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

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It was while the curate had sat and talked so wildly to

me under the hedge in the flat meadows near Halliford, and

while my brother was watching the fugitives stream over

Westminster Bridge, that the Martians had resumed the of-

fensive. So far as one can ascertain from the conflicting

accounts that have been put forth, the majority of them

remained busied with preparations in the Horsell pit until

nine that night, hurrying on some operation that disengaged

huge volumes of green smoke.

But three certainly came out about eight o'clock and,

advancing slowly and cautiously, made their way through

Byfleet and Pyrford towards Ripley and Weybridge, and so

came in sight of the expectant batteries against the setting

sun. These Martians did not advance in a body, but in a line,

each perhaps a mile and a half from his nearest fellow. They

communicated with one another by means of sirenlike howls,

running up and down the scale from one note to another.

It was this howling and firing of the guns at Ripley and

St. George's Hill that we had heard at Upper Halliford. The

Ripley gunners, unseasoned artillery volunteers who ought

never to have been placed in such a position, fired one wild,

premature, ineffectual volley, and bolted on horse and foot

through the deserted village, while the Martian, without using

his Heat-Ray, walked serenely over their guns, stepped gin-

gerly among them, passed in front of them, and so came

unexpectedly upon the guns in Painshill Park, which he


The St. George's Hill men, however, were better led or of

a better mettle. Hidden by a pine wood as they were, they

seem to have been quite unsuspected by the Martian nearest

to them. They laid their guns as deliberately as if they had

been on parade, and fired at about a thousand yards' range.

The shells flashed all round him, and he was seen to

advance a few paces, stagger, and go down. Everybody yelled

together, and the guns were reloaded in frantic haste. The

overthrown Martian set up a prolonged ululation, and imme-

diately a second glittering giant, answering him, appeared

over the trees to the south. It would seem that a leg of the

tripod had been smashed by one of the shells. The whole of

the second volley flew wide of the Martian on the ground,

and, simultaneously, both his companions brought their Heat-

Rays to bear on the battery. The ammunition blew up, the

pine trees all about the guns flashed into fire, and only one or

two of the men who were already running over the crest of

the hill escaped.

After this it would seem that the three took counsel to-

gether and halted, and the scouts who were watching them

report that they remained absolutely stationary for the next

half hour. The Martian who had been overthrown crawled

tediously out of his hood, a small brown figure, oddly sugges-

tive from that distance of a speck of blight, and apparently

engaged in the repair of his support. About nine he had

finished, for his cowl was then seen above the trees again.

It was a few minutes past nine that night when these three

sentinels were joined by four other Martians, each carrying

a thick black tube. A similar tube was handed to each of the

three, and the seven proceeded to distribute themselves at

equal distances along a curved line between St. George's Hill,

Weybridge, and the village of Send, southwest of Ripley.

A dozen rockets sprang out of the hills before them so soon

as they began to move, and warned the waiting batteries

about Ditton and Esher. At the same time four of their

fighting machines, similarly armed with tubes, crossed the

river, and two of them, black against the western sky, came

into sight of myself and the curate as we hurried wearily and

painfully along the road that runs northward out of Halliford.

They moved, as it seemed to us, upon a cloud, for a milky

mist covered the fields and rose to a third of their height.

At this sight the curate cried faintly in his throat, and

began running; but I knew it was no good running from a

Martian, and I turned aside and crawled through dewy nettles

and brambles into the broad ditch by the side of the road.

He looked back, saw what I was doing, and turned to join


The two halted, the nearer to us standing and facing Sun-

bury, the remoter being a grey indistinctness towards the

evening star, away towards Staines.

The occasional howling of the Martians had ceased; they

took up their positions in the huge crescent about their

cylinders in absolute silence. It was a crescent with twelve

miles between its horns. Never since the devising of gun-

powder was the beginning of a battle so still. To us and to

an observer about Ripley it would have had precisely the

same effect--the Martians seemed in solitary possession of

the darkling night, lit only as it was by the slender moon, the

stars, the afterglow of the daylight, and the ruddy glare from

St. George's Hill and the woods of Painshill.

But facing that crescent everywhere--at Staines, Hounslow,

Ditton, Esher, Ockham, behind hills and woods south of the

river, and across the flat grass meadows to the north of it,

wherever a cluster of trees or village houses gave sufficient

cover--the guns were waiting. The signal rockets burst and

rained their sparks through the night and vanished, and the

spirit of all those watching batteries rose to a tense expecta-

tion. The Martians had but to advance into the line of fire,

and instantly those motionless black forms of men, those

guns glittering so darkly in the early night, would explode

into a thunderous fury of battle.

No doubt the thought that was uppermost in a thousand

of those vigilant minds, even as it was uppermost in mine,

was the riddle--how much they understood of us. Did they

grasp that we in our millions were organized, disciplined,

working together? Or did they interpret our spurts of fire,

the sudden stinging of our shells, our steady investment of

their encampment, as we should the furious unanimity of

onslaught in a disturbed hive of bees? Did they dream they

might exterminate us? (At that time no one knew what food

they needed.) A hundred such questions struggled together

in my mind as I watched that vast sentinel shape. And in

the back of my mind was the sense of all the huge unknown

and hidden forces Londonward. Had they prepared pitfalls?

Were the powder mills at Hounslow ready as a snare? Would

the Londoners have the heart and courage to make a greater

Moscow of their mighty province of houses?

Then, after an interminable time, as it seemed to us,

crouching and peering through the hedge, came a sound

like the distant concussion of a gun. Another nearer, and

then another. And then the Martian beside us raised his tube

on high and discharged it, gunwise, with a heavy report that

made the ground heave. The one towards Staines answered

him. There was no flash, no smoke, simply that loaded


I was so excited by these heavy minute-guns following one

another that I so far forgot my personal safety and my

scalded hands as to clamber up into the hedge and stare

towards Sunbury. As I did so a second report followed, and

a big projectile hurtled overhead towards Hounslow. I ex-

pected at least to see smoke or fire, or some such evidence

of its work. But all I saw was the deep blue sky above, with

one solitary star, and the white mist spreading wide and low

beneath. And there had been no crash, no answering ex-

plosion. The silence was restored; the minute lengthened to


"What has happened?" said the curate, standing up beside


"Heaven knows!" said I.

A bat flickered by and vanished. A distant tumult of

shouting began and ceased. I looked again at the Martian,

and saw he was now moving eastward along the riverbank,

with a swift, rolling motion,

Every moment I expected the fire of some hidden battery

to spring upon him; but the evening calm was unbroken.

The figure of the Martian grew smaller as he receded, and

presently the mist and the gathering night had swallowed

him up. By a common impulse we clambered higher. Towards

Sunbury was a dark appearance, as though a conical hill

had suddenly come into being there, hiding our view of the

farther country; and then, remoter across the river, over

Walton, we saw another such summit. These hill-like forms

grew lower and broader even as we stared.

Moved by a sudden thought, I looked northward, and

there I perceived a third of these cloudy black kopjes had


Everything had suddenly become very still. Far away to

the southeast, marking the quiet, we heard the Martians

hooting to one another, and then the air quivered again with

the distant thud of their guns. But the earthly artillery made

no reply.

Now at the time we could not understand these things, but

later I was to learn the meaning of these ominous kopjes that

gathered in the twilight. Each of the Martians, standing in

the great crescent I have described, had discharged, by

means of the gunlike tube he carried, a huge canister over

whatever hill, copse, cluster of houses, or other possible cover

for guns, chanced to be in front of him. Some fired only one

of these, some two--as in the case of the one we had seen;

the one at Ripley is said to have discharged no fewer than

five at that time. These canisters smashed on striking the

ground--they did not explode--and incontinently disengaged

an enormous volume of heavy, inky vapour, coiling and pour-

ing upward in a huge and ebony cumulus cloud, a gaseous

hill that sank and spread itself slowly over the surrounding

country. And the touch of that vapour, the inhaling of its

pungent wisps, was death to all that breathes.

It was heavy, this vapour, heavier than the densest smoke,

so that, after the first tumultuous uprush and outflow of its

impact, it sank down through the air and poured over the

ground in a manner rather liquid than gaseous, abandoning

the hills, and streaming into the valleys and ditches and

watercourses even as I have heard the carbonic-acid gas that

pours from volcanic clefts is wont to do. And where it came

upon water some chemical action occurred, and the surface

would be instantly covered with a powdery scum that sank

slowly and made way for more. The scum was absolutely

insoluble, and it is a strange thing, seeing the instant effect

of the gas, that one could drink without hurt the water from

which it had been strained. The vapour did not diffuse as a

true gas would do. It hung together in banks, flowing slug-

gishly down the slope of the land and driving reluctantly

before the wind, and very slowly it combined with the mist

and moisture of the air, and sank to the earth in the form

of dust. Save that an unknown element giving a group of

four lines in the blue of the spectrum is concerned, we are

still entirely ignorant of the nature of this substance.

Once the tumultuous upheaval of its dispersion was over,

the black smoke clung so closely to the ground, even before

its precipitation, that fifty feet up in the air, on the roofs

and upper stories of high houses and on great trees, there was

a chance of escaping its poison altogether, as was proved even

that night at Street Cobham and Ditton.

The man who escaped at the former place tells a wonderful

story of the strangeness of its coiling flow, and how he looked

down from the church spire and saw the houses of the village

rising like ghosts out of its inky nothingness. For a day and

a half he remained there, weary, starving and sun-scorched,

the earth under the blue sky and against the prospect of the

distant hills a velvet-black expanse, with red roofs, green

trees, and, later, black-veiled shrubs and gates, barns, out-

houses, and walls, rising here and there into the sunlight.

But that was at Street Cobham, where the black vapour

was allowed to remain until it sank of its own accord into

the ground. As a rule the Martians, when it had served its

purpose, cleared the air of it again by wading into it and

directing a jet of steam upon it.

This they did with the vapour banks near us, as we saw

in the starlight from the window of a deserted house at Upper

Halliford, whither we had returned. From there we could

see the searchlights on Richmond Hill and Kingston Hill

going to and fro, and about eleven the windows rattled, and

we heard the sound of the huge siege guns that had been put

in position there. These continued intermittently for the space

of a quarter of an hour, sending chance shots at the invisible

Martians at Hampton and Ditton, and then the pale beams

of the electric light vanished, and were replaced by a bright

red glow.

Then the fourth cylinder fell--a brilliant green meteor--as

I learned afterwards, in Bushey Park. Before the guns on the

Richmond and Kingston line of hills began, there was a fitful

cannonade far away in the southwest, due, I believe, to guns

being fired haphazard before the black vapour could over-

whelm the gunners.

So, setting about it as methodically as men might smoke

out a wasps' nest, the Martians spread this strange stifling

vapour over the Londonward country. The horns of the

crescent slowly moved apart, until at last they formed a line

from Hanwell to Coombe and Malden. All night through their

destructive tubes advanced. Never once, after the Martian

at St. George's Hill was brought down, did they give the

artillery the ghost of a chance against them. Wherever there

was a possibility of guns being laid for them unseen, a fresh

canister of the black vapour was discharged, and where the

guns were openly displayed the Heat-Ray was brought to


By midnight the blazing trees along the slopes of Rich-

mond Park and the glare of Kingston Hill threw their light

upon a network of black smoke, blotting out the whole valley

of the Thames and extending as far as the eye could reach.

And through this two Martians slowly waded, and turned

their hissing steam jets this way and that.

They were sparing of the Heat-Ray that night, either be-

cause they had but a limited supply of material for its

production or because they did not wish to destroy the

country but only to crush and overawe the opposition they

had aroused. In the latter aim they certainly succeeded. Sun-

day night was the end of the organised opposition to their

movements. After that no body of men would stand against

them, so hopeless was the enterprise. Even the crews of the

torpedo-boats and destroyers that had brought their quick-

firers up the Thames refused to stop, mutinied, and went

down again. The only offensive operation men ventured upon

after that night was the preparation of mines and pitfalls,

and even in that their energies were frantic and spasmodic.

One has to imagine, as well as one may, the fate of those

batteries towards Esher, waiting so tensely in the twilight.

Survivors there were none. One may picture the orderly

expectation, the officers alert and watchful, the gunners ready,

the ammunition piled to hand, the limber gunners with their

horses and waggons, the groups of civilian spectators standing

as near as they were permitted, the evening stillness, the

ambulances and hospital tents with the burned and wounded

from Weybridge; then the dull resonance of the shots the

Martians fired, and the clumsy projectile whirling over the

trees and houses and smashing amid the neighbouring fields.

One may picture, too, the sudden shifting of the attention,

the swiftly spreading coils and bellyings of that blackness

advancing headlong, towering heavenward, turning the twi-

light to a palpable darkness, a strange and horrible antagonist

of vapour striding upon its victims, men and horses near it

seen dimly, running, shrieking, falling headlong, shouts of

dismay, the guns suddenly abandoned, men choking and

writhing on the ground, and the swift broadening-out of the

opaque cone of smoke. And then night and extinction--

nothing but a silent mass of impenetrable vapour hiding its


Before dawn the black vapour was pouring through the

streets of Richmond, and the disintegrating organism of

government was, with a last expiring effort, rousing the

population of London to the necessity of flight.



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