فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Mars Attacks

I ran until I was totally exhausted and I fell down beside the road. That was near the bridge by the gas-works.

I remained there for some time.

Eventually I sat up, strangely puzzled. For a moment, perhaps, I could not clearly understand how I came there. My terror had fallen from me like a piece of clothing. A few minutes earlier there had only been three things in my mind: the great size of the night and space and nature, my own weakness and unhappiness, and the near approach of death. Now I was my normal self again - an ordinary citizen. The silent common, my escape, the flames, seemed like a dream. I asked myself if these things had really happened. I could not believe it.

I got up and walked up the steep slope to the bridge. My body seemed to have lost its strength. The figure of a workman carrying a basket appeared. Beside him ran a little boy He passed me, wishing me good-night. I thought about speaking to him, but did not. I answered his greeting and went on over the bridge.

Two men and a woman were talking at the gate of one of the houses. I stopped.

‘What news from the common?’ I said.

‘Eh?’ said one of the men, turning.

‘What news from the common?’ I repeated.

‘Haven’t you just been there?’ the men asked.

‘People seem fairly silly about the common,’ the woman said over the gate. ‘What’s it all about?’

‘Haven’t you heard of the men from Mars?’ I said. ‘The creatures from Mars.’

‘Quite enough,’ said the woman. ‘Thanks.’ And all three of them laughed.

I felt foolish and angry. I tried but could not tell them what I had seen. They laughed again at my broken sentences.

‘You’ll hear more soon,” I said, and went on to my home.

My wife was shocked when she saw me, because I looked so tired and dirty. I went into the dining-room, sat down, and told her the things that I had seen.

‘There is one good thing,’ I said, to calm her fears. ‘They are the slowest, fattest things I ever saw crawl. They may stay in the pit and kill people who come near them, as they cannot get out of it . . . but they are so horrible!’

‘Don’t, dear!’ said my wife, putting her hand on mine.

‘Poor Ogilvy!’ I said. ‘He may be lying dead there.’

My wife, at least, did not think my experience unbelievable.

When I saw how white her face was, I began to comfort her and myself by repeating all that Ogilvy had told me about the impossibility of Martians capturing the Earth.

On the surface of the Earth the force of gravity is three times as great as on the surface of Mars. A Martian, therefore, would weigh three times more than on Mars, although his strength would be the same. That was the general opinion. Both The Times and the Daily Telegraph, for example, said this very confidently the next morning. Both ignored, as I did, two obvious problems with this theory.

The atmosphere of Earth, we now know, contains much more oxygen than there is on Mars. This certainly gave the Martians much greater strength. And we also learned that the Martians were so mechanically clever that they did not need to use their bodies very much.

But I did not consider these points at the time, and so I thought the Martians had very little chance of success. With wine and food and the need to help my wife feel less afraid, I slowly became braver and felt safer.

I remember the dinner table that evening very clearly even now: my dear wife’s sweet, worried face looking at me from under the pink lamp-shade, the white cloth laid with silver and glass, the glass of red wine in my hand. I did not know it, but that was the last proper dinner I would eat for many strange and terrible days.

If, on that Friday night, you had drawn a circle at a distance of five kilometres from Horsell Common, I doubt if there would have been one human being outside it, unless it was a relation of Stent, whose emotions or habits were affected by the new arrivals. Many people had heard of the cylinder, of course, and talked about it, but it did not have as much effect as a political event.

Even within the five - kilometer circle, most people were unaffected. I have already described the behaviour of the people to whom I spoke. All over the district people were eating dinner. Men were gardening, children were being put to bed, young people were out walking together.

Maybe there was talk in the village streets, a new topic in the pubs - and here and there a messenger, or even an eye-witness of the later events, caused some excitement. However, for most of the time the daily routine of work, food, drink and sleep went on as it had done for countless years.

People came to the common and left it, but all the time a crowd remained. One or two adventurous people went into the darkness and crawled quite near the Martians, but they never returned, because now and again a light-ray swept round the common, and the Heat-Ray was ready to follow. And all night the sound of hammering could be heard as the Martians worked on the machines they were making ready.

At about eleven, a company of soldiers came through Horsell and spread out in a great circle around the common. Several officers had been on the common earlier in the day and one was reported to be missing. Another one arrived and was busy questioning the crowd at midnight. The army was certainly taking things seriously.

A few seconds after midnight the crowd in the Chertsey Road, Woking, saw a star fall from the sky into the woods to the north-west. This was the second cylinder.

Saturday lives in my memory as a day of worry. It was a lazy, hot day too. I had only slept a little and I got up early. I went into my garden and stood listening, but towards the common there was nothing moving.

The milkman came as usual and I asked him the latest news. He told me that during the night the Martians had been surrounded by soldiers and that field-guns were expected.

‘We have to try not to kill them,’ he said, ‘if it can possibly be avoided.’

After breakfast, instead of working, I decided to walk down towards the common. Under the railway bridge I found a group of soldiers - engineers, I think, men wearing small round caps, dirty red jackets and dark trousers. They told me that no one was allowed over the bridge. I talked with them for a time and told them of my sight of the Martians on the previous evening. None had seen them, so they asked me many questions. An ordinary engineer is much better educated than a common soldier, and they discussed, with some intelligence, the odd conditions of the possible fight.

After some time I left them and went on to the railway station to get as many morning papers as I could. These contained only very inaccurate descriptions of the killing of Stent, Henderson, Ogilvy and the others. I got back to lunch at about two, very tired because, as I have said, the day was extremely hot and dull. To make myself feel better I took a cold bath in the afternoon.

During that day the Martians did not show themselves. They were busy in the pit, and there was the sound of hammering and a column of smoke. ‘New attempts have been made to signal, but without success,’ was how the evening papers later described it. An engineer told me that this was done by a man crawling forwards with a flag on a long pole. The Martians took as much notice of him as we would of a cow.

At about three o’clock I heard the sound of a gun, firing regularly, from the direction of Chertsey. I learned that they were shooting into the wood in which the second cylinder had fallen. An hour or two later a field-gun arrived for use against the first cylinder.

At about six in the evening, as I had tea with my wife in the garden, I heard an explosion from the common, and immediately after that the sound of gunfire. Then came a violent crash quite close to us, that shook the ground. I rushed out onto the grass and saw the tops of the trees around the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruins. The roof of the college was in pieces. Then one of our chimneys cracked and broken bricks fell down onto the flower-bed by my study window.

My wife and I stood amazed. Then I realized that the Martians could hit the top of Maybury Hill with their Heat-Ray because they had cleared the college out of the way.

After that I took my wife’s arm and ran with her out into the road. Then I went back and fetched the servant.

‘We can’t stay here,’ I said, and as I spoke the firing started again for a moment on the common.

‘But where can we go?’ said my wife in terror.

I thought, puzzled. Then I remembered my cousins in Leatherhead.

‘Leatherhead!’ I shouted above the sudden noise.

She looked away from me downhill. Surprised people were coming out of their houses.

‘How will we get to Leatherhead?’ she asked.

Down the hill I saw some soldiers rush under the railway bridge. Three went through the open doors of the Oriental College and two began running from house to house. The sun, shining through the smoke that rose up from the tops of the trees, seemed blood-red and threw an unfamiliar bright light on everything.

‘Wait here,’ I said. ‘You are safe here.’

I ran at once towards the pub, whose owner had a horse and cart. I ran because I realized that soon everyone on this side of the hill would be moving. I found the pub’s owner in his bar, with no idea of what was going on. I explained quickly that I had to leave my home, and arranged to borrow the cart, promising to bring it back before midnight. At the time it did not seem to me so urgent that he should leave his home.

I drove the cart down the road and, leaving it with my wife and servant, rushed into the house and packed a few valuables. While I was doing this, a soldier ran past. He was going from house to house, warning people to leave.

I shouted after him, ‘What news?’

He turned, stared, shouted something about ‘crawling out in a thing like a dish cover’, and moved on to the gate of the next house. I helped my servant into the back of the cart, then jumped up into the driver’s seat beside my wife. In another moment we were clear of the smoke and the noise, and moving quickly down the opposite side of Maybury Hill.

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