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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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So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept

through the greatest city in the world just as Monday was

dawning--the stream of flight rising swiftly to a torrent, lash-

ing in a foaming tumult round the railway stations, banked

up into a horrible struggle about the shipping in the Thames,

and hurrying by every available channel northward and east-

ward. By ten o'clock the police organisation, and by midday

even the railway organisations, were losing coherency, losing

shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in

that swift liquefaction of the social body.

All the railway lines north of the Thames and the South-

Eastern people at Cannon Street had been warned by mid-

night on Sunday, and trains were being filled. People were

fighting savagely for standing-room in the carriages even at

two o'clock. By three, people were being trampled and

crushed even in Bishopsgate Street, a couple of hundred

yards or more from Liverpool Street station; revolvers were

fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent

to direct the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking

the heads of the people they were called out to protect.

And as the day advanced and the engine drivers and

stokers refused to return to London, the pressure of the flight

drove the people in an ever-thickening multitude away from

the stations and along the northward-running roads. By mid-

day a Martian had been seen at Barnes, and a cloud of slowly

sinking black vapour drove along the Thames and across the

flats of Lambeth, cutting off all escape over the bridges in its

sluggish advance. Another bank drove over Ealing, and sur-

rounded a little island of survivors on Castle Hill, alive, but

unable to escape.

After a fruitless struggle to get aboard a North-Western

train at Chalk Farm--the engines of the trains that had loaded

in the goods yard there PLOUGHED through shrieking people,

and a dozen stalwart men fought to keep the crowd from

crushing the driver against his furnace--my brother emerged

upon the Chalk Farm road, dodged across through a hurrying

swarm of vehicles, and had the luck to be foremost in the

sack of a cycle shop. The front tire of the machine he got

was punctured in dragging it through the window, but he got

up and off, notwithstanding, with no further injury than a

cut wrist. The steep foot of Haverstock Hill was impassable

owing to several overturned horses, and my brother struck

into Belsize Road.

So he got out of the fury of the panic, and, skirting the

Edgware Road, reached Edgware about seven, fasting and

wearied, but well ahead of the crowd. Along the road people

were standing in the roadway, curious, wondering. He was

passed by a number of cyclists, some horsemen, and two

motor cars. A mile from Edgware the rim of the wheel broke,

and the machine became unridable. He left it by the roadside

and trudged through the village. There were shops half

opened in the main street of the place, and people crowded

on the pavement and in the doorways and windows, staring

astonished at this extraordinary procession of fugitives that

was beginning. He succeeded in getting some food at an


For a time he remained in Edgware not knowing what next

to do. The flying people increased in number. Many of them,

like my brother, seemed inclined to loiter in the place. There

was no fresh news of the invaders from Mars.

At that time the road was crowded, but as yet far from

congested. Most of the fugitives at that hour were mounted

on cycles, but there were soon motor cars, hansom cabs, and

carriages hurrying along, and the dust hung in heavy clouds

along the road to St. Albans.

It was perhaps a vague idea of making his way to Chelms-

ford, where some friends of his lived, that at last induced my

brother to strike into a quiet lane running eastward. Presently

he came upon a stile, and, crossing it, followed a footpath

northeastward. He passed near several farmhouses and some

little places whose names he did not learn. He saw few

fugitives until, in a grass lane towards High Barnet, he hap-

pened upon two ladies who became his fellow travellers. He

came upon them just in time to save them.

He heard their screams, and, hurrying round the corner,

saw a couple of men struggling to drag them out of the little

pony-chaise in which they had been driving, while a third

with difficulty held the frightened pony's head. One of the

ladies, a short woman dressed in white, was simply screaming;

the other, a dark, slender figure, slashed at the man who

gripped her arm with a whip she held in her disengaged


My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and

hurried towards the struggle. One of the men desisted and

turned towards him, and my brother, realising from his an-

tagonist's face that a fight was unavoidable, and being an

expert boxer, went into him forthwith and sent him down

against the wheel of the chaise.

It was no time for pugilistic chivalry and my brother laid

him quiet with a kick, and gripped the collar of the man

who pulled at the slender lady's arm. He heard the clatter

of hoofs, the whip stung across his face, a third antagonist

struck him between the eyes, and the man he held wrenched

himself free and made off down the lane in the direction from

which he had come.

Partly stunned, he found himself facing the man who had

held the horse's head, and became aware of the chaise

receding from him down the lane, swaying from side to side,

and with the women in it looking back. The man before him,

a burly rough, tried to close, and he stopped him with a

blow in the face. Then, realising that he was deserted, he

dodged round and made off down the lane after the chaise,

with the sturdy man close behind him, and the fugitive, who

had turned now, following remotely.

Suddenly he stumbled and fell; his immediate pursuer

went headlong, and he rose to his feet to find himself with

a couple of antagonists again. He would have had little

chance against them had not the slender lady very pluckily

pulled up and returned to his help. It seems she had had a

revolver all this time, but it had been under the seat when

she and her companion were attacked. She fired at six yards'

distance, narrowly missing my brother. The less courageous

of the robbers made off, and his companion followed him,

cursing his cowardice. They both stopped in sight down the

lane, where the third man lay insensible.

"Take this!" said the slender lady, and she gave my brother

her revolver.

"Go back to the chaise," said my brother, wiping the blood

from his split lip.

She turned without a word--they were both panting--and

they went back to where the lady in white struggled to hold

back the frightened pony.

The robbers had evidently had enough of it. When my

brother looked again they were retreating.

"I'll sit here," said my brother, "if I may"; and he got upon

the empty front seat. The lady looked over her shoulder.

"Give me the reins," she said, and laid the whip along the

pony's side. In another moment a bend in the road hid

the three men from my brother's eyes.

So, quite unexpectedly, my brother found himself, panting,

with a cut mouth, a bruised jaw, and bloodstained knuckles,

driving along an unknown lane with these two women.

He learned they were the wife and the younger sister of

a surgeon living at Stanmore, who had come in the small

hours from a dangerous case at Pinner, and heard at some

railway station on his way of the Martian advance. He had

hurried home, roused the women--their servant had left them

two days before--packed some provisions, put his revolver

under the seat--luckily for my brother--and told them to

drive on to Edgware, with the idea of getting a train there.

He stopped behind to tell the neighbours. He would overtake

them, he said, at about half past four in the morning, and

now it was nearly nine and they had seen nothing of him.

They could not stop in Edgware because of the growing

traffic through the place, and so they had come into this

side lane.

That was the story they told my brother in fragments when

presently they stopped again, nearer to New Barnet. He

promised to stay with them, at least until they could deter-

mine what to do, or until the missing man arrived, and pro-

fessed to be an expert shot with the revolver--a weapon

strange to him--in order to give them confidence.

They made a sort of encampment by the wayside, and the

pony became happy in the hedge. He told them of his own

escape out of London, and all that he knew of these Martians

and their ways. The sun crept higher in the sky, and after a

time their talk died out and gave place to an uneasy state of

anticipation. Several wayfarers came along the lane, and of

these my brother gathered such news as he could. Every

broken answer he had deepened his impression of the great

disaster that had come on humanity, deepened his persuasion

of the immediate necessity for prosecuting this flight. He

urged the matter upon them.

"We have money," said the slender woman, and hesitated.

Her eyes met my brother's, and her hesitation ended.

"So have I," said my brother.

She explained that they had as much as thirty pounds in

gold, besides a five-pound note, and suggested that with that

they might get upon a train at St. Albans or New Barnet. My

brother thought that was hopeless, seeing the fury of the

Londoners to crowd upon the trains, and broached his own

idea of striking across Essex towards Harwich and thence

escaping from the country altogether.

Mrs. Elphinstone--that was the name of the woman in

white--would listen to no reasoning, and kept calling upon

"George"; but her sister-in-law was astonishingly quiet and

deliberate, and at last agreed to my brother's suggestion. So,

designing to cross the Great North Road, they went on

towards Barnet, my brother leading the pony to save it as

much as possible.

As the sun crept up the sky the day became excessively

hot, and under foot a thick, whitish sand grew burning and

blinding, so that they travelled only very slowly. The hedges

were grey with dust. And as they advanced towards Barnet

a tumultuous murmuring grew stronger.

They began to meet more people. For the most part these

were staring before them, murmuring indistinct questions,

jaded, haggard, unclean. One man in evening dress passed

them on foot, his eyes on the ground. They heard his voice,

and, looking back at him, saw one hand clutched in his hair

and the other beating invisible things. His paroxysm of rage

over, he went on his way without once looking back.

As my brother's party went on towards the crossroads to

the south of Barnet they saw a woman approaching the road

across some fields on their left, carrying a child and with two

other children; and then passed a man in dirty black, with a

thick stick in one hand and a small portmanteau in the other.

Then round the corner of the lane, from between the villas

that guarded it at its confluence with the high road, came a

little cart drawn by a sweating black pony and driven by a

sallow youth in a bowler hat, grey with dust. There were

three girls, East End factory girls, and a couple of little chil-

dren crowded in the cart.

"This'll tike us rahnd Edgware?" asked the driver, wild-

eyed, white-faced; and when my brother told him it would

if he turned to the left, he whipped up at once without the

formality of thanks.

My brother noticed a pale grey smoke or haze rising among

the houses in front of them, and veiling the white

facade of a terrace beyond the road that appeared

between the backs of the villas. Mrs. Elphinstone suddenly cried

out at a number of tongues of smoky red flame leaping up above

the houses in front of them against the hot, blue sky. The

tumultuous noise resolved itself now into the disorderly mingling

of many voices, the gride of many wheels, the creaking of

waggons, and the staccato of hoofs. The lane came round sharply

not fifty yards from the crossroads.

"Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Elphinstone. "What is this

you are driving us into?"

My brother stopped.

For the main road was a boiling stream of people, a tor-

rent of human beings rushing northward, one pressing on

another. A great bank of dust, white and luminous in the

blaze of the sun, made everything within twenty feet of the

ground grey and indistinct and was perpetually renewed by

the hurrying feet of a dense crowd of horses and of men and

women on foot, and by the wheels of vehicles of every de-


"Way!" my brother heard voices crying. "Make way!"

It was like riding into the smoke of a fire to approach the

meeting point of the lane and road; the crowd roared like

a fire, and the dust was hot and pungent. And, indeed, a

little way up the road a villa was burning and sending rolling

masses of black smoke across the road to add to the con-


Two men came past them. Then a dirty woman, carrying a

heavy bundle and weeping. A lost retriever dog, with hanging

tongue, circled dubiously round them, scared and wretched,

and fled at my brother's threat.

So much as they could see of the road Londonward

between the houses to the right was a tumultuous stream of

dirty, hurrying people, pent in between the villas on either

side; the black heads, the crowded forms, grew into distinct-

ness as they rushed towards the corner, hurried past, and

merged their individuality again in a receding multitude that

was swallowed up at last in a cloud of dust.

"Go on! Go on!" cried the voices. "Way! Way!"

One man's hands pressed on the back of another. My

brother stood at the pony's head. Irresistibly attracted, he

advanced slowly, pace by pace, down the lane.

Edgware had been a scene of confusion, Chalk Farm a

riotous tumult, but this was a whole population in movement.

It is hard to imagine that host. It had no character of its own.

The figures poured out past the corner, and receded with their

backs to the group in the lane. Along the margin came those

who were on foot threatened by the wheels, stumbling in the

ditches, blundering into one another.

The carts and carriages crowded close upon one another,

making little way for those swifter and more impatient vehi-

cles that darted forward every now and then when an

opportunity showed itself of doing so, sending the people

scattering against the fences and gates of the villas.

"Push on!" was the cry. "Push on! They are coming!"

In one cart stood a blind man in the uniform of the Salva-

tion Army, gesticulating with his crooked fingers and bawling,

"Eternity! Eternity!" His voice was hoarse and very loud so

that my brother could hear him long after he was lost to

sight in the dust. Some of the people who crowded in the

carts whipped stupidly at their horses and quarrelled with

other drivers; some sat motionless, staring at nothing with

miserable eyes; some gnawed their hands with thirst, or lay

prostrate in the bottoms of their conveyances. The horses" bits

were covered with foam, their eyes bloodshot.

There were cabs, carriages, shop cars, waggons, beyond

counting; a mail cart, a road-cleaner's cart marked "Vestry of

St. Pancras," a huge timber waggon crowded with roughs.

A brewer's dray rumbled by with its two near wheels splashed

with fresh blood.

"Clear the way!" cried the voices. "Clear the way!"

"Eter-nity! Eter-nity!" came echoing down the road.

There were sad, haggard women tramping by, well dressed,

with children that cried and stumbled, their dainty clothes

smothered in dust, their weary faces smeared with tears. With

many of these came men, sometimes helpful, sometimes low-

ering and savage. Fighting side by side with them pushed

some weary street outcast in faded black rags, wide-eyed,

loud-voiced, and foul-mouthed. There were sturdy workmen

thrusting their way along, wretched, unkempt men, clothed

like clerks or shopmen, struggling spasmodically; a wounded

soldier my brother noticed, men dressed in the clothes of

railway porters, one wretched creature in a nightshirt with

a coat thrown over it.

But varied as its composition was, certain things all that

host had in common. There were fear and pain on their faces,

and fear behind them. A tumult up the road, a quarrel for a

place in a waggon, sent the whole host of them quickening

their pace; even a man so scared and broken that his knees

bent under him was galvanised for a moment into renewed

activity. The heat and dust had already been at work upon

this multitude. Their skins were dry, their lips black and

cracked. They were all thirsty, weary, and footsore. And amid

the various cries one heard disputes, reproaches, groans of

weariness and fatigue; the voices of most of them were

hoarse and weak. Through it all ran a refrain:

"Way! Way! The Martians are coming!"

Few stopped and came aside from that flood. The lane

opened slantingly into the main road with a narrow opening,

and had a delusive appearance of coming from the direction

of London. Yet a kind of eddy of people drove into its mouth;

weaklings elbowed out of the stream, who for the most part

rested but a moment before plunging into it again. A little

way down the lane, with two friends bending over him, lay

a man with a bare leg, wrapped about with bloody rags. He

was a lucky man to have friends.

A little old man, with a grey military moustache and a

filthy black frock coat, limped out and sat down beside the

trap, removed his boot--his sock was blood-stained--shook

out a pebble, and hobbled on again; and then a little girl of

eight or nine, all alone, threw herself under the hedge close

by my brother, weeping.

"I can't go on! I can't go on!"

My brother woke from his torpor of astonishment and lifted

her up, speaking gently to her, and carried her to Miss Elphin-

stone. So soon as my brother touched her she became quite

still, as if frightened.

"Ellen!" shrieked a woman in the crowd, with tears in her

voice--"Ellen!" And the child suddenly darted away from

my brother, crying "Mother!"

"They are coming," said a man on horseback, riding past

along the lane.

"Out of the way, there!" bawled a coachman, towering

high; and my brother saw a closed carriage turning into the


The people crushed back on one another to avoid the

horse. My brother pushed the pony and chaise back into

the hedge, and the man drove by and stopped at the turn

of the way. It was a carriage, with a pole for a pair of horses,

but only one was in the traces. My brother saw dimly through

the dust that two men lifted out something on a white

stretcher and put it gently on the grass beneath the privet


One of the men came running to my brother.

"Where is there any water?" he said. "He is dying fast,

and very thirsty. It is Lord Garrick."

"Lord Garrick!" said my brother; "the Chief Justice?"

"The water?" he said.

"There may be a tap," said my brother, "in some of the

houses. We have no water. I dare not leave my people."

The man pushed against the crowd towards the gate of the

corner house.

"Go on!" said the people, thrusting at him. "They are

coming! Go on!"

Then my brother's attention was distracted by a bearded,

eagle-faced man lugging a small handbag, which split even

as my brother's eyes rested on it and disgorged a mass of

sovereigns that seemed to break up into separate coins as it

struck the ground. They rolled hither and thither among the

struggling feet of men and horses. The man stopped and

looked stupidly at the heap, and the shaft of a cab struck

his shoulder and sent him reeling. He gave a shriek and

dodged back, and a cartwheel shaved him narrowly.

"Way!" cried the men all about him. "Make way!"

So soon as the cab had passed, he flung himself, with both

hands open, upon the heap of coins, and began thrusting

handfuls in his pocket. A horse rose close upon him, and in

another moment, half rising, he had been borne down under

the horse's hoofs.

"Stop!" screamed my brother, and pushing a woman out

of his way, tried to clutch the bit of the horse.

Before he could get to it, he heard a scream under the

wheels, and saw through the dust the rim passing over the

poor wretch's back. The driver of the cart slashed his whip

at my brother, who ran round behind the cart. The multi-

tudinous shouting confused his ears. The man was writhing

in the dust among his scattered money, unable to rise, for

the wheel had broken his back, and his lower limbs lay limp

and dead. My brother stood up and yelled at the next driver,

and a man on a black horse came to his assistance.

"Get him out of the road," said he; and, clutching the

man's collar with his free hand, my brother lugged him

sideways. But he still clutched after his money, and regarded

my brother fiercely, hammering at his arm with a handful

of gold. "Go on! Go on!" shouted angry voices behind.

"Way! Way!"

There was a smash as the pole of a carriage crashed into

the cart that the man on horseback stopped. My brother

looked up, and the man with the gold twisted his head round

and bit the wrist that held his collar. There was a concussion,

and the black horse came staggering sideways, and the

carthorse pushed beside it. A hoof missed my brother's foot

by a hair's breadth. He released his grip on the fallen man

and jumped back. He saw anger change to terror on the face

of the poor wretch on the ground, and in a moment he was

hidden and my brother was borne backward and carried past

the entrance of the lane, and had to fight hard in the torrent

to recover it.

He saw Miss Elphinstone covering her eyes, and a little

child, with all a child's want of sympathetic imagination,

staring with dilated eyes at a dusty something that lay black

and still, ground and crushed under the rolling wheels. "Let

us go back!" he shouted, and began turning the pony round.

"We cannot cross this--hell," he said and they went back a

hundred yards the way they had come, until the fighting

crowd was hidden. As they passed the bend in the lane my

brother saw the face of the dying man in the ditch under

the privet, deadly white and drawn, and shining with perspi-

ration. The two women sat silent, crouching in their seat

and shivering.

Then beyond the bend my brother stopped again. Miss

Elphinstone was white and pale, and her sister-in-law sat

weeping, too wretched even to call upon "George." My

brother was horrified and perplexed. So soon as they had

retreated he realised how urgent and unavoidable it was to

attempt this crossing. He turned to Miss Elphinstone, sud-

denly resolute.

"We must go that way," he said, and led the pony round


For the second time that day this girl proved her quality.

To force their way into the torrent of people, my brother

plunged into the traffic and held back a cab horse, while

she drove the pony across its head. A waggon locked wheels

for a moment and ripped a long splinter from the chaise.

In another moment they were caught and swept forward by

the stream. My brother, with the cabman's whip marks red

across his face and hands, scrambled into the chaise and

took the reins from her.

"Point the revolver at the man behind," he said, giving it

to her, "if he presses us too hard. No!--point it at his horse."

Then he began to look out for a chance of edging to the

right across the road. But once in the stream he seemed to

lose volition, to become a part of that dusty rout. They swept

through Chipping Barnet with the torrent; they were nearly

a mile beyond the centre of the town before they had fought

across to the opposite side of the way. It was din and con-

fusion indescribable; but in and beyond the town the road

forks repeatedly, and this to some extent relieved the stress.

They struck eastward through Hadley, and there on either

side of the road, and at another place farther on they came

upon a great multitude of people drinking at the stream,

some fighting to come at the water. And farther on, from a

lull near East Barnet, they saw two trains running slowly

one after the other without signal or order--trains swarming

with people, with men even among the coals behind the

engines--going northward along the Great Northern Railway.

My brother supposes they must have filled outside London,

for at that time the furious terror of the people had rendered

the central termini impossible.

Near this place they halted for the rest of the afternoon,

for the violence of the day had already utterly exhausted all

three of them. They began to suffer the beginnings of hunger;

the night was cold, and none of them dared to sleep. And in

the evening many people came hurrying along the road near-

by their stopping place, fleeing from unknown dangers before

them, and going in the direction from which my brother

had come.



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