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| Home | Reading Room The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds
by H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells

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The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the

strange and wonderful things that happened upon that

Friday, was the dovetailing of the commonplace habits of

our social order with the first beginnings of the series of

events that was to topple that social order headlong. If on

Friday night you had taken a pair of compasses and drawn a

circle with a radius of five miles round the Woking sand pits,

I doubt if you would have had one human being outside it,

unless it were some relation of Stent or of the three or four

cyclists or London people lying dead on the common, whose

emotions or habits were at all affected by the new-comers.

Many people had heard of the cylinder, of course, and talked

about it in their leisure, but it certainly did not make the

sensation that an ultimatum to Germany would have done.

In London that night poor Henderson's telegram describing

the gradual unscrewing of the shot was judged to be a canard,

and his evening paper, after wiring for authentication from

him and receiving no reply--the man was killed--decided

not to print a special edition.

Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people

were inert. I have already described the behaviour of the men

and women to whom I spoke. All over the district people

were dining and supping; working men were gardening after

the labours of the day, children were being put to bed, young

people were wandering through the lanes love-making, stu-

dents sat over their books.

Maybe there was a murmur in the village streets, a novel

and dominant topic in the public-houses, and here and there

a messenger, or even an eye-witness of the later occurrences,

caused a whirl of excitement, a shouting, and a running to

and fro; but for the most part the daily routine of working,

eating, drinking, sleeping, went on as it had done for count-

less years--as though no planet Mars existed in the sky.

Even at Woking station and Horsell and Chobham that was

the case.

In Woking junction, until a late hour, trains were stopping

and going on, others were shunting on the sidings, passengers

were alighting and waiting, and everything was proceeding

in the most ordinary way. A boy from the town, trenching

on Smith's monopoly, was selling papers with the afternoon's

news. The ringing impact of trucks, the sharp whistle of the

engines from the junction, mingled with their shouts of

"Men from Mars!" Excited men came into the station about

nine o'clock with incredible tidings, and caused no more

disturbance than drunkards might have done. People rattling

Londonwards peered into the darkness outside the carriage

windows, and saw only a rare, flickering, vanishing spark

dance up from the direction of Horsell, a red glow and a

thin veil of smoke driving across the stars, and thought that

nothing more serious than a heath fire was happening. It was

only round the edge of the common that any disturbance

was perceptible. There were half a dozen villas burning on

the Woking border. There were lights in all the houses on the

common side of the three villages, and the people there kept

awake till dawn.

A curious crowd lingered restlessly, people coming and

going but the crowd remaining, both on the Chobham and

Horsell bridges. One or two adventurous souls, it was after-

wards found, went into the darkness and crawled quite near

the Martians; but they never returned, for now and again a

light-ray, like the beam of a warship's searchlight swept the

common, and the Heat-Ray was ready to follow. Save for

such, that big area of common was silent and desolate, and

the charred bodies lay about on it all night under the stars,

and all the next day. A noise of hammering from the pit was

heard by many people.

So you have the state of things on Friday night. In the

centre, sticking into the skin of our old planet Earth like a

poisoned dart, was this cylinder. But the poison was scarcely

working yet. Around it was a patch of silent common,

smouldering in places, and with a few dark, dimly seen

objects lying in contorted attitudes here and there. Here and

there was a burning bush or tree. Beyond was a fringe of

excitement, and farther than that fringe the inflammation

had not crept as yet. In the rest of the world the stream of

life still flowed as it had flowed for immemorial years. The

fever of war that would presently clog vein and artery, deaden

nerve and destroy brain, had still to develop.

All night long the Martians were hammering and stirring,

sleepless, indefatigable, at work upon the machines they

were making ready, and ever and again a puff of greenish-

white smoke whirled up to the starlit sky.

About eleven a company of soldiers came through Horsell,

and deployed along the edge of the common to form a

cordon. Later a second company marched through Chobham

to deploy on the north side of the common. Several officers

from the Inkerman barracks had been on the common earlier

in the day, and one, Major Eden, was reported to be missing.

The colonel of the regiment came to the Chobham bridge

and was busy questioning the crowd at midnight. The military

authorities were certainly alive to the seriousness of the busi-

ness. About eleven, the next morning's papers were able to

say, a squadron of hussars, two Maxims, and about four

hundred men of the Cardigan regiment started from Aldershot.

A few seconds after midnight the crowd in the Chertsey

road, Woking, saw a star fall from heaven into the pine

woods to the northwest. It had a greenish colour, and caused

a silent brightness like summer lightning. This was the second




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