[ Previous ] [ Chapter Index ] [ Next ]



The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells




The arrival of a second fighting-machine drove us from our peephole
into the scullery, for we feared that from his elevation the Martian
might see down upon us behind our barrier. At a later date we began
to feel less in danger of their eyes, for to an eye in the dazzle of
the sunlight outside our refuge must have been blank blackness, but at
first the slightest suggestion of approach drove us into the scullery
in heart-throbbing retreat. Yet terrible as was the danger we
incurred, the attraction of peeping was for both of us irresistible.
And I recall now with a sort of wonder that, in spite of the infinite
danger in which we were between starvation and a still more terrible
death, we could yet struggle bitterly for that horrible privilege of
sight. We would race across the kitchen in a grotesque way between
eagerness and the dread of making a noise, and strike each other, and
thrust and kick, within a few inches of exposure.

The fact is that we had absolutely incompatible dispositions and
habits of thought and action, and our danger and isolation only
accentuated the incompatibility. At Halliford I had already come to
hate the curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity
of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made
to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and
intensified, almost to the verge of craziness. He was as lacking in
restraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and I
verily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought
his weak tears in some way efficacious. And I would sit in the
darkness unable to keep my mind off him by reason of his
importunities. He ate more than I did, and it was in vain I pointed
out that our only chance of life was to stop in the house until the
Martians had done with their pit, that in that long patience a time
might presently come when we should need food. He ate and drank
impulsively in heavy meals at long intervals. He slept little.

As the days wore on, his utter carelessness of any consideration so
intensified our distress and danger that I had, much as I loathed
doing it, to resort to threats, and at last to blows. That brought him
to reason for a time. But he was one of those weak creatures, void of
pride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, who
face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves.

It is disagreeable for me to recall and write these things, but I
set them down that my story may lack nothing. Those who have escaped
the dark and terrible aspects of life will find my brutality, my flash
of rage in our final tragedy, easy enough to blame; for they know what
is wrong as well as any, but not what is possible to tortured men. But
those who have been under the shadow, who have gone down at last to
elemental things, will have a wider charity.

And while within we fought out our dark, dim contest of whispers,
snatched food and drink, and gripping hands and blows, without, in the
pitiless sunlight of that terrible June, was the strange wonder, the
unfamiliar routine of the Martians in the pit. Let me return to those
first new experiences of mine. After a long time I ventured back to
the peephole, to find that the new-comers had been reinforced by the
occupants of no fewer than three of the fighting-machines. These last
had brought with them certain fresh appliances that stood in an
orderly manner about the cylinder. The second handling-machine was now
completed, and was busied in serving one of the novel contrivances the
big machine had brought. This was a body resembling a milk can in its
general form, above which oscillated a pear-shaped receptacle, and
from which a stream of white powder flowed into a circular basin

The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of the
handling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine was
digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped
receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door
and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the
machine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basin
along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me
by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little
thread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked,
the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended,
telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mere
blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.
In another second it had lifted a bar of white aluminium into sight,
untarnished as yet, and shining dazzlingly, and deposited it in a
growing stack of bars that stood at the side of the pit. Between
sunset and starlight this dexterous machine must have made more than a
hundred such bars out of the crude clay, and the mound of bluish dust
rose steadily until it topped the side of the pit.

The contrast between the swift and complex movements of these
contrivances and the inert panting clumsiness of their masters was
acute, and for days I had to tell myself repeatedly that these latter
were indeed the living of the two things.

The curate had possession of the slit when the first men were
brought to the pit. I was sitting below, huddled up, listening with
all my ears. He made a sudden movement backward, and I, fearful that
we were observed, crouched in a spasm of terror. He came sliding down
the rubbish and crept beside me in the darkness, inarticulate,
gesticulating, and for a moment I shared his panic. His gesture
suggested a resignation of the slit, and after a little while my
curiosity gave me courage, and I rose up, stepped across him, and
clambered up to it. At first I could see no reason for his frantic
behaviour. The twilight had now come, the stars were little and
faint, but the pit was illuminated by the flickering green fire that
came from the aluminium-making. The whole picture was a flickering
scheme of green gleams and shifting rusty black shadows, strangely
trying to the eyes. Over and through it all went the bats, heeding it
not at all. The sprawling Martians were no longer to be seen, the
mound of blue-green powder had risen to cover them from sight, and a
fighting-machine, with its legs contracted, crumpled, and abbreviated,
stood across the corner of the pit. And then, amid the clangour of
the machinery, came a drifting suspicion of human voices, that I
entertained at first only to dismiss.

I crouched, watching this fighting-machine closely, satisfying
myself now for the first time that the hood did indeed contain a
Martian. As the green flames lifted I could see the oily gleam of
his integument and the brightness of his eyes. And suddenly I heard
a yell, and saw a long tentacle reaching over the shoulder of the
machine to the little cage that hunched upon its back. Then
something--something struggling violently--was lifted high against the
sky, a black, vague enigma against the starlight; and as this black
object came down again, I saw by the green brightness that it was a
man. For an instant he was clearly visible. He was a stout, ruddy,
middle-aged man, well dressed; three days before, he must have been
walking the world, a man of considerable consequence. I could see his
staring eyes and gleams of light on his studs and watch chain. He
vanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence. And
then began a shrieking and a sustained and cheerful hooting from the

I slid down the rubbish, struggled to my feet, clapped my hands
over my ears, and bolted into the scullery. The curate, who had been
crouching silently with his arms over his head, looked up as I passed,
cried out quite loudly at my desertion of him, and came running after

That night, as we lurked in the scullery, balanced between our
horror and the terrible fascination this peeping had, although I felt
an urgent need of action I tried in vain to conceive some plan of
escape; but afterwards, during the second day, I was able to consider
our position with great clearness. The curate, I found, was quite
incapable of discussion; this new and culminating atrocity had robbed
him of all vestiges of reason or forethought. Practically he had
already sunk to the level of an animal. But as the saying goes, I
gripped myself with both hands. It grew upon my mind, once I could
face the facts, that terrible as our position was, there was as yet
no justification for absolute despair. Our chief chance lay in the
possibility of the Martians making the pit nothing more than a
temporary encampment. Or even if they kept it permanently, they might
not consider it necessary to guard it, and a chance of escape might be
afforded us. I also weighed very carefully the possibility of our
digging a way out in a direction away from the pit, but the chances of
our emerging within sight of some sentinel fighting-machine seemed at
first too great. And I should have had to do all the digging myself.
The curate would certainly have failed me.

It was on the third day, if my memory serves me right, that I saw
the lad killed. It was the only occasion on which I actually saw the
Martians feed. After that experience I avoided the hole in the wall
for the better part of a day. I went into the scullery, removed the
door, and spent some hours digging with my hatchet as silently as
possible; but when I had made a hole about a couple of feet deep the
loose earth collapsed noisily, and I did not dare continue. I lost
heart, and lay down on the scullery floor for a long time, having no
spirit even to move. And after that I abandoned altogether the idea
of escaping by excavation.

It says much for the impression the Martians had made upon me that
at first I entertained little or no hope of our escape being brought
about by their overthrow through any human effort. But on the fourth
or fifth night I heard a sound like heavy guns.

It was very late in the night, and the moon was shining brightly.
The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine, and, save for a
fighting-machine that stood in the remoter bank of the pit and a
handling-machine that was buried out of my sight in a corner of the
pit immediately beneath my peephole, the place was deserted by them.
Except for the pale glow from the handling-machine and the bars and
patches of white moonlight the pit was in darkness, and, except for
the clinking of the handling-machine, quite still. That night was a
beautiful serenity; save for one planet, the moon seemed to have the
sky to herself. I heard a dog howling, and that familiar sound it was
that made me listen. Then I heard quite distinctly a booming exactly
like the sound of great guns. Six distinct reports I counted, and
after a long interval six again. And that was all.



[ Previous ] [ Chapter Index ] [ Next ]