The world of the War
AT THE WINDOW.
I have already said that my storms of emotion have a trick of exhausting
themselves. After a time I discovered that I was cold and wet, and with little
pools of water about me on the stair carpet. I got up almost mechanically, went
into the dining room and drank some whisky, and then I was moved to change
After I had done that I went upstairs to my study, but why I did so I do not
know. The window of my study looks over the trees and the railway towards
Horsell Common. In the hurry of our departure this window had been left open.
The passage was dark, and, by contrast with the picture the window frame
enclosed, the side of the room seemed impenetrably dark. I stopped short in the
The thunderstorm had passed. The towers of the Oriental College and the pine
trees about it had gone, and very far away, lit by a vivid red glare, the common
about the sand-pits was visible. Across the light huge black shapes, grotesque
and strange, moved busily to and fro.
It seemed indeed as if the whole country in that direction was on fire—a broad
hillside set with minute tongues of flame, swaying and writhing with the gusts of
the dying storm, and throwing a red reflection upon the cloud scud above. Every
now and then a haze of smoke from some nearer conflagration drove across the
window and hid the Martian shapes. I could not see what they were doing, nor
the clear form of them, nor recognise the black objects they were busied upon.
Neither could I see the nearer fire, though the reflections of it danced on the wall
and ceiling of the study. A sharp, resinous tang of burning was in the air.
I closed the door noiselessly and crept towards the window. As I did so, the
view opened out until, on the one hand, it reached to the houses about Woking
station, and on the other to the charred and blackened pine woods of Byfleet.
There was a light down below the hill, on the railway, near the arch, and several
of the houses along the Maybury road and the streets near the station were
glowing ruins. The light upon the railway puzzled me at first; there were a black
heap and a vivid glare, and to the right of that a row of yellow oblongs. Then I perceived this was a wrecked train, the fore part smashed and on fire, the hinder
carriages still upon the rails.
Between these three main centres of light—the houses, the train, and the
burning county towards Chobham—stretched irregular patches of dark country,
broken here and there by intervals of dimly glowing and smoking ground. It was
the strangest spectacle, that black expanse set with fire. It reminded me, more
than anything else, of the Potteries at night. At first I could distinguish no people
at all, though I peered intently for them. Later I saw against the light of Woking
station a number of black figures hurrying one after the other across the line.
And this was the little world in which I had been living securely for years, this
fiery chaos! What had happened in the last seven hours I still did not know; nor
did I know, though I was beginning to guess, the relation between these
mechanical colossi and the sluggish lumps I had seen disgorged from the
cylinder. With a queer feeling of impersonal interest I turned my desk chair to
the window, sat down, and stared at the blackened country, and particularly at
the three gigantic black things that were going to and fro in the glare about the
They seemed amazingly busy. I began to ask myself what they could be. Were
they intelligent mechanisms? Such a thing I felt was impossible. Or did a
Martian sit within each, ruling, directing, using, much as a man’s brain sits and
rules in his body? I began to compare the things to human machines, to ask
myself for the first time in my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would
seem to an intelligent lower animal.
The storm had left the sky clear, and over the smoke of the burning land the
little fading pinpoint of Mars was dropping into the west, when a soldier came
into my garden. I heard a slight scraping at the fence, and rousing myself from
the lethargy that had fallen upon me, I looked down and saw him dimly,
clambering over the palings. At the sight of another human being my torpor
passed, and I leaned out of the window eagerly.
“Hist!” said I, in a whisper.
He stopped astride of the fence in doubt. Then he came over and across the
lawn to the corner of the house. He bent down and stepped softly.
“Who’s there?” he said, also whispering, standing under the window and
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Are you trying to hide?”
“Come into the house,” I said.
I went down, unfastened the door, and let him in, and locked the door again. I
could not see his face. He was hatless, and his coat was unbuttoned.
“My God!” he said, as I drew him in.
“What has happened?” I asked.
“What hasn’t?” In the obscurity I could see he made a gesture of despair.
“They wiped us out—simply wiped us out,” he repeated again and again.
He followed me, almost mechanically, into the dining room.
“Take some whisky,” I said, pouring out a stiff dose.
He drank it. Then abruptly he sat down before the table, put his head on his
arms, and began to sob and weep like a little boy, in a perfect passion of
emotion, while I, with a curious forgetfulness of my own recent despair, stood
beside him, wondering.
It was a long time before he could steady his nerves to answer my questions,
and then he answered perplexingly and brokenly. He was a driver in the artillery,
and had only come into action about seven. At that time firing was going on
across the common, and it was said the first party of Martians were crawling
slowly towards their second cylinder under cover of a metal shield.
Later this shield staggered up on tripod legs and became the first of the
fighting-machines I had seen. The gun he drove had been unlimbered near
Horsell, in order to command the sand-pits, and its arrival it was that had
precipitated the action. As the limber gunners went to the rear, his horse trod in a
rabbit hole and came down, throwing him into a depression of the ground. At the
same moment the gun exploded behind him, the ammunition blew up, there was
fire all about him, and he found himself lying under a heap of charred dead men
and dead horses.
“I lay still,” he said, “scared out of my wits, with the fore quarter of a horse
atop of me. We’d been wiped out. And the smell—good God! Like burnt meat! I
was hurt across the back by the fall of the horse, and there I had to lie until I felt
better. Just like parade it had been a minute before—then stumble, bang, swish!”
“Wiped out!” he said.
He had hid under the dead horse for a long time, peeping out furtively across
the common. The Cardigan men had tried a rush, in skirmishing order, at the pit,
simply to be swept out of existence. Then the monster had risen to its feet and had begun to walk leisurely to and fro across the common among the few
fugitives, with its headlike hood turning about exactly like the head of a cowled
human being. A kind of arm carried a complicated metallic case, about which
green flashes scintillated, and out of the funnel of this there smoked the Heat-
In a few minutes there was, so far as the soldier could see, not a living thing
left upon the common, and every bush and tree upon it that was not already a
blackened skeleton was burning. The hussars had been on the road beyond the
curvature of the ground, and he saw nothing of them. He heard the Maxims rattle
for a time and then become still. The giant saved Woking station and its cluster
of houses until the last; then in a moment the Heat-Ray was brought to bear, and
the town became a heap of fiery ruins. Then the Thing shut off the Heat-Ray, and
turning its back upon the artilleryman, began to waddle away towards the
smouldering pine woods that sheltered the second cylinder. As it did so a second
glittering Titan built itself up out of the pit.
The second monster followed the first, and at that the artilleryman began to
crawl very cautiously across the hot heather ash towards Horsell. He managed to
get alive into the ditch by the side of the road, and so escaped to Woking. There
his story became ejaculatory. The place was impassable. It seems there were a
few people alive there, frantic for the most part and many burned and scalded.
He was turned aside by the fire, and hid among some almost scorching heaps of
broken wall as one of the Martian giants returned. He saw this one pursue a man,
catch him up in one of its steely tentacles, and knock his head against the trunk
of a pine tree. At last, after nightfall, the artilleryman made a rush for it and got
over the railway embankment.
Since then he had been skulking along towards Maybury, in the hope of
getting out of danger Londonward. People were hiding in trenches and cellars,
and many of the survivors had made off towards Woking village and Send. He
had been consumed with thirst until he found one of the water mains near the
railway arch smashed, and the water bubbling out like a spring upon the road.
That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew calmer telling me and
trying to make me see the things he had seen. He had eaten no food since
midday, he told me early in his narrative, and I found some mutton and bread in
the pantry and brought it into the room. We lit no lamp for fear of attracting the
Martians, and ever and again our hands would touch upon bread or meat. As he
talked, things about us came darkly out of the darkness, and the trampled bushes
and broken rose trees outside the window grew distinct. It would seem that a
number of men or animals had rushed across the lawn. I began to see his face, blackened and haggard, as no doubt mine was also.
When we had finished eating we went softly upstairs to my study, and I
looked again out of the open window. In one night the valley had become a
valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Where flames had been there were
now streamers of smoke; but the countless ruins of shattered and gutted houses
and blasted and blackened trees that the night had hidden stood out now gaunt
and terrible in the pitiless light of dawn. Yet here and there some object had had
the luck to escape—a white railway signal here, the end of a greenhouse there,
white and fresh amid the wreckage. Never before in the history of warfare had
destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal. And shining with the
growing light of the east, three of the metallic giants stood about the pit, their
cowls rotating as though they were surveying the desolation they had made.
It seemed to me that the pit had been enlarged, and ever and again puffs of
vivid green vapour streamed up and out of it towards the brightening dawn—
streamed up, whirled, broke, and vanished.
Beyond were the pillars of fire about Chobham. They became pillars of
bloodshot smoke at the first touch of day.
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