فصل 07

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فصل 07

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In London

My younger brother was in London when the Martians fell at Woking. He was a medical student, working for an examination, and he heard nothing of the arrival until Saturday morning. The morning papers on Saturday contained, in addition to a great deal of information about the planet Mars, one very short report.

The Martians, alarmed by the approach of a crowd, had killed a number of people with a quick-firing gun, the story said. It ended with the words, ‘Although they seem frightening, the Martians have not moved from the pit into which they have fallen, and don’t seem able to do so.’

Even the afternoon papers had nothing to tell apart from the movement of soldiers around the common, and the burning of the woods between Woking and Weybridge. Nothing more of the fighting was known that night, the night of my drive to Leatherhead and back.

My brother was not worried about us, as he knew from the description in the papers chat the cylinder was three kilometres from my house. That night he made up his mind to visit me, in order to see the Things before they were killed. He sent a telegram, which never reached me.

On the Saturday evening, at Waterloo station, he learned that an accident prevented trains from reaching Woking. He could not discover what kind of accident it was. In fact, the people in charge of the railway did not clearly know at that time. There was very little excitement at the station. Few people connected the problem with the Martians.

I have read, in another description of these events, that on Sunday morning ‘all London was panicked by the news from Woking.’ In fact, this is simply not true. Plenty of Londoners did not hear of the Martians until Monday morning. Some did, but they needed time to realize what all the reports in the Sunday papers actually meant. But most people in London do not read Sunday papers.

Besides this, Londoners are very used to feeling safe, and exciting news is so normal in the papers that they could read reports like this without great fear:

At about seven o’clock last night the Martians came out of the cylinder and, moving around in metal machines, completely destroyed Woking station and the houses around it, and killed around 600 soldiers. No details are known. Machine guns are completely useless against them, and field-guns have been put out of action. The Martians appear to be moving towards Chertsey. People in West Surrey are very worried and defenses have been built to slow the Martians’ movement towards London.

No one in London knew what the Martians looked like, and there was still a fixed idea that they must be slow: ‘crawling’, ‘moving painfully’ - words like these were in all the earlier reports. But none of them were written by anyone who had actually seen a Martian. The Sunday papers printed separate editions as further news came in. But there was almost nothing to tell people until the government announced that the people of Walton and Weybridge, and all chat district, were pouring along the roads towards London.

My brother went again to Waterloo station to find out if the line to Woking was open. There he heard that the Chertsey line was also closed. He learned that several unusual telegrams had been received in the morning from Byfleet and Chertsey stations, but that these had suddenly stopped. My brother could get very little exact information out of them. ‘There’s fighting going on around Weybridge,’ was all the information they had.

Quite a number of people who had been expecting friends to arrive by train were standing at the station. One man spoke to my brother.

‘There are lots of people coming into Kingston in carts and things, with boxes and cases,’ he said. ‘They come from Weybridge and Walton, and they said guns have been heard at Chertsey, heavy firing, and that soldiers told them to move out at once because the Martians are corning. What does it all mean? The Martians can’t get out of their pit, can they?’

My brother could not tell him.

At about five o’clock the growing crowd in the station was greatly excited by the opening of the line between the South-Eastern and South-Western stations, which is usually closed. Then trains carrying large guns and many soldiers passed through the station, moving towards Kingston. Soon after that the police arrived and began to move the crowd out of the station, and my brother went out into the street again.

On Waterloo Bridge a number of people were watching an odd brown liquid that came down the river from time to time. The sun was just setting and the Houses of Parliament stood against a peaceful sky. There was talk of a floating body.

In Wellington Street my brother met two men selling newspapers which had just been printed. The advertising boards said, ‘Terrible tragedy! Fighting at Weybridge! Defeat of the Martians! London in danger!’ He bought a paper.

Then, and only then, he understood something of the full power and terror of the Martians. He learned that they were not just a few small crawling creatures, but that they could control enormous mechanical bodies. They could move quickly and strike with such power that even the biggest guns could not stand against them. They were described as, ‘great machines like spiders, nearly thirty metres high, as fast as an express train, and able to shoot out a beam of strong heat.’

Many field-guns, the report said, had been hidden around the country near Horsell Common, and especially between the Woking district and London. Five of the machines had been seen moving towards the Thames and one, by a lucky chance, had been destroyed. In other cases the shells had missed, and the guns had at once been destroyed by the Heat-Rays. Heavy losses of soldiers were mentioned, but in general the report was optimistic.

The Martians had been defeated, my brother read. They had gone back to their cylinders again, in the circle around Woking. Guns, including some very large ones, were moving in quickly. One hundred and sixteen were now in position, mainly covering London. There had never been such a large or fast movement of war equipment in England before.

No doubt, said the report, the situation was strange and serious, but the public was asked to avoid and discourage panic. No doubt the Martians were very frightening, but there could not be more than twenty of them against our millions.

All down Wellington Street people could be seen reading the paper. Men came running from buses to get copies. Certainly people were excited by the news, whatever they had felt before. A map shop in the Strand opened specially, and a man in his Sunday clothes could be seen inside quickly fixing maps of Surrey to the shop window.

Going along the Strand to Trafalgar Square, my brother saw some of the refugees from West Surrey. There was a man with his wife and two boys and some pieces of furniture in a cart, and close behind him came another one with five or six well-dressed people and some boxes and cases. The faces of the people showed that they were very tired. Some distance behind them was a man on an old-fashioned bicycle. He was dirty and white-faced.

My brother turned towards Victoria station, and met a number of people like these. He had an idea that he might see me. He noticed an unusual number of police controlling the traffic. Some of the refugees were exchanging news with the people on the buses. Most were excited by their strange experience. My brother spoke to several of the refugees but none could give him any news of Woking, except one man who said that it had been totally destroyed the previous night.

At that time there was a strong feeling on the streets that the government should be blamed because they had not destroyed the Martians already.

At about eight o’clock the sound of tiring could be heard clearly ail over the south of London. My brother walked from Westminster to his room near Regent’s Park. He was now very worried about me.

There were one or two carts with refugees going along Oxford Street, but the news was spreading so slowly that Regent Street and Portland Place were full of people taking their usual Sunday night walk. Along the edge of Regent’s Park there were as many romantic couples as there had ever been. The night was warm and still. The sound of guns continued from time to time and after midnight there seemed to be lightning in the south.

My brother read and reread the paper, thinking that the worst had happened to me. He was restless, and after supper went out again. He returned and tried to concentrate on his examination notes, but without success. He went to bed a little after midnight and was woken in the early hours of Monday morning by the sound of knocking on doors, feet running in the street, distant drumming and the ringing of bells. For a moment he lay in surprise. Then he jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

Up and down the street other windows were opening and people were shouting questions. ‘They are coming!’ a policeman shouted back, banging on the door. ‘The Martians are coming!’ Then he hurried to the next door.

The sound of drums came from the army base in Albany Street and bells were ringing in every church. There was a noise of doors opening, and the lights went on in window after window in the houses across the street.

A closed carriage came up the street, quickly followed by a number of other fast-moving vehicles. Most of them were going to Chalk Farm station, where special trains were being loaded.

For a long time my brother stared out of the window in total surprise, watching the policeman banging at door after door. Then he crossed the room and began to dress, running with each piece of clothing to the window in order to miss nothing of the growing excitement. And then men selling unusually early newspapers came shouting into the street: ‘London in danger! Kingston and Richmond defenses broken! Terrible killing in the Thames Valley!’

All around him - in the rooms below, in the houses on each side and across the road, and all across London - people were rubbing their eyes and opening windows to stare out and ask questions, and getting dressed quickly as the first breath of the coming storm of fear blew through the streets. It was the beginning of the great panic. London, which had gone to bed on Sunday night not knowing much and caring even less, was woken in the early hours of Monday morning to a real sense of danger.

Unable to learn what was happening from his window, my brother went down and out into the street, just as the sky turned pink with the dawn. Every moment brought more and more fast-moving people in vehicles.

‘Black Smoke!’ he heard people shouting. ‘Black Smoke!’ As he stood at the door, not knowing what to do, he saw another newspaper-seller approaching him. The man was running away with the others and selling his papers for many times their normal price as he ran - a strange mixture of profit and panic.

And from this paper my brother read that terrible report from the commander of the army:

The Martians are able to send out enormous clouds of black smoke. They have poisoned our gunners, destroyed Richmond, Kingston and Wimbledon, and are moving slowly towards London, destroying everything on the way, It is impossible to stop them. There is no safety from the Black Smoke except by running away.

That was all, but it was enough. All of the six million people who lived in the great city were beginning to move. Soon everybody would be trying to escape to the north. ‘Black Smoke!’ the voices shouted. ‘Fire!’

The bells of the local church rang loudly, a carelessly-driven cart smashed, and people screamed and swore. Yellow lights moved around in the houses. And in the sky above them, the dawn was growing brighter - clear and calm.

He heard people running in the rooms, and up and down the stairs behind him. His neighbour came to the door. She was not properly dressed and her husband followed her, shouting.

As my brother began to realize how serious the situation was, he returned quickly to his room, put all the money he had - about ten pounds - into his pockets and went out again into the streets.

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