فصل 05

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فصل 05

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CHAPTER FIVE

Running Away

Leatherhead is about twenty kilometres from Maybury. We got there without any problems at about nine o’clock, and the horse had an hour’s rest while I had supper with my cousins and left my wife in their care.

My wife was strangely silent during the drive, and seemed very worried. If I had not made a promise to the pub owner, she would, I think, have asked me to stay in Leatherhead that night. Her face, I remember, was very white as I drove away.

My feelings were quite different. I had been very excited all day and I was not sorry that I had to return to Maybury. I was even afraid that the last shots I had heard might mean the end of our visitors from Mars. I wanted to be there at the death.

The night was unexpectedly dark, and it was as hot and airless as the day. Overhead the clouds were passing fast, mixed here and there with clouds of black and red smoke, although no wind moved the bushes around me. I heard a church strike midnight, and then I saw Maybury Hill, with its tree-tops and roofs black and sharp against the red sky.

At that moment a bright green light lit up the road around me and showed the distant woods to the north. I saw a line of green fire pass through the moving clouds and into the field to my left. It was the third cylinder!

Just after this came the first lightning of the storm, and the thunder burst like a gun overhead. The horse ran forwards in terror at high speed.

There is a gentle slope towards the foot of Maybury Hill, and down this we went. After the lightning had begun, it flashed again and again, as quickly as I have ever seen. The thunder crashed almost all the time. The flashing light was blinding and confusing, and thin rain hit my face as I drove down the slope.

I paid little attention to the road in front of me, and then suddenly my attention was caught by something. At first I thought it was the wet roof of a house, but the lightning flashes showed that it was moving quickly down Maybury Hill. Then there was a great flash like daylight and this strange object could be seen clearly.

How can I describe this Thing that I saw? It was an enormous tripod, higher than many houses, stepping over the young trees. It was a walking engine of shining metal.

Then suddenly, the trees in the wood ahead of me were pushed to the side and a second enormous tripod appeared, rushing, as it seemed, straight towards me. And I was driving fast to meet it. At the sight of this second machine I panicked completely. I pulled my horse’s head hard round to the right. The cart turned over on the horse and I was thrown sideways. I fell heavily into a shallow pool of water.

I crawled out almost immediately and lay, my feet still in the water, under a bush. The horse did not move (his neck was broken, poor animal!) and by the lightning flashes I saw the turned-over cart and one wheel still spinning slowly. Then the enormous machine walked past me and went uphill.

As it passed it gave a deafening howl that was louder than the thunder - ‘Aloo! Aloo!’ - and a minute later it was with another one, half a kilometer away, bending over something in a field. I have no doubt that this was the third of the cylinders they had fired at us from Mars.

I was wet with rain above and pool-water below. It was some time before my shock would let me struggle up into a drier position, or think of the great danger I was in.

I got to my feet at last and, keeping low, managed to get into a wood near Maybury without the machines seeing me. Staying in the wood, I moved towards my own house. If I had really understood the meaning of all the things I had seen, I would have gone back to join my wife in Leatherhead immediately. But that night it was all very strange and I was physically exhausted, wet to the skin, deafened and blinded by the storm. All these things prevented me from making a sensible decision.

I walked up the narrow road towards my house. Near the top I stood on something soft and, by a flash of lightning, saw the body of a man. I had never touched a dead body before, but I forced myself to turn him over and feel for his heart. He certainly was dead. It seemed that his neck had been broken. Then the lightning flashed again and I saw his face. It was the owner of the pub, whose cart I had taken.

I stepped over him nervously and moved on up the hill. Towards Maybury Bridge there were voices and the sound of feet, but I did not have the courage to shout or go to them. I let myself into my house and locked the door, walked to the bottom of the stairs and sat down, shaking violently.

It was some time before I could get to my feet again and put on some dry clothes. After that I went upstairs to my study. The window looks over the trees and the railway towards Horsell Common. In the hurry to leave it had been left open. I stopped in the doorway, at a safe distance from it.

The thunderstorm had passed. The towers of the Oriental College and the trees around it had gone. Very far away, lit by red fire, the common was visible. Across the light, great black shapes moved busily backwards and forwards.

I closed the door noiselessly and moved nearer the window. The view opened out until, on one side, it reached to the houses around Woking Station, and on the other, to the burnt woods of Byfleet. Between them were areas of fire and smoking ground. The view reminded me, more than anything else, of factories at night.

I turned my desk chair to the window and stared out at the country and, in particular, at the three enormous black Things that were moving around the common. They seemed very busy. I began to ask myself what they could be. Were they intelligent machines? I felt this was impossible. Or did a Martian sit inside each, controlling it in the same way that a man’s brain controls his body?

The storm had left the sky clear, and over the smoke of the burning land the tiny bright light of Mars was dropping into the west, when a soldier came quietly into my garden. I got up and leant out of the window.

‘Psst!’ I said, in a whisper.

He stopped for a moment, then walked across to the house.

‘Who’s there?’ he said, also whispering.

‘Are you trying to hide?’ I asked.

‘I am.’

‘Come into the house,’ I said.

I went down, opened the door and let him in. I could not see his face. He had no hat and his coat was unbuttoned.

‘What’s happened?’ I asked.

‘We didn’t have a chance.’ he said. ‘Not a chance.’

He followed me into the dining-room.

‘Have a drink,’ I said, pouring one for him.

He drank it. Then suddenly he sat down at the table, put his head on his arms and began to cry like a little boy. It was a long time before he was able to answer my questions, and the answers he gave were puzzled and came in broken sentences.

He was part of a field-gun team. They were turning their gun to fire on one of the tripods when it suddenly exploded. He found himself lying under a group of burnt dead men and horses. His back was hurt by the fall of a horse and he lay there for a long time. He watched as the foot-soldiers rushed towards the tripod. They all went down in a second. Then the tripod walked slowly over the common. A kind of arm held a complicated metal case, out of which the Heat-Ray flashed as it killed anyone who was still moving. Then the tripod turned and walked away towards where the second cylinder lay.

At last the soldier was able to move, crawling at first, and he got to Woking. There were a few people still alive there; most of them were very frightened, and many of them had been burnt. He hid behind a broken wall as one of the Martian tripods returned. He saw this one go after a man, catch him in one of its steel arms and knock his head against a tree. After it got dark, the soldier finally ran and managed to get across the railway.

That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew calmer telling me. He had eaten no food since midday, and I found some meat and bread and brought it into the room. As we talked, the sky gradually became lighter. I began to see his face, blackened and exhausted, as no doubt mine was too.

When we had finished eating, we went quietly upstairs to my study and I looked again out of the open window. In one night the valley had become a place of death. The fires had died down now, but the ruins of broken and burnt-out houses and blackened trees were clear in the cold light of the dawn. Destruction had never been so total in the history of war. And, shining in the morning light, three of the tripods stood on the common, their tops turning as they examined the damage they had done.

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