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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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For some time I stood tottering on the mound regardless

of my safety. Within that noisome den from which I had

emerged I had thought with a narrow intensity only of our

immediate security. I had not realised what had been hap-

pening to the world, had not anticipated this startling vision

of unfamiliar things. I had expected to see Sheen in ruins--

I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of another


For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common

range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate

know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning

to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a

dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house. I

felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite

clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense

of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master,

but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel.

With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run

and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away.

But so soon as this strangeness had been realised it passed,

and my dominant motive became the hunger of my long

and dismal fast. In the direction away from the pit I saw,

beyond a red-covered wall, a patch of garden ground un-

buried. This gave me a hint, and I went knee-deep, and

sometimes neck-deep, in the red weed. The density of the

weed gave me a reassuring sense of hiding. The wall was

some six feet high, and when I attempted to clamber it I

found I could not lift my feet to the crest. So I went along

by the side of it, and came to a corner and a rockwork that

enabled me to get to the top, and tumble into the garden

I coveted. Here I found some young onions, a couple of

gladiolus bulbs, and a quantity of immature carrots, all of

which I secured, and, scrambling over a ruined wall, went

on my way through scarlet and crimson trees towards Kew--

it was like walking through an avenue of gigantic blood

drops--possessed with two ideas: to get more food, and to

limp, as soon and as far as my strength permitted, out of

this accursed unearthly region of the pit.

Some way farther, in a grassy place, was a group of mush-

rooms which also I devoured, and then I came upon a brown

sheet of flowing shallow water, where meadows used to be.

These fragments of nourishment served only to whet my

hunger. At first I was surprised at this flood in a hot, dry

summer, but afterwards I discovered that it was caused by

the tropical exuberance of the red weed. Directly this extraor-

dinary growth encountered water it straightway became

gigantic and of unparalleled fecundity. Its seeds were simply

poured down into the water of the Wey and Thames, and

its swiftly growing and Titanic water fronds speedily choked

both those rivers.

At Putney, as I afterwards saw, the bridge was almost

lost in a tangle of this weed, and at Richmond, too, the

Thames water poured in a broad and shallow stream across

the meadows of Hampton and Twickenham. As the water

spread the weed followed them, until the ruined villas of

the Thames valley were for a time lost in this red swamp,

whose margin I explored, and much of the desolation the

Martians had caused was concealed.

In the end the red weed succumbed almost as quickly as

it had spread. A cankering disease, due, it is believed, to the

action of certain bacteria, presently seized upon it. Now by

the action of natural selection, all terrestrial plants have

acquired a resisting power against bacterial diseases--they

never succumb without a severe struggle, but the red weed

rotted like a thing already dead. The fronds became bleached,

and then shrivelled and brittle. They broke off at the least

touch, and the waters that had stimulated their early growth

carried their last vestiges out to sea.

My first act on coming to this water was, of course, to

slake my thirst. I drank a great deal of it and, moved by an

impulse, gnawed some fronds of red weed; but they were

watery, and had a sickly, metallic taste. I found the water

was sufficiently shallow for me to wade securely, although

the red weed impeded my feet a little; but the flood evidently

got deeper towards the river, and I turned back to Mortlake.

I managed to make out the road by means of occasional

ruins of its villas and fences and lamps, and so presently I

got out of this spate and made my way to the hill going up

towards Roehampton and came out on Putney Common.

Here the scenery changed from the strange and unfamiliar

to the wreckage of the familiar: patches of ground exhibited

the devastation of a cyclone, and in a few score yards I

would come upon perfectly undisturbed spaces, houses with

their blinds trimly drawn and doors closed, as if they had

been left for a day by the owners, or as if their inhabitants

slept within. The red weed was less abundant; the tall trees

along the lane were free from the red creeper. I hunted for

food among the trees, finding nothing, and I also raided a

couple of silent houses, but they had already been broken

into and ransacked. I rested for the remainder of the day-

light in a shrubbery, being, in my enfeebled condition, too

fatigued to push on.

All this time I saw no human beings, and no signs of the

Martians. I encountered a couple of hungry-looking dogs,

but both hurried circuitously away from the advances I made

them. Near Roehampton I had seen two human skeletons--

not bodies, but skeletons, picked clean--and in the wood

by me I found the crushed and scattered bones of several

cats and rabbits and the skull of a sheep. But though I

gnawed parts of these in my mouth, there was nothing to

be got from them.

After sunset I struggled on along the road towards Putney,

where I think the Heat-Ray must have been used for some

reason. And in the garden beyond Roehampton I got a quan-

tity of immature potatoes, sufficient to stay my hunger. From

this garden one looked down upon Putney and the river. The

aspect of the place in the dusk was singularly desolate:

blackened trees, blackened, desolate ruins, and down the

hill the sheets of the flooded river, red-tinged with the weed.

And over all--silence. It filled me with indescribable terror

to think how swiftly that desolating change had come.

For a time I believed that mankind had been swept out

of existence, and that I stood there alone, the last man left

alive. Hard by the top of Putney Hill I came upon another

skeleton, with the arms dislocated and removed several

yards from the rest of the body. As I proceeded I became

more and more convinced that the extermination of mankind

was, save for such stragglers as myself, already accomplished

in this part of the world. The Martians, I thought, had gone

on and left the country desolated, seeking food elsewhere.

Perhaps even now they were destroying Berlin or Paris, or

it might be they had gone northward.



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