AT THE WINDOW
I have already said that my storms of emotion have a
trick of exhausting themselves. After a time I discovered that
I was cold and wet, and with little pools of water about me
on the stair carpet. I got up almost mechanically, went into
the dining room and drank some whiskey, and then I was
moved to change my clothes.
After I had done that I went upstairs to my study, but why
I did so I do not know. The window of my study looks over
the trees and the railway towards Horsell Common. In the
hurry of our departure this window had been left open.
The passage was dark, and, by contrast with the picture the
window frame enclosed, the side of the room seemed im-
penetrably dark. I stopped short in the doorway.
The thunderstorm had passed. The towers of the Oriental
College and the pine trees about it had gone, and very far
away, lit by a vivid red glare, the common about the sand
pits was visible. Across the light huge black shapes, gro-
tesque and strange, moved busily to and fro.
It seemed indeed as if the whole country in that direction
was on fire--a broad hillside set with minute tongues of flame,
swaying and writhing with the gusts of the dying storm, and
throwing a red reflection upon the cloud scud above. Every
now and then a haze of smoke from some nearer conflagra-
tion drove across the window and hid the Martian shapes.
I could not see what they were doing, nor the clear form of
them, nor recognise the black objects they were busied upon.
Neither could I see the nearer fire, though the reflections of
it danced on the wall and ceiling of the study. A sharp,
resinous tang of burning was in the air.
I closed the door noiselessly and crept towards the window.
As I did so, the view opened out until, on the one hand, it
reached to the houses about Woking station, and on the other
to the charred and blackened pine woods of Byfleet. There
was a light down below the hill, on the railway, near the
arch, and several of the houses along the Maybury road
and the streets near the station were glowing ruins. The light
upon the railway puzzled me at first; there were a black heap
and a vivid glare, and to the right of that a row of yellow
oblongs. Then I perceived this was a wrecked train, the fore
part smashed and on fire, the hinder carriages still upon
Between these three main centres of light--the houses,
the train, and the burning county towards Chobham--
stretched irregular patches of dark country, broken here and
there by intervals of dimly glowing and smoking ground.
It was the strangest spectacle, that black expanse set with
fire. It reminded me, more than anything else, of the Potteries
at night. At first I could distinguish no people at all, though
I peered intently for them. Later I saw against the light of
Woking station a number of black figures hurrying one after
the other across the line.
And this was the little world in which I had been living
securely for years, this fiery chaos! What had happened in
the last seven hours I still did not know; nor did I know,
though I was beginning to guess, the relation between these
mechanical colossi and the sluggish lumps I had seen dis-
gorged from the cylinder. With a queer feeling of impersonal
interest I turned my desk chair to the window, sat down,
and stared at the blackened country, and particularly at the
three gigantic black things that were going to and fro in
the glare about the sand pits.
They seemed amazingly busy. I began to ask myself what
they could be. Were they intelligent mechanisms? Such a
thing I felt was impossible. Or did a Martian sit within each,
ruling, directing, using, much as a man's brain sits and rules
in his body? I began to compare the things to human ma-
chines, to ask myself for the first time in my life how an
ironclad or a steam engine would seem to an intelligent
The storm had left the sky clear, and over the smoke of the
burning land the little fading pinpoint of Mars was dropping
into the west, when a soldier came into my garden. I heard
a slight scraping at the fence, and rousing myself from the
lethargy that had fallen upon me, I looked down and saw
him dimly, clambering over the palings. At the sight of
another human being my torpor passed, and I leaned out
of the window eagerly.
"Hist!" said I, in a whisper.
He stopped astride of the fence in doubt. Then he came
over and across the lawn to the corner of the house. He bent
down and stepped softly.
"Who's there?" he said, also whispering, standing under
the window and peering up.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Are you trying to hide?"
"Come into the house," I said.
I went down, unfastened the door, and let him in, and
locked the door again. I could not see his face. He was
hatless, and his coat was unbuttoned.
"My God!" he said, as I drew him in.
"What has happened?" I asked.
"What hasn't?" In the obscurity I could see he made a
gesture of despair. "They wiped us out--simply wiped us
out," he repeated again and again.
He followed me, almost mechanically, into the dining
"Take some whiskey," I said, pouring out a stiff dose.
He drank it. Then abruptly he sat down before the table,
put his head on his arms, and began to sob and weep like a
little boy, in a perfect passion of emotion, while I, with a
curious forgetfulness of my own recent despair, stood beside
It was a long time before he could steady his nerves to
answer my questions, and then he answered perplexingly and
brokenly. He was a driver in the artillery, and had only come
into action about seven. At that time firing was going on
across the common, and it was said the first party of Martians
were crawling slowly towards their second cylinder under
cover of a metal shield.
Later this shield staggered up on tripod legs and became
the first of the fighting-machines I had seen. The gun he
drove had been unlimbered near Horsell, in order to com-
mand the sand pits, and its arrival it was that had precipi-
tated the action. As the limber gunners went to the rear, his
horse trod in a rabbit hole and came down, throwing him
into a depression of the ground. At the same moment the
gun exploded behind him, the ammunition blew up, there
was fire all about him, and he found himself lying under a
heap of charred dead men and dead horses.
"I lay still," he said, "scared out of my wits, with the fore
quarter of a horse atop of me. We'd been wiped out. And
the smell--good God! Like burnt meat! I was hurt across the
back by the fall of the horse, and there I had to lie until I
felt better. Just like parade it had been a minute before--
then stumble, bang, swish!"
"Wiped out!" he said.
He had hid under the dead horse for a long time, peeping
out furtively across the common. The Cardigan men had
tried a rush, in skirmishing order, at the pit, simply to be
swept out of existence. Then the monster had risen to its
feet and had begun to walk leisurely to and fro across the
common among the few fugitives, with its headlike hood
turning about exactly like the head of a cowled human being.
A kind of arm carried a complicated metallic case, about
which green flashes scintillated, and out of the funnel of
this there smoked the Heat-Ray.
In a few minutes there was, so far as the soldier could see,
not a living thing left upon the common, and every bush and
tree upon it that was not already a blackened skeleton was
burning. The hussars had been on the road beyond the
curvature of the ground, and he saw nothing of them. He
heard the Martians rattle for a time and then become still.
The giant saved Woking station and its cluster of houses until
the last; then in a moment the Heat-Ray was brought to bear,
and the town became a heap of fiery ruins. Then the Thing
shut off the Heat-Ray, and turning its back upon the artillery-
man, began to waddle away towards the smouldering pine
woods that sheltered the second cylinder. As it did so a
second glittering Titan built itself up out of the pit.
The second monster followed the first, and at that the
artilleryman began to crawl very cautiously across the hot
heather ash towards Horsell. He managed to get alive into
the ditch by the side of the road, and so escaped to Woking.
There his story became ejaculatory. The place was impassable.
It seems there were a few people alive there, frantic for the
most part and many burned and scalded. He was turned
aside by the fire, and hid among some almost scorching heaps
of broken wall as one of the Martian giants returned. He
saw this one pursue a man, catch him up in one of its steely
tentacles, and knock his head against the trunk of a pine
tree. At last, after nightfall, the artilleryman made a rush
for it and got over the railway embankment.
Since then he had been skulking along towards Maybury,
in the hope of getting out of danger Londonward. People
were hiding in trenches and cellars, and many of the survivors
had made off towards Woking village and Send. He had been
consumed with thirst until he found one of the water mains
near the railway arch smashed, and the water bubbling out
like a spring upon the road.
That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew
calmer telling me and trying to make me see the things he
had seen. He had eaten no food since midday, he told me
early in his narrative, and I found some mutton and bread
in the pantry and brought it into the room. We lit no lamp
for fear of attracting the Martians, and ever and again our
hands would touch upon bread or meat. As he talked, things
about us came darkly out of the darkness, and the trampled
bushes and broken rose trees outside the window grew dis-
tinct. It would seem that a number of men or animals had
rushed across the lawn. I began to see his face, blackened
and haggard, as no doubt mine was also.
When we had finished eating we went softly upstairs to
my study, and I looked again out of the open window. In
one night the valley had become a valley of ashes. The fires
had dwindled now. Where flames had been there were now
streamers of smoke; but the countless ruins of shattered and
gutted houses and blasted and blackened trees that the night
had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in the pitiless
light of dawn. Yet here and there some object had had the
luck to escape--a white railway signal here, the end of a
greenhouse there, white and fresh amid the wreckage. Never
before in the history of warfare had destruction been so
indiscriminate and so universal. And shining with the growing
light of the east, three of the metallic giants stood about
the pit, their cowls rotating as though they were surveying
the desolation they had made.
It seemed to me that the pit had been enlarged, and ever
and again puffs of vivid green vapour streamed up and out of
it towards the brightening dawn--streamed up, whirled,
broke, and vanished.
Beyond were the pillars of fire about Chobham. They became pillars of bloodshot smoke at the first touch of day.
We care about eBooks because we care about the environment.
Copyright © 2000-2019 Literature Project. All Rights Reserved.