THE HEAT-RAY IN THE CHOBHAM ROAD
It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able
to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in
some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a
chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense
heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they
choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown
composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse
projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved
these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of
heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead
of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame
at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and
melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that
explodes into steam.
That night nearly forty people lay under the starlight about
the pit, charred and distorted beyond recognition, and all
night long the common from Horsell to Maybury was deserted
and brightly ablaze.
The news of the massacre probably reached Chobham,
Woking, and Ottershaw about the same time. In Woking the
shops had closed when the tragedy happened, and a number
of people, shop people and so forth, attracted by the stories
they had heard, were walking over the Horsell Bridge and
along the road between the hedges that runs out at last upon
the common. You may imagine the young people brushed up
after the labours of the day, and making this novelty, as they
would make any novelty, the excuse for walking together and
enjoying a trivial flirtation. You may figure to yourself the
hum of voices along the road in the gloaming. . . .
As yet, of course, few people in Woking even knew that
the cylinder had opened, though poor Henderson had sent a
messenger on a bicycle to the post office with a special wire
to an evening paper.
As these folks came out by twos and threes upon the open,
they found little knots of people talking excitedly and peering
at the spinning mirror over the sand pits, and the new-comers
were, no doubt, soon infected by the excitement of the oc-
By half past eight, when the Deputation was destroyed,
there may have been a crowd of three hundred people or
more at this place, besides those who had left the road to
approach the Martians nearer. There were three policemen
too, one of whom was mounted, doing their best, under
instructions from Stent, to keep the people back and deter
them from approaching the cylinder. There was some booing
from those more thoughtless and excitable souls to whom a
crowd is always an occasion for noise and horse-play.
Stent and Ogilvy, anticipating some possibilities of a
collision, had telegraphed from Horsell to the barracks as
soon as the Martians emerged, for the help of a company of
soldiers to protect these strange creatures from violence.
After that they returned to lead that ill-fated advance. The
description of their death, as it was seen by the crowd, tallies
very closely with my own impressions: the three puffs of
green smoke, the deep humming note, and the flashes of
But that crowd of people had a far narrower escape than
mine. Only the fact that a hummock of heathery sand inter-
cepted the lower part of the Heat-Ray saved them. Had the
elevation of the parabolic mirror been a few yards higher,
none could have lived to tell the tale. They saw the flashes
and the men falling and an invisible hand, as it were, lit the
bushes as it hurried towards them through the twilight. Then,
with a whistling note that rose above the droning of the pit,
the beam swung close over their heads, lighting the tops of
the beech trees that line the road, and splitting the bricks,
smashing the windows, firing the window frames, and bring-
ing down in crumbling ruin a portion of the gable of the
house nearest the corner.
In the sudden thud, hiss, and glare of the igniting trees,
the panic-stricken crowd seems to have swayed hesitatingly
for some moments. Sparks and burning twigs began to fall
into the road, and single leaves like puffs of flame. Hats and
dresses caught fire. Then came a crying from the common.
There were shrieks and shouts, and suddenly a mounted
policeman came galloping through the confusion with his
hands clasped over his head, screaming.
"They're coming!" a woman shrieked, and incontinently everyone was turning and pushing at those behind, in order to clear their way to Woking again. They must have bolted as blindly as a flock of sheep. Where the road grows narrow and black between the high banks the crowd jammed, and a desperate struggle occurred. All that crowd did not escape; three persons at least, two women and a little boy, were crushed and trampled there, and left to die amid the terror and the darkness.
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