediate security. I had
not realised what had been happening to the world, had not anticipated
this startling vision of unfamiliar things. I had expected to see
Sheen in ruins--I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of
For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of
men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I
felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly
confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations
of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew
quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of
dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an
animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be
as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire
of man had passed away.
But so soon as this strangeness had been realised it passed, and my
dominant motive became the hunger of my long and dismal fast. In the
direction away from the pit I saw, beyond a red-covered wall, a patch
of garden ground unburied. This gave me a hint, and I went knee-
deep, and sometimes neck-deep, in the red weed. The density of the
weed gave me a reassuring sense of hiding. The wall was some six feet
high, and when I attempted to clamber it I found I could not lift my
feet to the crest. So I went along by the side of it, and came to a
corner and a rockwork that enabled me to get to the top, and tumble
into the garden I coveted. Here I found some young onions, a couple
of gladiolus bulbs, and a quantity of immature carrots, all of which I
secured, and, scrambling over a ruined wall, went on my way through
scarlet and crimson trees towards Kew--it was like walking through an
avenue of gigantic blood drops--possessed with two ideas: to get more
food, and to limp, as soon and as far as my strength permitted, out of
this accursed unearthly region of the pit.
Some way farther, in a grassy place, was a group of mushrooms which
also I devoured, and then I came upon a brown sheet of flowing shallow
water, where meadows used to be. These fragments of nourishment served
only to whet my hunger. At first I was surprised at this flood in a
hot, dry summer, but afterwards I discovered that it was caused by the
tropical exuberance of the red weed. Directly this extraordinary
growth encountered water it straightway became gigantic and of
unparalleled fecundity. Its seeds were simply poured down into the
water of the Wey and Thames, and its swiftly growing and Titanic water
fronds speedily choked both those rivers.
At Putney, as I afterwards saw, the bridge was almost lost in a
tangle of this weed, and at Richmond, too, the Thames water poured in
a broad and shallow stream across the meadows of Hampton and
Twickenham. As the water spread the weed followed them, until the
ruined villas of the Thames valley were for a time lost in this red
swamp, whose margin I explored, and much of the desolation the
Martians had caused was concealed.
In the end the red weed succumbed almost as quickly as it had
spread. A cankering disease, due, it is believed, to the action of
certain bacteria, presently seized upon it. Now by the action of
natural selection, all terrestrial plants have acquired a resisting
power against bacterial diseases--they never succumb without a severe
struggle, but the red weed rotted like a thing already dead. The
fronds became bleached, and then shrivelled and brittle. They broke
off at the least touch, and the waters that had stimulated their early
growth carried their last vestiges out to sea.
My first act on coming to this water was, of course, to slake my
thirst. I drank a great deal of it and, moved by an impulse, gnawed
some fronds of red weed; but they were watery, and had a sickly,
metallic taste. I found the water was sufficiently shallow for me to
wade securely, although the red weed impeded my feet a little; but the
flood evidently got deeper towards the river, and I turned back to
Mortlake. I managed to make out the road by means of occasional ruins
of its villas and fences and lamps, and so presently I got out of this
spate and made my way to the hill going up towards Roehampton and came
out on Putney Common.
Here the scenery changed from the strange and unfamiliar to the
wreckage of the familiar: patches of ground exhibited the devastation
of a cyclone, and in a few score yards I would come upon perfectly
undisturbed spaces, houses with their blinds trimly drawn and doors
closed, as if they had been left for a day by the owners, or as if
their inhabitants slept within. The red weed was less abundant; the
tall trees along the lane were free from the red creeper. I hunted
for food among the trees, finding nothing, and I also raided a couple
of silent houses, but they had already been broken into and ransacked.
I rested for the remainder of the daylight in a shrubbery, being, in
my enfeebled condition, too fatigued to push on.
All this time I saw no human beings, and no signs of the Martians.
I encountered a couple of hungry-looking dogs, but both hurried
circuitously away from the advances I made them. Near Roehampton I
had seen two human skeletons--not bodies, but skeletons, picked
clean--and in the wood by me I found the crushed and scattered bones
of several cats and rabbits and the skull of a sheep. But though I
gnawed parts of these in my mouth, there was nothing to be got from
After sunset I struggled on along the road towards Putney, where I
think the Heat-Ray must have been used for some reason. And in the
garden beyond Roehampton I got a quantity of immature potatoes,
sufficient to stay my hunger. From this garden one looked down upon
Putney and the river. The aspect of the place in the dusk was
singularly desolate: blackened trees, blackened, desolate ruins, and
down the hill the sheets of the flooded river, red-tinged with the
weed. And over all--silence. It filled me with indescribable terror
to think how swiftly that desolating change had come.
For a time I believed that mankind had been swept out of existence,
and that I stood there alone, the last man left alive. Hard by the
top of Putney Hill I came upon another skeleton, with the arms
dislocated and removed several yards from the rest of the body. As I
proceeded I became more and more convinced that the extermination of
mankind was, save for such stragglers as myself, already accomplished
in this part of the world. The Martians, I thought, had gone on and
left the country desolated, seeking food elsewhere. Perhaps even now
they were destroying Berlin or Paris, or it might be they had gone
THE MAN ON PUTNEY HILL
I spent that night in the inn that stands at the top of Putney
Hill, sleeping in a made bed for the first time since my flight to
Leatherhead. I will not tell the needless trouble I had breaking into
that house--afterwards I found the front door was on the latch--nor
how I ransacked every room for food, until just on the verge of
despair, in what seemed to me to be a servant's bedroom, I found a
rat-gnawed crust and two tins of pineapple. The place had been
already searched and emptied. In the bar I afterwards found some
biscuits and sandwiches that had been overlooked. The latter I could
not eat, they were too rotten, but the former not only stayed my
hunger, but filled my pockets. I lit no lamps, fearing some Martian
might come beating that part of London for food in the night. Before
I went to bed I had an interval of restlessness, and prowled from
window to window, peering out for some sign of these monsters. I
slept little. As I lay in bed I found myself thinking consecutively--
a thing I do not remember to have done since my last argument with the
curate. During all the intervening time my mental condition had been
a hurrying succession of vague emotional states or a sort of stupid
receptivity. But in the night my brain, reinforced, I suppose, by the
food I had eaten, grew clear again, and I thought.
Three things struggled for possession of my mind: the killing of
the curate, the whereabouts of the Martians, and the possible fate of
my wife. The former gave me no sensation of horror or remorse to
recall; I saw it simply as a thing done, a memory infinitely
disagreeable but quite without the quality of remorse. I saw myself
then as I see myself now, driven step by step towards that hasty blow,
the creature of a sequence of accidents leading inevitably to that. I
felt no condemnation; yet the memory, static, unprogressive, haunted
me. In the silence of the night, with that sense of the nearness of
God that sometimes comes into the stillness and the darkness, I stood
my trial, my only trial, for that moment of wrath and fear. I
retraced every step of our conversation from the moment when I had
found him crouching beside me, heedless of my thirst, and pointing to
the fire and smoke that streamed up from the ruins of Weybridge. We
had been incapable of co-operation--grim chance had taken no heed of
that. Had I foreseen, I should have left him at Halliford. But I did
not foresee; and crime is to foresee and do. And I set this down as I
have set all this story down, as it was. There were no witnesses--all
these things I might have concealed. But I set it down, and the
reader must form his judgment as he will.
And when, by an effort, I had set aside that picture of a prostrate
body, I faced the problem of the Martians and the fate of my wife. For
the former I had no data; I could imagine a hundred things, and so,
unhappily, I could for the latter. And suddenly that night became
terrible. I found myself sitting up in bed, staring at the dark. I
found myself praying that the Heat-Ray might have suddenly and
painlessly struck her out of being. Since the night of my return from
Leatherhead I had not prayed. I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers,
had prayed as heathens mutter charms when I was in extremity; but now
I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with
the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon
as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house
like a rat leaving its hiding place--a creature scarcely larger, an
inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters
might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to
God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us
pity--pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion.
The morning was bright and fine, and the eastern sky glowed pink,
and was fretted with little golden clouds. In the road that runs from
the top of Putney Hill to Wimbledon was a number of poor vestiges of
the panic torrent that must have poured Londonward on the Sunday night
after the fighting began. There was a little two-wheeled cart
inscribed with the name of Thomas Lobb, Greengrocer, New Malden, with
a smashed wheel and an abandoned tin trunk; there was a straw hat
trampled into the now hardened mud, and at the top of West Hill a lot
of blood-stained glass about the overturned water trough. My
movements were languid, my plans of the vaguest. I had an idea of
going to Leatherhead, though I knew that there I had the poorest
chance of finding my wife. Certainly, unless death had overtaken them
suddenly, my cousins and she would have fled thence; but it seemed to
me I might find or learn there whither the Surrey people had fled. I
knew I wanted to find my wife, that my heart ached for her and the
world of men, but I had no clear idea how the finding might be done. I
was also sharply aware now of my intense loneliness. From the corner
I went, under cover of a thicket of trees and bushes, to the edge of
Wimbledon Common, stretching wide and far.
That dark expanse was lit in patches by yellow gorse and broom;
there was no red weed to be seen, and as I prowled, hesitating, on the
verge of the open, the sun rose, flooding it all with light and
vitality. I came upon a busy swarm of little frogs in a swampy place
among the trees. I stopped to look at them, drawing a lesson from
their stout resolve to live. And presently, turning suddenly, with an
odd feeling of being watched, I beheld something crouching amid a
clump of bushes. I stood regarding this. I made a step towards it,
and it rose up and became a man armed with a cutlass. I approached
him slowly. He stood silent and motionless, regarding me.
As I drew nearer I perceived he was dressed in clothes as dusty and
filthy as my own; he looked, indeed, as though he had been dragged
through a culvert. Nearer, I distinguished the green slime of ditches
mixing with the pale drab of dried clay and shiny, coaly patches. His
black hair fell over his eyes, and his face was dark and dirty and
sunken, so that at first I did not recognise him. There was a red cut
across the lower part of his face.
"Stop!" he cried, when I was within ten yards of him, and I
stopped. His voice was hoarse. "Where do you come from?" he said.
I thought, surveying him.
"I come from Mortlake," I said. "I was buried near the pit the
Martians made about their cylinder. I have worked my way out and
"There is no food about here," he said. "This is my country. All
this hill down to the river, and back to Clapham, and up to the edge
of the common. There is only food for one. Which way are you going?"
I answered slowly.
"I don't know," I said. "I have been buried in the ruins of a
house thirteen or fourteen days. I don't know what has happened."
He looked at me doubtfully, then started, and looked with a changed
"I've no wish to stop about here," said I. "I think I shall go to
Leatherhead, for my wife was there."
He shot out a pointing finger.
"It is you," said he; "the man from Woking. And you weren't killed
I recognised him at the same moment.
"You are the artilleryman who came into my garden."
"Good luck!" he said. "We are lucky ones! Fancy YOU!" He put out
a hand, and I took it. "I crawled up a drain," he said. "But they
didn't kill everyone. And after they went away I got off towards
Walton across the fields. But---- It's not sixteen days altogether--
and your hair is grey." He looked over his shoulder suddenly. "Only
a rook," he said. "One gets to know that birds have shadows these
days. This is a bit open. Let us crawl under those bushes and talk."
"Have you seen any Martians?" I said. "Since I crawled out----"
"They've gone away across London," he said. "I guess they've got a
bigger camp there. Of a night, all over there, Hampstead way, the sky
is alive with their lights. It's like a great city, and in the glare
you can just see them moving. By daylight you can't. But nearer--I
haven't seen them--" (he counted on his fingers) "five days. Then I
saw a couple across Hammersmith way carrying something big. And the
night before last"--he stopped and spoke impressively--"it was just a
matter of lights, but it was something up in the air. I believe
they've built a flying-machine, and are learning to fly."
I stopped, on hands and knees, for we had come to the bushes.
"Yes," he said, "fly."
I went on into a little bower, and sat down.
"It is all over with humanity," I said. "If they can do that they
will simply go round the world."
"They will. But---- It will relieve things over here a bit. And
besides----" He looked at me. "Aren't you satisfied it IS up with
humanity? I am. We're down; we're beat."
I stared. Strange as it may seem, I had not arrived at this fact--
a fact perfectly obvious so soon as he spoke. I had still held a
vague hope; rather, I had kept a lifelong habit of mind. He repeated
his words, "We're beat." They carried absolute conviction.
"It's all over," he said. "They've lost ONE--just ONE. And they've
made their footing good and crippled the greatest power in the world.
They've walked over us. The death of that one at Weybridge was an
accident. And these are only pioneers. They kept on coming. These
green stars--I've seen none these five or six days, but I've no doubt
they're falling somewhere every night. Nothing's to be done. We're
under! We're beat!"
I made him no answer. I sat staring before me, trying in vain to
devise some countervailing thought.
"This isn't a war," said the artilleryman. "It never was a war,
any more than there's war between man and ants."
Suddenly I recalled the night in the observatory.
"After the tenth shot they fired no more--at least, until the first
"How do you know?" said the artilleryman. I explained. He thought.
"Something wrong with the gun," he said. "But what if there is?
They'll get it right again. And even if there's a delay, how can it
alter the end? It's just men and ants. There's the ants builds their
cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until the men want
them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That's what we
are now--just ants. Only----"
"Yes," I said.
"We're eatable ants."
We sat looking at each other.
"And what will they do with us?" I said.
"That's what I've been thinking," he said; "that's what I've been
thinking. After Weybridge I went south--thinking. I saw what was up.
Most of the people were hard at it squealing and exciting themselves.
But I'm not so fond of squealing. I've been in sight of death once or
twice; I'm not an ornamental soldier, and at the best and worst,
death--it's just death. And it's the man that keeps on thinking comes
through. I saw everyone tracking away south. Says I, "Food won't
last this way," and I turned right back. I went for the Martians like
a sparrow goes for man. All round"--he waved a hand to the
horizon--"they're starving in heaps, bolting, treading on each other.
. . ."
He saw my face, and halted awkwardly.
"No doubt lots who had money have gone away to France," he said. He
seemed to hesitate whether to apologise, met my eyes, and went on:
"There's food all about here. Canned things in shops; wines, spirits,
mineral waters; and the water mains and drains are empty. Well, I was
telling you what I was thinking. "Here's intelligent things," I said,
"and it seems they want us for food. First, they'll smash us up--
ships, machines, guns, cities, all the order and organisation. All
that will go. If we were the size of ants we might pull through. But
we're not. It's all too bulky to stop. That's the first certainty."
"It is; I've thought it out. Very well, then--next; at present
we're caught as we're wanted. A Martian has only to go a few miles to
get a crowd on the run. And I saw one, one day, out by Wandsworth,
picking houses to pieces and routing among the wreckage. But they
won't keep on doing that. So soon as they've settled all our guns and
ships, and smashed our railways, and done all the things they are
doing over there, they will begin catching us systematic, picking the
best and storing us in cages and things. That's what they will start
doing in a bit. Lord! They haven't begun on us yet. Don't you see
"Not begun!" I exclaimed.
"Not begun. All that's happened so far is through our not having
the sense to keep quiet--worrying them with guns and such foolery. And
losing our heads, and rushing off in crowds to where there wasn't any
more safety than where we were. They don't want to bother us yet.
They're making their things--making all the things they couldn't bring
with them, getting things ready for the rest of their people. Very
likely that's why the cylinders have stopped for a bit, for fear of
hitting those who are here. And instead of our rushing about blind,
on the howl, or getting dynamite on the chance of busting them up,
we've got to fix ourselves up according to the new state of affairs.
That's how I figure it out. It isn't quite according to what a man
wants for his species, but it's about what the facts point to. And
that's the principle I acted upon. Cities, nations, civilisation,
progress--it's all over. That game's up. We're beat."
"But if that is so, what is there to live for?"
The artilleryman looked at me for a moment.
"There won't be any more blessed concerts for a million years or
so; there won't be any Royal Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds
at restaurants. If it's amusement you're after, I reckon the game is
up. If you've got any drawing-room manners or a dislike to eating
peas with a knife or dropping aitches, you'd better chuck 'em away.
They ain't no further use."
"I mean that men like me are going on living--for the sake of the
breed. I tell you, I'm grim set on living. And if I'm not mistaken,
you'll show what insides YOU'VE got, too, before long. We aren't
going to be exterminated. And I don't mean to be caught either, and
tamed and fattened and bred like a thundering ox. Ugh! Fancy those
"You don't mean to say----"
"I do. I'm going on, under their feet. I've got it planned; I've
thought it out. We men are beat. We don't know enough. We've got to
learn before we've got a chance. And we've got to live and keep
independent while we learn. See! That's what has to be done."
I stared, astonished, and stirred profoundly by the man's
"Great God!," cried I. "But you are a man indeed!" And suddenly I
gripped his hand.
"Eh!" he said, with his eyes shining. "I've thought it out, eh?"
"Go on," I said.
"Well, those who mean to escape their catching must get ready. I'm
getting ready. Mind you, it isn't all of us that are made for wild
beasts; and that's what it's got to be. That's why I watched you. I
had my doubts. You're slender. I didn't know that it was you, you
see, or just how you'd been buried. All these--the sort of people
that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used
to live down that way--they'd be no good. They haven't any spirit in
them--no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn't one or
the other--Lord! What is he but funk and precautions? They just used
to skedaddle off to work--I've seen hundreds of 'em, bit of breakfast
in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket
train, for fear they'd get dismissed if they didn't; working at
businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand;
skedaddling back for fear they wouldn't be in time for dinner; keeping
indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with
the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they
had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little
miserable skedaddle through the world. Lives insured and a bit
invested for fear of accidents. And on Sundays--fear of the
hereafter. As if hell was built for rabbits! Well, the Martians will
just be a godsend to these. Nice roomy cages, fattening food, careful
breeding, no worry. After a week or so chasing about the fields and
lands on empty stomachs, they'll come and be caught cheerful. They'll
be quite glad after a bit. They'll wonder what people did before
there were Martians to take care of them. And the bar loafers, and
mashers, and singers--I can imagine them. I can imagine them," he
said, with a sort of sombre gratification. "There'll be any amount of
sentiment and religion loose among them. There's hundreds of things I
saw with my eyes that I've only begun to see clearly these last few
days. There's lots will take things as they are--fat and stupid; and
lots will be worried by a sort of feeling that it's all wrong, and
that they ought to be doing something. Now whenever things are so
that a lot of people feel they ought to be doing something, the weak,
and those who go weak with a lot of complicated thinking, always make
for a sort of do-nothing religion, very pious and superior, and submit
to persecution and the will of the Lord. Very likely you've seen the
same thing. It's energy in a gale of funk, and turned clean inside
out. These cages will be full of psalms and hymns and piety. And
those of a less simple sort will work in a bit of--what is it?--
"Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them; train
them to do tricks--who knows?--get sentimental over the pet boy who
grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to
"No," I cried, "that's impossible! No human being----"
"What's the good of going on with such lies?" said the
artilleryman. "There's men who'd do it cheerful. What nonsense to
pretend there isn't!"
And I succumbed to his conviction.
"If they come after me," he said; "Lord, if they come after me!"
and subsided into a grim meditation.
I sat contemplating these things. I could find nothing to bring
against this man's reasoning. In the days before the invasion no one
would have questioned my intellectual superiority to his--I, a
professed and recognised writer on philosophical themes, and he, a
common soldier; and yet he had already formulated a situation that I
had scarcely realised.
"What are you doing?" I said presently. "What plans have you
"Well, it's like this," he said. "What have we to do? We have to
invent a sort of life where men can live and breed, and be
sufficiently secure to bring the children up. Yes--wait a bit, and
I'll make it clearer what I think ought to be done. The tame ones will
go like all tame beasts; in a few generations they'll be big,
beautiful, rich-blooded, stupid--rubbish! The risk is that we who keep
wild will go savage--degenerate into a sort of big, savage rat. . . .
You see, how I mean to live is underground. I've been thinking about
the drains. Of course those who don't know drains think horrible
things; but under this London are miles and miles--hundreds of miles--
and a few days rain and London empty will leave them sweet and clean.
The main drains are big enough and airy enough for anyone. Then
there's cellars, vaults, stores, from which bolting passages may be
made to the drains. And the railway tunnels and subways. Eh? You
begin to see? And we form a band--able-bodied, clean-minded men. We're
not going to pick up any rubbish that drifts in. Weaklings go out
"As you meant me to go?"
"Well--l parleyed, didn't I?"
"We won't quarrel about that. Go on."
"Those who stop obey orders. Able-bodied, clean-minded women we
want also--mothers and teachers. No lackadaisical ladies--no blasted
rolling eyes. We can't have any weak or silly. Life is real again,
and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They
ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It's a sort of
disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race. And they can't be
happy. Moreover, dying's none so dreadful; it's the funking makes it
bad. And in all those places we shall gather. Our district will be
London. And we may even be able to keep a watch, and run about in the
open when the Martians keep away. Play cricket, perhaps. That's how
we shall save the race. Eh? It's a possible thing? But saving the
race is nothing in itself. As I say, that's only being rats. It's
saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing. There men like
you come in. There's books, there's models. We must make great safe
places down deep, and get all the books we can; not novels and poetry
swipes, but ideas, science books. That's where men like you come in.
We must go to the British Museum and pick all those books through.
Especially we must keep up our science--learn more. We must watch
these Martians. Some of us must go as spies. When it's all working,
perhaps I will. Get caught, I mean. And the great thing is, we must
leave the Martians alone. We mustn't even steal. If we get in their
way, we clear out. We must show them we mean no harm. Yes, I know.
But they're intelligent things, and they won't hunt us down if they
have all they want, and think we're just harmless vermin."
The artilleryman paused and laid a brown hand upon my arm.
"After all, it may not be so much we may have to learn before--Just
imagine this: four or five of their fighting machines suddenly
starting off--Heat-Rays right and left, and not a Martian in 'em. Not
a Martian in 'em, but men--men who have learned the way how. It may
be in my time, even--those men. Fancy having one of them lovely
things, with its Heat-Ray wide and free! Fancy having it in control!
What would it matter if you smashed to smithereens at the end of the
run, after a bust like that? I reckon the Martians'll open their
beautiful eyes! Can't you see them, man? Can't you see them
hurrying, hurrying--puffing and blowing and hooting to their other
mechanical affairs? Something out of gear in every case. And swish,
bang, rattle, swish! Just as they are fumbling over it, SWISH comes
the Heat-Ray, and, behold! man has come back to his own."
For a while the imaginative daring of the artilleryman, and the
tone of assurance and courage he assumed, completely dominated my
mind. I believed unhesitatingly both in his forecast of human destiny
and in the practicability of his astonishing scheme, and the reader
who thinks me susceptible and foolish must contrast his position,
reading steadily with all his thoughts about his subject, and mine,
crouching fearfully in the bushes and listening, distracted by
apprehension. We talked in this manner through the early morning
time, and later crept out of the bushes, and, after scanning the sky
for Martians, hurried precipitately to the house on Putney Hill where
he had made his lair. It was the coal cellar of the place, and when I
saw the work he had spent a week upon--it was a burrow scarcely ten
yards long, which he designed to reach to the main drain on Putney
Hill--I had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his
powers. Such a hole I could have dug in a day. But I believed in him
sufficiently to work with him all that morning until past midday at
his digging. We had a garden barrow and shot the earth we removed
against the kitchen range. We refreshed ourselves with a tin of mock-
turtle soup and wine from the neighbouring pantry. I found a curious
relief from the aching strangeness of the world in this steady labour.
As we worked, I turned his project over in my mind, and presently
objections and doubts began to arise; but I worked there all the
morning, so glad was I to find myself with a purpose again. After
working an hour I began to speculate on the distance one had to go
before the cloaca was reached, the chances we had of missing it
altogether. My immediate trouble was why we should dig this long
tunnel, when it was possible to get into the drain at once down one of
the manholes, and work back to the house. It seemed to me, too, that
the house was inconveniently chosen, and required a needless length of
tunnel. And just as I was beginning to face these things, the
artilleryman stopped digging, and looked at me.
"We're working well," he said. He put down his spade. "Let us
knock off a bit" he said. "I think it's time we reconnoitred from the
roof of the house."
I was for going on, and after a little hesitation he resumed his
spade; and then suddenly I was struck by a thought. I stopped, and so
did he at once.
"Why were you walking about the common," I said, "instead of being
"Taking the air," he said. "I was coming back. It's safer by
"But the work?"
"Oh, one can't always work," he said, and in a flash I saw the man
plain. He hesitated, holding his spade. "We ought to reconnoitre
now," he said, "because if any come near they may hear the spades and
drop upon us unawares."
I was no longer disposed to object. We went together to the roof
and stood on a ladder peeping out of the roof door. No Martians were
to be seen, and we ventured out on the tiles, and slipped down under
shelter of the parapet.
From this position a shrubbery hid the greater portion of Putney,
but we could see the river below, a bubbly mass of red weed, and the
low parts of Lambeth flooded and red. The red creeper swarmed up the
trees about the old palace, and their branches stretched gaunt and
dead, and set with shrivelled leaves, from amid its clusters. It was
strange how entirely dependent both these things were upon flowing
water for their propagation. About us neither had gained a footing;
laburnums, pink mays, snowballs, and trees of arbor-vitae, rose out of
laurels and hydrangeas, green and brilliant into the sunlight. Beyond
Kensington dense smoke was rising, and that and a blue haze hid the
The artilleryman began to tell me of the sort of people who still
remained in London.
"One night last week," he said, "some fools got the electric light
in order, and there was all Regent Street and the Circus ablaze,
crowded with painted and ragged drunkards, men and women, dancing and
shouting till dawn. A man who was there told me. And as the day came
they became aware of a fighting-machine standing near by the Langham
and looking down at them. Heaven knows how long he had been there. It
must have given some of them a nasty turn. He came down the road
towards them, and picked up nearly a hundred too drunk or frightened
to run away."
Grotesque gleam of a time no history will ever fully describe!
From that, in answer to my questions, he came round to his
grandiose plans again. He grew enthusiastic. He talked so eloquently
of the possibility of capturing a fighting-machine that I more than
half believed in him again. But now that I was beginning to
understand something of his quality, I could divine the stress he laid
on doing nothing precipitately. And I noted that now there was no
question that he personally was to capture and fight the great
After a time we went down to the cellar. Neither of us seemed
disposed to resume digging, and when he suggested a meal, I was
nothing loath. He became suddenly very generous, and when we had
eaten he went away and returned with some excellent cigars. We lit
these, and his optimism glowed. He was inclined to regard my coming
as a great occasion.
"There's some champagne in the cellar," he said.
"We can dig better on this Thames-side burgundy," said I.
"No," said he; "I am host today. Champagne! Great God! We've a
heavy enough task before us! Let us take a rest and gather strength
while we may. Look at these blistered hands!"
And pursuant to this idea of a holiday, he insisted upon playing
cards after we had eaten. He taught me euchre, and after dividing
London between us, I taking the northern side and he the southern, we
played for parish points. Grotesque and foolish as this will seem to
the sober reader, it is absolutely true, and what is more remarkable,
I found the card game and several others we played extremely
Strange mind of man! that, with our species upon the edge of
extermination or appalling degradation, with no clear prospect before
us but the chance of a horrible death, we could sit following the
chance of this painted pasteboard, and playing the "joker" with vivid
delight. Afterwards he taught me poker, and I beat him at three tough
chess games. When dark came we decided to take the risk, and lit a
After an interminable string of games, we supped, and the
artilleryman finished the champagne. We went on smoking the cigars.
He was no longer the energetic regenerator of his species I had
encountered in the morning. He was still optimistic, but it was a
less kinetic, a more thoughtful optimism. I remember he wound up with
my health, proposed in a speech of small variety and considerable
intermittence. I took a cigar, and went upstairs to look at the lights
of which he had spoken that blazed so greenly along the Highgate
At first I stared unintelligently across the London valley. The
northern hills were shrouded in darkness; the fires near Kensington
glowed redly, and now and then an orange-red tongue of flame flashed
up and vanished in the deep blue night. All the rest of London was
black. Then, nearer, I perceived a strange light, a pale, violet-
purple fluorescent glow, quivering under the night breeze. For a
space I could not understand it, and then I knew that it must be the
red weed from which this faint irradiation proceeded. With that
realisation my dormant sense of wonder, my sense of the proportion of
things, awoke again. I glanced from that to Mars, red and clear,
glowing high in the west, and then gazed long and earnestly at the
darkness of Hampstead and Highgate.
I remained a very long time upon the roof, wondering at the
grotesque changes of the day. I recalled my mental states from the
midnight prayer to the foolish card-playing. I had a violent
revulsion of feeling. I remember I flung away the cigar with a
certain wasteful symbolism. My folly came to me with glaring
exaggeration. I seemed a traitor to my wife and to my kind; I was
filled with remorse. I resolved to leave this strange undisciplined
dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony, and to go on into
London. There, it seemed to me, I had the best chance of learning
what the Martians and my fellowmen were doing. I was still upon the
roof when the late moon rose.
After I had parted from the artilleryman, I went down the hill, and
by the High Street across the bridge to Fulham. The red weed was
tumultuous at that time, and nearly choked the bridge roadway; but its
fronds were already whitened in patches by the spreading disease that
presently removed it so swiftly.
At the corner of the lane that runs to Putney Bridge station I
found a man lying. He was as black as a sweep with the black dust,
alive, but helplessly and speechlessly drunk. I could get nothing
from him but curses and furious lunges at my head. I think I should
have stayed by him but for the brutal expression of his face.
There was black dust along the roadway from the bridge onwards, and
it grew thicker in Fulham. The streets were horribly quiet. I got
food--sour, hard, and mouldy, but quite eatable--in a baker's shop
here. Some way towards Walham Green the streets became clear of
powder, and I passed a white terrace of houses on fire; the noise of
the burning was an absolute relief. Going on towards Brompton, the
streets were quiet again.
Here I came once more upon the black powder in the streets and upon
dead bodies. I saw altogether about a dozen in the length of the
Fulham Road. They had been dead many days, so that I hurried quickly
past them. The black powder covered them over, and softened their
outlines. One or two had been disturbed by dogs.
Where there was no black powder, it was curiously like a Sunday in
the City, with the closed shops, the houses locked up and the blinds
drawn, the desertion, and the stillness. In some places plunderers
had been at work, but rarely at other than the provision and wine
shops. A jeweller's window had been broken open in one place, but
apparently the thief had been disturbed, and a number of gold chains
and a watch lay scattered on the pavement. I did not trouble to touch
them. Farther on was a tattered woman in a heap on a doorstep; the
hand that hung over her knee was gashed and bled down her rusty brown
dress, and a smashed magnum of champagne formed a pool across the
pavement. She seemed asleep, but she was dead.
The farther I penetrated into London, the profounder grew the
stillness. But it was not so much the stillness of death--it was the
stillness of suspense, of expectation. At any time the destruction
that had already singed the northwestern borders of the metropolis,
and had annihilated Ealing and Kilburn, might strike among these
houses and leave them smoking ruins. It was a city condemned and
derelict. . . .
In South Kensington the streets were clear of dead and of black
powder. It was near South Kensington that I first heard the howling.
It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbing
alternation of two notes, "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," keeping on
perpetually. When I passed streets that ran northward it grew in
volume, and houses and buildings seemed to deaden and cut it off
again. It came in a full tide down Exhibition Road. I stopped,
staring towards Kensington Gardens, wondering at this strange, remote
wailing. It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice
for its fear and solitude.
"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," wailed that superhuman note--great waves
of sound sweeping down the broad, sunlit roadway, between the tall
buildings on each side. I turned northwards, marvelling, towards the
iron gates of Hyde Park. I had half a mind to break into the Natural
History Museum and find my way up to the summits of the towers, in
order to see across the park. But I decided to keep to the ground,
where quick hiding was possible, and so went on up the Exhibition
Road. All the large mansions on each side of the road were empty and
still, and my footsteps echoed against the sides of the houses. At
the top, near the park gate, I came upon a strange sight--a bus
overturned, and the skeleton of a horse picked clean. I puzzled over
this for a time, and then went on to the bridge over the Serpentine.
The voice grew stronger and stronger, though I could see nothing above
the housetops on the north side of the park, save a haze of smoke to
"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," cried the voice, coming, as it seemed to
me, from the district about Regent's Park. The desolating cry worked
upon my mind. The mood that had sustained me passed. The wailing
took possession of me. I found I was intensely weary, footsore, and
now again hungry and thirsty.
It was already past noon. Why was I wandering alone in this city
of the dead? Why was I alone when all London was lying in state, and
in its black shroud? I felt intolerably lonely. My mind ran on old
friends that I had forgotten for years. I thought of the poisons in
the chemists' shops, of the liquors the wine merchants stored; I
recalled the two sodden creatures of despair, who so far as I knew,
shared the city with myself. . . .
I came into Oxford Street by the Marble Arch, and here again were
black powder and several bodies, and an evil, ominous smell from the
gratings of the cellars of some of the houses. I grew very thirsty
after the heat of my long walk. With infinite trouble I managed to
break into a public-house and get food and drink. I was weary after
eating, and went into the parlour behind the bar, and slept on a black
horsehair sofa I found there.
I awoke to find that dismal howling still in my ears, "Ulla, ulla,
ulla, ulla." It was now dusk, and after I had routed out some
biscuits and a cheese in the bar--there was a meat safe, but it
contained nothing but maggots--I wandered on through the silent
residential squares to Baker Street--Portman Square is the only one I
can name--and so came out at last upon Regent's Park. And as I
emerged from the top of Baker Street, I saw far away over the trees in
the clearness of the sunset the hood of the Martian giant from which
this howling proceeded. I was not terrified. I came upon him as if
it were a matter of course. I watched him for some time, but he did
not move. He appeared to be standing and yelling, for no reason that
I could discover.
I tried to formulate a plan of action. That perpetual sound of
"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," confused my mind. Perhaps I was too tired
to be very fearful. Certainly I was more curious to know the reason
of this monotonous crying than afraid. I turned back away from the
park and struck into Park Road, intending to skirt the park, went
along under the shelter of the terraces, and got a view of this
stationary, howling Martian from the direction of St. John's Wood. A
couple of hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus,
and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in his jaws
coming headlong towards me, and then a pack of starving mongrels in
pursuit of him. He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he feared
I might prove a fresh competitor. As the yelping died away down the
silent road, the wailing sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," reasserted
I came upon the wrecked handling-machine halfway to St. John's Wood
station. At first I thought a house had fallen across the road. It
was only as I clambered among the ruins that I saw, with a start, this
mechanical Samson lying, with its tentacles bent and smashed and
twisted, among the ruins it had made. The forepart was shattered. It
seemed as if it had driven blindly straight at the house, and had been
overwhelmed in its overthrow. It seemed to me then that this might
have happened by a handling-machine escaping from the guidance of its
Martian. I could not clamber among the ruins to see it, and the
twilight was now so far advanced that the blood with which its seat
was smeared, and the gnawed gristle of the Martian that the dogs had
left, were invisible to me.
Wondering still more at all that I had seen, I pushed on towards
Primrose Hill. Far away, through a gap in the trees, I saw a second
Martian, as motionless as the first, standing in the park towards the
Zoological Gardens, and silent. A little beyond the ruins about the
smashed handling-machine I came upon the red weed again, and found the
Regent's Canal, a spongy mass of dark-red vegetation.
As I crossed the bridge, the sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,"
ceased. It was, as it were, cut off. The silence came like a
The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim; the trees
towards the park were growing black. All about me the red weed
clambered among the ruins, writhing to get above me in the dimness.
Night, the mother of fear and mystery, was coming upon me. But while
that voice sounded the solitude, the desolation, had been endurable;
by virtue of it London had still seemed alive, and the sense of life
about me had upheld me. Then suddenly a change, the passing of
something--I knew not what--and then a stillness that could be felt.
Nothing but this gaunt quiet.
London about me gazed at me spectrally. The windows in the white
houses were like the eye sockets of skulls. About me my imagination
found a thousand noiseless enemies moving. Terror seized me, a horror
of my temerity. In front of me the road became pitchy black as though
it was tarred, and I saw a contorted shape lying across the pathway. I