ON HORSELL COMMON
I found a little crowd of perhaps twenty people surrounding the
huge hole in which the cylinder lay. I have already described the
appearance of that colossal bulk, embedded in the ground. The turf
and gravel about it seemed charred as if by a sudden explosion. No
doubt its impact had caused a flash of fire. Henderson and Ogilvy
were not there. I think they perceived that nothing was to be done
for the present, and had gone away to breakfast at Henderson's house.
There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the Pit, with
their feet dangling, and amusing themselves--until I stopped them--by
throwing stones at the giant mass. After I had spoken to them about
it, they began playing at "touch" in and out of the group of
Among these were a couple of cyclists, a jobbing gardener I
employed sometimes, a girl carrying a baby, Gregg the butcher and his
little boy, and two or three loafers and golf caddies who were
accustomed to hang about the railway station. There was very little
talking. Few of the common people in England had anything but the
vaguest astronomical ideas in those days. Most of them were staring
quietly at the big table like end of the cylinder, which was still as
Ogilvy and Henderson had left it. I fancy the popular expectation of
a heap of charred corpses was disappointed at this inanimate bulk.
Some went away while I was there, and other people came. I clambered
into the pit and fancied I heard a faint movement under my feet. The
top had certainly ceased to rotate.
It was only when I got thus close to it that the strangeness of
this object was at all evident to me. At the first glance it was
really no more exciting than an overturned carriage or a tree blown
across the road. Not so much so, indeed. It looked like a rusty gas
float. It required a certain amount of scientific education to
perceive that the grey scale of the Thing was no common oxide, that
the yellowish-white metal that gleamed in the crack between the lid
and the cylinder had an unfamiliar hue. "Extra-terrestrial" had no
meaning for most of the onlookers.
At that time it was quite clear in my own mind that the Thing had
come from the planet Mars, but I judged it improbable that it
contained any living creature. I thought the unscrewing might be
automatic. In spite of Ogilvy, I still believed that there were men
in Mars. My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of its
containing manuscript, on the difficulties in translation that might
arise, whether we should find coins and models in it, and so forth.
Yet it was a little too large for assurance on this idea. I felt an
impatience to see it opened. About eleven, as nothing seemed
happening, I walked back, full of such thought, to my home in Maybury.
But I found it difficult to get to work upon my abstract
In the afternoon the appearance of the common had altered very
much. The early editions of the evening papers had startled London
with enormous headlines:
"A MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MARS."
"REMARKABLE STORY FROM WOKING,"
and so forth. In addition, Ogilvy's wire to the Astronomical Exchange
had roused every observatory in the three kingdoms.
There were half a dozen flies or more from the Woking station
standing in the road by the sand pits, a basket-chaise from Chobham,
and a rather lordly carriage. Besides that, there was quite a heap of
bicycles. In addition, a large number of people must have walked, in
spite of the heat of the day, from Woking and Chertsey, so that there
was altogether quite a considerable crowd--one or two gaily dressed
ladies among the others.
It was glaringly hot, not a cloud in the sky nor a breath of wind,
and the only shadow was that of the few scattered pine trees. The
burning heather had been extinguished, but the level ground towards
Ottershaw was blackened as far as one could see, and still giving off
vertical streamers of smoke. An enterprising sweet-stuff dealer in
the Chobham Road had sent up his son with a barrow-load of green
apples and ginger beer.
Going to the edge of the pit, I found it occupied by a group of
about half a dozen men--Henderson, Ogilvy, and a tall, fair-haired man
that I afterwards learned was Stent, the Astronomer Royal, with
several workmen wielding spades and pickaxes. Stent was giving
directions in a clear, high-pitched voice. He was standing on the
cylinder, which was now evidently much cooler; his face was crimson
and streaming with perspiration, and something seemed to have
A large portion of the cylinder had been uncovered, though its
lower end was still embedded. As soon as Ogilvy saw me among the
staring crowd on the edge of the pit he called to me to come down, and
asked me if I would mind going over to see Lord Hilton, the lord of
The growing crowd, he said, was becoming a serious impediment to
their excavations, especially the boys. They wanted a light railing
put up, and help to keep the people back. He told me that a faint
stirring was occasionally still audible within the case, but that the
workmen had failed to unscrew the top, as it afforded no grip to them.
The case appeared to be enormously thick, and it was possible that the
faint sounds we heard represented a noisy tumult in the interior.
I was very glad to do as he asked, and so become one of the
privileged spectators within the contemplated enclosure. I failed to
find Lord Hilton at his house, but I was told he was expected from
London by the six o'clock train from Waterloo; and as it was then
about a quarter past five, I went home, had some tea, and walked up to
the station to waylay him.