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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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After I had parted from the artilleryman, I went down

the hill, and by the High Street across the bridge to Fulham.

The red weed was tumultuous at that time, and nearly

choked the bridge roadway; but its fronds were already

whitened in patches by the spreading disease that presently

removed it so swiftly.

At the corner of the lane that runs to Putney Bridge

station I found a man lying. He was as black as a sweep

with the black dust, alive, but helplessly and speechlessly

drunk. I could get nothing from him but curses and furious

lunges at my head. I think I should have stayed by him but

for the brutal expression of his face.

There was black dust along the roadway from the bridge

onwards, and it grew thicker in Fulham. The streets were

horribly quiet. I got food--sour, hard, and mouldy, but quite

eatable--in a baker's shop here. Some way towards Walham

Green the streets became clear of powder, and I passed a

white terrace of houses on fire; the noise of the burning was

an absolute relief. Going on towards Brompton, the streets

were quiet again.

Here I came once more upon the black powder in the

streets and upon dead bodies. I saw altogether about a dozen

in the length of the Fulham Road. They had been dead many

days, so that I hurried quickly past them. The black powder

covered them over, and softened their outlines. One or two

had been disturbed by dogs.

Where there was no black powder, it was curiously like

a Sunday in the City, with the closed shops, the houses

locked up and the blinds drawn, the desertion, and the

stillness. In some places plunderers had been at work, but

rarely at other than the provision and wine shops. A jeweller's

window had been broken open in one place, but apparently

the thief had been disturbed, and a number of gold chains

and a watch lay scattered on the pavement. I did not trouble

to touch them. Farther on was a tattered woman in a heap

on a doorstep; the hand that hung over her knee was gashed

and bled down her rusty brown dress, and a smashed magnum

of champagne formed a pool across the pavement. She seemed

asleep, but she was dead.

The farther I penetrated into London, the profounder grew

the stillness. But it was not so much the stillness of death--

it was the stillness of suspense, of expectation. At any time

the destruction that had already singed the northwestern

borders of the metropolis, and had annihilated Ealing and

Kilburn, might strike among these houses and leave them

smoking ruins. It was a city condemned and derelict. . . .

In South Kensington the streets were clear of dead and of

black powder. It was near South Kensington that I first heard

the howling. It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses.

It was a sobbing alternation of two notes, "Ulla, ulla, ulla,

ulla," keeping on perpetually. When I passed streets that ran

northward it grew in volume, and houses and buildings

seemed to deaden and cut it off again. It came in a full tide

down Exhibition Road. I stopped, staring towards Kensington

Gardens, wondering at this strange, remote wailing. It was as

if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear

and solitude.

"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," wailed that superhuman note--

great waves of sound sweeping down the broad, sunlit road-

way, between the tall buildings on each side. I turned north-

wards, marvelling, towards the iron gates of Hyde Park. I had

half a mind to break into the Natural History Museum and

find my way up to the summits of the towers, in order to see

across the park. But I decided to keep to the ground, where

quick hiding was possible, and so went on up the Exhibition

Road. All the large mansions on each side of the road were

empty and still, and my footsteps echoed against the sides

of the houses. At the top, near the park gate, I came upon

a strange sight--a bus overturned, and the skeleton of a

horse picked clean. I puzzled over this for a time, and then

went on to the bridge over the Serpentine. The voice grew

stronger and stronger, though I could see nothing above the

housetops on the north side of the park, save a haze of smoke

to the northwest.

"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," cried the voice, coming, as it

seemed to me, from the district about Regent's Park. The

desolating cry worked upon my mind. The mood that had

sustained me passed. The wailing took possession of me. I

found I was intensely weary, footsore, and now again hungry

and thirsty.

It was already past noon. Why was I wandering alone in

this city of the dead? Why was I alone when all London was

lying in state, and in its black shroud? I felt intolerably

lonely. My mind ran on old friends that I had forgotten for

years. I thought of the poisons in the chemists" shops, of the

liquors the wine merchants stored; I recalled the two sodden

creatures of despair, who so far as I knew, shared the city

with myself. . . .

I came into Oxford Street by the Marble Arch, and here

again were black powder and several bodies, and an evil,

ominous smell from the gratings of the cellars of some of the

houses. I grew very thirsty after the heat of my long walk.

With infinite trouble I managed to break into a public-house

and get food and drink. I was weary after eating, and went

into the parlour behind the bar, and slept on a black horse-

hair sofa I found there.

I awoke to find that dismal howling still in my ears,

"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla." It was now dusk, and after I had

routed out some biscuits and a cheese in the bar--there was

a meat safe, but it contained nothing but maggots--I wan-

dered on through the silent residential squares to Baker Street

--Portman Square is the only one I can name--and so came

out at last upon Regent's Park. And as I emerged from the

top of Baker Street, I saw far away over the trees in the

clearness of the sunset the hood of the Martian giant from

which this howling proceeded. I was not terrified. I came

upon him as if it were a matter of course. I watched him for

some time, but he did not move. He appeared to be standing

and yelling, for no reason that I could discover.

I tried to formulate a plan of action. That perpetual sound

of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," confused my mind. Perhaps I was

too tired to be very fearful. Certainly I was more curious to

know the reason of this monotonous crying than afraid. I

turned back away from the park and struck into Park Road,

intending to skirt the park, went along under the shelter of

the terraces, and got a view of this stationary, howling

Martian from the direction of St. John's Wood. A couple of

hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus,

and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in

his jaws coming headlong towards me, and then a pack of

starving mongrels in pursuit of him. He made a wide curve

to avoid me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh

competitor. As the yelping died away down the silent road,

the wailing sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," reasserted itself.

I came upon the wrecked handling-machine halfway to

St. John's Wood station. At first I thought a house had fallen

across the road. It was only as I clambered among the ruins

that I saw, with a start, this mechanical Samson lying, with

its tentacles bent and smashed and twisted, among the ruins

it had made. The forepart was shattered. It seemed as if it

had driven blindly straight at the house, and had been over-

whelmed in its overthrow. It seemed to me then that this

might have happened by a handling-machine escaping from

the guidance of its Martian. I could not clamber among the

ruins to see it, and the twilight was now so far advanced

that the blood with which its seat was smeared, and the

gnawed gristle of the Martian that the dogs had left, were

invisible to me.

Wondering still more at all that I had seen, I pushed on

towards Primrose Hill. Far away, through a gap in the trees,

I saw a second Martian, as motionless as the first, standing

in the park towards the Zoological Gardens, and silent. A

little beyond the ruins about the smashed handling-machine

I came upon the red weed again, and found the Regent's

Canal, a spongy mass of dark-red vegetation.

As I crossed the bridge, the sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla,

ulla," ceased. It was, as it were, cut off. The silence came

like a thunderclap.

The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim;

the trees towards the park were growing black. All about

me the red weed clambered among the ruins, writhing to

get above me in the dimness. Night, the mother of fear and

mystery, was coming upon me. But while that voice sounded

the solitude, the desolation, had been endurable; by virtue

of it London had still seemed alive, and the sense of life

about me had upheld me. Then suddenly a change, the

passing of something--I knew not what--and then a stillness

that could be felt. Nothing but this gaunt quiet.

London about me gazed at me spectrally. The windows

in the white houses were like the eye sockets of skulls. About

me my imagination found a thousand noiseless enemies

moving. Terror seized me, a horror of my temerity. In front

of me the road became pitchy black as though it was tarred,

and I saw a contorted shape lying across the pathway. I

could not bring myself to go on. I turned down St. John's

Wood Road, and ran headlong from this unendurable stillness

towards Kilburn. I hid from the night and the silence, until

long after midnight, in a cabmen's shelter in Harrow Road.

But before the dawn my courage returned, and while the

stars were still in the sky I turned once more towards

Regent's Park. I missed my way among the streets, and

presently saw down a long avenue, in the half-light of the

early dawn, the curve of Primrose Hill. On the summit,

towering up to the fading stars, was a third Martian, erect

and motionless like the others.

An insane resolve possessed me. I would die and end it.

And I would save myself even the trouble of killing myself.

I marched on recklessly towards this Titan, and then, as I

drew nearer and the light grew, I saw that a multitude of

black birds was circling and clustering about the hood. At

that my heart gave a bound, and I began running along

the road.

I hurried through the red weed that choked St. Edmund's

Terrace (I waded breast-high across a torrent of water that

was rushing down from the waterworks towards the Albert

Road), and emerged upon the grass before the rising of the

sun. Great mounds had been heaped about the crest of the

hill, making a huge redoubt of it--it was the final and

largest place the Martians had made--and from behind

these heaps there rose a thin smoke against the sky. Against

the sky line an eager dog ran and disappeared. The thought

that had flashed into my mind grew real, grew credible. I felt

no fear, only a wild, trembling exultation, as I ran up the hill

towards the motionless monster. Out of the hood hung

lank shreds of brown, at which the hungry birds pecked and


In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen ram-

part and stood upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt

was below me. A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines

here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange

shelter places. And scattered about it, some in their over-

turned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-

machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in

a row, were the Martians--DEAD!--slain by the putrefactive

and disease bacteria against which their systems were unpre-

pared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all

man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God,

in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men

might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our

minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity

since the beginning of things--taken toll of our prehuman

ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural

selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to

no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many--

those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance

--our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no

bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly

they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work

their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were

irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to

and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths

man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against

all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten

times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in


Here and there they were scattered, nearly fifty altogether,

in that great gulf they had made, overtaken by a death that

must have seemed to them as incomprehensible as any death

could be. To me also at that time this death was incompre-

hensible. All I knew was that these things that had been alive

and so terrible to men were dead. For a moment I believed

that the destruction of Sennacherib had been repeated, that

God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slain them

in the night.

I stood staring into the pit, and my heart lightened glori-

ously, even as the rising sun struck the world to fire about

me with his rays. The pit was still in darkness; the mighty

engines, so great and wonderful in their power and com-

plexity, so unearthly in their tortuous forms, rose weird and

vague and strange out of the shadows towards the light. A

multitude of dogs, I could hear, fought over the bodies that

lay darkly in the depth of the pit, far below me. Across the

pit on its farther lip, flat and vast and strange, lay the great

flying-machine with which they had been experimenting

upon our denser atmosphere when decay and death arrested

them. Death had come not a day too soon. At the sound of

a cawing overhead I looked up at the huge fighting-machine

that would fight no more for ever, at the tattered red shreds

of flesh that dripped down upon the overturned seats on the

summit of Primrose Hill.

I turned and looked down the slope of the hill to where,

enhaloed now in birds, stood those other two Martians that

I had seen overnight, just as death had overtaken them. The

one had died, even as it had been crying to its companions;

perhaps it was the last to die, and its voice had gone on

perpetually until the force of its machinery was exhausted.

They glittered now, harmless tripod towers of shining metal,

in the brightness of the rising sun.

All about the pit, and saved as by a miracle from ever-

lasting destruction, stretched the great Mother of Cities.

Those who have only seen London veiled in her sombre robes

of smoke can scarcely imagine the naked clearness and beauty

of the silent wilderness of houses.

Eastward, over the blackened ruins of the Albert Terrace

and the splintered spire of the church, the sun blazed daz-

zling in a clear sky, and here and there some facet in the

great wilderness of roofs caught the light and glared with

a white intensity.

Northward were Kilburn and Hampsted, blue and crowded

with houses; westward the great city was dimmed; and

southward, beyond the Martians, the green waves of Regent's

Park, the Langham Hotel, the dome of the Albert Hall, the

Imperial Institute, and the giant mansions of the Brompton

Road came out clear and little in the sunrise, the jagged

ruins of Westminster rising hazily beyond. Far away

and blue were the Surrey hills, and the towers of the

Crystal Palace glittered like two silver rods. The dome of

St. Paul's was dark against the sunrise, and injured, I saw for

the first time, by a huge gaping cavity on its western


And as I looked at this wide expanse of houses and fac-

tories and churches, silent and abandoned; as I thought of

the multitudinous hopes and efforts, the innumerable hosts

of lives that had gone to build this human reef, and of the

swift and ruthless destruction that had hung over it all; when

I realised that the shadow had been rolled back, and that

men might still live in the streets, and this dear vast dead

city of mine be once more alive and powerful, I felt a wave

of emotion that was near akin to tears.

The torment was over. Even that day the healing would

begin. The survivors of the people scattered over the coun-

try--leaderless, lawless, foodless, like sheep without a shep-

herd--the thousands who had fled by sea, would begin to

return; the pulse of life, growing stronger and stronger,

would beat again in the empty streets and pour across the

vacant squares. Whatever destruction was done, the hand

of the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the black-

ened skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit

grass of the hill, would presently be echoing with the ham-

mers of the restorers and ringing with the tapping of their

trowels. At the thought I extended my hands towards the

sky and began thanking God. In a year, thought I--in a

year. . .

With overwhelming force came the thought of myself,

of my wife, and the old life of hope and tender helpfulness

that had ceased for ever.



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