HOW I FELL IN WITH THE CURATE
After getting this sudden lesson in the power of terres-
trial weapons, the Martians retreated to their original position
upon Horsell Common; and in their haste, and encumbered
with the de'bris of their smashed companion, they no doubt
overlooked many such a stray and negligible victim as myself.
Had they left their comrade and pushed on forthwith, there
was nothing at that time between them and London but
batteries of twelve-pounder guns, and they would certainly
have reached the capital in advance of the tidings of their
approach; as sudden, dreadful, and destructive their advent
would have been as the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon a
But they were in no hurry. Cylinder followed cylinder on
its interplanetary flight; every twenty-four hours brought
them reinforcement. And meanwhile the military and naval
authorities, now fully alive to the tremendous power of their
antagonists, worked with furious energy. Every minute a
fresh gun came into position until, before twilight, every
copse, every row of suburban villas on the hilly slopes about
Kingston and Richmond, masked an expectant black muzzle.
And through the charred and desolated area--perhaps twenty
square miles altogether--that encircled the Martian encamp-
ment on Horsell Common, through charred and ruined villages
among the green trees, through the blackened and smoking
arcades that had been but a day ago pine spinneys, crawled
the devoted scouts with the heliographs that were presently
to warn the gunners of the Martian approach. But the Mar-
tians now understood our command of artillery and the
danger of human proximity, and not a man ventured within
a mile of either cylinder, save at the price of his life.
It would seem that these giants spent the earlier part of
the afternoon in going to and fro, transferring everything
from the second and third cylinders--the second in Addle-
stone Golf Links and the third at Pyrford--to their original
pit on Horsell Common. Over that, above the blackened
heather and ruined buildings that stretched far and wide,
stood one as sentinel, while the rest abandoned their vast
fighting-machines and descended into the pit. They were
hard at work there far into the night, and the towering pillar
of dense green smoke that rose therefrom could be seen from
the hills about Merrow, and even, it is said, from Banstead
and Epsom Downs.
And while the Martians behind me were thus preparing
for their next sally, and in front of me Humanity gathered
for the battle, I made my way with infinite pains and labour
from the fire and smoke of burning Weybridge towards
I saw an abandoned boat, very small and remote, drifting
down-stream; and throwing off the most of my sodden
clothes, I went after it, gained it, and so escaped out of that
destruction. There were no oars in the boat, but I contrived
to paddle, as well as my parboiled hands would allow, down
the river towards Halliford and Walton, going very tediously
and continually looking behind me, as you may well under-
stand. I followed the river, because I considered that the
water gave me my best chance of escape should these giants
The hot water from the Martian's overthrow drifted down-
stream with me, so that for the best part of a mile I could see
little of either bank. Once, however, I made out a string of
black figures hurrying across the meadows from the direction
of Weybridge. Halliford, it seemed, was deserted, and sev-
eral of the houses facing the river were on fire. It was strange
to see the place quite tranquil, quite desolate under the hot
blue sky, with the smoke and little threads of flame going
straight up into the heat of the afternoon. Never before had
I seen houses burning without the accompaniment of an
obstructive crowd. A little farther on the dry reeds up the
bank were smoking and glowing, and a line of fire inland was
marching steadily across a late field of hay.
For a long time I drifted, so painful and weary was I after
the violence I had been through, and so intense the heat upon
the water. Then my fears got the better of me again, and I
resumed my paddling. The sun scorched my bare back. At
last, as the bridge at Walton was coming into sight round the
bend, my fever and faintness overcame my fears, and I landed
on the Middlesex bank and lay down, deadly sick, amid the
long grass. I suppose the time was then about four or five
o'clock. I got up presently, walked perhaps half a mile with-
out meeting a soul, and then lay down again in the shadow of
a hedge. I seem to remember talking, wanderingly, to myself
during that last spurt. I was also very thirsty, and bitterly
regretful I had drunk no more water. It is a curious thing
that I felt angry with my wife; I cannot account for it,
but my impotent desire to reach Leatherhead worried me
I do not clearly remember the arrival of the curate, so that
probably I dozed. I became aware of him as a seated figure
in soot-smudged shirt sleeves, and with his upturned, clean-
shaven face staring at a faint flickering that danced over the
sky. The sky was what is called a mackerel sky--rows and
rows of faint down-plumes of cloud, just tinted with the
I sat up, and at the rustle of my motion he looked at me
"Have you any water?" I asked abruptly.
He shook his head.
"You have been asking for water for the last hour," he said.
For a moment we were silent, taking stock of each other. I
dare say he found me a strange enough figure, naked, save
for my water-soaked trousers and socks, scalded, and my face
and shoulders blackened by the smoke. His face was a fair
weakness, his chin retreated, and his hair lay in crisp, almost
flaxen curls on his low forehead; his eyes were rather large,
pale blue, and blankly staring. He spoke abruptly, looking
vacantly away from me.
"What does it mean?" he said. "What do these things
I stared at him and made no answer.
He extended a thin white hand and spoke in almost a
"Why are these things permitted? What sins have we
done? The morning service was over, I was walking through
the roads to clear my brain for the afternoon, and then--fire,
earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All
our work undone, all the work---- What are these Mar-
"What are we?" I answered, clearing my throat.
He gripped his knees and turned to look at me again. For
half a minute, perhaps, he stared silently.
"I was walking through the roads to clear my brain," he
said. "And suddenly--fire, earthquake, death!"
He relapsed into silence, with his chin now sunken almost
to his knees.
Presently he began waving his hand.
"All the work--all the Sunday schools---- What have we
done--what has Weybridge done? Everything gone--every-
thing destroyed. The church! We rebuilt it only three years
ago. Gone! Swept out of existence! Why?"
Another pause, and he broke out again like one de-
"The smoke of her burning goeth up for ever and ever!"
His eyes flamed, and he pointed a lean finger in the direc-
tion of Weybridge.
By this time I was beginning to take his measure. The
tremendous tragedy in which he had been involved--it was
evident he was a fugitive from Weybridge--had driven him
to the very verge of his reason.
"Are we far from Sunbury?" I said, in a matter-of-fact tone.
"What are we to do?" he asked. "Are these creatures every-
where? Has the earth been given over to them?"
"Are we far from Sunbury?"
"Only this morning I officiated at early celebration----"
"Things have changed," I said, quietly. "You must keep
your head. There is still hope."
"Yes. Plentiful hope--for all this destruction!"
I began to explain my view of our position. He listened at
first, but as I went on the interest dawning in his eyes gave
place to their former stare, and his regard wandered from
"This must be the beginning of the end," he said, inter-
rupting me. "The end! The great and terrible day of the
Lord! When men shall call upon the mountains and the rocks
to fall upon them and hide them--hide them from the face
of Him that sitteth upon the throne!"
I began to understand the position. I ceased my laboured
reasoning, struggled to my feet, and, standing over him, laid
my hand on his shoulder.
"Be a man!" said I. "You are scared out of your wits! What
good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what
earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before
to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is
not an insurance agent."
For a time he sat in blank silence.
"But how can we escape?" he asked, suddenly. "They are
invulnerable, they are pitiless."
"Neither the one nor, perhaps, the other," I answered.
"And the mightier they are the more sane and wary should
we be. One of them was killed yonder not three hours ago."
"Killed!" he said, staring about him. "How can God's min-
isters be killed?"
"I saw it happen." I proceeded to tell him. "We have
chanced to come in for the thick of it," said I, "and that is
"What is that flicker in the sky?" he asked abruptly.
I told him it was the heliograph signalling--that it was the
sign of human help and effort in the sky.
"We are in the midst of it," I said, "quiet as it is. That
flicker in the sky tells of the gathering storm. Yonder, I take
it are the Martians, and Londonward, where those hills rise
about Richmond and Kingston and the trees give cover, earth-
works are being thrown up and guns are being placed. Pres-
ently the Martians will be coming this way again."
And even as I spoke he sprang to his feet and stopped me
by a gesture.
"Listen!" he said.
From beyond the low hills across the water came the dull
resonance of distant guns and a remote weird crying. Then
everything was still. A cockchafer came droning over the
hedge and past us. High in the west the crescent moon hung
faint and pale above the smoke of Weybridge and Shepper-
ton and the hot, still splendour of the sunset.
"We had better follow this path," I said, "northward."
We care about eBooks because we care about the environment.
Copyright © 2000- Literature Project. All Rights Reserved.