THE FIGHTING BEGINS
Saturday lives in my memory as a day of suspense. It
was a day of lassitude too, hot and close, with, I am told, a
rapidly fluctuating barometer. I had slept but little, though
my wife had succeeded in sleeping, and I rose early. I went
into my garden before breakfast and stood listening, but
towards the common there was nothing stirring but a lark.
The milkman came as usual. I heard the rattle of his
chariot and I went round to the side gate to ask the latest
news. He told me that during the night the Martians had
been surrounded by troops, and that guns were expected.
Then--a familiar, reassuring note--I heard a train running
"They aren't to be killed," said the milkman, "if that can
possibly be avoided."
I saw my neighbour gardening, chatted with him for a
time, and then strolled in to breakfast. It was a most un-
exceptional morning. My neighbour was of opinion that the
troops would be able to capture or to destroy the Martians
during the day.
"It's a pity they make themselves so unapproachable," he
said. "It would be curious to know how they live on another
planet; we might learn a thing or two."
He came up to the fence and extended a handful of straw-
berries, for his gardening was as generous as it was enthusi-
astic. At the same time he told me of the burning of the pine
woods about the Byfleet Golf Links.
"They say," said he, "that there's another of those blessed
things fallen there--number two. But one's enough, surely.
This lot'll cost the insurance people a pretty penny before
everything's settled." He laughed with an air of the greatest
good humour as he said this. The woods, he said, were still
burning, and pointed out a haze of smoke to me. "They will
be hot under foot for days, on account of the thick soil of
pine needles and turf," he said, and then grew serious over
After breakfast, instead of working, I decided to walk
down towards the common. Under the railway bridge I found
a group of soldiers--sappers, I think, men in small round
caps, dirty red jackets unbuttoned, and showing their blue
shirts, dark trousers, and boots coming to the calf. They told
me no one was allowed over the canal, and, looking along the
road towards the bridge, I saw one of the Cardigan men
standing sentinel there. I talked with these soldiers for a
time; I told them of my sight of the Martians on the previous
evening. None of them had seen the Martians, and they had
but the vaguest ideas of them, so that they plied me with
questions. They said that they did not know who had
authorised the movements of the troops; their idea was that
a dispute had arisen at the Horse Guards. The ordinary
sapper is a great deal better educated than the common
soldier, and they discussed the peculiar conditions of the
possible fight with some acuteness. I described the Heat-Ray
to them, and they began to argue among themselves.
"Crawl up under cover and rush 'em, say I," said one.
"Get aht!," said another. "What's cover against this 'ere
'eat? Sticks to cook yer! What we got to do is to go as near
as the ground'll let us, and then drive a trench."
"Blow yer trenches! You always want trenches; you ought
to ha" been born a rabbit Snippy."
"'Ain't they got any necks, then?" said a third, abruptly--
a little, contemplative, dark man, smoking a pipe.
I repeated my description.
"Octopuses," said he, "that's what I calls 'em. Talk about
fishers of men--fighters of fish it is this time!"
"It ain't no murder killing beasts like that," said the first
"Why not shell the darned things strite off and finish 'em?"
said the little dark man. "You carn tell what they might do."
"Where's your shells?" said the first speaker. "There ain't
no time. Do it in a rush, that's my tip, and do it at once."
So they discussed it. After a while I left them, and went
on to the railway station to get as many morning papers as
But I will not weary the reader with a description of that
long morning and of the longer afternoon. I did not succeed
in getting a glimpse of the common, for even Horsell and
Chobham church towers were in the hands of the military
authorities. The soldiers I addressed didn't know anything;
the officers were mysterious as well as busy. I found people
in the town quite secure again in the presence of the military,
and I heard for the first time from Marshall, the tobacconist,
that his son was among the dead on the common. The soldiers
had made the people on the outskirts of Horsell lock up and
leave their houses.
I got back to lunch about two, very tired for, as I have
said, the day was extremely hot and dull; and in order to
refresh myself I took a cold bath in the afternoon. About half
past four I went up to the railway station to get an evening
paper, for the morning papers had contained only a very
inaccurate description of the killing of Stent, Henderson,
Ogilvy, and the others. But there was little I didn't know.
The Martians did not show an inch of themselves. They
seemed busy in their pit, and there was a sound of hammering
and an almost continuous streamer of smoke. Apparently they
were busy getting ready for a struggle. "Fresh attempts have
been made to signal, but without success," was the stereo-
typed formula of the papers. A sapper told me it was done by
a man in a ditch with a flag on a long pole. The Martians
took as much notice of such advances as we should of the
lowing of a cow.
I must confess the sight of all this armament, all this
preparation, greatly excited me. My imagination became bel-
ligerent, and defeated the invaders in a dozen striking ways;
something of my schoolboy dreams of battle and heroism
came back. It hardly seemed a fair fight to me at that time.
They seemed very helpless in that pit of theirs.
About three o'clock there began the thud of a gun at
measured intervals from Chertsey or Addlestone. I learned
that the smouldering pine wood into which the second cylin-
der had fallen was being shelled, in the hope of destroying
that object before it opened. It was only about five, however,
that a field gun reached Chobham for use against the first
body of Martians.
About six in the evening, as I sat at tea with my wife in
the summerhouse talking vigorously about the battle that was
lowering upon us, I heard a muffled detonation from the
common, and immediately after a gust of firing. Close on
the heels of that came a violent rattling crash, quite close
to us, that shook the ground; and, starting out upon the lawn,
I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst
into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside
it slide down into ruin. The pinnacle of the mosque had
vanished, and the roof line of the college itself looked as if
a hundred-ton gun had been at work upon it. One of our
chimneys cracked as if a shot had hit it, flew, and a piece
of it came clattering down the tiles and made a heap of
broken red fragments upon the flower bed by my study
I and my wife stood amazed. Then I realised that the crest
of Maybury Hill must be within range of the Martians" Heat-
Ray now that the college was cleared out of the way.
At that I gripped my wife's arm, and without ceremony
ran her out into the road. Then I fetched out the servant,
telling her I would go upstairs myself for the box she was
"We can't possibly stay here," I said; and as I spoke the
firing reopened for a moment upon the common.
"But where are we to go?" said my wife in terror.
I thought perplexed. Then I remembered her cousins at
"Leatherhead!" I shouted above the sudden noise.
She looked away from me downhill. The people were
coming out of their houses, astonished.
"How are we to get to Leatherhead?" she said.
Down the hill I saw a bevy of hussars ride under the
railway bridge; three galloped through the open gates of
the Oriental College; two others dismounted, and began
running from house to house. The sun, shining through the
smoke that drove up from the tops of the trees, seemed blood
red, and threw an unfamiliar lurid light upon everything.
"Stop here," said I; "you are safe here"; and I started off
at once for the Spotted Dog, for I knew the landlord had a
horse and dog cart. I ran, for I perceived that in a moment
everyone upon this side of the hill would be moving. I found
him in his bar, quite unaware of what was going on behind
his house. A man stood with his back to me, talking to him.
"I must have a pound," said the landlord, "and I've no
one to drive it."
"I'll give you two," said I, over the stranger's shoulder.
"And I'll bring it back by midnight," I said.
"Lord!" said the landlord; "what's the hurry? I'm selling
my bit of a pig. Two pounds, and you bring it back? What's
going on now?"
I explained hastily that I had to leave my home, and so
secured the dog cart. At the time it did not seem to me nearly
so urgent that the landlord should leave his. I took care to
have the cart there and then, drove it off down the road, and,
leaving it in charge of my wife and servant, rushed into my
house and packed a few valuables, such plate as we had, and
so forth. The beech trees below the house were burning while
I did this, and the palings up the road glowed red. While I
was occupied in this way, one of the dismounted hussars came
running up. He was going from house to house, warning peo-
ple to leave. He was going on as I came out of my front
door, lugging my treasures, done up in a tablecloth. I shouted
He turned, stared, bawled something about "crawling out
in a thing like a dish cover," and ran on to the gate of the
house at the crest. A sudden whirl of black smoke driving
across the road hid him for a moment. I ran to my neighbour's
door and rapped to satisfy myself of what I already knew, that
his wife had gone to London with him and had locked up
their house. I went in again, according to my promise, to get
my servant's box, lugged it out, clapped it beside her on the
tail of the dog cart, and then caught the reins and jumped
up into the driver's seat beside my wife. In another moment
we were clear of the smoke and noise, and spanking down the
opposite slope of Maybury Hill towards Old Woking.
In front was a quiet sunny landscape, a wheat field ahead
on either side of the road, and the Maybury Inn with its
swinging sign. I saw the doctor's cart ahead of me. At the
bottom of the hill I turned my head to look at the hillside I
was leaving. Thick streamers of black smoke shot with threads
of red fire were driving up into the still air, and throwing
dark shadows upon the green treetops eastward. The smoke
already extended far away to the east and west--to the By-
fleet pine woods eastward, and to Woking on the west. The
road was dotted with people running towards us. And very
faint now, but very distinct through the hot, quiet air, one
heard the whirr of a machine-gun that was presently stilled,
and an intermittent cracking of rifles. Apparently the Mar-
tians were setting fire to everything within range of their
I am not an expert driver, and I had immediately to turn my attention to the horse. When I looked back again the second hill had hidden the black smoke. I slashed the horse with the whip, and gave him a loose rein until Woking and Send lay between us and that quivering tumult. I overtook and passed the doctor between Woking and Send.
We care about eBooks because we care about the environment.
Copyright © 2000- Literature Project. All Rights Reserved.