فصل 10

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فصل 10

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 14 دقیقه
  • سطح ساده

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CHAPTER TEN

The Thunder Child

If the Martians had only wanted destruction, they could have killed the whole population of London on Monday, as it moved out slowly through the neighboring countryside. It one had flown over London that morning, every road to the north or east would have seemed black with moving refugees, everyone a frightened and exhausted human being.

None of the wars of history had such an effect - six million people, moving without weapons or food or any real sense of direction. It was the start of the death of the human race.

And over the blue hills to the south of the river, the Martians moved backwards and forwards, calmly spreading their poison clouds over one piece of country and then over another. They destroyed any weapons they found and wrecked the railways here and there. They seemed in no hurry, and did not go beyond the central part of London all that day. It is possible that many people stayed in their houses through Monday morning. It is certain that many died at home, killed by the Black Smoke.

Until about midday there were still many ships on the Thames, attracted by the enormous sums of money offered by refugees. It is said that many who swam out to these ships were pushed away and drowned. At about one o’clock in the afternoon, the thin remains of a cloud of Black Smoke was seen coming through London’s Blackfriars Bridge. This caused a terrible panic and all the ships and boats tried to leave at the same time. Many became stuck together under Tower Bridge, and the sailors had to fight against people who tried to get on from the riverside. People were actually climbing down onto the boats from the bridge above.

When, an hour later, a Martian walked down the river, there was nothing but broken pieces of boats in the water.

I will tell you later about the falling of the fifth cylinder. The sixth one fell in Wimbledon. My brother, watching beside the women in the cart in the field, saw the green flash of it far beyond the hills. On Tuesday the three of them, still intending to get out to sea, drove through the busy country towards Colchester.

That day the refugees began to realize how much they needed food. As they grew hungry, they began to steal. Farmers defended their animals and crops with guns in their hands. A number of people now, like my brother, were moving to the east, and some were even so desperate that they turned back towards London to get food. These were mainly people from the northern suburbs who had only heard of, but not seen, the Black Smoke.

My brother heard that about half the members of the government had met in Birmingham, in central England, and that enormous amounts of explosive were being prepared to be used in the Midlands. He was told that the Midland Railway Company had started running trains again, and was taking people north from St Albans. There was also a notice which said that within twenty-four hours bread would be given to the hungry people. But this did not change their plans, and they continued travelling east. They heard no more about the bread than this notice, and nobody else did either.

That night the seventh cylinder fell in London, on Primrose Hill.

On Wednesday my brother and the two women reached Chelmsford, and there a number of people, calling themselves the Council of Public Safety, took their horse for food. Although the three of them were hungry themselves, they decided to walk on.

After several more hours on the road, they suddenly saw the sea and the most amazing crowd of ships of all types that it is possible to imagine.

After the sailors could no longer come up the Thames, they went to the towns on the Essex coast to take people onto their ships. Close to the shore was a large number of fishing-boats from various countries, and steamboats from the Thames. Beyond these were the larger ships - a great number of coal ships, ships carrying goods, and neat white and grey passenger ships from Southampton and Hamburg.

About three kilometres out there was a warship. This was the Thunder Child, the only one in sight, but far away to the right a column of smoke marked the position of other warships. These waited in a long line, ready for action, right across the mouth of the Thames, watching the Martian attack but powerless to prevent it.

At the sight of the sea Mrs Elphmstone panicked. She had never been out of England before; she would rather die than be friendless in a foreign country. She had been growing increasingly upset and depressed during the two days’ journey. Her great idea was to return to Stanmore. Things had always been safe in Stanmore. They would find George in Stanmore.

It was very difficult to get her down to the beach, where after some time my brother caught the attention of some men from a steamboat. They sent a small boat and agreed on a price of thirty-six pounds for the three passengers. The steamboat was going, these men said, to the Belgian port of Ostend.

It was about two o’clock when my brother got onto it with the two women. There was food available, although the prices were very high, and the three of them had a meal.

There were already around forty passengers on the boat, some of whom had spent their last money getting a ticket, but the captain stayed until five in the afternoon, picking up passengers until the boat was dangerously crowded. He would probably have stayed longer it the sound or guns had not begun at about that time in the south. The Thunder Child, too, fired a small gun and sent up a string of flags. Some smoke rose as its engines started. At the same time, far away in the south-east, the shapes of three warships appeared, beneath clouds of smoke.

The little steamboat was already moving out to sea, when a Martian appeared, small and far away, moving along the muddy coast from the south. The captain swore at the top of his voice at his own delay, and the ship increased speed.

It was the first Martian that my brother had seen, and he stood, more amazed than frightened, as it moved steadily towards the ships, walking further and further into the water. Then, far away, another appeared, stepping over some small trees, and then another could be seen even further away, crossing the flat mud that lay between the sea and the sky.

Looking to the north-east, my brother saw the long line of ships already moving away from the approaching terror. One ship was passing behind another; many were turning. Steamships whistled and sent up clouds of steam, sails were let out and small boats rushed here and there. He was so interested in this that he did not look out to sea. And then a quick movement of the steamboat (which had turned to avoid being hit) threw him off the seat on which he had been standing. There was shouting all around him. a movement of feet and a cheer that seemed to be answered.

He got to his feet and saw to the right, less than a hundred metres away, the warship cutting through the water at full speed, throwing enormous waves out on either side.

Some water came over the side of the steamboat and blinded my brother for a moment. When his eyes were clear again, the warship had passed and was rushing towards the land. He looked past it at the Martians again and saw the three of them now close together, and standing so far out to sea that their legs were almost completely under water.

It seemed to him that they were surprised by this new enemy. To their minds, perhaps, no other machine could be as large as themselves. The Thunder Child fired no gun, but simply sailed at full speed towards them. Probably because it did not fire, it managed to get quite close. They did not know what it was. If the ship had fired one shell, they would have sent it straight to the bottom with the Heat-Ray.

Suddenly, the nearest Martian lowered his tube and fired a cylinder at the Thunder Child. This hit its left side and sent up a black cloud that the ship moved away from. To the watchers on the steamboat, low in the water and with the sun in their eyes, it seemed that the warship was already among the Martians.

They saw the three thin figures separating and rising out of the water as they moved back towards the shore, and one of them raised the box that fired his Heat-Ray. He held it pointing down, and a cloud of steam came up from the water as it hit the ship.

A flame rose up through the steam and then the Martian began to fall over. In another moment it had hit the sea, and a great amount of water and steam flew high in the air. The guns of the Thunder Child were heard going off one after another, and one shot hit the water close by the steamboat.

No one worried about that very much. As the Martian fell, the captain shouted and all the crowded passengers at the back of the steamer joined in. And then he shouted again. Because rushing out beyond the smoke and steam came something long and black with flames coming from it.

The warship could stilt turn and its engines worked. It went straight towards a second Martian, and was within a hundred metres of it when the Heat-Rav hit it. There was a violent bang, a blinding flash and the warship blew up. The Martian was thrown back by the violence of the explosion, and in another moment the burning wreckage, still moving forwards, had broken the Martian like something made of wood. My brother shouted. A boiling cloud of steam hid everything again.

‘Two!’ shouted the captain.

Everyone was shouting and they could hear shouts and cheers from the other ships and the boats. The steam stayed in the air for many minutes, hiding the third Martian and the coast. All this time the steamboat was moving steadily out to sea and away from the fight, and when at last the steam cleared, the black cloud got in the way and they could see nothing of either the Thunder Child or the third Martian. But the other warships were now quite close and moving in towards the shore.

The little ship my brother was on continued to move out to sea, and the warships became smaller in the distance.

Then suddenly, out of the golden sunset, came the sound of guns and the sight of black shadows moving. Everyone moved to the side of the steamboat and looked to the west, but smoke rose and blocked the sun. Nothing could be seen clearly. The ship travelled on while the passengers wondered.

The sun sank into grey clouds, the sky darkened and an evening star came into sight. Then the captain cried out and pointed. Something rushed up into the sky, something flat and broad and very large, and flew in a great curve. It grew smaller, sank slowly and disappeared again into the night. And as it flew, it rained down darkness on the land.

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