فصل 15

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فصل 15

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And now comes the strangest thing in my story. But perhaps it is not totally strange. I remember, clearly and in great detail, all that I did that day until the time when I stood crying on the top of Primrose Hill. And then I forget.

I know nothing of the next three days. I have learned since then that I was not the first discoverer of the Martian defeat -several wanderers like me had already known about it on the previous night. One man - the first - had even managed to send a telegram to Paris. From there the happy news had flashed all over the world; a thousand cities, living in great fear, suddenly- turned on all their lights.

They knew of it in Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham at the time when I stood on the edge of the pit. Already men, crying with joy, as I have heard, were getting onto trains to go to London. Men on bicycles rode through the countryside shouting the news to all.

And the food! Across the Channel, across the Irish Sea, across the Atlantic, corn, bread and meat were coming to us. All the ships in the world seemed to be coming to London in those days. But I have no memory of all of this. For three days I walked aimlessly, a madman. Then I found myself in a house of kind people, who had found me. They have told me since that I was singing a crazy song about ‘The Last Man Left Alive! The Last Man Left Alive!’ Although they were troubled with their own affairs, these people were very helpful to me. They gave me a place to stay and protected me from myself.

Very gently, when my mind was working again, they told me all they knew about what had happened in Leatherhead. Two days after I was imprisoned it had been destroyed, with every person in it, by a Martian. He had swept it all away for no reason at all, it seemed.

I was a lonely man, and they were very kind to me. I was a sad one too, and they were patient with me. I stayed with them for four days after my recovery. All that time I felt a growing need to look again at whatever remained of the little life that had seemed so happy and bright in my past. My hosts tried to change my mind but at last, promising faithfully to return to them, I went out again into the streets that had lately been so dark and strange and empty.

Already they were busy with returning people; in places there were even shops open. I remember how bright that day seemed as I went sadly back to the little house in Woking - how busy the streets were, and how full of life. But then I noticed how ill the people looked and how many of them still wore old and dirty clothes. The churches were giving out bread sent to us by the French government, and tired-looking policemen stood at the corners of every street.

At the end of Waterloo Bridge I bought a copy of the first newspaper to reappear. I learned nothing new except that already in one week the examination of the Martians’ machines had produced amazing results. Among other things, the newspaper said that the ‘Secret of Flying’ had been discovered. I did not believe this at the time.

At Waterloo I found that free trains were taking people to their homes. The first rush had already ended and there were few people on the train. The city we went through was dirty with the powder of the Black Smoke, despite two days of thunderstorms and rain.

All down the line from there, the country looked empty and unfamiliar. Wimbledon particularly had suffered, and beyond there I saw piles of earth around the sixth cylinder. A number of people were standing by it, and some soldiers were busy in the middle. Over it was a British flag, flying cheerfully in the wind.

The line on the London side of Woking station was still being repaired, so I got off the train at Byfleet and took the road to Maybury, past the place where I had seen the Martian fighting- machine in the thunderstorm. I was curious and I stopped to find the twisted and broken dog-cart with the whitened bones of the horse. For a time I stood and looked at the remains…

Then I returned through the wood towards my home. A man standing at the open door of a house greeted me by name as I passed. I looked at my own house with a quick flash of hope that died immediately. The door had been broken, and it was opening slowly as I approached.

It blew shut again. The curtains of my study blew out of the open window from which I and the soldier had watched the dawn. No one had closed it since then. I went into the hall, and the house felt empty. The stair carpet was discolored where I had sat, wet to the skin from the thunderstorm on that first terrible night. Our muddy footsteps still went up the stairs.

I followed them to my study and found, lying on my writing- table, the page of work I had left on the afternoon of the opening of the cylinder. For some time I stood reading it. I remembered how I could not concentrate that morning, hardly a month before, and how I had stopped work to get my newspaper from the newsboy. I remembered how I went to the garden gate as he came past, and how I had listened to his odd story of ‘Men from Mars’.

I came down and went into the dining-room. There were the remains of the meat and the bread, now gone bad, where the soldier and I had left them. My home was a lonely place. I realized the stupidity of the small hope I had held on to for so long. And then a strange thing happened.

‘The house is deserted,’ said a voice. ‘No one has been here for ten days. Don’t stay here and make yourself unhappy. No one escaped except you.’

I was shocked. Had I spoken my thought aloud? I turned, and the door to the garden was open behind me. I took a step towards it and stood looking out.

And there, amazed and afraid, as I too stood amazed and afraid, were my cousin and my wife - my wife white and tearless. She gave a faint cry.

‘I came here,’ she said. ‘I knew-knew -‘ She put her hand to her throat and started to fall. I stepped forwards and caught her in my arms.

I can only regret now, as I finish my story, how little I can help with the many questions which are still unanswered. In one area I shall certainly be criticized. I know very little about medical matters, but it seems to me most likely that the Martians were killed by germs.

Certainly, in all the bodies of the Martians that were examined after the war, no germs were found except ones that came from Earth. Besides this, we still know very little about the Black Smoke, and the way that the Heat-Ray worked remains a puzzle.

A question of more serious interest is the possibility of another attack from the Martians. I do not think that nearly enough attention is being paid to this. Every time the planet Mars comes near to us, I worry that they might try again. We should be prepared. It should be possible to find the position of the gun from which the shots came, to watch this part of the planet carefully and be ready.

In that case, the cylinder could be destroyed before it was cool enough for the Martians to come out, or they could be killed by guns as soon as the door opened. It seems to me that they have lost a great advantage in the failure of their first surprise. Possibly they also believe this.

One astronomer has given excellent reasons for supposing that the Martians have actually landed on Venus. Seven months ago, when these planets were close together, faint, dark marks appeared on photographs which suggested that a cylinder had been fired from one to the other.

However, whether we expect another attack or not, our views of the human future must now be changed by these events. We have learned that we cannot think of this planet as a safe home for humans. We can never know what unseen good or evil might come to us suddenly out of space. Perhaps this attack from Mars will be helpful to us in the end. It has taken away our confidence in the future, which was making us soft; it has given great help to science, and it has made us think of human beings as one family.

Perhaps, across the great distances of space, the Martians have watched what happened to the ones that landed on Earth and learned their lesson - and have found a safer home on the planet Venus. Even if that is true, for many years we will continue to watch Mars carefully, and all falling stars will make us afraid.

The war has broadened people’s minds enormously. Before it there was a general belief that there was no life in space apart from on our tiny planet. If the Martians can reach Venus, there is no reason to think that this is impossible for us. So when the slow cooling of the sun means that we cannot continue to live on Earth, it may be that life which began here can reach out and continue there.

But that is a distant dream. We may, on the other hand, still be destroyed by the Martians. The future may belong to them and not to us.

I must admit that the trouble and danger of our time have left a continuing sense of doubt and fear in my mind. I sit in my study writing by lamplight, and suddenly I see the valley below on fire again, and feel that the house around me is empty and lonely. I go out into the Byfleet Road, and vehicles pass me, a boy on a bicycle, children going to school - and suddenly they become strange and unreal, and I hurry on again with the soldier through the hot, dangerous silence. At night I see the black powder-darkening the silent streets, and the twisted bodies covered by it. They stand up in front of me, torn and dog-bitten. They talk and grow angry, paler, uglier, and I wake, cold and shaking, in the darkness.

I go to London and see the busy crowds in Fleet Street and the Strand, and it comes to my mind that they are just the ghosts of the past, walking the streets that I have seen silent and empty, spirits in a dead city. And it is strange, too, to stand on Primrose Hill, as I did only a day before writing this last chapter. I saw the houses stretching away and disappearing into the smoke and mist, people walking up and down between the flower-beds, and the sightseers around the Martian machine that still stands there. I heard the noise of playing children and remembered the deep silence of the dawn of that last great day…

And it is strangest of all to hold my wife’s hand again, and to think that I have thought of her, and that she has thought of me, among the dead.

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