[ Previous ] [ Chapter Index ] [ Next ]



The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells




So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the
greatest city in the world just as Monday was dawning--the stream of
flight rising swiftly to a torrent, lashing in a foaming tumult round
the railway stations, banked up into a horrible struggle about the
shipping in the Thames, and hurrying by every available channel
northward and eastward. By ten o'clock the police organisation, and
by midday even the railway organisations, were losing coherency,
losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in
that swift liquefaction of the social body.

All the railway lines north of the Thames and the South-Eastern
people at Cannon Street had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and
trains were being filled. People were fighting savagely for
standing-room in the carriages even at two o'clock. By three, people
were being trampled and crushed even in Bishopsgate Street, a couple
of hundred yards or more from Liverpool Street station; revolvers were
fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct
the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the
people they were called out to protect.

And as the day advanced and the engine drivers and stokers refused
to return to London, the pressure of the flight drove the people in an
ever-thickening multitude away from the stations and along the
northward-running roads. By midday a Martian had been seen at Barnes,
and a cloud of slowly sinking black vapour drove along the Thames and
across the flats of Lambeth, cutting off all escape over the bridges
in its sluggish advance. Another bank drove over Ealing, and
surrounded a little island of survivors on Castle Hill, alive, but
unable to escape.

After a fruitless struggle to get aboard a North-Western train at
Chalk Farm--the engines of the trains that had loaded in the goods
yard there _ploughed_ through shrieking people, and a dozen stalwart men
fought to keep the crowd from crushing the driver against his
furnace--my brother emerged upon the Chalk Farm road, dodged across
through a hurrying swarm of vehicles, and had the luck to be foremost
in the sack of a cycle shop. The front tire of the machine he got was
punctured in dragging it through the window, but he got up and off,
notwithstanding, with no further injury than a cut wrist. The steep
foot of Haverstock Hill was impassable owing to several overturned
horses, and my brother struck into Belsize Road.

So he got out of the fury of the panic, and, skirting the Edgware
Road, reached Edgware about seven, fasting and wearied, but well ahead
of the crowd. Along the road people were standing in the roadway,
curious, wondering. He was passed by a number of cyclists, some
horsemen, and two motor cars. A mile from Edgware the rim of the
wheel broke, and the machine became unridable. He left it by the
roadside and trudged through the village. There were shops half
opened in the main street of the place, and people crowded on the
pavement and in the doorways and windows, staring astonished at this
extraordinary procession of fugitives that was beginning. He
succeeded in getting some food at an inn.

For a time he remained in Edgware not knowing what next to do. The
flying people increased in number. Many of them, like my brother,
seemed inclined to loiter in the place. There was no fresh news of
the invaders from Mars.

At that time the road was crowded, but as yet far from congested.
Most of the fugitives at that hour were mounted on cycles, but there
were soon motor cars, hansom cabs, and carriages hurrying along, and
the dust hung in heavy clouds along the road to St. Albans.

It was perhaps a vague idea of making his way to Chelmsford, where
some friends of his lived, that at last induced my brother to strike
into a quiet lane running eastward. Presently he came upon a stile,
and, crossing it, followed a footpath northeastward. He passed near
several farmhouses and some little places whose names he did not
learn. He saw few fugitives until, in a grass lane towards High
Barnet, he happened upon two ladies who became his fellow travellers.
He came upon them just in time to save them.

He heard their screams, and, hurrying round the corner, saw a
couple of men struggling to drag them out of the little pony-chaise in
which they had been driving, while a third with difficulty held the
frightened pony's head. One of the ladies, a short woman dressed in
white, was simply screaming; the other, a dark, slender figure,
slashed at the man who gripped her arm with a whip she held in her
disengaged hand.

My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and hurried
towards the struggle. One of the men desisted and turned towards him,
and my brother, realising from his antagonist's face that a fight was
unavoidable, and being an expert boxer, went into him forthwith and
sent him down against the wheel of the chaise.

It was no time for pugilistic chivalry and my brother laid him
quiet with a kick, and gripped the collar of the man who pulled at the
slender lady's arm. He heard the clatter of hoofs, the whip stung
across his face, a third antagonist struck him between the eyes, and
the man he held wrenched himself free and made off down the lane in
the direction from which he had come.

Partly stunned, he found himself facing the man who had held the
horse's head, and became aware of the chaise receding from him down
the lane, swaying from side to side, and with the women in it looking
back. The man before him, a burly rough, tried to close, and he
stopped him with a blow in the face. Then, realising that he was
deserted, he dodged round and made off down the lane after the chaise,
with the sturdy man close behind him, and the fugitive, who had turned
now, following remotely.

Suddenly he stumbled and fell; his immediate pursuer went headlong,
and he rose to his feet to find himself with a couple of antagonists
again. He would have had little chance against them had not the
slender lady very pluckily pulled up and returned to his help. It
seems she had had a revolver all this time, but it had been under the
seat when she and her companion were attacked. She fired at six
yards' distance, narrowly missing my brother. The less courageous of
the robbers made off, and his companion followed him, cursing his
cowardice. They both stopped in sight down the lane, where the third
man lay insensible.

"Take this!" said the slender lady, and she gave my brother her

"Go back to the chaise," said my brother, wiping the blood from his
split lip.

She turned without a word--they were both panting--and they went
back to where the lady in white struggled to hold back the frightened

The robbers had evidently had enough of it. When my brother looked
again they were retreating.

"I'll sit here," said my brother, "if I may"; and he got upon the
empty front seat. The lady looked over her shoulder.

"Give me the reins," she said, and laid the whip along the pony's
side. In another moment a bend in the road hid the three men from my
brother's eyes.

So, quite unexpectedly, my brother found himself, panting, with a
cut mouth, a bruised jaw, and bloodstained knuckles, driving along an
unknown lane with these two women.

He learned they were the wife and the younger sister of a surgeon
living at Stanmore, who had come in the small hours from a dangerous
case at Pinner, and heard at some railway station on his way of the
Martian advance. He had hurried home, roused the women--their servant
had left them two days before--packed some provisions, put his
revolver under the seat--luckily for my brother--and told them to
drive on to Edgware, with the idea of getting a train there. He
stopped behind to tell the neighbours. He would overtake them, he
said, at about half past four in the morning, and now it was nearly
nine and they had seen nothing of him. They could not stop in Edgware
because of the growing traffic through the place, and so they had come
into this side lane.

That was the story they told my brother in fragments when presently
they stopped again, nearer to New Barnet. He promised to stay with
them, at least until they could determine what to do, or until the
missing man arrived, and professed to be an expert shot with the
revolver--a weapon strange to him--in order to give them confidence.

They made a sort of encampment by the wayside, and the pony became
happy in the hedge. He told them of his own escape out of London, and
all that he knew of these Martians and their ways. The sun crept
higher in the sky, and after a time their talk died out and gave place
to an uneasy state of anticipation. Several wayfarers came along the
lane, and of these my brother gathered such news as he could. Every
broken answer he had deepened his impression of the great disaster
that had come on humanity, deepened his persuasion of the immediate
necessity for prosecuting this flight. He urged the matter upon them.

"We have money," said the slender woman, and hesitated.

Her eyes met my brother's, and her hesitation ended.

"So have I," said my brother.

She explained that they had as much as thirty pounds in gold,
besides a five-pound note, and suggested that with that they might get
upon a train at St. Albans or New Barnet. My brother thought that was
hopeless, seeing the fury of the Londoners to crowd upon the trains,
and broached his own idea of striking across Essex towards Harwich and
thence escaping from the country altogether.

Mrs. Elphinstone--that was the name of the woman in white--would
listen to no reasoning, and kept calling upon "George"; but her
sister-in-law was astonishingly quiet and deliberate, and at last
agreed to my brother's suggestion. So, designing to cross the Great
North Road, they went on towards Barnet, my brother leading the pony
to save it as much as possible. As the sun crept up the sky the day
became excessively hot, and under foot a thick, whitish sand grew
burning and blinding, so that they travelled only very slowly. The
hedges were grey with dust. And as they advanced towards Barnet a
tumultuous murmuring grew stronger.

They began to meet more people. For the most part these were
staring before them, murmuring indistinct questions, jaded, haggard,
unclean. One man in evening dress passed them on foot, his eyes on
the ground. They heard his voice, and, looking back at him, saw one
hand clutched in his hair and the other beating invisible things. His
paroxysm of rage over, he went on his way without once looking back.

As my brother's party went on towards the crossroads to the south
of Barnet they saw a woman approaching the road across some fields on
their left, carrying a child and with two other children; and then
passed a man in dirty black, with a thick stick in one hand and a
small portmanteau in the other. Then round the corner of the lane,
from between the villas that guarded it at its confluence with the
high road, came a little cart drawn by a sweating black pony and
driven by a sallow youth in a bowler hat, grey with dust. There were
three girls, East End factory girls, and a couple of little children
crowded in the cart.

"This'll tike us rahnd Edgware?" asked the driver, wild-eyed,
white-faced; and when my brother told him it would if he turned to the
left, he whipped up at once without the formality of thanks.

My brother noticed a pale grey smoke or haze rising among the
houses in front of them, and veiling the white facade of a terrace
beyond the road that appeared between the backs of the villas. Mrs.
Elphinstone suddenly cried out at a number of tongues of smoky red
flame leaping up above the houses in front of them against the hot,
blue sky. The tumultuous noise resolved itself now into the
disorderly mingling of many voices, the gride of many wheels, the
creaking of waggons, and the staccato of hoofs. The lane came round
sharply not fifty yards from the crossroads.

"Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Elphinstone. "What is this you are
driving us into?"

My brother stopped.

For the main road was a boiling stream of people, a torrent of
human beings rushing northward, one pressing on another. A great bank
of dust, white and luminous in the blaze of the sun, made everything
within twenty feet of the ground grey and indistinct and was
perpetually renewed by the hurrying feet of a dense crowd of horses
and of men and women on foot, and by the wheels of vehicles of every

"Way!" my brother heard voices crying. "Make way!"

It was like riding into the smoke of a fire to approach the meeting
point of the lane and road; the crowd roared like a fire, and the dust
was hot and pungent. And, indeed, a little way up the road a villa
was burning and sending rolling masses of black smoke across the road
to add to the confusion.

Two men came past them. Then a dirty woman, carrying a heavy
bundle and weeping. A lost retriever dog, with hanging tongue,
circled dubiously round them, scared and wretched, and fled at my
brother's threat.

So much as they could see of the road Londonward between the houses
to the right was a tumultuous stream of dirty, hurrying people, pent
in between the villas on either side; the black heads, the crowded
forms, grew into distinctness as they rushed towards the corner,
hurried past, and merged their individuality again in a receding
multitude that was swallowed up at last in a cloud of dust.

"Go on! Go on!" cried the voices. "Way! Way!"

One man's hands pressed on the back of another. My brother stood
at the pony's head. Irresistibly attracted, he advanced slowly, pace
by pace, down the lane.

Edgware had been a scene of confusion, Chalk Farm a riotous tumult,
but this was a whole population in movement. It is hard to imagine
that host. It had no character of its own. The figures poured out
past the corner, and receded with their backs to the group in the
lane. Along the margin came those who were on foot threatened by the
wheels, stumbling in the ditches, blundering into one another.

The carts and carriages crowded close upon one another, making
little way for those swifter and more impatient vehicles that darted
forward every now and then when an opportunity showed itself of doing
so, sending the people scattering against the fences and gates of the

"Push on!" was the cry. "Push on! They are coming!"

In one cart stood a blind man in the uniform of the Salvation Army,
gesticulating with his crooked fingers and bawling, "Eternity!
Eternity!" His voice was hoarse and very loud so that my brother
could hear him long after he was lost to sight in the dust. Some of
the people who crowded in the carts whipped stupidly at their horses
and quarrelled with other drivers; some sat motionless, staring at
nothing with miserable eyes; some gnawed their hands with thirst, or
lay prostrate in the bottoms of their conveyances. The horses' bits
were covered with foam, their eyes bloodshot.

There were cabs, carriages, shop cars, waggons, beyond counting; a
mail cart, a road-cleaner's cart marked "Vestry of St. Pancras," a
huge timber waggon crowded with roughs. A brewer's dray rumbled by
with its two near wheels splashed with fresh blood.

"Clear the way!" cried the voices. "Clear the way!"

"Eter-nity! Eter-nity!" came echoing down the road.

There were sad, haggard women tramping by, well dressed, with
children that cried and stumbled, their dainty clothes smothered in
dust, their weary faces smeared with tears. With many of these came
men, sometimes helpful, sometimes lowering and savage. Fighting side
by side with them pushed some weary street outcast in faded black
rags, wide-eyed, loud-voiced, and foul-mouthed. There were sturdy
workmen thrusting their way along, wretched, unkempt men, clothed like
clerks or shopmen, struggling spasmodically; a wounded soldier my
brother noticed, men dressed in the clothes of railway porters, one
wretched creature in a nightshirt with a coat thrown over it.

But varied as its composition was, certain things all that host had
in common. There were fear and pain on their faces, and fear behind
them. A tumult up the road, a quarrel for a place in a waggon, sent
the whole host of them quickening their pace; even a man so scared and
broken that his knees bent under him was galvanised for a moment into
renewed activity. The heat and dust had already been at work upon
this multitude. Their skins were dry, their lips black and cracked.
They were all thirsty, weary, and footsore. And amid the various
cries one heard disputes, reproaches, groans of weariness and fatigue;
the voices of most of them were hoarse and weak. Through it all ran a

"Way! Way! The Martians are coming!"

Few stopped and came aside from that flood. The lane opened
slantingly into the main road with a narrow opening, and had a
delusive appearance of coming from the direction of London. Yet a
kind of eddy of people drove into its mouth; weaklings elbowed out of
the stream, who for the most part rested but a moment before plunging
into it again. A little way down the lane, with two friends bending
over him, lay a man with a bare leg, wrapped about with bloody rags.
He was a lucky man to have friends.

A little old man, with a grey military moustache and a filthy black
frock coat, limped out and sat down beside the trap, removed his
boot--his sock was blood-stained--shook out a pebble, and hobbled on
again; and then a little girl of eight or nine, all alone, threw
herself under the hedge close by my brother, weeping.

"I can't go on! I can't go on!"

My brother woke from his torpor of astonishment and lifted her up,
speaking gently to her, and carried her to Miss Elphinstone. So soon
as my brother touched her she became quite still, as if frightened.

"Ellen!" shrieked a woman in the crowd, with tears in her
voice--"Ellen!" And the child suddenly darted away from my brother,
crying "Mother!"

"They are coming," said a man on horseback, riding past along the

"Out of the way, there!" bawled a coachman, towering high; and my
brother saw a closed carriage turning into the lane.

The people crushed back on one another to avoid the horse. My
brother pushed the pony and chaise back into the hedge, and the man
drove by and stopped at the turn of the way. It was a carriage, with
a pole for a pair of horses, but only one was in the traces. My
brother saw dimly through the dust that two men lifted out something
on a white stretcher and put it gently on the grass beneath the privet

One of the men came running to my brother.

"Where is there any water?" he said. "He is dying fast, and very
thirsty. It is Lord Garrick."

"Lord Garrick!" said my brother; "the Chief Justice?"

"The water?" he said.

"There may be a tap," said my brother, "in some of the houses. We
have no water. I dare not leave my people."

The man pushed against the crowd towards the gate of the corner

"Go on!" said the people, thrusting at him. "They are coming! Go

Then my brother's attention was distracted by a bearded, eagle-faced
man lugging a small handbag, which split even as my brother's
eyes rested on it and disgorged a mass of sovereigns that seemed to
break up into separate coins as it struck the ground. They rolled
hither and thither among the struggling feet of men and horses. The
man stopped and looked stupidly at the heap, and the shaft of a cab
struck his shoulder and sent him reeling. He gave a shriek and dodged
back, and a cartwheel shaved him narrowly.

"Way!" cried the men all about him. "Make way!"

So soon as the cab had passed, he flung himself, with both hands
open, upon the heap of coins, and began thrusting handfuls in his
pocket. A horse rose close upon him, and in another moment, half
rising, he had been borne down under the horse's hoofs.

"Stop!" screamed my brother, and pushing a woman out of his way,
tried to clutch the bit of the horse.

Before he could get to it, he heard a scream under the wheels, and
saw through the dust the rim passing over the poor wretch's back. The
driver of the cart slashed his whip at my brother, who ran round
behind the cart. The multitudinous shouting confused his ears. The
man was writhing in the dust among his scattered money, unable to
rise, for the wheel had broken his back, and his lower limbs lay limp
and dead. My brother stood up and yelled at the next driver, and a
man on a black horse came to his assistance.

"Get him out of the road," said he; and, clutching the man's collar
with his free hand, my brother lugged him sideways. But he still
clutched after his money, and regarded my brother fiercely, hammering
at his arm with a handful of gold. "Go on! Go on!" shouted angry
voices behind.

"Way! Way!"

There was a smash as the pole of a carriage crashed into the cart
that the man on horseback stopped. My brother looked up, and the man
with the gold twisted his head round and bit the wrist that held his
collar. There was a concussion, and the black horse came staggering
sideways, and the carthorse pushed beside it. A hoof missed my
brother's foot by a hair's breadth. He released his grip on the
fallen man and jumped back. He saw anger change to terror on the face
of the poor wretch on the ground, and in a moment he was hidden and my
brother was borne backward and carried past the entrance of the lane,
and had to fight hard in the torrent to recover it.

He saw Miss Elphinstone covering her eyes, and a little child, with
all a child's want of sympathetic imagination, staring with dilated
eyes at a dusty something that lay black and still, ground and crushed
under the rolling wheels. "Let us go back!" he shouted, and began
turning the pony round. "We cannot cross this--hell," he said and they
went back a hundred yards the way they had come, until the fighting
crowd was hidden. As they passed the bend in the lane my brother saw
the face of the dying man in the ditch under the privet, deadly white
and drawn, and shining with perspiration. The two women sat silent,
crouching in their seat and shivering.

Then beyond the bend my brother stopped again. Miss Elphinstone
was white and pale, and her sister-in-law sat weeping, too wretched
even to call upon "George." My brother was horrified and perplexed.
So soon as they had retreated he realised how urgent and unavoidable
it was to attempt this crossing. He turned to Miss Elphinstone,
suddenly resolute.

"We must go that way," he said, and led the pony round again.

For the second time that day this girl proved her quality. To force
their way into the torrent of people, my brother plunged into the
traffic and held back a cab horse, while she drove the pony across its
head. A waggon locked wheels for a moment and ripped a long splinter
from the chaise. In another moment they were caught and swept forward
by the stream. My brother, with the cabman's whip marks red across
his face and hands, scrambled into the chaise and took the reins from

"Point the revolver at the man behind," he said, giving it to her,
"if he presses us too hard. No!--point it at his horse."

Then he began to look out for a chance of edging to the right
across the road. But once in the stream he seemed to lose volition,
to become a part of that dusty rout. They swept through Chipping
Barnet with the torrent; they were nearly a mile beyond the centre of
the town before they had fought across to the opposite side of the
way. It was din and confusion indescribable; but in and beyond the
town the road forks repeatedly, and this to some extent relieved the

They struck eastward through Hadley, and there on either side of
the road, and at another place farther on they came upon a great
multitude of people drinking at the stream, some fighting to come at
the water. And farther on, from a lull near East Barnet, they saw
two trains running slowly one after the other without signal or
order--trains swarming with people, with men even among the coals
behind the engines--going northward along the Great Northern Railway.
My brother supposes they must have filled outside London, for at that
time the furious terror of the people had rendered the central
termini impossible.

Near this place they halted for the rest of the afternoon, for the
violence of the day had already utterly exhausted all three of them.
They began to suffer the beginnings of hunger; the night was cold, and
none of them dared to sleep. And in the evening many people came
hurrying along the road nearby their stopping place, fleeing from
unknown dangers before them, and going in the direction from which my
brother had come.



[ Previous ] [ Chapter Index ] [ Next ]