Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 16 The Exodus from London

  • So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the greates_ity in the world just as Monday was dawning—the stream of flight risin_wiftly to a torrent, lashing in a foaming tumult round the railway stations, banked up into a horrible struggle about the shipping in the Thames, an_urrying by every available channel northward and eastward. By ten o'clock th_olice organisation, and by midday even the railway organisations, were losin_oherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at las_n that swift liquefaction of the social body.
  • All the railway lines north of the Thames and the South-Eastern people a_annon Street had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and trains were bein_illed. People were fighting savagely for standing- room in the carriages eve_t two o'clock. By three, people were being trampled and crushed even i_ishopsgate Street, a couple of hundred yards or more from Liverpool Stree_tation; revolvers were fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had bee_ent to direct the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the head_f the people they were called out to protect.
  • And as the day advanced and the engine drivers and stokers refused to retur_o London, the pressure of the flight drove the people in an ever-thickenin_ultitude away from the stations and along the northward-running roads. B_idday a Martian had been seen at Barnes, and a cloud of slowly sinking blac_apour drove along the Thames and across the flats of Lambeth, cutting off al_scape over the bridges in its sluggish advance. Another bank drove ove_aling, and surrounded a little island of survivors on Castle Hill, alive, bu_nable to escape.
  • After a fruitless struggle to get aboard a North-Western train at Chal_arm—the engines of the trains that had loaded in the goods yard ther_LOUGHED through shrieking people, and a dozen stalwart men fought to keep th_rowd from crushing the driver against his furnace—my brother emerged upon th_halk Farm road, dodged across through a hurrying swarm of vehicles, and ha_he luck to be foremost in the sack of a cycle shop. The front tire of th_achine he got was punctured in dragging it through the window, but he got u_nd off, notwithstanding, with no further injury than a cut wrist. The stee_oot of Haverstock Hill was impassable owing to several overturned horses, an_y 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 wa_assed by a number of cyclists, some horsemen, and two motor cars. A mile fro_dgware the rim of the wheel broke, and the machine became unridable. He lef_t by the roadside and trudged through the village. There were shops hal_pened in the main street of the place, and people crowded on the pavement an_n the doorways and windows, staring astonished at this extraordinar_rocession of fugitives that was beginning. He succeeded in getting some foo_t an inn.
  • For a time he remained in Edgware not knowing what next to do. The flyin_eople increased in number. Many of them, like my brother, seemed inclined t_oiter 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 th_ugitives 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 cloud_long the road to St. Albans.
  • It was perhaps a vague idea of making his way to Chelmsford, where som_riends of his lived, that at last induced my brother to strike into a quie_ane running eastward. Presently he came upon a stile, and, crossing it, followed a footpath northeastward. He passed near several farmhouses and som_ittle places whose names he did not learn. He saw few fugitives until, in _rass lane towards High Barnet, he happened upon two ladies who became hi_ellow travellers. He came upon them just in time to save them.
  • He heard their screams, and, hurrying round the corner, saw a couple of me_truggling to drag them out of the little pony-chaise in which they had bee_riving, while a third with difficulty held the frightened pony's head. One o_he ladies, a short woman dressed in white, was simply screaming; the other, _ark, slender figure, slashed at the man who gripped her arm with a whip sh_eld in her disengaged hand.
  • My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and hurried towards th_truggle. One of the men desisted and turned towards him, and my brother, realising from his antagonist's face that a fight was unavoidable, and bein_n expert boxer, went into him forthwith and sent him down against the whee_f the chaise.
  • It was no time for pugilistic chivalry and my brother laid him quiet with _ick, 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 thir_ntagonist struck him between the eyes, and the man he held wrenched himsel_ree 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 fro_ide to side, and with the women in it looking back. The man before him, _urly 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 lan_fter the chaise, with the sturdy man close behind him, and the fugitive, wh_ad turned now, following remotely.
  • Suddenly he stumbled and fell; his immediate pursuer went headlong, and h_ose to his feet to find himself with a couple of antagonists again. He woul_ave had little chance against them had not the slender lady very pluckil_ulled up and returned to his help. It seems she had had a revolver all thi_ime, 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 les_ourageous of the robbers made off, and his companion followed him, cursin_is cowardice. They both stopped in sight down the lane, where the third ma_ay insensible.
  • "Take this!" said the slender lady, and she gave my brother her revolver.
  • "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 wher_he lady in white struggled to hold back the frightened pony.
  • The robbers had evidently had enough of it. When my brother looked again the_ere retreating.
  • "I'll sit here," said my brother, "if I may"; and he got upon the empty fron_eat. The lady looked over her shoulder.
  • "Give me the reins," she said, and laid the whip along the pony's side. I_nother 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, _ruised jaw, and bloodstained knuckles, driving along an unknown lane wit_hese two women.
  • He learned they were the wife and the younger sister of a surgeon living a_tanmore, who had come in the small hours from a dangerous case at Pinner, an_eard at some railway station on his way of the Martian advance. He ha_urried home, roused the women—their servant had left them two day_efore—packed some provisions, put his revolver under the seat—luckily for m_rother—and told them to drive on to Edgware, with the idea of getting a trai_here. He stopped behind to tell the neighbours. He would overtake them, h_aid, at about half past four in the morning, and now it was nearly nine an_hey had seen nothing of him. They could not stop in Edgware because of th_rowing 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 the_topped again, nearer to New Barnet. He promised to stay with them, at leas_ntil they could determine what to do, or until the missing man arrived, an_rofessed to be an expert shot with the revolver—a weapon strange to him—i_rder to give them confidence.
  • They made a sort of encampment by the wayside, and the pony became happy i_he hedge. He told them of his own escape out of London, and all that he kne_f these Martians and their ways. The sun crept higher in the sky, and after _ime 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 suc_ews as he could. Every broken answer he had deepened his impression of th_reat disaster that had come on humanity, deepened his persuasion of th_mmediate necessity for prosecuting this flight. He urged the matter upo_hem.
  • "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 o_he Londoners to crowd upon the trains, and broached his own idea of strikin_cross Essex towards Harwich and thence escaping from the country altogether.
  • Mrs. Elphinstone—that was the name of the woman in white—would listen to n_easoning, and kept calling upon "George"; but her sister-in-law wa_stonishingly quiet and deliberate, and at last agreed to my brother'_uggestion. So, designing to cross the Great North Road, they went on toward_arnet, my brother leading the pony to save it as much as possible. As the su_rept up the sky the day became excessively hot, and under foot a thick, whitish sand grew burning and blinding, so that they travelled only ver_lowly. The hedges were grey with dust. And as they advanced towards Barnet _umultuous murmuring grew stronger.
  • They began to meet more people. For the most part these were staring befor_hem, murmuring indistinct questions, jaded, haggard, unclean. One man i_vening dress passed them on foot, his eyes on the ground. They heard hi_oice, and, looking back at him, saw one hand clutched in his hair and th_ther beating invisible things. His paroxysm of rage over, he went on his wa_ithout once looking back.
  • As my brother's party went on towards the crossroads to the south of Barne_hey 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 dirt_lack, 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 a_ts confluence with the high road, came a little cart drawn by a sweatin_lack pony and driven by a sallow youth in a bowler hat, grey with dust. Ther_ere three girls, East End factory girls, and a couple of little childre_rowded in the cart.
  • "This'll tike us rahnd Edgware?" asked the driver, wild-eyed, white-faced; an_hen my brother told him it would if he turned to the left, he whipped up a_nce without the formality of thanks.
  • My brother noticed a pale grey smoke or haze rising among the houses in fron_f them, and veiling the white facade of a terrace beyond the road tha_ppeared between the backs of the villas. Mrs. Elphinstone suddenly cried ou_t a number of tongues of smoky red flame leaping up above the houses in fron_f them against the hot, blue sky. The tumultuous noise resolved itself no_nto the disorderly mingling of many voices, the gride of many wheels, th_reaking of waggons, and the staccato of hoofs. The lane came round sharpl_ot fifty yards from the crossroads.
  • "Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Elphinstone. "What is this you are driving u_nto?"
  • My brother stopped.
  • For the main road was a boiling stream of people, a torrent of human being_ushing northward, one pressing on another. A great bank of dust, white an_uminous in the blaze of the sun, made everything within twenty feet of th_round grey and indistinct and was perpetually renewed by the hurrying feet o_ dense crowd of horses and of men and women on foot, and by the wheels o_ehicles of every description.
  • "Way!" my brother heard voices crying. "Make way!"
  • It was like riding into the smoke of a fire to approach the meeting point o_he lane and road; the crowd roared like a fire, and the dust was hot an_ungent. And, indeed, a little way up the road a villa was burning and sendin_olling 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 an_eeping. A lost retriever dog, with hanging tongue, circled dubiously roun_hem, scared and wretched, and fled at my brother's threat.
  • So much as they could see of the road Londonward between the houses to th_ight was a tumultuous stream of dirty, hurrying people, pent in between th_illas on either side; the black heads, the crowded forms, grew int_istinctness as they rushed towards the corner, hurried past, and merged thei_ndividuality again in a receding multitude that was swallowed up at last in _loud 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'_ead. Irresistibly attracted, he advanced slowly, pace by pace, down the lane.
  • Edgware had been a scene of confusion, Chalk Farm a riotous tumult, but thi_as a whole population in movement. It is hard to imagine that host. It had n_haracter of its own. The figures poured out past the corner, and receded wit_heir backs to the group in the lane. Along the margin came those who were o_oot threatened by the wheels, stumbling in the ditches, blundering into on_nother.
  • The carts and carriages crowded close upon one another, making little way fo_hose swifter and more impatient vehicles that darted forward every now an_hen when an opportunity showed itself of doing so, sending the peopl_cattering against the fences and gates of the villas.
  • "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!" Hi_oice was hoarse and very loud so that my brother could hear him long after h_as lost to sight in the dust. Some of the people who crowded in the cart_hipped stupidly at their horses and quarrelled with other drivers; some sa_otionless, staring at nothing with miserable eyes; some gnawed their hand_ith 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 waggo_rowded with roughs. A brewer's dray rumbled by with its two near wheel_plashed 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 tha_ried and stumbled, their dainty clothes smothered in dust, their weary face_meared with tears. With many of these came men, sometimes helpful, sometime_owering and savage. Fighting side by side with them pushed some weary stree_utcast in faded black rags, wide-eyed, loud-voiced, and foul-mouthed. Ther_ere sturdy workmen thrusting their way along, wretched, unkempt men, clothe_ike clerks or shopmen, struggling spasmodically; a wounded soldier my brothe_oticed, men dressed in the clothes of railway porters, one wretched creatur_n 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 th_oad, a quarrel for a place in a waggon, sent the whole host of the_uickening their pace; even a man so scared and broken that his knees ben_nder him was galvanised for a moment into renewed activity. The heat and dus_ad already been at work upon this multitude. Their skins were dry, their lip_lack and cracked. They were all thirsty, weary, and footsore. And amid th_arious 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 refrain:
  • "Way! Way! The Martians are coming!"
  • Few stopped and came aside from that flood. The lane opened slantingly int_he main road with a narrow opening, and had a delusive appearance of comin_rom the direction of London. Yet a kind of eddy of people drove into it_outh; weaklings elbowed out of the stream, who for the most part rested but _oment before plunging into it again. A little way down the lane, with tw_riends bending over him, lay a man with a bare leg, wrapped about with blood_ags. He was a lucky man to have friends.
  • A little old man, with a grey military moustache and a filthy black froc_oat, limped out and sat down beside the trap, removed his boot—his sock wa_lood-stained—shook out a pebble, and hobbled on again; and then a little gir_f eight or nine, all alone, threw herself under the hedge close by m_rother, weeping.
  • "I can't go on! I can't go on!"
  • My brother woke from his torpor of astonishment and lifted her up, speakin_ently to her, and carried her to Miss Elphinstone. So soon as my brothe_ouched her she became quite still, as if frightened.
  • "Ellen!" shrieked a woman in the crowd, with tears in her voice—"Ellen!" An_he child suddenly darted away from my brother, crying "Mother!"
  • "They are coming," said a man on horseback, riding past along the lane.
  • "Out of the way, there!" bawled a coachman, towering high; and my brother sa_ closed carriage turning into the lane.
  • The people crushed back on one another to avoid the horse. My brother pushe_he pony and chaise back into the hedge, and the man drove by and stopped a_he turn of the way. It was a carriage, with a pole for a pair of horses, bu_nly one was in the traces. My brother saw dimly through the dust that two me_ifted out something on a white stretcher and put it gently on the gras_eneath the privet hedge.
  • One of the men came running to my brother.
  • "Where is there any water?" he said. "He is dying fast, and very thirsty. I_s 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 n_ater. I dare not leave my people."
  • The man pushed against the crowd towards the gate of the corner house.
  • "Go on!" said the people, thrusting at him. "They are coming! Go on!"
  • Then my brother's attention was distracted by a bearded, eagle- faced ma_ugging a small handbag, which split even as my brother's eyes rested on i_nd disgorged a mass of sovereigns that seemed to break up into separate coin_s it struck the ground. They rolled hither and thither among the strugglin_eet of men and horses. The man stopped and looked stupidly at the heap, an_he shaft of a cab struck his shoulder and sent him reeling. He gave a shrie_nd 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, upo_he heap of coins, and began thrusting handfuls in his pocket. A horse ros_lose upon him, and in another moment, half rising, he had been borne dow_nder the horse's hoofs.
  • "Stop!" screamed my brother, and pushing a woman out of his way, tried t_lutch the bit of the horse.
  • Before he could get to it, he heard a scream under the wheels, and saw throug_he dust the rim passing over the poor wretch's back. The driver of the car_lashed his whip at my brother, who ran round behind the cart. Th_ultitudinous shouting confused his ears. The man was writhing in the dus_mong 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 th_ext 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 hi_ree hand, my brother lugged him sideways. But he still clutched after hi_oney, and regarded my brother fiercely, hammering at his arm with a handfu_f 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 ma_n horseback stopped. My brother looked up, and the man with the gold twiste_is 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 besid_t. A hoof missed my brother's foot by a hair's breadth. He released his gri_n the fallen man and jumped back. He saw anger change to terror on the fac_f the poor wretch on the ground, and in a moment he was hidden and my brothe_as borne backward and carried past the entrance of the lane, and had to figh_ard in the torrent to recover it.
  • He saw Miss Elphinstone covering her eyes, and a little child, with all _hild's want of sympathetic imagination, staring with dilated eyes at a dust_omething that lay black and still, ground and crushed under the rollin_heels. "Let us go back!" he shouted, and began turning the pony round. "W_annot cross this—hell," he said and they went back a hundred yards the wa_hey had come, until the fighting crowd was hidden. As they passed the bend i_he lane my brother saw the face of the dying man in the ditch under th_rivet, deadly white and drawn, and shining with perspiration. The two wome_at silent, crouching in their seat and shivering.
  • Then beyond the bend my brother stopped again. Miss Elphinstone was white an_ale, and her sister-in-law sat weeping, too wretched even to call upon
  • "George." My brother was horrified and perplexed. So soon as they ha_etreated he realised how urgent and unavoidable it was to attempt thi_rossing. 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 wa_nto the torrent of people, my brother plunged into the traffic and held bac_ cab horse, while she drove the pony across its head. A waggon locked wheel_or a moment and ripped a long splinter from the chaise. In another momen_hey were caught and swept forward by the stream. My brother, with th_abman's whip marks red across his face and hands, scrambled into the chais_nd took the reins from her.
  • "Point the revolver at the man behind," he said, giving it to her, "if h_resses 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 tha_usty rout. They swept through Chipping Barnet with the torrent; they wer_early a mile beyond the centre of the town before they had fought across t_he opposite side of the way. It was din and confusion indescribable; but i_nd beyond the town the road forks repeatedly, and this to some exten_elieved the stress.
  • They struck eastward through Hadley, and there on either side of the road, an_t another place farther on they came upon a great multitude of peopl_rinking 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 th_ther without signal or order— trains swarming with people, with men eve_mong the coals behind the engines—going northward along the Great Norther_ailway. My brother supposes they must have filled outside London, for at tha_ime the furious terror of the people had rendered the central termin_mpossible.
  • Near this place they halted for the rest of the afternoon, for the violence o_he day had already utterly exhausted all three of them. They began to suffe_he 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 thei_topping place, fleeing from unknown dangers before them, and going in th_irection from which my brother had come.